movie reviews March 2011

Harvest  •  Ready, Set, Bag!  •  Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules  •  Sucker Punch
Paul  •  Limitless  •  The Lincoln Lawyer  •  The Last Lions  •  Lord of the Dance 3D  •  The Music Never Stopped
The Concert  •  White Material  •  Battle: Los Angeles  •  Red Riding Hood
Rango  •  The Adjustment Bureau  •  Beastly  •  Take Me Home Tonight

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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Harvest
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Harvest was a big winner at last year’s Kansas International Film Festival, and it’s easy to see why. Writer-director Marc Meyers (Approaching Union Square) tells a familiar but convincing story that’s easy to relate to even if you aren’t in an Italian-American family in Connecticut.

Harvest

Josh Winters (Jack Carpenter, I Love You, Beth Cooper) returns to his family’s home from college and discovers that his clan is still close.

That’s not necessarily a good thing.

The entire family has to keep an eye on Josh’s grandmother Yetta (Barbara Barrie) because her Alzheimer’s could lead her to wander into dangerous places. His uncles Benny (Arye Gross) and Carmine (Peter Friedman) can’t stand each other and rarely speak. Perhaps Benny is jealous because Carmine has been a successful local politician. It probably vexes Josh that Carmine gets along better with constituents than with his own family. In the meantime, Benny is having an affair with Rosita (Adrianna Sevan), an undocumented worker who has the thankless task of keeping Yetta out of trouble.

Benny still lives with his rambunctious father Siv (Robert Loggia). Siv is so active; it’s hard to believe that he has terminal pancreatic cancer. Josh’s mother Anna (Victoria) is divorced and keeping an eye on her feuding brothers and ailing parents is a full time job. Naturally, she appreciates having her son around to cushion her escalating burden, not that he’s all that eager to help. Josh’s relationship with his girlfriend is deteriorating, and he’d like to learn more about his grandfather and his legacy before the old man dies.

Harvest could have been a broad sitcom or a historic slog. Meyers’ gentle, but assured approach helps. It doesn’t take much yelling or screaming to make for an engaging drama. While some of his attempts at humor could use some work, Meyers handles his performers well and gets a vintage performance from Loggia.

In his early 80s, the charming character actor exudes a sense of vitality that younger thespians must envy. It’s not just the way he carries himself, either. There’s a long sequence where Loggia covers the entire length of a town on a bicycle without breaking much of a sweat or breathing heavily. Perhaps he should share some of his diet and exercise secrets.

At the same time, Loggia can also play delicate scenes with Barrie, whose character barely recalls his, with astonishing finesse. Having played an army of tough guys, Loggia has rarely had a chance to demonstrate his full range. This may explain why he still gets work after all these years.

Ruben O'Malley’s photography nicely captures the Constitution State’s locales. Meyers and his crew filmed in a lot of real locations, and it helps make the fictional tale more plausible. Another plus is the score by Tony-winner Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and David Poe. It’s been over six months since I’ve seen Harvest, and I’m still trying to get “Everyday Parade” out of my head.

It’s safe to say that Harvest is a modest film, but those are often the ones that pull on our emotions the most. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted on 03/25/11)


Ready, Set, Bag!
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

One of the wonderful things about documentaries is that they can make mundane subjects seem absorbing. Spellbound revealed all the nerve wracking tension that casual viewers miss in a spelling bee, and Word Play did the same for crossword puzzles.

Ready Set Bag

Ready, Set, Bag! almost does the same for the seemingly menial and ordinary task of grocery sacking. As any who has ever filled paper, plastic or cloth bags can tell you, it’s actually a complicated procedure. Furthermore, there are legions of disgruntled customers who have seen the results of what happens when the sacks aren’t filled properly. Eggs tend to be messy when placed in the wrong part of the bag.

Every year the National Grocers Association sends the best bagger from each of the 50 states to a tense competition where the winners can take home a few thousand bucks and the pride in knowing that they are the best in the nation at something. Ready, Set, Bag! focuses on a small group of state champions as they prepare for the national championship in Las Vegas.

One of the strengths of Ready, Set, Bag! is that directors Alex D. da Silva and Justine Jacob never look at their subjects condescendingly. Yes, these folks are really excited about a silly sounding competition, but they are a diverse and appealing lot. The Minnesota champ, Jon Sandell, is about to turn 50, while his Virginia competitor, Jacob Richardson, is only 17. Pennsylvania’s representative, Kim Weaver, is sacking groceries to make ends meet now that her children are grown, but Alabama’s champ, Roger Chen, is trying to get through school and has recently emigrated from Trinidad.

Throughout it all, da Silva and Jacob never wink at the viewers or imply that these folks need lives. As they later reveal, their subjects occasionally have vivid personal stories. The one thing all of these folks have in common is a fierce competitive streak.

Ohio’s champion, Ryan Hamilton, has raised prize-winning animals, and the Utah champ, Brian Bay, plays any game as if it were a life or death battle. Sandell is a deadly bowler who has played several 300 games, while James Hunter who plays rugby represents California. It’s a wonder the latter is living, much less competing in anything else.

Because these folks are pleasant and enthusiastic, finding out who will take the crown is suspenseful. That said, the subjects seem to be held at arm’s length. We don’t need to follow them into the bathroom or learn of any embarrassing scandals, but the competition would feel even more intense if we had more emotion invested in them.

There are still plenty of charming moments. Chen gazes in wonder as the interior of a casino glows in simulated fireworks while “The Star Spangled Banner” plays in the background. As a newcomer to the country, he inadvertently reveals how much we as Americans can take for granted about our own land. I guess the gaudy excess of Vegas is good for something after all. In addition, you can spot Missouri’s champ holding her own against some formidable opposition.

Perhaps the best reason to catch Ready, Set, Bag! is that the Tivoli will be donating a portion of the ticket price to Harvesters, and there are donation bins for non-perishable foods. Sadly, none of the baggers in the film will be able to help you fill the bins. (PG) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 03/25/11)


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

The original Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie was a collection of occasionally funny sequences indifferently tied together. Apparently, there was no reason to mess success, even if the success was only relative.

Rodrick Rules!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules follows inept social climber Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) as he attempts to get through seventh grade with more dignity than he had during the previous year. Predictably, that’s a difficult endeavor.

This time around Greg comes off as more self confident and less self-centered than he did a year before. He now appreciates his loyal pal Rowley (Robert Capron) and actually thinks about the moral implications of his actions before stumbling over himself trying to be cool. He still manages to make some amusing blunders, though. Pretending a good pal is invisible can have some miserable consequences.

Actually, in this installment, his parents (Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn) and his older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) wind up causing Greg more grief than his own folly. Mom now writes a parenting advice column in the local newspaper. Her essays frequently embarrass the sensitive lad, who understandably tires of being picked out as a bad example.

Naturally, this leads to a major problem because Greg and Rodrick can’t stop feuding even though their bickering could look bad on their mother. Actually, the ruckuses can’t be avoided because Rodrick continually taunts, shoves and humiliates the smaller Greg. To remedy the problem, Mom forces the lads to spend more time together, which leads to more of the same.

British animation specialist David Bowers (Flushed Away) takes over for Thor Freudenthal, so it’s not surprising that the brief animated segments are the most intriguing parts of the movie. When the live actors start appearing, they give the same exaggerated performances they did in the previous movie. Original author Jeff Kinney’s cartoons go perfectly with Greg’s hyperbole-filled view of the world. Hearing real people spout the exaggerated lines and seeing them use the broad facial expressions isn’t quite convincing.

It’s also a shame that screenwriters Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs have trouble thinking of consistently fresh catastrophes for Greg to experience. Having mom work as a columnist leads to some obvious sequences where her own hypocrisies are exposed. Some kids might find it funny, but the adults who have to accompany them might be looking at the exit signs until something more entertaining happens.

It also might have been funnier if Greg’s parents weren’t so buffoonish. Their obliviousness to Greg’s insecurities is downright appalling (don’t they realize he’s not a tot anymore!), and there’s a sequence in a church where they put their son through a humiliation that no loving parent would ever condone.

The funniest moments in the film are when Greg’s misfortunes resemble ones real teens might experience. Watching his younger brother Manny (Connor Fielding and Owen Fielding) unintentionally destroy Greg’s possessions is an amusingly scary reminder of how toddlers can double as WMDs.

Scenes like these are a reminder that genuine youngsters can be a lot more entertaining than their fictional counterparts. (PG) Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 03/25/11)


Sucker Punch
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

In the posters for Watchmen, Warner Bros. declared the new film was from “visionary director Zack Snyder.” The actual mastermind behind that film was graphic novelist Alan Moore, who demanded his name be taken from the credits for Snyder’s adaptation of his book. When Snyder is left using his own material instead of Moore’s or Frank Miller’s (as in 300), it’s safe to say that his vision needs a good Seeing Eye dog.

Sucker Punch

In Sucker Punch, Snyder borrows liberally from Brazil, anime, comic books, One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest, video games, women in prison flicks, World War II movies and even The Lord of the Rings without coming up with anything interesting of his own. The new offering feels less like a movie and more like a bizarre editing experiment where dozens of other, better, films have been spliced together to make as little sense as possible.

While some filmmakers have been using 3D images to compensate for shallow, annoying content, Snyder employs a more tried and true type of eye candy: scantily clad young women.

As long as the leading actresses sport costumes that might be more suited for showgirls or strippers than for mental patients, Snyder probably figures that viewers won’t take the time to notice how wretched the script that he and Steve Shibuya have written really is.

On second thought, I have to give him credit for getting as much jiggle on camera as possible without earning an “R” rating. That may be the film’s greatest artistic achievement.

As for the convoluted but undercooked storyline, a 20-something woman named Baby Doll (Emily Browning) finds herself placed in a loony bin after she has accidentally killed her sister defending her from her creepy, self-centered stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). Using the inheritance that rightfully belongs to Baby Doll, whose actual name we never learn, he bribes an orderly named Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) to put her on the fast track to a lobotomy.

Baby Doll’s therapist Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino, Watchmen) enrolls the lass in her theater and exercises, which she hopes will exorcize the lass’ afflictions. Instead, this leads her to team up with the sullen Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and her cheerier sister Rocket (Jena Malone) and two other dancers, Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (former reality star Jamie Chung). It’s a good thing Amber wears a hat with her name embroidered on it. Neither she nor Blondie makes much of an impression.

In Baby Doll’s mind, they’re all part of some brothel/dance hall where gangster Blue pimps them out when they aren’t performing. Baby Doll is apparently a terrific dancer because the other girls use her gyrations as a distraction while they collect supplies for an escape attempt.

Oddly, we never get to see Baby Doll’s actual dancing because she’s usually entering a fantasy world where she and the other girls take on everything from 20-foot samurai, Nazi zombies, dragons and garden variety pervs. I suppose it’s tough to depict both her routines and her slayings, but you get the sense that Snyder has something against hoofing.

Oh, he likes the slinky outfits (especially Baby Doll’s, which makes look as if she’s auditioning for Sailor Moon), but apparently having the actresses doing something that doesn’t involve death or dismemberment while they’re in said costumes isn’t that interesting to him.

Christopher Nolan effortlessly juggled multiple storylines in Inception, but the 10 years he spent developing the film in his head and on paper showed up on screen. Snyder and Shibuya have obviously spent less time and mental effort. The fantasy worlds in Sucker Punch are often full of gritty spectacle, but they aren’t all that creative or exciting.

Much of Sucker Punch feels like unintentionally amusing malarkey, especially in the scenes where Scott Glenn offers advice that’s more banal than sage like. The fantasies in the film seem more suited for a stunted adolescent male of any age instead of the imagination of a young woman.

I know many females who like to play video games and see other women clobber guys or big monsters, but the scenarios Snyder creates appeal more to dateless dudes. The action often plays like a first person shooter game and isn’t very fun because there’s nothing more dull than watching someone else kill computer generated zombies. Most of my time in Sucker Punch was spent reaching for a controller.

When Nolan left viewers asking questions at the end of Inception, it wasn’t because he’d taken shortcuts. He left the viewers plenty of clues to figure out the logic of the dreams he presented. With Snyder, however, you can tell he hasn’t thought everything thing out clearly. The asylum features practices that aren’t part of modern psychiatry (I suppose you could get a lobotomy if you really wanted one), but some of the pop culture references in the fantasies are from the late 20th and early 21st century.

Snyder’s production company is called “Cruel and Unusual.” Subjecting yourself to this mess is exactly that. (PG-13) Rating: 1.5 (Posted on 03/25/11)


Paul
Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

When the world of Geek-dom first heard that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the very British stars and creators of fan-faves Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, were making a new comedy about a wise-cracking alien, pools of nerd-drool began to form in their mother’s basements.

Then along came a blurry photo of the CGI alien and the news that the alien would be named “Paul” and be voiced by Seth Rogan. Soon cries of “Red Alert! RED ALERT!” began to echo across the Internet, as Rogan is far more well know for pothead frat-boy humor than any Sci-Fi creds. High hopes crested then fell as quickly as they appeared.

All this before the movie had been seen by critics let alone the public.

Well, the true verdict is finally in, and Paul is indeed, as Charlie Sheen would say, a “winner” and big time.

Clive Gollings (Frost), an unknown SF author and his illustrator Graeme Willy (Pegg), after attending Comic-Com, go off on a trip across America to visit famous “alien sighting” spots such as Roswell and Area 51. Both are charming and hopeless Brits in the heartland, who nonetheless are having a ball until a late night car-crash on a back road lands the titular Paul in their laps. After some shaky introductions, Paul explains that he’s spent the last 60 years at a secret facility, where the government pumped him for any and all valuable alien information, until he ran out of things to tell them and ran away, correctly fearing imminent dissection. Soon the trio is racing cross-country in an RV with Ruth (Kristen Wiig) a right-wing religious nutcase they accidentally kidnapped from a trailer park, while all the time trying to escape the clutches of inept government agents who want Paul back.

If this sounds like a goofy road-trip, you’d be right.

However, Pegg and Frost, along with director Greg Mottola, have done a bit better here. The supporting cast is a who’s who of excellent character actors and comedians, including Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Bill Hader and Jason Bateman, all of who are awesome here. But it’s truly Wiig as the repressed ultra-conservative Christian who excels at her role. Given proof of the non-existence of God (not in so many words, but they do go there, and it’s damn funny), her character decides that since there is no sin, she’s free to “curse and fornicate” as much as she wants, leading to an almost Tourette’s syndrome-like stream of badly misplaced curses. As dumb as that sounds on paper, she makes it both authentic and funny at the same time, which isn’t easy to pull off.

While some will find the CGI Paul off-putting, it’s the facial expressions (many taken from Rogan himself) that make him grow on you, giving “him” real personality. While just about anybody (well, probably not hard core Christians, anyway) can enjoy the humor here, it’s the geek Easter eggs planted all over in the film that adds some awesome icing.

Sprinkled throughout the film, in the form of famous lines (Bateman probably gets the best), quick scenes and even in one case a song, are homage’s to numerous Sci-Fi, horror and fantasy films and books. Those around me probably got annoyed at me whispering “Hitchhikers — that was from Hitchhikers!” or whatever as each clever bit came up. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted 03/18/11)

Limitless
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Bradley Cooper has managed to get by on his smoldering features, but careful viewers should notice that there is something far more substantial behind those blue eyes. In The Hangover, he’s the most normal looking member of the hard partying quartet, but his character is the most depraved of the bunch. He embezzles money intended for a high school field trip to party in Vegas.

With Limitless, Cooper gets a role that demands the range and sophistication his previous movies have only hinted at. He stars as Eddie Morra, a fellow who is simply a garden-variety loser. Without being addicted to alcohol or other toxins, he’s made very little of his life. His longtime girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) is understandably dumping him, and he can’t seem to get past word one on his new science fiction novel.

After bumping into his former brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), Eddie discovers a new drug called NZT. Vernon, who has a long history of dealing, promises Eddie that his new product is worth $800 on the street and can increase a user’s intelligence by activating the 80 to 90 percent of the brain that most people don’t use. In biology that’s actually a myth, but in the film, getting into that untapped resource changes Eddie’s life permanently.

On NZT, he becomes the handsome fellow that viewers, especially female ones, expect, and he can write his book at a speed that seems beyond human. His new skill at math enables him to conquer Wall Street, which naturally earns him the support of ruthless tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro, at his Machiavellian best).

Unfortunately, the drug has some troubling side effects (several of Vernon’s clients are either dead or incapacitated), and Eddie gradually discovers that others have quietly discovered the benefits of NZT and are using them against him.

Cooper effortlessly pulls of Eddie’s physical and psychological transformations, and is just likable enough to make viewers hope that the former schlub can survive his chemical adventure. Director Neil Burger (Interview with the Assassin, The Illusionist) comes up with all sorts visual indicators for what NZT can do to its users without going overboard. We see multiple Eddies solving problems. Burger and screenwriter Leslie Dixon (Pay It Forward), who’s working from Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields, also let us know how Eddie is able to solve the problems he encounters. You can see where he’s pulling his data and how he processes it.

Burger sets the right tone for a thriller, but Limitless hits its own boundaries during the final act. After delivering some solid plot twists and a vaguely credible storyline, the film loses its enhanced wits with a tacked-on ending. Because what precedes the conclusion is sharp and engaging, it feels like a major buzz kill to discover that the high doesn’t last.

Nonetheless, it’s nice to see Cooper demonstrate that he has a future and for De Niro to show that he may eventually redeem himself from The Little Fockers. (R) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 03/18/11)


The Lincoln Lawyer
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

For the big-screen adaptation of Michael Connelly's L.A.-based crime novel, director Brad Furman overshoots a faulty script by John Romano (Nights in Rodanthe, Hill Street Blues) in the hopes of turning a dull, predictable storyline better suited for a small-screen, hour-long crime drama into a sleek yet gritty vehicle for the wise-guy dealings of a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer. As a result, The Lincoln Lawyer plays like a Get Shorty or Jackie Brown knock-off, but without the substance and only a poor facsimile of the style.

On a tip from bail bondsman Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo), oily criminal defense attorney Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) picks up a windfall case, in which silver-spooned Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) is accused of beating and attempting to rape prostitute Reggie Campo (Margarita Levieva). Unlike the majority of Haller's clients, Roulet insists he's innocent, claiming that Campo staged the scene for a big payout ― backed by a criminal conviction ― in civil court. However, a coincidental reminder of the imminent parole of a former client (Michael Peña) sent up for a similar crime throws Roulet's innocence into question.

Bound by attorney-client privilege, Haller must continue with Roulet's defense while outside of the courtroom, from the backseat of his chauffeured Lincoln Town Car, he manipulates his colleagues and clients, including private investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy), prostitute Gloria (Katherine Moennig), motorcycle gang member and weed grower Eddie Vogel (Trace Adkins) and detective Kurlen (Michael Paré), to reveal Roulet's guilt. Sensing this professional treachery, Roulet becomes a threat to Haller's friends and family (Marisa Tomei).

Much is being made of McConaughey's return to a serious film after wallowing for years in torso baring romantic comedies. Unfortunately, even with his shirt on, the tow-headed actor personifies laid-back surfer more than sleazy defense attorney. Without that edge, the character of Haller remains flat. Greed, sorrow, and terror alike leave him with head down, smirk intact. Not to mention how out of his league he seems in the company of the all-star cast, which also includes Bryan Cranston, Frances Fisher and Laurence Mason. Yet, the all-star cast is woefully underused, particularly Tomei, Macy and Cranston, who are required to utter hackneyed tropes in service to several labored plot twists.

Also in over his head, Phillipe as the heavy, in obvious pancake makeup and sporting veneers that look more like Chiclets, is completely affectless, missing a prime opportunity to reprise his snide dark side seen in 1999's Cruel Intentions. Unfortunately, Furman's direction to all his actors seemed to encompass all things earnest, garnering reactions through straight delivery, rather than through the camp or irony needed to complete a hip, street-smart feel to the film.

Perhaps the direction was constrained by Romano's script, which lacks the whip-smart dialog and clever, unforeseen plot twists of a pre-Grindcore Tarantino or the successful adaptations of Elmore Leonard. The convoluted narrative seems too bloated to work on the page, much less in a film. Without the back-story, viewers are often left out of the loop, with information provided in either a fleeting moment or shorthand exposition. Haller supposedly embodies contradictions (“NTGUILTY” on the license plate of a lawyer whose clients are all guilty, for example). But either McConaughey's performance can't handle that ambivalence or it's just not in the script. All but the most obsessed Haller fans won't appreciate the burdensome loyalty to the source material. R Rating: 2.5 (Posted 03/18/11)


The Last Lions
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Made over a period of six years, Derek and Beverly Joubert’s The Last Lions follows an ostracized lioness trying to keep her cubs safe from angry buffalo, jealous male lions and a variety of obstacles that would make human parents feel grateful of what they don’t have to face.

After having witnessed dozens of nature documentaries over the years that feature animals being either hunters or prey, it’s refreshing to see a film where the survival struggle is more than simply a quick sound bite. The Jouberts manage to create an almost classical story that’s more involving than many live action dramas.

Living on the pains in Botswana, our main character, lioness Ma di Tau, has to contend with a hostile pride of lions that have killed her mate and would think nothing of killing her three cubs. Apparently male lions don’t abide by raising the children of others. She discovers an island that the pride hasn’t noticed, and a massive herd of buffalo has settled there.

While the buffalo would certainly be able to feed her and her offspring for months, they are far from easy prey. A full grown male can weigh a ton, and their sharp horns and foul tempers easily deter predators like her.

It’s a testament to the Jouberts that a carnivore like Ma di Tau (whose name means “lion mother”) becomes the most sympathetic character in the story. Or course, the fact that her cubs are heartbreakingly cute doesn’t hurt.

The Jouberts make it a point not to shy away from the brutality inherent in living as a meat eater in the wild. When Mau di Tau isn’t trying to score a meal from buffalo who can easily fight back, she’s getting into life threatening scrapes with other big cats who will take out eyes when they attack. Some of the battles will be rough for sensitive tots, but they prevent The Last Lions from becoming sentimental hogwash. When the lioness succeeds, it’s easier to cheer for her because of the work she’s had to go through.

Derek Joubert also did most of the photography and it’s consistently breathtaking. He seems to have radar for when the skies are threatening or jaw-dropping beautiful. He also uses some great night shooting that captures the hair-raising intra-species battles between Mau di Tau and her enemies at times. It’s astonishing that he managed to get all of these great shots apparently without disturbing the creatures.

The voiceover delivered by Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons is about like the buffalo: it can be nourishing, but it’s difficult to get around. Irons is a reasonable choice (his best known role is as the voice of a treacherous cat in The Lion King), and he reads the narration with an appropriate gravity and sensitivity. The text, however, is another matter. While occasionally helpful, the language of the narration strains to sound poetic when it should simply tell us what the Jouberts’ eloquent images can’t. Because the sights are so compelling, the voiceover shouldn’t be used as background music. (PG) Rating: 4 (Posted on 03/18/11)


Lord of the Dance 3D
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Michael Flatley’s Irish dance review Lord of the Dance is not so much a spectacle as it is an all out sensory assault. Just the mere sight of the 52-year-old hoofer doing his step dancing routine is pretty impressive. At a rate of dozens of pounding steps a second, he can outperform a typical jack hammer while still holding his back straight and not miss a beat. He and his chorus can also throw in a few spare kicks to make their moves look more intimidating and can do it with a precise synchronization that makes a Ferrari engine seem sloppy.

Even though Flatley and his crew have us subdued at that point, he can’t settle for mere overkill. This film of a 2010 return performance in Dublin’s massive O2 arena features more lights than Las Vegas, a kitschy reworking of Irish mythology and enough fireworks to burn down the Emerald Isle.

Watching this 3D presentation is about like eating all the contents from a Russell Stover’s display window. There is some amazing eye candy, so it’s not that much of an issue if the nutrition is a little wanting.

The thin story involves the Lord of the Dance (who else but Flatley?) fighting off the temptation of a villain who dresses like an armored samurai and a red suited temptress. You can tell she’s evil because of her short hair and sexy skintight red costume. What a sequence where the female dancers shed their dresses to reveal bikini like costumes without missing the intricate steps has to do with the plot, I’m not sure. But it’s impressive that the costume switch is so seamlessly executed.

Of course it’s silly, but it’s impossible not to admire the effort and love that went into this thing. Seeing the troupe march across the stage in formation is certainly awe-inspiring. While I’m still trying to figure out why a flying saucer plays a role in the tale, it’s hard not to admire Flatley’s eagerness to please. If he can’t amaze the audience with one wonder, he’ll dazzle viewers into submission with something else.

The film features a long series of montages accompanied by two comely female fiddlers and a musical break where Flatley gets to demonstrate that when playing a flute, his fingers and lungs are as quick and nimble as his feet.

The 3D is a mixed blessing. Music video director Marcus Viner thankfully understands the value of a wide shot for a dance sequence and doesn’t move the camera or change shots until it’s necessary. The film hasn’t been retrofitted for 3D, so the images are clear, and the depth of field is handled nicely. Alert cinema viewers can also get a chuckle at how few patrons at the O2 pay attention to the admonitions against photographing the performance.

On the downside, some of the stage lights become part of the action whenever they flash. It’s always been my impression that lights are supposed to help you see the performers instead of hogging the show for themselves. At times, the walls of the stage seem to have more perspective than the performers, but the costumes and the dance moves change so quickly that these are generally temporary annoyances.

Flatley begins the show with a montage of venues where Lord of the Dance has sold out, followed with Flatley spouting tired platitudes about his 14-year odyssey with the review. He needn’t have said anything at all. The labor and passion behind Lord of the Dance speak for themselves, so it would have been best to simply get on with the show. (N/R) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 03/18/11)


The Music Never Stopped
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Fans of The Grateful Dead have often been dubbed “Dead Heads” because of their affection for the group’s music and because many seem to have had partaken of the same illicit chemicals as the band. People who have followed the band more closely, however, know that there was substance to go with the controlled substances, and that their songs can ironically make listeners come alive.

That’s the situation in The Music Never Stopped, which benefits immeasurably from featuring Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir’s tunes and a cornucopia of great songs by Bing Crosby, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Set in 1986, the story involves a pair of retirees named Henry and Helen Sawyer (J.K. Simmons and Cara Seymour) who discover that their long estranged son is now living on the streets and has a potentially fatal brain tumor. Getting the tumor out is easy, but Gregory Sawyer (Lou Taylor Pucci) now has a whole new set of problems do deal with.

He still thinks Nixon is president and spends most of his days in a near catatonic state. The words that come out of his mouth make no sense when they do come out, which is almost never. Gregory ran away from home at the rise of the Me Decade, and Henry is resigned to the idea that he and his son will never be able to reconcile.

That’s before he discovers advances in music therapy. He consults with a therapist named Dianne Daley (Julia Ormond), who discovers that Gregory’s mind is still quite active even if it’s stuck in the previous decades. When she cranks up the tunes, Gregory proves to be a lively conversationalist and can interact with people in a way he couldn’t when the tunes are off.

While nursing a strong aversion for the tunes that he believes led Gregory to ruin, Henry gradually understands and appreciates the Dead and Dylan because Gregory can explain it eloquently to him. Henry also learns that Gregory’s opposition to the Vietnam War and his animosity toward Nixon was more than justified. With the Dead in the background, Henry can finally reach his son and even learn from him.

You can almost imagine freshman director Jim Kohlberg flashing the words “cry now” on the screen at this point. Thanks to a terrific performance from Simmons, the tear ducts would probably still go to work even if Kohlberg had done just that.

Simmons, whom you might remember from the Farmers Insurance commercials, is a gifted character actor who can play buffoons like J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies or sympathetic characters like the dad in Juno with equal skill. Watching him tear through this material is like hearing Yo-Yo Ma play a simple melody. He can milk a lot more out of the material than what’s on the page. He also gives Henry enough dignity to make his growing Dead Headism seem silly but not stupid.

Pucci is fine as Gabriel, but his beard in the later portions of the film is distractingly false. He also makes the now old tunes palatable for listeners who are too young to remember them just as Gabriel does with his dad.

If the tale sounds unlikely, screenwriters Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks took their idea from a case illustrated in an essay by neurologist Oliver Sachs titled “The Last Hippie.” Perhaps even a film like Manos, the Hands of Fate might be improved with the late Jerry Garcia’s guitar. (PG) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 03/18/11)


The Concert
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Radu Mihaileanu’s The Concert has such a genial tone, that it’s easy to forgive the Romanian-born director for letting plausibility slide. Because the characters are broad but endearing, it’s easy to want them to succeed even when the odds say they shouldn’t.

Alexei Guskov plays Andrei Filipov, a once great conductor of the Bolshoi Orchestra in Moscow who has been reduced to mopping the venue’s floors. It’s not that he’s lost his talent or his ability to lead. Three decades before he insisted in using Jewish musicians to play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major despite the fact that the Communist party was especially anti-Semitic during that period. As we discover, Filipov wasn’t trying to be a hero, it just happened that his best musicians were Jews, and he wasn’t going to let his audience suffer through a mediocre performance.

The orchestra currently playing in the hall could probably use Filipov’s leadership because they are a weak substitute for his ensemble. He gets a chance to rectify that problem when he intercepts a fax from Paris informing him that the Bolshoi has been invited to play a lavish concert in Paris. Filipov quickly assembles as many of his fellow outcasts as possible to pose as the Bolshoi players. They may be rusty (some have even sold their instruments), but they can still outplay the “legitimate” orchestra.

They even recruit an aging apparatchik named Ivan Gavrilov (Valeriy Barinov) to manage the alternative orchestra even though he and Filipov have a long and bitter history. It’s actually a wise decision. With his silver tongue, the man could probably negotiate a permanent Middle East peace deal with a couple of quick phone calls.

Even with his help, there are more logistical hurdles than climbing Mt. Everest. Fortunately, Filipov and his best friend Sacha (Dmitri Nazarov) have developed an enviable ingenuity after having outlived the dictators who persecuted them. It also doesn’t hurt that the phony Bolshoi is considerably cheaper than the Los Angeles orchestra who were scheduled to play in the City of Lights.

They can request virtuoso violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Mélanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds) to be their soloist and can have a run of Paris without breaking the bank. That still requires the ensemble that hasn’t played together for eons to put on a good show and for Anne-Marie’s protective manager (Miou-Miou, in a vintage performance) to consent.

Some of the obstacles Filipov and his crew encounter in the script by Mihaileanu, Alain-Michel Blanc and veteran American screenwriter Matthew Robbins (The Sugarland Express) are more believable than others. I can’t imagine any impresario believing Filipov when he declares that his absentee musicians don’t need to rehearse when they’re really hung over from the previous evening.

On the plus side, the cast approaches their roles sincerely. Because they’re willing to take the matter seriously, it’s easy to reciprocate. And for all the shenanigans, there is some genuine pathos underneath so it’s easy to understand why these folks continue when other people would hang up their batons.

The final Tchaikovsky performance is well choreographed, and Laurent, who isn’t a violinist, can summon an astonishing range of emotions simply by standing still. Watching her and Guskov reveling in the composer’s work is just as entertaining as the goofy hijinks that preceded the concert.

Mihaileanu eschews subtlety throughout The Concert, but there’s something to be said for good old-fashioned earnestness. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 03/11/11)


White Material
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

It can really be tricky to get into a film if its main character consistently seems like a self-destructive fool. That’s about the best description I can find for Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert) in the new film White Material. She’s a French coffee planter whose African plantation just happens to be in the middle of a war zone. In the film’s unnamed country, rebels led by a mysterious figure known as “The Boxer” (Isaach De Bankolé) are ravaging the countryside. Even though most of them are either children or untrained vigilantes, they kill, wound or steal with abandon.

It’s no wonder that her laborers are leaving in droves. Even the French army has tried to convince Maria that her latest harvest on her financially struggling farm isn’t going to be enough to risk her life or the lives of her husband André (Christopher Lambert), and equally crazed teenage son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle). When lifelong residents consider the place too dangerous, it’s time to go.

Especially when a lot of the combatants in the civil war consider the Vial’s land to be “white material,” or property stolen from the locals by the white colonizers centuries ago. Even though almost none of citizens of the country were alive when France ruled the area, the perception that the Vials are following in the path of previous oppressors is hard to break.

French director Claire Denis grew up in colonial Africa and has explored the post-colonial situation in the continent in her earlier film Chocolat, not to be confused with the Juliette Binoche comedy. Her previous film was a lot more subtle and nuanced in its examination of France’s legacy in Africa, and it helped that her main character was a child. Whenever she did something thoughtless, it was easy to forgive her indiscretions because she was still a girl.

Maria, however, is fully grown, so it’s hard not to yell, “Get out of there” as every person around her tells her it’s time to get lost. At least Huppert is a strong enough actress to give Maria a dignity that almost excuses her lack of common sense. Maria’s devotion to her land would be merely annoying in the hands of a lesser performer.

To Denis’ credit, White Material has the look and feel of fomenting battleground. You can tell that something dire is coming, and Denis manages the mayhem with restraint. From just a few glances, we can see that the youngsters roaming the countryside are already hardened killers and will crush anyone who gets in their way, even if they don’t know what their long-term goals are. Considering how dangerous things have gotten, simply living to be a teenager is a major achievement.

Because there’s a constant feeling of dread, White Material is never dull. It’s too bad that it’s a challenge to care about its headstrong heroine. (N/R) Rating: 3 (Posted on 03/11/11)


Battle: Los Angeles
Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

Given that this spring will bring us an onslaught of big-budget action movies with lots of superheroes and such punching things until they explode, it seems only logical that we start out such a fest with the nice little Amuse-bouche that is Battle: Los Angeles.

Director Jonathan Liebesman, whose biggest film so far would probably be The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, knows just what to give the audience, while still managing to not give up much of anything original. Mixing action scenes like those from Black Hawk Down with the shaky-cam and dull characters from Cloverfield, with a dash of heroic tasks from old-schooler Irwin Allen’s big disaster flicks, and you’ve got a perfectly loud action film with plenty of jingoist patriotism sprinkled on the top.

We start of with Aaron Eckhart as Sgt. Michael Nantz, an aging Marine who wants out of the service after losing several men in a recent firefight. After him we have … some other guys. Like that guy, the guy who’s getting married, or the guy who has PTSD, or the medic guy whose … Nigerian, I think. These characters are so two-dimensional I dare anyone to tell me which of them actually survives to the end. I certainly didn’t know or frankly even care. Soon Nantz is put in command of a platoon that includes the brother of one of the men who got killed on Nantz’s last mission because that’s a good idea, and they go charging in to try and save the day.

Before you can say, “Why would aliens get out of their spaceships and chase us with guns when they could just bombard us from space,” that’s exactly what happens.

Basically, the rest goes from action scene to action scene as the platoon goes farther into enemy territory to find some civilians trapped in a police station. The aliens run around, popping up here and there; our guys shoot at them — rinse, repeat. Oh, we do learn a little about the aliens along the way, like they are kind of like machines but not machines, have really bad skills aiming their weapons, and run off water, or drink it or something. Eventually Nantz becomes trusted by the other guys, saves some civilians and sets off to find the control center and destroy it to stop the alien’s flying drones from … flying around, I guess.

Are there a few plot holes here? Well, first of all, let me say that this is a fun, loud popcorn-crunching flick. Aaron does a damn fine job as a sympathetic and believable good ‘ol American hero, the effects are fine and the plot moves at a nice, consistent pace. But basically this whole movie is a big plot hole: just don’t think, sit back and enjoy. Who cares that the helicopter drops them off miles from the police station, only to later fly right there to pick them up? Why wouldn’t you send a platoon of soldiers to go pick up all of three people while homicidal aliens are overrunning an entire city? Isn’t it possible that the military might the Marines bring with them consists of exactly one tank and some Hummers? Oh, and that command center, the one the aliens need badly to win? Why would you put that in a big hole in the ground, and not leave it, say, in space where it's safe?

Well, yes, frankly, as dumb as this movie is, it is fun. But it could have been a lot more fun if not for the massively gratuitous over-use of shaky-cam. While some action scenes actually benefit from mimicking the chaos of combat by whipping the camera all over, it’s not the case everywhere all the time. A scene with two people quietly talking to each other should not give the viewer whiplash. (PG 13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 03/11/11)

Red Riding Hood
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Once upon a time there was a promising director named Catherine Hardwicke, whose debut movie Thirteen, was an honest and sympathetic look at adolescent life. After having made her mark as a creative and insightful production designer (in movies like Three Kings and Tombstone), it seemed as if her promotion to the director’s chair was well earned.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Hardwicke’s last movie Twilight has managed to defang the vampire genre and has no discernable appeal for viewers older than say, 15. The characters in that film and in her latest, Red Riding Hood, are thinner than the bloodstream of a vampire’s recent meal. Her pacing can politely be described as undead. Even worse, her visual sense appears to have left her. Both Twilight and Red Riding Hood have some of the most inept special effects in recent memory and practically advertise the meager budgets.

In Red Riding Hood, screenwriter David Johnson takes the Grimm fairy tale and fashions it into a horror movie that isn’t scary and a romance never catches fire. Thanks to Johnson’s stilted dialogue and anemic plotting, it’s doubtful a director as skilled as Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) could do much to rectify it. An indifferent Amanda Seyfried (Letters to Juliet) plays Valerie, a young woman in a medieval European village afflicted by a lupine predator attacking all who make the mistake of going out on a full moon.

True to her Twilight roots, she finds herself curious about the force that keeps her town in fear, and she’s also romantically torn between a prosperous young blacksmith named Henry (Max Irons) and a lowly woodcutter named Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). In order to perpetuate the genre clichés, she’s drawn to Peter. Because neither man has any discernable personality and because Valerie is less fleshed out than a stick figure, the love triangle is constructed from rotting twigs.

When the wolf kills Valerie’s equally vacuous sister, a wolf-hunting priest named Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) starts taking draconian measures to keep the village safe. It seems he’s bitter after having to defend his daughters by killing his werewolf spouse. Hardwicke takes her imagery from Russia, so Solomon could indeed marry because he’d be Orthodox instead of Catholic. Oldman seems to know he’s been given less than prime material. His manic hysteria infuses the comatose film with the only energy it has. It’s hardly a performance he’d want to take to his grave, but his ham is certainly more nourishing than the gruel the other thespians are offering.

Perhaps Harwicke isn’t aiming for horror or romance. When the cheesy CGI werewolf first starts talking to Valerie, my audience burst into loud, derisive guffaws. The critter looks just about as lifelessly unconvincing as the lycans that appear in the two Twilight movies that Hardwicke hasn’t directed, but at least the creatures in those films kept their mouths shut (when not fighting or feeding). From that point, it’s as if everything uttered by humans or beasts sounds hysterically funny. It could be that Hardwicke is bitter about her Twilight experience and is trying her most subtly to satirize it. It’s too bad these films sort of mock themselves.

Julie Christie manages to maintain her dignity as Valerie’s grandmother, but the rest of the cast all seem to be waiting for better work to come. If they keep wasting their time (and ours) with junk like this, those more rewarding projects won’t materialize. (PG-13) Rating: 1 (Posted 03/11/11)


Rango
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

You can’t go wrong by casting Johnny Depp as an animated lizard.

Considering that his role in the misbegotten The Tourist was practically a cartoon character, it’s no wonder he seems more at home here. He gets to take his voice in so many different directions (doing impersonations and even playing different roles), that you wonder if he should have worked in animation earlier in his career. With The Corpse Bride and Rango, Depp demonstrates a zeal and a versatility that would make such past voice masters as Mel Blanc and Daws Butler proud.

The story for Rango, however, only occasionally matches Depp’s contagious enthusiasm. Despite being written by the able screenwriter-playwright John Logan (The Aviator), the new film unfolds predictably. All through the soundtrack, you can hear the music of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. Sadly, the excitement of those films is missing here, and many of the wisecracks fall as flat as the Mojave.

Depp’s performance seems even more remarkable when you consider that his disoriented lizard doesn’t even have a name. He lives in glass terrarium with only plastic toys for friends. An aspiring actor, he feels lonely performing melodrama for an audience of zero.

The domesticated chameleon’s world shatters when his owner’s car winds up in a massive wreck. With little help, he dodges predatory hawks and a chorus of mariachi owls who keep singing about his doom. When he arrives at a gloomy town named Dirt, he quickly discovers that he’s not the only creature who’d like a drink of water. In fact, water is so precious in Dirt that it’s used as currency.

Because the chameleon has no history or even identity, his theatrical flair and the imaginations of the local critters get him confused with a hero. He takes the name Rango after reading the word “Durango” on a bottle. The town’s shifty mayor, a wheelchair bound turtle voiced by Ned Beatty, hires him as sheriff.

Obviously, he’s not much of a gunslinger, but through luck and the assistance of a feisty rancher named Beans (Isla Fischer), Rango discovers that the water shortage is not an act of nature. Logan’s script borrows liberally from Chinatown and makes no secret of how much it owes to the Man with No Name trilogy. As a result, there are some jokes that grownups are going to get that will slip right past the toddlers. That in itself isn’t a problem, but the familiarity of the storyline means even the tots will see the plot twists coming.

The wisecracks are hit or miss. Thankfully, Depp isn’t the only actor making the most of the material. Alfred Molina, Harry Dean Stanton, Abigail Breslin and other top talents treat their short assignments with suitable vigor. Director Gore Verbinski (the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies) recorded the actors together and filmed their movements. While there’s no motion capture in Rango (thank goodness), the performances have an energy and a spontaneity that’s sometimes missing from animated movies. This boisterous vitality helps buoy the film past the story problems.

Visually, Rango is a consistent treat. The characters have distinctive, expressive faces, and the textures are beautifully rendered. Even if you’re watching the film in 2D, you’ll still think you can reach out and touch the objects on the screen.

For the most part, Rango gets by simply on attitude, and for the lizard’s share of its running time, that’s a good thing. (PG) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 03/04/11)


The Adjustment Bureau
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

If you ever thought that there was someone you couldn’t see working diligently to undermine your decisions without your being able to prove it, you may not be paranoid. In fact, there’s an enormous bureaucracy that keeps you and others from doing anything that might upset a master plan that no human has ever seen. Both the plan and the order it preserves would fall apart if someone became aware of it.

That’s the world of freshman director George Nolfi’s The Adjustment Bureau, which he’s loosely adapted from the 1953 short story “The Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick, whose books have inspired movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. If Nolfi only uses the bare outline of Dick’s tale, he nails the writer’s obsession with free will (or the lack thereof) and his mania for forces that change people’s lives without being detected.

David Norris (Matt Damon) seemed to be the master of his own destiny because he’d easily become a U.S. Congressman from New York at a young age. As The Adjustment Bureau begins, however, his plans for moving into the White House have come to an abrupt halt. Some footage of his college misbehavior has derailed his Senate campaign, and he has no idea what to do with himself now that the voters are downsizing him.

While trying to create a concession speech, he meets a young ballerina named Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). Their encounter seems unlikely because she just happens to be in the building to crash a wedding, but she curiously keeps him from losing his resolve. It’s no wonder he can’t get her out of his head.

Actually, he’s not supposed to have anything to do with her, and there’s a dedicated crew whose job it is to keep him from getting to know her better. They follow David wherever he goes and make sure that he spills coffee at an exact time so that he doesn’t inadvertently ruin the future. These folks can travel from borough to borough in New York through doors that bypass miles and miles of city. Their superhuman intelligence and speed belie their ability to make errors.

When the coffee spill happens at the wrong time, David discovers that he and everyone else in the world have been unknowingly manipulated by the Adjustment Bureau who makes it their business to prevent human decisions from creating a potential apocalypse. Killing David isn’t an option for them (his political career is a vital part of their schemes), but keeping his memory intact means their secret is never safe, especially since he’s not going to let a bunch of manipulative people dressed like the male cast of Mad Men (one is played by John Slattery) keep him from Elise.

Nolfi keeps the special effects to a minimum, but he’s still able maintain a brisk pace. With just a set of fedoras and a series of secret passageways, he creates a consistent tension that counteracts the implausibility of some of the storyline. Then again, if you have superhuman beings running the show, you can get away with quite a bit.

It also helps that the cast take the potentially silly premise seriously. When Terence Stamp, as a master agent named Thompson, chastises David and his entire race for how human folly has endangered the planet for ages, it’s tempting to wonder if human beings should ever be asked to make major decisions. His views are countered by agent Harry Mitchell (nicely played by Anthony Mackie from The Hurt Locker) who believes that the Bureau’s intelligence is undermined by the fact that they, like humans, can make the same catastrophic errors.

Nolfi gives Dick’s themes enough time to develop but probably correctly figures that a 90-minute chase is a lot more thrilling and cinematic than long existential musings. A faithful adaptation of Dick’s story would look laughable because one of the team members in the original story is a talking dog. The resolution seems a bit abrupt and tacked on, but it is refreshing when a movie can make paranoia look oddly sane. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 03/04/11)


Beastly
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

In this stylish urban update of Beauty and the Beast, writer/director Daniel Barnz (Phoebe in Wonderland) dumb down the famous folktale to create a showy yet dull knock-off. For all its stylistic high fashion, Beastly lacks any of the sense of ironic mindfulness or playful camp a successful and entertaining teen version would require.

Golden boy Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) rules his sleek, modern, probably LEED-certified New York school, despite the attempts of couture Goth school misfit Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen) to expose his mean, shallow ways. As payback, he invites Kendra as his date to a posh club for the celebration of his victory in a school election even though he already has a date. When Kendra arrives, Kyle and his entourage dump the metaphorical bucket of pig's blood, and Kendra erupts in a curse to make Kyle's beautiful outsides resemble his ugly insides unless he can get someone to profess true love within a year.

Tattooed and scarred, Kyle retreats from the world. His mean, shallow father (Peter Krause) hides him in a house with only the Jamaican housekeeper, Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton), and a blind, sarcastic tutor, Will (Neil Patrick Harris), for company. That is until Kyle's stalking of Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) leads to her being held captive in his attic. Over time and through many boring rehashed rom-com moments, the two fall in love and the spell is broken.

Traditionally, the tale of Beauty and the Beast is told from the girl's perspective. Her request of a rose gets her father in trouble so she volunteers her life in place of his. The rest is iconic fairytale. Beastly is the wide Sargasso Sea of folk tales, flipping the narration and telling the story from the alternate point of view — the beast's. However, pretty Kyle nor ugly Kyle is beastly enough to bring about change in the character and warrant the center stage position of such a static character. His scars remain external, keeping his sense of entitlement intact. He remains just as focused on physical appearance, for example, choosing to keep to his workout instead of the home tutoring. He makes no improvements until time begins to run out.

Lindy too easily falls for both versions of Kyle. When he reveals the effects of the magical ugly stick, she accepts them nonchalantly. “I've seen worse,” she says. And it's true. Not only is there no actual beastly behavior, Kendra's spell has gone fairly easy on her nemesis. Aside from a few nasty gashes and what looks like a caterpillar's chrysalis on the side of his nose, Kyle doesn't look much worse for wear than the average attendee at Burning Man. One can only imagine this was the compromise reached meant to keep him an object of teen affection, and yet again proof that filmmakers often underestimate the excitability of the tween girl. In addition, Lindy's breezy acceptance of Kyle's motivations and deceit, create a cringe-worthy, rather than happy, ending. She's a ragdoll he knows he can manipulate.

The only spark in this film belongs to Mary-Kate Olsen as Kendra. She's flippant and over-the-top. She's exactly what one hopes for in a fashionista witch. She's a proper nemesis but without enough meat in her role to flesh her out as she deserves. She alone may inspire a new wave of Goth girl fashion, but the true believers will be staying home to watch the Cocteau version or even the Disney one from their childhood. Only the posers will be watching this version. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 03/04/11)


Take Me Home Tonight
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Taking its title from the Eddie Money/Ronnie Spector hit from the Me, Al Franken Decade, Take Me Home Tonight serves no other purpose than to remind survivors of the era that people could be as obnoxious as they can be today.

The thin story could probably take place in any era and be equally insipid. This look at the ‘80s makes a viewer wish he or she could go back in time before they wasted their money on a ticket.

Star Topher Grace probably deserves most of the blame. In addition to playing the film’s protagonist, he’s also got a story and an executive producing credit. He and his collaborators have waited nearly four years for this mullet of a movie to finally make it to the screen. Thanks to Grace, any feelings of nostalgia for the era will be gone.

Matt Franklin (Grace) is a fellow who left California for an Ivy League engineering degree but is now selling VHS tapes at Suncoast. Most of his friends now have lucrative jobs, bright futures and are starting families. His sister Wendy (Anna Faris) has to choose between a literary scholarship in the UK or marrying her sweetheart Kyle (Chris Pratt). Matt, however, is stuck with only his hard-living, car-dealing pal Barry (Dan Fogler) for company.

Matt’s rut ends when his high school crush Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer) stumbles into his Suncoast and tips him off about a party. Ashamed of his current station, Matt claims to be employed by Goldman Sachs (only in nostalgia would that have been a good thing). To make the ruse work, Barry steals one of the dealership’s high-end roadsters and even snorts some of the cocaine hidden in the glove compartment.

What follows is supposed to be rowdy fun and an important lesson about being yourself. Sadly, the fun is in short supply. Much of the dialogue and atmosphere is stale (at least nobody says, “tubular”). There are a few shots of people spraying their hair and some period music, but that’s it.

It doesn’t help that the film recalls John Hughes (Ferris Buehler’s Day Off) films from the era, but it doesn’t do anything that the master of ‘80s young adult angst hasn’t done better already. The gags involving the Bolivian Marching Powder are so annoying that it makes you wonder if people snorted “Bogotá’s Best” simply out of boredom.

While Grace’s Matt seems like a blandly pleasant fellow, Fogler’s Barry is irritating. Instead of being a likable loser, he’s simply a loser. This fellow offers volumes of bad advice, acts irresponsibly and has no charm to speak of. When humiliations come his way, it seems more like karma instead of comic relief.

It is refreshing seeing Faris playing something other than an airhead, and Demetri Martin earns the film’s only laughs as someone who really does work for Goldman Sachs. If you really want to be reminded of the ‘80s, simply rent The Wedding Singer or play your worn out copy of Thriller. Take Me Home Tonight should never have left the house. (R) Rating: 1 (Posted on 03/04/11)


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Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.
Beck Ireland can be contacted at beck.ireland@gmail.com
Brandon Whitehead can be contacted at kinginyellow@juno.com.


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