Archive for March, 2011

‘Lincoln Lawyer’ a sleazy, breezy tale

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
Michael Pena and Matthew McConaughey in "The Lincoln Lawyer" Jesus (Chicago actor Michael Pena), left, protests his innocence on a murder charge to attorney Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) in “The Lincoln Lawyer.”

If you think “The Lincoln Lawyer” refers to Abraham Lincoln, forget that.

Mick Haller hardly qualifies as an honest lawyer.

He’s shifty, manipulative, selfish, slick and oily.

The Lincoln he admires the most is the Continental his chauffeur drives while he rides in the back seat, working on dockets of nickel-chaser cases involving some of Los Angeles’ lowest-class denizens.

But when Haller becomes convinced that a massive injustice has been perpetrated — and that he has played an inadvertent role in it — some small spark of decency ignites and the attorney sets out to re-balance the scales of justice.

If “The Lincoln Lawyer” feels vaguely familiar, it should. We’ve seen many other courtroom dramas similar to it. Originality of plot isn’t its strong lawsuit.

Neither is the meat-and-potatoes direction by Brad “The Take” Furman, who treats this movie as a glorified made-for-cable project bolstered by an A-list cast and by gimmicky camera movements that inspire the use of Dramamine.

Furman’s drama comes from the best-selling book by former L.A. Times and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel crime reporter Michael Connelly, who got the idea for his mobile defense attorney after striking up a conversation with a real “Haller” during a baseball game. (Read more…)

‘Paul’ a close encounter of the cheesy kind

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
Simon Pegg with alien Paul from "Paul" Paul the alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) and Graeme (Simon Pegg) perform the cliched “tandem scream” in the disappointing sci-fi comedy “Paul.”

The planet Earth has so many science-fiction geeks and alien conspiracy buffs that if “Paul” reaches just 5 percent of them, the comedy should hit cosmic box office receipts in record time.

I only wish that this latest collaboration between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost — who, along with director Edgar Wright, created the smartly hilarious comedies “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” — deserved to become a hit.

“Superbad” director Greg Mottola takes over for Wright in “Paul,” a film that clearly intends to deliver one big, raunchy wet kiss to the greatest sci-fi movies of the last four decades, but only succeeds in plundering them for cheap and cheesy comical references.

In fact, so many referential jokes in “Paul” have been ripped off from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial” that Steven Spielberg might have a case for theft of intellectual property. (Spielberg’s voice makes a cameo in “Paul,” so that lawsuit thing is probably not going to happen.)

Seth Rogen, who in January tainted the superhero genre by turning “The Green Hornet” into slacker silliness, now points his laser of lameness at alien invasion films.

He supplies the stoner voice to the computer-animated Paul, the titular alien who chain-smokes intergalactic dope, swears like a Martin Scorsese mobster and, when he’s not greenish-blue-mooning humans, turns invisible by holding his alien breath. (Read more…)

‘Limitless’ visuals pop in drug drama

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
Abbie Cornish and Bradley Cooper in "Limitless" Lindy (Abbie Cornish) renews her interest in Eddie (Bradley Cooper) after he becomes addicted to a self-improvement drug in “Limitless.”

It’s an action-packed superhero comic book!

It’s a cautionary drug-addiction drama!

It’s a cynical neo-noir thriller!

It’s a … a … what the heck is it?

Neil Burger’s “Limitless” doesn’t defy conventions. It embraces all of them. Then it whips up an incendiary cocktail of ideas and colors sparking and exploding like the synapses of human brain cells after being flooded with LSD.

Super zoom shots rocket down New York streets and sidewalks as if the camera lens suddenly leapt into quasi-hyperspace.

Supersaturated colors radiate from the screen with Geiger-counter measurability.

And then there are Bradley Cooper’s blue eyes, twinkling azure orbs that become hypnotically iridescent the moment he pops a revolutionary drug called NZT into his mouth.

“Limitless” opens with an action scene that actually occurs 20 minutes later in the narrative. When this happens, it’s usually a sign the filmmakers think they have a boring beginning and don’t trust the audience to stay awake through it. (Read more…)

Common sense an alien concept in ‘Battle: Los Angeles’

Saturday, March 12th, 2011
Aaron Eckhart in "Battle: Los Angeles" A U.S. Marine staff sergeant (Aaron Eckhart) tries to rescue a family during “Battle: Los Angeles.”

It’s been a long time since we’ve had an old-fashioned, dumbed-down, apolitical war movie masquerading as an alien invasion drama, but “Battle: Los Angeles” fits the bill quite nicely.

War movie?

Actually, “Battle: Los Angeles” is more like a bloated, nonstop violent video game, except we don’t have a controller to determine where the soldiers go and when they’ll blast the alien creatures who’ve invaded the California coast line and scorched the land like Sherman’s march from the sea.

The U.S. Marines in Jonathan Liebesman’s noisy, numbing war film aren’t the sharpest bayonets in the arsenal, either.

When they come into contact with their first alien fighter and presumably shoot it dead at the bottom of a backyard swimming pool, what do they do?

Send the corpse back to HQ so the military can study it and learn the nature of their extraterrestrial enemies?

Nope.

The Marines destroy it with a hand grenade. (Read more…)

‘Red Riding Hood’ a Twilighted foray into a fairy tale

Saturday, March 12th, 2011
Amanda Seyfried in "Red Riding Hood" Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is almost torn between two lovers in the gothic fantasy “Red Riding Hood.”

Famed werewolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) summons together the good people of the medieval village of Daggerhorn to give them the bad news:

A werewolf is stalking the village, and because werewolves revert to human form during the day, the beast could be anyone in town!

Uh, actually, that’s not true.

Because the werewolf has been around “for decades,” that would automatically eliminate as suspects all the younger citizens around the same age as Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), the wearer of the red riding hood in Catherine Hardwicke’s revisionist horror fantasy “Red Riding Hood.”

Hardwicke is mostly known for her blistering indie chronicle of girlish adolescence in “Thirteen” and her serviceable but unremarkable indie-produced first “Twilight” installment, a gothic tale of girlish adolescent romance.

In “Red Riding Hood,” Hardwicke attempts to put an adolescent romantic fantasy spin on the old tale of the wolf killing girl with the enticing picnic basket.

But it’s a dimwitted mess, a gothic romance so badly bungled that a packed audience at a Tuesday night press screening laughed during scenes intended to be deadly serious. (Read more…)

Marooned ‘Mars’ needs more than moms

Saturday, March 12th, 2011
Gribble (Dan Fogler) and Milo (Seth Green) from "Mars Needs Moms" Gribble (voiced by Dan Fogler) advises Milo (Seth Green) on how to handle Martians in the 3-D animated action-comedy “Mars Needs Moms.”

This could be the first time in the history of science fiction movies that the humans are scarier than the Martians.

If you’ve seen commercials for the 3-D movie “Mars Needs Moms,” you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The kid in those commercials looks really creepy, like a photo-realistic copy of a human being, but with dull, lifeless eyes and plasticized skin.

“Mars Needs Moms” is another Robert Zemeckis-produced project that uses the same motion-capture computer-generated animation that the Chicago-born filmmaker experimented with in “The Polar Express” and “A Christmas Carol.”

In those earlier motion-capture projects, the kids looked slightly psychotic, as if at any moment they would whip out kitchen knifes and dispatch the nearest adults with Jack the Ripper-like precision.

The animation technology has improved enough so that Milo, the kid in “Mars Needs Moms,” looks slightly less murderous. But the moments where we’re supposed to get all fuzzy and emotional over him don’t quite work, because there’s a disturbingly unrealistic quality to his realistic look.

Seth Green supplies the voice and perky personality to Milo, a rebellious youngster who learns to regret telling his mother (Joan Cusack), “I would be better off if I didn’t have a mom!” (Read more…)

‘Rango’ stands tall in the saddle as a Wild West spoof

Saturday, March 12th, 2011
Lizard (voiced by Johnny Depp) from "Rango" A pet lizard with a vivid imagination (voiced by Johnny Depp) finds himself stranded in the desert in “Rango.”

Just when we all thought Pixar might be the top rung on the animated feature film ladder forever, along comes Gore Verbinski’s radical neo-retro-three-dimensional-non-3-D-Western-tribute-spoof “Rango,” starring Johnny Depp as a thespian lizard deputy.

As Depp’s chameleonic law man changes colors and tactics, “Rango” likewise constantly shape-shifts by twisting itself into a marvelous, merry mix of moods and movie genres.

Kids will be greatly entertained by “Rango,” but it has been made primarily for adults who love movies and have seen enough of them to catch the zillions of film references that fly off the screen at the speed of light.

“Apocalypse Now”? It’s in there. Except that helicopters have been replaced by bats being ridden by bad-guy critters who play Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” on their own instruments as they head into battle.

“High Noon”? “The Road Warrior”? “The Wizard of Oz”? “Chinatown”? They’re in this movie, too, along with Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns.

There’s even a mysterious character called the Spirit of the West who looks suspiciously like Clint Eastwood, and sounds just like him. (Timothy Olyphant’s voice is an audio dead-ringer for the Man With No Name.)

Listen carefully to the soundtrack. You’ll hear a musical homage to “The Magnificent Seven” and other Westerns. (Read more…)

‘Take Me Home’ as immature as its characters

Saturday, March 12th, 2011
Topher Grace in "Take Me Home Tonight" Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) has a tough time finding his niche in life during “Take Me Home Tonight.”

What a waste.

“Take Me Home Tonight” could have be a crass comedy that still gave strength and reassurance to anxious college graduates spit out into a world where immaturity, fear of the future and incapacitating self-doubts are shown to be temporary, solvable problems.

Instead, “Take Me Home Tonight” uses these graduates as plot fodder in a shameless, frat-boy gross-out comedy that suggests success isn’t confronting fear of failure, but fear of rolling down a hill inside a giant metal ball as if the characters are trapped in the latest “Jackass” reality movie.

Topher Grace stars as Matt Franklin, a newly minted MIT graduate with a fuzzy future.

In 1988, he can’t find work with the kind of Fortune 500 companies his parents had hoped for. So, he spends his time shuffling VHS video cassettes at the local Suncoast Video store.

He and his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) join his best buddy Barry (Dan Fogler) for a zany night out, a night that will take the trio through tests and trials and turn them into wiser, better people.

But they don’t become all that much wiser or better, just stupider, and corrupt.

Matt is staging a protest against maturity (a symptom of immaturity?). (Read more…)