Monday, April 30, 2012


Rated: R
STARS: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Stoller
PRODUCER; Judd Apatow
GENRE: Romantic Comedy

Romantic comedies typically are about two people on the verge of hooking up, while fate and one thing or another prevents them from becoming fully committed until the end. The Five Year Engagement centers primarily on the period after our couple has said "I will," as a precursor to saying "I do." So what we get instead of that romantic tension is the letdown of things beginning to unravel when their careers and other factors are pulling them in different directions. Kind of an anti-romcom in romcom's clothing.

What was hard for me to fathom from the outset was why--other than co-writer and co-star Jason Segel inserting himself opposite Emily Blunt again--these two are together. Segel is chef Tom Solomon, and his betrothed is Emily Blunt's Violet Barnes, a grad student in psychology. Tom is kind of a meatball--not quite on the scale of Kevin James in the TV sitcom King of Queens--but close, because he too is paired with a woman who is way out of his league.(The exquisite Emily Blunt is near the top of the food chain not only in looks, but certain intangibles that you can't quite put your finger (or fingers) on, but would like to!) So I don't buy them as a couple, appearance wise, and I didn't feel that on-screen chemistry either, which can often transcend the surface factors and render them believable.

Tom leaves a promising gig as a chef in San Francisco to follow violet to the frozen tundra of the University of Michigan, where she is in line for a post doctoral position in the psychology department. (Where they think they can draw conclusions about the emotional makeup of test subjects by whether they will or won't eat semi-stale donuts).It's only supposed to be for two years, so they will delay their nuptials a while. But as the film title has already revealed, that time frame will stretch on and on.

The only work in his field Tom can find in Michigan is making sandwiches at a local deli. You can sublimate your own dreams and self-esteem for the benefit of a mate for only so long before some resentment is bound to surface. And when Violet starts spending too much time with her advisor, the pontifical Winton Childs, (Rhys Ifans) and he makes a move on her, that's a recipe for disaster. 

Tom and Violet begin to second guess their commitment to each other, and that would have been a good place to end The Five Year Engagement, because these two weren't compatible to begin with. But Judd Apatow productions (Bridesmaids, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, et al.) have developed a reputation for having excess fat that maybe should have been trimmed--and true to form, The Five Year Engagement stretches into a seven course meal that makes us feel bloated at the end, as it slouches toward the conclusion we've already anticipated.

Not to imply that there aren't some laughs here. But the humor is so offbeat--peppered with all the obligatory F-bombs, whether they flow naturally from the material or not--that sometimes the audience laughed, and other times showed no reaction to what was obviously "supposed" to be funny.

Chris Pratt, as Tom's best friend, Alex, and Alison Brie, as his wife, (and Violet's sister) each give good turns here. They are both zany, and seem like two people who are better suited to being together.

But I think what I liked the best was Emily Blunt doing her impression of The Cookie Monster.

Grade:  C + 


Sunday, April 15, 2012

THREE ON DVD--capsule reviews of : CARNAGE *** TAKE SHELTER*** IN TIME

CARNAGE  (2011)

Rated:  R

Two eleven-year old boys get into an altercation. One swings a stick at the other and knocks out a couple of teeth. The two sets of parents get together and try to smooth things over in a polite and civilized manner. The stage is now set (literally--the film is adapted from a stage play) for some delicious dark humor, and some not so appetizing cobbler dessert, in Roman Polanski's Carnage.

Jodie Foster and John C.. Reilly play the odd couple--Michael and Penelope. She's a liberal minded writer. He's in the household supply business, and something of a hamster hating sociopath.  Christopher Waltz and Kate Winslet are the upscale pair--Alan and Nancy. He's a corporate attorney, and she's an investment broker.                

Initially, everyone is polite. Then, accusation and counter accusation begin to fly in an escalating manner.  Booze is poured. We are treated to the spectacle of Nancy tossing her cookies (actually, the aforementioned apple cobbler)  all over her husband and Penelope's precious coffee table books.  There are great lines like: Their son is a threat to national security!  Then, when the spouses turn their rancor upon each other: If you ask me, the couple is the worst ordeal God has ever inflicted on us. 

This is a heavyweight cast, and each of the four turns in a bravura performance. But Jodie Foster's tightly wound Penelope--ready to snap at any moment--is something to behold.

Other than the opening setup and the closing shot, Carnage takes place entirely inside Michael and Penelope's Brooklyn apartment. The intimate,  close-range aspect of it is reminiscent of My Dinner With Andre, but with decidedly less civil overtones.

Grade:  A



Rated:  R

Michael Shannon stars as a normal family man who begins having visions of impending disaster, and starts building an underground bomb shelter in his back yard. His wife (Jessica Chastain) thinks he's going schizo. Is he?  Pony up some scratch to see it and find out.

There is a building sense of foreboding in Take Shelter  (sort of like the way I feel about the upcoming presidential election). It all leads to an understated, yet potent and portentous ending. Some may be disappointed with it, but those are the folks who need to have everything spelled out for them. Anyway, it all fits into the groove of what is in the back of the minds of a lot of people as the countdown to December 21st, 2012 continues.  If anybody is crazy, let's hope it's the Mayans. (Those knuckleheads!) 

Take Shelter  was on a lot of top ten lists of 2011.  It misses mine, but not by a whole lot.

Grade:  B +


IN TIME  (2011)

Rated:  PG-13

Time is money, that's how the saying goes. In the world of the future, that is literally true. People are genetically programmed to stop aging at 25. Then, an electronic digital clock implanted in your wrist begins to count down the days, hours, and minutes until you reach 26. You've got one year, and it's up to you to beg, borrow, or steal more time--otherwise you'll drop stone cold dead. (Hell of a birthday present, eh?) 

Yep, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Those who are short on time live in ghettos and scramble to stay alive day to day. The rich, who have hundreds of years in the bank, live in their own segregated world. Just like now. The currency medium is the only thing that has changed.  (The way it works is you drive up to a toll booth, for example,  and stick your arm out and the attendant collects a few minutes off your life...yes, you can LITERALLY be nickled and dimed to death!)

 Justin Timberlake stars as Will Salas,  a poor dude who is bequeathed a hundred years by a guy who no longer wants to live. But Salas is accused of the man's murder, and he's on the run. He's pissed-off about the inherent unfairness of the system, (like the Occupy Wall Street gang) so he buys himself some threads and decides to crash the rich folks' party.  There he meets the super hot daughter (Amanda Seyfried) of an extremely wealthy man. She's intrigued by him, and they both end up on the lam, running from the "timekeepers" who are out to bring them in. And that's where In Time  kicks into another gear. 

The movie opened to mostly lackluster reviews, but I was surprised by how much it grew on me 
as it sped toward its climax. (You only want to do that in the movies, of course.)

Grade:  B


Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Rated: R

STARS: Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hanigan, Chris Klein, Eddie Kay Thomas, Eugene Levy, Thomas Ian Nichols, Ali Kobrin
DIRECTOR: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
GENRE: Gross-Out Comedy

Must be a testament to the fun and good times the original American Pie cast had in making the film, (and its two sequels) because the WHOLE GANG--Jim, Stifler, Oz, Kevin, Finch, Michelle, Jim's dad and Stifler's mom--are back for another go at it in American Reunion

Staying true to the formula, there are enough gross-out gags and juvenile hijinks to keep your inner adolescent cackling along throughout.    

It's been thirteen years since the original film, and as they plan for a high school reunion back at East Great Falls, Michigan, you'd think these these thirty-somethings might have changed and matured some, but it's really just their circumstances that are different. Jim (Jason Biggs) is married to Michelle, (Alyson Hanigan) and they have a two year old son. 
Stifler is a yes-man at a financial firm. Oz is a semi-recognizable sportscaster on TV. Finch is a world traveler who regales the girls with tales of his adventures.  

But people still remember the embarrassing YouTube video of Jim's
bedroom misadventures, (from the first film) so it's almost mandatory that he winds up in a similarly compromising situation here. Stifler, (Seann William Scott) the heart and soul of the American Pie franchise with his wild and crazy antics, is obligated to pull another doozy of a caper out of his butt (and he does--in a manner of speaking). And so on.  

The subplot involves 18-year old Kara, (Ali Kobrin)  the little girl  Jim used to babysit 
back in the day.  She's all grown up in a BIG way, and now she's got a major crush on him. We will see how things have been developing with Kara, in a madcap sequence that begins with her being drunk, and tearing off her clothes, and coming onto the now husband and dad,  Jim,  (always the hapless fall- guy) in the car as he is innocently trying to take her  home.  

The various inside jokes in American Reunion will fall flat if you haven't seen the original American Pie. You can still get off on American Reunion if you didn't, but it's like eating apple pie without the whipped cream.(And you wouldn't laugh--or groan--at what I just said unless you HAD seen the original!)

Relationships will be tested, and some will be rekindled, but through it all, we sense that things will right themselves in the end-- because despite all the raunch, this film has a good heart, and that goes a long ways with me--even if it is all the familiar scenarios with an updated twist.

Grade: B