The Grinch Review

Illumination Delivers Another Perfectly Acceptable if not Necessarily Exceptional Animated Diversion in this Re-Telling of the Dr. Suess Classic.

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

This Queen biopic Fails to Transcend the Genre the Way its Subjects Transcended the Music Scene, but at Least the Music is Good.

Overlord Review

Overlord Combines the Terror of War with the Terror of a Zombie Apocalypse and Accomplishes Exactly what it Means To.

The Nutcraker and the Four Realms Review

An All-Star Cast Attempts to Usher The Nutcracker Story to a New Generation Via Disney Blockbuster, but Unfortunately the Results Fall Short of the Ambition.

A Star is Born Review

Bradley Cooper Writes, Directs, Sings, and Stars in this Fourth Incarnation of this Story Alongside Lady Gaga to Rapturous Results.

KUNG FU PANDA 2 Review

A few years ago when the first "Kung Fu Panda" was released I didn't expect much from it. Jack Black's complete personification of this kung fu fanboy in the form of a panda though, took the movie to a whole other level. It was funny, its story entertained both children and adults, and it had some pretty awesome animated action sequences. Those three things continue to be strong in this sequel simply titled "Kung Fu Panda 2" (I was a little upset they dropped the subtitle "The Kaboom of Doom", but oh well) and some of the things lacking in the first movie, mainly real characterization for the supporting players, are still a slightly absent here as well. It is hard to really talk bad about "Kung Fu Panda 2" though because it at least feels as if it is trying to surpass the first part in as many ways as it can and deliver a worthwhile continuance of the story to its fans. In a summer where the last two weekends major releases have only offered three sequels (two of which are much of the same) "Panda 2" gets props for rising to the occasion.

This time around Po has now become at least somewhat comfortable in his role as the Dragon Warrior and leader of the Furious Five. There is no hesitation when bad guys come a calling that Po and his teammates will rush to the rescue and defend whatever it might be that need defending with their awesome kung-fu skills. As an animated film it is hard to walk the line between a super cheesy message movie that teaches the kiddies in the audience a morally uplifting lesson while keeping their parents entertained with a dynamic storyline and some subliminal humor. While the first "Panda" seems to have succeeded more in the comedy department than this uneven second entry does, the real commitment here actually seems to be the story. It has been said that Dreamworks is planning a six-film stretch for Po and his gang so it is reassuring to see they might have already worked out the storyline for most of these sequels. Though the first half-hour or so is scarcely dry with laughs we are engaged by the mystery of what actually happened to Po's parents and how he came to call a noodle-making goose his father.

Adding to the tension that builds early on in the film and creates reason for Po, Master Shifu and his furious five to feel threatened is the addition of the evil peacock, Lord Shen (voiced by the wonderfully evil Gary Oldman). In an almost Oedipus like tale, a soothsayer foretells of Shen's defeat by a warrior of black and white, thus Shen goes out and kills the panda population. This kind of mythic origin story for Po creates serious re enforcement for the reasoning behind Po becoming the Dragon warrior in the first place. In the first film it was taken as more of a destiny -type deal, but in revealing Lord Shen's motivations we come to realize that Po is simply fulfilling his destiny. Within slowly piecing together his tragic beginnings Po is also trying to master the art of inner-peace. Having such an internal conflict distracting him from the mission at hand, Po has to come to terns with what he knows is true and in doing so he learns those life lessons every movie aimed toward children should have. These are deep themes for an animated film though and not only do these themes resonate with the younger viewers (it teaches being true to one's self and how in doing so how much one can really achieve) but they are so genuinely emotional (even through the eyes of cuddly animated creatures) that the adults in the audience will surely realize things about themselves as well.
As the film moves along at a brisk pace, it does begin to pick up the laughs, never afraid to poke fun at its own seriousness and give its protagonist the benefit of having a real dramatic moment, it is in these little spots of satire that "Kung Fu Panda" finds most of its humor. Blending that together with the truly beautiful visuals the film has to offer make for a movie that I thought actually improved upon the original in most aspects. Though I did say earlier it is hard to speak negatively of the picture it is true that this sequel, just like its predecessor, has a wide variety of voice talent going for it that it simply wastes. I mean, you can't have Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, and Seth Rogen playing supporting characters if they only get five lines a piece. What is worse is they are only ever identified as with their celebrity persona, the characters in the film are nothing more than faces. These characters really need more fleshing out, especially for being such critical pieces to Po's success. Whereas Jack Black is at the top of his game in making Po a fully realized character, the others suffer from too many characters to introduce and to keep relevant. I would like to see more Shifu in the next installment as Dustin Hoffman's performance in the first one matched Black's pound for pound (he is criminally underused here), as well as a more consistent comedy aspect. That combined with the great visuals and willingness to push the story to the forefront by the teams behind these films will only cause this series to grow better and better with each episode.


KUNG FU PANDA 2 Review

A few years ago when the first "Kung Fu Panda" was released I didn't expect much from it. Jack Black's complete personification of this kung fu fanboy in the form of a panda though, took the movie to a whole other level. It was funny, its story entertained both children and adults, and it had some pretty awesome animated action sequences. Those three things continue to be strong in this sequel simply titled "Kung Fu Panda 2" (I was a little upset they dropped the subtitle "The Kaboom of Doom", but oh well) and some of the things lacking in the first movie, mainly real characterization for the supporting players, are still a slightly absent here as well. It is hard to really talk bad about "Kung Fu Panda 2" though because it at least feels as if it is trying to surpass the first part in as many ways as it can and deliver a worthwhile continuance of the story to its fans. In a summer where the last two weekends major releases have only offered three sequels (two of which are much of the same) "Panda 2" gets props for rising to the occasion.

THE HANGOVER PART II Review

"The Hangover Part II" is probably one of the best examples their is when it comes to drawing the line between film critics and the average movie goer. The film will be a huge success because the first film garnered such a strong response and instilled a loyal audience for this new installment. And the fact that they use the same premise as the first film won't really matter to most of the people going to see it. We simply want another opportunity to hang out with these guys and watch them get into a little trouble while trying to piece together the debacle that was the night before. Critics won't (and obviously haven't) liked this film for its lack of originality and general laziness in the creative department, but the fact of the matter is that if you liked the first one, you're most likely going to enjoy this one as well. It may not be the instant classic the first one became, but it has its moments and you certainly can't say it isn't funny.

There is really no point in briefing you on the story, simply replace Vegas with Thailand and put Stu in the groom's role instead of Doug. And while Doug is removed from the action once again with a sorry excuse that is "Tracey was sick remember? I left early." I really wish they would have included him this time. Instead he is left to sit and conduct damage control while the wolfpack search frantically for Stu's soon-to-be brother-in-law. The early parts of the film offer some nice insights into how this group of friends have retained the bond they created in the first film. Making Bradley Cooper's Phil all the more a tool who just really wants to have fun, he relishes the thought of them getting into trouble. The trip to Alan's bedroom is an experience within itself and if there is one thing that truly didn't disappoint about the film it would be Zach Galifianakis's performance. Early on, it almost seemed like they might have taken it too far, made Alan a little more dumb and out there than we could truly believe, but thankfully the balance is kept and Galifianakis plays his scene-stealing character with pitch-perfect innocence and absurdity. There is a section in the film when the guys visit a monestary and are asked to meditate where Alan goes into a deep trance and we are taken on a kind of tour of his psyche, this little piece of storytelling where we see all of the main characters as children except for the 16 year-old brother of the bride, who retains his normal image, is a glimpse at what Alan seems to think is really going on. These guys are just friends, going out and having a good time. There are no consequences or rules, it is only the limits of a childs imagination trapped in the body of a pudy middle-aged man. In a particularly hilarious scene Stu's father-in-law compares him to white, soggy rice and it really reaches back to what seems to make Stu so rebellious in the first place. Stu is adament about simply having a bachelor brunch, but is convinced by Phil to have one drink on the beach with his friends before he takes the dive, and alas we wind up the next morning with no memory of what happened the night before.

While this was the most engaging idea that gave the first one its originality and stand-alone quality, it can't help but feel a lttle tired here. What saves the film, at least in my opinion and I know others have disagreed, is the fearlessness to push the limits of how much chaos these guys actually cause. Director Todd Phillips knows he has recycled the idea, but at least he knew he had to up the anty for the situational humor and in that sense he has fully succeeded. Every aspect of what actually did happen the night before is much darker and pushes the boundaries of gross-out comedy to a few extremes (but it really isn't as bad as you may have heard). There are a few scenes of male genitalia, or lack thereof when it comes to Ken Jeong's Mr. Chow and their encounter with wildlife is now in the form of a drug-dealing monkey rather than just a ferocious tiger. We are given a few glimpses of what actually went down the night before and it was almost as if Phillip's really just wanted to show us these characters in the midst of their drugged out glory (he may want to consider it if he takes these guys on a third outing). What he also needs to do is relieve Mr. Chow of his duties, he is the one thing I didn't really get about the first film. I always found him more annoying than funny and if he didn't serve such a strong point in the sense of the story here I would have complained they just tacked him on simply because they thought the audience wanted it.

By the end of the film, the writers seemed to relaize they were going to have to take a few steps to separate this one from its predecessor and so we are informed that Chow is actually an international criminal and is the subject of a major investigation. Paul Giamatti shows up in a nice little role that lends some prestige to the project and the revelations don't come as quickly or easily as they did the first time around, though still give credit to Stu for figuring it all out. And like the first one, everything isn't as complicated as it should have been and we go out on a high note. So, what have we learned? This repetition of premise won't work again, but the makers did prove these guys can be continually likeable and funny no matter is it's the first or second movie. They can push boundaries, they can take it that far, but they need a fresh take on things. Add Justin Bartha's Doug into the mix next time, he established in his early scenes in the first film he is juat a part of this group as anyone else and if anything he is the glue that holds these guys together. Let him in on the fun, threaten these relationships by damaging that core. Take Chow out of the equation completely and let's see Bradley Cooper's Phil undergo some real damage, not just the physical kind he seems to always endure. No one has to get married, no one has to go missing. All the audience needs to know is that this group of guys is going to be there and that they are at least going to get into a little bit of trouble. I enjoyed the film, I was ready to be let down, but I laughed throughout the entire thing and was satisfied. I really just want these films to succeed and I hope Todd Phillip's and his team know their going to have to thing outside the box if the wolfpack will be back a third time.


THE HANGOVER PART II Review

"The Hangover Part II" is probably one of the best examples their is when it comes to drawing the line between film critics and the average movie goer. The film will be a huge success because the first film garnered such a strong response and instilled a loyal audience for this new installment. And the fact that they use the same premise as the first film won't really matter to most of the people going to see it. We simply want another opportunity to hang out with these guys and watch them get into a little trouble while trying to piece together the debacle that was the night before. Critics won't (and obviously haven't) liked this film for its lack of originality and general laziness in the creative department, but the fact of the matter is that if you liked the first one, you're most likely going to enjoy this one as well. It may not be the instant classic the first one became, but it has its moments and you certainly can't say it isn't funny.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES Review

It has been eight interesting years since we were first introduced to Johnny Depp's most popular creation. After two over-blown and somewhat disappointing sequels we welcome this latest installment of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise with a good amount of caution. It is clear that Depp and the creative team behind the oddly subtitled "On Stranger Tides" decided to give the series a slight re-boot. Bringing in director Rob Marshall to take over for Gore Verbinski who opted out this time around. Marshall (Chicago, Nine) has stripped all the hoopla of the two sequels taking out the overly complex story lines as well as any obligation that was felt to keep Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom on board. Instead, what this fourth film has turned out to be is the Captain Jack show as if he were playing the Indiana Jones of the seven seas. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, "On Stranger Tides" is a fun movie, but it plays it too safe. Whereas those two sequels may have been too strange at parts and too complicated for their own good, "On Stranger Tides" doesn't live up to its name at all.

This is a by-the-numbers action/adventure film, a race of a movie to find the coveted fountain of youth. It captures the same fun, light tone of the first film in the series while managing to somehow drag for long periods of time. That is really my one big complaint about the film. Other than that this is a big summer action flick and it serves that purpose in ever other way. It has amazing locations and special effects galore, it features colorful costumes and characters while being smart enough to layer its standard storyline with the gray area between good and evil that has always made Jack Sparrow, the pirate, so appealing. They've given us a real baddie in the form of Ian McShane's Blackbeard. McShane seems the go-to-guy for villains these days but damn if he's not the best at it. He makes his Blackbeard threatening and unpredictable while exuding a playfulness that shows how much he enjoys being bad. Truly evil. And linking Sparrow with the most famous of pirate baddies is done by giving him a certain kind of romantic history with Blackbeard's daughter, Angelica (Penelope Cruz). Introducing these new characters could no doubt leave open the possibility for more pirates films (stay after the credits if you are hoping for more) but the question is, has this series redeemed itself enough with "On Stranger Tides" that there is a renewed trust in the audience that might have lost interest with "Dead Man's Chest" and "At Worlds End"? The theater I saw it in was packed and with it making a reportedly $90 million already Jerry Bruckheimer will most likely be calling Johnny Depp Monday morning.

What future films can't do though is continue to allow Captain Jack be the center of the whole thing. what made him so charming the first time around is the fact he was an outsider, commenting on the core story through the eyeglasses of a deranged and humorous pirate. As he is in almost every scene of "On Stranger Tides" though it causes the sharp edge of Captain Jacks wit to dull. Sure, he offers up a few great one-liners here and there. His antics provide for sword fights and daring escapes every few minutes, but this is also what seemed to contribute to that dragging feeling I described earlier.

This series is all about balance. they had it in the first, the second and third became too heavy with story and excessive characters while this latest entry got the tone right, it leaned too heavily on, should I dare say it? Too much Jack Sparrow? Keep the interesting relationship between Cruz and Depp's characters going, it's fun, but make their exchanges more witty and cutting. Also, there was the side story concerning the young missionary and a mermaid. I'm sure that was intentionally left unresolved. Let's use them to balance between a focal story and Captain Jacks shenanigans. Plus, a pirates story with mermaid lore? Sounds like a good idea to me. Lets also let Barbosa rest and just applaud Geoffrey Rush for being game enough to play him once again. "On Stranger Tides" is good fun, but it doesn't succeed in getting back to what made this series so appealing in the first place. If they do decide to make more, let's at least hope they get closer than this.


PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES Review

It has been eight interesting years since we were first introduced to Johnny Depp's most popular creation. After two over-blown and somewhat disappointing sequels we welcome this latest installment of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise with a good amount of caution. It is clear that Depp and the creative team behind the oddly subtitled "On Stranger Tides" decided to give the series a slight re-boot. Bringing in director Rob Marshall to take over for Gore Verbinski who opted out this time around. Marshall (Chicago, Nine) has stripped all the hoopla of the two sequels taking out the overly complex story lines as well as any obligation that was felt to keep Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom on board. Instead, what this fourth film has turned out to be is the Captain Jack show as if he were playing the Indiana Jones of the seven seas. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, "On Stranger Tides" is a fun movie, but it plays it too safe. Whereas those two sequels may have been too strange at parts and too complicated for their own good, "On Stranger Tides" doesn't live up to its name at all.

Movies I Wanna See Most: Summer 2011


As we dove into the summer movie season last weekend with "Thor" and the obligatory rom-com that is "Something Borrowed" we began a four month trek through what could be a great and suprisingly diverse summer in the world of cinema. There are of course plenty of sequels (Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, Kung Fu Panda, and Cars) as well as a plethora of comic book flicks (Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern, and X-Men; First Class). There are a few indies that might also shine through this summer (Everything Must Go, Hesher, Our Idiot Borther, and The Tree of Life) as well as a string of great comedies (Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher, Friends With Benefits, Horrible Bosses, and The Change-Up) and even a few adult dramas thrown in (Crazy, Stupid, Love, Larry Crowne, and The Help). Here are the ten films I am probably most anxious to see once the lights go down and the previews begin:



10. Cowboys & Aliens-July 29
The first time I saw this trailer in front of a movie was at the midnight show of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I" and when the title appeared on the screen the crowd erupted with laughter. This was not the response I expected. I mean, it has James Bond and Indiana Jones together, in the same movie! How much more badassery do you want? Plus, it's directed by Jon Favreau and has Ron Howard AND Steven Spielberg producing it! Sure, the title could be taken as a bit of joke, I see where they're coming from, but did you see the images that preceded it? Favreau looks like he has flawlessly combined two complete opposite genres and made the epitome of what a summer movie should be. I think it's a great idea and I actually think, despite the Harry Potter crowd's initial reaction, that this is going to make a lot of money. I hope it does. I don't know how this can't turn out great.


9. 30 Minutes or Less-August 12
There are a ton of great comedies I am anxious to see this summer, and most are inhabited by some of my favorite comedic actors as well as some that feature more prestige actors in unexpected roles. I think "Bridesmaids" will be huge this coming weekend and will give Apatow his biggest hit since "Pineapple Express" as well as redefine the way people think about women comedians in the movies. I think there might be better comedies coming out this summer than my number 9 pick , but I can't help it, I am really excited about "30 Minutes or Less" it just has so much going for it. The last time Director Ruben Fleischer and star Jesse Eisenberg teamed-up back in 2009 we were given the sleeper hit "Zombieland". This time Eisenberg (a bigger star thanks to both "Zombieland" and "The Social Network") plays a pizza delivery guy who is kidnapped by two criminals (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) who strap a bomb to him and tell him he has to rob a bank for them. Yes, you read that right, McBride and Swardson as a pair. I love it. These guys come from two different kinds of comedy realms, Swardson is more in the Sandler crowd while McBride has starred alongside more Frat Packers and Apatow gang members. To see these two worlds colliding is nothing short of greatness in my eyes. Not to mention Eisenberg is paired with Parks & Rec star Aziz Ansari, who I better know as "Raaaaaaaandy" from Apatow's "Funny People". The caliber of comedians here combined with the outrageous plot line under the supervision of Fleischer is sure to be a comedy I will be first in line for come August.

8. Captain America: The First Avenger-July 22
With "Thor' making good at the box office and receiving piles of positive reviews the folks over at Marvel studios must be pretty happy right now. Let's just hope they feel the same way come July. I had my doubts when director Joe Johnston was brought on board to direct the film that would set the roots for this entire "Avengers" universe in stone. Johnston has made his share of good movies, mostly for younger audiences though, but his last film, "Wolfman" was a critical and box office flop. Worries weren't eased when Chris Evans was cast as the hero of all heroes either. I like Evans, but he has already been a part of a Marvel franchise and honestly, didn't seem serious enough to take on the heavy themes that Captain America would deal with. Captain America was going to have to be a little darker, a little more gritty than "Iron Man" or "Thor". I didn't know what to expect, but with the first full length trailer released in March, things are looking up. Evans seems to have just the right amount of humanity and intimidation needed to transform from Steve Rogers to the first Avenger. Johnston has also fleshed out the cast with credible actors like Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving as well as capturing the right tone for the movie. Hopes are high that this will be even better than "Thor" and the stakes are even higher since Marvel is letting so much ride on the most ambitious movie project ever. I think Captain America will make more money in its first weekend than "Thor" but will it continue to thrive after that? We'll find out come July 22.

7. The Help-August 12
I plan on reading Katherin Stockett's novel before August 12, 2011 when the big screen adaptation arrives in theaters. So, I am not excited about what this film has to offer because I have already read the book and am anxious to see what filmmakers have done with the material. No, I am simply interested in seeing "The Help" strictly from its word of mouth. At first hearing about the project I was just happy Emma Stone was going to be given a chance to broaden her appeal and show off her range. After her star-making role in last fall's "Easy A" I was kind of afraid she would begin to get type cast and play that same sarcastic yet charming girl over and over. In this film about a southern town that is turned upside down when Skeeter (Stone) decides to interview the black women that have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families, we will get to see Stone not only spread her wings a little further, but we will see her supported by fine actresses such as Viola Davis and an already much talked about performance from Octavia Spencer as well as Sissy Spacek and Bryce Dallas Howard. "The Help" may be one of the few mainstream movies this summer with real Oscar chances and I'm excited to see if the hype is in fact worth it.

6. Transformers: Dark of the Moon-July 1
After 2009's "Revenge of the Fallen" many fans had given up hope Michael Bay's "Transformers" would ever come to life again in a good movie. I'll be the first one to say that while the second film was way too long and had way too many plot complications and strange rules to follow, it had its moments. The fight between Optimus Prime and the decepticons against the lush green of a forest was an amazing looking piece of film. We can always count on Bay to make movies that look great, but with "Dark of the Moon" Bay seems to have realized the problems that overtook the adventures of Sam Witwikey and his robot pals in the last film and has stripped this third film of all that extra junk leaving it with a simple plot, toning down the humor while keeping just as much action. The second trailer released just a few weeks ago has made me list this much higher on my list than I would have at the beginning of this year. It looks nothing short of epic and I can't wait for July fourth weekend to celebrate what could be the re-birth of this series.

5. The Tree of Life-May 27
Ever since I have heard the whisperings about the reclusive filmmaker Terrance Malick and Brad Pitt making a film together I have been anxious to see the results. Pitt seems to always make these epic tales with real heart and Malick is known for his big philosophical ideas and dream-like landscapes that overtake his films. It seems a natural fit to place these two creative minds together. Throwing Sean Penn in the mix only adds even more prestige to this very secretive project. Little is known about the plot other than it follows the life journey of Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father. The film is also said to have a sequence including dinosaurs as well as some celestial happenings as shots of outer space can be seen in the trailer. I'm not sure what all of this might amount to but I am eager to find out and can pretty well bet this is one of the only summer films we will still be talking about come Oscar season.   

4. Super 8-June 10
J.J. Abrams can do no wrong in my book, after making me a fan of "Star Trek" two years ago (someone who had prior to seeing his film had never seen a single Star Trek episode or film) I was hooked and couldn't wait to see what he did next. Though the teaser for "Super 8" last fall made it look like yet another alien invasion film to come out this year my attitude towards this film changed completely after seeing the latest preview. With Spielberg in the producers chair and Abrams also penning the script it seems the two have produced a film that hearkens back to Spielberg's early years of "Close Encounters" and "ET". "Super 8" has an alien element to it yes, but it seems more about the children at the core of this movie who experience something out of this world while trying to enjoy their summer by making their own movie. It is refreshing to see a film for young adults and pre-teens that takes itself completely serious. I am not sure what to expect or how all of the story lines will converge and conclude, but I am psyched for this original tale and for true escapism in the cinema this summer.

3. Crazy, Stupid, Love-July 29
To say the least, I am a huge Steve Carell fan and now that he has exited the office I am more than ready to see what he does on the big screen. Things seem to be starting off great as his first starring role post-Michael Scott is the lead role in a dramedy with an all star cast. Also featuring Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, Marissa Tomei, and a reportedly great comedic tun from Ryan Gosling this seems like it might be the biggest sleeper hit of the summer. Carell also plays the role of producer here and while he has stated that Gosling is really the performance to watch here I am excited to see Carell return to the kind of everyman that he played in "Dan in Real Life". "I Love You, Phillip Morris" directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra have experience with this kind of tone and seem to focus as much on their actors as their shot set-ups which is nice to know in these types of films. I think it will earn great reviews and begin a great new start for Carell's film career, but most of all I hope people go see this, because I want Carell to be making the kinds of films he wants and this seems right up his alley.

2. The Hangover Part II-May 26
It might have been a horrible idea to try and catch lightening in a bottle twice, but there is no harm in trying and there are countless fans of the first film just waiting to see the three members of the wolfpack back together on the big screen. You can count me among them. Back in 2009 when the first film debuted their wasn't much talk around it and hardly anyone expected anything from it. When it went on to become a cultural phenomenon and not to mention, the highest grossing R-rated film of all time it was kind of inevitable the makers of the movie wouldn't think sequel. While the first full length trailer released at the beginning of April was criticized for looking too much like the first films plot, the stars and director Todd Phillips have defended it by saying the content is simply too raunchy to show in any preview (though I have been anxiously awaiting a red band trailer). After reading interviews and other behind the scenes reports everything seems to confirm this defense but until midnight on the 25th I won't know, I can only hope this second movie takes it further than the original in every way possible. If not, it will be a joy just to see these guys together again, but there is no way this movie can actually be that bad. Is there?

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II-July 15
This is not only the biggest movie event of this summer, but of the year. And this is truly an event in every aspect of the word. As the final film in the series of eight films that has spanned over ten years, this is a film franchise most of my generation has grown up with. We have become young adults as the stars of these movies have, we have gone through what they have at the same time (minus the magic stuff of course) but it is an institution, a part of life, and something of a hard fact to swallow that this is the end of it. I'm not even sure what to think knowing another Harry Potter film will never be "coming soon" to theaters. It is almost like it was before the final book was released but at least we knew there would be the films to look forward to. What do we have now? It is truly insane how much of an impact these books and movies have had on my life and so it is with great sadness that I am both anxious and at the same time not ready to see the final chapter unfold on screen. It will be a bittersweet moment but easily the most memorable one I will experience at the movies this summer.

Movies I Wanna See Most: Summer 2011


As we dove into the summer movie season last weekend with "Thor" and the obligatory rom-com that is "Something Borrowed" we began a four month trek through what could be a great and suprisingly diverse summer in the world of cinema. There are of course plenty of sequels (Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, Kung Fu Panda, and Cars) as well as a plethora of comic book flicks (Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern, and X-Men; First Class). There are a few indies that might also shine through this summer (Everything Must Go, Hesher, Our Idiot Borther, and The Tree of Life) as well as a string of great comedies (Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher, Friends With Benefits, Horrible Bosses, and The Change-Up) and even a few adult dramas thrown in (Crazy, Stupid, Love, Larry Crowne, and The Help). Here are the ten films I am probably most anxious to see once the lights go down and the previews begin:

BRIDESMAIDS Review

The quick description given to "Bridesmaids" has been the female version of "The Hangover". This is not exactly an apt description of the film, and "Bridesmaids" never really reaches the absurdly hilarious moments "The Hangover" did. It probably won't be as globally popular or record setting, but it has its moments and more importantly it gives us Kristen Wiig's first starring role in a film that she also co-wrote. This is Wiig's film and she owns it, this certainly will stand out as her breakthrough performance and it really is. It proves Wiig's not just a great SNL player but a movie star and has the ability to carry a film on her shoulders, and with ease. This isn't the bachelorette party film you might think it is going in, and it is by no means a chick flick, but it is a really enjoyable movie and a pretty damn funny one at that.


As Annie, Wiig is a woman suffering from the effects of the recession. Having invested all her money in a failed bakey, she now works at a jewelry shop. She lives with two weird British siblings, she is nothing but a booty call to a man she really wants to have a relationship with (a hilarious Jon Hamm), and her best friend, Lillian has just asked her to take on all of the responsibility of being her maid of honor. As Lillian, Maya Rudolph never gets her big comedic moment to shine, but Rudolph is such a subtle comedian and is able to translate the complicated emotions of being in the spotlight of the moment while dealing with the dynamics of her friends without allowing things to get too awkward. She is the reason for bringing these women together, but Rudolph never allows Lillian to be a bridezilla, instead she is the only part of this band of a bridal party trying to keep the peace. As the rest of the bridesmaids Rose Byrne is the new, rich best friend who wants more than anything to be the maid of honor and will spend any amount of money to show Lillian she should be. Melissa McCarthy gives a stand-out performance as Lillian's sister-in-law to be and Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper get the short end of the stick on the least sketched out characters. As Helen, Byrne creates the perfect enemy and character we love to hate as she constantly tries to upstage poor Annie. Their rival and how it challenges each of their relationships with the bride becomes more of a central plot conflict than any other subplot. It exudes what is best about "Bridesmaids", it shows real women in real situations and they aren't arguing over a guy. To say the least, the movie is refreshing.

Getting to McCarthy though, as Megan she nearly steals every scene she is in. Whether it be the laugh out loud scene where they try on dresses or when she slaps Annie out of her pity party, McCarthy is gold and deserves serious recognition for her bawdy balls out performance. And while I would liked to see the remainder of the Bridesmaids fleshed out further, especially Kemper as she seemed to essentially be playing a weird step sister to her character on "The Office". We do get a full world for these characters to exist in though, whether it be Annie's roomates or mom we really understand where she is coming from and why she acts like she does. The movie does venture into slight romantic comedy with the introduction of Chris O'Dowd's cop that Wiig takes a liking to and immediately rejects because he treats her right. We want to see it evolve though because O'Dowd, in keeping with the rhythm of the film, makes a genuine dude out of his character. A guy who likes a girl, just hoping to impress her.

The film has so many aspects to it, it is hard to ever settle on one definite story line, but they all converge to create this world going on around Annie. They give us the evidence for why she feels the way she does, why she feels it necessary to go off the deep end, and why she has such trouble feeling like a worthwhile part of this crew of diverse women when everything around her keeps reminding her of how much her life sucks. "Bridesmaids" is a funny movie, offering up at least four building moments of laughter that result in an eruption of laughter from the audience. As with any Apatow production it is about fifteen minutes too long, but it balances its raunchiness and sweetness with a skillful hand that makes it one of his best and well rounded films since "Knocked Up". It is nice to see a comedy with real women that doesn't talk down to us and play it out in a world where everyone where's white has plenty of money while working at a job that clearly wouldn't support such habits. Instead, "Bridesmaids" is anything but, its dirty, honest, rough all of which lend to making it the best comedy so far this year.


BRIDESMAIDS Review

The quick description given to "Bridesmaids" has been the female version of "The Hangover". This is not exactly an apt description of the film, and "Bridesmaids" never really reaches the absurdly hilarious moments "The Hangover" did. It probably won't be as globally popular or record setting, but it has its moments and more importantly it gives us Kristen Wiig's first starring role in a film that she also co-wrote. This is Wiig's film and she owns it, this certainly will stand out as her breakthrough performance and it really is. It proves Wiig's not just a great SNL player but a movie star and has the ability to carry a film on her shoulders, and with ease. This isn't the bachelorette party film you might think it is going in, and it is by no means a chick flick, but it is a really enjoyable movie and a pretty damn funny one at that.

THOR Review

"Thor" could have been bad. I mean really bad. And after the second or so trailer that was released I honestly did begin to worry. It is with great relief though that I am able to report that "Thor" is in fact pretty sweet. Is it awesome? No, it didn't hit me with that kind of "wow" that the first "Iron Man" did, but it captured that same tone rather well. It never takes off with an expectation-fulfilling quest that most films with such bombastic heroes do. It is in fact quite a simple movie, stripped down to its basic conflicts. What makes "Thor" succeed rather than becoming a laughable attempt at getting this whole "Avengers" thing off the ground though is the guidance of a prestige director and a cast more than capable of making all these other-worldly semantics seem plausible. Kenneth Branagh picked an unknown Chris Hemsworth as his pitch perfect Norse God and then fleshed out the supporting cast with Oscar caliber actors such as Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman. It is to this commitment from the cast that "Thor" probably owes its salvation.


It is fitting that Branagh, a veteran of Shakespeare, was picked to direct probably the only comic book movie that will ever somehow have incorporated an old English vernacular into its plot. What seems the only odd choice about the film is that Branagh has elected to spend just as much time in the realm of Asgard (Thor's home planet) as it does on earth. i thought we might get a little prologue type deal, see our hero get cast out and from then on things would evolve on earth and the film would set up Thor's involvement with "The Avengers". It does do these things to some degree, but we don't leave Asgard to never return, in fact it is the most important of plot points that occur there and move our story on earth along as it gets to where it's going. I would have liked to have seen more of the action take place on earth for the only time "Thor" begins to drag is when it takes too extended of a trip to Asgard. Though the scenery conjured up by the visual effects team here are truly stunning and a few stills offer pure magic, it all feels to great a contrast between which setting we should root our hero in. We want to see him as a protector of our own planet inherently, but the real conflict of the film deals with his brother and that brothers betrayal back home.

What really causes this rift though is the obvious fact that the plot on Asgard is strictly for the purposes of this film as it exists on its own. Once we get to earth the story is focused on S.H.I.E.L.D and getting everything set-up for the other films that will have to work off of this one whether it be possible sequels or just "The Avengers" film. Personally, I am very fascinated with the thought of witnessing a complete universe come together over several films and mixing so much history and story that they all overlap making a satisfying unit. I want to see that plot move further along and more quickly, but it is clear Branagh wants to focus on Thor and who he is as a man and what he is bringing to the table. Can he overcome his naive ways of thinking and mature into the King his father wants him to be? As I said earlier, the plot is basic, it is essentially a story of redemption. It is an origin story of sorts that brings us up to speed on how Thor became a man suitable and smart enough to be part of that inevitable team. I am in no way a comic book expert and won't pretend to know any of Thor's mythology but in giving us the back story on the God of Thunder, the director and his writers have delivered a bill of credible characters in a world that could have just as easily come off as cheesy.

And thus, the real challenge of "Thor" is making him believable, connecting him to earth without stretching so far it is only the comic book geeks in the crowd who understand all of what is going on. That is where I breathe my biggest sigh of relief. The acting is solid, the citizens of Asgard projecting that very classical, stage-trained presence being balanced by the modernization Thor must endure once he lands on earth is all played at just the right pitch. Hemsworth knows when to go for the laugh and when to hold back and let the audience know his Thor is a formidable threat, a man and a king not to be tested. While I didn't feel the film built up to as big a finale as it could have this is all in all a much more accessible and grounded film than I ever expected it to be. As the first summer blockbuster out of the gate, "Thor" has much to prove, especially with Marvel banking that it and "Captain America" will build enough momentum for "The Avengers" next year. "Thor" gets them off to a good start, lets hope things only get better from here.


THOR Review

"Thor" could have been bad. I mean really bad. And after the second or so trailer that was released I honestly did begin to worry. It is with great relief though that I am able to report that "Thor" is in fact pretty sweet. Is it awesome? No, it didn't hit me with that kind of "wow" that the first "Iron Man" did, but it captured that same tone rather well. It never takes off with an expectation-fulfilling quest that most films with such bombastic heroes do. It is in fact quite a simple movie, stripped down to its basic conflicts. What makes "Thor" succeed rather than becoming a laughable attempt at getting this whole "Avengers" thing off the ground though is the guidance of a prestige director and a cast more than capable of making all these other-worldly semantics seem plausible. Kenneth Branagh picked an unknown Chris Hemsworth as his pitch perfect Norse God and then fleshed out the supporting cast with Oscar caliber actors such as Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman. It is to this commitment from the cast that "Thor" probably owes its salvation.

SOMETHING BORROWED Review

I feel as if John Krasinski should know better than this. He has shown just through his character on "The Office" and with his directorial debut "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" that he is more than just a face for the hip crowd looking to expel their narcissistic world view on any who care to listen. Krasinski seems to be an intelligent, level-headed guy who, despite what others might be afraid to bring up, really knows the truth and can admit to it whenever. So why, has he chosen such duds of romantic comedies to star in? In the case of "Something Borrowed" we have a film that has a nice little hook:it is just as much about friendship as it is about love, but what director Luke Greenfield does to separate this film from every other rom com actually isn't much. In fact, this is so paint by the numbers, we can even see past the little plot twist the film thinks its throwing at us near the end. No, it wasn't a shocker, if anything it made the movie feel more tedious.


Basically what we have here is a nearly two-hour pity party for Rachel. Rachel is played by the lovely Ginnifer Goodwin who can seemingly make any act as innocent and sweet as it needs to be. Rachel is in love with Dex and has been since she first laid eyes on him in law school. It is her more out-going, ignorant best friend Darcy though who ends up with him. Where we come in is at the point where Darcy and Dex are set to exchange vows, but not before Dex re-evaluates and decides if this is all what he really wants. This all sounds very melodramatic and probably too much drama than one cares to deal with when looking for a few hours of escapism and it really is, but what makes this whole charade even worse is that we simply don't care for any of these characters. Dex, as played by soap opera alumni Colin Eggsfield, is essentially lifeless. The guy is a pretty face, sure, but behind that we see nothing, especially no reason as to why two women are internally battling over him. We can look past that too though, because the biggest break in logic comes when we must believe Dex would have chosen to be with Darcy over Rachel in the first place.

Kate Hudson, who, lets face it, has continually dropped in picking good projects over and over again for a few years now may have been the perfect choice to play the hard-party annoying Darcy because she herself is so tired of being stuck in rom com land. Hudson doesn't even allow for Darcy to be the least bit likable except for in one all too short scene. We don't know why there is such a dilemma, if these people would just loosen their polo's and cardigan's they would surely be able to realize they were all with the wrong people and then be able to sort everyone to where they need to be. But by the time this actually happens, we're exhausted. We are sketchy about Dex, we really just want Rachel to end up with Krasinski's Ethan, but we all know that can't happen. It just can't, not in this world. It is early on when we are introduced to a minor character played by Steve Howey, a complete stock character, the man child relative who constantly hangs around and seems to always be more creepy than charming that we realize this movie is going nowhere fast. It is so busy trying to be more intelligent and sophisticated than others of its genre that it only seems to stumble more often and thus limit itself to not even delivering the simple pleasures of a play it by the book chick flick.

"Something Borrowed" can be summed up by one of it's only clever pieces of dialogue, "The Hampton's are like a zombie movie directed by Ralph Lauren." But instead of "The Hampton's" you can easily insert the title of this film. It is all very clean cut and the characters all dress in clothes that are all very monochromatic and do things like play badminton because they literally have nothing better to do. It is a zombie movie, but without the building excitement or scares just the overall effect of lifeless bodies walking around doing things that don't make a whole lot of sense. Krasinski is the voice of reason here, and another reason to believe he is better than this, but even with his strong words and observations this film can;t rise above what he critiques his friends of being. Go ahead and skip "Something Borrowed" because there certainly has to be a better rom com in the pipeline that is coming soon. If not, the ladies are in for a long summer.


SOMETHING BORROWED Review

I feel as if John Krasinski should know better than this. He has shown just through his character on "The Office" and with his directorial debut "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" that he is more than just a face for the hip crowd looking to expel their narcissistic world view on any who care to listen. Krasinski seems to be an intelligent, level-headed guy who, despite what others might be afraid to bring up, really knows the truth and can admit to it whenever. So why, has he chosen such duds of romantic comedies to star in? In the case of "Something Borrowed" we have a film that has a nice little hook:it is just as much about friendship as it is about love, but what director Luke Greenfield does to separate this film from every other rom com actually isn't much. In fact, this is so paint by the numbers, we can even see past the little plot twist the film thinks its throwing at us near the end. No, it wasn't a shocker, if anything it made the movie feel more tedious.

FAST FIVE Review

Never would I have thought "The Fast and the Furious" would turn into such a powerhouse franchise, spawning four sequels (so far) and actually feeling like one of the best well-rounded film series in recent memory. These adrenaline rush, action-packed movies are everything we have come to expect and all that we want them to be. In this fifth installment we find Dom Toretto (Diesel) and Brian O'Conner (Walker) picking up right where they left off in "Fast & Furious" and uniting a who's who of the series characters to create the ultimate team of thieves for the biggest heist this series has seen. It isn't as much about the cars and the racing this time around as it is the quest for money and peace, but with so many characters and action elements coming together so seamlessly it doesn't matter, you simply have to sit back and have a blast watching this movie.


Diesel not initially wanting to do sequels to the original film may have caused some disruption as far as timeline goes, but ultimately it seems to have lended well to the richness of this saturated world of scantily clad women and foreign cars. Going out of the way for films two and three bring together key characters in this film that will also no doubt be brought full circle in later installments (stick around through the credits, we get a little something extra about half way through) but while we really have no clue where the makers of this franchise might take us next it is important to note that this film certainly steps up the expectations. Up until now this has mostly been a series about a culture of certain kinds of people, street racers. The original capitalized on a craze but what has kept this series going and so popular is its ability to adjust and as "Fast & Furious" showed the characters maturing, "Fast Five" finds them dealing with more than just what kind of car they are driving.

Taking place completely in Brazil, Dom and O'Conner are on the run and at the top of the most wanted list. It is the opportunity to pull a job that would grant them a life of no worries and a peaceful state of mind that leads brings them to the beautiful country and they bring with them a man hot on their trail. The biggest addition to this franchise comes in the form of federal agent Luke Hobbs who is played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and with the joining of two of todays biggest action stars on screen duking it out, it is clear the makers know who their audience is and what they want out of this movie. No, this film nor any of its predecessors are any kind of high art, but damnit if they aren't entertaining. That is what they are built for and this could easily be called the best this series has offered. If you haven't liked these movies before you probably won't care for the new one either, but it's not like it is pretending to be anything other than what we are given and that is thrills in the form of big. bad, bang-em up action sequences.

Under the direction of Justin Lin, his third of the five films, we see the movie quickly paced with a sense of building tension and anticipation. And those big action sequqences are all grounded in reality, no the laws of physics may not be present, but there is nothing CG-looking about them either. They are rooted in genuine toughness as are the core cast members. Both Diesel and Walker who have each made this series their lifeline as movie stars are still fully committed to these characters and know how vital they are to their career as well as how much they mean to a whole group of fans who no doubt see Toretto as a kind of iconic screen presence. It is this bond between the cast members, the kind of continuity that entices us and it is the take no prisoners attitude with which this film executes itself that gives us such a reason to enjoy it. We all know what we're getting ourselves into here, and personally, I loved it. I can't wait for "Fast Six" or whatever they decide to call the next one.