The High Countries

because it’s all paperweight…

Time to Review!

Some of them, I should have seen long ago. Others, long, long ago. But now, you know. Into the fray!

*Scale of score is a 1-10.

GET LOW: 8.38

Bill Murray also maintains his presence as one of the funniest men on the globe as a funeral home owner, Frank Quinn, who’s in desperate need of “some deaths around here”. The final scene alone is worth the price of admission.

 

 

 

 

 




[REC]: 8.06

The original Spanish-version of Quarantine. Its marvelous. And creepy and perfectly formatted and filmed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[REC 2]: 8.81

The follow up to REC 1, this beats it on all levels: scares, jumps, and above all … Story. Its absolutely terrific, and blows Paranormal 2 out of the water.

 

 

 

 

 

HEREAFTER: 3.41

The worst film of 2010. It was worth putting in this list again, just because it did so poorly with so much. I can’t say this enough. This film is rubbish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SESSION 9: 1.81

Billed as a scary, closed-in freak fest, this was anything but terrifying — and I was ready for a scare; believe me, I tried hard. It was about as scary as a 4 year old with a Scream mask on. Okay, that’s pretty scary. It was not that scary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JACKASS 3D: 7.24
It is what it is. But a jet engine shooting raw materials at guys in lawn chairs? Ding, here’s $12, you win, now give me my glasses…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RED: 7.68
Its a CIA movie with geriatric agents. And its actually not that bad. It helps that it has John Malkovich in it though … that always does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PREDATORS: 4.58
I can’t be too harsh on this flick — we sat down as a house to watch a terrible B-level movie and we nailed it on the head, the problem is, it takes itself SOO seriously. Follow up question: Adrian Brody … Who did you piss off to fall so quickly….? I mean like, light-speed-fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 1: 8.14
I was in need of a great new drama ever since LOST went off the air. Though, TWD is no LOST, it is super fun with some GREAT drama — the key to release the handcuffs anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PASSENGER SIDE: 2.21
Heralded as a coming-of-age tale about two brothers driving through LA to figure out life, this movie quickly became about put-downs and emo-vagueness. And I would go listen to Feist if I wanted that…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CURSE OF THE HOPE DIAMOND: 7.08

Ha ha! This doc was great! I didn’t that the Hope Diamond (the biggest diamond in existence) had a curse behind it! Nor did I know that, in terms of diamond quality, the Hope is not only the largest (by lots) but also the rarest form of diamond, the clearest, the bluest and the most chemically and naturally brilliant diamond ever seen or hoped for. Pun.

 

 

THE SWITCH: 8.79
As Entertainment Weekly put it a couple weeks ago — “The Switch deserves another chance.” This Rom-Com is a splendid journey; Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman hold the screen and legitimately made me laugh with the smart writing, great acting while adding a little sperm-spice to life. Honest to goodness, I loved this flick. Its right up there with How to Lose a Guy in 10 Day for me. Fantastic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HUNGER: 8.42

There is a 23-minute scene (17 and a half minutes of it is a one-take) between an IRA Hunger Striker (Michael Fassbender) and a Belfast Priest (Liam Cunningham). And it is remarkable. It is known now know as The Scene. If you haven’t seen it, you haven’t seen it. So you should probably watch it tonight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VALHALLA RISING: 3.10
Great poster, but oh, it was bad. It was really, really bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOY A: 7.07
I’ll watch anything Andrew Garfield is in after I saw him in The Social Network. So now I’ll watch the new Spider-Man and later in life I’ll go back and watch The Other Boleyn Girl. For now, Boy A was good. Not great (Garfield is pretty terrific), but good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CENTURION: 6.15
Ironically, another Michael Fassbender movie. It was fun. And I watched it after VALHALLA RISING … So naturally, it was a 6.15/10 masterpiece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRON: LEGACY: 8.13
The movie was fun, okay. It wasn’t Star Trek and it wasn’t Transformers 2. It was somewhere in the middle. Somewhere right alongside … National Treasure 2, maybe. Daft Punk’s soundtrack was EASILY the best part.

 

 

 

 

BARNEY’S VERSION: 3.11
This was a comedy. This was a comedy? I’m still trying to figure out what was funny about Barney leaving three marriages and covering up a murder. His name? His numerous addictions? I didn’t laugh once. And I was trying. This is only the 3rd movie this year that Rotten Tomatoes has let me down on (The Town, The Fighter, et al)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TINY FURNITURE: 2.12′

I was told Lena Dunham has a “fresh voice” for the industry to hear. She does not. In TINY FURNITURE, she filmed her life right out of film school, but not in doc form as much as in boring form. Look mom, I made a movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WAY BACK: 5.21
They walk. And they walk some more. I’m not kidding. Don’t see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PIRANHA 3D: 5.3

They were going for “gratuitous sex, nudity and violence”. They nailed it. And the movie made $83m worldwide … So now we get a sequel. What do you bet Jerry O’Connell survived?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP: 9.6

My favorite doc of the year — thought provoking, intriguing, genuine in its satire and empirical evidence and a documentary about something I knew nothing about before hand. It was wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RABBIT HOLE: 8.18
This was a tough one to get through; incredibly tragic and far too real to be a movie. If you don’t have a strong relationship/marriage, I don’t know I’d recommend watching it. Kidman and Eckhart were beyond incredible and one fight between them is maybe the rawest scene of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: 5.5
If I’m being blunt, I didn’t care for it much. I thought it was a great premise, but the execution had me pulling to break up a family — what? Where did they go wrong? Where did I go wrong? Is it natural for a biological father (who screwed up) to want to raise his kids?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEOPARD: AGENT OF THE DARK: 6.1
I went on a documentary binge before I went to sleep this past month. And this was the beginning of a long list of nature docs. All that to say, the leopard is awesome and huge, but not huge enough to ward off Lions and Hyenas and other born-bigger meat-eaters. Poor dude. No wonder it takes its kill into trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WOLFMAN: 2.41

This is RIGHT alongside HEREAFTER as the worst movie I’ve seen in a while. It was so bad we shut it off. So technically, I can’t say I’ve seen it. Though, I bet you I could tell you what happens. In related news: did you know that The Wolfman nearly caused Anthony Hopkins to quit acting? And if it weren’t for THOR director, Kenneth Branagh calling him to ask him to play Thor’s regal father Odin, he was considering calling it quits altogether because of his time on The Wolfman? If you haven’t figured it out yet, Joe Johnston is directing Captain America, too. Oh… Joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LITTLE FOCKERS: 7.04
I was really happy after the first one. And I can’t seem to get back there. Please call it quits guys. I mean, it wasn’t Mystery Men — but it wasn’t Zoolander either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FREAKONOMICS: 7.78
The middle gets real slow but there’s one part that STILL has me thinking: Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973 … And 18 years later, national crime rates in the nation’s largest cities noticeably decreased. Coincidence or correlation? Freakonomics handles this data marvelously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KING KORN: 5.01
This was a weak doc that didn’t go far enough into Korn (Corn). Yes, I already knew that everything is made out of corn. And that the government largely pays for farmers to make a profit on their harvests. And that corn is high in starch. And that processed, corn-fed meats are bad for you. Tell me something I didn’t learn in The Garden, Fast Food Nation, Super-Size Me or Food Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE: 7.2
Gotta love a sleeper. This was supposed to be a cookie cutter Rom-Com. What turned out was a great, heart felt, hilarious love story about skinny dude meeting smokin’ hottie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SLEEPERS: 8.03
I’d never seen it. And I’ll never look at Kevin Bacon the same again. I’m dead serious. And to think I ate Thai food next to that guy one time. If you haven’t seen it, brace yourself. Its a dark tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BRICK: 8.14
I’d been told by so many people to see this movie. And now I’m so glad that I did. Murder on the Orient Express meets Sherlock Holmes meets High School. Awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BURIED: 7.02
Ugh, it was so close! Great premise, great timing, but the execution took a couple wrong turns! I will say though, I’m on team Ryan Reynolds. Have been for quite some time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. 9.2
I put this on here again because the soundtrack and movie are so, freaking good. If you haven’t seen it — get an HD tv and some great sound, turn it up and fully enjoy the blast you’re about to have. My fiancé cried during it, she was so happy. I nearly joined her. And I’d seen it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FROZEN: 3.21

If you like B-level scares, this one’s for you. Three skiers get stranded on the lift and are going to be left there for a week…. How to get down? Make a B-level horror of course!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ETERNAL EMEMIES: THE DOCUMENTARY: 9.17
Best nature doc I’ve seen since LIFE. The eternal struggle between Lions and Hyenas. I’m not kidding you, the shots they get and the stories they tell about this epic, life-long battle are remarkable. The end left me more satisfied than an Mai Tai on the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIGERS OF THE SNOW 5.11
I was on a Tiger/Lion binge. This was good — Siberian Tigers are friggin’ huge, btw. And can kill just about anything. Oh, and a baby Siberian, when picked up by a scientist inside its den is still capable of doing a surprising amount of damage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’M STILL HERE: 6.02
Plainly said: this would have been a MUCH cooler doc had I know it was fake. That said, the Diddy scene when Phoenix plays him his music is hysterical and brilliant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RESTREPO: 9.2
The single most emotional moment I’ve witnessed in a documentary is caught in this movie. The soldiers must mount a hill as bullets fly over their heads … What happens next is staggeringly real.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WAITING FOR SUPERMAN: 9.5
Maybe the “best” doc of the year in terms of what it shines its light into. Scary, emotional, moving and honest, this doc ought to be seen by ALL.

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews, Movies, Television | Leave a comment

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Rotten Tomatoes never lets me down. I’m serious. I go to check out what theater is closest — it uses Flixster, (the RT affiliate app on my iphone) and gets me there. What’s coming out next week? What’s good? What’s bad? What’s not worth 13.50-plus in IMAX? Same result every time. Rotten Tomatoes is genius!

Well, tally one in the let-me-down category now.

Recently, I made a mistake of checking for the first review of Iron Man 2 — the apocalyptically anticipated sequel to the 2008 blockbuster Iron Man. I found a review. It was from the floundering paper mill, The Hollywood Reporter, courtesy of our good friend (I don’t know him, who does?), Kirk Honeycutt.

“Well, that didn’t take long. Everything fun and terrific about “Iron Man,” a mere two years ago, has vanished with its sequel.”

Kirk Honeycutt, you’re a douche misinformed.

I do a little more research. This is the guy that LOVED:

Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3D

Death at a Funeral (yep, the new one)

The Back-Up Plan

Clash of the Titans

Remember Me

Green Zone

The Lovely Bones (arguably the most dismal movie of last year).

I’ve been bamboozled! I keep looking around….WHAT?! He HATED Brothers and Sherlock Holmes. I’ve been duped! So here it is; my attempt to rid the world of that dastardly first review.

Iron Man 2 was a total blast. The villains weren’t quite up to The Dark Knight standards, but this isn’t Batman’s world is it? We’re dealing with a new hero here. Rich, charming (oh man, is he charming), hilarious, and the king of any situation…drunk in the Iron Man suit — no problem!. He’s smarter than you. He’s got more money than you. He’s needs nothing you have and has whatever you might want. He is the perfect superhero and IM2 is his fueled, dying, sarcastic stage. The show lasts two hours, please stay through the credits.

IM2 also weaves the perfect intro into the “Avengers Era”. Clues throughout, a brilliant Easter Egg at the end and intertwining characters make it the perfect kickoff to the films leading into The Avengers, the anticipated superhero Magnus Opus set for summer 2012.

There were a few things wrong with this movie. Don Cheadle just seemed out of place. I’ll be honest, its tough to compete with Robert Downey Jr. on any screen at any time; he’s pure entertainment. Cheadle’s Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes was, ‘mehh’. Terrance Howard didn’t steal the show, neither did Cheadle; we’ll call it a draw. Why can’t Stark just control both suits? There’s our fix.

Scarlett Johansson was perfectly cast as the busty poised Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff and played it coolly across the entire movie. She had her scene. It was neat. It was quick. It was nothing new. Though, for some reason, we had to watch our boy Jon Favreau go all Mike Tyson and box some random security guard! I’m trying to watch Scarlet get her kick on!? I couldn’t’ focus during the fight anyway… I kept thinking Elektra…Elektra….why do I keep think … The suit! It’s the leather suit! Yep, got it. Elektra continues to ruin my life annually.

Once we got back to our boy Tony, everything in the world seemed right again. Oh! One more note — I love Sam Rockwell, I hope to never give him a negative review as long as I live. He was great as the “outcast younger brother” Justin Hammer. Well done, as always. And Mickey Rourke in tats wielding long blades of lightening … I’ll take it. But that’s not why we came to see the movie is it. We came for the man of the hour: Indiana Jones, Jack Sparrow, Jake Sulley!

This is Tony Stark, the most loveable playboy/superhero/billionaire on Earth — hopelessly in love with Pepper Potts almost as much as he’s in love with himself.

Kirk Honeycutt, you just…you really screwed the pooch on this one.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews, Lost, Movies, Television | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brothers

Why Maguire, Portman and Gyllenhaal weren't nominated is beyond me...

My girlfriend (Heidi) had a take on Brothers unmatched by any I’ve read. Needless to say, if you haven’t seen the movie. See it.

“…Brothers was a movie i was not expecting at all. Not that i was expecting a movie full of feel-good dialogue and a fairy tale ending but the gritty reality of human experience was intensely thrown into my face. The movie begged me to look at a complexity of characterization I’m not entirely sure i was ready for.

As i was watching i kept thinking i knew what was going to happen. Typical story of a political bashing on the ugliness of war and the irrelevance of marriage in our society today. A “higher calling” by deconstructing traditional institutions and values. I could not have been more wrong. At every turn, every scene change, every climax, I found myself trying to evaluate the purpose of the story.

I kept thinking okay this is going to be about war. I was wrong. This is going to be about destroying the perfect marriage. I was wrong. This is going to be about the false redemption and eventual fall of the rebel brother. I was wrong. This is going to be about how the sins of the father are visited on the sons. I was wrong. This is going to be about children being affected by the whims of their parents. I was wrong. what then, could this movie, so in my face, so painful, so raw have been about?

I was then brought to two specific scenes. The first was the ending scene: a picnic table in the dead of winter. A place where truth was finally communicated, where hope was finally allowed to show a glimmer of a spark. It was perfect. Just a picnic table — a symbol of carefree happiness, the American dream, the perfect life — right in the dead of bleak winter — a symbol of cold, death, and evil. the other scene i thought about was at the very beginning when the family is at the dinner table. The subject of war was being discussed and uncle Tommy asks the youngest daughter who exactly were the bad guys daddy was fighting. The scene goes on with the older daughter answering with humor but the question he asked, i realized, was crucial to the movie’s development and message.

After thinking about this movie for several days with those scenes running over and over in my mind, i finally came to the conclusion that the movie was centered around portraying the deep complexity of humanity. When dealing with people, a simple understanding of right and wrong, black and white does not apply. Each human in the move was capable of great good and great evil in varying degrees. Every time i identified with the “good” guy, they would do something i hated or made me sick. Not a soul in the movie was innocent. Not even the little girls. At the end of the day, however, each received grace. GRACE was the theme. It was the name of the mother. It was tattooed over daddy’s chest. It was granted to each character in their darkest moment.

Humanity is complex. Each person a deep cavern incapable of comprehension. Necessary for life, necessary for “happiness” … is grace. Consequences will be paid, but grace must be given. Unselfish, unconditional grace.

Great movie.”

— Heidi Myers

March 1, 2010 Posted by | Entertainment, Faith, Film Reviews, Lost, Movies | 1 Comment

The Informant!

The Informant!, A Case Study in Lying.

Whitacre (Damon) lays tape... one of hundreds.

A Case Study In Lying

by Bryce VanKooten

The Informant! — with a little jitter at the end — is a quirky movie. Its a spectacle of laughter and stress for just under two hours. When I walked out with my buddy Bryan, we both looked at each other and said, “I’m exhausted … But that was pretty good.”  Now, even hours later, it still seems like a fair assessment.

Matt Damon (and his extra 30lbs, on the ol’ tummy) came out swinging a little slower (re: different) than in his previous Ocean’s or Bourne flicks, while reuniting with his old pal Steven Soderburgh. The Informant!, along with a couple nice new faces to dramedy – the versatile Tony Hale and Joel McHale — finds a niche like an itch you can’t scratch. Never the ending spoiler, I was tossed and turned by this faux Crime Caper so frequently that I must have changed seat positions to three positions on loop: laughter, cringe, horror … Repeat.

Infiltrating the life of whistle-blower-turned-FBI-informant Mark Whitacre, The Informant! keeps it’s pace like a bad summer camp relationship — giggles, realization, anger. There was no room for sympathy. There was no room for understanding. How do you understand a pathological liar? As Bryan and I sat there through the film, we couldn’t help but slowly see ourselves get more and more angry at the pathetic and despicable display of humanity on screen. And he got me! I didn’t know he was lying! And it was so obvious the whole time! I will admit though, I do love a good foolin’.

There’s a couple scenes that make the movie worth the price of admission. Sadly, many of them were spoiled in the trailer (a curse I’ve coined “Being Fox’d”, for its similarity to 20th Century Fox and Megan Fox’s reputation for impeccable previews and horrific results), but a few remain on the screen. Matt Damon’s spot-on execution of all of the ‘bugged rooms’ scenes are brilliant to the core and his portrayal of the ghastly 1990’s ties are pastel-perfect. Props to the Costume Department … (pun). There’s a mid-level biochemist somewhere in the world right now tickled pink, guaranteed.

The most pivotal of all Whitacre’s moments onscreen was between his unflinchingly loving wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey) and the charming, beaten down FBI Agent Shepard (Scott Bakula). Finally caught in a web of lies, Whitacre is confronted by the consequences of his actions. He is, indeed, a pathological liar, among others things … including a felon. It has that Beautiful Mind twinge to it, you know? That feeling that, the truth is out, but reality just somehow got more confusing.

The lesson to be learned for Whitacre is not ‘telling the truth’ – he’s been told, advised, coerced, arm-wreslted, pleaded with, bargained for that countless times – the lesson here, one would surmise, would be to figure out his motivations leading up to his felonious actions. A man who seemingly had it all – countless cars, land, money, a loving wife and kids – risks it all … for what?

And that’s something we never get. I still don’t get it. Fame? Variety? Spice? Sheer boredom?

Why do I like this movie?

I just do.

It’s quirky and funny and well written and sharp. All the actors are spot on and it nails the evanescent truth about lying. I can hear my father’s words now, “I can’t promise you you’ll get caught, but I can promise you one thing: you tell me the truth and you won’t get in as much trouble as you will if you lie to me about it.

Plus, Joel McHale, first major feature role? Come on…

September 23, 2009 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews, Movies | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Star Trek — Boom. Roasted. Amazing.

Star Trek Wolverine Bryce vankooten

Treking Along, One Hit at a Time.

by Bryce VanKooten

J.J. Abrams is the Apple® of the cinema – he’s just better than everyone else. Everything he does, every idea brought to the drawing table (board?) is matched with superb in style, fresh execution and noticeable dedication to story. Its masterful; that pretty well covers it.

I was giddy for Star Trek — the newest, Abrams-Directed, 2009 installment of the classic 1966-originated story and characters. Mastered with a bright young cast (including my friend Michelle!), all of which preformed wonderfully in their depiction of their characters on screen, it was only fair that I got to see a movie ‘fresh’ for once in my life (I’d read the LOTR and Harry Potter books, had the Da Vinci Code spoiled for me and discussed Watchmen, at length, before its opening). Star Trek was/is a fan boy’s favorite, and I was happily not one of them.

Throughout the first half hour I urging myself not to lean over to my fellow moviegoers and whisper, “Man. This is so good”. It didn’t seem right. There’s something volatile about talking during a movie other than a comedy. My eyes were glued. Sidenote: are you seriously telling me that Wolverine and Star Trek basically cost the same? What? My ears were glued. And yet I’d read that Michael Giacchino dropped the ball on the score … bullocks. My mind was glued. Yes, there was a bit there when I realized it very well could have been a Wednesday night because that haunting, this-is-the-feeling-I-get-when-they-talk-about-time-travel-in-LOST, feeling was creeping up my spine, but all and all, the plot was feasible. Okay, so we created a black hole, discovered an alternate reality and traveled between the two, meeting ourselves and destroying new lands. But honestly, did anyone get that lost (no pun intended)? It was altogether manageable, was it not?

It was brilliant.

Abrams has found some keepers in Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, his writer’s dejour (as well as Arthur Anderson, who directed the opening scene where the woman so marvelously gets sucked out!!). Together, they’ve scribed a mighty track record in the last few years with seeming success around every turn: Fringe, Alias, Transformers, Mission: Impossible III, The Island, and their upcoming successes, Transformers 2 and the Untitled Star Trek Sequel, due out in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

I was blown away by Spock (didn’t even know he was the smartest ‘man’ in the world until the movie told me — what fun that was), but Chris Pine managed to successfully steal the show as James Tiberius Kirk. He was marvelous actually — funny and charming, the perfect concoction of cocky and courageous. I’ll be blunt: the ‘diving down to stop the drill’ scene: worth the price of admission, easily.

Abrams hasn’t veered far from his roots. Many of his films are good at the same things, which is to say, I think we’re all fine with that. But maybe the Academy isn’t. I don’t think Abrams cares much about what those guys think, which might be a subconscious reason why we love him: he likes what we like. There’s that fine line Abrams always manages to walk between humor and drama: never too subtle, never to forceful. He’s a master of every situation and possibly one of the greatest story tellers of my generation. If I ever met him, I’d love to thank him for that. I hope story will always rule this land.

Action is obviously Abrams’ style and his unmistakable strength — those trademark camera shakes never seem to be mellow dramatic — but its not his only strength. He’s managed to brand great storytelling into his films, great amounts of witty, perfectly placed humor and ease, so that we almost expect it now. We know he’s thought this all the way through, and that’s a safety blanket of sorts. How do we know? Because we can tell he likes making movies. Amidst the clouds of massive, action riddled box offices, Abrams is breath of fresh, virus-free air. Again, like a Mac.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I’m willing to resign myself into blindly purchasing great products, even great marketing. I buy Stride because of their viral marketing style. I bought Red Stripe because their commercials made me laugh – same with Dos Equis. I drive a Honda because they are dependable and write on an Apple computer because, well, its obvious*. My childhood was formed by Nike, so I wear their sneakers. And Fiji Water, though it cost twice as much, has an awesome bottle so sometimes I cave to their coloring. My purchases are my right as an American. It makes it fun again to be a consumer. It’s very American to choose. As stated, Tom Cruise has won me over; I’ll see whatever he’s in because he’s in it. Abrams is now the same**.

I think of my theater tickets as a little investment. Who gets my investment is a decision I get to make every time I plop myself in the seat. From here on out, I’ll gladly go blindly with Abrams.

*see line 1

**The opposite is true for Eddie Murphy; I won’t see it if he’s in it, unless it has ‘Shrek’ in the title, even then, its not really him.

May 13, 2009 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews, Movies | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I Love You, Man (2009)

Peter (Paul Rudd, left) and Sydney (Jason Segel, right) rock out to Rush in the Man Cave.

Peter (Paul Rudd, left) and Sydney (Jason Segel, right) rock out to Rush in the Man Cave.

I Love You Too, Man

by Bryce VanKooten

For most in this country, it may never happen at all. But for the few million who happen to live in LA — this hotbed of fanfare and traffic — I suppose it a bit more attainable. I’m still getting use to the fact that it’s feasible to see movies before their release. And the opportunity to shoot the breeze with the Director after the film just comes as an added bonus I guess; the ala mode, if you will. Either way, when I got the invite to Brown University’s alumni screening of John Hamburg’s I Love You, Man (Hamburg is an alum), I jumped at the opportunity. Seeing a movie four weeks before its release is like talking to the starting quarterback before the big game: you’re as close to affecting the movie’s process as you can be without actually affecting anything. It’s the little dose of thrill we all need. I hope I never get used to it.

Hamburg — who wrote Zoolander, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers [coming soon: Meet the Little Fockers] and wrote/directed Along Came Polly has an enviable career, to say the least. He has perfect style and the ability to convey reality in a witty and original way. “I just wanted the film to look and act as real as possible. I wanted the characters to be people we all knew and not just [guys and girls] saying cliché jokes”, he recalls. I Love You, Man is a smart satire. Nailed it.

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We nearly missed the movie, actually. My friend and I sat in the wrong theater on the Paramount lot for about 20 minutes before we realized we were in the wrong theater. When we finally sprinted to the right one, the curtains pulled to reveal what we all needed: guy and girl find another guy – the perfect spin to the romantic comedy.

The movie opens with Peter (Paul Rudd) proposing to Zooey (The Office’s Rashida Jones). The very next scene takes us on the car ride home where Rashida calls her best gal pals to tell them of the wonderful news. We soon realize that Peter has never had a best guy friend. This poses a problem for the wedding. Who’s going to play the Best Man? Throw in Peter’s younger, gay brother Robby (Andy Samberg) — who’s best friends with his father (hilarious) — a terrific supporting cast, including Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressly as the venomous, bickering married friends and you’ve got yourself a fantastic hour and a half.

There were quite a few scenes worth noting, but of course, I’d never dream of spoiling the surprise. In the end, the poker table scene takes the cake – in an array of drinking games, male bonding and an inexperienced drinker – as the hardest I laughed (or cringed). But there are other moments that are guaranteed good times, including Rudd’s air-guitaring ‘slappa da bay-eez’ and any moment Peter’s new found friend Doug (Reno 911’s Thomas Lennon) shows up. I repeat: Thomas Lennon = hilarious.

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Rudd’s dedication to his character’s emphasis on this new found friendship (he wants it to work so badly!) provides much of the film’s laughs. Even after the film, Hamburg revealed, “I knew when I wrote the script I wanted Paul in the lead. There are certain lines that only Paul can say.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Paul Rudd finds the perfect balance between apologetic awkwardness and consistent hilarity. And as it turned out later, his awkward appeal was only spurred on by the crew surrounding him. “In the scene when we were filming Paul’s goodbye to Sydney”, Hamburg recalls, “we knew that Paul was going to say ‘see ya city slicker’ or something random and awkward like that, but I couldn’t help it. Once we got rolling, we just left him out there. We must have done forty-two takes of that signoff — him walking out the door saying anything that came to mind, each time getting longer and more awkward. He was dying. We were all laughing. I think it turned out really well.”

Not to be outdone was the rest of the film’s cast. Rashida Jones fit perfectly in the role of Peter’s fiancé and Jason Segel – who ruined comedy for me when he penned last year’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall (only to have it resurrected by Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder) – managed to regain some strength with his normal, all-too-familiar portrayal of everyman’s friend, Sydney Fife. Fife is the guy every man hopes to have – honest, easy going, plays an instrument – and the best man most men end up with – loose-lipped, unpredictable, but by your side.

Amidst all the puke, pillow talk and premarital shenanigans in this homo/hetero-nuetral parade, there are some redeeming moments in this colorful tale of romantic reality. A lesson in love, this film manages to tell a new story with a nice twist on the fairytale ending. In a genre often lost to poo, potty and porking, I Love You, Man is the friend we all need: fun.

February 25, 2009 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews, Movies, News | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

WALL-E (2008)

WALL-E lifts his gaze in Pixar's wonderful 9th animated film

On top of the world, WALL-E lifts his gaze...

A Home and a Hobby

Robotic romance, one spark at a time.

by Bryce VanKooten

Whenever it happens, I’m usually just staring. It usually comes right around midway through and I don’t take my eyes off the screen till it’s done – right on through the credits. It’s only about once every decade or so that a film breaks out of its genre with the ferocity to be remembered as something more. Braveheart became one of the greatest romances of its generation. Saving Private Ryan, despite its violence, transcended its audience and brought highly charged drama (along with its bullets) to the big screen. It’s becoming very rare for me to be able to sink into my seat, put a timer on the day’s stress and just get lost in a film, let alone an animated one. It’s easy to make the connection to animated characters – lovable, hilarious, colorful as they are– but often difficult to transfer that connection to an everyday reality.

WALL-E changed all that.

Pixar’s ninth feature film, WALL-E (spelled with a bullet) takes us to the future of Earth, circa the 22nd century, only to show us that our planet has become far too trashy to inhabit. The humans have left on the Axiom — a ‘premier, space-cruising starliner’ created as an alternative to the wasted existence left back on Earth by Buy-n-Large, the pre-apocalyptic, world-ruling, corporate juggernaut. And as the movie opens, we see the scope of their reach: Buy-n-Large is everywhere. Billboards and buildings, everything holds the Buy-n-Large name, even WALL-E himself. There’s little – strike that – there’s no dialogue throughout the first half hour except for faint ‘beeps’ and ‘blurps’ from WALL-E and his best buddy: a nameless, happy-go-lucky Cockroach. Its not long before the theater follows suit – most children awestruck by Wall-E’s hapless charisma, most parents the same. A simple machine with complex emotions, WALL-E is the last of his kind. The sole survivor, programmed to clean up the mess that we left behind – left back on Earth to figure it all out.

As the days move on and on (as if the silence wasn’t daunting enough), we quickly realize that earth and all its advertisements are completely wasted, nothing worth more than the screens they’re projected upon. But WALL-E cruises on, not a care in the world. We can almost hear him on his trek, ‘Waste Allocation Load Lifting isn’t that bad…’ as he sings his way from site to home – an abandoned trailer, smack in the middle of it all. He’s surrounded by the waste around him and content with his toys: a spork, a Rubix Cube and a VHS copy of Hello Dolly!. WALL-E’s content. When day breaks, this little guy’s legitamately happy. He’s content with life as is, but can’t help but think, like the rest of us, ‘I wonder if there’s something else…’

As you can imagine, that something else comes quickly in the form of a true beauty. A futuristic robot named EVE (Earth Vegetation Evaluator), sent to Earth to find plant life. Thus begins the wonderful love story that is WALL-E, Earth’s most recent animated creation and without a doubt, my favorite.

WALL-E and EVE journey over the course of two hours and show us why film is different, why it’s the exception to the rule. WALL-E is speechless to the world around him. He doesn’t hold much of an opinion on life and the fast-living; he’s content where he is — what a profound outlook to a strikingly discontented world. In our fast-paced living, the silence we heard as WALL-E trampled from one dump to the next was as blissful to us as a Saturday afternoon breeze — if we hear it.  Life is a pushy thing. WALL-E refused to push back.

In one stark moment of clarity, time really did stand still. Shot out of the Axiom, WALL-E is met by EVE — no background, no foreground, no ground, just space — as they dance to the tune of their own affection.  Many of us experienced true silence for the very first time during this waltz. All sound specifically filtered out of the theater, WALL-E and EVE danced the only way they knew how, leaving us to our own silent pursuits.  We sat and stared. We stilled and sighed while two robots, hopelessly in love, danced in silent space while the humans both back on the ship and just off screen tried to learn all about it.

As I watched these robotic eyes and tractor toes, it sort of hit me all at once.  I had worked at Disney for the past eight months. WALL-E was and is very near and dear to my heart. About midway through my third viewing I realized the simplicity of it all. WALL-E had a home, a friend and a hobby, that’s it. And he was happy. Truly joyful. How much more do I have? How much more do I need? WALL-E was ready for EVE. She came in his life and filled the only thing he had left: a heart for the taking. It was all cleaned out, ready to be stolen.  He’d been preparing for her. He’d been cleaning it up for years.

August 19, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Pineapple Express (2008)

(Left to Right) Seth Rogan, James Franco and Danny McBride walk back from a long, crazy night.

(Left to Right) Seth Rogan, James Franco and Danny McBride walk back from a long, crazy night.

One Crazy Night

High as a kite — eh, a great summer escape.

by Bryce VanKooten

There I was, back in high school, watching two grown men wander the streets of their hometown in search of friends and foe, drugs and dreams. I didn’t have to try very hard to see them walk through their front door to standing parents, awaiting their arrival; their disapproving looks saying it all. Before speaking they pause, minds spinning from the night’s many adventures, they rewind, trying to start from the beginning.  Then, very slowly and seriously, they begin, “You guys…I can explain. This could have happened to anyone.”

Armed with a throwaway job as a Process Server and a mediocre high school girlfriend (the very cute, Amber Heard), Dale Denton (Seth Rogan) has his daily sites set on two things: getting high today and preparation for his high tomorrow. Generally, the only thing deterring him from these goals are the minor obstacles in his path – new costume ideas for the next ‘serve’, scraping together enough cash for tonight’s purchase, calling his girlfriend – and even they rarely seem to keep him from his hazy utopia. In Denton’s eyes, he lives in the pinnacle of life’s glorious drag, sucking down joints like yesterday’s leftovers. Its comic genius, I must admit and no joke is lost among the laborious scenes of everyday puffing.The mellow attitude with which the film opens is only enhanced after we meet Saul Silver (James Franco), Dale’s just-as-lazy drug dealer. If Dale’s a pothead, I’m not sure where that puts Saul — maybe, Dale in a decade?

**Spoiler(s) ahead**

The movie stays in its smoky saga only long enough to paint the scene. After Dale witnesses a cop’s murder by the hands of a crocked dealer (Gary Cole) and leaves a joint of the infamously rare Pineapple Express at the scene of the crime the movie switches gears after he finally begins fearing for his life after realizing the rare weed’s traceability and just like that, we’ve got a full blown mouse hunt on our hands. Between Silver’s lackluster zeal for much of anything and Dale’s predisposition to practicality, the jokes are brilliantly normal and the comedy perfectly understandable. What did we expect, really? Every Apatow movie to date has been about the average man; each time finding himself in an increasingly more improbable, but never impossible, situation. Pride yourself on cleanliness and 1980’s comic books and you could be a 40 Year-Old Virgin. Hook up with a girl out of your league and both of you could very well be unhappy and Knocked Up. Follow around high school boys trying desperately to swipe the V-card and successfully purchase alcohol with a fake ID and I guarantee you the footage will be Superbad. Pineapple Express is no different. Smoke enough weed in a short period of time and this could actually happen to you, there’s not a doubt in my mind.

Don’t read me wrong here, this movie becomes more and more outlandish with each passing turn, but the jokes are never too far – save the fighting ninja warriors, those were a bit much, I suppose. After these modern-day Cheech and Chongs realize their notorious stash of PE can be traced back to them, they decide to sprint for the middle man — tweener-dealer Red (Danny McBride) and easily the funniest character of this film (and maybe the entire last year).

Each twist of fortunes finds Red fighting against someone else and by the end of the film the now-famous clip of the neck brace-wearing Red chirping, “thug life…” has never rang truer. With the dealer’s goons (The Office’s Craig Robinson and Superbad’s Kevin Corrigan) hot on their tracks, the three underdogs embark on the save-all-except-themselves mission using the PE to finance the necessities: Slurpees and snacks. After Dale gets arrested for blatantly selling to minors, their plan seems thwarted — all hope lost. Arms behind his back, trying to explain to the driving police officer, Dale glances up to see his counterpart – a Slurpee-holding Saul – standing directly in front of the speeding vehicle, willing to take a hit for his friend. The slushy drinks erupt, mostly on the windshield, make the Police cruiser now both their getaway and a seemingly obvious hit-and-run homicide. Misconception…all one big misconception, but hilarious nonetheless. I wouldn’t want to spoil the rest of the film for you, but bottom line: it’s worth a watch if you feel like a night off from responsibility.

August 6, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Get Smart (2008)

Steve Carrell LOST season 4 Get Smart

Secret Agent Maxwell Smart (Carell) and Agent 86 (Hathaway) in the Mel Brooks favorite, Get Smart.

Didn’t Miss By Much

By Bryce VanKooten

I can’t decide if I like Steve Carell (Maxwell Smart) more when he is silent or when he is talking. Either way he’s a master. Up until about a year ago, I was unsure if he could do anything besides scream with a straight face, although I won’t lie, whether it was newscast gibberish or Kelly Clarkson expletives––I laughed every time. It wasn’t until his role in Little Miss Sunshine that I really appreciated his acting skills and thus, more fully understood the broad range of talent. Still, Get Smart is not about acting; it’s about popcorn. Plain and simply––great laughs, solid entertainment, fun for all the cousins.

Carell delivers once again in this altered, but still very friendly adaptation of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry’s classic mid-1960s TV series, which starred the late, great Don Adams as super-spy Maxwell Smart, a.k.a. Agent 86. For many, Adams will forever be the true Agent 86, and if you see the movie and can’t get over that, I understand, but nonetheless Get Smart, the movie, brings Mel Brooks kind of humor to a new generation––families included.

Obviously an Oscar-worthy movie (let alone the performance…geez, nominate the guy), it’s clear that Carell was born to play this role. Very rarely (and before recent missteps, Will Ferrell seemed to be reaching this plateau) is an actor or actress so brilliantly comedic that they can simply stand on a stage, saying nothing, and get laughs. Think back to the days of Carol Burnett. Or even Bob Hope doing the Oscars. Both comic giants, at ease in any situation––the audience overwhelmed with their charm. I would like to think that this aura is simply ‘comedic charm’, but more eloquently, it is probably closer to ‘comedic genius’. Not that this movie solely places Steve Carell in comedic lore, but it definitely doesn’t hinder his rise. Once again, he holds any scene he’s in and has you shifting in your seat, leaning slightly forward as not to miss an off-the-cuff reference or quip. With Anne Hathaway playing the uptight, overbearing feminist and Carell fitting nicely as the blatant nitwit, there’s little time left for the gadgets to get laughs, save one.

The funniest scene of the entire film takes place in an airplane restroom. Hands tied, seeking freedom from his bonds (seen briefly in the trailer) Maxwell Smart attempts to free himself by using his weapon of choice: a miniature crossbow. Hilarity ensues, as aiming the bow with his mouth becomes something of a nightmare and the plane’s metallic surroundings causing unintended physics. Refusing defeat after the first couple misfires; this scene builds as we watch the entire sheath unloaded, one painful shot at a time. This sequence alone is worth the price of admission and combined with an obese waltz during a fancy gala, your cheeks will likely have had enough hilarity.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of robust corny comedy throughout the movie; more specifically––anything that happens in the Control hallway, but outside of faltered gags (which may be eliminated––I saw 6-months early test screening), the movie flows well. Alan Arkin is superb as the Chief and Borat’s own Ken Davitian (Shtarker) brings normalcy to the utterly ridiculous––this guy would have been at home in any Mel Brooks ensemble. The other actors, although working well in the flow of the film, rarely hit homerun jokes. From the ‘Silent Force Field’ to the rooftop fight sequence, one thing is true: no question, Steve Carell is funny. His timing and his flair for Death-Valley-dry under-acting make him a perfect 86, with the entire film serving as testament to his on-screen charisma––not to mention, he fits a suit better than most. Get Smart is a breath of fresh, classic air in a time of raunch-fest comedies like Semi Pro, and the upcoming and completely worthless Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Dare I say, “Best Comedy of the Year”? Ah, missed it by that much.
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*This review is based on a February 2008 test screening

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews, Television | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Matthew (Jonah Hill) looks on with Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) in one of the film’s rare clothed moments.

I Can Forget Soon Enough

By Bryce VanKooten

The night was quiet. The bold spring sunset had faded from existence and most of us were freshly done with our final papers, save one man. Andy, one of my dorm-mates — brilliant, lazy, looks exactly like you think he would — had yet to start his paper. In that moment of steady disregard for anything related to planning, an infamous quote was born. “The key to writing a great paper is hiding poor ideas behind great structure.” It was not until now that I fully realized the truth of his words. Today, after a long viewing of a bellowing, sub par film, I’m amazed that others (even a team of professionals) have yet to figure it out.

Last night I lost just under two hours of my life. Not to sleep (which I would have traded ten times over), but to the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall. As I entered the theater, I was convinced that sitting in the front row would not ruin my experience. Despite my carnal intuition, this movie could not have more needless sex than Jud Apatow’s previous films (40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, etc). I had been invited for free, how super-bad could it get? Ah, who doesn’t love famous last words…

For my sanity (I couldn’t be more serious), I’m going to skip over the first half. I’ll summarize by saying I vaguely enjoyed it. There are not words to express the angst and pain I felt for the final 4,500 minutes of this nightmare, though ‘angst’ and ‘pain’ seem to work nicely, for now. If the first half were an intriguing magazine cover, the second half would be the naked guy on page one, and page two, and three and so on, and so on, and so on, etc.

For pity’s sake, I’ll give you the high points … okay, that’s about it. Let’s recap.

Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) is busted up pretty bad after his girlfriend and budding TV star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) breaks up with him (he’s naked and I can’t emphasize enough how not funny this is… every time). To reboot, he takes a trip to Hawaii where he meets a fresh-and-fun-brunette-hotel-clerk Rachael (Mila Kunis aka; Family Guy’s Meg Griffith), but finds out that his newly departed girlfriend has arrived with her new 60’s-inspired, rock star boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russel Brand). Got it? Shenanigans ensue and much ‘awkwerdity’ is had, mostly thanks to the seemingly fail-safe-for-a-laugh waiter/hotel helper/Aldous stalker, Jonah Hill.

After Peter becomes jealous of Sarah and Sarah turns out to be jealous of Peter (what a twist!), the movie ventures onto a path the most clearly resembles an un-funny porno. Coincidentally, Aldous (who doubles as the funniest onscreen and the most crazed) got less time on screen than the blankets they all retreat to. The movie continues with a terrible script, an even worse storyline and one of the most distasteful and incredibly unfunny movies I’ve seen in the past decade.

I’m guessing, by the end of the film, we’re supposed to like Peter Bretter (or at least feel sorry for him––which I didn’t). But in a comedic sense, how can you like, or give any emotion to someone that doesn’t entertain you? I suppose he entertained me when he took the lengthy banana out of his Margarita Smoothie and muttered, “Whoa, look at this guy.” But outside of the few moments when he was perfectly drunk, he was plain torturous. This movie hinged on blatant, insanely awkward (re: not awkward-funny, just really dumb) male nudity. I lost track the 4th or 5th time, but there had to be a good half dozen shots of the same guy on the big screen. And what’s the most ironic part of all of this? Jason Segel, the man’s who wore his birthday suit once already in Knocked Up, decided to write his own story this time. I’ll lay it out for you simply: It’s his script. He was likely naked when he wrote it.

All horribly raunchy, 40 Year-Old Virgin had a story, Anchorman remains a recent classic and Superbad was, well … funny. My apologies for not being able to grab Andy three years ago, given him a Flux Capacitor and a megaphone and told him to scream his line at the top of his lungs all the way to 2008. I hope Forgetting Sarah Marshall will be soon forgotten (oh, that was too easy). And judging by the way The Forbidden Kingdom preformed this weekend, Forgetting Sarah Marshall may not be all it was knocked up to be.

April 21, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments