Krampus

Krampus movie poster

Release: Friday, December 4, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Michael Dougherty; Todd Casey; Zach Shields

Directed by: Michael Dougherty

Is Krampus the next Christmas classic? No, not by a long sleigh ride, but at least it offers some respite from the other bullshit holiday films we’re routinely forced to endure for the sake of good tidings and shameless studio profiteering.

Michael Dougherty’s subversive seasonal offering is best described as one-part wicked horror, and two-parts ruthlessly silly comedy. It introduces a mythical, quasi-Satanic creature famous in Austro-Bavarian folklore for representing the polar opposite of everything Father Christmas stands for. Krampus, a long-horned, long-tongued, hulking, cross-dressing nightmare is conjured by misbehaving children who no longer believe in the spirit of Christmas. Instead of giving gifts to Nice Boys and Nice Girls, he takes away something dear to those on the Naughty list.

This year is the year Max (Emjay Anthony) finally loses faith in Santa after being humiliated at the dinner table thanks to two of his miscreant cousins who, in an almost unbearably mean-spirited scene, make fun of the letter he planned to send to the North Pole. He shreds the note and tosses it out the window, and that night a fierce blizzard descends upon the town, burying the community in snow and knocking out the electricity. Max’s parents, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) and sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) will have to contend with keeping their rather obnoxious in-laws happy during the power out, while Max quietly switches into emo mode, wishing they would never share Christmas together again.

Krampus takes some time getting going, but to Dougherty’s credit the slow-burn set-up is justifiable as it allows us to get to know this family and at least try to build empathy for one side before all hell breaks loose. On one hand there’s Max’s immediate family, comfortable middle-class suburbanites. On the other, Howard (David Koechner) and his wife Linda (Allison Tolman) are Pittsburgh Steelers-worshipping, lower-middle class, gun-toting loudmouths who seemingly don’t know how to raise children in any way, shape or form.

If there is meant to be some commentary on the differences between social class status, Krampus doesn’t fully take advantage of it. The two halves of this family seem to exist as exaggerated versions of blue collar versus white collar lifestyles and perhaps it’s merely coincidental (or me reading into things too much) that Koechner, Tolman and Conchata Farrell, who plays the classic overbearing, alcoholic Aunt Dorothy, stand in stark contrast to the more financially secure Scott and Collette. And when Krampus comes a-knockin,’ he certainly doesn’t discriminate.

The real fun lies in the film’s latter half, wherein the titular creature starts to make its presence known. Dougherty and his special effects team impressively restrain themselves at first, parceling out only glimpses of the demonic beast in an effort to build suspense for a later grand reveal. (Or what we’re hoping to be a grand reveal.) As the situation becomes more desperate, we’re fed bits of backstory courtesy of the wizened old Omi (Krista Stadler), Tom’s Austrian mother, who has seen all of this before. Of course she has. Meanwhile Max tries to assuage his guilt by coming clean about what he did the night previous.

Krampus proves itself adept at balancing comedic and horror elements, deploying outrageous visuals — you’ll never look at Gingerbread men or Jack-in-the-Boxes the same way again — alongside moments of dread-inducing suspense. The beast himself may not factor in as much as many might assume he would given he bears the title of the film, but there’s no denying this anti-Santa earns his screen time. He makes for a satisfying monster, one that could just as easily manifest as a metaphor for the worst in all of us when it comes to our tendencies to want more given to us than what we give to others. (Naturally this doesn’t apply to me because I’m perfect.)

When it comes right down to it, Krampus offers more fun than it really ought to, blending larger themes of forgiveness and personal sacrifice with more acute notions like family togetherness and being thankful for living in a part of the world where it actually snows on Christmas. It may never amount to a holiday package that you can share with generations of family but it will probably make do until next Christmas when some other jaded filmmaker comes up with the next bright idea. (Please Santa, no — not a sequel.)

oh fuck, it's Krampus

Recommendation: Highly entertaining diversion will appeal to viewers in search of an alternative to the typical Christmas movie and those who like their horrors served up with a heaping helping of outlandish comedy. A fun thrill ride but not much more. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “. . . I just got my ass kicked by a bunch of Christmas cookies.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.cinemania.es 

Black Mass

Release: Friday, September 18, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Mark Mallouk; Jez Butterworth

Directed by: Scott Cooper

In Scott Cooper’s third film, Johnny Depp is one bad man. How bad? Bad enough to make the stench of his Charlie Mortdecai finally drift away, sure. But now another question is bugging me: what does he do after this? How long does Irish-American thug James “Whitey” Bulger define Depp?

I suppose only until the next ill-advised project comes along, but I shouldn’t get ahead of myself too quickly. We ought to bask at least a little longer in this moment. His recent disasters notwithstanding, one thing hasn’t really changed about the actor: he is talented. The problem has been one of motivation; a preference for taking easy money instead of actually working for it. As much as that annoys me, I’d rather it be that than the man simply getting a case of the yips. (Do performance artists get the yips?) The talent didn’t disappear, it just went into hibernation . . . for several years. Now it re-emerges, volatile, unpredictable and explosive as he assumes the profile of one of the most notorious crime lords in American history.

Over the course of a short two hours — particularly short given the film’s slow-burn approach — Black Mass builds a damning case against not only Bulger and his reputation amongst both friends and enemies, but against the FBI. For obvious reasons the criminal activity is alarming, but there’s something just as unnerving about the ineptitude of the prominent law officials who fail for so long to gain the upper hand. In explaining just why that was the case, Black Mass becomes as seedy as the city it skulks around in, feeding bleak and ominous cinematography to viewers who, in all likelihood, are more curious as to how Depp fares than how his character does.

The film ratchets up the tension tracking the rise and fall of a tenuous relationship, rarely offering respite. Bulger and FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) grew up together on the streets, with Connolly being something of an admirer of the notoriously ruthless criminal. That’s sort of how he’s talked into becoming an informant as a way to eliminate the Italian contingent of the Winter Hill Gang, who have been encroaching on Bulger’s South Boston territory. Conducting ‘business’ with Bulger is the kind of stunt that proves to be a hard sell for Connolly to make to his peers and especially his boss, Special Agent Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon). Bulger has, of course, a few protective barriers that make his arrest nigh on impossible. His brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the mayor of Boston while Whitey’s reputation around town provides the movie its quota of visceral, sudden deaths that are brutally staged and extremely well-timed.

Despite the few who are stupid enough to doubt or defy Whitey, Black Mass isn’t quite as physical as you might expect; it works best as a psychological drama involving a slew of characters that are as difficult to trust as their own unrepentantly hateful attitudes are to justify. Reminiscent of Cooper’s previous effort, Out of the Furnace, is a brilliant, character-driven screenplay that paints a portrait of organized crime and corruption that has infiltrated all levels of society. David Harbour is in as Connolly’s partner-in-crime(solving) John Morris, while Bacon handles Special Agent McGuire with aplomb . . . and a semi-ridiculous Boston accent. Notable criminal personalities are brought to life by the likes of Jesse Plemons (as Kevin Weeks), Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, W. Earl Brown, and Bill Camp, all of which add tremendous depth to this portrait of a Boston all but overrun by violent criminal activity.

Indeed, Depp is not on his own here, even if his is the worst in a bunch of very bad seeds, and even if his presence will be the only one we’ll feel for a long time after leaving the theater. Cooper’s ensemble cast — including a reprieve for Dakota Johnson in the form of Bulger’s longtime girlfriend Lindsay and a random appearance from Adam Scott as a peripheral FBI agent — are largely to thank for the film’s inglorious depiction of corrupt and criminal ways of thinking. That Black Mass has such a stacked cast — another similarity to his 2013 blue-collar drama — means the admittedly pedestrian narrative has more room to breathe. These characters are intimidating in their own ways, distinguishing a story that we’ve seen redressed over and again by the likes of Martin Scorsese and Brian de Palma, even Michael Mann’s Public Enemies in which Depp portrayed another infamous gangster.

This film doesn’t quite glorify the lifestyle of Scorsese’s mean streets but if I’m even suggesting that kind of comparison (without feeling overly dramatic doing so), Cooper is clearly doing something right. Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth’s screenplay paints broad strokes, and there are several plot strands that disappear at a moment’s notice as we cover the roughly 10-year period in which Whitey rose to prominence. Even if it does leave a few questions unanswered, Black Mass remains unencumbered by a lack of meticulousness because it ultimately succeeds in provoking dread and fear. An evil empire was allowed to flourish under the FBI, and that part is more fucked up than anything.

In fewer words, Black Mass tries to stand out, whereas Johnny Depp actually does.

Recommendation: In a welcomed return to form for Captain Jack Sparrow Johnny Depp, Black Mass offers an acting showcase for everyone involved. Fact-based story takes us on a harrowing journey through the rough streets of south Boston of the ’70s and ’80s and while some parts could have benefitted from expansion, on the whole this is a story well worth paying to see on the big screen. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

Quoted: “You were just saying? ‘Just saying’ gets people sent away. ‘Just saying’ got me a nine-year stretch in Alcatraz, you understand? So, ‘just saying’ can get you buried real quick.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Overnight

Release: Friday, June 19, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Patrick Brice

Directed by: Patrick Brice

This one time, at Jason Schwartzman’s house . . .

No, but seriously. This is no band-camp experience; this is a movie about adults having a sleepover. Wait, that sounds even weirder. Schwartzman’s Kurt is hosting. Well, he and his wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) are and they want to do everything they can to ensure all guests enjoy themselves. The occasion? Welcoming some new friends to the neighborhood.

Recently relocated couple Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) have been having a hard time finding their crowd in suburban Los Angeles. One afternoon they happen upon Kurt when his son Max and Alex and Emily’s son R.J. become fast friends at a local playground. Kurt is empathetic to the newcomers’ situation and invites them over for dinner and drinks and even offers to help them find ways to branch out in their community. Though a little strange, Kurt seems like a genuine person so the couple accept.

Given its often surprising direction, a title like The Overnight winds up being sufficiently vague, even if there’s barely enough material to justify a full-length feature. Running a scant 80 minutes, young writer-director Patrick Brice’s new film begins as an innocent play-date amongst four thirtysomethings with children. However, it’s after the children have gone to sleep where we really start to reap the benefits of a rather nondescript title: while we stay within the luxurious confines of Kurt and Charlotte’s beautiful, bohemian abode we dive into another world marked by a perverse subversion of social etiquette and/or the complete absence of personal boundaries. After the children have gone to sleep, things get weird.

On the surface, The Overnight asks of whatever small audience it is going to find what lengths would we go to in order to make new friends in a strange city? Where would we draw the line at a party hosted by people we have only known a day or so? Said party involves the usual — drugs and alcohol (of course) — but what if, for the sake of our supposed enjoyment, it took a turn for the surreal? Do we draw the line before or after skinny dipping has been suggested?

Digging beneath that surface, Brice’s sex comedy won’t exactly inspire the most profound conversation, but it goes deeper than just a raunchy sketch. An intimate portrayal of two long-time couples seeking — accidentally or not (certainly not without some cringe-inducing moments) — sexual gratification, The Overnight could inspire some pillow-talk. Finding ways to spice up a couple’s romantic life doesn’t necessarily lend itself to dinner conversation, but that’s why Brice has the kids put to bed and has created a suitably dynamic environment in which such a discussion can take place naturally. Or as naturally as possible with these people involved. Needless to say the affairs become pretty personal; the opening scene has become a great barometer for the party environment into which we step.

Brice’s sophomore effort feels more like a series of personal confessions of people we know caught on film than a comedy performed by seasoned actors. It’s a precariously slight production, liable to be forgotten all too soon. Still, a very game cast help make this series of escalating, bizarre scenarios more pleasurable than it has any right to be.

Recommendation: Suffice it to say this won’t be the most substantial film you’ll see this year — it’ll likely finish second if you manage to limit your movie watching to just two all year — but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It’s worth a look if you’re a fan of the kinds of shenanigans Adam Scott seems to find himself in a lot. In fact the entire cast is really likable and the situations, though they get weird, are pretty fun to see get played out. The Overnight would probably function better as a short film or even a series of shorts, but as a sex comedy, it finds minor success. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 79 mins.

Quoted: “I feel like I just gave birth to myself.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.timeout.com 

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

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Release: Friday, February 20, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Josh Heald

Directed by: Steve Pink

I, along with six other brave souls, ended up in a theater that was playing a film titled Hot Tub Time Machine 2 because apparently the original had that kind of effect on me. I’m now doubting all kinds of things about myself.

Steve Pink picks up where he left off in 2010 with a superfluous sequel to a comedy that many have deemed rather silly to begin with, and I’m in no position to argue against that. We’ve lost John Cusack in the transition, though. But what’s this — Adam Scott is in as an utterly useless replacement character? I suppose it’s fitting, as the boys in this slightly outrageous misadventure soon discover that going further into the future doesn’t always mean things improve. They do quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.

With the end results of their traveling back in time in Hot Tub Time Machine rendering Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Clark Duke) much wealthier, superior versions of themselves — particularly Lou after the advent of his “Lougle” conglomeration — we are introduced to the same characters who are now much less likable. Corddry steps up the obnoxious a notch or two, resulting in his being blasted in the crotch with a shotgun by some agitated partygoer. As he begins to die in the most humiliating of fashions, his time-traveling pals come up with a plan to save him. They’ll use the hot tub to once again go back in time to prevent quite possibly the most unnatural castration ever.

Instead of going back to the past, the buffoons wind up jettisoning themselves ten years into the future, and things have changed seemingly in favor of young Jacob, who now is the proud owner of a ballin’ crib and has a hottie for a wife. She’s only one in a parade of beautiful women who serve as scenery/distractions from the fact that these guys just aren’t as funny this time around. Of course, saving Lou/Lou’s penis isn’t going to be as simple as it sounds and the narrative diverts into territory that is neither useful nor effective. I saw this film a matter of hours ago and am struggling to recall anything significant about minutes 20 through 90.

I do recall a steady decline into boredom, however. Adam Scott plays Cusack’s son, Adam Jr., but what the hell happened in that gene pool, exactly? A character devoid of dimension, most notably in the humor department, and a stiff at that — he is getting married very soon, as he repeats over and again, and he can’t afford to party like an animal as the others wish to — Adam Jr. represents a new low in a decidedly low-brow franchise. A brief flash of Community‘s Gillian Jacobs as his bride-to-be only compounds that problem.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2, when not falling flat with misfirings of all colors, shapes and sizes (and flavors) takes some rather dark turns and oversteps boundaries, making light of suicidal acts well past the point of mockery. I’m actually not sure if making fun of suicide is that bright of an idea to begin with. You might not believe me after all this, but the film isn’t exactly all for nothing; there still remains the camaraderie between the threesome. We experience the commitment Nick and Lou have to their friendships during a ridiculous and smirk-inducing game show sequence circa mid-movie.

Oh, but wait — didn’t something similar happen five years ago? Yes, yes it did. But repeating old jokes isn’t that offensive when compared to the new stabs at funny mostly failing. Pink’s follow-up asks some interesting questions about how we might govern our present-tense lives if we had any inkling of what today’s actions will lead to later, but the more interesting question really is how can a somewhat reliable formula produce such a different result? If you are bothered enough to try and answer that for yourselves, go ahead and see this. Personally, I’d rather get my own . . . ah, never mind. I won’t go there.

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1-5Recommendation: Neither funny nor that fun to spend time with, the gang has fallen on hard times indeed. What worked for the original was a sense of nostalgia for the ’80s (if you get nostalgic for that sort of thing). But for those who are fans of good comedy, seeing this one through just may make you nostalgic for the good old days of a John Cusack-led bubbly-tub bacchanalia.

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 long mins.

Quoted: “. . . that smells like hatred.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Step Brothers (2008)

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This back pain I’ve been experiencing recently is causing me to be lazier than usual. Because I’ve been very lazy today, I felt like choosing a movie to review where it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge to churn one out relatively quickly, and so I selected another comedy. And what less challenging material to go with than a Will Ferrell vehicle? I see some of you already heading towards the exit. (It’s okay, I’ll hopefully see you next week when I have a Will Ferrell-less TBT.) If it’s not yet obvious by some of the reviews of the past, I have this slight chink in my armor where I’ll be thoroughly entertained by the shallowest of comedies. The catch is, they pretty much either need to be a Will Ferrell movie or a Leslie Nielsen slapstick. I’m not comparing the two, but those are two of the best kinds of comedies I will watch when my brain has taken a siesta. So, hooray for Lazy Thursday! 

Today’s food for thought: Step Brothers

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Released: July 25, 2008

[DVD] 

What an adorable family portrait! Family photos are all the more fun when your children are fully grown 40-year-old men but still live at home. With that and the fact that mom and dad are 50-60-year-old newlyweds, how can these photos be anything less than precious? See how not awkward they all are in that photo?

Will Ferrell selects different clothes from his wardrobe again to get into character in this relentlessly silly premise about two manchilds (menchildren?) who have refused to leave the house, get a good job and not depend upon mommy (Mary Steenburgen) or daddy (Richard Jenkins). When Nancy Huff attends a lecture given by the esteemed Dr. Robert Doback, the two get together and eventually wed, bringing together Nancy’s awkward and stubborn son Brennan (Ferrell) and Robert’s lazy (and stubborn) son Dale (John C. Reilly).

Pairing up Reilly with Ferrell turns this dysfunctional family story into a functional comedy. Admittedly, it does nothing to stray the path of Will Ferrell’s typical schlock so those opposed likely won’t appreciate these two goofs pouring their hearts into making their first day together as a family the most painfully awkward experience possible. On the other side of the fence, those who do will find the stand-offish situation hilarious. Reilly and Ferrell are convincingly childish in this extended SNL bit about four fully-grown adults trying to cope with a new and rather tense reality. Given the chemistry between these two goobers, we demand to know an explanation as to how this happened — how did these two guys end up this way?

Herein lies the movie’s biggest flaw. Without including any history to the present-day narrative, neither Brennan nor Dale seem like people. They’re mere caricatures. If we had some backstory to these guys’ separate lives, the uniting of this. . .non-traditional. . .family would probably be a good deal funnier, and seem more real. What were these guys like as children, one wonders as the grown ups shuffle zombie-like through a dark kitchen, creating one glorious mess as they experience together their individual sleepwalking habits. When they finally do join forces together and become “best friends,” we can’t exactly say we didn’t see that coming from a mile away.

In spite of its elemental message and lazy construction, it’s a fun movie. Mr. Doback one day puts his foot down and provides the two muttonheads an ultimatum to find a job and grow up. Watching the pair “trying” to get their shit together identifies Step Brothers‘ strengths as another installment in the Ferrell canon. There is a great sequence in which the two go to each other’s interviews together and they fail to rise to each one of these occasions, much to Mr. Doback’s mounting frustration. And then they get their real inspiration: ‘Prestige Worldwide.’ Putting both their dimly-lit lightbulb ideas together, Brennan and Dale pitch a business opportunity one evening to Brennan’s obnoxious younger brother, Derek (Adam Scott). This moment indeed becomes another one to add to the growing list of ways in which these two have humiliated themselves.

In attempting to really sell themselves for once, the two concoct the genius idea to shoot a music/rap video on board Mr. Doback’s prized sailboat, and the video not only is mocked by the entire congregation, it ends in disaster when they take the boat into the rocky shore. The boat meant more to the man than his son even did, so naturally, the film takes a turn to negative town at this moment. A non-too-subtle wind of change beckons act three when we see Dale and Brennan now out on their own in the real world since, over time, things continued to fall apart personally between the Dobacks and the Huffs. An incident at Christmas one year proved to be the final nail in the coffee between Robert and Nancy, and since then the boys have had no choice but to move out. Plus, they’re not speaking to each other at this point. You know, the usual growing pains.

Step Brothers wraps up nicely, however. The Catalina Wine Mixer scene redeems a lot of the film’s relative lackluster bits and pieces. The last impressions of the film are not only shots of a beautiful location, they’re also quite funny and bring about a satisfactory, if not contrived, end to the whole affair. The scene is also responsible for the classic duet performed by Dale and Brennan on stage when the Mixer experiences technical difficulties with the music. As well, the reuniting of the Dobacks with the Huffs is not only comical and awkward, it’s more than expected. And necessary. The movie could end no other way.

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3-5Recommendation: Though Adam McKay has done better, the faithful have found this one a satisfactory tread-water comedy with his go-to-comedian Will Ferrell with the nice addition of John C. Reilly. Reilly might actually be the best thing about this, as his comedic appeal was never very obvious until this performance. He’s since shown an impressive range, with his capacity to be a goofball quite evident here. For anyone else who doesn’t buy into this brand of comedy, though, this script would probably make for great toilet paper.

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “Robert better not get in my face, ’cause I’ll drop that motherf**ker.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

A.C.O.D. (Adult Children of Divorce)

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Release: Friday, October 4, 2013

[Redbox]

If ever you wanted to test the limits of your moviegoing patience and goodwill, rent a little flick by the name of Adult Children of Divorce, or A.C.O.D. for short.

A nail biter, a fist-clencher, an intensely palm-sweating experience for all of the wrong reasons, first-time director Stu Zicherman’s romantic comedy is the most unromantic comedy this reviewer has seen in ages. So why the nail biting, fist-clenching, etcetera? Though not an exhaustive list, these are the physical reactions a viewer is likely to have while enduring a film like this. (See also: head-bashing, eyeball-gouging, and the immediate chugging of rubbing alcohol to induce permanent blindness.)

Phew. Well, after flushing the system of those reactions, I have to concede that A.C.O.D. is not quite that despicable. But it’s not a good film, not by any stretch. It strands a talented cast in a story that is exasperatingly dull, one that misses its potential like the Titanic missed its final destination. The snail’s pace and amateur plot development together result in some of the longest 87 minutes you’re likely to experience, at least while watching a comedy.

Let’s back up a little bit before I go into a full-fledged rant. The premise is about a grown man, Carter (played by Adam Scott) whose parents have been divorced for most of his life and haven’t so much as spoken for the majority of that time. When his younger brother Trey (Clark Duke) drops the news of his upcoming wedding to his “super hot girlfriend,” Carter’s horrified to learn that Trey wants their now-remarried parents to attend the wedding. That sounds awkward enough, but the nature of Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and Melissa (Catherine O’Hara)’s separation has rubbed salt into the wound. And thus, the movie being the most unromantic romantic-comedy created in years. A family dynamic that’s this dysfunctional begs the question as to who decided this would fit the description of a rom-com.

Making matters worse, Carter learns one day that a family friend who is also a psychotherapist (Jane Lynch) has been studying people like him for years, tracking the rippling effects a divorce has on the children of separated parents. He’s unwittingly become a caricature in Dr. Judith’s book, titled ‘Children of Divorce.’ Though Carter wants to believe he only shares physical traits of those who raised him, the doc thinks there’s something lurking underneath the surface that makes him more like his parents than he’d care to admit. So she approaches him for a follow-up, a sequel to her highly successful book. She’ll call it ‘Adult Children of Divorce,’ with the intent being. . .well, that much isn’t so clear. The movie falls down on its knees in this department, providing the greatest flaw in the design.

Not only does the movie not take advantage of what appears to be, on paper anyway, a poignant statement on the nature of love and commitment in modern society, the damn thing’s not funny. Save for the odd guffaw caused by good old Richard Jenkins, everyone else in this film suffers from over-dramatization (Amy Poehler’s bitchy sorority alum Sondra, who is also Hugh’s latest wife, being the worst offender — seriously, can we please go back to the days of SNL, where she was actually funny. . .and live in that time?) and limited character development.

There’s a goldmine that Zicherman fails to tap into here. One cannot deny the appeal of the film’s title. It has real potential, although a comedic approach to the matter is questionable in the first place. With the divorce rate — as it pertains to the United States — hovering at or around 50%, a statement on the alarming rate at which the phrase ‘for as long as you both shall live’ is being cast aside- in present-day marriages should make for a really great movie. Channelling my inner Arnold Schwarzenegger here: negative.

Despite a select few moments in which Jenkins and O’Hara try their hardest to pull a rabbit out of the hat with regards to this conceit-, the vast majority of the story is bogged down in footage that would seem more useful in B-roll takes. Adult children of divorce is apparently a ‘real’ concept, as the end credits introduces the viewer to people involved in the making of the film who describe themselves as such; it’s a shame we can’t really care by the time they introduce themselves.

A.C.O.D.

2-0Recommendation: This is a frustratingly mediocre product that begins with promise and steadily declines over the course of less than 90 minutes — and to reiterate, the film feels more like a two-hour affair than something that registers just shy of a standard full-length feature. Performances all around aren’t that memorable. If you are a die-hard Richard Jenkins fan, you might check this out but that is the most positive recommendation I can really give the film. Otherwise, it’s a squandering of potential in any other way.

Rated: R

Running Time: 87 mins.

Quoted: “You know, the thing about Portuguese whores is some are born in Portugal, some are born in Africa. It’s a real mix.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.moviefone.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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Release: Christmas Day 2013

[Theater]

By the seem of things, Mr. Stiller has been secretly getting all the little memos we, the patient viewers, have continued to slip underneath his door over the years, beseeching, imploring the actor to put his dormant dramatic sensibilities to good use for once — actually act in a movie instead of being the butt of everyone’s jokes. His directorial return with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty confirms that he’s been taking heed of the advice, because not only is this movie one of the more unique experiences of the year, Ben Stiller is simply wonderful as the titular lead character.

An odd little man, Walter is by all accounts Stiller at his best. His hunched demeanor packs all of his signature quirks into a nervous frame, a character that immediately screams ‘introvert,’ but in a fascinating, charming way. As a performer, Stiller hasn’t been this affable in years.

As a director, he might not have been better, either; although his Tropic Thunder was a stroke of genius in itself. Walter’s a difficult man to gauge because he’s perpetually lost in thought, and what’s more, his modest real-world status as a photo-negative developer at Life Magazine, operating out of the building’s dingy basement, is comically off-set by this tendency of his to daydream on a large, epic scale.

It’s quite clear he couldn’t resist exploiting this particularly inventive aspect to his retelling of the 1939 James Thurber short story.

Within the opening half hour we go on a number of mini-adventures that yank us out of the otherwise pretty poorly-written ‘present day’ narrative and into a world only a man like Walter Mitty could dream up. In these moments he can survive falling out of skyscrapers, jump as if he were on the moon, and take on any foe with confidence; he’s also a bona fide Romeo, dramatically courting his real-world crush Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) and can speak different languages. These moments are so immersive as to almost cause panic early on, begging the question of whether Stiller has enough material as a director to sustain this film’s fantastical elements for nearly two hours.

Though the second act snaps out of this crazy daydreaming phase, and ‘panic’ suddenly becomes a pretty glaring exaggeration. Stiller fortunately wrings out just enough entertaining interaction with supporting characters in some gorgeous locations to tip the scales in favor of Walter Mitty‘s decidedly more conventional, but equally endearing latter half.

When Mitty’s daydreaming is one day matched by his real-world experiences as he goes on a worldwide hunt for one of Life’s staff photographers, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), the true joy of this film begins. It is his negative that he must develop for the last printed edition of Life magazine and his jerk of a boss has threatened him multiple times about it.

Adam Scott provides the film’s greatest flaw in the over-acted and overly aggressive Ted Hendricks, the self-proclaimed “director of the transition” — a man whose only interest is publishing all content online now. He couldn’t care less about the current staff, and much less the awkward Mitty, who is supposed to be providing the cover photo of this last physical edition. In the process of trying to recover this photo (and thus an attempt to keep himself employed), Mitty embarks on a trip to the isolated regions of Greenland and later, Iceland by way of dumb luck but moreover a newfound determination to do something with his life.

The pace at which his life suddenly changes is inspiring and uplifting, and the second act and into the third provides a wonderful montage of beautiful landscapes and free-flowing travel sequences that instantly seduce viewers into believing they’re on this journey with Mitty. The events may happen rather conveniently, haphazardly. Sometimes the plot develops to a degree that can possibly strain credulity.

But just as Walter Mitty is spurred to move on from spot to spot, so must anyone trying to allow themselves to enjoy the spectacle. Sure this story is bound together rather flimsily and certain characters are better written than others — Stiller and Wiig turn out to be a surprisingly romantic pairing, as an example — but nitpicking the details to this wonderful adventure film is like spitting in a child’s face. You just don’t do it.

Stiller’s latest film is kind-hearted and well-intentioned, even if imperfect. It’s a journey that should be given further credit for remaining within the family-friendly PG-rating, which — especially from a comedic standpoint — can technically be viewed as a further restriction on particular content Stiller could have used. It’s safely inside, though there are one or two moments where there’s some obvious holding back.

All the same, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is successful since it balances a great amount of fanciful drama with Stiller’s welcomed quirky and more rugged appeal so the moments that don’t quite work are instantly overshadowed by some wonderful moments — arguably some of 2013’s finest. This is a life that most people are going to want to know the secret to making for themselves.

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3-5Recommendation: A very nice (re?)turn for Stiller in a decidedly more mature and likable role that is enhanced by his own directorial oversight. Performances all around are strong, and Wiig offers a charming performance that helps to reflect Stiller’s conscientious awkwardness. Combine the two leads’ steadily more compelling repartee with the fascinating backdrops and you’ve got one of the most interesting and genuine films of the holiday season.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 125 mins.

Quoted: “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com