NSA

No Strings Attached is supposed to be “every” guy’s, and some women’s best fantasy… This concept is repeatedly verbalized by the supporting characters of Eli (Jake M. Johnson)and Wallace (Ludacris). In case you are unaware, NSA means having sex with no commitment or expectations.

The first 10 minutes begin with a mix of caring, boldness, and comedic subtlety that I have not seen in a while. Unfortunately, it was not maintained… As this was directed by Ivan Reitman, I was expecting a bit more. While I didn’t not enjoy this movie, (yes, that was a double negative), let’s just say I am waiting for the unrated DVD.

The story actually begins 15 years ago, when Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) are teenagers at summer camp. Frome there, they have a few random (non sexual) encounters until “current day.” Emma is in residency, and anybody who has seen Scrubs knows that doctors-to-be do not have a lot of free time. The morning AFTER a hard night of drinking on Adam’s part, and an early morning hookup with Emma, the NSA plan is formed. From here we descend into romantic comedy territory with mostly familiar scenes and the required montage.

Back to supporting characters… I really wanted to see more of them. More Eli, Wallace, Shira (Mindy Kaling), and Patrice (Greta Gerwig). The friends surrounding the relationship had quite a bit of potential in themselves that was never utilized. Most notably, Wallace. I don’t remember if we even found out his name on screen. Why use a character like Ludacris, and have his most memorable line be, “Look at my face.” I’m not saying he is the most talented person in Hwood, but I doubt he is cheap, and I know he has more range than what we saw here.

Maybe I had too many expectations… The teeth I was hoping this film would have just didn’t sustain. How edgy can this topic be anymore? Craigslist has a whole section dedicated to it. Natalie Portman continues her determined walk away from the perceived girl next door image, (If she ever had one. Especially after The Professional and Black Swan), with some stimulating scenes. I will give kudos to the period playlist… (I don’t consider this a spoiler as it is listed on the official website). Overall, NSA was sufficiently entertaining, even if my sides were not in pain from laughing the whole way through.

Takers

There seems to be a pattern to movies I’ve been seeing lately… I’ve been loving them or hating them. Takers falls in the hate category. Which is sad, because I felt it started off really smart. The film opens with the gang robbing a bank, making the dramatic departure in a hijacked news helicopter. Another film goer felt this was a bad way to plan a getaway. I saw it as an escape OPTION they had in place because the silent alarm was triggered. Which ever way you look at it, it was a cool scene.

We were treated to a few teaser scenes that threatened to engage, and keep us hooked. The team gives a portion of the take to charity and has a financial consultant! Two brothers, Jake (Michael Ealy) and Jesse (Chris Brown) were discussing their father who was in prison. There is no way Jesse could go visit while Dad is incarcerated. They are going to build him a house when he gets out. Gordon’s (Idris Elba) older sister Naomi (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is now in rehab, and he is trying to take care of her. Jack (Matt Dillon) is the sterotyped cop with family issues and can’t let the job go, who vaults to bad parent of the year when he takes his daughter on a quick stake out. The introduction of Ghost (T.I.), a former team member locked up after being shot, then caught, on a fire escape five years ago, is the cue for the sound of a giant ship hitting an iceberg. We learn virtually nothing else about the brother’s relationship, Jake’s story plummets even faster with a completely irrelevant subplot with his partner Eddie (Jay Hernandez), but at least Naomi is a convincing addict.

Before I continue with my less than complimentary review, I will say I did enjoy the music. Now, back to the scathing. One part that really, really bothered me was they actually referenced one of the many movies they were ripping off in the dialogue. The para phrase, “let’s Italian Job this” was actually uttered. (I am using the reference to the 2003 version as I have not seen the original yet). I do not see this as an homage, but as a slap in the cinematic face. During the whole debacle, Ghost is LITERALLY giving a running commentary!

Hey, look! More scathing–>> The intuitive plot leaps, are simply idiotic. The police conclude that Ghost was released on the same day as the opening bank heist, thereby, they must be related. Really? For some unknown reason, the current crew has a massive hatred for Ghost who, while in prison, DID keep his mouth shut and ratted no one out. In the final showdown, John (Paul Walker) deduces Jake is the cop that was following them, never having established seeing him in the car, only a little girl (could have been ANY little girl). I am wondering when this was actually produced/conceived due to the completely out of the blue parkour chase where the cops were able to keep up.

Zoe Saldana made an appearance or two, had virtually no lines and looked a very sexy, underused and highly unappreciated eye candy. Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen also showed up… Sorta.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Quality movies based on comics, graphic novels and video games are cashing in right now, and Scott Pilgrim is possibly at the top of that list. Brought to us by the same man who gave us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, (where is Simon Pegg?), Edgar Wright brings his latest often low key, otherwise pinpoint accurate comic genius to Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

Scott Pilgrim is a 22yr old Canadian bassist who plays video games, rocks with his band, deals with his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), who can text in his sleep, telling his sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick) absolutely EVERYTHING, and is in love with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the new girl in town and the girl of his dreams. As we know, Scott must defeat her 7 Evil Ex’s, specifically defined as NOT 7 Evil Ex Boyfriends (this was given away in the trailer). Each ex is more powerful than the last and has a unique power. Who knew that being a Vegan could give you special abilities, like punching the highlights out of someones hair?!?

Having come from a somewhat geeky background, Scott Pilgrim strikes home. From the opening Universal logo in 8-bit, to the closing scene, I was enamored with this film. The sound effects are splashed in text across the scene, we get on screen hit point meters and character synopsis, plus Catholic School Girl uniforms! The setting appears to be a mix of the early 90′s and today. Meshing two worlds with a prolific use of pay phones and cell phones into a cohesive duality that works with the music, characters, and social/movie references.

The surrounding world is completely forgiving of everything that pops up, literally. No one is surprised nor questions Scott’s new found skills or the League of Evil Ex’s that surrounds Ramona. The first Ex, Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), arrives while Scott’s band, Sex Bomb-omb, is onstage. He sent an email detailing his intentions to do battle, and breaks out in a Bollywood style song complete with sexy ghost-like Demons. Scott only skimmed the email, and wonders what to do. Wallace yells the sage advice of, “FIGHT!!!”

Not only are we treated to a visual romp through a fantasy land that I wish I were a part of (come on, you want super powers too!), there is plenty of wisdom, smart dialogue, and useful dating and life lessons embedded within. With Scott being such a young man, he has a lot going on in his life. Juggling an ex in the band, Kim (Alison Pill), a current girlfriend groupie soon to be ex, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), an unstable ex and lead singer of a popular band, Envy (Brie Larson), and the woman he believes he is in love with, Scott ultimately heads on his journey into manhood.

This movies is absolute awesomenessness. Yes, I typed that correctly. Wright makes no excuses for items that are unexplained, but I don’t care. If you are more interested in the fine details of how the Vegan police were called, or if Sex Bomb-omb was playing the proper chord, maybe this movie isn’t for you. But it is definitely for me.

The Expendables

Sylvester Stallone has been around for a while, and like older women that look like they have raided their daughters closet, maybe it’s time to let go of the past. I’m not saying curl up and die, just accept some things may not be for you anymore…

Expendables started decently, doing the things that could have made it successful had they continued down that road. There was comical banter in a tense, over the top situation that legitimately should have left them all dead. There were even several attempts to create backstory and give the characters depth. Statham had a love interest, Lacy (Charisma Carpenter), he was on the outs with, due to his questionable availability. Li kept saying he needed more money, but the reasons kept changing. Couture was in therapy dealing with issues. The biggest stretch was Lundgren being a drugged up, burnt out mercenary. At least they tried.

Let’s address the main selling point of this film, the cast allegedly consisting of some of our favorite action heroes from days gone by. Just because they make an appearance, does not an ensemble make. Remember the preview? That was pretty much the whole appearance by Willis and Schwarzenegger. The rest of the film was a Stallone vehicle, accompanied by Statham (he does have some of the best fight scenes). Some loose storylines involved Lundgren, Rourke and Li. And pretty much appearances by everyone else. I don’t remember Terry Crews even throwing a punch!

The basic plot is the team is hired to to free a small island from tyrannical leader General Garza (David Zayas) who is backed by rich Americans profiting from his drug trade (fronted by Eric Roberts with Steve Austin as the muscle). Their contact happens to be Sandra (Giselle Itié), the ridiculously attractive daughter of the dictator. After an inane confrontation that I imagine would NEVER happen if they were doing real reconnaissance, Stallone and Statham safely return home minus Sandra, as she will not leave her homeland. In the most touching scene and arguably the best acting of the movie, Rourke recants a tale of a previous mission. He had taken so many lives that day… He comes to a bridge where a woman was about to jump, she pleads to him with her eyes to save her, and he walks away. He hears the splash and knows that his humanity is gone.

Stallone decides to go back alone and help Sandra free her people. In true pack animal form, the guys go back with him, even though he says he is going alone and they are not getting paid. Right about now the shark gets jumped, the bowl gets circled, and crows are pecking at the dead flesh of The Expendables. It degrades into a stereotypical bad action flick that relies on explosions and gunfire to make a point. Or lack of a point. I wanted to see if our best action heroes still had what made them famous. I couldn’t tell, because I can’t see anything! The fight scenes are way too close and quick cutting. The General’s trained army is completely dismantled by six men. And why the hell is the helipad located outside the confines of the palace, along the most dangerous path available? Oh yeah, the palace has been reduced to a pile of rubble, and with no chase through the compound the movie would be shortened by 25 minutes.

The Expendables didn’t have potential, it was actually using what could have made it enjoyable and a movie to remember (in a good way.) It goes to some unnecessarily dark places, and includes story points that just don’t fit. Remember Rocky and First Blood? This is no where close. Darn that Hollywoody crap for getting in the way.

Inception

Inception is a rare gem… It’s intriguing, exciting, thought provoking, dramatic, complicated, and entertaining.

For the purpose of the film, the term “Inception” derives from the concept of “Extraction.” Extraction is the process of going into to a persons dreams via drugs and interconnection to pull information from an individuals subconscious. Unless the subject is aware or trained to defend against this intrusion, it will seem like any other dream. Inception is the process of PLANTING an idea… And is much more delicate and detailed. The idea has to be placed in such a manner that a seed takes root and grows, as opposed to a blatantly obvious, “DO THIS THING!”

The all star, and extremely capable cast (that delivered), includes Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, the troubled leader of the “Dream Team.” Arthur  (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is Cobb’s partner and voice of reason. Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the new architect of the dream worlds. Earnes (Tom Hardy) is the efficiently deadly muscle. Saito (Ken  Watanabe) is the motivator for Inception, and Robert Fischer Jr (Cillian Murphy) is the target.

Cobb is on the run, or at the very least, avoiding the United States. He is wanted for the murder of his wife. After an unsuccessful attempt to have information extracted from his mind, Saito presents Cobb with an offer… Plant an idea in the mind of Robert Fischer Jr that will benefit him. If it is works, Cobb can go home.

Thus ensues a story that anyone can tell Christopher Nolan has spent a hell of a lot of time working out the kinks. He has created an altered reality, and applies rules, explains them, and is truthful to them. Inception flows, and covers its tracks. Meaning, there is a LOT going on, but it all goes somewhere with a purpose. In case you haven’t noticed, I am sooo trying to write a review without giving away important information, only enough to explain why you should go see this movie.

The only portion I feel was a bit excessive is the music. It was a good score, but played at times where I felt it was not needed to push the tension. The exposition was enough, and natural in its own right. Imagine you are disclosing important information to someone who has just come into your life and may be able to help you fix a massive misunderstanding. And the whole time you have dramatic music underscoring you… Distracting, isn’t it?

There are so many reasons to like this film, but 2 of the biggest are, 1) Unlike much of the fare that comes out of Hollywood, it does not treat its audience like  swarm of imbeciles that need to be spoon fed a hacked up script. If there are things you don’t understand, go see it again, I’m pretty sure it was explained along the way.  2) The ending. All I’m going to say is I liked it.

The Last Airbender

M. Night Shyamalan has done it again. He’s not living up to the hype. I suppose it was a blessing that The Sixth Sense was a ridiculously successful, but it is a curse that it is the standard by which he is being compared.

Had I not been aware of the TV series The Last Airbender was based on, I would actually be less underwhelmed. The premise of the story is this… There are 4 tribes on the planet-Air, Water, Earth and Fire. Each tribe has individuals that can “bend” (magically manipulate) their respective elements. “The Last Airbender,” Aang (played by an incredibly deadpan and almost emotionless Noah Ringer), is literally the last of his kind. A prophecy foretold the Avatar would come from the Air tribe. The rest of his people were killed off by the Fire Nation while Ang was frozen in ice for 100 years. When Ang was 12, he learned he was the latest Avatar, the one destined to keep peace on the planet. He did not want the responsibility and fled, only to come back a century later to the Fire Nation devastating the planet.

Within three minutes of the opening, Aang is found by Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone). I was ready to exclaim, “Wow! They are getting right to it!” Right about then I realized they had taken a few liberties with the plot. Fine, no problem. Then the story logic starts to fall apart. D’oh! Did I mention the exposition is sooo dry and forced, I felt I was watching someone reading a text book.

Cinematically speaking, *YAWN*… Did they lose me at the bad dialogue, the crappy characterization or the jumbled story line? It was all of the above and various combinations thereof. We were rushed through the interesting parts, and forced to endure unnecessary trivialities like, “Aang, we have to go.” You think? We are in the middle of a battle, they are coming to kill you because of something that was scrawled on an animal hide, and you have to be told we have to leave. Again.

There were some decent special effects, but nothing you haven’t seen in the trailer. Ahh, the trailer. More interesting than the whole movie! Oh yeah, I was “lucky” enough to see this is 3D. Didn’t add a thing. I actually found myself taking the glasses off multiple times to make sense of what was happening.

One of the biggest flaws was it seemed they were trying to cram 3 seasons of material in a less than 2 hour movie. Seconds before the credits roll, it is revealed they intend to have a sequel. If you are going to run a marathon, don’t sprint from the starting line!!!

There are plenty of things wrong with this film, but you get the idea. It was not as fun as Splice to rip apart, so I’ll wrap up. I’m not going to hold my breath that part 2 will get made, but if Twilight can spawn a couple…

Splice

If the scientists who recently manufactured the first artificially created DNA had been in this movie, there would be potential for fear and a semblance of even movie “realism.” Well, they weren’t.

Splice is… bad. I can’t come up with a cool way to say it. Clive (Adrien Brody) and his brother Gavin (Brandon McGibbon) look like they were alternates for the Ramones. Elsa (Sarah Polley) is the girl next door trying to be the alternative girl so she can hang with the band. “Yeah, right. THEY’RE scientists,” kept ringing in my mind. They are way too cool and way too young to have broken thorough the barrier of human cell manipulation. I have a hard time believing they graduated in the top 60% of their high school class.

The list of ridiculousness is long, but here are few… SPOILER ALERT!!! You can operate a lab overseen by corporate bureaucracy in which you can test clone hundreds of unsanctioned embryos (or 4, as seen in the montage), bring one to term, and raise it to young adulthood with almost no one noticing. When someone does notice, it is because he is nearly killed by said human hybrid that is running free around the lab. The genetic creation that can change human history is scolded like a pet that peed on the carpet for nearly killing a fellow scientist. Did I mention the door was unlocked?

There are so many plot holes, story manipulations and stupid ideas crammed into this movie, it’s laughable. Literally. Director Vincenzo Natali should have intentionally gone straight for the MST3K audience or decided to stay away from this project completely. (Oh, wait! He helped with the screenplay.) By the time it actually attempted to be a horror movie, it had 5 minutes left. I had tears of unintended laughter and a bad taste in my mouth from the last 100 minutes. I don’t think I’ve used the phrase, “…And you’ve lost me” so many times in the same movie. (Assuming that I was pulled back in, from the last time I was lost.)

Splice made Species look like a Shakespearian triumph. At least Species was enjoyable and followed a path of “believability.” Splice feels like it was conceptualized by Adrien’s mechanic cousin that has blackmail material. I could go on with the MANY problems of this film, like Elsa’s instability within her character, the way she is depicted as Eve taking fruit from the Tree, and how Dren “doesn’t eat meat…”  (The good part was the nudity towards the end. But wait… it was awkward, uncomfortable, alien nudity, so that goes back in the bad column.) I will just cut it short and say the closest this movie gets to horror is horrible.

Kick-Ass

KickAssUm, wow… That is pretty much what I have to say, but for those who want more, read on.

“Kick-Ass” actually surpassed my expectations. I do admit that I never read the graphic novel, so it’s existence never influenced my understanding of what this comic book movie was going to be. I’ll do my best not to give away any significant spoilers.

Read enough comics, watch enough adaptations and you think you can predict what is going to happen. Yeah, not so much with “Kick-Ass.” Maybe it is a narrow comment, or maybe you get used to [bad] bastardizations of pre existing material. I really liked some of the routes they chose to take.

Kick-Ass AKA Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who I believe does a better job of being the under appreciated, troubled secret hero than Tobey Maguire,  is our narrator and a “typical” high school comic geek who ponders the question, “Why has no one tried to be a superhero?” So he tries it, with some interesting results. He also finds that he is not the only one out there…

Big Daddy AKA Damon Macready (Nicholas Cage) is the literal dark avenging vigilante with a purpose. Hit-Girl AKA Mindy Macready (Chloe Moretz)is his daughter who is I vote as most likely to need therapy even though it probably won’t help. But that is a long way down the road, currently she revels in her life of weaponry, jumping rooftops and mayhem.

Hit Girl stole the show. She was absolutely awesome! I am impressed how a 12 yr old can come off as someone to actually be feared. AFTER you find out she is not your average pre-teen. As a thug in the movie states, “She’s just a kid.” Cue the chaos…

Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca) is David’s lust interest that likes the alternate personality, but never notices the real person standing in front of her. (Lois Lane anyone?)

Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) is our resident bad guy. They are required in almost every comic book story. Without a villain, what good is a hero? He is head of a criminal organization that finds its illicit activities interrupted by a rumored masked individual. The villain’s henchpeople seem to really enjoy reeking havoc, bringing criminalism into an artistic arena. More so, they are capable, this makes the triumph even more enthralling. Where’s the pleasure in defeating an idiot?

“Kick-Ass” pays tribute to much of the comic universe. Dave’s house looks eerily similar to Aunt May’s from Spider-Man. Big Daddy’s speech patterns remind me of Adam West’s campy Batman. “Wait til they get a load of me,” is quoted directly…

If you are a comic book fan, I think you will appreciate this film, minus a couple misguided instances in the final 5 minutes. It’s campy, fun, funny, violent and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but seriously enough.

How to Train Your Dragon

howtotrainyourdragon-poster“How to Train Your Dragon” makes me wish I had a dragon to train. Yes, I know they aren’t REAL, but if they were…

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is the hapless child of the bold, strong, courageous, fearless, blah blah blah Viking leader. Everything Hiccup is not. Stoick (Gerard Butler) makes no qualms about letting his disappointment for his son be known. Again and again. This part was a bit troubling for me. “How can you be my son?” type commentary. I believe we got it after the first two indications. It felt like the proverbial dead horse was still being beaten. Much like this paragraph. Understood?

The only other area of concern was how much death and destruction is referred to in such a flippant manner. Yes, they are Dreamworks Vikings, but carry over quite a bit of historical violence. (This is the responsible side of the reviewer letting the parents know what the movie contains). I think this is handled so casually because we never see any of the deaths, nor do any of the main characters mysteriously “disappear.” (We do see animated endangered sheep, though…)

All the social responsibility stuff aside, I REALLY wish I had a dragon! Toothless is not terribly big as dragons go, has a feline like personality, and is absolutely awesome! He (gender assumption) is the only Night Fury breed that we see, and appears to be one of the most powerful. I applaud the diversity that the dragons were given, not a singular, across the board limitation (per film) we have known previously. They come in different sizes and have varied powers. The Monstrous Nightmare can light itself on fire and attack whilst flaming. The Hideous Zippleback has 2 heads, one that spews gas and the other ignites it.

Along Hiccup’s trip to greatness, we are granted the pleasure of meeting the more pleasurable of his Viking cohorts.  Gobber (Craig Ferguson) is the village weapons master and fixit guy. Who incidentally is missing a hand and a leg… Astrid (America Ferrera) is the crush interest of Hiccup and his main competitor in the dragon training ground.  My favorite is Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), while in battle he breaks down the fight sequence as if it is a role playing game.

“Dragon” is a fun romp through the world of animation that has been exploding recently. But like many of those films, (Shrek, Avatar, etc) this may not be a pure child friendly show. Let’s just say it’s a good time to be an adult who enjoys films that one might assume were supposed to be made for kids.

The Crazies

The-Crazies-Poster“The Crazies” is what I would call a realistically based thriller. (I choose not to use the term “horror,” based on many of the films that disgrace that genre) There are no 7 foot, knife wielding ,invincible monsters running around. As it turns out, this is a remake of the 1973 George Romero flick by the same name. Not to mention, he executive produced the current incarnation, which infers there is a possibility of zombie like beings.

David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) is the sheriff of a small corner of Iowa, with in striking distance of  Cedar Rapids. You can’t get anymore Mid-America than that.

This movie wastes no time getting to the point. In about 4 minutes, we are treated to our first victim. The set up is simple… Something is affecting the inhabitants, causing unusual, then lethal behavior. The infected show signs of disassociation and stoic, if not zombie like, behavior. (The George Romero influence)

The source of the infection is a downed plane which carried a military biological weapon that seeped into the water supply. We are told later the contagion was being shipped to Atlanta for destruction. It’s purpose was to destabilize the population. Yep, it certainly does that.

One of the great selling points for me is the characters feel real, and they do real things. No BS running through the woods in heels, tripping, and screaming. No having sex at the scariest lake on the planet where countless others have died. David is a Sheriff, his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) is a doctor, albeit a pregnant doctor. They aren’t stupid. They investigate, process information, rationalize, and proceed accordingly. After examining the information before them, they deduce they are screwed and do what they must to survive. Survival involves not drinking the water, avoiding the infected where ever possible, and being practical. They try to get the hell out of a bad situation.

One thing that is potentially scary, is the military shows signs of intelligence. When the townspeople are being rounded up, the readily available vehicles are booted to avoid escape by anyone missed in the sweep. (I think burning them would be easier and cheaper.) There are more moments of potential wisdom, but I don’t want to give it all away!

Deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson) is subtle “comedy” relief. I use quotes because there is nothing truly humorous in this film. There are some moments of wit where they may snap at each other and make snide comments, but no one is trying to be stand-up comic funny. Joe gives a good performance as the troubled man on the edge trying to deal with an impossible situation.

“The Crazies” turned out to more gruesome than I expected, though I don’t think it ever crossed the line into splatterfest. I was left with some lasting visions of a near apocalypse, one of which is going through the automated car wash… The end moments dangle their metaphoric toes in the water of becoming Hollywoody, but never takes the full jump.

Simply put, I enjoyed “The Crazies.” I was startled a few times, enjoyed a twist or two, and held my breath. It is one of the better thrillers I’ve seen in some time.