Jul 4, 2014

Hit or Miss: Quick Movie Reviews 8: 4th of July Edition

You guys! Here in America, it's Independence Day, which means it's time to celebrate 'Merica the only way we know how: drinking too much, eating a variety of meats, prank-calling anyone named Tim Howard, and spending a long weekend watching movies. To help you make the decision on what movie to see, I have spent the last few days watching a crap-load of movies. Like, I don't know how I do it. It's staggering. And since you can't spend this whole weekend in a cinema, I'mma tell you which ones to HIT the theater to see, and which ones you can MISS:

They Came Together
Starring: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Max Greenfield, Jason Mantzoukas, Melanie Lynskey, Michael Ian Black, Bill Hader, Cobie Smulders, Ed Helms
New York is like a 3rd character
in their relationship.
The Story: In David Wain's parody/satire of romantic comedies, Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd (as Joel and Molly) skewer a ton of movie cliches as they fall in love despite their better judgments (and because of the ridiculous plot contrivances that keep bringing them back together). In a very You've Got Mail setup, she's the klutzy and frank candy-store owner who gives away most of her wares for free and donates all profits to charity; he's the buttoned up, vaguely Jewish head of a project to open up a huge candy superstore across the street. They couldn't be more different! And yet, when they arrive at a Halloween party dressed as matching Benjamin Franklins, sparks fly! And Christopher Meloni craps his pants! Soon, they're on a mad-cap romantic, comedic adventure of mishaps and misunderstandings.
Pros: I'm a big fan of romantic comedies, and I think David Wain is a brilliant, twisted genius, so it was fun to see the combination of his sensibilities and this genre. It...didn't meld perfectly. However, while the movie is inconsistent comedically, there are still moments to love, and Wain's attention to rom-com detail is impressive  even Molly's and Joel's apartments are perfect. Plus, the repeated motif of New York being a third member in their relationship is such a spot-on (if a little lazy) critique of movies of this ilk, and I couldn't help but laugh every time it was mentioned. The satire is sometimes thin, but the movie is still enjoyable as a romantic comedy on its own merits. Despite your better judgment, and even after all the tired movie tropes are thrown at your face, you're still going to root for Molly and Joel to get together. That is the power of Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd.
Cons: As stated above, it's not exactly the sharpest parody, and sometimes the tone-shifts can be a little jarring. Specifically, there's a late-in-the-movie murder that's a little hard to reconcile with the rest of the film. Also, some of the secondary characters are a little unnecessary, and the white supremacist jokes (while funny) don't really go anywhere.
Concensus: HIT if you really like romantic comedies or Amy Poehler or Paul Rudd. So, basically, watch this if you're a breathing human. But keep your expectations somewhat low. Like, 'okay Cameron Diaz movie' low.

Obvious Child
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gabby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman, David Cross
The Story: Stand-up comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) must deal with the consequences of her actions after a drunken, one-night stand leaves her hungover and pregnant. In the time between her confirmed pregnancy and her appointment to 'take care of it,' and with her job and life falling apart around her, Donna has to deal with the ripple effects that a few small decisions can bring.
Pros: It's really rare to see a movie tackle abortion so honestly and personally, and it's also rare that an abortion movie is also a romantic comedy and hilarious. Obvious Child is that rare gem. It's heartwarming, uncomfortable, and laugh-out-loud funny. It's both bleak and hopeful at the same time. It's like Tig Notaro's LIVE comedy set if that was a movie about getting an abortion instead of a stand-up set about having cancer. Jenny Slate, who was under-used and -valued on SNL, is freaking amazing in this movie, and all of the supporting actors are really great as well. Jake Lacy in particular, as the impregnator, is quietly sublime.
Cons: I don't want to over-hype this movie, since it is the type of movie that could be entered into with unrealistically high expectations. It's a small, tightly focused movie, and some of the larger issues associated with abortion get ignored in favor of more personal moments the movie isn't actually all that abortion-y, when you get down to it. While this is a good thing, it does make it more possible for questions to creep into the back recesses of your mind while you're watching, and usually those questions are being asked in some sort of Nancy-Grace-esque voice. It can be distracting.
Consensus: Writer-director Gillian Robespierre has crafted a really personal-feeling and honest look at a touchy subject, and Jenny Slate carries it off effortlessly. It's a great movie, and a definite HIT.

Starring: Alan Tudyk, John Karna, Katie Findlay, Craig Roberts
The Story: In another Groundhog Day-type film, high schooler Rob (John Karna) keeps reliving the same day, from the moment he wakes up until the moment he prematurely ejaculates (whenever in the day that happens to occur). Much like Groundhog Day, it's soon clear that the only way for Rob to reverse the situation is to learn who he truly is and win over the love of his life.
Pros: Like the set up suggests, this is a pretty standard teen comedy. If it weren't for the near-constant ejaculations and wet dreams, it would almost be a quaint throwback to teen comedies of the 80s, where all common sense and rules of nature are thrown out in service of a fun movie with standard lessons and air-tight morality. Alan Tudyk, as a college recruiter sent to interview Rob, is particularly fun, and Katie Findlay is a good edition to the cast, even if she doesn't get enough screen time. The story goes by quickly (taking place in under 10 versions of the same day rather than Groundhog Day's roughly 34 years), which means that the stakes stay low and the focus can be on the interactions between Rob and his friends and family. Plus, it's occasionally humorous (with jokes mostly coming from Tudyk).
Cons: The movie is fairly one-note, and some of the situations in which Rob has to 'get off' in order to restart the day seem more debasing than hilarious; I honestly didn't need another reason to distrust mayonnaise. Also, it's one of those movies where the conclusion seems obvious from the first ten minutes, and then the movie doesn't really do anything interesting or new to get to that conclusion.
Consensus: I hate to say this about any movie that stars Tudyk, but this is a MISS. It'll be on Netflix Instant within the year, and you can watch it then. Also, if you want a Groundhog Day movie to HIT, go see Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt's Edge of Tomorrow, which is tons better than it has any right to be.

Snowpiercer (US Release)
Starring: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Alison Pill
The Story: Due to the effects of the effects of the effects of climate change, the human race has been all but wiped out by a second Ice Age. The surviving humans all live aboard the never-ceasing Snowpiercer, a train that makes a continuous trek around the globe. Over the eighteen years of the journey, the population aboard the train has stratified into two castes: the rich, elitist residents of the front of the train and the dirty, overcrowded rebels in the back of the train. The back of the train, led by rebellion extraordinaire Curtis (Chris Evans), wages a war on the front, making their way from car to car in the hopes of getting to the engine and wresting control from the upper class (embodied by the evil and calculating Minister Mason, played by the always delightful Tilda Swinton). Each train car brings new challenges and new levels of psychological and physical warfare, and soon it's not clear whose fight is more just.
Pros: From Korean director Jong-ho Bong, this sci-fi action film is fleet-footed and action-packed. There are new twists every moment, and there enough narrative and character elements at play to detract from the somewhat heavy-handed storytelling. The film operates in shades of grey, and that plays out most beautifully in the forms of Evans and Swinton, who give fantastic performances. Evans is a good actor who often gets cast in sub-par films, but it's great to see what he can do when given the chance. Plus, he still gets to fight and kill a bunch of people, which he's obviously really good at. Another inspired casting choice is Alison Pill, who gives just as much in her one scene in this movie as she did in her one scene in Midnight in ParisAnd this time, she doesn't have to share credit with Tom Hiddleston.
Cons: The further the rebellion gets in the train, the more confusing the film gets. This is by design, but sometimes it feels like too many elements are getting added to the mix only to be forgotten about when we get to the final act. Also, after the movie creates a ton of complexity and mixed feelings about the legitimacy of people's actions, the last fifteen minutes of the film become a good-vs-evil battle that is fun to watch but kind of a slap in the face to the rest of the movie.
Consensus: If you like your action movies dark and brooding with incredible fight sequences, this is a definite HIT. However, it's not exactly a light-hearted affair (though Swinton is hilarious), so make sure that your screening is a matinee. You're going to want to see sunlight after this thing.

22 Jump Street
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Peter Stormare, Amber Stevens, Ice Cube, Nick Offerman, Dave Franco, Jillian Bell
The Story: Following the success of the 21 Jump Street Program, undercover agents Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) move on to a local college (like, instead of a high school - because it's a sequel) to bust up a drug ring that gaining traction on campus. Jenko soon falls in with fratty football bros while Schmidt becomes a, art student with a penchant for poetry and an eye on a really beautiful and interesting student (Amber Stevens). Conflict abounds!
Pros: The movie is written by the guys who wrote the incredibly hilarious LEGO Movie, the better-than-it-should-have-been Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the gone-too-soon Clone High, and 21 Jump Street. So, needless to say, it's one of the most self-aware and meta sequels ever made, and the self-awareness is actually pretty funny. Some of the jokes are a little obvious, but there are surprising laughs and a ton of nudge-nudge-wink-wink jokes that work. Channing Tatum brings more comedy and charisma to this movie than he did the preceding one (if that's even possible), and the addition of both college and Spring Break add a lot of interesting things for the writers to play off of. Also the camaraderie between the leads is great, and their energy helps save a lot of the slower moments.
Cons: I really liked the first movie, and I was going into the sequel with high expectations. So, obviously, it fell short. Much like the first movie, the plotting is all over the place, and stories are introduced and then forgotten for seemingly no reason. Also, Jonah Hill, to put it bluntly, is the worst; his whiny shtick is definitely less charming in his the second go-around as Schmidt. I actively rooted for him to fail. However, more than anything this movie fails for the fact that, in its quest to be referential, it forgets to be original. The first movie was fun, especially watching Jonah Hill suddenly become the popular lead in the school play and Channing Tatum become the weird geek who tries to learn science. There was a fun subversion of stereotypes that played to both of the leads' strengths as actors. With 22, everything becomes obvious. Tatum is the jock, Hill is clingy, and everyone else's neuroses from the first movie are dialed up to 11. I was sure that at some point Ice Cube's head was going to pop off and whiz around the room like a balloon.
Consensus: Not as good as the original, but it's a lazy HIT. There's enough to like.

A Million Ways to Die in the West
Starring: Charlize Theron, Seth MacFarlane, Liam Neeson, Sarah Silverman, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried
The Story: From the makers of Ted comes a movie that nobody wants. Seth MacFarlane is a sheepherder with anachronistic opinions about life that don't mesh with his wild west surroundings. The plot is incidental, but basically Charlize Theron teaches Seth MacFarlane to be a sharpshooter in a week while also keeping SECRETS, and Giovanni Ribisi has a prostitute girlfriend (Sarah Silverman) who wants to wait until they're married to have sex. HILARIOUS. Also, Liam Neeson and Neil Patrick Harris want to kill Seth MacFarlane for various reasons relating to fidelity and moustaches and honor.
Pros: As in all movies, Charlize Theron is a solid team player. She's not hilarious, but she's amiable and seems to be up for anything. There are some jokes that work, though they're spaced pretty far apart. There's a nice bit in a bar fight that was legitimately worth laughter.
Cons: Seth MacFarlane isn't really a leading man, and he can't really command the screen with his weird head and dead, soulless eyes. His deadpan humor falls a little flat (this is coming from someone who thought Ted was pretty good), and there's just so much of him. Silverman, Harris, and Neeson are all wasted in paper-thin roles that give them nothing to work with. Mostly, though, the film fails because the jokes that MacFarlane traffics in don't really work in the Old West setting. Plus, he seems to find sheep funny for seemingly no reason, and the drug jokes fall flat at best and are racially insensitive at worst.
Consensus: MISS, at least until it's on DVD or on an airplane.
So, enjoy your holiday weekend. Don't let national pride keep you from enjoying two hours of overpriced popcorn, Whoppers, air conditioning, and cinema! There will always be fireworks next year.
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