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Film Review – The Lego Movie
03/08/14 at 09:44 PM by Jonathan Bautts

IMDb Plot Summary: An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.

The Lego Movie went from having zero expectations to giant ones in the span of the week before it opened, thanks to some ridiculously raving reviews and strong word of mouth. It makes for somewhat of an awkward viewing, then, because it’s clearly better than it has any right to be, easily superseding a quick cash-grab nature most people assumed when the project was first announced, but never reaches the plateau of greatness people hastily began bestowing upon it, which I doubt was ever its intent, either.

It’s a lot of fun either way, with some spot-on casting, loads of jokes and impressive animation, along with a surprising dramatic twist late in the game I didn’t see coming but one it pulls off well. On the other hand, it’s also the most ADD kid’s movie I’ve ever seen, never dwelling on much for very long and tossing everything but the kitchen sink at viewers. It’s pure overload, plain and simple, and though it does make some thematic sense in the end, additional focus would have done wonders. It also starts off quite slowly, leaning a little too heavily on Matrix/1984 underpinnings, and really doesn’t take off until Will Arnett’s Batman shows up, who steals every scene he’s in and is the obvious standout.

As someone who actually grew up playing with Legos, as a great many kids did in the 90s, The Lego Movie was a welcome trip down memory lane, and despite its flaws the best animated film I’ve seen since 2011’s Tintin.

Grade: B
Tags: the lego movie, film review
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Fall Movie Picks
08/14/10 at 11:54 PM by Jonathan Bautts
I just got done reading the new Entertainment Weekly and the fall release schedule is packed with sweet goodness. It should have little trouble making up for a pretty pathetic year thus far which included one of the worst summers in recent memory, despite the trifecta of awesomeness (Inception, Toy Story 3, Scott Pilgrim). Here's my top picks of what to watch out for:

The Contenders
127 Hours (Nov 5)
Black Swan (Dec 1)
Blue Valentine (Dec 31)
The Fighter (Dec 10)
HappyThankYouMorePlease (TBA)
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hollows (Nov 19)
The Social Network (Oct 1)
The Tree Of Life (TBA)
Tron: Legacy (Dec 17)
True Grit (Dec 25)

Middle Of The Pack
Biutiful (TBA)
Buried (Sept 24)
Catfish (Sept 17)
Due Date (Nov 5)
Hereafter (Oct 22)
Let Me In (Oct 1)
Never Let Me Go (Sept 15)
The Rum Diary (TBA)
Somewhere (Dec 22)
The Town (Sept 17)

Potential Sleepers
The American (Sept 1)
The Company Men (Oct 22)
The Debt (Dec 29)
Fair Game (Nov 5)
How Do You Know (Dec 17)
It's Kind Of A Funny Story (Sept 24)
Jack Goes Boating (Sept 17)
Machete (Sept 3)
Red (Oct 15)
Waiting For Superman (Sept 24)
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Sept 24)
Tags: Fall, Film, Movie, Preview, 2010
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Best Of 2009 – Halfway Point
07/02/09 at 11:45 PM by Jonathan Bautts
01. Up
02. Star Trek
03. Watchmen
04. Public Enemies
05. Duplicity
06. The Brothers Bloom
07. The Hangover
08. I Love You, Man
09. Terminator Salvation
10. The International

Drag Me To Hell
The Taking Of Pelham 123

01. New Found Glory – Not Without A Fight
02. Regina Spektor – Far
03. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
04. Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing
05. The Fray – The Fray
06. Thursday – Common Existence
07. Mat Kearney – City Of Black & White
08. Taking Back Sunday – New Again
09. Paper Route – Absence
10. Silversun Pickups – Swoon
11. Audrye Sessions – Audrye Sessions
12. mewithoutYou – It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright
13. Holiday Parade – Tickets & Passports
14. Kevin Devine – Brother’s Blood
15. Bruce Springsteen – Working On A Dream
16. Morrissey – Years Of Refusal
17. Meg & Dia – Here, Here And Here
18. Papa Roach – Metamorphosis
19. Emery – In Shallow Seas We Sail
20. The Dangerous Summer – Reach For The Sun
21. Dredg – The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion
22. The Dear Hunter – Act III: Life And Death
23. 311 – Uplifter
24. Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster – III
25. Project 86 – Picket Fence Cartel

Alexisonfire – Old Crow/Young Cardinal
Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You
Closure In Moscow – First Temple
Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen
The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love
Depeche Mode – Sounds Of The Universe
The Devil Wears Prada – With Roots Above And Branches Below
Eminem – Relapse
Ace Enders & A Million Different People – When I Hit The Ground
Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
Ben Harper And Relentless7 – White Lies For Dark Times
Jonathan Jones – We Were Young
Meese – Broadcast
Metric – Fantasies
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
P.O.S. – Never Better
Silverstein – A Shipwreck In The Sand
Wilco – Wilco (The Album)

01. Mae – (M)orning
02. Straylight Run – About Time
03. Death Cab For Cutie – The Open Door
04. Moneen – Heard That Sound
05. Hit The Lights – Coast To Coast
06. Raining And OK – Always Will Be

Colour Academy – Through Telescopes
House Of Heroes – Meets The Beatles
Mark Rose – The Greatest Lakes

Best Of 2008 – Film (Updated)
Best Of 2008 – Music (Updated)
Tags: Best Of, 2009, Movies, Music
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Best Of 2008 – Film
01/10/09 at 12:07 AM by Jonathan Bautts
01. The Dark Knight
02. Slumdog Millionaire
03. WALL-E
04. The Wrestler
05. Cloverfield
06. Frost/Nixon
07. Iron Man
08. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
09. Nothing But The Truth
10. Role Models
11. Body Of Lies
12. Valkyrie
13. Changeling
14. Tropic Thunder
15. Gran Torino
16. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
17. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who!
18. Ghost Town
19. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
20. The Incredible Hulk

The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
In Bruges
Let The Right One In
Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Quantum Of Solace
Rachel Getting Married
Smart People
Speed Racer
Tags: Best Of, 2008, Film, Movies
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Movie Review – Iron Man
05/07/08 at 10:07 PM by Jonathan Bautts
After a disappointing four months, the summer movie season is finally here. “Iron Man” smashed into theaters last weekend to the tune of $100 million, the second highest opening ever for a non-sequel. Not only is the film a refreshing breeze of cool air, it’s also one of the strongest comic book adaptations to hit the big screen.

The story begins with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a self-absorbed billionaire weapons manufacturer who is captured by a militant group while in Afghanistan. After constructing a crude metal suit, he narrowly escapes and returns home, vowing to change his ways and never sell weapons again. In hopes of becoming an agent for the common good, Stark builds a high-tech version of the suit, but the top executive of Stark Industries, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), has other plans.

First and foremost, the casting of Downey was pure genius. He has quietly been stealing scenes in recent films such as “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Zodiac,” and his turn in “Iron Man” will surely catapult him atop Hollywood’s A-list. Downey perfectly embodies Stark, delivering charm and narcissist wisecracks while exhibiting the intellectualism and womanizing side seen in the comics. Perhaps most notable is how Downey makes Stark’s development of a conscience natural, and his drive to avenge past wrongs becomes more than simple fodder. This duality makes Stark a comic book rarity – a living, breathing character.

While the rest of the cast tends to be somewhat underwritten, they clearly benefit from Downey’s infectious energy. Gwyneth Paltrow is surprisingly good as Stark’s assistant and blossoming love interest, while Terrance Howard as Stark’s military friend and Shaun Toub as a prisoner who helps Stark escape are solid additions. The script certainly leaves plenty of room for its characters to grow, and the inspired casting foundation should serve the purpose well.

Another reason the film works is actor-turned-director Jon Favreau, who handles the proceedings like an old pro. Known for character-driven films like “Swingers” and “Elf,” Favreau keeps the characters, specifically Downey, at the center of the story. While there’s not as much action as one might expect and the villain never poses the most formidable threat, Favreau allows these shortcomings to be overlooked. He also is effective at transporting the comic into a modern setting by interweaving political and anti-war components, the likes of which were qualities Marvel was founded upon.

In the end, “Iron Man” is one of those rare breeds that should please both fans and mainstream audiences. While it’s far from the greatest comic film of all time, it is the strongest since “Batman Begins,” and as the scene after the end credits indicates, the next installment should only get better. Move over Spider-Man, there’s a new superhero in town.

The Verdict: B+ (88%)
Tags: Iron Man, Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Marvel, Comic, Movie, Review
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Movie Review – Baby Mama
04/30/08 at 11:39 PM by Jonathan Bautts
It seems like there have been an awful lot of films dealing with pregnancy of late (“Juno,” “Knocked Up,” “Waitress”), most of which were both well received and profitable. “Baby Mama” looks to capitalize on the trend by adding its own “Odd Couple” twist.

Tina Fey plays Kate Holbrook, a successful 37-year-old businesswoman who wants to have kids but finds out she’s unable to. Denied an adoption, she is forced to hire a surrogate mother, Angie (Amy Poehler), as her last remaining alternative. Shortly thereafter, Angie splits with her common-law husband (Dax Shepard) and has to move in with Kate. The two experience some difficulties putting up with each other, and multiple plot surprises ensue.

Although this is Fey’s first time as the lead in a motion picture, she shows no problem handling the transition. Having already conquered the TV world with “SNL” and “30 Rock,” not to mention writing 2004’s hit movie “Mean Girls,” she carries over the sharp wit and deadpan manner she has honed for years. Kate, while similar to her role as Liz Lemon on “30 Rock,” has a sweeter, less outrageous side and remains a distinct multi-dimensional character. It all goes to prove how Fey has quietly developed into one of the most talented and funniest actresses working today.

The film’s other two main participants hold close ties with Fey as well. Poehler worked with Fey on “SNL,” where they became the first women team to host Weekend Update, and director Michael McCullers is a former “SNL” writer who at one time shared an office with Fey. Needless to say, there is a satirical bent and many over-the-top situational setups throughout. Poehler, who can be very hit or miss, turns in one of her better performances, playing well off Fey. Toss in a supporting cast of Greg Kinnear, Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver, and there’s plenty of hilarity to go around.

Yet despite the talent involved, the film seems to be missing some ingredients. Most apparent is how the keen smarts and biting edge of Fey’s past work only show up every once in a while. It can only be imagined what the script, written by McCullers, would have been like if Fey herself had taken a pass at it.

Nevertheless, after viewing the uneven trailer several months ago, the final product turned out much better than expected. While falling short of the strongest comedies in recent memory, it still is one of the funniest films of the year and a cut above the average female-oriented comedy. After capturing the box office crown its opening weekend, it’s also proof mainstream audiences are starting to embrace Fey, which is the most exciting thing of all.

The Verdict: B- (81%)
Tags: Baby Mama, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Movie, Review
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Movie Review – The Forbidden Kingdom
04/23/08 at 11:49 PM by Jonathan Bautts
With the first pairing of martial arts legends Jackie Chan and Jet Li, a kung fu extravaganza of epic proportions should have been the result – anything less would be a disappointment. Regrettably, the project they selected was “The Forbidden Kingdom,” a westernized, watered-down tale that fails to take advantage of its stars.

In a shocking move, the main protagonist in the film is neither Chan nor Li but rather Boston teen Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano), which is a fatal flaw it never recovers from. The character is wholly unnecessary and only diverts from the main reason anyone would see the film in the first place – to watch Chan and Li go at it for an hour and a half. By removing the middleman and allowing Chan and Li to take down the evil empire themselves, a much more effective creation surely would have been produced.

In the end, there simply is no need to follow around an American kid and his by the book wimp-to-hero story arc – it’s been seen before in everything from “The Karate Kid” to “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court,” and it doesn’t need repeating here. Instead, drop the whole American, kid-friendly feeling – heck, it doesn’t even need to be in English – and focus solely on the two stars pummeling their way through a sea of villains. Throw out the PG-13 rating and deliver some bone-cracking “Legend of Drunken Master” fight scenes. I know they’re both getting old – Chan is now 54, Li is 45 – but remind us again why they were celebrated before they made the jump to Hollywood. If a 65-year-old Harrison Ford can still rock the fedora as Indiana Jones, there’s no reason Chan and Li can’t do the same.

The fight scenes that did make it into the film are no slouch, staged by master choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping (“The Matrix,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”). They’re easily the highlight, particularly the one where Chan and Li battle each other, but everything in between them just gets in the way. From the story’s pointless exposition to its reliance on corny elements, including an over-the-top corrupt warlord and cartoon-ish Monkey King, it’s far from what it could have been. Hopefully the next time Chan and Li decide to hook up, they revert back to their Hong Kong roots and make a martial arts movie the right way.

The Verdict: B- (80%)
Tags: Forbidden Kingdom, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Movie, Review
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Movie Review – The Ruins
04/09/08 at 08:28 PM by Jonathan Bautts
Four young American tourists are vacationing in Cancun when they befriend a stranger from Germany. His brother, an archeologist, is missing, and he’s set to visit some Mayan ruins to track him down. Thinking it will be fun, the Americans decide to tag along, which quickly backfires. It isn’t long before they find themselves trapped atop the Mayan pyramid with a hidden danger lurking in the darkness.

“The Ruins” is one part horror and one part adventurous thriller. Its source material, the 2006 bestseller by Scott Smith, was hailed by Stephen King as the “best horror novel of the new century.” However, most of the thrills must have gotten lost in translation because the movie itself is never overtly frightening. Smith, who also wrote the screenplay, unsuccessfully relies on several gruesomely performed surgeries to do the trick instead.

At least the characters and acting are better than much of its horror brethren, such as the abysmal remakes of “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Halloween.” It also deserves mentioning that it tries to use the characters to explore the darker side of human nature and what people are capable of when survival instincts are pushed to the brink. Unfortunately, “Lord Of The Flies” it is not, and any insightful commentary is pushed aside.

Instead of mankind, the real villain of the story becomes killer, flesh-craving vines. That’s right – vines. Think Poison Ivy from Batman, but on steroids. It’s a ludicrous idea that might have sounded foreboding in print but is far from chilling on screen. Let’s face it – plants just don’t emit the sort of primal fear a movie like this needs. The natives keeping the Americans at bay are a more interesting bunch, but they aren’t explained or developed. I guess we should simply be thankful the story isn’t about another psychopathic serial killer or some weird creatures in a dark cave.

In the end, one major thing was overlooked throughout the entire film, which made no sense at all – fire. If you’re surrounded by man-eating vines, why not light a huge bonfire and burn them all down? Instead of trying to keep the plants contained, it’s baffling the natives haven’t already taken a blow torch to the pyramid in the first place. No more vines. Problem solved. Then again, if the characters were that smart, I guess we wouldn’t have a movie in the first place, would we?

The Verdict: C+ (79%)
Tags: The Ruins, Movie, Review
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Movie Review – 21
04/02/08 at 07:57 PM by Jonathan Bautts
In the early ‘90s a group of MIT students racked up a few million dollars. How, you might ask? By counting cards while playing blackjack on the weekends in Vegas. Their story was chronicled in Ben Mezrich’s 2002 bestseller “Bringing Down The House” and was naturally destined to appear on the big screen. Unfortunately, the resulting “21” turns out to be a mixed hand.

Having yet to read the book, I don’t know what parts of the film actually took place. My guess is not much as most of the story seems to draw inspiration from tried and true clichés. It’s a simple rags-to-riches, rise-and-fall tale that’s in some ways reminiscent of a John Grisham novel, and it never strays far from those expectations.

Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is a young genius attending MIT who doesn’t have the cash to pay for Harvard Medical School. When asked to join a student blackjack operation run by teacher Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey), he caves in, seeing it as his opportunity to make the 300 grand he needs for Harvard. All is well until he arrives in Vegas and is seduced by its extravagant lifestyle.

Along the way, the film makes use of several conventional devices. Ben has a pair of nerdy friends even though he himself never looks or acts that way, and once his Vegas routine hits full gear, they predictably are pushed aside. Then there’s the matter of Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), the girl Ben has a crush on who just happens to be on the team. She’s a thinly drawn character that is never given clear motivation for why she wants or needs the money and later comes across as a hypocrite when she condemns Ben’s willful behavior.

Thankfully, the presence of veteran actors Spacey and Laurence Fishburne restores a gravitas to the proceedings. While Sturgess (“Across the Universe”) proves adequate as the lead, it’s these two that allow his situation to be taken seriously. It also helps that second-rate director Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde”) has turned in his best work and allows the audience to overlook a portion of the plot’s familiar trappings.

In the end, however, the film can’t decide what kind of story it wants to portray. On the one hand, it longs to be a morality tale, addressing the enticement of greed, gambling and the destruction that usually follows. At its core though it appears more concerned with learning how to beat the system rather than teaching a lesson. That’s fine if you’re “Ocean’s Eleven,” which reveled in glitz and glamour and had the goods to back it up, but since “21” attempts to delve a little deeper, it can’t help but fold under its own contradictions.

The Verdict: B- (82%)
Tags: 21, Movie, Review
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Movie Review – Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears A Who!
03/20/08 at 10:27 PM by Jonathan Bautts
While the works of Dr. Seuss’ hyperactive imagination have mesmerized minds worldwide, their transition to the big screen has had mixed results. Despite Jim Carrey’s amusing antics, 2000’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” never amounted to much as a whole, while 2003’s “The Cat in the Hat” was seriously flawed and critically maligned. Thankfully, the third time proves to be the charm as “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!” finally gets it right.

Combining just the right amount of wackiness, comedy and heart, the film manages to entertain on almost every level. At its center is the relationship between Horton the elephant (Jim Carrey) and the microscopic mayor of Who-ville (Steve Carell), who lives in a speck on a flower. While taking a swim, Horton hears a faint call coming from the speck, discovers the mayor and takes it upon himself to find a new home for the Whos and save them from destruction. However, there’s a slight problem – nobody in either of their respective communities believes the other exists.

Carrey and Carell, two of the funniest comedians alive, are perfectly cast in their roles and feed effortlessly off each other. Carrey is a natural fit on his first foray into animation, bottling up his typical zaniness to mold a loveable character. Meanwhile, Carell is experiencing something of a mid-Who crisis and is fun to watch scurry around trying to make sense of it all. The rest of the cast, including fantastic turns from Carol Burnett and an unrecognizable Will Arnett, also seem to fit their parts and work well together.

Turning a book that can be read in a matter of minutes into a 90-minute film is quite an ordeal. Obviously several elements have to be added and expanded upon; otherwise, it would be a very short movie. Having not read the book in many years, it was hard to distinguish between what was new and what wasn’t, but it all appeared to cohere with Dr. Seuss’ world. One thing that did stand out was how the writers chose to explore in greater depth the faith in the unseen element, which was an effective and relevant touch. The only noteworthy criticism was the ending, which was wrapped up a little too neatly and closed with a song and dance number, which is starting to get annoying.

With “Horton Hears a Who!,” Blue Sky Studios, the company behind the two “Ice Age” movies and “Robots,” has created one of the better non-Pixar animated films in recent memory. With inspired visuals, distinct characters and a cute story, it’s surprisingly well-done. In short, it’s a movie any person, no matter how big or how small, can enjoy.

The Verdict: B (86%)
Tags: Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears A Who, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Movie, Review
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Movie Review – 10,000 BC
03/14/08 at 07:35 PM by Jonathan Bautts
The latest from director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” The Day After Tomorrow”) transports viewers back in time to when mammoths and saber-toothed tigers ruled the earth. Don’t expect a history lesson, though, as any historical accuracy is replaced by a dependence upon filmmaking’s past.

The movie chronicles the struggles of an isolated mountain tribe torn apart after an attack of “four-legged demons,” or strange men on horseback. Young hunter D’Leh (Steven Strait) manages to escape only to see the love of his life, Evolet (Camilla Belle), get carried away. Teaming up with a trio of fellow survivors, including tribe leader Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis), he sets off on a journey to get her back, encountering dangerous creatures, foreign natives and a vast city along the way.

The script, written by Emmerich and composer Harald Kloser (who co-writes with their composer?), proves neither is a gifted writer. The characters, plot, setting and so on are devoid of originality or creative thought. It is obvious the main selling point was the visual component, which is depended on to propel the storytelling as a result. While the visual effects are usually entertaining – really the only worthwhile thing in the movie – they still pale in comparison to Emmerich’s best work and last year’s stylized period epic “300.”

Although the film typically avoids producing boredom, it nevertheless contains several frustrating elements. For starters, the costumes and makeup are entirely unremarkable, reducing half of the cast to wearing dreadful dreadlock wigs. On the whole, the design and feel never fit into a convincing cinematic spectrum, but are brought to an overbearing completion when the film tries to one-up the controversial look of the Persians from “300” towards the end. Speaking of the conclusion, it blatantly rips off “300” (notice a pattern?) and “The Matrix” within moments of one another. It seems whenever the writers got into trouble, they chose to rely either on a string of coincidences – of which there are far too many – or simply lift what worked from other sources.

The story’s narrative construction is also lacking, including its constant voiceover narration and cutting back to the current status of the mountain tribe. In attempting to convey a storybook mood, the devices only hurt the pacing and annoy in the process. Which brings us to the story’s over reliance on superstitions and prophesies. Never effectively integrated, they are only a contrivance used to quickly explain away the story’s weaker sections and should not have been included.

Given Emmerich’s notable filmography, one would have assumed a visit to the prehistoric age would be a good idea. Regrettably, the assumption never proved itself onscreen. What appeared instead was questionable decision making and a poorly told story, causing “10,000 BC” to resemble the extinct remains from a half dozen stronger films.

The Verdict: C (75%)
Tags: 10000 BC, Movie, Review
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Movie Review – Semi-Pro
03/05/08 at 06:40 PM by Jonathan Bautts
Seeing Will Ferrell do the same thing over and over again is starting to get old. While it worked to great effect in “Old School” and “Anchorman,” it began to stumble with “Talladega Nights” before plummeting in last year’s “Blades of Glory.” On his new sports comedy “Semi-Pro,” Ferrell continues a downward trajectory.

In keeping with the actor’s propensity for the self-obsessed and ignorant, Jackie Moon (Ferrell) is the pompous owner, coach and star player of the Flint Tropics. Constantly reminding everyone of his one hit wonder “Love Me Sexy,” his fleeting ticket to fame, the part is firmly rooted in his previous personas. While it might be a different sport this time around, it remains Ferrell’s same old shtick.

It isn’t long before Moon learns the ABA is going to be merging into the NBA at season’s end, and the Tropics won’t be making the jump. He convinces league officials to allow the top four teams to advance, giving his last place team a slim shot at survival. After bringing in grizzled veteran Monix (Woody Harrelson), the Tropics begin inching towards the coveted fourth place finish.

Following the bland “Blades Of Glory,” Ferrell needs a winner to reassert his comedic talent. While it can be said “Semi-Pro” offers a laugh here and there, they are too sporadic to amount to much of anything. Most of its attempts at humor fall flat, and almost all the best moments are shown in the trailers.

Nevertheless, with a slew of familiar faces and cameos – many who have already appeared in Ferrell’s earlier work – the film at least maintains some level of amusement. In spite of this, the acting is still far from par. Will Arnett and Andrew Daly, the Tropics’ sportscasters, have ripe and interesting characters but fail to generate laugh out loud hysterics. The same can be said of Jackie Earle Haley’s thankfully brief turn as a dimwitted bum, which is a complete 180-degree departure from his Oscar nominated role in “Little Children.”

The story itself isn’t anything to write home about either. The characters resemble cardboard cutouts seen countless times before, and the audience is never given any reason to care about them or the team’s impending doom. When the movie aims to establish an emotional resonance toward the end, it simply feels forced and out of place.

When all is said and done, “Semi-Pro” is another miss in Ferrell’s turbulent career, which has produced just as many duds as it has hits. It’s a shame that when he does try something new and fresh, like “Stranger Than Fiction,” hardly anybody watches. In the wake of yet another disappointing outing, Ferrell clearly needs to rediscover his “A” game.

The Verdict: C (74%)
Tags: Semi-Pro, Will Ferrell, Movie, Review
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Movie Review – Be Kind Rewind
02/27/08 at 10:21 PM by Jonathan Bautts
With technology so readily accessible these days, it is easier than ever to make your own home movies or reinterpret scenes from your favorites. “Be Kind Rewind” takes this DIY view of moviemaking and adapts it into a feature-length film aimed at the YouTube generation.

After a nasty run-in with a power plant, Jerry (Jack Black) becomes magnetized and erases all the VHS tapes at his best friend Mike’s (Mos Def) video store. Scrambling to solve the dilemma before their boss (Danny Glover) returns from a business trip, the duo are forced to create their own versions of Hollywood films to stay afloat. These adaptations unexpectedly become a smash hit with the community, and their little operation grows to be quite popular. Nonetheless, their ingenuity is soon faced with a new set of problems — copyright infringements and the impending demolition of the store.

The film stems from the insanely creative mind of writer-director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind”). While it is probably his most mainstream-friendly work to date, it fails to reach the lofty proportions his previous film established. On the one hand, the spoof sequences show off his panache for the quirky and the surreal, but the remainder is often too broadly focused and simple-minded.

Part of this results from the way he relies on the actors to carry the proceedings. Instead of pushing deeper, which resulted in the most heartfelt performance of Jim Carrey’s career in “Eternal Sunshine,” Gondry is content to let the two have at it with their improvisations. Black and Def never stray far from their typical roles — Black is over-the-top zany while straight-man Def tries to be the rational and responsible one. For fans of the actors, this works more often than not throughout the movie, but for those already wary of the two, it likely won’t win them over.

Things also stray downhill during the third act when the film starts to veer off into Frank Capra territory. Relying a little too heavily on a subplot involving local jazz pianist Fats Waller, it never comes together to cohesively gel. A more consistent tone, and, frankly, a better subplot altogether, would have helped the ending from being borderline cheesy.

Despite its shortcomings, “Be Kind Rewind” is a fun and lighthearted frolic. The re-enacted scenes, particularly of “Ghostbusters” and “Driving Miss Daisy,” are easily the highlights, and as a whole, the film delivers a fair amount of laughs. However, this doesn’t prohibit the story from feeling slightly shortsighted and underdeveloped, and it seems like the inherent comic gold of the original idea was never fully mined.

The Verdict: B (84%)
Tags: Be Kind Rewind, Jack Black, Mos Def, Michel Gondry, Movie, Review
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Movie Review – Jumper
02/20/08 at 08:23 PM by Jonathan Bautts
Teleporting through the space-time continuum would be a pretty cool thing to do, and the idea makes for an appealing notion to base a movie around. However, in the sci-fi thriller “Jumper,” this amounts to little more than an afterthought as it becomes the latest victim in the style-over-substance ruse.

The story follows David Rice (Hayden “Anakin” Christenson), who discovers at an early age he has the ability to “jump” to random places. With his “divine insight,” he decides to use this superpower to run away from home and get rich by robbing a bank. Eight years later, David reconnects with his childhood crush Millie (Rachel Bilson), only to be hunted down by Agent Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), one of the Paladins, who have vowed to kill all Jumpers. Meanwhile, Griffin (Jamie Bell), a rogue Jumper, helps David square off against the Paladins.

If you head into this film expecting logical answers, you’ll be sorely disappointed, since the writers never bother to explain what little of the plot there is. How one becomes a Jumper and what makes it even possible is left to the audience’s imagination. A few scattered answers are provided on the Paladin side, but who the Paladins are and why they hate the Jumpers so much is never satisfactorily examined.

These plot holes force director Doug Liman, the man behind such acclaimed films as “Swingers” and “The Bourne Identity,” to use every trick he can think of to distract from the story’s shortcomings. The camera is constantly in a swirl of motion, making sure to show off all of the film’s settings. The visual effects are slickly produced, yet when all is said and done, there is little left to show for them in terms of action set pieces. It’s a telling sign of what the once highly touted Liman has been reduced to.

Liman doesn’t get a whole lot of help from the actors either. Christenson, who only got the part because Fox wanted someone with more “star power” than the actor originally cast, is neither good nor bad — he just is. On the other hand, the white-haired Jackson is never given enough time to sink his teeth into the part, and amounts to little more than a stereotypical villain. Bell is the only one who makes an impression, although his character eventually falls prey to the poor writing as well.

While “Jumper’s” flashy ad campaign tried to exhibit how it was going to be something different, it fails to live up to the hype. It’s not the disaster some critics have been pronouncing; it is simply a sub-par sci-fi romp. In the end, its few entertaining moments make it watchable — so long as you don’t think too hard about it.

The Verdict: C+ (78%)
Tags: Jumper, Doug Liman, Hayden Christenson, Samuel Jackson, Movie, Review
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Movie Review – Persepolis
02/13/08 at 01:32 AM by Jonathan Bautts
“Persepolis” was one of the most critically acclaimed films from last year, picking up the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and numerous nominations during awards season. Its recognition might not be over either, as some believe it might pull off an upset on Oscar night and beat out “Ratatouille” for Best Animated Feature.

Based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, the French film picks up in Iran in 1979 in the midst of the Islamic Revolution. The nine-year-old Marjane witnesses the tyrannical government’s rise to power and the harsh rules it imposes on its people, especially the women. Soon thereafter, the country is thrust into the long running Iran-Iraq War, which forces her to move to Austria for safety’s sake. It takes a while for her to fit in there, and a new series of problems aren’t far behind. Homesick, she moves back to Iran only to discover she can no longer take living in such an oppressed society.

Cut from the same cloth as last year’s Juno MacGuff (of the Oscar-nominated “Juno”), Marjane is a rebellious anti-heroine who never shies away from speaking her mind. Whether refusing to wear her mandated veil, lying to soldiers to get other people in trouble or listening to the forbidden music of Iron Maiden, she is a fish out of water searching for a place to belong.

In much the same way “Sin City” and “300” turned Frank Miller’s graphic novels into live action epics, “Persepolis” translates its unique source to a 2-D backdrop. While the animation isn’t intricately detailed, the way it presents itself shows great creativity. Jumping around in both time and setting, it almost insinuates a move from panel to panel. With its camera movements and shot selection, the film — told almost entirely in black and white — also displays a rogue imagination that refuses to pull punches.

While “Persepolis” does hit a few speed bumps along the way and lacks a strong ending, Marjane’s story is a remarkable one. The real life Satrapi, who served as writer and co-director, does quite a job of putting her experiences up on the big screen in her first film project. While it might not reach the high level of “Ratatouille” — which was, after all, the best reviewed wide release of the entire year — it still shows that animation isn’t solely for kids and fairy tales.

The Verdict: B (83%)
Tags: Persepolis, Movie, Review
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