Archive for May, 2014

 

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Seth MacFarlane’s new film, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” opens across the nation today with an all-star cast.  MacFarlane, known for the television series “Family Guy” and the hit movie “Ted” continues with his style of humor in this new feature film.  

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MacFarlane plays Albert in the Old West who is a cowardly sheep farmer and deeply in love with Louise (Amanda Seyfried).  When she dumps Albert for the local mustache proprietor (Neil Patrick Harris), Albert falls into a deep depression.  The only way out of that psychological abyss is through another woman.  He meets Anna (Charlize Theron) who unfortunately happens to be married to Clinch (Liam Neeson), the notorious gun-slinger in the West.  Albert’s cowardly ways must change if he and his town is to survive, but keep in mind, there are at least a million ways to die in the west!

 

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a creatively written film that places itself in a typical Wild West movie genre.  MacFarlane brings the current day vernacular and knowledge into this film, sprinkling it into the dialogue to create humor.  The lines are quickly paced and the predictable gags do make you laugh.  But here is the catch.  MacFarlane’s style is also to repeatedly use scattalogical humor throughout the film.  The fart jokes and other bodily fluid references become a bit old.  And there’s plenty of other raunchy and completely politically incorrect jokes as well.

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The characters in this film are utterly over-the-top and they are meant to be.  The local prostitute (Sarah Silverman) who is “saving herself for marriage” to her boyfriend who treats her job as just another work day is funny.  Again, the raunchiness level is extreme, but it is a unique perspective.  The outlaw Clinch is one awful man with a cold heart.  There’s plenty of blood-shed, complete with gun fights and broken bottle stabbings to satisfy the goriness level in this film.  The special effects with mutilations and death are a bit jarring, but the situations under which these occur do have some humorous merit,believe it or not.  And you have to remember, the name of the movie is “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”

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This is a star-studded cast with Charlize Theron taking on her first comedic role.  Neil Patrick Harris steals the show with his ridiculous mustache shop and his interactions with MacFarlane.  Harris has the old-fashioned physical humor reminiscent of silent films of a bygone era.  He says more with his expressions and body language than a single line of dialogue could ever convey.  The movie stars seems to make guest appearances in this film much like they did in the skits during this year’s Academy Award ceremony hosted by MacFarlane.  Gilbert Gottfried, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie Foxx, and even Ryan Reynolds have very little screen time, but their appearances get the job done.

 

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a typical Seth MacFarlane film that will appeal to the younger crowds. (Over 18, please!)  It’s quite raunchy much along the lines of MacFarlane’s previous film “Ted.”  Please also be warned that there are many drug and sexual references along with the typical potty humor.  If you enjoy this type of comedy, you’re going to appreciate the creativity and outrageous perspective of this film.  Otherwise, I’d skip it or wait for the DVD and save your money.

 

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“Blended” opens this weekend starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.  The director, Frank Coraci, is quite familiar with Mr. Sandler as Coraci has directed him in recognizable films such as “Waterboy,” “The Wedding Singer,” and “Click.”  And this isn’t the first time Barrymore and Sandler have worked together, either.  They matched up in “The Wedding Singer,” and “50 First Dates.”  Will this reunion of director and actors be a success? Read on to find out.

 

Lauren (Barrymore) and Jim (Sandler) are two single adults raising children of the opposite sex by themselves.  A blind date lands them sitting at a Hooter’s, but both are looking for an escape.  As they part ways hoping to never meet again, situations continue to arise that bring them back together.  As luck would have it, as well as miscommunication and a fluke, they end up vacationing with their children in Africa…together.  The two families then must become “blended.”

 

We see from the beginning that Lauren has been dumped by a cheating husband and Jim has lost his wife to cancer.  Lauren’s boys have issues as do Jim’s daughters.  As the two families find themselves in Africa together, the issues become more evident, but alas Lauren helps these poor little girls in need of a mother-figure and likewise, Jim fills in for the father-figure.  Oh, the wisdom the two impart is simply astounding.  (Please read with sarcasm.)  It’s almost as if it’s been written before or perhaps a child wrote the screenplay.  Unfortunately, what is not child-like is the raunchy humor interspersed in the film.  Many inappropriate and out of place events occur such as fornicating rhinoceri which seems almost jarring to whatever flow this film has to offer.

 

blendeddisneyThe movie continues at whatever pace it can muster as the two adults begin to see one another in a different light.  However,  the acting is so unbelievably stilted that your attention wanders.  In an effort to capture the audiences’ soft spot, Sandler snuggles at bedtime with his little girls who miss their mommy.  Again, unfortunatley even these scenes which should create sympathy and emotion only look artificial and contrived.  In one “romantic” scene between Jim and Lauren, I could almost hear the director giving them moment by moment directions as to where to look and what to do.  This  trip to Africa feels as if it is a blend of Sybaris meets Disney World complete with muscled African men singing strange things at strange times.  This resort is an all-inclusive African Epcot theme park.  It’s rather sad that this film makes Africa look dreadfully tacky.   As the families experience “Africa”, the time seems to slow to a crawl.  There are the occasional chuckles, but they are far and few between.  What stands out are the endless minutes, one after another, of total boredom.

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The cblendedscreamast seems to have graduated from The School of Over-Acting with an honorscourse in How to Scream Your Lines Louder Than a Jet Engine.  Barrymore gives it her old college try, but she can’t even pull this off. And Sandler is Sandler.  He is the same in this movie as he is in “Just Go With It” and “Spanglish” among many other films of the same type.  Kevin Nealon’s role as older dad with younger wife is downright disgusting.  The only saving grace is the adorable little girl Alyvia Alyn Lind who plays Lou.  Thankfully, she is in many of the scenes and her precious face and voice save whatever is possible. 

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With an awful screenplay, stilted acting, and never ending screaming either from the children or the adults, the headache soon follows.  “Blended” is well-worth skipping.  I can’t even recommend it as a DVD later on and trust me, this will be released in DVD sooner rather than later.  It is a contrived and stilted film with very little entertainment value.  The combination of the calibre of writing, directing, and acting keep Sandler’s movies where they always have been, but his bank account doesn’t seem to mind.

 

million“Million Dollar Arm” starring Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, and Alan Arkin aptly opens this weekend as the baseball season is now in full swing.  This Disney film based on a true story, depicts the recruitment of two young Indian men to the game of baseball.  JB is a sports agent and his career is striking out.  He then grasps at straws by recruiting in the yet untapped country of India.  Finding two promising pitchers, JB brings these boys to the US and finds more than he initially planned.

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JB (Jon Hamm) and his business partnerAash (Aasif Mandvi) are two sports agents who have branched out on their own.  Thus far, their business venture has been all but successful.   Having placed all of their eggs in one basket, their last hope at signing a football star has now failed.  The two are desperate and desperate times call for desperate measures.  Seeing the similarities between the game of cricket and baseball, JB travels to India to find their next professional pitchers.  A contest of sorts is “organized” and the winners receive a large monetary prize amill6long with the chance to travel to the US and train to tryout for an MLB team. 

 

JB soon learns that these “life changing dreams also bring great responsibility” which he may not be ready to handle.  With the help of his newly found Indian assistant Amit, the baseball scout Ray (Alan Arkin), and his neighbor Brenda (Lake Bell), JB attempts to find a balance in his life as he becomes “the primary caregiver” for these displaced kids.

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The movie is about growing, loving, and priorities along with integrity in your decisions.

Jon Hamm gives a wonderful performance as the initially self-absorbed, financially struggling sports agent who has very little depth.  We watch him grow as we root for him.  The two ball pmill7layers, Rinku (Sharma) and Dinesh (Mittal), are sweet, young boys who would make any mother proud.  Their initial innocence and naivete regarding things such as elevators is both humorous and adorable.  It is such a pleasure to watch genuine interaction between all of these characters as they help each other learn, understand, and grow.  Alan Arkin’s portrayal of a scout and Pitobash as the eager to please assistant with a dream of his own added the perfect comical perspective to this story.  As always, Mandvi is a pleasure to watch as he artfully portrays the sensible business partner full of insight and perceptiveness.

 

This is a truly delightful film that is at times laugh out loud funny then turning on a dime to a heartfelt and emotional story.  In showing the disparity between the outlying country of India and the stark, hustle-bustle of L.A., the two cultures clash with humor and heart.

The story keeps pace throughout the film.  Each and every character is developed and important in their own right.  It’s wonderfully balanced film, giving you a complete story about each of the characters.

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“Million Dollar Arm” is more than a story about baseball; it’s a story about life and dreams.  It captures the hopes everyone has while also portraying the reality of life.  As the movie shows, attaining our dreams can seem improbable, but following your heart can knock down some of those barriers making those goals seem a little more attainable.  This is an enjoyable, positive and uplifting film that is perfect for the entire family.  It’s full of ironies, humor, but in addition, knowing that it is based on a true story makes it that much more satisfying.  “Million Dollar Arm” appears to be a no hitter—that’s a good thing in baseball!

8 REELSmill3

chinese-puzzle-posterLife is simple.  No, life is complicated.  Let’s try again…life is simply complicated just like a Chinese puzzle.  The first puzzle that comes to my mind is that finger torture one I always had in my birthday party goodie bags as a little kid.  No matter how hard I pulled, my fingers stayed stuck.  Think a little differently and POOF! you’re released.  That’s the new film CHINESE PUZZLE in a nutshell.

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Our main character, Xavier is living a seemingly perfect life in Paris with his British wife Wendy of 10 years and 2 adorable and keenly sensitive children. But then the bottom falls out and Xavier finds himself divorcing, living alone, and not spending as much time with his children as he would like.  As Wendy moves with his children to NYC, Xavier follows behind to not only be closer to his children, but inadvertently to figure ochinese2ut who he really is and what he wants out of life.

CHINESE PUZZLE is an engaging film capturing your attention and the subtle nuances of life itself.  The film starts near the end and then retraces its steps to tell a complete story.  This style of writing makes the film even more fulfilling as we figure out how Xavier found himself marrying a Chinese-American.  (I’m not giving anything away…it’s in the trailer!)  We also watch as Xavier wrestles with his own past relationships with friends, girlfriends, and his father, as well as struggling with being a foreigner in the US.  There are so many side stories in this rather complicated story, but the main theme continues along effortlessly and that’s the theme of life.  It’s a quick paced, humorous, yet thoughtful film that anyone at any age can relate to.

Cedric Klapisch both writes and directs this film.  He deftly depicts the inner feelings of what makes us all tick.  His characters are fully developed which enables the viewer to have empathy for each and every one of them.  As in real life, there are sweet and tender moments, moments of struggle and frustration, and encapsulating all of is a bit of humor.  Along with talented writing, the film is accompanied by a skilled cast including Romain DChinese Puzzleuris (Xavier), Audrey Tautou (Martine), and Kelly Reilly (Wendy).  Duris’ performance pulls you into his plight on the screen and you immediately care about this kind and thoughtful father.  Audrey Tautou who might recognize from the film AMELIE, personifies the 40-something single working mother and all that is wrapped up in that package.  And finally, Kelly Reilly is allowed to show off her skills as an actress in her role in this film. 

Be sure to check out CHINESE PUZZLE.  This is a creatively written, skillfully directed, and funny film about life.  Every aspect of life and all the emotions you could possibly have are represented in this wonderful film.  Is it complicated?  Yes.  Is it simple?  Yes.  Sometimes we need to look at what’s right in front of us to figure out that things can be relatively simple—just like a Chinese puzzle.

Check out the trailer: CHINESE PUZZLE TRAILER

8 REELS

 

MOMS’ NIGHT OUT hits theaters this weekend, timing it perfectly with Mother’s Day.  Being a mom is, in this reviewer’s mind, is one of the most important jobs on earth.  It’s also one of the most difficult jobs.  This new film, written and directed by Jonathan Erwin  and Andrea Gyertson Nasfell and starring Sarah Drew, Sean Astin, and Patricia Heaton, recognizes and celebrates this very important vocation. “Moms’ Night Out” isn’t your typical comedy, though.  It’s  a family focused comedy that’s inventive, fun, and truly relatable.  As one of the actors stated in a recent interview with WKCC’s The Reel Focus, “It’s a Mom Com!”

 

Sarah Drew stars as the young married mom Allyson who is trying so very hard to be happy in her chosen life profession of Stay-At-Home-Mom.  With three demanding young ones and a traveling husband, she reaches for her support system…girl friends.  Trying to take back a bit of her identity prior to being a mom, she invites her best friend and the Pastor’s wife who are both moms, to join her in a much needed night out.  The night proves to be nothing like what she planned, but sometimes lessons learned are the ones we don’t plan for.

 

The film begins as Allyson explains her situation.  You see, Allyson is attempting to be a “Mommy Blogger”  while being a Stay-At-Home-Mom.  She brings us into her world and thought processes.  Her neuroses of germs, cleanliness, and perfect order are hysterical.  She also has “moments” that she recalls.  These “moments” are episodes that I am guessing we have all had.  The moments when you wished you had closed all your windows in the house before having the “moment.”  The moment when you realize you didn’t close the windows and the entire neighborhood was privy to your meltdown over the clothes that landed AROUND and not IN the dirty clothes basket.  The reinactment of Allyson’s “moments” along with her narration of what she was thinking is unbelievably comical and so relatable.  The narration, imaginary situations that are played out, and graphic art all interspersed in the film to tell a more complete story from Allyson’s perspective and make this film continually entertaining.  Although there are some over-the-top and sometimes ridiculous situations, it’s still funny.

 

The three main moms are all at very different stages in their lives:  Allyson with three young ones, her sister-in-law Bridgette, a teen mom with a baby, and Sondra, the outwardly appearing perfect mom and wife of a pastor with a teen.  Each of these moms give a different perspective to motherhood in comical and sometimes heartfelt ways.  The bottom line is all the same as these moms love their kids and are just trying to do the best for them.

 

 

The cast is believable and elicits empathy from the audience immediately.  Sarah Drew, Patricia Heaton,  and Sean Astin take the leads, but the rest of the cast supports and shines, as the director Andy Erwin expressed, when it is just the right time.  The writing of this film captures the very essence of being a mom—the frustration, the day-to-day struggles, and of course,  the love we have for our kids.

 

 

“Moms’ Night Out” is a lighthearted yet touching film with a message.  There’s no bad language or crass behavior to try and get the laughs.  It’s just a well-written comedy with a touch of a religious base to it.  If that’s not your thing, don’t worry.  “Moms’ Night Out” doesn’t hit you over the head with it.  It’s just a part of these down-to-earth characters.  If you’re a mom, or a dad, you will be able to relate to all the different feelings these parents have.  It’s a high energy and refreshing film that recognizes and celebrates the hard work moms do to raise their children.

 

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you hardworking moms!

 

LOCKE

Starring: Tom Hardy

Written and directed by: Steven Knight

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Ivan Locke is an ordinary man whose life begins to crumble at its very foundation.  Ivan, by all outward appearances, is a construction worker who is in charge of one of the largest concrete pours in Europe.  As we join him getting into his car, he suddenly changes lanes and turning directions on his way to our witnessing his crumbling.

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This is a solo performance by Tom Hardy.  He plays this ordinary role with extraordinary skill.  You see, Ivan is having a bad day…a very bad day.  His bad day, as we watch, becomes worse and worse, spiraling out of what most people would say, control.  But not Ivan, because Ivan controls everything within his reach.  He will fix everything and “everything will get back to normal.”  As Ivan makes his 90 minute commute, he is bombarded by phone calls from various people in his life.  With each and every call, we learn more and more about the predicament in which Ivan finds himself.  Stress and tension abound as the viewer sits helplessly in the audience.  The self-control and Ivan’s breaking points are very close to the same line.  He crosses that boundary very carefully so that only he knows his true feelings.

 

locke3Ivan speaks with his two sons, his wife, boss, employee, father, and one other special person.  As we listen to the conversations, we quite vividly paint the picture of these people in their environment, feeling as if they have appeared on the screen.  The two sons waiting for their father to come home to watch an epic soccer match; the Irish employee who might be imbibing while on the job; the distraught wife.  The characters are rich and well-developed which gives an even clearer picture of Ivan’s life.

 

The writing in this movie creates each and everyone of these characters in a way that is almost incomprehensible.  Having only one person on the screen for the entire length of the film, using only voice and sound effects to create an entire ensemble is absolutely amazing.  As Ivan begins to show cracks in the very foundation of what makes him who he is, he just as quickly patches those cracks to continue to be strong, focused, and most importantly, in control.

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Steven Knight

 

Tom Hardy’s performance is extraordinarily brilliant.  His calm, soothing voice dupes us into believing he is totally in control only to be privy to his outbursts as well.  As a viewer, we feel that we are sitting in the passenger seat, but cannot do anything to help.  As Ivan’s tension and stress mount, so does that of the passenger.  We are right along for this life changing ride near London.  The camera work, filming from various angles of the car ride at night, catching reflections and all the beauty that light gives during the darkest of hours, just accentuates the overall feeling of this film.

 

There are so many nuances and subtleties within this film that make this a film that will be a standout of the year, but to tell you about them would spoil the effects.  This is truly a must-see film.  The performances, the fact that the writer relies on you, the viewer, to use your imagination to accurately and fully fill in the blanks is surprisingly wonderful.  Be a part of this film…sit in the passenger seat and take an extraordinary ride.

To listen to the interview with Steven Knight about the making of LOCKE, go to the WKCC tab on this site.

 

9 1/2  REELS