Movie Reviews – July 2010

The A-Team
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 06.11
The understatement of the decade comes from Jessica Biel’s character that hunts down the infamous ragtag team and declares they “specialize in the ridiculous.” From the opening airborne sequence to an explosive shipyard finale, Joe Carnahan’s resurrection of the 1980s television series packs more edge-of-your-seat action in two hours than every summer blockbuster in 2009 combined. After longtime comrades Hannibal (Liam Neeson) and Face (Bradley Cooper) meet the robust B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) and the batty Murdock (Sharlto Copley) for the first time and survive an exhilarating helicopter chase over Mexico, the four form an unbreakable bond and soon become the military’s most valuable asset. While stationed on the outskirts of Baghdad, the squad is secretly assigned to recover U.S. currency plates from a terrorist cell, but when the mission goes awry and a U.S. general is murdered, the four soldiers are setup to take the fall and are wrongfully sent to prison. Rather than receiving religion behind bars, the group accepts the ideals of revenge against those responsible and does so in a series of outlandish escapades and unbelievable stunts all while avoiding capture from law enforcement. Carnahan executes all the right moves by refusing to take himself or the production series too seriously and unleashes one hell of a ride with one action sequence after another. He utilizes his more talented actors (i.e. Neeson & Copley) with more screen time and lets his less capable actors (i.e. “Rampage”) shine with witty dialogue and callbacks to the original series. To be fair, the entire plot is convoluted and easily exchangeable, but none of that matters when massive fireball explosions are lighting up the screen every 15 minutes to distract the audience. –Jimmy Martin

Fox Searchlight Pictures
In Theaters: 07.16
The Duplass brothers, directors of The Puffy Chair and Baghead, return with their third feature film about a lonely and socially awkward divorcee, John (John C. Reilly), who discovers his ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), is getting remarried. Just as a sense of never-ending misery seems to settle, John meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) while urinating in a bush and instantly reignites his position toward love and companionship. To his surprise, everything appears to be going well for the new couple until John meets Cyrus (Jonah Hill), Molly’s overly pampered son, who’s not at all enthusiastic about his mother’s new boyfriend. As their relationship becomes more serious, the spoiled son’s eccentric behaviors become increasingly disruptive forcing John to push back. The directing duo succeeds in developing a well-proportioned comedy with enough soul and sentiment to separate itself from other mundane slapstick comedies. Reilly, who hasn’t had the opportunity to flaunt his true dramatic acting capabilities since Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, is brilliant as the drowning bachelor who can’t seem to catch a break, but it’s Hill who surprisingly carries out an unexpected yet hilarious career-defining performance. –Jimmy Martin

Get Him to the Greek
In Theaters: 06.04
Similar to Kevin Smith and his View Askew-niverse, it appears director Nicholas Stoller and his screenwriters are attempting to create a fictional community where minor characters from one film become major characters in another. Russell Brand returns as the crude English rock star Aldous Snow (last seen in 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall) who has become a raging alcoholic gracing the cover of every tabloid magazine since his celebrity girlfriend dumped him and his latest album African Child was referred to as the worst thing to hit the continent since the apartheid. Across the pond, up-and-coming record producer Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) attempts to win the respect of his aggressive boss (Sean “Diddy” Combs) by suggesting that a reunion concert with Aldous is a sure moneymaker. After both parties agree to the event, Aaron is sent to chaperone the singing sensation back to the States but is caught up in the wild world of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, jeopardizing his life both professionally and personally. What starts off as an out-of-control comedy with ridiculously funny mock music videos and droll banter between the two leads ends on a dour note of unwanted sentimentality. Brand’s character isn’t powerful enough to keep audiences interested for the entire duration and should have remained as only a memorable sidekick two years ago. Ironically, , the funniest bits this time around come from the side characters including Combs and quick appearances from Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and The Today Show’s Meredith Vieira. –Jimmy Martin

The Karate Kid
Columbia Pictures
In Theaters: 06.11
There’s an enormous difference between a reimagining and a remake. The first allows a director to feed off the foundation of the previous film, but molds the project into a fresh undertaking, giving it new life and originality. The latter latches itself to the underbelly of the source material and suckles so much second-hand substance one begins to question why they’re not watching the original. In the case of Harald Zwart’s take on the 1984 classic, he’s batting about 20% reimagining and 80% remake. Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is forced to move from Detroit, Michigan to Beijing, China with his widowed mother. As quickly as he establishes an attraction with a fellow student, Dre is introduced to the art of kung-fu from the school bully’s relentless punches and kicks. With the beat downs becoming too unbearable to endure, Dre finds rescue and solace in the martial arts teachings of Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the building’s maintenance man. While Mr. Han trains Dre for a tournament to face his nemesis once and for all, the two delicate souls build an everlasting friendship between master and student. There’s so much dialogue and situations taken from the original film, it’s hard to reconnect on a unique level, but Zwart does go above and beyond with other elements. The graceful movements of kung-fu come across much more beautifully on-screen than the former art form, which generates more captivating fight choreography with enchanting cinematography. Chan, who displays both his agility and dramatic acting skills, is the most appropriate candidate to replace the beloved Pat Morita. Younger generations who have never experienced the first installation and older generations who have only watched it once or twice will savor this modernized version, but true fans will certainly demand the return of Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi. –Jimmy Martin

Knight and Day
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 06.23
Think what you will about Tom Cruise’s personal life and his attempts to fill Katie Holmes’ brain with Scientology propaganda, the man knows how to take charge of an action film. He’s been doing it for over two decades and clearly still has the chops. Thus, it’s no surprise that the veteran keeps the intensity flowing in James Mangold’s tale of government espionage in a world overflowing with professional assassins. But it’s a shame it comes to a screeching halt when he’s removed from the equation for the majority of the third act. To the untrained eye, the initial bump-in between Roy Miller (Cruise) and June Havens (Cameron Diaz) in an airport would seem serendipitous, but seeing that one is a government agent gone rogue smuggling a perpetual super battery across the globe, it’s clear their encounter wasn’t a coincidence at all. As the screaming, hands-waving-in-the-air Diaz continuously finds herself caught in the explosive crossfire, she can’t help but find herself attracted to the mysterious stranger recently deemed public enemy No. 1. Mangold supplies his characters with enough time to build an unconventional yet believable relationship surrounded by unbelievable yet captivating action sequences. Cruise delivers a comically calm, cool and collected demeanor that plays off nicely while firing a sub-machine gun at a carload of baddies. However, the film runs out of ammunition by the finale when Diaz is forced to command the screen without her charm or her competent co-star. –Jimmy Martin

20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 06.04
I never believed in euthanizing animals unless it was absolutely necessary, but in the case of the live action version of Marmaduke, I’m willing to make an exception. Adapted from Brad Anderson’s mind-numbingly boring comic strip, the mind-numbingly boring movie follows the Great Dane (voiced by Owen Wilson) and his hackneyed family as they move from the rustic cornfields of Kansas to the sandy pompous beaches of southern California for a job the owner takes with an organic dog food company. As Wilson narrates the daily hardships that an awkward teenage dog must face, his transition to the neighborhood only becomes more difficult after he runs into the intimidating pedigrees at the local dog park led by Bosco, an archetypal jock/bully Doberman pinscher voiced by Kiefer Sutherland. In order to survive the clichéd high school clique atmosphere, the oversized mutt befriends a group of outcasts but secretly yearns to woo the most popular bitch in the pack. How does he win her heart you ask? With a doggie surfing competition of course! Essentially, it’s The Sure Thing and Can’t Buy Me Love casted with talking animals while fart jokes literally open and close the film. Wilson proves his one-dimensional vocal talents are just as bad when attached to a dog as they were when linked to a racecar four years ago in Pixar’s Cars. And if Sam Elliott’s involvement as the mysterious Chupadogra isn’t the icing on the failure cake to finally divert you, maybe the thought of a massive doggie dance sequence will do the trick. –Jimmy Martin

Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 06.04
The horror genre is probably the most difficult venture a filmmaker can undertake due to its unbelievably thin line between approval and hatred. Director Vincenzo Natali is no stranger to the genre. His last horror project, Cube, received acclaim at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, but his latest production, Splice, which was also featured at Sundance this year, certainly won’t be receiving the same accolades. Biochemists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) have both a professional and personal relationship. In the lab, they splice DNA from multiple organisms in order to develop cures for riddling diseases. At home, they discuss their hypothetical plans for parenthood. When it’s announced their lab is shutting down, the influential Elsa coerces Clive into performing one last experiment that involves the illegal addition of human DNA to the formula. What spawns is a half-human, half-creature hybrid the couple name Dren (Delphine Chanéac). As they take the miracle of science under their wing as the potential child they always wanted, they must avoid the condemning eyes of their coworkers and financers, but a secret this monumental can’t stay concealed forever. The first two-thirds of the film include some of the most intelligent science-fiction content and arguments in recent years. The debates between the ethics of human cloning and the humane treatment of the outcome are astounding. It isn’t until the last act when everything crumbles apart with campy thrill tactics and laughable interactions amongst the characters. Not to mention an end shot much too serious for the absurd tone Natali ultimately created. Brody and Polley both put in admirable performances, but it’s Polley who outshines the Oscar-winner with her veiled masculine demeanor. –Jimmy Martin

Toy Story 3
In Theaters: 06.18
It’s unbelievable how Pixar has managed to deliver quality filmmaking over and over for the past 15 years without missing a beat, and the release of their eleventh feature-film is no exception. The third installment to the Toy Story franchise is, without a doubt, the best of the series, and that’s unheard of with trilogies (i.e. The Godfather and Back to the Future). It’s hilarious, heartfelt and a beautiful bon voyage to an exceptional collection of characters. Several years have passed and Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang spend their dusty days inside a toy chest conjuring up schemes that’ll force their owner, Andy, to play with them. Unfortunately, their efforts are futile. Andy has grown up and is getting ready for college and in the chaos and confusion of the move, the toys are accidently donated to Sunnyside Day Care. While initially depressed from the separation, the toys are immediately greeted by a friendly mob of new toys along with their paterfamilias Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty) and are told of the delightful experiences available in their new home. However, the crew soon endures the horrific realities of rampant toddlers and the maximum security prison setup formed by Lots-O. In order to break out and make their way back to Andy, the toys must make Steve McQueen’s Great Escape look like mere child’s play. As wonderful as it is to see the return of the regulars, the addition of fresh characters including a pompous fashionista Ken (Michael Keaton) add even more hilarity to the film. Pixar’s greatest strength, besides the stunning visuals and boundless imaginative gags, is their ability to generate stories both young and old audiences can enjoy, and the age range for potential fans this time around is infinite. –Jimmy Martin

Winter’s Bone
Roadside Attractions
In Theaters: 07.09
Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 17-year-old with more responsibilities than most adults living in the Ozark Mountains. Her father left her handicapped mother and two younger siblings behind to sell drugs, so the teenager is in charge of cooking, cleaning, chopping wood and teaching her younger siblings how to spell and do math. The word childhood doesn’t apply for her. When Ree is informed of her father’s most recent arrest, she is also notified that he put their property up for bond and skipped his court date. With only a week before her entire family become homeless, Ree hunts down her father by kicking over every rock and interrogating every family member in the impoverished area, especially her insolent uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes). Lawrence commands the screen with surprisingly powerful maturity, overpowering actors three times her age, but it’s Hawkes who fights back delivering an Oscar-worthy performance that projects as much tenderness as he does terror. Director Debra Granik flawlessly captures the frightening spirit of the rugged outback and its male-dominated society where women are projected as lower class citizens. Not since Deliverance has a film brought the veiled existence of America’s countryside’s ghastly ventures to light. –Jimmy Martin