April 2: Film Reviews

00:00 April 20, 2011
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker
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[Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures]

Arthur

2 stars

By David Vicari

Yet another slapdash remake of an '80s classic. Sorry, but the original Arthur is edgier and funnier (I still remember lines like: "You're a hooker? I thought I was doing great with you."). The first Arthur came out in 1981, starred Dudley Moore as the title alcoholic millionaire playboy and Liza Minnelli as the working class waitress who catches his fancy. It garnered Sir John Gielgud a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as Hobson, Arthur's snide butler. The film was the brainchild of writer/director Steve Gordon, who, unfortunately, died a year later at the age of 43. Arthur was his only feature film. I'm sure he's spinning in his grave at this remake or re-imagining or whatever the hell you want to call it.

Anyway, Russell Brand plays Arthur Bach in this new version, and in a bit of stunt casting, Helen Mirren is Hobson. These two are engaging performers, but their chemistry together doesn't gel until the film is more than halfway along.

As the story goes, Arthur is a rich and immature playboy. He has expensive toys and has orgies with bimbos every night it seems. But one day he bumps into Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a commoner who gives illegal tours of Grand Central Station (stupid, I know), and is completely smitten with her. The one big problem is that Arthur has been wrangled into marrying the materialistic shrew Susan (Jennifer Garner), and if he doesn't he will be disinherited.

Brand occasionally has some zany one-liners, but the character is often loud and bratty. He never emits that loneliness that Moore played so well in the original. As for Gerwig's cookie cutter girl next door, she is so annoyingly perfect that the character is very bland and actually rings false. Nobody's that perfect! Hell, I would actually take my chances with the killer shrew.

The film itself is often shrill and dumb. It's also soft and politically correct, making sure that we know that Arthur enrolls himself in Alcoholics Anonymous. Apparently, it's not funny to be a drunk in the movies anymore. Regardless, this remake just isn't that funny or clever.

Enough with these remakes of beloved films. Please, stop! Your Highness
2 Stars
By Fritz Esker

Directed by David Gordon Green (The Pineapple Express), Your Highness stars James Franco and Danny McBride as brothers and princes of a medieval kingdom. Franco's bride (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by an evil wizard and Franco sets off to find her, bringing McBride (the black sheep brother) in tow. There are clever ideas in this movie and a few genuine laughs, but it makes the film's scattershot execution all the more frustrating. Someone could make a great comedy that pokes fun at and embraces fantasy film cliches (sort of what like 2005's superior Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang did for detective movies), but Your Highness just drifts along aimlessly. Whenever the filmmakers seem uncertain on what to do, they throw in a gross-out gag or a character dropping an f-bomb. The incongruity of medieval characters doing this could have been funny in small doses, but here it just feels like a lazy fall-back option and quickly grows monotonous. Your Highness feels like a film conceived by smart, funny people who just hashed out a general idea and goofed around with it instead of actually taking the time to craft a good screenplay.
Source Code
3.5 Stars
By David Vicari

It doesn't matter if a movie has an absurd premise, but rather if it is confidently directed to the point that the filmmakers make you believe it. Source Code is a well-crafted science fiction thriller and I bought it all the way. A soldier named Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal, never better) is repeatedly sent back through time, sort of, to find a bomb and the bomber aboard a train, all in an attempt to prevent a future attack. He only has eight minutes each time, so he has to observe and deduce the passengers very quickly. To make matters even more complicated, Colter is in another man's body and always wakes up next to the same female passenger (the ever appealing Michelle Monaghan) each time, and he increasingly grows fond of her. Guiding him through this ordeal, via computer screen, is a military officer (Vera Farmiga) and her secretive superior (Jeffrey Wright). This is kind of like a thriller version of the classic comedy Groundhog Day (1993), and it actually works! It's not hard to figure out the central mystery, but I don't think that matters all that much since it's more of an emotional character study of Colter. Source Code is expertly directed by Duncan Jones (Moon) with a crackerjack screenplay by Ben Ripley and a riveting Jerry Goldsmith-esque music score by Chris Bacon. Good movies are few and far between, so don't miss this one.
Win, Win
3 stars
By Fritz Esker

In Win Win, Paul Giamatti (Sideways) plays a New Jersey lawyer and high school wrestling coach. Business isn't going well, so he makes an ethically shaky maneuver involving a senile client to earn some money. Before long, the client's runaway grandson (Alex Shaffer) shows up and Giamatti finds himself looking after the boy, who also happens to be a gifted wrestler. There are a number of wrestling scenes, but it's not really a sports film. The movie's more about the relationship between Giamatti and Shaffer and the efforts of a fundamentally decent man to compensate for a mistake he made. In lesser hands, the redemption arc could have come off like a cheesy TV movie, but the script underplays it to good effect. Giamatti's not a scumbag who turns into a saint, he's just a normally good guy who made a bad decision under pressure and wants to make amends. The relationship between Giamatti and his wife (the excellent Amy Ryan) feels real as well - it feels like two people who care about each other going through the daily grind of frustrations and disappointments while trying to hold onto a life together. The end result is a compelling, low-key character study that's worth checking out before the summer's blockbuster barrage arrives.
Sucker Punch
0 Stars
By David Vicari

Generally, hot chicks wearing short, pleated school girl skirts while blowing shit up would appeal to me, but Zack Snyder's latest cinematic fart cloud can't even succeed on a rudimentary exploitation trash level. Sure, there are a handful of attractive actresses here, but the make-up, hair and lighting, along with the wardrobe from Party City, fail them. Let us not forget the travesty that is the screenplay as well as Snyder's insistence on directing the pivotal emotional set up to the story as if it's one long slicker-than-slick music video. Sucker Punch begins in the 1950s with teenage girl, Baby Doll (Emily Browning), being tossed into an insane asylum by her wicked stepfather and scheduled to be lobotomized in five days. Baby Doll then pops into a fantasy world where she and the other inmates—Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung)—are dancers in a brothel and are constantly abused by the male staff. The girls collect items for an escape whenever Baby Doll does her dance that hypnotizes all the men watching her. We never see her dance because when she does the movie surges into an anachronistic fantasy world where the girls battle Nazi zombies and giant Samurai robots. A creepy Scott Glenn is their guide explaining the video game-type rules, but I actually wish it was Dan Aykroyd from Twilight Zone: The Movie giving the safety tips. This is the first time Snyder (300, Watchmen) has authored an original story and it's incredibly stupid and dull, takes itself way too seriously, doesn't make a lick of sense, and goes for sledge hammering style over substance.


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