Movie Review: Night at the Museum 2

I had heard that the first Night at the Museum movie was above average in terms of children’s movies, but it wasn’t until the buzz started for Night at the Museum 2: Something about the Smithsonian that I finally forced myself to check out the first film. And I was pleasantly surprised! So when the sequel came out, I figured it was worth seeing.

Now, I’m not a huge Ben Stiller fan, but one of the good things about this movie was that he was barely in it! I mean, he was still the main character, but he didn’t try to do any schtick and generally acted as a straight man. And when so many wacky things are going on, that’s just what he should be doing. Thank you writers!

In terms of casting, this sequel had more hits than misses. I loved Hank Azaria as the evil Egyptian king or something (he’s the bad guy), and Bill Hader did a surprisingly good job as General Custer, and I didn’t even mind Jonah Hill playing basically the same role he always plays. Christopher Guest played a character, but he didn’t really have any lines. Bummer. And then there’s Amy Adams, who plays the female lead, Amelia Earhart. I like the fact that, as opposed to the near-mute Pocahontas in the first film, this female character takes the lead in saving the day.

Downsides of the film series include a tendency to stick historical facts into the script in awkward ways. And even though I love Ricky Gervais, his character is just kind of annoying. And then there’s that damn monkey. At least in the first film he was genuinely threatening, creating countless obstacles for our hapless hero. But in this one, he barely does anything except get into a slapping fight with Ben Stiller. Oh, and some space monkey also joins in the slapping until you the viewer are slapping yourself for watching this film. But don’t worry, the slapping soon subsides, replaced by lots of other cameos and historical jokes.

Final notes: the art references were funny, the T-Rex is still annoying, and Owen Wilson‘s character is still unnecessary and still seems ripped off from “The Indian in the Cupboard.” But in general, Night at the Museum 2 is not a bad time at the movies.

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Movie Review: Ruins

I love me some horror movies, so I’ve been catching up with some of 2008’s horror releases now that they’re out on video. I wouldn’t necessarily call Ruins one of my favorites, but it has some interesting and original elements that save it from being a bad movie experience like, say, the Saw films. The film centers around a group of nubile young Spring Breakers, including Jena Malone and some no-name actors, some of which are fairly decent. They get roped into going to an archaeological site by a suspicious European tourist, which makes you think it’s going to turn into some kind of Hostel situation, but that never turns into anything. So much for teaching kids a lesson about going on out-of-town trips with strangers.

Anyway, they get to some ancient Mayan pyramid, which is funny because the movie was filmed in Queensland, Australia. But pretty much as soon as they get there, it becomes clear that the enemy is the very flora around them. An evil Little Shop of Horrors-esque plant has become accustomed to the blood from sacrifices on the pyramid or some shit, so it is now killer, and it has some other cool powers too. It can mimic sounds and sneak under your skin in a way that kind of evokes Morgellons disease. Or maybe it’s supposed to be a metaphor for the environment. I don’t know, and I don’t care.

The weird thing is that nobody bothers to fight back against the plant. Nearly the whole film takes place on top of this boring pyramid, because the indigenous peoples of the area are quarantining our heroes, and that becomes not only boring but frustrating. I kept yelling at the TV, “Burn that motherfucker down! Just gasoline and torch that shit! Get some pesticide! Plants aren’t that tough!” and so forth. But to no avail.

Plus, I couldn’t help but notice that the evil plant looks an awful lot like sweet sweet Mary Jane. To which I say, screw you, puritan filmmakers! Did the cotton industry sponsor this film?

It would be funny if there was a version where someone had that iPhone app that identifies plants when you snap a picture of them. They’d take a picture and it’d be like “This is a quasi-supernatural evil plant that will make it sound like your best friend is having sex with your boyfriend to divide you for no particular reason.” Then they’d know to hightail it out of there.

Review: Sex Drive

I try to watch every stupid comedy as soon as I become aware of it, which can result in some very disappointing cinematic experiences (Confessions of a Shopaholic, 27 Dresses), and occasionally something enjoyable (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle).

Sex Drive falls squarely between good and bad. It’s basically Road Trip meets American Pie with a bit of Superbad thrown into the mix, and the unrated version that I watched was certainly not afraid to layer on the gratuitous nudity, which recalls a bit of Beerfest and, of course, Troma. The film, by writer/director Sean Anders, follows a young man named Ian (Josh Zuckerman), a high school senior who is still regrettably a virgin. His buddy Lance (Clark Duke) is supposed to be some kind of Lothario, which I don’t understand since he looks kind of like Cynthia Nixon’s girlfriend. Ian has an obvious love interest, his coworker at Cinnabon or something, whose name is Felicia (Amanda Crew). She looks a little bit like Kat Dennings in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which means you know they’re going to have a cute budding indie relationship at some point in the film.

But things are complicated by the fact that Ian is having an online relationship with some stereotypical hot chick, and of course she thinks he’s a tall bronzed god. He and Lance decide to go on a spontaneous road trip to meet this girl in the south somewhere, and of course wacky adventures ensue. They steal/borrow a sweet set of wheels from Ian’s older brother Rex (James Marsden), a huge jock who’s a little too homophobic, and of course he decides to chase after them and kick their asses, complicating the situation further. Along the way they meet a wacky Amish guy, Ezekiel  (Seth Green), and the moviegoing public is treated to a lesson about Rumspringa.

Seth Green and James Marsden were a pleasant surprise in this film, stealing every scene they were in. The lead actors weren’t too bad either, which is a nice change from movies like College and The House Bunny. In fact, besides the fact that this is a sophomoric teen comedy with way too many fart sound effects (probably just in the unrated version, to be fair), I have to say that the movie wasn’t all that bad. It’s not on par with larger-budget comedies like Road Trip in terms of scope or production value, but for a dumb comedy to put on when you’ve been putting away cheap beer all night, I give it a mild recommendation!

The Love Guru

Did somebody make this film in a drunken stupor? It’s AWFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Awful!

I can’t believe I spent a whole hour downloading it. That’s a total of two and a half hours I’ll never get back. Mike Myers stole them from me.

Let me count the ways I hate this film:

1. It is really racist and offensive. If I were Indian I would be pissed.

2. It’s quite obvious that Mike knew how bad and thrown-together it was and he kept promoting it anyway with that same boring story about his dead father who liked Peter Sellers movies. I don’t give a shit if his dad was God, he should have kept this little tribute to himself.

3. Mini-Me jokes, still? It’s not OK to make sport of midgets just because they’ll participate for money! And the jokes are so many levels below the quality of even Austin Powers 3, so the whole thing comes off as borderline creepy and cruel.

4. Jessica Alba.

5. Weird graphics appear on the screen occasionally to illustrate the guru’s lessons being applied, as if we were in first grade and needed a visual aid. Not to mention the actual visual aids (i.e. overhead projector) that Mike uses for his useless philosophical prattling. I know he’s just making fun of Deepak Chopra, but I don’t think the rest of us find that as screamingly hilarious as Mike does. And Mike? You know that story about how you used to call up your friends with this voice and they just thought it was a laugh and a half? They were humoring you.

6. Instead of hiring a child actor for a five minute scene, Mike decides to digitally plant his face on some kid’s shoulders. What kind of ego trip is that? It reminds me of Eddie Murphy. Not good, especially when his co-player in the scene is an actual child without a freaky CGI head bobbling around.

7. Mike’s lame attempts to recapture the wacky, random spirit of Austin Powers with characters like Jacques “Le Coq” Grande (played by Justin Timberlake), who has a big wang (just replace that with any other exaggerated physical characteristic — insta-Mike Myers character!). It’s not really funny or interesting, but Justin did a semi-decent job I guess.

8. The fact that Romany Malco from Weeds was completely wasted in a thankless, one-dimensional athlete role.

9. It has the look and feel of a movie whose release was delayed for retooling or reworking, year after year, most likely shelved for a while, and finally released when Jessica Alba became famous or something along those lines. Remember My Boss’ Daughter? Like that.

I’m getting nauseous. I think I have to stop trying to recall details about this movie. Just don’t see it! Not while drunk! Not even while extremely baked! Rent Forgetting Sarah Marshall instead — it’s so many thousands of times better!

If only there were a way to wash out your brain.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

When I originally heard them folks in Hollywood were adding a fourth film to the beloved Indiana Jones trilogy, I couldn’t help but think this was a somewhat awful idea. It irks me when tired movie makers dig up and reuse an idea that is already solid in movie history and holds an important place in people’s hearts. It’s just plain risky to take a complete, socially accepted story and tear it open, add more dramatic happenings, and come to an altogether new conclusion, all while attempting to preserve the integrity of the original concept. The whole idea reeks of a creative deficiency and a terrible, dollar sign-eyed greed among those who serve us our motion picture entertainment. Even more problematic are the uncomfortably cute self-referential pokes and bits of humor that inevitably soak any project of this kind. But then again, are the original three Indiana Jones films not full of such moments, where the titular character slips through escapade after escapade with rakish-yet-professorial ease, all while the audience celebrates the naturally accepted humor of a man who despises snakes or cringes at being called “Junior?” As a fan of the series I can naysay all I want with an authority fed by an “I was there” dedication, but in the end I knew I’d be doomed by the power of curiosity. And so days before the film’s release, I had myself a nostalgia-tinged, box wine-fueled movie marathon in preparation for this momentous occasion.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a bad movie. The problem with a continuation that puts too much focus on the celebration of itself is that rather than existing as a distinctly respectable and whole artistic piece, it becomes a masturbatory revisiting that creates a strange rift between the fictional world of the film and the real world where we have a collective idea of the character of Indiana Jones. The action sequences in Crystal Skull are not boring or lacking in badassity – we’ve got our speeding vehicles, gnarly explosions, and squirmy creature infestations – but they’re weighed down by constant pokes of the “it’s funny because he’s older now” variety. Thusly, the film fails to create a satisfying end story for the man and hero Indiana Jones, or to contemplate how a character of his sort would move into old age and infuse this transition with life lessons. This movie is entertaining purely for its snazzy actions sequences but does not add to the overall myth, legend, or story.

But hey, how dare I expect artistic achievement from a series of great action movies from the 1980s? It’s far too lofty a hope, and an arguably inappropriate one given the nature of the originals, to search for cinematic greatness beyond kicking ass and wooing the ladies. But even the storyline in Crystal Skull is problematic. It begins in the right place by taking us to 1958 where we get to have fun with old-timey cars, cute pigtailed high school girls, and the doo-wop thrill of a packed malt shop of this era. Young heartthrob Shia LaBeouf dons an awesome poufy haircut and rides atop a slick motorcycle to dreamworthy effect, but the “long-lost son” thing only really holds for one good campus chase scene, one which sadly does not employ the use of a sidecar. From that point on the father/son relationship is murky and underdeveloped, attributes that later extend to Karen Allen’s character whose sudden yet predictable appearance brings nothing but cheap jokes and incentive for feminists everywhere to shudder in their seats.

Cate Blanchett vindicates the cast somewhat with her expertly portrayed Soviet she-spy, but her opportunity to shine is weighed down by the story’s unfortunate Twilight Zone plot twist. The supernatural element could be called appropriate since we know these films to thoroughly explore the myths and beliefs of ancient cultures, and the previous installments did in fact discover living proof of certain religious tales. However, the Crystal Skull doesn’t successfully convince the audience to get behind this new eerie undertaking in Indiana’s life, and so as he and his travel companions shake hands with the X-Files, I was left confused, angry, and tired (yes, I went to the midnight show). In conclusion, I’m no longer eight years old and so may be ill equipped to enjoy modern Spielberg/Lucas experiments.

Oops, I got through this whole spiel without one mention of Harrison Ford. Despite all, he’s super cool, and looks remarkably good for a 95 year old man.

The Simpsons Movie

Let me preface this by noting that The Simpsons held a pretty prominent place in my childhood, rearing, and subsequent sense of humor formation like so many children of the 80’s can claim. I’m not sure exactly where I fall on the scale of Simpsons obsession, but I can say that I’ve considered this venerable TV show as a third parent to me for as long as I can remember. Indeed, I credit this cartoon program with the none too small accomplishment of affecting more than anything else the formation of my young mind and its resulting comedic outlook. I remember watching the very first episode at its original air time with my whole family in the living room of my childhood home. At the time I was probably more aware that it was cool to be allowed to watch such a show, rather than realizing how culturally and personally relevant this little sitcom could potentially be. As time passed, The Simpsons quickly became the favorite show of my little brother and I, and due to the wonders that were VCR’s at the time, we pretty much viewed nothing but during our time as latchkey kids. Later on in high school, me and the hip crowd I hung with (Laura included) would every day at lunch discuss the previous evening’s episodes, as the show was airing twice a night at that point. This hilarity-driven revelry was another important influence for my budding young mind. Somehow, as a mash up of life experiences such as these, I became what some people might call “Funny.” “Ha ha funny,” not “There’s something not quite right about that Liz” funny.

Anyway, there’s a much-noted shifting point in the comedic styling of America’s favorite off-kilter family, and I am certainly among the many who claim that The Simpsons went notably downhill ‘round about its eighth season. Indiscernible to the devoted every-week watcher, the writing over time changed from astoundingly witty banter coupled with unexpected relevancy, to downright lowbrow shock humor. Our uproarious yet culturally informed masterpieces, involving high-brow type stuff (“A Street Car Named Marge,” “Rosebud”) at some crucial point made way for sickening repeat obsession with gags such as “Ha ha, Homer’s really fat/stupid/a shitty husband” or “Look, the Simpsons are in another wacky location for some lame-ass reason.” This can all perhaps be blamed on the many shifts in writing talents, or simply the exhaustion of ideas and places to take this well-crafted town and its cornucopia of citizenry. Also, once you’ve gotten past the ever-important character development stage and then celebration of that character as the world loves him/her, our beloved heroes are eventually and perhaps unavoidably living as a factor of their own clichéd image. My best bet is that it’s somewhat impossible to have any cast of characters break comedic boundaries and continue to spit out the witty exchanges for a hundred gazillion seasons without faltering at least slightly.

Phew. All that said, I still managed to become a part of the recent Simpsons craze that has swept NYC and I imagine the rest of the country, if not globe. My little bro and I visited the 7-Eleven turned Kwik-E-Mart (they did NOT have Duff Beer!), and I was in attendance on the movie’s opening night. Hey folks, I was curious, and certainly don’t like to be a Negative Nelly. So finally for my assessment of the film…it was OK. The movie definitely embodied exactly what I’ve been complaining about for years, but at the same time it wasn’t nearly as crappy as it could have been. The plotline, actions and dialogue were unquestionably comparable to the “Meh” episodes of recent seasons past, but the writers did not take the material so far in the direction of my distaste so as to trigger my gag reflex. What resulted was not a sad culmination of all which I had found to be unpleasant about my once favorite TV show, but rather achieved the simple pleasure to be gained from sitting in a theatre for two hours and being entertained. I definitely laughed aloud on more than one occasion. So while I was not taken to new heights of comedic ecstasy with mind-blowingly clever humor, I still attended and enjoyed a good motion picture. And hey, if The Simpsons Movie had somehow hearkened back to its former mastery and created a feature-length cartoon film that broke new ground and shattered my expectations, I might not know who I was anymore.

Favorite Simpsons Exchanges (taken from memory)

Marge: There’s something different about Bart today
Homer: New glasses?
Marge: No, I mean he looks upset.
Homer: Probably misses his old glasses
Marge: I’d say something, but I’d be afraid of smothering him.
Homer: Yeah, and then you’d get the chair.
Marge: That’s not what I meant.
Homer: Face it Marge, it was.

Bee Keeper #1: It sure is quiet today.
Bee Keeper #2: A little too quiet, if you know what I mean.
Bee Keeper #1: I’m afraid I don’t.
Bee Keeper #2: You see, bees usually emit a low buzzing sound. No noise indicates no bees.
Bee Keeper #1: Look, there goes one now.
Bee Keeper #2: To the Beemobile!
Bee Keeper #1: You mean your Chevy?
Bee Keeper #2: Yes.

Casino Royale

Oh, the James Bond films. Once little more than campy good fun, they started to take themselves too seriously somewhere along the line, and now we’re left with, well, Casino Royale.

The thing is, it’s not a competely consistent trend. Though I adore the old films, especially the Connery ones, they sometimes get a little boring, and the campiness could have been turned up more than it was. But with characters like Pussy Galore, and villains with increasingly bizarre backstories, who really cares?

After Roger Moore it all went downhill, in my opinion. However, like I said, the trend isn’t entirely consistent, and I believe that certain directors have been able to find the heart of the franchise, achieving that tricky balance of outlandish plotlines, bad one-liners, and gratuitous sex and drinking. As much as people seem to hate Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, I found him to be quite satisfactory in the role, and I don’t care what anyone says, I thought Die Another Day was awesome. You know, the one with the ice palace and the invisible car? Ha ha, invisible car.

Therefore, I was curious to see how Daniel Craig would do in a role that seems capable of focusing all the hatred of the world on you if you screw it up. And as it turns out, I thought he did a fine job. The problem was, the film was a total piece of crap.

Granted, I was kind of falling asleep near the end, and I didn’t even finish watching it because it sucked so bad, but seriously, I could have shat out a better script. More like Ass-ino Royale. The plot was boring and stupid and the villains weren’t even scary, and to top it off, I kept waiting for some hot sex, but there was barely any necking. Plus, for some reason it’s set in modern times, although it is a prequel. Try reasoning your way through that and you’ll get a headache.

In conclusion, all I really need to say is, don’t see it unless you’re really drunk and bored. And even so, see if there’s something on the Food Network first, because it’ll probably be more interesting.