LITTLE FOCKERS (2010)

December 27, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is the third installment of the series that began 10 years ago with Meet the Parents, a very fine, creative adult comedy with plenty of laughs. The second film introduced Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as parents of Ben Stiller‘s character. The comedy became much more risqué, yet less funny.

Now we have the third and hopefully final installment … although, the last scene certainly sets the stage for another. Whatever chuckles there might have been were ruined by the over-played trailer. This has become the norm for American comedies. For some reason, movie producers believe the trailers should include 2 full minutes of funny scenes. Unfortunately, that just about uses up all the laughs from most comedies. This little focker is no exception.

The star-studded cast is back – Robert DeNiro, Blythe Danner, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Teri Polo, Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman all reprise their roles. This time we are also treated to a spastic Jessica Alba, a quirky Harvey Keitel, a creepy Laura Dern … and even Deepak Chopra makes an appearance. Even this cast is not enough. Jay Roach directed the first two and turns the reins over to Paul Weitz (In Good Company, About a Boy). But even new directorial blood is not enough. Though comedy is truly an individual taste, it’s pretty clear that more effort on the script was needed. Let’s hope this is the end of the line for the Fockers.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you haven’t seen the preview and you enjoyed the second one.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are hoping they have recaptured the magic of Meet the Parents

** NOTE: I am purposefully not including the trailer in case you haven’t seen it and you want to see the movie.  Trust me … it’s best this way.

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MACHETE (2010)

September 6, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Sprung from the loins of the fake trailer during the Tarantino/Rodriguez double bill Grindhouse, this one delivers everything it promises: comedy, corn, bloody violence, over-the-top political statements, and wild spoofy stunts. There really is no legitimate way to critique it or review it. If you possess the gene that allowed you to enjoy Grindhouse, you will certainly be entertained by Machete.

Robert Rodriguez co-directed and co-wrote the film and puts his stamp all over it. There is no challenge to discovering where Mr. Rodriguez stands on the immigration issues. He is fortunate enough to be a filmmaker who can deliver a message in ways that very few can. Of course, this is not strictly speaking a message movie. It is better termed a spoof … heck, it’s billed as mexploitation! Danny Trejo, character actor extraordinare, finally gets his chance to carry a movie and he seizes the moment. His portrayal of Machete is with striking force and a straight poker face. There is little doubt that he is the Mexican federale whose family was killed by a drug kingpin (played by Steven Segal). Trejo tries to get on with his life, but is drawn right back in to the battle thanks to a local activist played by Michelle Rodriguez (headquartered in a Taco stand … yes, really), and by Jeff Fahey, henchman to an ultra racist State Senator played by Robert Deniro.

For a movie that prides itself more on brain spatters than brain matter, there are sufficient twists to the story to keep the viewer interested. But the real fun comes in the outrageous moments like opening credits “introducing Don Johnson“, and the cat-like ability of Machete to avoid certain death. Laughs ensue when Machete drags his brother into the fight. His brother? A new-age priest (Cheech Marin) packing an arsenal in the pews.

All of this is going on while an immigration agent played by Jessica Alba is trying to put the squeeze on Latin legend “She”, who she suspects is Michelle Rodriguez. Alba spends her lunch break playing Wii to keep fit. If all this isn’t quirky enough for you, how about Lindsay Lohan playing Fahey’s strung-out daughter, who later in the film dons a nun’s habit and a pistol?

You could think of this movie along the lines of a master spoof, similar to Airplane, only with tons of violence and explosions. The visual gags are on display, as are the one-liners that come out of left field. Mr. Rodriguez has done well for himself and his high expectation fans. I believe he knows what we want because it’s exactly what he wants himself!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you loved Grindhouse and can appreciate violent, over-the-top action spoofs … or if you just want to be shocked by seeing Steven Segal onscreen again.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are “normal”


THE KILLER INSIDE ME (2010)

July 18, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. The film is based upon the work of crime novelist Jim Thompson, who is quite famous as a writer and whose works have often been translated to film. This time oft-creepy director Michael Winterbottom is in charge and comes pretty close to creating a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the bits that fall short, very nearly ruin the film.

Psychological crime thrillers can be the most fascinating genre (see Inception), but only when the lead psycho is relatable in some sense and the story is complete. Here, Casey Affleck gives an outstanding performance as the dude you don’t want your daughter to date. There is a deep darkness hidden behind his aw-shucks facade of innocence and cutesy west Texas drawl.

The violence is expected, yet still shocking, when it first rears its head on poor Jessica Alba. We feel the first punch. What happens in this first encounter catches us off-guard and leaves us wanting to know more background on Affleck’s character. Instead, we are really only spectators in his plan of violence that seems to have no real goal. Think Natural Born Killers. Heck, even Ted Bundy had a real plan!

The creepiness factor is upped a bit since most everyone associated with the crimes seems to suspect Affleck’s character, but no one knows what to do or how to stop him. Kate Hudson, Elias Koteas and Simon Baker (miscast) give it a go. Personally I wanted more of the Koteas character as well as Ned Beatty, who plays a powerful developer against whom Affleck holds a grudge.

Bill Pullman is tossed in near the end to help wrap things up, but mostly the ending is as unsatisfying as the rest of the story. It is uncomfortable to watch Affleck’s character, so devoid of morals and empty of soul, but it feels wasted on a small town deputy sheriff with no vision. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing … but it makes for a much weaker film.


VALENTINE’S DAY (2010)

February 13, 2010

 (2-12-10) Greetings again from the darkness. Really no need to offer commentary on the story. If you have seen the preview (how could you have missed it?), you know it’s a major chick flick with a long list of Hollywood celebrities who come together and display the trials and tribulations that we have come to celebrate as Valentine’s Day – surely a concoction born of greeting card companies, florists and confectioneries.

For most of the movie, one song kept popping in my head – Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”. I have never seen so many beautiful people in one film. As you have noticed, the word “actor” has purposefully been avoided – celebrities and beautiful people are a more accurate description of what director Garry Marshall has delivered.

Thankfully, he tossed in Hector Elizonda, Shirley Maclaine and George Lopez or the movie might have done for plastic surgery what Urban Cowboy did for C&W dancing. On top of the beauty, we are subjected to an endless stream of downright SKINNY people! Everyone has noticed Taylor Swift is rail thin, but she doesn’t even stand out here. Jessica Biel, who once had a real-life body, looks cadaverous. Even her character exists on candy and treadmills. Throw in Ashton Kutcher, Topher Grace, Jennifer Garner and Jessica Alba, and one can make the argument that the cost for this cast was offset by the lack of necessity for an on-set lunch buffet.

Look, I realize this is just a chick flick comedy that is designed to poke a bit of fun at our need to love and be loved … or rather just not be alone. But a touch of reality could have helped. Raise your hand if you believe Julia Roberts might be miscast as the soldier returning home on leave from the front lines of war. Or that a brilliant doctor (Patrick Dempsey) might be a little more careful in covering his tracks of indiscretion? Or that Anne Hathaway couldn’t find a slightly more rewarding way to earn a living than her “phone entertainer” job?

Couldn’t help but notice the Pretty Woman connections with Garry Marshall, Julia Roberts, Hector Elizando and Larry Miller. Ms. Roberts even gets in a funny little jab over the closing credits. Some attempt was made to interconnect the multiple story lines and I do appreciate the struggle to show intimacy in the mess of Los Angeles … just too many obvious skits and stereotypes to make this anything more than a half-hearted effort by all involved.  And by “all”, I am including the 10-12 other “stars” that I have not named here.