Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Review

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013) Review

Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, Jim Carrey

Oh PG-13 comedies, how you have scorned me over the years. Sure, the genre has given the world Pitch Perfect, Easy A, and the highly underrated City Island, but you have also given it All About Steve, The Green Hornet, and almost all of Adam Sandler’s film of late. Really, is it that hard to make a funny comedy while staying away from excessive uses of profanity, gore, or, something the MPAA loves to hammer down on, nudity or sex? Well hey! Maybe The Incredible Burt Wonderstone can give me some hope! Look at the cast: Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Alan Arkin. Those are some big names in comedy. What could possibly go wrong with them on board? Weeeelll….a lot. A lot can go wrong.

The premise is pretty much the Will Ferrell movie Mad Lib. (insert famous comedian) plays (insert weird character name), a powerful/famous/big-time (insert odd occupation) who (insert bad personality trait) He is on top of the world when (insert something that hinders them) causing him to fall from grace. He must learn from his mistakes and win the (insert event that will give him back his power), along with the help of (insert love interest) and (insert miscallanous sidekick/role model/etc.) Pretty much if you filled in the plot of Burt Wonderstone into this you would get the following result: Steve Carell plays Burt Wonderstone, a famous magician who is a complete dick. He is on top of the world when a new magician, Steve Gray, steals his audience, his partner, Anton, leaves him and the act, and he gets fired from his job performing at a big hotel. He must learn from his mistakes and win the contest his former boss is holding to decide which magician will headline at his new hotel with the help of his assistant Jane and his idol Rance Holloway. Hijinks ensue!

Yeah if you have seen Blades of Glory, Semi Pro, or any of Will Ferrell’s other films from the 2000’s, then you have seen this movie before. You will know what will happen as the movie progresses, that’s how cliché it is. Sure, the magician angle is pretty original. The homages to street magicians Criss Angel and David Blaine in the form of Jim Carrey’s character and to old school magicians in the form of both of the Steve’s characters are cool. And even some of the tricks are cool (specifically the Hangman trick at the beginning of Burt and Anton’s show.) But we’ve seen this all before. Guys a jerk, he falls from grace, he has to redeem himself, lather, rinse, and repeat. But of course what a comedy lacks in originality has to make up for with great jokes and heart? Yeah no. I chuckled a few times during this movie, mainly whenever Jim Carrey came on screen and the 3 jokes I counted that take a shot at Steve Buscemi’s character’s looks (Side note: I’m sorry for laughing at that, please don’t kill me Steve!) but most of them fall flat on its face. As for heart, well there is some at the end but most of the time any heart or likeability is sucked away by Carrell’s characters ego. It has its moments, sure, but the ones that hurt the movie hurt it badly.

Now for what is going to be my favorite part of this review: ripping into Steve Carell’s character. I am not a fan of Steve Carell only because he doesn’t seem like a likeable person in real life. When I watch interviews for other comedians like Will Ferrell, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, and even Adam Sandler, I think “they seem really cool and down to earth. I would love to hang out with them.” Carell, on the other hand, doesn’t. I don’t know what makes me dislike him so much but for whatever reason I just find him unlikeable. However, this does not stop me from watching his films. I’ve only seen this and Dinner for Schmucks, and even though it’s a mediocre at best film, I liked him in it. In Burt Wonderstone, though, he is SO UNLIKEABLE. His character is a complete jerk and not even a likeable jerk. You never sympathise with him. When he loses his best friend, you don’t care. When he loses his job and suite, you don’t care. When he ends up broke, living in a cheap motel and working at an old folks home, YOU DON’T CARE. There is nothing redeemable about this character and Carell does not help a bit. If maybe he made Burt likeable then we could have been invested in his story. But no, we get a jerk who is a jerk for no reason and who only goes through a change cause the script calls for it. The rest of the cast, while they are more likeable than Carell’s character, don’t have much either. Steve Buscemi, one of my favorite actors, who plays Anton is barely in it and when he is, he doesn’t add anything. He does a good job and it is refreshing to see him play a nice guy for a change but anyone could have played that role. Olivia Wilde is likeable as Burt and Anton’s assistant but while she too does a good job, she adds nothing and is only there to serve as the mandatory love interest. Alan Arkin, who plays Rance Holloway, is good in his scenes (I’m just going to state he that that’s going to be a recurring theme for this paragraph) but he is barely in it and adds nothing (another recurring theme). Even when *SPOILER ALERT* his character has a freaking stroke, it doesn’t serve anything to the plot, we never see how he recovers from it so that he could participate in the ending, and it just disappears after the scene is over. The late great James Gandolfini is in this movie (what ended up being his last film before he died) as Burt and Anton's boss, but he is only there to serve as part of the conflict. And as for Jim Carrey….well he’s the best character in this film. Every time he was on screen I laughed and then cringed because his character is nuts, then laughed again. Sadly though he is barely in it. Hopefully Kick Ass 2 helps him get the comeback he deserves (even though his latest twitter antics may hinder it.)

As I said before the jokes are hit and miss. The first third of the film I laughed a lot, mainly because the jokes worked with the situation and it didn’t (usually) go for a cheap laugh. However, as soon as Anton leaves, it became boring and unfunny. Some jokes worked well (specifically when Alan Arkin asks Jim Carrey “What the f*ck is a dream-reality?”) others are just lame. There were some good scenes during the last 2 thirds (especially the one where Burt and Jane, Olivia Wilde’s character, are walking down the Vegas strip talking about their lives growing up as magicians) but others are cringe worthy (mainly the hot coals scene and when Burt and Anton reunite. Fake, over-the-top crying never made me cringe so much.) With that being said, I liked almost all of the tricks in the film. The Hangman trick at the beginning is incredible, it was interesting seeing how the sword through the box trick worked, and most of Jim Carrey character’s tricks, especially the first one with the card, were frightening. No wonder his character’s nickname was the Brain Rapist. The ending tricks for both Jim Carrey’s Steve Gray and Burt and Anton (which I won’t spoil) are great. Steve Gray’s made me cringe until I couldn’t feel my shoulders, and then laugh at the aftermath. As for Burt and Anton’s it was something that would amaze me if it happened to me in real life. It was a great trick that deserved to be the final trick of the film.

Now I am not asking much when it comes to comedies, especially PG-13 ones. I am not a huge fan of gross out humor so seeing a good comedy without it would be great! TV seems to have gotten it right, with some of my favorite shows being Arrested Development, Portlandia, and Raising Hope. All I want is for a film to make me laugh because really, nothing is worse than an unfunny comedy, except maybe an not scary horror movie. After seeing the trailer for this, I hoped to god that this wouldn’t disappoint but sadly it did, only getting a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes, making around 22 million at the box office, and getting beaten on its opening weekend by The Call. Now, 3 months after its release, my instinct was kind of right. It’s enjoyable at best, cringe worthy at its worse, the actors, even if they have little to do, are good, the jokes that work work, and if you can get past the oversized ego of its title character, it does a good enough job. Maybe someday it will become a cult hit with a big fanbase or a film that will get a lot more attention on Netflix, but for now it is what it is: a sometimes funny film, other times a waste of time. It’s a good enough watch if you feel like having a lazy day or you’re sick and you need to shut your brain off, but it isn’t something I would watch again. You win this round comedy hell….

~Indie Princess

Man of Steel Review

Man of Steel (2013) Review

Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue

Let me start off by saying that I am more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan. I’m saying this just so if any DC fans find this and write comments like “You just don’t get it!” then they will know that I do, at least to some extent. While I have only seen 2 DC movies (this and The Dark Knight Rises) and 2 Marvel movies (Thor and The Avengers), I own both Batman: Arkham City and Injustice: Gods Among Us, I own a bunch of DC comics, and my favorite superhero is Batman. I just find the DC universe more intriguing than Marvel. Marvel to me seems more kid-friendly, especially with their movies, while DC is dark and gritty. Nothing wrong with that! BUT, when it comes to the film adaptations of these comics, my thoughts on them are mixed.

If you exclude Man of Steel, Thor, out of all of them, is the best, then The Dark Knight Rises, and then The Avengers. Yes, I’m part of the minority that dislikes The Avengers. I just find it extremely overrated and I have no idea why it is held in such a high regard as “the best comic book movie ever!” Now, I am one of the dozens of fanboys/fangirls who freaked out every time a Man of Steel trailer popped up online. I desperately wanted this movie to be a success, critically and financially. I wanted it to kick The Avengers ass at the box office and be considered a great comic book film just like The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and the second X-Men movie. My excitement grew as the premiere drew nearer and nearer. I watched the live premiere from New York, got my Superman shirt ready, and read/watched as many reviews as possible. However, I was shocked to find that it wasn’t doing as well as I thought it would. The film was certified rotten at 56% percent on Rotten Tomatoes, most of the reviews I read/watched said it was disappointing, and it was considered more a typical action movie than a great comic book movie. After I saw it, I loved it. Then I thought about it more and more and while I still like it, I now recognize its many, many flaws.

Let’s begin with the plot. It’s the basic origin story. Protagonist goes through an experience that defines who they are (Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman is sent to Earth, finds out he is from a different planet), decides to use their abilities to help the world, a villain emerges to take over the city and/or world (General Zod comes down from space with his cronies to capture Superman and turn Earth into Krypton 2.0), protagonist and villain battle, etcetera.  The script feels like a rehash of what The Dark Knight was. Judging by the fact that David S. Goyer, the writer of the Dark Knight trilogy, also wrote this, that conclusion seems a lot more plausible. The difference though is that from what I’ve heard, The Dark Knight didn’t have the final 40-60 minutes become a ginormous action fest. Just like almost every other reviewer, I disliked how time that maybe could have been spent on developing these characters was spent destroying Smallville and Metropolis. I never cared for the characters because the script spent so much time throwing as much as action as possible at the audience. It felt like it was trying too hard to wipe the fact that Superman Returns had barely any action. And even when there isn’t any action it was SO boring. I left twice during the film because I just needed to do something better with my time. The Dark Knight Rises did that at times, but it never made me feel like leaving. To add to this, there are so many over-the-top moments and dialogue that just feels out of place. The only reason I actually thought about sticking around  and not waiting outside for my sister and her friends for the next hour and a half is because Michael Shannon was in the movie and I wanted to see how he did (I’ll get to that later.) However, there were some good moments, specifically the opening at Krypton. You know how when writing books your opening line has to be able to hook the reader in? Well, if the opening scene to Man of Steel was a novel’s hook, then I would have continued reading. Just like how Monsters University’s third act effected my rating drastically, the opening scene here is the reason that I gave this film another half of a star. I didn’t mind the tornado scene as much as other people did and some of the action is pretty good, even if it was excessive.  Overall, despite some good moments, the story and script is the second weakest part of the movie.

Acting wise, to me the film doesn’t have ok performances: there are only good performances and bad performances. Henry Cavill as Clark/Kal/Supes was forgettable. I remember nothing about him because, like all of the actors in this movie, he has no character to inhabit. Maybe if there was more of a character then Henry could have shone, or maybe he is just not a good enough actor. I haven’t seen any of his other work to know this so I can’t really judge on that criteria but I can say that out of all the actors, he wins the award for most forgettable. Who wins for the blandest actor? Amy Adams. I am not a fan of her work. I haven’t seen any of her Oscar-nominated roles, but judging on Enchanted, The Muppet Movie, Leap Year, Julie and Julia, and now Man of Steel, she to me is a very overrated actress. Lois Lane could have just been removed completely from the story and no one except Superman extremists would have cared, partly because of her performance. Lois Lane is spunky, always wanting to get the scoop no matter what. Adams plays her as another bland damsel in distress. She isn’t Lois Lane; she is really Mary Jane Watson from the original Spider Man films. To me, Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner were the best actors in this film. Jor-El and Jonathan Kent are the perfect father figures that Superman needed: wise, brave, and willing to give up everything just so their son is safe. Every time they came on screen, I was pleasantly surprised at how well they did, considering that the last film I saw Russell Crowe in was Les Miserables and I suffered through half of Waterworld. They were the MVP’s to me. Someone else who also surprised me in a good way was german actress Antje Traue, a relative unknown who’s only other notable credit is in Pandorum. She almost stole the show from Costner and Crowe (side note: that kind of sounds like a wine to me) as Faora, one of Zod’s cronies and the best out of all the villians. She was intense, intimidating, and everything Zod should have been. Please Hollywood, put her more movies. I would appreciate it very much if she didn’t float off into non-existence. Speaking of someone who I hope doesn’t float off into non-existence, let’s talk about the reason I didn’t make an escape plan out of the theater, Michael Shannon. I was hoping that he would do great in this film and while he probably has a bright future in Hollywood (if his current number 11 spot on the IMDb starmeter and list of upcoming projects says something,) I don’t think he was fantastic. Yes, he was intimidating (seeing Zod’s viral message to Earth on the big screen, in the dark no less, was scary as hell) but there were moments when his performance felt so cartooney and over-the-top. He was good, but compared to Traue, he wasn’t the best villain he could be. The rest of the cast also is either on one side of fence or the other. Diane Lane and Christopher Meloni did their jobs well, while I found Laurence Fishburne incredibly bland.

I haven’t seen anything of Zack Synder’s, mainly because I’m not allowed, but I will admit that at times the direction was good. There were some pretty well directed scenes (especially the opening, which I will forever be gushing over) but then others where he needed to say something. The visual effects were, like the direction and story, good in some scenes and others looked like they belonged in a video game. Really, most of the elements of the film were good in certain scenes and other times terrible. It’s a flawed movie and its bi-polar sense of wanting to succeed but usually failing. The only element that doesn’t do this is the character development, because it is none existent. There is never a moment where I thought “I hope *insert name here* is ok” or “I can’t believe that happened to *insert name here*” because these characters never go through any changes. You don’t care about these characters and seeing this happen in a script by a screenwriter who wrote the damn Dark Knight trilogy, where it makes you care about what will happen to a guy dressed as a bat, is really upsetting.

Now, just to warn anyone who hasn’t seen Man of Steel and hasn’t heard any of the spoilers to this movie, first of all I applaud you for that, and second please skip this paragraph because I am spoiling the end to this. What happens is Superman breaks Zod’s neck in order to save a family. That’s right; a superhero that doesn’t kill and has a high moral code kills the villain. When I first saw it the first thing I thought was, “why didn’t he do that before?” and that was it. I didn’t have a problem with it, I just moved on. As I watched spoiler videos for Man of Steel, though, did I realize how out of character this was. While I do read DC comics, I don’t read Superman comics, only Batman and some miscellaneous ones from other superheroes. I never knew that Superman didn’t kill until I watched those videos so I didn’t have the same reaction as hard core fans did. Frankly, I still don’t. I feel like if I was in that situation and had to choose between letting an innocent family die by laser eyes or snap the neck of someone who wants to turn the place you have lived your entire life on into a new planet, killing everyone on it, I would do the latter. I know it’s not something that I should be saying but it’s my honest opinion.

So the big question now is why on Earth did I give this movie 3 and a half stars when I clearly ripped it a new one in this review? Well, while it has flaws, I still liked it. Everything except the characters had their moments, the opening was fantastic, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, and Antje Traue made the movie extremely enjoyable, there were some really nice visuals, and overall it was a good action movie. Is it as good as The Dark Knight Rises? God no. Is it as bad as my opinion on The Avengers? No. It’s in the middle of the road for me. It wasn’t the movie I wanted but when it comes down to it, it’s the movie we got. I have to forget the hopes I had for it and judge it by what it is and while it has problems, what works works. All I have to say is that if Zack Synder and David S. Goyer do come back for the sequel, they better bring their a-game because we need another great trilogy to sit alongside The Dark Knight. Even if this installment wasn’t incredible, just remember this: Batman Begins lead to The Dark Knight. Second time has to be the charm.

~Indie Princess

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Monsters University Review

Monsters University (2013) Review

Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Peter Sohn, Charlie Day

I am not one to watch entertainment talk/news shows, specifically those that run stories on the most irrelevant of celebrity news like Entertainment Tonight. However, bored and having nothing else to watch, I decided to watch The Insider, now titled OMG Insider for some reason. Why does this relate to Monsters University? Well, one of the stories covered was the box office, where Monsters University was #1. One of the anchors, whose name I do not know and don’t feel like researching, stated that he saw it and that, in a very annoyed/condescending voice, “it was cute.” It bugged me that all he could say was that it was cute. Nice would have worked, or sweet, or even good. I just felt that cute wasn’t the word that could describe what many have said is a step in the right direction for Pixar.

Then I actually saw the movie and well…I do have to agree on some terms with him. Cute is a good word to describe Monsters University. Not that that makes it bad, far from it. While it doesn’t delve into edgy territory until the surprising third act, Monsters University is a cutesy children’s film that does its job: expand on the Monsters Inc. world and give a better in sight on how two of Pixar’s most popular characters, Mike and Sulley, became friends. The easiest questions to answer are: does Monsters University surpass the original? and should it be considered one of the studios masterpieces along with the Toy Story franchise, The Incredibles, and Wall-E?, both of which can be answered with a no. But one important question that needs to be answered is this: is Monsters University a sign that Pixar is no longer the animation studio to beat or that Pixar, after a mediocre film that many detest and a sequel that nobody wanted then and now, is on its way to a comeback? Luckily for us and the studio, the answer is the latter.

The plot is simple. Set 10 years before the events of Monsters Inc, the story follows Mike and Sulley during their freshman year of college. Starting off as bitter enemies, they must work together to get back into the scaring program at Monsters University by winning the Scare Games, a series of events that test the scaring abilities of the fraternity’s and sorority’s at MU,  with their fraternity Oozma Kappa, a frat filled with the rejects of Monsters University. A plot many have described as “The Internship with monsters” and “the monster version of Revenge of the Nerds,” the plot seems to be one seen before, although with a few tweaks.

Pixar’s first prequel, the movie did a nice job with telling the story of Mike and Sulley’s friendship. Many have complained about the sequel-itis the film presents us (since Mike did mention that they knew each other in elementary school at the beginning of MI), but in my opinion the film completely erases that, making it feel like they truly did meet in college. It does feel by the book at the beginning, not taking many risks with the plotline and giving us the story that we expect. However, the third act becomes a new film entirely. The third act was something of a wonder and felt like an experts course in how Pixar has become one of the animation greats. Each twist in it enhanced the film, with its horror monsters homage and unexpected change of events at the very end. If it wasn’t for the third act, the film would have ended on a predictable and mundane note, but that one turn of events made the movie for me.

Everyone in the voice cast is brilliant. John Goodman and Billy Crystal, despite both being in their early to mid-sixties, easily slide back into the roles of Sulley and Mike, albeit their younger versions. Most of the film I never thought “Oh that’s John Goodman/Billy Crystal’s voice,” making it feel like it hasn’t been 12 years since the original came out, as if nothing has changed. Helen Mirren also does great work as Dean Hardscrabble. It didn’t feel out of place, like many celebrity voice castings of recent memory, and her voice fit perfectly with the winged, centipede-legged Dean. Besides John Goodman and Billy Crystal, the only returning cast member that is worth mentioning is Steve Buscemi as Randall, known as Randy in this film. Despite having very little to do (which I will touch on later), Buscemi is great, as he is in most of his voice work. The rest of star studded cast, including Nathan Fillion as the pompous jock Johnny, Aubrey Plaza as the gothic Greek Council president, and Charlie Day as OK member Art (who gives us one of the most quotable lines in the film), is phenomenal, especially coming from Day, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, and Julia Sweeney as the rest of Oozma Kappa and the mother of one of the members.

Character wise the film did well. Not many characters get much character development, save Mike and Sulley and the transformation of the OK frat from weak underdogs to impressive scarers, but the characters we want to route for are likeable and the changes Mike and Sulley go through do build a strong foundation for the film. Some characters actions (mainly a prank on the Oozma Kappa members involving glitter, teddy bears, and an obvious reference to Carrie) are questionable to say the least, but they don’t detract that much from the story. However, my biggest problem character wise was how Randall fit into the story. Randall is my favorite character in the original and being both a Randall and Steve Buscemi fan I was excited about him being in the prequel. After seeing the trailers and reading several message boards, I expected a lot more than was given. The friendship between him and Mike is barely explored, there’s no explanation to why he was chosen to be in the rival frat, and the way they set up the rivalry between him and Sulley is lazy with just one line before *POOF* he’s gone from the film. Many have complained about Randall’s lack of motivation in MI (which I can agree on to some degree) and there was potential for a great side plot that would have not only given some explanation as to why he is the way he is, but also would have connected with a lot of people.  Pixar could have given a better reason for his detest for Sulley than a throwaway line.  

Other than that, there is not much that I can say that isn’t a rehash of what other reviewers have said. The movie is beautiful to look at with bright, bold colors that appeal to the eye of those young and old. The story and writing, while it does borrow a lot from other movies, is very good, keeping the heart of the original while adding more to the Monsters Inc. mythos. The winks to the original and cameos from characters from the original that aren’t Sulley, Mike, and Randall are perfect. Hearing the music from specifically the garbage block scene brought me back to my childhood and seeing a cameo from a certain slug brought a giant smile to my face. There are some good jokes, but for anyone over the age of 9, possibly 10, many will fall flat. I saw the film in a packed theater with several kids and I didn’t hear many giggles, let alone a ton of laughter, throughout the movie. I can only remember a few spots where everyone collectively laughed, the only time the theater burst into laughter was near the end during the last OK meeting. There aren’t any tearjerker scenes or scenes that will make you cry, which is actually kind of refreshing for me. The last Pixar movie I saw was Toy Story 3 and the one before that was Up and now everytime I see the begnnning of Up or the end of Toy Story 3, I burst into tears. Pixar movies, along with most animated films, tend to add a big sad moment and it has become a bit cliché to me, so seeing Monsters University, the prequel to a film with a pretty good sad moment near the end, trade in tears for laughs is great.

I had high hopes for Monsters University. Monsters Inc. is not only my favorite Pixar film, but also one of my favorite movies, and due to the disappointment Cars 2 was and how outraged fans seemed to be over Brave’s recent best animated feature win at the Oscars, Pixar desperately needed a good movie to get them out of the phase they were in. I never expected it to be better than Monsters Inc, just expand on its universe. Most importantly, I wanted Pixar to be at least start making their way back to their title of best animation studio. Yes, the film has serious character development issues, along with some jokes that fall flat and characters that could have had a better reason to be in the film, but it also has a great voice cast, great character development and pacing for both Mika and Sulley and their friendship, and a third act that solidified the film as more than an underdog story. While I don’t find it the best out of Pixar’s roster or it’s sequels, but it isn’t the worst and it gives me a reason to say something that I have been hoping to say for a very long time: welcome back Pixar. 

~Indie Princess