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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

Horrible Bosses 2Director: Sean Anders
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston

In most of his movies, Jason Bateman has always excelled as a fast-talking, speak easy kind of comedic actor. Unfortunately, a lot of his work is saddled with lousy scripts or in the case of Horrible Bosses 2, almost no script at all. Bateman, his co-stars (Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day), and other assorted cast members, sprint through "Bosses 2" saying whatever pops into their dainty little heads. To say that this raunchy sequel is tainted with improvisation overload is a complete understatement. Director Sean Anders basically lets the cameras roll and doesn't look back. I'm thinking someone should have walked up to him and whispered "cut". Nudge, nudge.

Anyway, with a strong cast, almost no segway from the inception of the first Horrible Bosses flick (from 2011), and a sex-addicted character in Jennifer Aniston who says, "have you ever done it in a dentist's chair?" (hey Jen, we hardly knew ya), Horrible Bosses 2 finds our three fearless leaders (if you can call them that) trying to sell their subpar, inventive product (the quote unquote "shower buddy"). Nick Hendricks (Bateman), Dale Arbus (Charlie Day), and Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) from the first film have moved on and now they want to make a fortune by working for themselves. As the proceedings begin, these guys show up on Good Morning Los Angeles to promote their shower gadget and then try to sell 150,000 units to a slimy investor named Burt Hanson (an underutilized Christoph Waltz). When Hanson accepts the offer to buy said product, he then reneges on his decision forcing the trio of bumbling knuckleheads to kidnap his whiny son (Chris Pine who surprisingly kills it as Rex Hanson). Things to watch for in "2's" 108 minute running time: an outrageous car chase that has a vehicle burning rubber with a torn fence encased around it (I'm not kidding) and a shocking sex scene that gives new meaning to the term video surveillance (just think 1993's dud, Sliver).

Plot and storytelling aspects aside, the out of the box casting for these Horrible Bosses movies has always fascinated me. I mean where else can you see three Oscar winners (Jamie Foxx, Waltz, and Kevin Spacey), a Golden Globe winner, and an Emmy award winner strut their stuff in a pair of critically panned (not to mention frequently inappropriate) R rated comedies. If you've seen the trailers for this sequel to 2011's highly successful original, you've probably figured out that every star (and co-star) is returning along with a few celebrated additions. That makes "Bosses 2's" helping of strap-on innuendo, underage fascination, and suggestively coarse language much more over the top. Lord help us!

Now as I took in a midday viewing of Horrible Bosses 2, I made the following observations (good and bad): 1. why would Christoph Waltz, a double Oscar winner, take on such a nothing role as the film's woefully underdeveloped, arch villain? 2. I never thought I'd say this but Chris Pine, an actor who has never done anything comedic, outshines everyone in the laughs department. There are a couple of scenes where he brazenly harms himself in a very violent way (or as the Sudeikis character says, he quote unquote "Fight Clubs himself"). Pine's a hoot and I think he might have found his niche here as opposed to being the equivalent of bland green beans via the new Jack Ryan. 3. In case you aren't familiar with the law, I'll lay it out for you: kidnapping (or "kidnaping" if you've already viewed this thing) is punishable up to possibly a sentence of life in prison. To the characters in "Bosses 2", it all seems like one big joke. I mean, I know it's a comedy but no one on screen takes any types of repercussions seriously. Tack on murder too. Someone gets shot towards the flick's conclusion and the three Dodo bird best friends still manage to crack jokes. Gimme a break!

Overall, despite being about as predictable and standardized as any sequel has a right to be, I can still name hundreds of them that are worse than Horrible Bosses 2. This November release is putrid, crass, and off-putting but will at times, actually make you laugh out loud. And to the critics who seem easily offended by its vulgar themes, I got one thing to say: lighten up people! It's only a movie for crying out loud. Bottom line: Horrible Bosses 2 ain't no classic. It will however, provide you with some nervous, guilty giggles. It's entertaining to a fault and far from being "horrible".

Of note: As I've just mentioned, the movie I've just reviewed isn't a bad one but the end credits are. I mean, it seems that every Jason Sudeikis outing these days has to have outtakes completely tacked on. The ones in Horrible Bosses 2 are exceptionally stale and just plain unnecessary. Skip them and just exit the theater. Trust me.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hollidaysburg 2014 * * * Stars

HollidaysburgDirector: Anna Martemucci
Year: 2014
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Rachel Keller, Tobin Mitnick, Claire Chapelli

What is it with movies that take place in Pennsylvania? They're kind of depressing. Dreary landscapes, gloom and doom skies, snow, cheap housing. If you've seen All the Right Moves, Wonder Boys, and Out of the Furnace, you know what I'm talking about. Well add 2014's Hollidaysburg to that list. This is another bleak outing filmed entirely in the Quaker State.

Directed by first timer Anna Martemucci, well acted by a cast of virtual unknowns, and harboring two female leads that almost look too identical (this will only confuse you at first), Hollidaysburg is the Generation X next, a sort of washed out, existential version of Garden State mixed with 1998's Whatever. It's a plethora of character studies involving some college students and townies who meet up for a five day Thanksgiving weekend. Scott (played by Tobin Mitnick) is a former Prom King turned UCLA student. He flies back to his Pennsylvanian hometown with the help of money via his student loans. Heather (Scott's ex-girlfriend played by Claire Chapelli) is also in town fresh from a semester at Penn State University. Then we have Petroff (Tristan Erwin) as Scott's good friend who lives at home, works at a pizza parlor, and is hush hush about his supposedly stellar SAT scores. There's Scott's brother Phil (played by Philip Quinaz) who is heavily inebriated and loves making tons of pumpkin pies. Finally, we have Rachel Keller as Tori, Scott's outsider love interest and unlikely best friend. That's the unofficial blueprint. The rest of the proceedings involve the lives of these five young adults intersecting over periods of heavy pot-smoking, binge drinking, and bad sex. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a family holiday but in this dirtied-up town, every night's a party (the cold, sentiment-free parents of these twenty-somethings are rarely seen to begin with).

Hollidaysburg gives its novice actors plenty of raunchy, suggestive dialogue that relegates a new spin on the seven dirty words (the name "poopdick" is something I've never heard before anywhere). And the loud, coffee house-induced background music sometimes drowns out these words. There is even a scene where a seventy-year old woman runs completely naked while threatening someone with a shotgun (that's a gray area where you might wanna hit the fast forward button on the DVD player, stat). But make no mistake about it, every misunderstood character is somewhat likable and despite various flaws, empathetic. You sense that they don't want to grow up into adulthood. And as you take in "Burg's" dialogue-driven, 87 minute running time, you also sense that they're content on not wanting to leave their drab, colorless environment. The town at which they inhabit for a few sunshine-free days, sucks them in just like with every other vehicle containing a Pennsylvania backdrop. Steel mills, Primanti Brothers Sandwiches, expensive turnpikes, and Iron City Beer. Ah, who can resist.

In conclusion, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite time of the year. I mean, I don't cook so basically watching football, drinking spirits, and eating turkey all day is heaven for me. As for movies taking place on the pilgrim-themed holiday, I haven't seen many. Plains, Trains, & Automobiles would probably be right up at the top of a very short list. Is the current flick I'm reviewing in the same league as Steve Martin's classic 1987 comedy? Not quite. But it's worth a look. Its one word title is the actual name of a Central borough right outside of Altoona, PA. I've never been there so I can't tell you what it's like. I will say this though: Hollidaysburg as a lowbrow, coming-of-age yarn, is an interesting, earthy place to visit. Result: 3 Stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Interstellar 2014 * * * Stars

InterstellarDirector: Christopher Nolan
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway

God bless Michael Caine. I mean who doesn't like Michael Caine. Here's the problem though: He's 81 years old and Anne Hathaway who's 31, plays his character's daughter in Christopher Nolan's latest film. And oh yeah, 23 years pass in said film and Caine is still alive. Wow, he looked pretty good for someone who's reached 104. Uh huh. Anyway, these are some of the aspects that had me scratching my head during 2014's highly ambitious, yet highly imperfect, Interstellar.

Watching Nolan's two hour-plus space opera, you can tell that he revisited 2001: A Space Odyssey a few times to obtain a similar vision. His visual palate in regards to "2001" is realistically assured yet sort of conventional. So to counter on screen any nods toward the late, great Stanley Kubrick, Nolan also provides his own unique look via his cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema (The Fighter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Add a plot over plot over plot screenplay co-written by his brother (Jonathon Nolan) and you've got an exhausting, science fiction epic that could have easily been concocted by the Wachowski brothers (or brother and sister if you've been on a desert island). "Odyssey" was made over forty years ago and it forced you to ask questions about time and space. It was just a blueprint where as Interstellar pretty much answers those questions for you. Does that make this fall release a ballsy, forceful masterpiece? Not quite. But it's too involving, absorbing, and monstrously canvassed to not garner my recommendation. Oh and did I mention that Nolan has John Lithgow included in his casting (he plays the main character's father-in-law). Lithgow was in "2001's" sequel entitled 2010: The Year We Make Contact. A subtle wink perhaps? Sure why not.

Interstellar plays like 1998's Armageddon in a let's-get-in-a-spaceship-and-save-the-world kind of fashion. But Armageddon gives off the feeling of a silly, hyper-active popcorn flick. Interstellar because of its confusing, intricate screenplay, is something completely different. It makes you want to take a note pad with you so you can write stuff down. Are we talking classroom science lecture? Maybe. Are there zingers and comic relief included? Not so much. Nolan's other mind bender Inception, delved deep in the realm of dreams and the quote unquote, "collapsing of a dream." Compared to Interstellar, Inception doesn't even scratch its surface. Just paint-by-numbers fodder to be honest.

Structured without any containable buildup between scenes on planet Earth and scenes that take place in galaxies that are far far away (the spaceship stuff harbors over 75% of the film's running time), Interstellar begins by depicting astronaut turned farmer, Cooper (played by a miscast Matthew McConaughey who gets his veritable Keir Dullea-on going where no man has ever gone before, literally). The planet is desolate with dust storms and food shortage. The only hope for mankind involves an expedition by which a shuttle takes off through a wormhole finding other planets that humans might be able to survive on. This mission brings Cooper out of retirement and pairs him with a geographer (an underused Wes Bentley as Doyle), a physicist (the excellent Ann Hathaway), another physicist (David Gyasi), and a robot named TARS (just think a friendlier HAL 9000 with walking, outward appendages added on). Cooper, without any real notice, accepts said mission and must leave his intelligent, spunky daughter ("Murph" played with mature vigor by Mackenzie Foy) and his co-farmer son (Timothee Chalamet as Tom) behind.

The scenes where McConaughey's Cooper is on a certain planet for three hours and at the same time (according to time dilation), the Earth has surpassed 20 plus years, are absolutely surreal. I remember hearing about this concept in grade school but it really hits home in Interstellar. This along with Hans Zimmer's intimate film score, are a couple of the vehicle's strongest attributes.

But as mentioned earlier, there's the weird realization of Matthew McConaughey in the lead role. I don't know what it is but I just can't see him as an actor playing an astronaut. I mean I'm not faulting the guy. He no doubt gives an adequate performance and well, he's already obtained his coveted Oscar (for the frail transformation of an AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club). There are times though when I still feel like I'm watching his Wooderson burnout from Dazed And Confused. He's got that aw shucks thing going on and in my mind, it doesn't quite translate towards NASA. Also, the documentary devices by which various people are interviewed at the beginning of Interstellar's bloated running time are sort of tacky, cliched, and out of place. These interviews involve elderly people briefly explaining what transpired many moons ago via Earth's awaited demise. Why this dated concept is still used in today's cinema baffles me. It just seems so ten to fifteen years ago in style.

Nevertheless, Interstellar is the type of movie that drains you by the time you walk out of the theater. It works on a visual level despite a script that has enough inconsistent sci-fi jargon to spin your head the wrong way (you can also add on Dylan Thomas poetry overkill as well). And the dialogue readings got to the point where if a cast member uttered the words "plan A" or "plan B" one more time, I was seriously gonna lose it. Oh well, anything directed by Christopher Nolan is worth a look. He's a sophisticated, disciplined filmmaker who's near failures are better than most director's successes. So to end this review, I'll say this: Interstellar is decent but in a sense, not quite a "stellar" affair.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Longest Week 2014 * * Stars

The Longest Week
Director: Peter Glantz
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Olivia Wilde, Jason Bateman, Tony Roberts, Billy Crudup

Jason Bateman's latest is a 2014 release that runs the gamut on every Woody Allen/Wes Anderson film you could possibly imagine. And as it clocks in at a paltry 86 minutes, The Longest Week still feels like the "longest" piece of romantic propaganda out there. Bateman plays Conrad Valmont. He comes from a rich family and has never worked a day in his life. At 40 years old, he coasts through each moment in a smog of cigarettes, Tom Collins cocktails, and loose women. He's a writer or wannabe writer who has never finished a book. He's also persuasive, crass, somewhat intelligent, but incredibly unlikable all at the same time. When his parents decide on a separation, he temporarily gets cut off from his luxury pad in a swank Manhattan hotel. He then resorts to crashing at an old friend's house (Billy Crudup as Dylan Tate) all the while trying to steal said friend's would be girlfriend (the lovely Olivia Wilde as Beatrice Fairbanks).

"Week" is directed by newcomer Peter Glantz (in his seven year career, he's helmed mostly shorts like 2010's The Dinner Party). It has a forced, sort of annoying narration throughout (just think 2006's Little Children) and consists of repetitive, monotonous conversations between the three lead actors. Bateman, Crudup, and Wilde play their artsy fartsy parts looking and flailing around as if they wish they were somewhere else. You don't feel anything for them and you wouldn't want to hang out with their pretentious personas either. Peter G's style as mentioned earlier, borrows heavily from Wes Anderson in terms of panoramic wide angle shots and large title cards. And the fact that he throws in an actor from Woody Allen's acclaimed Annie Hall (an almost unrecognizable Tony Roberts playing Bateman's character's psychiatrist) only reeks of mild desperation.

All in all, The Longest Week might be the first ever straight-to-DVD release that feels like a veritable Starbucks moment between its cast members. It's Whit Stillman gone afoul with a hint of a very faint palate thrown in. As for Bateman, I give him credit for trying to steer away from bad, gross out comedies or bland PG-13 comedies. He's trying to branch out and his acting style here is unique with sly, quick line readings and sauciness to boot. But with an impractical script, a role featuring Olivia Wilde that's wishy-washy towards choosing a mate, and dourness that falls short of the similarly themed Igby Goes Down, The Longest Week might as well be called The Longest "Weak". Goodbye.

Written by Jesse Burleson