Movie Reviews – May 2010

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A Town Called Panic
Zeitgeist Films
In Theaters: 04.23
About a decade ago, a series of stop motion short films from Belgium depicting the lives of an odd village inhabited by children’s toys made waves with its eccentric choppy animation style and bizarre storylines. Now, the same creators, Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, have reteamed to deliver an all new adventure that adheres to the same ADD-paced quality of calamities. The chaos commences when Cowboy and Indian, two dimwitted childlike roommates, accidently purchase 50 million bricks to assemble a barbecue pit for their friend/landlord/roommate, Horse, as a birthday present. In order to conceal the error, the two stack the massive remainder on top of Horse’s roof, only to have it crush and ultimately lead to the collapse of the entire home. As the team attempts to rebuild, an unknown presence continues to steal their work in progress, and the three friends must unite in a chase that leads them to the center of the Earth’s core. Any fan of the uncanny mindset of director Michel Gondry will feel right at home with Aubier and Patar’s world of bending disorder, while outsiders may find it too hectic or odd. Either way you see it, no one can deny the exuberant spirit that surrounds the duo’s imaginative landscapes and props that include a room-sized circular piano and a weaponized robotic penguin that hurls snowballs at unsuspecting victims. Welcome to the wonderful world of the weird! —Jimmy Martin

Clash of the Titans
Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 04.02
For those of you whose feet weren’t turned into blobs of aching jelly from walking countless miles across Narnia and Middle Earth, this mediocre refurbishment of the 1981 Greek mythological classic will certainly add a few more parading steps to your journey. In this version, the gods of Mount Olympus are not pleased with the citizens of Argos, as the majority of its inhabitants have turned their backs on them. In an act of vengeance, Zeus (Liam Neeson) permits his banished brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to unleash terror on the insubordinates with a controversial proposition: sacrifice the adored Princess Andromeda within 10 days, or endure the wrath of the dreaded Kraken, which looks more like a Rancor with Down’s syndrome. And who, might you ask, can stop this infernal beady-eyed beast? The answer comes in the form of the bastard offspring of a mortal human and Zeus, Perseus (Sam Worthington), whose adopted family was murdered by Hades earlier. In an attempt to discover the monster’s vulnerabilities, the demigod sets out on a perilous quest that inevitably leads to several encounters with smaller deadly creatures. Forget the fact that the 3-D, transferred in post-production, is completely nonexistent and more proof that the technology is overused and essentially a gimmick to charge more for admission: the story itself is just as absent. A few hammy jokes separate the CGI-filled action sequences, but it isn’t until the climactic finale that the screen hurriedly bursts with life (and death!) with an airborne assault aboard a Pegasus. This rushed flying fight isn’t nearly enough to salvage the first two humdrum acts. –Jimmy Martin

Date Night
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 04.09
Piggybacking on the successes of their own NBC sitcom personalities, Steve Carell and Tina Fey star in this action-comedy hybrid that pits two small town suburbanites against the unforgiving nature of the Big Apple. The two play Phil and Claire Foster, typical busy American parents of two with demanding full-time jobs and essentially no time to maintain the flame of their monotonous marriage. In an effort to rekindle the spark after learning of their friends’ pending divorce, Phil plans a romantic Manhattan nightlife experience for his exhausted bride, but the two soon find their lives in danger after being mistaken for blackmailers against the mob. The reason the film refrains from sinking to the bottom of the Hudson River rests solely on the shoulders of its two stars (and hilariously brief cameos from a shirtless Mark Wahlberg and a down-and-out couple delivered by James Franco and Mila Kunis). The “wrong man” storyline has been done time and time again, but it’s the charismatic chemistry built between Carell and Fey that will keep the audience interested in their characters’ well-being. Had director Shawn Levy utilized the undeniable improvisational talents of his leading cast, he might have delivered a more memorable experience, but at least he’s somewhat redeemed himself from his previous comedic failures. –Jimmy Martin

Death at a Funeral
Screen Gems
In Theaters: 04.16
There’s a distressing trend in the world of cinema wherein foreign films aren’t given the opportunity to find their overseas audience before an American rendition is churned out. It was only three years ago that Frank Oz offered this humorous tale of a family uniting together after the death of a loved one, but it was determined that another adaptation should be generated by Neil LaBute. Aaron’s (Chris Rock) father’s funeral immediately starts off on the wrong foot when the funeral home delivers the wrong body—but that’s the least of the aspiring novelist’s worries. His grieving mother is more obsessed with him having a grandchild than the death of her husband, and his accommodating wife is eager to make it happen as soon as possible. To make matters worse, his pompous, best-selling author brother, Ryan (Martin Lawrence), arrives as the family favorite, eager to give the eulogy that Aaron has been assigned to recite. All of that aside, Aaron’s biggest dilemma comes from an unknown guest who shared a special bond with his deceased father and demands $30,000 to keep their relationship a secret. Other than the hilarious hallucinogenic performance provided by a nude James Marsden and an amusing smarmy act provided by Peter Dinklage, who starred in the original, the entire cast continuously shouts over one another, leaving a disparaging mess of unfunny drivel. On second thought, there’s nothing like witnessing the tiresome Tracy Morgan being punished for the monstrosity of “Cop Out” by having Danny Glover spray him with explosive diarrhea. Bravo! –Jimmy Martin

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Music Box Films
In Theaters: 04.16
If you want to enjoy the genuine callousness delivered in Stieg Larsson’s dark novel on the silver screen, check out the enthralling Swedish release rather than the surely diluted Hollywood rendition due out in 2012. After being set up and wrongfully convicted in a libel suit against a corrupted socialite, disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is offered a peculiar job by the notorious entrepreneur Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube). Four decades earlier, Henrik’s beloved niece vanished without a trace and was presumed dead. With the case remaining unsolved, the now-ailing uncle suspects a member of his own family as the culprit and wants Mikael to solve it before his time on Earth is up. Secretly observing the investigation from afar is troubled computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) who has taken an interest in Mikael’s life only to find herself caught and invited to join the case. As the trail of clues surfaces, the list of possible suspects grows and the risk factor increases until the shocking, multi-layered conclusion unravels. While Nyqvist holds his own quite well in this engrossing, suspenseful thriller, it’s Rapace who steals the show as the story spotlights her unsettling past and the disturbing interactions with her misogynist, court-arranged guardian. Director Niels Arden Oplev exposes a sadistic world with unimaginable horrors but does so with an invigorating pace and well-rounded characters. –Jimmy Martin

The Human Centipede: First Sequence
IFC Films
In Theaters: 05.07
I’ve never been to Europe, but the more horror films I watch with American tourists being butchered by psychopathic foreigners, the less likely I am to ever go. Add a point to the “Fuck Europe” scoreboard with the release of writer/director Tom Six’s tale of two female friends, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), as they road trip through Germany only to have a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, not only ruining their night but their lives as well. As the two wander through a forest in search of shelter, they stumble upon the home of the unpleasant Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser), a retired surgeon renowned for separating Siamese twins. The arrival of the girls is a blessing to the psycho physician’s demonic plan to cease separating life and begin creating it. After being drugged, the girls awaken next to a stranger in a makeshift hospital room as Dr. Heiter gives a step-by-step medical presentation of his intentions to create a three-person conjoined being connected by one gastric system (ass-to-mouth). It’s not a pretty sight. The film starts off shakily with ill-fitting dialogue delivered amateurishly by Williams and Yennie, but the arrival of Laser rescues the production and sends it soaring into the realm of terror. Six successfully captures a heightened sense of hopelessness as he clearly reveals that anyone can wield an ax or chainsaw, but true terror comes from those with a medical degree who can properly handle a scalpel.—Jimmy Martin

The Joneses
Roadside Attractions
In Theaters: 04.16
The level of commercial consumption in this country is astronomical. It’s no wonder millions of citizens find themselves in financial trouble, especially when they’re told that if they cease to shop, “the terrorists win.” However, Big Brother’s intimidating words and catchy commercial jingles aren’t powerful enough to push products into households at demanding corporations’ desired rate. Instead, a personal touch is required to pique the neighborhood’s interest, and that’s when the Joneses are dispatched. From the outside, this quintessential family appears to have it all: Steve (David Duchovny) sports the latest electronics and the flashiest cars, while his beautiful wife, Kate (Demi Moore), showcases enviable fashion accessories and household items. Their teenage children, Mick and Jenn, are the epitome of cool at their school, as they own the newest video games and beauty cosmetics. On the inside, this supposed “family” is in fact an unrelated marketing team hired by various corporations to advertise their high-end products in order to build awareness around wealthy communities. While the majority of the team has performed their occupational responsibilities before, this is Steve’s first assignment and the ruse of a faux marriage and the manipulation of others begin to weigh on his conscience, which places the entire operation in jeopardy. First-time writer/director Derrick Borte’s dramatic comedy is so simple yet so brilliant, it leaves a savory trace of satisfaction you’ll want to consume over and over. Duchovny and Moore deliver their most captivating performances in years in this clever jab at America’s infatuation with competing social statuses. –Jimmy Martin

Kick-Ass
Lionsgate
In Theaters: 04.16
While the idea of a superhero with the power of flight or invisibility strolling around town may seem preposterous, there’s no reason why a simple masked vigilante can’t patrol the streets to fight crime. At least that’s the theory of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), as he purchases a scuba suit and batons and attempts to thwart two car thieves with disastrous results. After an extended stay in the hospital with multiple metal plates inserted throughout his body (think X-Men’s Wolverine) and enduring several severed nerve endings that restrict pain, Dave reenters the world of crime fighting only to have his alter ego, Kick-Ass, wind up on YouTube with epic results. On the other side of town, the daddy-daughter relationship of Damon (Nicolas Cage) and Mindy (Chloe Moretz) isn’t of the norm, as the caring father hilariously tests out bulletproof vests on his darling child and purchases butterfly knives for birthday presents. At night, these two weapons-obsessed watchdogs protect the city as the dangerous duo of Big Daddy and Hit Girl and direct their vengeful efforts directly toward the town’s biggest mob boss. As Kick-Ass’ popularity increases, the deadly pair establish contact and offer a partnership, but the small-time hero isn’t sure if the reality of battling bad guys long-term is in his best interest. Be that as it may, he may not have a choice. Director Matthew Vaughn has unleashed an ultra-violent, teetering-on-absurd glimpse at the world of comic books that indecisively shifts back and forth from cruel to comical but is always entertaining nonetheless. The lacking performances from Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are totally eclipsed by the domineering presence of 13-year-old Moretz and her foul mouth that would make a sailor blush just before she shot him in the face.—Jimmy Martin

The Runaways
Apparition
In Theaters: 04.09
The 1970s rarely saw girls playing electric guitars or rocking out with the opposite sex. The idea was too taboo, which is exactly why one of the first all-girl punk rock bands, The Runaways, made international headlines after slashing barriers with their relentless sex-kitten claws. In this biopic, inspired by lead singer Cherie Currie’s memoirs, the story follows the rise and fall of the girls’ stardom and the destructive nature that came with their celebrity status. Primarily told from the perspective of an underage Currie (Dakota Fanning), the audience witnesses the juvenile’s introduction to the harsh realities of a rock n’ roll lifestyle and the semi-romantic relationship established with bandmate, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart). Director Floria Sigismondi offers a color-by-numbers approach to rock band biopics by refusing to capture anything original aside from the story itself. Complete with a floating newspaper headline montage and a heckler simulation scene, there’s nothing that hasn’t already been seen in similar films. Aside from that, the most distracting element of the film comes from the adolescent actresses’ inability to project the necessary drama required for the raw subject material. And to make matters worse, witnessing a 15-year-old Fanning decked out in Frederick’s of Hollywood garb will make any adult male cringe in their seat. The only redemption comes from the maniacal outbursts of Michael Shannon in his role as the girls’ verbally abusive manager, Kim Fowley, who refuses to water down his abrasive instructional methods for the sugar and spice makeup. –Jimmy Martin

YOU SHOULD'VE WORN A CONDOM

Babies
Focus Features
In Theaters: 05.07
In the world of marketing, there are two fundamental tricks inserted into advertisements to cheaply entice interest in a product: puppies and babies. It appears documentarian Thomas Balmes is attempting to test the latter’s appeal in the world of cinema with his latest creation––as his poster’s tagline optimistically states, “Everybody loves…” With no narration or subtitles attached to this international exploration, Balmes travels the globe and voyeuristically films the first year of life of four newborns as they grow physically and mentally in polar opposite environments. While Hattie (San Francisco, California) and Mari (Tokyo, Japan) attend air-conditioned infant socials and have the latest in medical technology at their tiny fingertips, Bayar (Bayanchandmani, Mongolia) and Ponijao (Opuwo, Namibia) endure the harsher elements of Mother Nature while enjoying the company of wild animals at their bedside. It’s a simplistic yet endearing tale of juxtaposition and how, while oceans may separate our cultures by thousands of miles, at the core of our conception, we’re all the same—some kids just have better toys. The greatest element Balmes exposes are the unnecessary safety precautions and alternative practices hippie parents of developed countries place upon their unsuspecting children and the inconsequential effect they have when compared to the blossoming children of the Third World. Witnessing a horrified Hattie attempt to escape her beatnik mother’s chant circle by clawing at the exit door is worth the price of admission. The only negative is that, even with a short 75-minute running time, Babies can still sometimes feel tedious and repetitive, forcing viewers to wonder where Balmes is so they can briefly hand back the crying bunch. –Jimmy Martin