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Mon04062020

Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Bob Grimm

Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd reprise their awesome married couple from Knocked Up in This Is 40, director Judd Apatow’s latest, which will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray this Friday, March 22. The duo prove their characters are worthy of full attention.

Apatow loves to make long movies, and this one is no exception, clocking in at 134 minutes. Most of those minutes are entertaining, although I would concur that this is a bit long for a comedy. Doesn’t somebody have to be getting shot or tortured for a movie to go longer than two hours?

While the main characters from Knocked Up (played by Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl) are not back for the almost-sequel, other characters, including those played by Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi, do make it. That’s kind of cute.

The film has fun with the whole midlife-crisis thing, adding Albert Brooks and John Lithgow as much welcomed granddads. Megan Fox gets her best screen role yet as a clothing-store employee who may or may not be a hooker on the side.

Mann is especially good in the film, and both she and Rudd were deserving of Golden Globe nominations, at the least. Alas, both were snubbed.

Special Features: If you plan on taking in both versions of this film (you get both the theatrical and unrated versions) and the many special features, you had better break a foot or something so you can call in sick to work. You get an Apatow commentary, deleted and extended scenes, four documentaries, two gag reels, and more. It’s a big package. 

Time will tell us that Les Misérables—being released on DVD and Blu-Ray today, Friday, March 22—was a far more deserving movie than Argo for Best Picture. As far as movie musicals go, I can’t think of one that has ever amazed me more—and I’m a big movie-musical fan. I rank this one alongside My Fair Lady, West Side Story and Grease as one of cinema’s all-time-best musicals. I personally put it at No. 1, even with Russell Crowe’s painful singing.

Director Tom Hooper, criminally snubbed for a Best Director Oscar nomination, had his stars sing live on set. They wore earpieces and microphones, which were later removed in post-production, with a music track playing along as they sang their hearts out.

The results are absolutely amazing. Anne Hathaway got her much-deserved Oscar after doing “I Dreamed a Dream” in a long, uninterrupted take. Whenever I watch her doing this, my eyes open so wide that I have no forehead left.

Hugh Jackman, you should have an Oscar on your mantle. Daniel Day-Lewis did a nice job as Lincoln, but Jackman did something nobody has really done before. As for Crowe, I’m sort of OK with how bad he sounds. It makes his nasty character, the determined lawman Javert, more pathetic and isolated.

Watching this movie is goose-bump city. It will always stand as one of cinema history’s greatest movie-making achievements.

Special Features: Hooper provides a commentary, and you get some behind-the-scenes docs, including a great one about how they recorded the live music. 

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone takes a jab at Las Vegas magicians like David Copperfield and Siegfried and Roy, and feels like a lame guy showing up to a party with a rubber nose, a squirting flower and a bottle of cheap schnapps.

There’s nothing funny about seeing Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi dressed like Siegfried and Roy, and dancing around to Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra.” And it’s downright distasteful to have a magician in a bar with gauze bandages all over his neck because one of his big cats bit him. Get it? Roy Horn had his neck injured by a tiger during a show, so the dude in the bar is a sly reference to that stage tragedy! Ha ha ha ha!

I’m not saying there isn’t a funny joke about Roy getting mauled out there somewhere. Deep in the far recesses of Hollywood, there must be some writer who can wring a few laughs out of Roy’s partial paralysis and life-threatening loss of blood. I am just saying the folks involved in this movie have failed with the concept.

Really, this movie is douchebag central. It’s a bunch of tired jokes by tired performers on a tired subject. Oh, but David Copperfield makes a cameo. There you go, magic fans!

Carell, who I’m predicting will have to return to TV sooner than later, plays Burt Wonderstone, a Vegas magician headlining at Bally’s. His partner, Anton Marvelton (Buscemi), joins him every night for the same tired magician act, as they run through a sequence of played-out illusions and sexist jokes.

Doug Munny, a casino mogul played by James Gandolfini, wants his headliners to modernize their act. He cites Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) as the modern direction of magic. The Gray character is a hybrid of Criss Angel and David Blaine, and hosts a TV show called “Brain Rape” where he does ungodly things to his face and body. His show is called “Brain Rape,” and Angel had a show called “Mindfreak.” Get it? Ha ha ha ha!

In one of the film’s few funny gags, Burt and Anton attempt a Blaine-style isolation chamber that goes terribly awry. They break up, and Wonderstone’s attempts at a solo career land him at a retirement home doing tricks for aging Vegas showpeople. One of them is Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), the magician who had a namesake magic set that Burt played with as a child. Their relationship in the film is neither touching nor inspirational, and it certainly isn’t funny.

Very little in the movie is actually funny, although I did laugh a couple of times at the Carrey hijinks. Carrey has always been an incredible physical performer, and he does this thing with one of his eyes after his character drills a hole in his own skull. It’s pretty damned remarkable.

And what has become of Carrey? He’s taking supporting roles in this travesty and the upcoming Kick-Ass 2. I guess he’s having a hard time landing headliner gigs after the bomb that was Mr. Pooper’s Defecating Fat Aquatic Birds That Look Like They Are Wearing Tuxedos, or whatever that movie was called.

The best thing in this movie, by far, is the suit jacket that Olivia Wilde wears late in the film. It’s this cool, jazzy little number that looks like three different tweed jackets from a thrift store stitched together. I’m not being sarcastic; it really is cool-looking, and I want one. Seriously, somebody get on it and start making those jackets for men. I’ll pay at least $50 for that thing.

The movie is directed by Don Scardino, a veteran of many TV shows. He gets credit for pulling the worst big-screen performance out of Steve Carell to date, and those of you who saw Carell’s mopey-faced work in Dan in Real Life know that getting something worse out of Carell is a major feat.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a movie that should’ve never been made, at least not in this century. It would’ve sucked balls before 2000, too, but at least it would’ve been slightly relevant. As it stands, it’s one of those movies you watch unfold in disbelief, wondering how anybody thought it was a good idea.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is playing at theaters across the valley.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files is of the stranger films you will see. Real-life interviews and archival footage are combined with odd yet effective re-enactments to tell the story of modern history’s most-notorious cannibal.

Most notable among the Dahmer witnesses is Pamela Bass, a neighbor who claims to have eaten a sandwich given to her by Jeffrey, a meal she most definitely regrets. It’s totally creepy to hear somebody talk about their relatively normal neighbor—a neighbor who was keeping bodies in tanks and heads in the refrigerator.

Also in the interview mix is Pat Kennedy, the detective who interviewed Dahmer the night they brought him in, and, golly, did he get some disgusting surprises.

Andrew Swant stars as Dahmer in the re-enactment stuff, and he isn’t bad (although he is no Jeremy Renner, who did a decent job playing the killer in the underrated biopic Dahmer). Credit director Chris James Thompson for taking a truly strange idea for a movie and making it interesting.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files is available on demand, and via iTunes and Amazon.com.

I like James Franco more often than not. I loved him as a stoner; I loved him as a hiker who gets his arm stuck behind a boulder; I even liked him opposite a motion-capture chimp.

However, he is all wrong for the central character of Oz the Great and Powerful.

The role of Oz calls for somebody with swagger and snark, while Franco is just too laid back, and too normal, for a role that requires old-school charm. Yes, he’s charming in a modern sort of way, but in director Sam Raimi’s take on the wonderful wizard, you get the sense that Franco is really straining.

When he smiles in this movie, it almost looks as if he is going to tear his face, because he’s putting so much into it; his line deliveries seem forced. Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. were apparently offered the role, and either of them would have been much more sensible.

The movie acts as a sort of prequel to the The Wizard of Oz. We see the wizard’s origins as a desperate carnival magician in Kansas. His eventual trip to Oz via twister is much like the one Dorothy took on her voyage, and the movie plays out in black and white before his arrival in Oz, just as it did in ’39.

The movie offers up the three witches from the original film as well (one of them, of course, being the one that got squished by Dorothy’s house). There’s Theodora, played by Mila Kunis, as a sort of nice witch with a bad temper who is going to go through a major change in her complexion at some point. We also get Michelle Williams as bubble-riding good-witch Glinda in what is probably the most obvious casting of the year. Finally, there’s Rachel Weisz as Evanora, who may or may not be bad.

Weisz turns in the best portrayal of an Oz witch. There’s a nice mystery to her, and she looks fabulous. Williams is fine, if not all that adventurous, as Glinda. Williams has far less warble in her voice as young Glinda; Glinda always freaked me out when she spoke in The Wizard of Oz. It seemed like somebody was standing next to her and rubbing a finger on her throat while she talked.

The worst of the three is easily Kunis, who just blows it as the character once played by (SPOILER ALERT) Margaret Hamilton. Raimi’s film gives her a reason for becoming wicked, and that reason—jilted love—is STUPID. When Kunis is asked to scream and cackle, it’s unintentionally funny. She comes off like somebody playing the role in a high school production, and if that production were a graded element of some class, she would get an “F” and be asked to think of another trade.

She does have much better boobs in her outfit than Hamilton had, though. Much, much better.

You have the option of seeing Oz in 3-D, and it’s OK to skip that option. The effects are nothing to get excited about. I wasn’t impressed with the look of the Emerald City; Raimi is obviously going for the fairytale look charm of the original Oz, but he should’ve gone for more detail and less gloss. You get no real sense of these characters inhabiting another world. They just like they are part of a screensaver. Big special-effects movies are looking rather crappy lately, with The Hobbit, Jack the Giant Slayer and this one all looking odd.

But the lead performance by Franco is the biggest problem in this movie that’s full of problems. I expected him to take a hit off a hash pipe or something while a scene was playing out. 

Wreck-It Ralph left me a little cold. A lot of folks predicted it would win the big Oscar prize for animation, but I correctly predicted that Brave (a better movie) would be the victor.

There’s a lot of potential in this arcade throwback about a giant video-game character (voiced by John C. Reilly) who yearns for a better life as a “good guy,” and abandons his “bad guy” game post. There are some cool retro-game sight gags (but not nearly enough!) and some clever twists, but this one falls substantially short of greatness.

I did enjoy Sarah Silverman giving voice to a little-girl character who wants to be a racecar driver, and Reilly voices his character with charm. I just the film a little tiresome as it wore on, and I grew tired of it in the repetitive second half.

There were some major laughs in the group-therapy sessions (I love the zombie!) and some cute stuff between Reilly and Silverman, but overall, the film is surprisingly tedious. Like too many animated films these days, it tries to get by on frantic action rather than story. It’s not a bad movie … it’s just a movie I didn’t like very much.

Special Features: The best special feature would be “Paperman,” the animated short that preceded the film and got its own Oscar nomination. You also get a short behind-the-scenes look, and some deleted scenes. This is a surprisingly lackluster disc effort from Disney. 

Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated as best director for the movie that eventually went on to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars. We all know this by now.

However, surprisingly few people have made a big stink about Affleck’s failure to receive a nomination for best actor in Argo. He is the one who spends the most time, by far, onscreen, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that he should’ve been nominated for his performance? That performance was the driving force behind the best picture, right?

I don’t think Argo should’ve been nominated in any of the major categories, including picture, director and actor. It’s a fine film, and Affleck continues to make very good movies, but this wasn’t the year’s best picture. Heck, it didn’t even make my personal Top 20.

The movie has a nice retro feel, and features great work from Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and, to a lesser extent, Alan Arkin. Arkin received a Best Supporting Actor nomination, another nom the film didn’t deserve.

I was about 11 years old when the Iran hostage crisis went down; Affleck was around 7. So some of his earliest memories probably involve how embarrassing and frustrating this time in American history was.

Argo is very good movie, but it isn’t a great one. That said, I think Affleck has some great movies in his future.

Special Features: This is a Blu-ray package in which the special features are actually better than the movie. A director’s commentary with Affleck is highly informative and entertaining, as is a picture-in-picture feature you can run for the entire film. This feature includes many of the actual hostages and participants in the rescue. Some other decent behind-the-scenes featurettes and an archival documentary on the rescue mission round things out to make this a great disc. 

Jack the Giant Slayer will go down as one of the worst domestic flops in recent Hollywood history.

Using a budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million, director Bryan Singer—who took a lot of flack for his underperforming Superman Returns (a film I liked)—has put together a visual mess.

The movie features live actors performing along CGI giants, and the live action doesn’t integrate with the effects at all. The effects have a cartoon quality that had me wondering why they didn’t just make this a CGI animated adventure. It’s not like they have huge stars anchoring the picture. Will Smith fought cartoon zombies in I Am Legend, but you forgave the silliness of those cartoon zombies because Smith sold the whole damn thing.

The responsibility of selling Jack rests on the shoulders of the likable but not extremely charismatic Nicholas Hoult (who was very good in Warm Bodies). He plays the title character with enough charm to make the movie almost tolerable, but that’s it. Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci have supporting roles, and they actually register more than Hoult.

Unlike in the classic fairytale, Jack must go up against an army of giants. Those giants are created via motion-capture animation that is never convincing or impressive. In fact, the lineup of giant characters looks quite bad.

It doesn’t help matters that the lead giant, a two-headed villain named General Fallon, is voiced by Bill Nighy. Nighy, of course, voiced the Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and his work here is very similar. In other words, you’ll spend the movie being constantly reminded of his better performance as a more-interesting villain in another picture. It also doesn’t help that Fallon’s simpleminded second head is a total Gollum rip-off.

The movie is rated PG-13, but don’t take the little kids. Singer inserted many violent moments in which the giants dispatch human victims, often by biting the humans’ screaming heads off. Granted, Singer doesn’t show the bloody aftermath, but it’s pretty shocking for what’s supposed to be a family film.

People get stomped, too, like Charles Grodin in the 1976 version of King Kong, which I just re-watched on Netflix the other day. The ’76 version of Kong was better than Jack the Giant Slayer, because Rick Baker in a monkey suit was more convincing than the CGI giants in Jack. Plus, Jessica Lange was really hot.

As the reluctant princess who runs away from her puny king dad (Ian McShane), relative newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson doesn’t exactly light up the screen. This isn’t necessarily her fault, considering that the screenplay provides her with nothing but flat dialogue, and the wardrobe department makes her wear silly hats.

McGregor fares best and has a couple of good moments, including a sequence in which he almost winds up as a pig in a blanket. Tucci is saddled with a goofy wig and goofy teeth. He looks like he thinks he’s playing somebody funnier—but he isn’t funny.

For the kids, Singer allows for a few farts and boogers. I suppose he thinks that balances it all out: Yes, giants rip heads off screaming victims in this movie quite often, but I will throw in a couple of farts to keep the kids laughing.

I’m curious why Warner Bros. moved this from its original release date last summer. Is it because they wanted to do some more work on the special effects in an effort to make them look better? (If so, they failed.) Or did they know they had a stinker on their hands, so they decided a March release would lessen the competition?

Either way, they have a history-making stinker on their hands.

Up next for Singer is X-Men: Days of Future Past. That’s encouraging news; let’s just hope none of the X-Men fart, pick their nose or bite somebody’s head off.

Jack the Giant Slayer is playing at theaters across the valley.

Directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (writers of The Hangover) basically serve up yet another version of that film. This one is set in a college town, with college kids drinking a lot and getting into all kinds of college trouble.

Miles Teller (who was in the similarly stupid Project X) headlines as Miller, a friend of Jeff Chang (Justin Chon). Jeff Chang is turning 21, and Miller takes him out for a night of partying with pal Casey (Skylar Astin). Guess what? They all get crazy drunk and stuff. There’s nothing remotely close to new or original in these scenarios. The only thing keeping this from being totally lousy is that the actors play off of each other well, especially Teller and Astin.

If you crack up when people eat tampons or get their asses branded, well, this one’s for you. If you get mildly annoyed at racist humor coupled with guys playing drinking games, stay far away. 

21 and Over is playing at theaters across the valley.

Twenty-six directors each get a death-related word corresponding to a letter in the alphabet, and they go to town—often in disgusting fashion, and the result is The ABCs of Death.

Some of the shorts are truly classic, while others are bizarre beyond comprehension, and others are just bad. Standouts include “D” for “Dogfight,” in which some dog-fighting gamblers get their comeuppance. I also liked “F” for “Fart,” and I’m not even going to try to explain what happens in this segment.

Many of the segments go way, way overboard with the violence and will surely turn off viewers of all kinds. Consider yourself warned that the movie goes beyond an R-rating (it is actually unrated) when it comes to the yucky stuff; for example, you will see a knife shooting out of a large penis.

Some of the directors include Ti West (The Innkeepers) and Angela Bettis (star of the very creepy May). You will laugh, but you may come close to barfing as well, so don’t eat too much before taking it in. 

The ABCs of Death is available on-demand and on iTunes.