Casa de mi Padre

Casa de mi Padre
Starring Will Ferrell, Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal
Directed by Matt Piedmont

    Caught in the middle of a Mexican drug war, Will Ferrell must do what he can in order to protect both his father’s ranch as well as his family’s name. But when he falls in love with his brother’s fiance, he must take the battle to the drug lord and risk alienating his brother.  

    Spoken almost entirely in Spanish, Casa de mi Padre serves as a spoof of bad Mexican films.  While most American audiences won’t be familiar with the subject being made fun of, there is a large number of Latinos and savvy movie fans that will find the pic very funny.  And even if you don’t know the genre well, the humor is broad enough that you will at the very least have a good laugh. 

    While Ferrell doesn’t actually speak Spanish in real life, you’d never know from watching this movie.  You can’t say the acting is good, but for what they were trying to accomplish – it was perfect.  Pretending to be a bad actor can be a feat as difficult as being a good one and Ferrell and crew have that skill down here.  Also, it was fun watching Luna and Bernal get back together, lovingly mocking low-budget Mexican cinema.

    There is part of me that thinks that this film is just one joke taken way too far.  Like it’s a Saturday Night Live sketch made 80 minutes too long.  But frankly, I left the theater after having enjoyed myself and with a mere $6 million dollar budget, this movie was never meant to be the box office smash we are used to with Ferrell’s films.  It’s just a delightfully clever bit of entertainment whose faults are acceptable.  B-

New in Home Entertainment – March 27, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

March 27, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Many critics dismissed this very moving tribute to 9/11 but even so it still managed to squeak out an Oscar nod for both best picture and best supporting actor for 82-year-old Max von Sydow.  Extremely Loud follows the story of a high-functioning autistic boy whose father (played by Tom Hanks) dies when the towers collapse.  When the boy finds a key hidden in a vase in his father’s closet, he sets off to discover what the key unlocks in order to experience one last adventure with his father.  If you are anything like me, you could care less what the other critics think.  This is an exceptional movie full of an amazing variety of emotions and intense complexity.  It is well-written, terrifically acted, and the overall production is top-notch.  It also possesses the best and most under-appreciated score of the year composed by Alexandre Desplat with piano by Jean-Yves Thibaudet.  And while you will need some major tissue, the sadness does not bring you down or make you wish you hadn’t watched it.  A

In the Land of Blood and Honey
Rated R for war violence and atrocities including rape, sexuality, nudity and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Written and directed by Angelina Jolie, Land of Blood and Honey tells the story of a man and woman during the Bosnian War whose allegiances to their countries and religions keep them from furthering their relationship.  One can’t help but be impressed with the ambition of such a project.  There is no doubt that the atrocities that occurred during this time were truly horrible and worth showing to the world.  While the production is good and the setting is well-handled, the overall story is not the greatest.  The characters fall flat and you get the sense that Jolie could have used a bit more experience before tackling such heavy material.  C+

The Sitter
Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and some violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Jonah Hill plays a suspended college student who is talked into babysitting the kids next door in this latest comedy from Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green.  There are some pretty funny laughs to be had in this comedy, but just like Green’s last film, Your Highness, the drug and sex jokes get a little stale.  Hill is an interesting actor to watch at times, but he is much better suited for films like 21 Jump Street and Moneyball than he is for this kind of movie.  The whole thing feels like two guys were watching the 1987 film Adventures in Babysitting while high and started asking dumb “what if?” questions and wallah – a movie was formed.  It’s not horrible, but not good either.  C

Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Edition

Available on Blu-ray

For the 70th anniversary of what many consider to be the greatest romantic film of all time, Warner Brothers is releasing this beautiful limited edition box set which contains an all-new 4K scan of the film (not sure what that means but it sure is pretty) with tons of featurettes and documentaries as well as a 60 page photo book, French mini-poster and coaster set.  It’s not a bad deal for a relatively low cost and the film has never looked or sounded better.  I know if I hadn’t gotten one from Warner Brothers recently, I would have had it on my Birthday wish list with constant reminders for my wife.  A+

New in Home Entertainment – March 20, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

March 20, 2012

The Descendants
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

George Clooney is a father of two girls and husband to a woman lying in a coma in the hospital.  When he finds out that his wife was cheating on him before her accident, he struggles with his strained relationship and seeks to discover more about his wife’s secret.  Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election) has always focused on cheating spouses in a way that shows the pain the other party goes through without putting the audience through the same torture.  While the situation itself might not be funny, he manages to put a comedic spin on the actions in order to lighten up the mood and not drag the viewer into depression.  This is a very real, very serious movie that will have you laughing constantly.  The Oscar-winning script here, like all of his other scripts, is genius.  The man has a wonderful talent for showing the tragedies of real life while always pointing out the positives as well.  This is an engrossing film that will more than likely leave you both entertained and touched.  A

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Based on the infamous John le Carre spy novel, Tinker Tailor focuses on a British Intelligence agent (Gary Oldman) who is asked to uncover the identity of a mole in the top ranks of the agency.  Swedish director Tomas Alfredson certainly has the ability for visual storytelling as is evidenced by his masterful vampire film Let the Right One In and even moments throughout this newest thriller.  The problem is that here the thriller doesn’t thrill.  I actually watched the film twice to see what I could be missing since the buzz was so hot.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure it out.  The story is very complex and yet so incredibly boring that by the end you might understand the whodunit aspects of the picture but you could hardly care.  I know there are some folks who really loved this movie, but I can’t possible understand why and I’m not willing to sit through a third time to try to better understand their rationale.  C-

My Week with Marilyn

Rated R for some language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh both deservedly scored Oscar nods for their roles as Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier in this picture which follows the on and off-set struggles of the making of The Prince and the Showgirl.  While Meryl Streep went home with the trophy, Williams was my first choice for this year’s award.  Her turn as Monroe seemed to possess every subtlety of her iconic look and personality.  With acting this strong and a good story to boot, you get a sense of realism like you are almost watching a documentary.  A-

The Muppets
Rated PG for some mild rude humor
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

It’s been years since The Muppets have had a decent showing in pop culture but they have come on again strong in this latest outing.  In their newest tale, The Muppets biggest fan, Walter, heads to Los Angeles with his brother, played by Jason Segel, in order to see Muppet Studios.  When he discovers an evil oil baron’s plan to destroy the studio in order to drill for oil, he works with Kermit and the rest of The Muppets to put on a show to save their property.  The whole thing is just pure fun from start to finish.  It’s wonderfully written and cleverly acted with some terrific songs sprinkled throughout.  They even won an Oscar this year for their song Man or Muppet.  Whether adult or child, it’s hard to imagine someone not liking this very entertaining movie.  B+ 

The War Room: The Criterion Collection
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When I first saw that this 1993 drama about Bill Clinton’s run for office was getting the Criterion treatment, I was a bit surprised.  I never thought of it as great film making but rather just a well-made documentary.  That being said, there is something special about the style used by directors Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker.  And looking back at this very recent history, it’s also incredibly powerful to see the now famous political personalities James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as they pull off a major upset to get Clinton elected.  If you do pick up this film, you must check out the special features that go even more in depth to the famous campaign and how it changed the way campaigns are run today.  B+

John Carter

John Carter
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Mark Strong
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action

    Recently, former Pixar director Brad Bird (Ratatouille) took on the immense challenge of directing the fourth installment of Mission Impossible and the result was a critically acclaimed box-office smash.  So it’s little wonder that there is a lot of insider excitement over Pixar director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) taking the helm of the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs sci-fi series John Carter of Mars. 

    John Carter (Kitsch) is just your average greedy Civil War vet turned prospector who finds himself strangely transported to Mars where he now has super-human strength, thanks to the lower gravitational pull.  Finding himself caught in a Martian civil war between two human-like races trying to annihilate each other, he falls in love with the beautiful princess (Houston’s own Lynn Collins) from one of the warring sides and helps them survive the menace of a devastating weapon given to their enemies from some strange mystical beings attempting to control the destiny of the planet. 

    In light of his highly successful career, it is not surprising where Stanton succeeded, but it is highly surprising where he failed.  The crowning achievement of this film is its tremendous use of special effects.  The CG is truly out of this world and one can assume that most of its reported $250 million budget went into the production and not on its cast. 

    The big fail here is in writing and casting.  Pixar prides itself in their ability to tell stories and so it’s easy to assume that the story would be king in a film such as this.  I’m sure there is a good reason why these classic books haven’t made it to the big screen yet and that is because the material doesn’t translate well to the screen.  But looking at what they came up with, it doesn’t look like it’s a far stretch to get to a really good script.  What we get instead is a confusing story that plods along and almost collapses from its own weight. 

    It doesn’t help that the cast has a tough time pulling it off.  I’m sure Kitsch turned in an amazing screen test and that he has potential as a leading actor, but this film needed a star.  It needed a Jake Gyllenhaal, Vin Diesel or even a Channing Tatum to guide us on our way.  In an attempt to save money on actors’ inflated salaries, Disney ultimately shows why it can be worth it to put in a well-known actor and I’m sure they will be crying over that decision for years to come. 

    One thing that doesn’t help the film any is its lousy 3D edition.  Just like the recent Pirates of the Caribbean film, the movie is too dark to make use of the technology.  If you are going to create a worthwhile 3D project, it is important to cut down on the amount of nighttime scenes and if you use a lot of them, you must artificially crank up the lighting.  After all, tinted 3D glasses will only exasperate the darkness.  Unfortunately, I found myself taking off my glasses just so I could see what’s going on – choosing fuzzy vision over almost pure absence of light. 

    So while Disney was hoping that John Carter could be the next big franchise film, and they took a huge chance on a relatively little-known book series, I am guessing that Carter will join Prince of Persia and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the potential Disney franchise graveyard.  C+

New in Home Entertainment

New in Home Entertainment

March 13, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin
Rated PG for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Spielberg’s first feature-length animated film follows the adventures of a young detective who is incredibly well-known in Europe but relatively unknown in the States.  Needless to say, a little character development would have gone a long way here as we try to get to know the hero attempting to discover the secret of a ship called “The Unicorn.”  But if you can get past this lack of a normal story-telling device, the film is full of adrenaline and is absolutely beautiful to boot.  Should it have been nominated for an Oscar this year in the animated category?  Absolutely.  Especially since it is a far superior film to Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots.  But at least it was recognized for the outstanding score by John Williams.  B+

The Three Musketeers
Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure action violence
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

All it takes is one look at the leading actor’s ridiculous hair worn by the young actor Logan Leman (Percy Jackson) to come to the realization that this film is not a well-thought-out creation.  Taking the original book by Alexandre Dumas and turning it into a big special effects extravaganza is an interesting concept but ultimately fails under the heavy hands of director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil).  While the production is itself (aside from Leman’s hair) is lush and lovely, the dialog is horrific and the actors look tired rather than lively and charismatic.  This project is ultimately a huge waste of a talented cast and a timeless tale.  D+

Rated R for some graphic nudity, sexual content and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

After hearing the seemingly unbelievable news that Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman) had just won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival, I couldn’t wait to see her in Danish director Lars von Trier’s (Dancer in the Dark) latest opus.  Set at the end of the world as a mysterious planet comes hurdling towards the Earth, two sisters, played by Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, find themselves struggling in their relationship and their impending doom.  I have to admit that I haven’t completely wrapped my head around this one yet.  This an extremely complex and ambitious film that will require multiple visits, much thought, and probably some outside reading to fully appreciate.  That being said, I thought the production was stunning (and cheated out of an art design Oscar nom this year) and the acting powerful, although a bit melodramatic.  If you are into challenging films, this should be right up your alley.  A-

Jack and Jill
Rated PG for crude material including suggestive references, language and comic violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

While this is traditionally the exact kind of film that ends up being on every critic’s worst film of the year list and an obvious Razzie candidate, I found this Adam Sandler pic to be rather interesting.  After all, this film about fighting male and female twins (both played by Sandler) is exactly the kind of film Sandler made fun of himself for in his last serious role in Funny People.  Between Funny People and the truly excellent Punch Drunk Love, Sandler has proven he has chops but these crappy little films he makes are geared by the studios to steal money from who they consider to be their large and unsophisticated audience.  It’s pandering at its very worst, which while I can’t claim it possesses any sort of merit, I find myself fascinated by the sheer audacity of the lack of respect for the movie-going public.  C+

Tennessee Tuxedo: The Complete Collection
Available on DVD

The classic 1960’s television toon featuring Don Adams as the voice of penguin Tennessee Tuxedo who wanders the zoo with his walrus pal Chumley, getting into all kinds of trouble, all the while educating the audience and making them laugh.  This new set, released by Shout Factory, features all 70 original episodes plus loads of extras.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – March 6, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

March 6, 2012

Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

All year long critics have been proclaiming how gutsy HBO was for putting so much money behind a fantasy drama based on the famous book series by George R.R. Martin.  I’m under the opinion that HBO simply knew what it was doing.  The material is fantastic, the characters are unique and incredibly interesting, and killing off main characters at the drop of a hat just makes the show down-right addictive.  From the opening sequence of episode one where you realize that these aren’t just olden times but a different time and place altogether where something supernatural is afoot; to the closing scene of the season which leaves you completely impatient for season two – I was completely hooked and couldn’t take my eyes off of the TV.  Some might find the tremendous amount of violence and sex to be off-putting, but if you are looking for a cross between Rome and Lord of the Rings, you can’t do better.  Thankfully HBO is releasing this set almost a full month before the April 1st premier of Season Two which should allow fans to start salivating and newcomers to become fans.  A+

Rated PG-13 for some teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When the original Footloose hit theaters back in 1984 it was a huge sensation.  The story about a small town that didn’t allow kids to dance and the rebel that couldn’t abide was a feel good classic with a soundtrack that is still famous today.  So you have to think that if they want to remake such an iconic tale that they’d have to bring something special to the table.  In that regard this is a huge disappointment.  This new version is a remake in the sense that they use the same character names and overall plot line, but setting the movie in the present doesn’t bring a single thing except to show how dance and fashion has changed a bit.  It’s not that it’s a bad film, but it just doesn’t improve upon the original and seems completely unnecessary.  And really, in order for this film to truly succeed, it would have needed a soundtrack to rival the first and this music, filled with weak originals and lame covers of the original soundtrack, is completely forgettable.  C+

Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence, and a scene of sexuality
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Ever since my first exposure to greek mythology with the 1981 Clash of the Titans, I have been a big fan of the genre.  After the huge disappointment that was the 2010 Clash remake, I was hoping for a decent myth movie with modern special effects.  Director Tarsem Singh has certainly put together some of the most visually impressive films in recent years such as The Cell and The Fall, but the one thing missing in his movies was a compelling narrative.  While this new film about Theseus (Henry Cavill) and his battle against the evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) doesn’t possess the most amazing of scripts ever written, the spectacular look of the film does a decent enough job to impress the audience and while I feel a little tricked into liking it, I can honestly say I don’t mind.  In my opinion this is a classic guilty pleasure film where you know you shouldn’t like it but yet you just can’t help yourself.  B-