Thursday, July 28, 2011

the Change-Up

You know you have seen this movie before, however the adult male version that receives an R rating is a little different than the PG rated kid/adult body swapping versions from "Freaky Friday", "Vice Versa" (1988), "Like Father, Like Son" (1987). With "the Change-Up" a married guy and his best friend switch bodies after a drunk guys night out that ends with public urination in a magical fountain where they proclaim that they envy the other's life.

The film follows the cliche of the other body swapping films where the family man Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman) appears to have the perfect life with a beautiful wife (Leslie Mann) and three children that compliment his dream job. In stark contrast is his best friend Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds) who is the under achieving loser that works in the "lorn" industry and never finishes anything he starts. After the initial freak-out upon realizing what has taken place, they agree to respect each other's lives until they can reverse everything. Along the way they discover that even though the other's life has not followed their own path that having the opportunity to see things from a new perspective reveals what they had overlooked in their own. For Dave (now as Ryan Reynolds) it comes during a private moment with his wife where she confides in him that he takes his job too seriously and she feels ignored. For Mitch (now as Jason Bateman) it comes during a visit from Mitch's dad (Alan Arkin) where the honest opinion of Mitch as a loser that doesn't finish anything he starts ignites the fire that has been missing.

The performances from the entire cast are refreshing as Ryan Reynolds plays the nice guy again reminiscent of his performance in "Definitely, Maybe" (2008) and less from his "Van Wilder" (2002) days. Jason Bateman, who usually plays the sympathetic nice guy, gets to be the fun loving wildcard for most of the film. He struggles at it, but he still pulls it off. Leslie Mann is given a little more depth to her character where she is able to express the pains of being a married woman that comes second to her husbands professional life.

The Change-Up relies heavily on shock value to produce some cheap laughs. Unfortunately, it does not always work when the jokes are directed at the children in the film. The tatoo joke never gets explained and in my opinion was predictable, even though I was the only one in my group that guessed what it said. There is a bonus scene at the end, but even that doesn't deliver the way I thought it could with some out takes. The film is very close to being what I wanted it to be, it does remain entertaining, but missed on a few too many notes and is only 3 Quacks.

(screening date 7/28/11, release date 8/5/11, location AMC Tyson's Corner)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love

At first blush the "Crazy, Stupid, Love" looks as if it will suffer from over casting and destined for a longer run on HBO than in the theaters. The cast is overstuffed with Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, and of course Kevin Bacon. Other films that have bragged about a cast like this include "He's Just Not That Into You" (2009) and "Valentine's Day" (2010). However, where those films failed by being pretentious "Crazy, Stupid, Love" attempts to overcome with the focus on the older couple and forces the "pretty" people to secondary roles.

The story follows Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore), a married couple that are having difficulties in their relationship. In true Hollywood style, Emily announces at a restaurant that she wants a divorce, which causes Cal to drink away his sorrows at a local bar and seeking a friendly ear from whoever will listen when he finds Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a professional bachelor. In a character twist similar to "40 year-old Virgin" (2005), Jacob decides to makes it his personal mission to help Cal get over his wife, and become a new man in the process. However, the twists in the story don't end there as uncomfortable love triangles develop around every turn.

Steve Carell and Julianne Moore perform well as a depressed mid-40s married couple. The story never properly develops the relationship between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and does an even worse job connecting their relationship with the rest of the story. If Emma Stone is supposed to be the next "it girl" then you would think her character would have been stronger. Her only redeeming value in the film was her comment about not wanting to be the PG-13 girl because she knows how that is going to end. However, the cliche of the film follows accordingly and the audience is left with their hand in the popcorn wanting more.

What I liked about the film was how they balanced showing that breakups are not easy on either person and that regretful feelings exist for both Women and Men. What I didn't like about the film was that it dragged on a bit. The twists in the story seemed too forced and convenient to be believable. The character development was lacking and by the end I didn't really care who got together with who and if any of them even had a happy ending.

As a date film, "Crazy, Stupid, Love" is okay. However, if you are going to watch it alone you should probably wait for Netflix or HBO. I thought I would like this film more, but a 2 Quack rating seems the most appropriate.

(screening date 7/26/11, release date 7/29/11, location AMC Loews Georgetown)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Devil's Double

In the 90s, the first Gulf War was starting in response to the Iraq invasion of Kuwait. President George H.W. Bush frequently was quoted that it wasn't the people of Iraq that was the problem, but rather the leadership. While Saddam Hussein was the President of Iraq, it is his son Uday Hussein that, if possible, was even worse to the people of Iraq. Both Saddam and Uday had doubles to protect themselves from an assassination attempt, which is the starting point for the film "The Devil's Double" that depicts the relationship between Uday Hussein and Latif Yahia. The story comes from Latif Yahia who was forced to be the real life double for Uday Hussein.

I never thought that Saddam Hussein could ever be presented in a positive way, but by comparison to the actions of his son Uday it is the closest thing possible. Uday took whatever he wanted. His house was full of women, fast cars, alcohol, drugs, and designer clothes. He stole his women from the streets regardless of their age and if they are married. He does drugs and parties every night. Ultimately he is in love with himself and the only way he can continue the lifestyle of debauchery and immorality that he enjoys is to rely on Latif as his double. Both Uday and Latif are portrayed by Dominic Cooper through the use of special effects and simple make-up/costume changes.

The film is less biographical and more of a gangster film reminiscent of "Donnie Brasco" (1997), but not nearly as good. I enjoyed the first half of the film, but once Latif and Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier) started to get involved it felt like a soap opera and something that was better served for TV. The film shows that Latif was desperate to escape his situation and was willing to do whatever he needed to do in order to get away from Uday. The film attempts to ask the question if you would be able to go to the extremes that Latif reached.

Even though Latif was involved with the making of this film, I still wonder how factual it is. Mostly because Latif in the film says that he is loyal to Saddam and he is portrayed as a sympathetic character. As compared to other films that try too desperately to wrap up the story, I appreciate that "the Devil's Double" ended with just the words that the rest is history. It is still just a 3 Quack film, but certainly worth viewing.

(screening date 7/13/11, release date 7/29/22, location AMC Tysons Corner 16)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

My personal feeling on the series is that if you read the books you enjoyed the films, and if you didn't read the books you would enjoy the films even more. The reason for this is that as a non-reader of the series each film was a surprise to me and I didn't pick the film apart for what was included or excluded. That is both a positive and negative for a series that reached the level of fan appreciation as the Harry Potter series has; the expectations are so hard to reach. One point of clarrification that I didn't fully understand in the previous film is that Voldemort's horcruxes (Salazar Slytherin's locket, Helga Hufflepuff's cup, the Diadem of Ravenclaw) are completely different from the deathly hallows (resurection stone, elder wand, and invisibility cloak). This was clarrified early in part 2, and I think for the non-readers was necessary.

Writing a review for this film is difficult to do without giving away any spoilers, so I apologize in advance if I do so. The final chapter of the Harry Potter series picks up where the previous film ended as Dobby the elf has died and the trio of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) have buried him. They are at the shell cottage with Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) and the others that have joined the fight against Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). With the help of Griphook (Warwick Davis) the goblin they identify the location of the next horcrux and the journey continues.

There are several lines and characters throughout the film that provide a wink of the eye to the fans of the series. The kiss that everyone has been waiting for happens between two of the main characters and some pretty nice battles take place. Some highlighted scenes for me have to be the battle between Mrs. Weasley (Julie Walters) and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) is awesome; the conversation between Harry Potter and Helena Ravenclaw (Kelly Macdonald); and the maturity of Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) is refreshing. The character of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has always seemed to be a waste for me. Other than being the school bully he never quite developed for me in the series.

In the end, every fan of the series probably has a favorite character and for me it has to be Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) as he is the most misunderstood. His character is also the most classically written drawing from Shakespeare's Othello. However, it is the compassion, love and loyalty that he shows that make him such a tragic hero. He cares for Harry more than any other professor, including Dumbledore who would sacrifice him for the greater good. This film finally shows why Severus Snape has made the decisions from previous films and for that I greatly appreciated his character from the beginning of the series to the end.

If it wasn't for the final scene at Kings Cross Station (platform 9 3/4), I might have given a better rating. I have been told by friends that this was the epilogue of the book, but using it in the film just seemed flat and ultimately hurts the film. Additionally, the 3D wasn't necessary as it was only the studio efforts to capitalize on such a popular film. So save your money and watch it in regular 2D. So to all my Harry Potter friends I apologize for the 4 Quack rating I feel I must now bestow upon the film. It easily would have received another Quack without the extra scene.

(screening date 7/12/11, release date 7/15/11, location AMC Mazza Gallerie)

Monday, July 11, 2011


"Terri" is another festival hit that I have had on my radar and finally made its way to a theater near me. The story comes from writer/director Azazel Jacobs who was listed as one of the top 10 writer/directors to watch in 2008 off the heels of another festival favorite, "Momma's Man" (2008). I haven't seen anything from him prior to "Terri", but I can see why he is so highly regarded.

"Terri" is a film starring Jacob Wysocki in the title role as an overweight high school boy that is the lovable loser. The school principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) is the authority figure that reaches out to Terri. There is a feel of "Napoleon Dynamite" (2004) meets "the Breakfast Club" (1985) with the collection of classmates that Mr. Fitzgerald mentors which includes Chad (Bridger Zadina) who pulls his hair out and Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) who is desperately seeking the attention of others.

The home life for Terri isn't any easier as he lives with his Uncle (Creed Bratton from "The Office") who has dementia. With the added responsibility of looking after his Uncle, and chores around the house, skipping school and ignoring his class work gets the attention of Mr. Fitzgerald. The story picks up when Terri saves Heather from expulsion and the two of them find a common connection. Eventually the two of them have a rather awkward date at Terri's house that is crashed by Chad who has his own perverted ideas. Chad brings a bottle of alcohol and steals some pills from Terri's uncle and you can only imagine where these teens will proceed from there.

The performance from Jacob Wysocki is as honest as I have seen in quite some time. The expressions on his face combined with his physical performance provide just enough comedy to keep the audience entertained. The characters are well developed, but the story suddenly stops without a proper final act. I very much liked this movie and wanted to give it a better rating, but the lack of a better ending really detracted from what could have been a brilliant film. So 3 Quacks and a strong recommendation will have to be enough.

(screening date 7/11/11, release date LIMITED, location E Street Cinema)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Another Earth

One of the big winners at the Sundance Film Festival was "Another Earth" receiving the Alfred P. Sloan Prize, for the film that best portrays a sci-fi story. The film continues in what I refer to as the resurgence of the sci-fi genre, following recent sci-fi films such as "the Adjustment Bureau", "Limitless", and "Source Code".

"Another Earth" has the feel of a big blockbuster wrapped up tightly as an indie film from first time writer/director Mike Cahill and Brit Marling who doubles as the writer and lead protagonist (Rhoda). The film is about second chances and the relationships we have with others. No matter how important those relationships are it is the intense internal relationship we carry on with ourselves on a daily basis. We look at ourselves in the mirror in the morning or talk to ourselves during our daily commute; and it is during these moments that we are at our most honest. The element of sci-fi provides the canvas for the story with the impossible element of another planet entering the orbit and upon first contact the realization that a mirror image of ourselves is on what has been termed "Earth 2".

The story follows Rhoda first as we are introduced to her four years ago as a reckless teen who is distracted by the first appearance of Earth 2 while driving home at night. Her life is thrust into that of John Burroughs (William Mapother from "Lost") when her vehicle crashes into the Burroughs family killing all but John. The story then jumps forward four years upon her release from prison when Earth 2 and first contact. Rhoda holds deep guilt for her past and had difficulties in communicating with her family and find employment as a janitor at the school. The cleansing of her own past also leads her back to John where she confronts him, but cowardly deceives his trust. She thinks she can make him happy, but wonders if doing so would be a selfish act. In the ultimate cliche of running away from reality is Rhoda who enters a contest to be one of the first to visit Earth 2.

One of the quietly impressive performances comes from Kumar Pallana (Purdeep) who is also a janitor with Rhoda. He provides almost a spiritual guidance to Rhoda as she deals with her adjustment. Purdeep is dealing with his own past upon the emergence of Earth 2 and in an act of avoidance takes away his senses. In a beautifully touching moment between Purdeep and Rhoda the strength of their mutual respect is shown in her forgiveness and understanding.

I was absolutely blown away by this film and cannot speak highly enough about it. The film is amazingly written, acted and directed. During the lull of summer blockbusters "Another Earth" stands out as yet another award nominee receiving the full 5 Quacks. I hope for a nomination for the script, best actress, at the very least.

(screening date 7/10/11, release date 7/20/11, location AMC Loews Georgetown 14)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Quacking BetaMax: Stone

Not sure about everyone else, but I don't recall much buzz over this film last year. With a cast that includes Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich and Robert De Niro one would think that a lot more attention would have been given to this film. "Stone" is an indie film with big name actors that founds its way to limited theaters at the same time that "the Social Network" was dominating the box office. Ultimately there wasn't a lot of room for any other films.

The story follows Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro) who is only a few weeks away from retirement as a parole officer and wishes to finish out the cases he's been assigned. Jack doesn't treat his wife of 43 years well and prefers to look for answers in a bottle of whiskey. He watches golf on TV or listens to the religious radio to the point that his wife is unable to communicate with him. The final parole case for Jack is that of Gerald "Stone" Creeson (Edward Norton), a convicted arsonist who is up for parole. Stone arranges for his wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) to seduce the officer, but motives and intentions become complicated.

The writing and character development for Jack Mabry is lacking by starting off with a flashback of the relationship with his wife and follows him in a series of what seem to be uncharacteristic decisions. He has guilt about something he did in the past, but that isn't properly explained and leaves the viewer wondering if this is a character we should be concerned with at all. The director tries to be artsy by showing a buzzing bee getting crushed by a closing window, but the connection to the rest of the story doesn't pay off. The buzzing bee is supposed to be a link with Stone and how he finds religion. However, it is so obscure that more work would be needed to complete the buzzing connection. The only character that delivers is the title character performed by Ed Norton as we see him go from a foul mouthed convict to a remorseful individual that becomes awkwardly likeable.

My final conclusion on the film is that it is certainly worth seeing. I wish it had a greater release in the theaters, but that doesn't mean you won't be able to find it on DVD. The film has its flaws, but 3 Quacks is more than appropriate.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Friends With Benefits

The buzz surrounding "Friends With Benefits" is that it is a better version of "No Strings Attached". Other than the obvious morally casual approach to making sex a sport, the films are not that similar. The most notable differences are the attention to the script and character development.

One of the problems I had with "No Strings Attached" was that the background story for Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman's characters were not remotely believable. There wasn't really an emotional connection that was made and ultimately I didn't care if they were happy in the end. That was resolved by the writing team of Will Gluck, Keith Merryman and David Newman by providing two separate backgrounds for Justin Timberlake (Dylan) and Mila Kunis (Jamie) that could almost be an individual movie in themselves. The emotionally unavailable Dylan is dealing with a father diagnosed with Alzheimer's and a mother that walked out on the family. The fairy tale dreaming Jamie is waiting for her Prince Charming much in the same way she is waiting for her distant mother to tell her who her father is.

The introduction to these characters is done through phone conversations with a clever reveal that leads to them breaking up with their current boyfriend/girlfriend. Battling the cliches of traditional romantic comedies can be difficult, but Dylan and Jamie do exactly that through a film they watch together that stars Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother) and Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation). Additionally, the characters make reference to other films allowing for them to become even more relatable. The remainder of the story remains predictable and follows the formula that we all know. By keeping things simple the film works better than "No Strings Attached" by not forcing the ending, but rather letting Dylan and Jamie find their way back together as well as resolve some of their personal issues with their families.

A couple surprise performances come from Woody Harrelson who breaks stereotypes by being a gay sports editor, Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's free spirited mother, Jenna Elfman as Dylan's supportive sister, and Richard Jenkins as Dylan's father that provides some of the most heartfelt lines in the film. Portraying someone with Alzheimer's cannot be easy, but Richard Jenkins does it perfectly and gives the best advice to Dylan that with the disease he realizes that every day is precious and that you shouldn't have any regrets.

The bedroom scenes between Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are respectfully done and provide a lot of humor to a mature audience. This film has more to offer than just what happens in the bedroom and for that reason receives 3 Quacks.

(screening date 7/6/11, release date 7/22/11, location Regal Ballston Common Stadium 12)

Quacking BetaMax: No Strings Attached

You know you have seen this movie before, but you will probably want to see it because you either think Ashton Kutcher can act or Natalie Portman is hot. Or is it the other way around? Regardless, the latest romantic comedy to hit the theaters (and now on DVD) is "No Strings Attached", which simply isn't going to reach the success of "When Harry Met Sally" (1989). The bar for the romantic comedy was set rather high and for my money has never been equaled.

The combination of Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher is a nice one for both the guys and the girls watching the film, but the thought that a relationship can be based only on sex is just trivial and insulting to the audience. The jokes will make you role your eyes and the cliche moments of the film will do nothing more than give you an idea of how much time is left in the film. You know that the ending will be a happy one, but you will watch it anyways. I guess the only real twist to the film is that it is Emma (Natalie Portman) that doesn't want to have the serious relationship. That means no holding hands, no snuggling, and no falling in love.

The side stories of the film are even more trivial with Adam's (Ashton Kutcher) father hooking up with his ex-girlfriend, the obvious wedding scene, and attempts to build jealousy between Adam and Emma. The ending comes rather abruptly as all the side stories somehow come together.

Since the script wasn't as tightly put together, the supporting cast helps by lifting the film up at times. Greta Gerwig who was also recently in another awkward romantic comedy (Greenberg) is fun, but Mindy Kaling from "the Office" steals the scenes. There is a lot of eye candy for the boys including Lake Bell, Olivia Thirlby, and Ophelia Lovibond. I suppose some of the guys in the film are worth looking at as well if you are girl, but none of them really stand out for me.

I wish I could give the film more than 2 quacks, but honestly most of us will forget this movie even existed a year from now. It isn't a bad film, but just doesn't stand out for me. The film is the first of a couple comedies coming out in 2011 that takes a look at the morally casual lifestyle where sex has no consequences, including "Hall Pass" and "Friends With Benefits".

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