Posting Reviews on hiatus.

January 14th, 2012

With the Daily Herald switching to a subscription model to see Dann’s reviews, posting them here has been suspended until we can work out all the legal details.

Sudeikis stars in tasteless sex comedy

September 4th, 2011
Jason Sudeikis and Tyler Labine in "A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy" Eric (Jason Sudeikis), left, and Mike (Tyler Labine) decide to throw “A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy” for their friends during Labor Day Weekend.

Mike, an overgrown frat boy played by Tyler Labine, summarizes this movie best when he shouts, “This is the worst orgy ever!”

Contrary to its misleading positive adjective, “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy” qualifies as the worst orgy comedy ever.

The only good thing to be found in this badly written, badly acted film would be a fleeting reference to “The Goonies.” That’s pretty much the pinnacle of cleverness in a comedy about friends who agree to have group sex with each other during a major blowout Labor Day weekend party.

This movie is so humor-challenged that the outtakes over the closing credits — traditionally a sure crowd-pleaser — are laugh-deprived bores that beg the question: Why are they even on the screen?

The characters are thin and juvenile. The dialogue is sophomoric. The moral to the story is a head-scratching cop-out suggesting that intimate sexual contact between friends either 1) works better than eharmony.com in finding that perfect person, or 2) has no lasting emotional side effects on anyone at all.

Man, this movie really takes the cake. And the kitchen sink. And the toilet.

Every year, Eric, an arrested juvenile trapped in the body of a thirtysomething man (“SNL” star Jason Sudeikis), plans a big end-of-summer party for his longtime friends in his mansionlike house in the Hamptons that actually belongs to his globe-trotting daddy (Don Johnson). (Read more…)

Rudd’s charm drives ‘Our Idiot Brother’

August 27th, 2011
Paul Rudd in "Our Idiot Brother" Ned is “Our Idiot Brother,” a pleasant and innocuous little comedy with a low-key charm from Paul Rudd.

“Our Idiot Brother” is a pleasant, innocuous little comedy given extra bounce and life by Paul Rudd’s charming and fluid performance as an idealistic man whose heart exceeds the size of his brain.

The first scene tells us everything we need to know about Jesse Peretz’s leisurely directing style.

A uniformed cop comes to an organic farm stand and asks a hippie-looking dude named Ned (Rudd) for some illicit weed.

Ned denies he has any. But after the cop practically begs for a dimebag (he’s had a really bad week, he says), Ned reluctantly gives him some grass. Then, the cop keeps insisting he wants to pay for it, until Ned finally gives in and quotes him a price.

“You’re under arrest!” the cop says.

“You’re kidding!” Ned replies.

Instead of instantly cutting to a shot of Ned in prison — a punchy visual requiring our brains to fill in the gaps — Peretz has Ned continue to talk to the cop until the officer finally convinces him that he’s seriously under arrest.

Not punchy. (Read more…)

‘Dark’ remake an all-too-familiar creature feature

August 27th, 2011
Bailee Madison in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" In “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” Sally (Bailee Madison) takes a bath as ancient creatures assault her.

Weirdly enough, the scariest made-for-TV movies ever created come from the 1970s:

1. “The Night Stalker” (1972), with Darren McGavin as a sartorially challenged reporter on the trail of a serial killer he starts to think could be a vampire. It inspired an uninspired sequel (“The Night Strangler”) and a Chicago-based TV series, a precursor of “The X-Files.”

2. “Trilogy of Terror” (1975), a failed TV series pilot starring Karen Black as four characters in three short stories from genre genius Richard Matheson. Forget the first two segments. The last one, “Amelia,” is the classic in which Black’s apartment dweller struggles to survive an attack from a warrior doll.

3. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” a 1973 thriller that “Pan’s Labyrinth” director Guillermo del Toro thought was so scary when was 9 years old that he grew up to rewrite it and produce it as a theatrical feature starring Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes.

And here it is, director Troy Nixey’s “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” starring Bailee Madison as a little girl who moves into in an old dark house with something evil in the basement.

It’s standard-issue, potboiler plotting, all about Sally (the appealingly realistic Madison), who has no idea there are worse things in the world than having terrible, self-absorbed parents. (Read more…)

‘One Day’ feels oh-so-much longer

August 23rd, 2011
Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in "One Day" The relationship between Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) changes over time in “One Day.”

Maybe it was all more resonant, more poignant on the page: the many highs and lows and major life shifts that occur during the decades-spanning friendship/romance between Emma and Dexter in “One Day.”

But here they feel so cursory and rushed, it’s as if we’re watching a filmed version of the CliffsNotes of David Nicholls’ best-seller. Nicholls himself adapted his novel into the screenplay, and the amount of material he tries to cram in suggests he didn’t know how or when to let go of his baby.

It’s a handsome misfire, though, with its tasteful production design and impeccable costumes — all very British. And it’s all the more curious coming from Danish director Lone Scherfig, whose last film was the excellent “An Education” (2009), which was nominated for three Academy Awards including best picture. That film had a piercing insight about it, a startling honesty beneath its glamorous exterior. Nothing of the sort is to be found here.

The central conceit is this: Em (Anne Hathaway) and Dex (Jim Sturgess) meet after a long night of post-college graduation partying on July 15, 1988. She’s self-consciously middle-class, he’s breezily posh. They jump into bed but decide to remain just friends — but we all know where that’s headed.

“One Day” keeps coming back to that one day, year after year, and checks in with them as they date other people, forge careers, share awkward dinners and basically wait around until the eventual July 15 when they’ll be together. (Read more…)

Humor, horror put bite in ‘Fright Night’

August 23rd, 2011
Colin Farrell and Anton Yelchin in "Fright Night" Jerry the vampire (Colin Farrell) teaches Charley the teenager (Anton Yelchin) a lesson about crucifixes in the horror remake “Fright Night.”

Craig Gillespie’s “Fright Night” isn’t just a clever and entertaining remake; it takes the nuts and lightning bolts of Tom Holland’s 1985 comically scary horror film and tweaks them into something fresh and bold.

Holland, who directed and wrote the original film — starring the late Roddy McDowall and Chris Sarandon — refurbished the storyline himself.

This, no doubt, is why the update works so well. (Holland also wrote the respectable sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “Psycho,” so the guy knows the genre.)

Plus, Gillespie has just the right off-kilter sensibility to pull off this remake, as evidenced by his quirky 2007 romance “Lars and the Real Girl,” in which Ryan Gosling takes up romance with a mannequin.

A third and major reason “Fright Night” is so watchable: Colin Farrell’s ingeniously engaging performance as Jerry the neighborhood vampire.

Chris Sarandon played the original Jerry (he has a cameo as Jay Dee here) with cool, GQ aplomb.

Farrell’s Jerry becomes a merry prankster who’s so amused by teenage Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin, replacing William Ragsdale) and his pathetic attempts to stop him, he taunts and toys with the poor guy for a while.

Then things get nasty. (Read more…)

Flashes of inspiration can’t brighten ‘Conan’

August 23rd, 2011
Jason Momoa and Rachel Nichols in "Conan the Barbarian" Conan the Cimmerian (Jason Momoa) defends a “pure blood” woman (Rachel Nichols) from assault in Marcus Nispel’s 3-D remake of John Milius’ “Conan the Barbarian.”

In the early days of the ancient Hyborian Age, everyone apparently had access to excellent dental care, because the poor peasants in Marcus Nispel’s remake of “Conan the Barbarian” possess perfect sets of choppers.

However, the unfortunate warriors under the command of the warlord Khalar Zym obviously went with a cheaper health plan, because their teeth look terrible.

I only bring this up because teeth are supposed to be one of those things you don’t pay much attention to while watching an R-rated, action-packed tale of violence and vengeance.

But after about 40 minutes of numbing nonstop 3-D slashing and bashing, lopping and chopping, slicing and dicing, torment and torture, my mind began wandering.

I started to notice the anachronistic perfect smiles, the cheap-looking, digitally created blood spurts, the unreal, computer-generated landscapes, and Rachel Nichols’ ridiculously flat, mechanical line readings as a female warrior named Tamara.

These issues could be overlooked in a sword-and-sorcery movie if it sweeps us along with a riveting story and has well-wrought characters we can invest our emotions in.

“Conan the Barbarian” is not that movie. (Read more…)

‘Final Destination 5′ falls prey to formula

August 14th, 2011
Aziz Ansari and Jesse Eisenberg in "30 Minutes or Less" Molly (Emma Bell) struggles to survive a horrible bridge collapse in the horror sequel “Final Destination 5.” It’s in 3-D, of course.

Fans of the popular “Final Destination” horror films will be thrilled and amazed by the clever ending of the fifth entry in the decade-old series.

But first, they’ll have to sit through 90 minutes of some of the most creatively torpid filmmaking since the last “Friday the 13th” sequel.

For readers unfamiliar with the “Final Destination” formula, here are the basics:

An attractive young adult experiences a premonition of disaster just before it actually takes place. (So far, we’ve seen a jetliner explosion, multivehicle pileups, a stock car race demolition derby and a fun roller coaster accident.)

The prognosticating protagonist survives, along with several other people susceptible enough to his delusional ravings to follow him to safety.

But Death will not be cheated, you know.

So, each of the survivors gets systematically knocked off by a giant shadowy entity that sets in motion a hilariously intricate sequence of improbable events conspiring to kill the unsuspecting victims in inventively gross methods that Rube Goldberg might conceive during an acid trip while watching a Dario Argento movie.

In “Final Destination 5,” Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) dreams that he and his fellow employees at a paper company (not Michael Scott) are on a bus headed for a retreat when a suspension bridge becomes de-suspended. (Read more…)

’30 Minutes’ a frantic action comedy

August 14th, 2011
Aziz Ansari and Jesse Eisenberg in "30 Minutes or Less" Chet (Aziz Ansari), left, and Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) plot to steal a car in the shrill action comedy “30 Minutes or Less.”

“30 Minutes or Less” might have been a lickety-split action comedy had its running time actually been 30 minutes or less.

Ruben Fleischer’s movie runs a scant 83 minutes as it is, and that still gives his annoying, caffeinated characters plenty of time to wear out their energetic, promising welcome during the first act of a two-and-a-half act comedy.

Fleischer reunites with his “Zombieland” star Jesse Eisenberg in a project clearly intended to follow the model of the popular, quick and quirky undead horror comedy that works where this one does not.

Eisenberg brings his patented brand of nervous twitchiness to Nick, a slacker pizza delivery guy who drives like Burt Reynolds in a Hal Needham movie just to get the goods to the customer in under a half-hour.

As we see, he’s not all that successful, despite burning the tire tread.

Nick’s best friend Chet (the personable Aziz Ansari) has landed a job as a teacher. Despite taking a brave step into adulthood, Chet realizes his example is lost on Nick, who initiates incredulously childish, destructive fights that no normal friendship could withstand. (Chet takes responsibility for the divorce of Nick’s parents; Nick tortures Chet with details of how he deflowered Chet’s twin sister Kate, played by Dilshad Vadsaria.) (Read more…)

‘The Help’ works with sharp humor, excellent acting

August 12th, 2011
Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis in "The Help" Skeeter (Emma Stone), left, befriends “The Help” — Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) — so she can write an expose on the snooty, racist white women in a Southern town during the Civil Rights era.

Set in Mississippi during the violent Civil Rights era, “The Help” uses lots of crisp humor and sharply drawn, well-cast characters to empathize with the plight of black women working as house servants for self-centered, racist white women.

Tate Taylor’s movie, based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, focuses on a white, wannabe journalist named Skeeter (played by Emma Stone) who interviews these black women and records their revealing, personal stories in an anonymously written book titled “The Help.”

It doesn’t actually change anything, but it apparently makes everyone feel better.

Adopting a light, comic approach laced with serious turns (“Steel Magnolias” comes to mind), “The Help” comes dangerously close to becoming another one of those white savior movies in which a noble and just white character selflessly fights for the rights and dignity of minorities unable to help themselves.

Here, the black women are quite adept at survival tactics to get through the daily injustices heaped upon them by the South’s continuing slave culture and the childish behavior of their employers, socially elite white ladies.

Although Skeeter serves as the main character who draws together the unheard stories of the invisible help, the real hero is Aibileen Clark, a black woman who puts her income and safety on the line to tell Skeeter the truth about her life and the insensitivity of the Southern culture. (Read more…)