Inherent Vice is a twisty mystery that fuses old school PI movies with the psychedelia of the late sixties and early seventies. The point of fusion is the lead character, Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello, a private eye who always – at a minimum – half baked (and usually full on stoned) but somehow manages to be more on the ball than anyone else.
Wild is director Jean-Marc Vallee’s follow-up to Dallas Buyers’ Club and it is as powerful and rewarding an experience.
This Means War is a truly bizarre mash-up of bromance, romantic comedy, spy flick and Bugs Bunny. Tonally, it’s all over the place and, frankly, it makes sense only infrequently. Prior to its release, I could say with confidence that I had never actually felt guilty about liking a movie. Now, I’m flummoxed.
Despite a fine performance by Reese Witherspoon, James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know is a pretty awful movie.
The premise is simple: to stop and alien invader, the U.S. military releases its force of five captured monsters. The catch? It’s not as simple as they thought.
Although it took a veritable legion of writers [okay… five] to come up with the final script for Monsters vs. Aliens, like the group that pieced together Casablanca, these guys did good. Monsters vs. Aliens is the best 3-D CG B-movie monster mashup ever! [Okay… it’s the first 3-D CG B-movie monster mashup. Your point is…?]
It all begins when Susan Murphy [voiced by Reese Witherspoon] is hit by a meteor and grows to 49.5 feet tall. Before she knows it, she’s been abducted by the military and placed in a top-secret prison along with The Missing Link [Will Arnett], B.O.B. [Seth Rogen], Insectosaurus and Dr. Cockroach [Hugh Laurie] – who represent, in the same order, The 50-Foot Woman [Attack of the 50-Foot woman], The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Blob, Godzilla/Mothra and The Fly. The alien[s] in question would be Galaxhar [Rain Wilson], a bored, four-eyed purple [might be] people eater who is looking for a little excitement. The plural would be his clones…
The human element comes mainly from Susan, who’s engaged to a rather full-of-himself cable weatherman with ambition, Derek Dietl [Paul Rudd]. Unfortunately, Derek is also not happy with the new Susan. Stephen Colbert does a great job voicing an overconfident but easily confused President of the United States, and Kiefer Sutherland gives just the right amount of humanity to balance the extremely hawk-ish warden/guardian of the monsters’ prison, General Warren R. Monger. There’s even a wistful bit of philosophy from the “you can’t home again” school of thought.
Monsters vs. Aliens is a fast-paced, laugh-filled ride. For the second week in a row, I’ve seen a movie where the trailer, good as it is, does not contain the best bits in the movie. Not only that, but the 3-D is amazing – though there are only a very few blatant gags, including one just a few minutes in. It’s as though directors Conrad Vernon and Rob Letterman are telling us, “our 3-D could do lots these gimmicky gags, but we really don’t need to do that to tell our story.”
While the script might be a bit jokier than, say, the average Pixar film, there are character moments that would not be out of place in one – and the animation is, for the first time right up to the Pixar level. Then there’s that wonderful 3-D. It seems that each new 3-D film outdoes its most recent predecessor and that’s the way it is here. Part of the fun of seeing the screening I attended was in hearing the little kids in the audience gasp as the world of the movie drew them in. Even the mom next to me was entranced. Yes, MvsA works as an homage to B-movie monsters; as a coming of age story [Susan’s a late bloomer, eh?], and as a wild romp for the kids.
I thoroughly enjoyed Monsters vs. Aliens – and the audience gave it a standing ovation. Good thing I’d decided on my grade before they started standing [and blocking the screen while stuff happened onscreen during the credits…].
Final Grade: A+
The trailers and TV spots for Four Christmases suggest that its lead couple, Brad [Vince Vaughn] and Kate [Reese Witherspoon] are going to have to cram in four visits to their divorced parents and their various dysfunctional families when plans to go to Fiji are ruined by flight-cancelling fog. The problem with the film is that the families get less dysfunctional as we get closer to the end of the film – and then there’s the cop-out Hollywood ending that recalls the plot point that precipitated the whole fiasco in the first place.
The merriment begins as Brad and Kate visit Brad’s father [Robert Duval], who is also hosting Brad’s two brothers-cum-wannabe-ultimate-fighters [Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw], one of whom is married and all of who, are rednecks who would make rednecks complain about profiling. A hitherto unknown pricing cap for gift exchanges and a satellite dish installation cap a visit that includes Brad being beaten half silly by his brothers – and a secret about Santa being revealed.
The second visit is to Kate’s mom’s [Mary Steenburgen] home – where cougars hold sway, according to Kate. These include lecherous Gram-Gram [Jeanette Miller], Aunt Sarah [Carol Kane] and Aunt Donna [Colleen Camp] – all of whom are upstaged by Kate’s pregnant sister, Courtenay [Kristin Chenoweth] and the revelation that mom’s new boyfriend, Reverend Phil [Dwight Yoakum], is the pastor of an aggressively ecstatic congregation, where Brad gets carried away with their Christmas pageant
By comparison, Brad’s mom [Sissy Spacek] is merely an aging hippie who is now living with Brad’s ex-best friend. By the time we visit Kate’s father, she and Brad have decided that they don’t want the same things and he drops her off, thereby missing the least dysfunctional part of the day – before waking up to the realization that… wait for it… he loves her. D’OH!
From a fast-paced dysfunctional family Christmas movie, Four Christmases devolves rapidly into a toothless tiger. The laughs that dominate the first half of the film [beginning to fade, rapidly during the second visit], are pretty much gone before we reach the fourth visit. By then, it’s time to trot out variations on most of the homilies we’ve come to expect in lazy seasonal films. The crazed energy of the first visit dies well before the last act and all we’re left with is a curiously lacklustre, meaningless film that can’t even get a laugh out of its call back to one of the film’s best scenes, involving an on location TV news crew.
This puppy just ain’t worth it.
Final Grade: D
The Christina Ricci vehicle, Penelope, has been on the shelf for awhile [the film was produced in 2006] – which might make one think it must be a turkey. It’s not.