Thursday, June 14, 2012

Double Dose of Bad This Weekend

That’s My Boy
                Famous for fathering a child with a teacher at age 13, Donny (Sandler) is deep in IRS debt and needs to track down his son “Todd” (Samberg) for a made-for-TV event to get the money to get out of debt.
                This is a Sandler movie that is actually funny for a long stretch of time but still has all the little Sandler ticks.  Like the trend these days, the humor veers into the raunchy realm, especially in the very funny second act.  The second act, obviously inspired by The Hangover, revolves around “Todd’s” (there is a reason for the quotation marks) bachelor party with guests including Will Forte, Nick Swardson & Vanilla Ice.  Yes, that Vanilla Ice.
                Unfortunately, the movie isn’t 40 minutes long.  There are another 75 minutes buffering it that range from insomnia-curing to nearly offensive.  Most of Sandler’s trademarks are there: his annoying voice, this time for the entire movie; the deliberate commercialism (count the Budweiser cans & signs); old ladies saying or doing un-ladylike things; the sentimental story with a fake moral; and cringeworthy moments waiting for a laugh.  Add in more cameos than usual plus making the plot a MacGuffin, That’s My Boy is a slightly funnier version of every Sandler movie thus far.

** (out of 5 stars)

Rock of Ages
                Set in an alternative universe where most hair-bands don’t (technically) exist, an aspiring young singer (Hough) meets and falls for and aspiring rocker (Boneta) in 1987 L.A.  They work at a bar run by best friends (Brand & Baldwin).  Meanwhile, the wife of the mayor of L.A. (Zeta-Jones) leads a group of concerned mothers looking to end the evils of rock ‘n roll.  Finally, Arsenal, the biggest band in the world, is playing their last gig at the club before Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) goes solo.
                Director Adam Shankman, most famous for the surprising remake of Hairspray five summers ago, tries with this material, adapted by Justin Theroux, who continues to show me he isn’t funny, but fails miserably.  Shankman tries to go campy but isn’t talented enough on a technical level to do so.  The leads are totally uninteresting and the story is a laboring mess.
                The big names, however, do their best to save this as much as they can.  Balwin & Brand are solid with one fantastic sequence to start the third act.  But the real star is Tom Cruise as the (undiagnosed) legally insane rocker.  There are times where you’d swear Cruise was born to play Jaxx.  Cruise & Malin Akerman, who is wonderful in her small role as well, share one of the most wonderful and steamy scenes you will see in this or any summer.
                Regardless, Rock of Ages is a disaster with the boring leads and messy musical numbers despite the flashes of awesome.  In the end, to quote the closing number, “Oh the movie never ends/it goes on and on and on and on.”

*1/2 (out of 5 stars)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Snow White & the Huntsman

 I do not own the above image.  For entertainment purposes only.  Copyright Universal Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

In today’s Hollywood environment, you need to be able to do two things: take an idea that has already been done before and put your own spin on it.  How much you change can make or break your project.  You can go the J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” path and change one detail that causes a ripple through the backstory but is still effective & interesting.  Or you can rewrite anything that you hate about a few mythical creatures’ identity into your liking and throw a boring love story inside.  That’s right, “Twilight”.

The story of Snow White, for the second time in 2 months, is twisted for our palates.  This time, director Rupert Sanders (first motion picture, per IMDb) and a trio of solo writers ending with Evan Daugherty (first full-length motion picture) take the fairy tale in a darker direction.  Snow White (Stewart) is held prisoner for about a decade by Ravenna, the Evil Queen (Theron).  Before she is to be raped by the queen’s brother Finn, she escapes and runs off to the Dark Forest.  The Evil Queen sends a small army led by the hired Huntsman (Hemsworth) to go retrieve her.

I want to preface this by saying I have never liked Charlize Theron in anything, even Arrested Development.  So to watch her try to impersonate Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate”, which she saw firsthand 15 years ago, was infuriating.  She either enunciated every syllable or screamed at the top of her lungs.  Theron makes the opening 20 minutes nearly impossible to watch.  Kristen Stewart, to her credit, isn’t as terrible as she usually is.  She isn’t helped by the fact that the screenplay has her Snow White play hopscotch with the fine line between heroine & damsel in distress.

There are two fantastic elements to the movie that make it worth attending a matinee.  First, there is a 75 minute sequence after Snow White escapes the castle.  There are sequences involving a troll, a village of intentionally battered women and, best of all, the dwarves.  A special treat awaits for true movie fans with the dwarves.  Second, and best of all, Chris Hemsworth can act.  His character is the most amusing & enjoyable to watch, even if he is only called The Huntsman.  Even with all the visual effects & action sequences in the movie, Hemsworth’s monologue towards the end of the second act gave me the biggest smile.

“SWATH” is better than it has any right to be.  With an Oscar winner & a MTV Movie Award winner who aren’t very effective at all at the center of this movie, this could have been a complete disaster.  But with a fascinating middle, an adequate third act and an actor-making turn by Hemsworth, “SWATH” is a minor surprise.  Now, Hollywood, build a movie around Chris Hemsworth.  And I’m not talking about “Thor 2”.  Maybe something Ryan Gosling said no to?

***1/2 (out of five)