I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four

Starring Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, and Teresa Palmer
Directed by D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequence of violence and action, and for language
Appropriate for ages 13+

    John Smith (Pettyfer) is one of several young people sent to Earth to seek safety from Alien invaders.  But when the first three are killed, John and his protector (Olyphant) must move to a small Ohio town to escape certain destruction.  While there John falls in love for the first time and also discovers his unique powers, which may or may not help defend him from the assassins.

    Part of me really wants to like this film.  After all, unlike most of the tent pole pictures out there – its somewhat original in plot and has a big look and feel to it.  The young actors are talented and dynamic enough and Olyphant is fun to watch as the father figure.  I even want to like the aliens who are truly a dastardly bunch with nasty weapons and even nastier pets. 

    But then after thinking about the whole thing, I realized that there is so much to dislike about this film.  First off is the flat dialog which does nothing to help the story.  And while the plot feels original, the way they carry out the plot is as cliched and copycatted as you can get.  Stealing from Twilight, Spiderman, Terminator and others, the film doesn’t deliver on its original promises it makes in the opening act.  I know we are supposed to say that “teenagers do stupid things and that rational thought doesn’t enter their heads at times,” but why would a teenager from another planet with a group of interstellar assassins hot on his trail act in such a fashion.  His actions defy logic and really pinpoint the flaws in the script. 

    And as for Olyphant, he proves once again that he can shine even in the worst of films.  While this is not the most horrible film he could star in, it is also not a place for his talents to be put to the test. 

    But what I found most insulting was the whole “franchise” feel to the movie.  The third act gives a tidy ending to this particular story, but then stands up and declares that there are sequels are on the way.  A smart film would have ended where the audience didn’t feel like they were in some studio’s master plan to make millions and millions of dollars.

    So while I think that the demographic this film was intended for will not see past some of this sloppy filmmaking and might actually enjoy the picture, it will most like never break out and become a huge box office smash.  C+

New in Home Entertainment – February 22, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

February 22, 2011

Due Date
Rated R for language, drug use and sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When father-to-be Robert Downey Jr. gets booted off of a plane for an altercation with Zach Galifianakis, the two end up on a cross-country road trip trying to get back home to Los Angeles in times for his child’s birth.  While the setup doesn’t make a lot of sense, the film itself works well as a buddy road comedy, mostly because of Galifianakis turning in a hilarious performance.  Downey is fine, but could have been played by anybody, and the role might have been better served had he and co-star Jamie Foxx switched characters.  As is, though, the film is still really funny at parts and worth the watch.  B

Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Musical Event of a Lifetime
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I have a special place in my heart for Les Mis since it is the musical that made me a Broadway junkie.  Before seeing this show, I had no interest in musical theater, but then I saw this in Oklahoma City in 1992 and it blew me away.  Since then I’ve seen it five or six times but have craved a version that I could just pop in the DVD or Blu-ray player and enjoy anytime.  So needless to say I was excited to get a chance to review this new concert event.  Putting together one of the most amazing group of singers you could imagine with a huge orchestra and a choir made up of various talents from West End theater, this production had me as happy as I could get in front of the TV.  The only flaw in the event is the addition of Nick Jonas from the Jonas Brothers in the role of Marius – most likely as a ploy to get young folks to see the show.  For me it was like Garth Brooks playing baseball: sure he sold some tickets and it was fun to see him in the uniform, but once he picked up the glove or bat you know it wouldn’t be pretty.  Rather than singing from the diaphragm, he has a throaty, poppy voice that stands out badly with the rest of the brilliant cast.  But don’t let that stop you from checking this out because not only do you get Lea Salonga and Matt Lucas, but in the role of Jean Valjean is one of the most lovely voices I’ve ever heard, performed by opera sensation Alfie Boe.  A

Rated PG for action and some language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Will Ferrell lets loose in this animated film about an evil mastermind who loves to do battle with his superhero nemesis, Metro Man.  But when he accidentally kills Metro Man, he discovers that his life is worthless without someone to battle.  While the film is kind of clever at times and Ferrell has his moments, the movie overall is pretty stale.  Maybe it’s because there was a movie about the bad guy earlier this year with Despicable Me.  Or maybe it was because it felt more like a lame parody than an original picture.  Whatever it was, the movie wasn’t as entertaining as I would have hoped.  That being said, Dreamworks crammed in the special features in on the blu-ray edition and you get a lot of bang for your buck with the set.  Also, I can see kids liking the film, although I would feel kind of weird with my young children singing the soundtrack that includes AC/DC, Ozzy and Guns N’ Roses.  C+

Fish Tank: The Criterion Collection
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When an angry fifteen-year-old girl begins to fall for her young mother’s boyfriend, a twisted series of events changes her life.  This piece-of-English-life art film by Academy Award Winning short filmmaker Andrea Arnold shows a lot of Mike Leigh influence, and for most American audiences – that ain’t a good thing.  This is a tough, uncomfortable story that is engaging enough but relies more on in-your-face realism than a strong narrative.  I much prefer An Education which is very similar in theme to Fish Tank, but tells a better story where you actually feel empathy for your heroine rather than wishing she wouldn’t be such a screw up all of the time.  While this is one of the few Criterion titles that lacks a commentary, they did include some nice features including the director’s Oscar-winning short film Wasp.  B-

Barney’s Version

Barney’s Version

Starring Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, and Rosamund Pike
Directed by Richard J. Lewis
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Appropriate for ages 17+

    The biggest shock of the Golden Globes wasn’t the insulting remarks by host Ricky Gervais, but rather the moment when Paul Giamatti won the Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.  I don’t consider it a shock because he didn’t deserve it, but rather because this little film has gone completely unnoticed and this was the only nomination Giamatti even received for the film.  So did he deserve it?  Absolutely.  This was easily one of the year’s greatest performances, and worthy of much more praise than it is receiving. 

    Barney’s Version follows Giamatti as Barney, an uber-blunt soap producer whose life’s journey is captured in two hours.  From his first wife to his second and onto the true love of his life, Barney, as a character, seems too over-the-top, but yet his story is so interesting that you can’t help but sit back and enjoy the ride. 

    Giving his best performance in perhaps over twenty years is Dustin Hoffman, who masterfully plays Barney’s father.  I find it even more sad that Hoffman was left off of the ballots this year for this stellar performance that is both touching and hilarious.  The rest of the cast, and especially Rosamund Pike as Barney’s third wife and Minnie Driver as his second, turn in impressive performances as well.

    While the acting here is certainly top notch, the screenplay by B-movie writer Michael Konyves allows for such tremendous performances to take place.  The rest of the production is strong also including the Oscar-nominated make-up job by Adrien Morot who does an impressive job of aging Giamatti and Pike into their senior years. 

    I believe that the chief reason this film is getting overlooked is that while the cast is huge and it is highly enjoyable, it is still considered an indie with a limited audience.  There could have been some huge buzz built up on this film and it might have had a nice box office return as well if someone at Sony Pictures Classics would have had faith in it as a potential earner.  But regardless of how much it earns, the movie comes across as a real gem and a very entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.  A

New in Home Entertainment – February 15, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

February 15, 2011

Waiting for Superman
Rated PG for some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

One of the most glaring omissions from this years Oscar ballot was this sobering documentary about the failure of the American public school.  Following children and schools from around the country as well as leaders in education, the documentary sets out first to explain why we are in the mess we are in and then shows not only how we can get out of it, but how programs around the country already have.  Most of the blame given in the film lies on the very powerful teacher unions and the fact that it is almost impossible to fire a teacher in this country.  While the rebuttal is not allowed by the opposition, the case is made well and is difficult to refute.  The film itself is a roller coaster of emotion that will leave you in hopeless tears.  More than anything, the movie makes you angry that the answers seem apparent, but yet nothing is being done to correct the problem.  As an incentive to buy the film, the movie comes with a $25 gift card for donorschoose.org which will allow you to make a donation to school projects from around the country.  A-

Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and peril, and some language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I was not looking forward to this Tony Scott directed film due to the fact that I thought he was getting on too much of train kick since his last film, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, was a runaway train film as well.  But I came out very impressed at this original actioner where the villain isn’t human, but rather a large locomotive aimed to destroy a major U.S. city if not stopped.  Scott infuses the movie with a tremendous adrenaline push and the performances by Denzel Washington and Chris Pine are perfect for the picture.  While some of the side stories don’t work as well as the central plot, the film is so fast-paced that you hardly notice.  B

The Double Life of Veronique: The Criterion Collection
Rated R for scenes of sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Polish and French with English Subtitles

This 1991 classic film by legendary Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski is getting another royal treatment from Criterion in this new Blu-ray edition.  In this complex fantasy, Irene Jacobs stars as two women living in separate countries who each have live different lives but have a subtle sense of each other.  It’s not only a fascinating story, but it is so beautifully handled that it becomes mesmerizing.  Many will be thankful that the film utilizes the original ending rather than the U.S. ending that Mirimax’s Harvey Weinstein forced Kieslowski to add.  As you would expect from Criterion, the special features are numerous and include the U.S. ending, commentary from Kieslowski biographer Annette Insdorf, and many other featurettes.  A-

The Eagle

The Eagle

Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell and Donald Sutherland
Directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland)
Rated PG-13 for battle sequences and some disturbing images
Appropriate for ages 15+

    When a Roman general leads 5,000 troops into northern Britain, none of the men are heard from again.  Twenty years later, the general’s son (Tatum) and his slave (Bell) attempt to find out what happened to his father and return the lost golden Eagle that disappeared two decades prior.

    The premise of this adventure has great potential.  Personally, I love a good historical battle film, especially when they involve Roman soldiers.  And while the cast isn’t as exciting as you would hope, hiring Kevin Macdonald to direct seemed to provide some street cred as well.  Unfortunately, there are some huge chinks in the armor here, so to speak, which fatally flaw the picture. 

    First off is the dry, flat dialog that sounds exponentially worse when spoken in American accents.  Perhaps an English accent would have sounded better here, but the words just didn’t sound right coming from this group of actors.  Artistically, I think they were trying to give the Britains English accents to distinguish them from the Romans, but there was something here that just didn’t sound right.  And casting Donald Sutherland as the uncle was just a terrible idea as his role was phoned in and could have been much better acted by a different character actor who wasn’t hired for his name recognition. 

    Secondly, PG-13 is not the arena this film should be fighting in.  Should they have had the sense to take this project seriously, this would have been a strong R and much more realistic and enjoyable.  As it is, the battle sequences are toned down and hardly a drop of blood is seen.  If Braveheart or Gladiator had opted for a PG-13, then not only would they have been lame, but forgotten as well.  I can understand the need for attracting a younger audience, but not when it damages the integrity of the project.

    Finally, the film turns into kind of a buddy movie, especially in this joke of an ending .  That worked in HBO’s Rome because of the strength of the writing, but after this ending I could only imagine Tatum and Bell setting off on an adventure that could also be cast with Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider. 

    If you can’t tell, I had a lot of trouble taking this film seriously and found it to be an unremarkable movie that couldn’t come close to living up to its potential.  C-

New in Home Entertainment – February 8, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

February 8, 2011

Paranormal Activity 2
Rated R for some language and brief violent material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

After the terrifying first Paranormal Activity hit theaters I was very skeptical about a second installment.  So many horror films have lost their touch, such as Blair Witch and Saw, that I originally wrote this one off as just a way to make more money.  But these guys proved that they had more story in them and actually turned in a scarefest that was almost equal to the first.  PA2 takes place both before and after the events of the first one, allowing for a more complete story to be told.  Instead of Micah’s camera following all of the events, Katie’s sister and her husband set up a surveillance system after their house is left ransacked by what they thought must have been devious kids.  While I didn’t get that tingling feeling in my spine like I did in the first one, I still sat in the theater terrified, which is what a good horror film is supposed to do.  For those of you that hate blood and gore in your scary movies, you will especially want to check this one out since it relies more on what you don’t see than what you do.  A-

Life As We Know It
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, language and some drug content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Since I first saw the trailer of this film about a man and woman that hate each other but are forced to live together to raise their Goddaughter when her parents die, I knew that this would be a predictable rom com with another horrible premise.  While the movie mainly lives up its expectations, I am willing to offer up slight praise in that it’s mildly enjoyable.  I can’t recommend it due to the fact that the premise is so bad and the trailer is just a short version of the whole, but the acting is decent, given the material, and there are some cute moments that make it so you can’t quite hate it.  These mild annoyances clash with the mild enjoyment and produce a very average film rather than the terrible movie I was expecting.  C

It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic issues, sexual content, drug material and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Perhaps the filmmakers thought that adding the word “funny” in the title would give a light-hearted feeling to the film, or perhaps it’s meant to be ironic; but whatever the case may be, this pic about a suicidal kid who checks into a psych hospital falls flat.  The film is so boring that you almost feel like the performances were thorazine-induced.  The only bright spots were Zach Galifianakis who pulls off a respectable dramatic role and a haunting version of Pixies’s Where is My Mind by the brilliant pianist Maxence Cyrin that I had to download on iTunes after watching.  C-

I Spit on Your Grave
Unrated for pervasive strong sadistic brutal violence, rape and torture, nudity and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This remake of the 1978 rape/revenge slasher pic (which is also seeing its blu-ray debut this week) follows much of the same plot line of the original in the fact that a girl is brutally raped and then goes after her rapists one-by-one to take them out.  The difference here is that there are better production values, stronger acting, and much more horrific murders.  While The Last House on the Left is a stronger picture in this horror sub-genre, if you like to see a pseudo-snuff film from a justified killer, then this one isn’t too bad.  The revenge killings are quite creative and less offensive to watch than the horrific rape sequence which seemed to last forever as I fast-forwarded through it.  C+