Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Captain America: The First Avenger"

Captain America: The First Avenger - Directed by Joe Johnston, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, and Tommy Lee Jones - Rated PG-13

Okay, we've seen 'em all now, so bring on The Avengers.

The summer of superheroes is nearly over, but Captain America: The First Avenger has been one of the most anticipated films of the season. If you’re not suffering from comic book burnout at this point, Captain America makes for a fun, entertaining summer film that is a bit different than other movies of the genre because of the time period it takes place in. The film may not feature any largely memorable moments and doesn’t really have much in the way of style, but it is definitely worth a watch.

Captain America is an origin story that takes place during World War II. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny, sickly man who just wants to fight for his country but can’t get a doctor to let him in. Enter Stanley Tucci as a German doctor with a special serum that can create a super soldier and Steve Rogers becomes Captain America.

That’s enough for synopsis because as an origin story the whole movie is about Rogers’ transformation so to explain it further would ruin a bit of the movie. As for acting, Evans makes a likable and believable hero and Tucci has a few good scenes as a mentor-type. There are many more characters in the film that deserve a mention, especially because the cast of this film is so strong. Hugo Weaving stands out as Red Skull, the Nazi villain of the film. Weaving tweaks his voice to the point that it sounds eerily similar to Willem Dafoe and it fits the character quite well. Toby Jones was a nice addition as Red Skull’s scientist. Hayley Atwell works fine as Rogers’ handler/love interest. But it’s Tommy Lee Jones who steals the show as the cranky colonel. Every scene he was in was entertaining because of his presence.

There are a few other actors and characters that could be mentioned but that would just be exhausting to read and that is part of the problem with Captain America. Some characters take a backseat because of the bloated cast. Take, for instance, Captain America’s team of soldiers. Some of them are portrayed by very good actors like Derek Luke and Neal McDonough but they get almost nothing to do. If this were a sequel rather than an origin story there could have been much more time devoted to that crew, who instead only get small moments usually played for laughs.

Captain America provides quite a few laughs, actually. The best gags involve the reference to Captain America as a character in the movie itself. This gives the filmmakers the opportunity to play with the original uniform and the iconic image from the first comic book of Captain America punching out Adolf Hitler. The film actually works best in these moments because they serve to build the character of Captain America, though they take up a bit too much of the runtime.

Another problem with Captain America is that it takes so long for him to actually become a superhero, and even then he’s kind of a vague hero. This is just the problem of an origin story since you have to spend so much time building up to the character that you, the audience member, already know he will become. It can get a little boring. As for the vagueness, it’s never really explained what makes Captain America all that special. He’s a bit stronger and a bit faster than a normal human, but when compared to other superheroes he comes off as a bit plain and even weak. But we’ll see how he really compares to them when he shows up in next year’s The Avengers.

Captain America can be kind of a plain, straightforward hero so it’s fitting that the action of this film is straightforward as well. There isn’t much in the way of style in Captain America but it does feature plenty of action and it’s the kind of action that is easy to follow. The film is also in 3-D and while it makes a few scenes look decent because of explosions and debris it is largely useless, just as 3-D has been in nearly all of its live-action incarnations.

The film actually looked great overall, largely due to the time period it takes place in. The World War II setting sets this film apart, in a good way. The visual effects were impressive as well, mainly the scrawny version of star Chris Evans. He looks realistic as a 90-pound weakling, but they kept his voice the same, which made it unintentionally funny every time he spoke. But that’s not a deal breaker or anything for this movie.

Overall Captain America is fine summer film that should appeal to many people. It may be a bit anti-climactic and it might be a little plain, but it’s still entertaining and funny enough to watch. You can skip the 3-D, though.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

I suppose some might argue my comment about the ending being anti-climactic since there are chases and explosions and plenty of death and whatnot. But I still argue that it was kind of weak. Red Skull is defeated simply by picking up the cube? And it wasn't like Captain America realized that is what he had to do. He only exposed the cube by accident, really. Plus, was there any wonder where this one was going? First off, you get that needless intro showing the shield in the crashed plane. Then, there's the news out there about The Avengers and I had even read a story about how the sequel was going to take place in the present day. With all of that knowledge, more than usual, we know that it is all going to work out.

Back to Red Skull grabbing the cube, though. Is he still kicking, then? It looked like he was just transported to Asgard or something. Definitely interested in seeing where that goes in the future movies.

Next year can't get here soon enough, by the way. I really need The Avengers to tie it all together.

On a more superfluous note, how awesome was Neal McDonough's 'stache?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Horrible Bosses"

Horrible Bosses - Directed by Seth Gordon, written by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, & Jonathan Goldstein, starring Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, and Jamie Foxx - Rated R

Another pun-worthy title. Not even going to put up a fight: Horrible Bosses deserves the corner office and a promotion! I'm going to go throw up now...

Since The Hangover R-rated comedies have been all the rage and there have been a number of hilarious movies recently and, thankfully, Horrible Bosses can be counted among them. It’s not as funny as Bridesmaids (my favorite comedy of the year so far), but it is still very funny and worth a watch.

Horrible Bosses is a high concept comedy about three guys (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day) and their plan to kill their hated bosses (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston). There are two ways for this movie to go with a plot like that. The film could be a bleak, dark comedy about murder. Or it could be an unrealistic, goofy romp. Luckily for the viewers, this movie is the latter. Horrible Bosses ends up becoming almost too ridiculous at times, but it has to be if you want the maximum amount of laughs. You really need to suspend disbelief with this one because it gets kind of stupid near the end, but it’s all good fun so it’s not that big of a deal.

The title of the film is kind of misleading in that this is not a movie about the bosses at all. The three leads make the film. Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day work great together and you can actually buy them as individual characters who seem to be real friends. With three main characters and three bosses to showcase there isn’t a lot of time to devote to individual characters but each character comes off as more than one note. Make no mistake, though, this is no character study, but the guys don’t seem like cartoon characters.

The bosses are pretty funny, too, but they aren’t featured as much as you would expect. Kevin Spacey is doing his thing as Bateman’s snarky boss. He’s great, but it’s not a stretch for him or anything. He does provide a few laughs, though. Jennifer Aniston is the weakest of the three, mainly because her laughs are derived from the shock value of Jennifer Aniston sexually harassing someone. Colin Farrell, as Sudeikis’ coke-snorting loser boss, is by far the stand out. It is very unfortunate that he didn’t get more screen time. But the moments he’s onscreen are hilarious. Farrell has been turning in some real quality work the last few years and his streak is still going strong with this one.

If all of the above names don’t have you interested, there is a very strong supporting cast as well. Jamie Foxx has a few amusing scenes as the murder consultant for the group. His name alone (which is very NSFW, by the way) spawns a funny scene that feels like improv, and that’s a compliment. Wendell Pierce (“The Wire” and “Treme”) was a nice addition as a detective. And there are a few cameos that should provide laughs. In other words, the cast of Horrible Bosses is surprisingly classy and varied.

The laughs are consistent and, more importantly, there are a variety of them. You have the funny, uncouth conversations between the main guys. There’s some drug humor thrown in there with a great cocaine scene. Some physical humor always helps as well. Basically, Horrible Bosses doesn’t rely on one single type of comedy to get you to laugh. It’s not exactly a kitchen sink approach, though, because all of the attempts are honestly funny. Variety is the spice of life and that certainly applies to comedies as well.

Horrible Bosses isn’t a classic comedy or anything, though. It does miss here and there. And it does get flat out stupid in the end. The ending of the movie seems very hastily put together. There are plenty of laughs before the movie nearly derails in the end, but some may get tired of it. Plus, this film won’t be remembered as some comedy classic of the decade. It’s funny and it’s worth the price of a ticket, but not many people are going to recommend it years from now. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you hold your comedies to a higher standard you might not like this one very much.

Horrible Bosses is a very good summer comedy that should keep things funny in the midst of all the big blockbusters. Will you quote it years from now? No way. But it should have you laughing right now and that’s enough. Comedy can’t always be art or even lasting, but if it makes you laugh for your money, then that makes it worth it.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

All I have to add on this one concerns all of the cameos. First off, Bob Newhart
popping up at the end was kind of odd since the man isn't exactly a relevant face in comedy these days. I imagine younger viewers won't even recognize him.

Speaking of relevant faces, it was strange to see Donald Sutherland in a single early scene. I think he's great, but along with the Newhart appearance, they make for a couple weird cameos in a movie otherwise filled with contemporary comedy stars.

Not sure if an appearance from Ioan Gruffudd constitutes as a cameo, but I thought he was funny in his scene about "wet work."

And finally, Ron White pops up as Wendell Pierce's partner. Haven't seen him in anything besides stand-up specials so it was cool to see him in there.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Directed by Michael Bay, written by Ehren Kruger, starring Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, and John Turturro - Rated PG-13

Stuff blows up and giant robots kill each other, just enjoy it.

The fighting robots are back this summer and once again, a whole lot of stuff gets blown up as they duke it out for Earth’s future. Transformers: Dark of the Moon marks the third film in the series and while it doesn’t measure up to the first film, it is an improvement over the second (a film that I enjoyed a bit more than most critics). Dark of the Moon may run a bit long (it clocks in at a whopping 157 minutes) but it still provides plenty of bang for your buck this summer.

Dark of the Moon picks up a few years after the second film and most everyone has moved on to bigger and better things except Sam (Shia LaBeouf) who can’t land a job and isn’t allowed to help out his robot buddies. But of course he can’t stay out of the mix for long and eventually everyone comes together again to attempt to save the world. That’s a plain description of the plot, and there is quite a bit going on in this movie, but everyone is really showing up for the action, not the story.

The action of the previous film was problematic at times because it was hard to tell just what was going on most of the time. That problem has been fixed for the most part. While parts of the film just have too much going on, you can at least tell who is winning each fight this time around. Most importantly, though, this is a big budget film and all the money is right there on the screen. There are some great action set pieces and the last forty-five minutes of the movie is full of crazy, ridiculous action. Director Michael Bay is on his action game with this one. The 3D was pretty decent as well. This is a movie that makes the IMAX 3D ticket worth the price. But the film is also fine in 2D.

The film also tries to provide a few laughs and succeeds a few times, though most of it ends up being a bit on the childish side, most notably the small robots. The rest of the laughs are provided by the goofy side characters. John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Francis McDormand, Alan Tudyk, Ken Jeong, and John Malkovich all ham it up to bring a few laughs. It’s all about your personal taste, but I found Tudyk and Malkovich to be the funniest. And Sam’s parents were thankfully toned down in this movie after their ridiculous outing in the last film.

Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson both show up again, but LaBeouf is the only actor who gets a character to work with. No big deal, a large cast means more one note characters, but Sam has become a whiny jerk this time around. He whined a bit in the first two films, but it was okay since he was young and still a student. This time he’s supposed to be a full-fledged adult and he just complains constantly, blaming everyone but himself for his troubles. He was more annoying than funny. Some of his freak-outs are humorous, though.

The part of the cast that is getting the most attention in the press is Rosie Huntington-Whitely, a.k.a. Megan Fox’s replacement. It’s understandable that the filmmakers would crack a joke or two about Fox’s departure, but they go into overkill showing off their new hot girl. Also, the addition of Patrick Dempsey in a side plot with the replacement is just strange.

Dark of the Moon is very entertaining but the length of it could be a major issue for some, especially if you’re watching it in 3D. Your eyes might start to feel the strain after an hour and a half or so. The film could easily drop thirty non-action minutes. Some of the new love interest stuff could go and maybe a few of the comedic roles could have been trimmed down a bit.
A movie that overstays its welcome isn’t a bad movie, however, and Dark of the Moon should please most viewers. It can be a bit goofy and everything but there is plenty of awesome action and the visual effects are top notch. You get your money’s worth and that’s about the best thing a summer movie can do.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

Maybe it's just because I'm a fan of his work in "Eastbound & Down," but I thought Andrew Daly's short scenes were great. His reaction to Ken Jeong's death was hilarious.
Speaking of which, Ken Jeong dies! After getting my hopes up in The Hangover Part II, this is the film that delivers the goods. He wasn't all that bad in the film, but I am seriously suffering from Jeong overload at this point and it was nice to see him take an early exit.

Nice to see Chicago get destroyed for a change. Not nice, necessarily, but I'm tired of watching New York, L.A., and D.C. get blown up.

The little robots taking down the giant ship reminded me of Anakin at the end of Star Wars: Episode I. By the way, did they die? The ship didn't blow up or anything so they may have survived but it is never shown.

Anyone else think Optimus was a dick for killing Megatron after Megatron had just saved him? The guy was offering a truce and Optimus rips his head off. Now that's diplomacy.