Alas, we begin with the drive-thru reviews for 2011. Check back!
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R (for male and female nudity, language, and drug use)
Hall Pass is 93 minutes of mostly uninspiring comedy where two married men are given “hall passes” (verbal permission slips from their wives to live single again) for an entire week.
This fractured comedy, starring “Rick” (Owen Wilson) and “Fred” (Jason Sudeikis), explores the “older guys trying to get back into the dating game” side of things somewhat well, and does manage to be occasionally funny, but unfortunately becomes consistently light on laughs and heavy on juvenile antics that in some places seems to be competing with The Hangover while throwing in male and female nudity repeatedly to mix things up.
Capitalizing on the “boring” nature of marriages gone sexless, masturbation, and a group of immature guys thinking they can still “score” with the ladies – the guys split apart from their wives only to become disappointed with the results – while our ladies find their own sets of temptations to contend with.
You can pretty much see where this one is heading, accompanied with some fair performances from Christina Applegate as Fred’s wife “Grace,” and supporting performances from Stephen Merchant as “Gary” and Richard Jenkins as “Coakley.” But the film is stricken with an awkward, tell-all raunchiness that just never seals the deal. 2 stars for the permissible but almost pathetic, Hall Pass.
Drive Angry 3D
Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: R (for strong brutal violence throughout, grisly images, some graphic sexual content, nudity and pervasive language)
Having escaped from hell to save the life of his granddaughter, “Milton” (Nicholas Cage) is pursued by “The Accountant” (William Fitchner) who comes to take him back to Gehenna, while a Satan-worshipping cult, led by “Jonah King” (Billy Burke), seeks to sacrifice the only living connection he has left to his deceased daughter.
Co-starring Amber Heard as “Piper” (just seeing her is worth the price of the ticket, the guys will say), this cheap-sex, old-school bad guy stand-off movie takes you back to times less sophisticated when having a script that conformed to the real world just wasn’t that important.
This explosive, high-torque ride and slugfest of bad boyfriend beat-ups, tough guy clichés, and creepy cults is like something right out of a low-budget 80s thriller that doesn’t stop with raw adrenaline. It’s not done until the audience feels trashy for daring to like it!
Cheap and shamelessly entertaining, and with plenty of macho to compliment its side of supernatural, this one will liven up a rainy day.
Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language, and some drug-use)
Russell Brand, Jennifer Garner, and Helen Mirren star in Arthur, a remake of the slightly superior 1981 film, starring Dudley Moore, as an alcoholic heir to a fortune who falls out of favor with his family due to riotous living.
This time around, “Arthur Buck Johnson” is played by the amazingly charming Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 2008, Get Him to the Greek, 2010) who was perhaps the best choice for the role. Brand successfully transmits the vibe of a foolishly rich boozehound who flaunts his money while embarrassing the name of his family’s company, Bach Worldwide Industries.
When faced with an ultimatum from his mother, “Vivienne” (Geraldine James), to marry “Susan” (Jennifer Garner) or else lose his $950 million dollar fortune, things become difficult for the immature kid of a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth when he meets and begins to fall in love with “Naomi” (Greta Gerwig).
Garner’s take-all, “ball-buster” personality behind Susan comes in next to Helen Mirren’s portrayal of “Dobson,” who more nearly steals the show from Brand himself with her winning portrayal of Arthur’s beloved and trusted nanny/mother figure.
But this Arthur has some trouble rising out of the sea of average romantic comedies, but it finally does so—and this is not only due to a highly intelligent script and low-key but appreciable humor. It’s also due to the blossoming romantic charm between Brand and Gerwig.
This 110-minute movie, ably directed by Jason Winer, is topped off by some fine performances and a story that makes it worthwhile. Two-and-a-half stars for the trying – and ultimately triumphant – Arthur.
Grade: F (0 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for language including crude comments, brief violence, and some thematic material)
In Beastly, Alex Pettyfer is “Kyle,” a gloatingly handsome New York teenager whose boasting of his beauty is silenced when a curse is put upon him by a mysterious EMO girl (Mary-Kate Olsen) with magical powers.
With the exception of his outspoken father (Peter Krause) who stands by his son despite his appearance, Alex's magically-made ugly visage is accepted only by two people in his life, an understanding maid named “Zola” (Lisa Gay Hamilton) who is kind enough to lend a listening ear, and his tutor, “Will” (Neil Patrick Harris). Zola is an immigrant and is struggling to get U.S. citizenship for her family. Will is blind, hiding a scarred personality that resulted from the struggles of his life.
Alex struggles to do only one thing, and that is to remain unseen. The one thing that will cause him to leave his home is “Lindy” (Vanessa Hudgens), the girl of his dreams he will pursue at all costs.
The tagline of the movie is “Love is never ugly.” Well, love may not be ugly, but this movie sure is.
Intending to be a teen romance/Goth-EMO take on Beauty and the Beast, the film’s message about spiritual love transcending physical beauty is not only overplayed, it's unwanted, and in this overt and unoriginal context, clichéd. Everything is awash about this ineptly directed, unconvincingly acted excuse for a movie that is a failure from start to finish.
Is this the future of teen romances? It's doubtful, for the simple reason that you don't get much more ineffective at making movies as this work shows us. It's not even clear what the vision behind the making of this bastard-child knockoff of Beauty and the Beast and Twilight was. But one thing is clear: nothing in the film works.
Slow and emotionally unmoving, the pointless cutaways between a hexed Alex and his listening maid and chummy, enlightening tutor offer nothing to enhance the impact of the story on the viewer. Alex's striving to win the heart of Lindy lacks the natural friction and passion you'd expect from a romance. The result: this film offers no one anything.
0 stars for the altogether appalling – and yes, beastly – beastly.
Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for sexual and mature themes, including drinking)
Jumping the Broom is a film co-directed by Bishop T.D. Jakes and is about the marriage of “Sabrina” (Paula Patton) and “Jason” (Laz Alonso). Jason, along with his family, comes from the blue-collar side of Brooklyn. He was raised by a postal worker of a mother, “Mrs. Taylor” (Loretta Devine). Sabrina comes from uptown in the white-collar Martha’s Vineyard. Stop right there and you know already there’s going to be trouble.
Through a series of circumstances, the families don’t get to meet until just before the wedding. It is then that the movie really begins and the audience cringes as the sparks fly from the grinding axes and the heat of these two families who can’t seem to find common ground.
The drama is manufactured drama, not Tyler Perry drama (though, for the sake of more impassioned performances, we wish it were). We’re talking drama maybe a little more intense that BET sitcoms and television shows like 227.
With the bride and groom, the star of the show is Loretta Devine, a black woman with anger issues and her own copyrighted version of stubbornness and resentment for those who don’t regard their black roots.
The drama and the performances are rather choppy, sometimes even forced. But as the story moves further inward, we get lost in the supporting characters a bit more than we do the angry (and angering) family dynamics—and for the sake of the movie, that’s a good thing.
“Sebastian” (Romeo Miller) is a young man who falls for a much older “Shonda” (Tasha Smith), the bride’s best friend. These and other characters, like the “chef” (Gary Dourdan) and bridesmaid “Blythe” (Meagan Good) do their supporting work to make an otherwise unworthy movie something debatably worth the watch.
No one character steals the show and Devine’s hotheaded character in need of finding better anger management courses can make for frustrating viewing in the movie’s attempt to hit a nerve with audiences, but there are a few comical inclinations to backdrop the escalating family drama, and yet without robbing it of its weight.
Jumping the broom is an African-American custom that comes to us from slavery times and marked the completion of a marriage between a man and wife who were prevented from legally marrying. Couples stepped over the broom and they were married. This plays a not-too-hard-to-predict role if you stop and think about it. And maybe you should think about seeing it. The film could have done worse, and alas, manages to save itself.
Rated: PG (for sexual innuendos, some violence, and drinking)
Johnny Depp is back as “Captain Jack Sparrow” in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. This time, he’s in search, along with the Spanish and English empires, for Juan Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth.
This sequel, which brings back “Angelica Malon” (Penelope Cruz) and “Captain Blackbeard” (Ian McShane) is an energetic and costly production, but it’s hard to imagine what vision went into its making.
As we’ve come to expect, the black eye makeup is one thing that has consistently gone overboard, but the story moves very fast, perhaps being better paced than the previous films.
While the script is intricately written, always giving proper voices to its characters, the film needlessly has the cast use modern phrases like: “doesn’t ring a bell” and “I’m on a tight schedule,” apparently in an attempt to be funny, which – aside from plenty of sexual innuendos – the film seldom is.
Just about everyone overacts and overdoes their facial expressions, while some acting feels like satire right out of The Simpsons.
McShane plays a very intimidating Blackbeard and the adversarial chemistry between Cruz and Depp is a sure sell, as is the embellished and expensive recreation of old England and Ireland and very realistic pirate ships that go in the plus category.
Yes, there are some witty and funny places in the script, but they don’t nearly do enough to give this dreary adventure the appeal it needs to pass.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II
Rated: PG-13 (for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images)
At last, the Harry Potter series comes to a close with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, some ten years after the first movie.
They made fans wait an entire year before giving us the finale, but the question of the fans is: Was the wait worth it? Fans and non-fans (like myself) will concur, almost in one voice, that this Potter film transcends all the others by quite some margin.
They improved the lighting and atmosphere and the pacing in this one, which takes up immediately where the last film left off. This movie has the added benefit of having matured actors and actresses who handle their parts with a newfound gravity.
While the acting itself is also more devoted, it still remains the case that if you didn't follow the other films of the series, you won't follow much of this. But it also remains true that this adventurous continuation, with its swift plot progression and hauntingly well-made and entrancingly well-done special affects, aid this winding and long narrative to a sound conclusion.
Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil
Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG (for some mild rude humor, language, and action)
In Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil, Red Riding Hood is on a training mission in a group called The Sister Hoods when she and Wolf are called into action to examine the mysterious disappearance of Hansel and Gretel.
This Hoodwinked is a bit of an improvement from the last movie, where “Red” (Hayden Panettiere, voice), who works for the HEA (Happily Ever After Agency) fights to keep in check the forces of fairy tale foes.
This time, Red and the not so bad Wolf (Patrick Warburton, voice) get the team ready to take on a fierce old adversary, “Verushka the Witch” (Joan Cusack, voice) who kidnaps “Granny” (Glenn Close, voice). When they go to rescue her, they find the true masterminds behind the diabolical plan.
While the animation offered by this series (from Starz Animation) is far from cutting-edge, it is sufficient to create a worthy picture where some sense of creativity can manifest. The 3-D affects were unneeded and more of a distraction than a help for the film.
And though it isn't going to win any awards, the all-star cast, featuring Cheech Marin, Martin short, Heidi Klum, Wayne Newton, and Andy Dick, are made more appetizing by "Hansel" (Bill Hader, voice) and "Gretel" (Amy Poehler, voice) who make this story more appealing to all audience members.