Summer Moviethon: The Heat, Evil Dead (2013)

July 23: #42, The Heat

Don’t worry, you can show up an hour late to this one

I pride myself at being good at avoiding turds. Some moviegoers can’t seem to do this, and others (like my friend Lee) are actually attracted to them- this is a guy who willingly went to see Garfield

Therefore, I feel like I have to defend myself here, as well as for a few future turds that I will undoubtedly be subjecting myself to. First of all, I think it’s good to watch a shitty movie or two now and then if you’re reviewing films. It helps you to keep your scale calibrated. If all that you watch are great movies, you start to take them for granted. You feel like a professor at Random Online University, just giving out A’s and B’s left and right, whether or not anyone actually deserves one.

Also, this movie was showing in my tiny town’s little theater, which has become my favorite place to see movies. I’ll see just about anything that comes through here (they get one movie a week) if I get the chance and it’s not based on a book written by Nicholas Sparks. Finally, I hadn’t even seen a trailer for this and had no idea it even existed.

I did read some reviews by regular old people online before I went to see The Heat, and they were all pretty much written by middle-aged women who are probably Sandra Bullock fans and didn’t expect to see a movie with almost as many f-bombs as Casino. “The language was DISGUSTING!” one boring menopausal woman with seven cats claimed. Yes, Grumpy Puritanical Lady. The word “fuck” is literally disgusting. Now go watch some Murder, She Wrote and shut the fuck up.

The Heat is basically a female take on the buddy cop film, although it is so untethered to reality in favor of laughs that it’s more comparable to The Other Guys than Lethal Weapon. Also, you should know that it is a giant, stinky turd for about the first hour and represents a very rare counterpoint to the usually dependable rule that comedies are always at their funniest before the plot kicks in.

I didn’t dislike The Heat because of the rampant f-bombs by co-star Melissa McCarthy (This is 40, The Hangover Part III). I disliked it mostly because McCarthy wasn’t funny. Here’s the deal: McCarthy plays Mullins, a Boston undercover cop who doesn’t play by any rules BUT HER OWN and is forced to pair up with an uptight, egotistical FBI agent, Ashburn (Sandra Bullock).

So, much of the film, especially in the first half, is about McCarthy being put into presumably funny situations where we are expected to laugh because a) she’s fat, and b) she says naughty words with a straight face. The problem is that her deadpan style doesn’t work for me, and neither does her Judd Apatow-ian riffs, most of which seem unscripted but almost none of which pair actual humor with their spontaneity.

I should be honest, though: a lot of the people in the theater were laughing. It just didn’t work for me. Now, I have to also add that later on in the film, there are a few legitimately funny scenes, and at least one that features a decent payoff for all of the cussing Mullins has been doing throughout the movie. But I found the first half of the movie either a) boring, b) aggressively, groan-inducingly bad, or c) both at any given time, so it was too little, too late…at least for me. Your mileage may vary.

As for Bullock, she was okay. She plays the straight-laced role well and once the plot gets moving, her and McCarthy have decent chemistry. But why does she all of a sudden look like the late Michael Jackson?

Bony, thin nose? Check. Straight, dark hair? Check. Pale complexion and butt-chin? Double-check. I'm a terrible person.

Humor is a pretty subjective thing. The action elements here are pretty much forgettable, as is everything else, including the entire supportive cast. Therefore, your enjoyment, or lack thereof, will depend on how funny you think McCarthy is here. It was a lot more “miss” than “hit” for me. Grade: D

July 23: #43, Evil Dead (2013)

Awesome, gross, not-altogether-scary fun

I’m used to being in the minority (or, as used to it as you can be while being a straight, white male). I’m one of an apparent very few that do not find “possession” movies all that scary. I know I’m in the minority because people say all the time that The Exorcist is the scariest movie ever made, and the industry keeps pumping out films where people are possessed by demons.


Fortunately, I don’t have to be scared by a horror movie to have a good time with it. I say “fortunately” because neither the 1981 version of The Evil Dead or its 2013 remake are very scary. Do they depict awful situations that would be horrifying in real life? Sure. But lots of things would be scary in real life that aren’t scary on screen. Like murderous turkeys, for example.

That’s not to say that Evil Dead isn’t creepy. There are plenty of unsettling things happening onscreen, and thanks to a plot that doesn’t require a ton of setup, the tension builds pretty nicely even though it takes no time at all for things to escalate.

In a lot of ways, Evil Dead is a victim not only of its predecessor but all of the films that the original inspired. It makes it very hard for anything here to appear new, because quite literally, almost none of it is new. Maybe that’s why it’s not very scary…I knew what was going to happen and whether with the original version or the films it has inspired, we’ve been to this cabin in the woods quite a few times now.

Of course, there are some new wrinkles here, including a large part of the plot itself. The cabin is not new to the kids in the film, which presents some logical issues (they didn’t know about the cellar?) but the setup of using the secluded location to help one of the girls (Jane Levy) kick a drug addiction also helps things make sense. Once she starts sensing things are not quite right, freaks out and wants to leave, her friends simply think she’s suffering from withdrawals and ignore her pleadings.

Like a lot of other previous remakes, most notably the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, this one copies a couple of iconic scenes. Also like the Elm Street remake, when Evil Dead recreates these scenes, it largely falls short (I’m referencing the infamous scene in the woods that starts it all), though not nearly to the degree that the Elm Street remake’s soulless rip-offs did.

Having said that, this is a great piece of horror filmmaking. The special effects are fantastic, the acting is actually very good (with Levy in particular taking on a demanding role and giving one of the better performances I’ve seen in a horror film in quite some time), and the movie has lots of gross-out moments that are hard to watch but add to the fun if you’re watching with like-minded horror fans.

I’m not a fan at all of “torture porn”, which is entirely different than saying I can't stand gore in horror films. See, even though some pretty disgusting stuff happens here, it doesn’t come off like torture porn for a couple of reasons. For one, unlike movies like Hostel, there’s a supernatural force at work, rather than just regular human beings acting like dicks. That’s important. Also, while the actors play it straight, the film has an undeniably campy undertone that keeps a level of disbelief intact to make some of the nastier stuff more palatable to watch. As with a lot of horror movies since the 80s, this one is as much about seeing your friends’ reaction to gross stuff as it is reacting to it yourself.

And there’s plenty to react to. The Book of the Dead features scrawled references to “RIVERS OF BLOOD”, and that’s pretty accurate here. Blood sprays, drips, and is vomited on people, and that’s just for starters. In terms of characters, there’s only one person that I really want to punch in the face, and that’s pretty good for a contemporary horror flick. “Hey, I’m the one that unleashed all this shit, but I’m gonna be a smug prick about it even though it’s all my fault!” Yeah, screw you, judgmental, humorless hipster guy.

The post-credits “scene”, which lasts all of three seconds, makes me wonder where on Earth they’re going with this. It certainly stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the film, and my initial reaction is to be kind of bummed that they didn’t let the remake stand on its own. For now, they’ve at least done a good job reviving the franchise. Grade: B+


Summer Moviethon: The Resident Evil series

I watched these movies weeks ago and wrote the reviews right after, but am just now posting them here. So yeah, I'm not only woefully behind on watching movies, but reviewing them. There's no way I'm getting to 150, but you knew that. Therefore, I'm taking a cue from the corporate overlords that run not only the real world, but the fictional world in the following films, and doing a chickenshit move our suit-wearing friends like to call a "re-branding"!

150 Movies in 90 Days is now Summer Moviethon! Pretend to like it!

July 9: #37, Resident Evil

Surprise! It's not bad!

After watching my dad play through the entirety of Resident Evil on Playstation, the appeal was lost for me and I never beat the game myself. I played the second one and found it to be incredibly hard right away, so I lost interest. As far as the movies went, I never gave them much thought. I thought staging the first one in a lab of some sort was too different from the game’s setting of a creepy mansion, but it was particularly one shot that killed any desire to see the movie for me.

It was a slow-motion Matrix-y moment where Milla Jovovich (the series’ star) is fighting an infected zombie-dog and she performs the most logical possible attack to dispatch the dog, running up the side of a wall, jumping off of it, and kicking it across the face. That was too much for me. I’m sorry, but unless somebody has had a lot- a lot of martial arts training or is a natural athlete, their kicks just don’t look right, and watching a 100-pound former model doing wire-fu just didn’t do it for me.

Well, what better time to give this long-running horror/action mashup series a chance than now? And I’m not gonna lie, the fact that I have to watch 114 more movies in like a month and all of the five films are just a shade over 90 minutes long also helps. 

You know what? This one surprised me. You’ll hopefully remember that I am no genre snob, and any movie can get a high grade for me, because I grade them according to their genre. That means for something like this, I’m not going to be disappointed when the plot is paper-thin, the character development is non-existent, and logic is largely thrown out the window (along with acting).

Which is good, because Resident Evil has some god-awful acting. When Michelle fucking Rodriguez has one of the better acting performances in your film, you’re in trouble. The film suffers early on from several men (who strangely, look almost exactly the same, like brothers) who really phone in their admittedly corny lines, although Pasquale Aleardi (J.D.) has to be singled out for saying every line he has in the most awkward, unauthentic, unnatural way possible. It’s almost like the director, Paul W.S. Anderson, told him, “Now, act like a guy who is acting! ACTION!” Fortunately, he dies.

Lots of people do, actually. This is actually a rated-R film, and not just for show. There is a delightfully twisted scene where the security system uses laser beams to attack the military unit, and it plays out so wonderfully gruesomely that I don’t even mind that they ripped it off from Cube.
Other stuff I liked- the direction was often fairly competent, as when Alice (Jovovich) is on the run from the dogs and has a tense moment where you know there’s a jump-scare coming, but when it comes it’s from a threat other than the one you expected. Of course, that’s followed by the awful wire-fu face kick, and most of the action scenes are accompanied by terrible metal or techno tracks. Also, this film was made over a decade ago and on a modest budget, so the CGI is a bit dodgy.

However, the action scenes are well done, some cool things are used such as a computer generated map that shows you where the group is in a neat transition between scenes, and a satisfying ending that is faithful to the games and takes the movie nicely into the sequel. This is a great example of a very good film in its genre and therefore, a pleasant surprise. Grade: B+

July 11: #38: Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Now with EVEN MORE super-serious women beating up zombies!

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (the series ditches the whole “number” titling in favor of generic dystopian terms) picks up right where the previous film left off, both in terms of story and in style.
That means you get more over-the-top action, pretty awful acting outside of a few minor characters and Milla Jovovich (Alice) herself, and zombies who aren’t really the focus of the film at all. This film also adds a new female character in Jill Valentine, played by Sienna Guillory. Guillory is pretty, but she essentially plays the same female-badass type that Michelle Rodriguez plays. The difference is that Guillory’s acting makes Rodriguez look like Meryl Streep.
The sequel also features plenty of nameless male soldiers, generic in look and lack of charisma, who are thankfully only in the film to be fodder for villains and zombies. Also, this time there’s a new “boss”, to steal a video game term- a huge monster/zombie hybrid thing named Nemesis. Nemesis is actually the result of experimentation on one of Alice’s colleagues, and though he looks cool, he moves about as stiffly as I do when I first get out of bed in the morning and really just exists to shoot things with a huge gun. Oh, and there’s a character named LJ who is supposed to be comic relief but instead makes me want to find the actor who played him and punch him in the dick.

Now, the good stuff. This film is so over-the-top that the bad acting feels right at home, and somehow Jovovich’s competent performance doesn’t seem out of place, either. It’s got great action movie cliché moments, such as people constantly running out of ammo at key moments. The “out of ammo” cliché gets turned nicely on its ear at the end of the film for an amusing moment, too. Other great clichés and tropes add to the fun and frustration of this film simultaneously- “highly-trained” soldiers fire thousands of rounds at Nemesis, yet somehow only shoot his armor and never his head.  Shotguns are pumped right after dramatic lines are finished- “Raccoon City will be completely sanitized…” CH-CHUCK.

The thematic elements are heavy-handed, but they’re there, at least. The series is really based upon a distrust of large corporations, and that gets turned up to 11 as the Umbrella Corporation can basically do anything they want with impunity, as seen by the hard-to-fathom “hoax” twist at the end that keeps the company out of hot water for their crimes. There’s a less obvious attack on our “record everything”, voyeuristic culture when a reporter’s camera ends up taping her own demise, too.

Altogether, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a mish-mash of so many different things that it’s hard to imagine how they packed it all into an hour and a half. Some of it works (any scene with Jovovich; Game of Thrones’ Iain Glenn as a mad scientist), a lot of it doesn’t (any scene without Jovovich; Nemesis), but the film manages to have enough fun moments to build anticipation towards the next installment, which is basically what it’s meant to do. Grade: B-
July 11: #39, Resident Evil: Extinction

Naked and Confused: The Milla Jovovich Story

I actually laughed out loud when Resident Evil: Extinction began. Why? Because even though it was completely inconsistent with how the previous film ended, they somehow continued the streak of having each Resident Evil movie open with Milla Jovovich naked and confused as to her whereabouts.

Surprisingly, they were able to justify this seemingly inconsistent beginning and it actually ended up being the most clever opening scene in the series so far. See, the baddies (specifically Iain Glenn of Game of Thrones fame, who reprises his role as Umbrella’s mad scientist) have been cloning Alice (Jovovich) and running her through a gauntlet to see if the cloned version can survive as the real version would. When the newest one doesn’t, we see a grisly and remarkable shot that slowly reveals a mass grave of cloned Alices, which is a pretty gruesome sight and starts the movie off with some genuine intrigue. Why are they cloning her? Where’s the real Alice?

All that is answered and we find out that Umbrella, like all evil corporations, is not looking to fix their problem so much as to twist it to further their diabolical purposes. How so? By turning zombies into complacent, trainable slaves. Meanwhile, Alice is traversing the country, which has become a wasteland as the T-Virus has spread all over the earth (except, strangely, to Alaska, which is described as “isolated” even though IT BORDERS CANADA).

That’s your plot in a nutshell, and it gives us some nice set pieces, including a memorable scene with infected birds attacking a survivor encampment that may not be quite Hitchcockian, but is well done nonetheless. There’s also a pretty impressive rendering of Las Vegas as a deserted wasteland near the end of the film, too.

We try not to ask questions, of course. Questions like, “Why do Umbrella’s goons continue to work for them when the world is obliterated and overrun with zombies? Do they think they’ll actually get their pensions one day?” And questions like, “With no one alive anymore to buy Umbrella’s products, how exactly does the corporation keep thriving so that they can run their state-of-the-art labs and communicating with their innumerable satellites?” Or even, “How is it that people are eating old canned goods and racing through desert environments like Mad Max while every scene dealing with Umbrella’s higher-ups shows that business is running as usual? Does the world’s infrastructure being completely destroyed somehow not affect them?” Suppress those inquisitive instincts!

Anyway, alongside some cool cinematic moments and the predictably solid action scenes is a good performance by Ali Larter as Claire Redfield, who is this installment’s female badass, but brings a little more subtlety to the role (and seems more like an actual person) than her predecessors, Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine, Resident Evil: Apocalypse) and Michelle Rodriguez (Rain, Resident Evil). Even LJ, the most grating character in the series so far, is much less annoying in this film, and you might just get to see his head blown off in this film, to boot. What’s not to like there?

If there’s any other criticism to be made of this one, it’s that the action is strangely backloaded and makes the first 45 minutes kind of drag in comparison, other than the excellent opening. That’s a nitpick, and says a lot about the good pacing of the films so far, though. Even the zombies are better than before, thanks to some genetic modifications that make them more 28 Days Later than Dawn of the Dead. Grade: B

July 12: #40, Resident Evil: Afterlife

The series runs dry on subtitles...and everything else

I should have known that Resident Evil: Afterlife wouldn’t keep the momentum up when I watched the flat opening sequence. Essentially, we see Alice storming Umbrella headquarters and massacring tons of nameless, armed nobodies. The scene is technically okay, but doesn’t inspire excitement, only questions. Why does Alice fight hard to eliminate over a dozen soldiers, only to finally unleash her telekinetic powers to dispatch a mere six of them minutes later? Couldn’t she have done that in the first place?

For that matter, when it’s revealed that Alice brought some friends- dozens of clones made of her in the last film- to help, you wonder why none of them blocked the exit so that Wesker (the bad guy, played boringly by Shawn Roberts) couldn’t escape. Then you wonder, when the “real” Alice is on the plane Wesker is using to escape, why she didn’t bring a few clones with her to beat him up. After all, his powers apparently surpass her own, as he easily bests her and takes her powers away in the process.

Though she has no special powers, she does walk away from the eventual crash of the plane, even though the plane itself is reduced to bits and pieces. Later on, the supposedly powerless Alice jumps high enough in the air to kick a ten-foot high monster in the face, then shakes it off when he swats her into a wall with a ginormous axe that must weigh several hundred pounds.

I wouldn’t pan a Resident Evil film just for logical issues, though. That’s silly. No, the problem with this installment is that it doesn’t seem like anybody gave a shit. Sure, nobody in the cast and crew were under the impression that they were going to win Best Picture in the previous films, but you could sense a little passion in the process, nonetheless. This movie instead gets bogged down with a slow, dull middle third and silly tricks like excessive slow-mo that is used not during a cool kick or a backflip, but ALL THE TIME. That puzzling directing decision pretty much ruins the only cool action sequence in the film, in fact.

Even the characters don’t seem to care. When of Alice and newcomer Luther’s friends gets snapped up by a zombie and dragged away to be eaten, not only do Alice and Luther fail to show any kind of feeling, but literally seconds later they’re smiling and saying, “Nice!” as they discover a room holding a huge weapons cache.

There are some good things going on here. Zombies now have four sets of clawed tendrils coming out of their mouths, which is a cool sight. The film ends with an interesting wrinkle that nicely sets up the next installment, too. This one isn’t really bad, just completely uninspired. Grade: D+

July 13: #41 Resident Evil: Retribution

The most unlikely comeback since Rocky Balboa (it works two ways!)

Even though I noted that the fourth installment of the series ended with a decent setup for the fifth, I wasn’t exactly confident that I’d like Resident Evil: Retribution. After all, how many times does the fifth movie in a series top the earlier films, especially when there’s already been a drop-off in quality? Okay, other than with The Fast & the Furious. Whatever.

Anyway, the opening sequence gets the series back to doing what it does best: opening in strong fashion. The film begins with a very neat shot of Alice floating on top of the ocean, as filmed from beneath her in the water. From there, Alice moves backwards through the air, to where she was blown off of the boat where the last film ended, and then the huge battle scene that led to her predicament plays in reverse. It’s a gimmick, sure, but an undeniably cool one.

There’s also what appears to be a weird dream sequence right at the start, but later on it makes perfect sense, or as close to perfect sense as possible in a film series that requires this much suspension of disbelief. Finally, the lengthy opening gets back to the series’ roots by starting Alice off naked and confused as to her whereabouts! Ahhh, it’s like being home again.

I even overlooked the fact that while Umbrella has her in an inescapable prison, the security magically shuts off and some weird leather bondage wear comes out of the wall for her to put on. I also overlooked the fact that Wesker is the person behind the security shutting down, because he has ALL OF A SUDDEN realized that making the human race extinct is BAD FOR BUSINESS.

I overlooked these things because the setup allows for some dynamic set pieces and a great escape by Alice. See, along the way to the exit are huge environments (think “the X-Men’s Danger Room”) that run simulations of different zombie epidemics, all using living human clones. Is it a silly gimmick? Sure. Does it make any sense? Not really.

However, I don’t give a crap because the sequences the setup leads to are awesome. A zombie attack in suburbia, a massive shootout in Moscow, and two more massive axe-wielding zombie-monsters going after Alice and newcomer Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) in Times Square (with an excellent car chase, to boot). There’s a great car chase, as well. Without the simulation gimmick, all of this stuff wouldn’t be possible, so it’s cool in my book. 

Now, there are some things that aren’t so great. Most notably, when late in the film, every kick and punch the now-evil Rain (Michelle Rodriguez, because she never stays dead in movies) lands on Alice makes an annoying bone-breaking sound. It’s not as annoying as the “whip” sound effect that plagued fights in the second film, but it’s worth mentioning.

Then there’s the end, where Wesker injects Alice with…something that gives her superpowers again, only for her to get mad for some reason. Why would you be mad about having badass superpowers? Then, we see some zombie dragon thingies and shit and oh, who cares, because in the final film, Alice will be going after the “Red Queen” as the series concludes. I was surprised at how great this one was, and it gives me hope for the series’ finale, tentatively scheduled for 2014. The Resident Evil series as a whole is a lot better than I expected and four of the five films are good action-horror flicks. Grade: B+

UPDATE: The sixth and final installment will be titled Resident Evil: Afterbirth.



150 Movies in 90 Days: Trouble with the Curve and Despicable Me

July 9: #35, Trouble with the Curve

Because you can never get enough of Clint Eastwood playing grumpy old guys

I love baseball and like romantic comedies, so I figured Trouble with the Curve would be right up my alley. A little family drama is always good, too, and I tend to welcome genre-mashups. The final positive indicator here was Clint Eastwood in his twilight playing a grumpy old man. I think we all love that.

Trouble with the Curve opens with Gus (Eastwood) grumpily trying to pee. After he finishes urinating, he promptly walks right into a coffee table that he apparently doesn’t see and kicks the table across the room to teach it a lesson. Right away, I thought a) “hey, this is me in forty years!” and b) “okay movie, you’ve got my attention.” 

It’s unfortunate, then, that most aspects of the film are just slightly above mediocrity. The acting is fine, with Eastwood settling back into his trusty role as a crochety old guy, Amy Adams deftly handling her role as Mickey, a workaholic lawyer with daddy issues, and even Justin Timberlake not making me want to murder him during the film’s nearly two-hour running time. Timberlake isn’t a “bad” actor, he just gets cast in roles sometimes that cannot fit into. This one (Johnny, a former baseball standout who has become a scout after a career-ending injury), happily, is an exception.

Even his best efforts can’t help awfully-written scenes like the one where he pulls over to watch a bunch of kids play a sandlot baseball game, only to freak them out by loudly commentating the action to the point where he is oblivious that they have stopped playing and started watching him. The kids (“What a weirdo!”) know what he’s doing is strange and unrealistic, why didn’t the screenwriter? 

The baseball stuff is a bit disappointing, too. Sometimes, it is very realistic, especially in terms of how the three main characters banter about players. Other times, it’s completely unrealistic, such as the talk between scouts at Atlanta Braves headquarters, which is too polished and feels like acting, especially when contrasted with the casual, conversational acting found in something like Moneyball.

There are some other issues. The player that Gus, Mickey, and Johnny have traveled to a small southern town to scout is not only poorly cast from an athletic standpoint, but is written with such an effort to make him a stereotypical “cocky athlete” that he instead becomes a huge distraction. They could have taken it down a notch  instead and gotten the point across without having him crazily admonishing his teammates for interrupting his daydreams about signing huge endorsement deals while riding on the bus, like a high school villain in a Disney movie.

The issues between Gus and Mickey are handled beautifully, though, even if it gets a bit one-note because Gus has a tendency to be so withdrawn and awkward that their conversations don’t get anywhere most of the time. As a scout, Gus was always on the road when Mickey was growing up and has not really been much of a part of her life, and both characters are realistically played and written to bring this conflict to life.

Despite all of this and some interesting parallels between father and daughter (both workaholics, both believe that there’s more to making choices than what looks good “on paper”, a theme of the film), the film ends disappointingly, with all of the loose plot ends getting tied up in record speed (even for a film with rom-com elements) and a sequence of near-impossible events that actually cheapen what should be a happen ending. Okay movie, but it could have been much better. Grade: C+

July 9: #36, Despicable Me

"No, no, no...I said 'DART' gun."

So after watching the sequel recently and really enjoying it, I decided to borrow the original Despicable Me from my brother and watch it with the kids. I had pretty high hopes- my brother said it was in his top five kids’ movies, although he also really liked Eight Crazy Nights, so there’s that.

To make a long story short, since I have a crapload of movies to watch and I should get to the point, I was mildly disappointed…but only because the second one is so damn funny. The first Despicable Me is still a good animated family film. It’s got the requisite heartwarming story with a moral to it, along with memorable characters and distinctive, quality animation.

What it lacks that the second film has in abundance is laughs. There are funny moments, but just not in the way that part two has them. The songs by Pharrell Williams (who does the original music for both films in the series) are better than in Despicable Me 2, but the second is better in almost every respect. Better villain, better slapstick comedy, funnier minion moments, and so on. Still, a very good movie to watch with the kids, or hell, even by yourself if you don’t have any. Grade: B-


150 Movies in 90 Days: This Means War and Monsters University

July 8: #33, This Means War

"You've seen it in Bangladesh...you know that's not true!"

I've got a fairly well-documented man-crush on Tom Hardy, who is one of the more underrated actors out there. Therefore, I've been watching movies featuring Hardy whenever I get the chance (check out Bronson to see Hardy really stealing the show), although I hadn't gotten the opportunity to watch This Means War until, well, yesterday.

Part of the reason I didn't make an opportunity to watch it is that I thought it might be kind of a turd. Even yesterday, I wasn't very excited to see it. I figured it'd be a pretty uninspiring rom-com/action mashup made in a contrived attempt to attract the ladies (for the romantic parts) and the guys (for the action stuff) at the same time.

Well, I was kind of right. But there are times when This Means War rises above those expectations.

Those times don't include the opening of the film, which starts with a fairly bland action sequence to establish the movie's two CIA operatives, Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine), followed by some banter between Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), and her beyond annoying best friend, Trish (Chelsea Handler).

Early, on, the script is very flat, especially when the dialogue between Lauren and Trish is obviously supposed to be witty. It doesn't help that Chelsea Handler is not only an awful human being, but a terrible actress. Her character (and her acting) are obviously supposed to be a blatant ripoff of Samantha Jones from Sex and the City, but she doesn't have the chops to pull it off.

So anyway, through strange but believable circumstances, the two guys end up hitting it off Lauren. At that point, rather than singing a song about the hilarious, yet troubling circumstances of the situation, they decide that they will both continue to date her and the best man will win. And there's your set-up: two highly successful CIA operatives (FDR has a pool in his ceiling) fighting over a woman who looks like a gremlin.

You know it's true.
From then on, things actually pick up a bit. There are hilariously inappropriate uses of government resources as the two spy on one another and try to undermine each other's attempts to win Lauren over. There's the obligatory friend fight, which is pretty entertaining. There are some funny scenes, including one where the two men watch a secret video feed of Lauren and Trish as they discuss the pros and cons of choosing either guy. Then, there's a pretty awesome paintball scene which is not only funny, but represents the best action sequence in the movie.

The chemistry between Pine and Hardy is very good, and watching them banter (or bicker) is a good time. However, the part of the film where they finally start actively sabotaging one another doesn't last long enough, instead getting swept aside so that we can get into a subplot about a terrorist they are after, followed by a lazy resolution. This is still a likeable film, but it almost enters guilty pleasure territory, really. I docked it some points because Chelsea Handler, too. Grade: C+

July 8: #34, Monsters University 

I guess all of the scary professors lost their jobs when monsters learned that laughs worked better than screams?

I was cautiously optimistic about this one. I am pretty much a Pixar fanboy, but it's hard to ignore the fact that they've lost a bit off of their fastball in recent years. Brave was pretty good, but certainly not great, and Cars 2, which I ended up liking more with subsequent viewings, still didn't measure up to their other work and made me think this sequel might be short of the greatness we usually expect from the studio.

Monsters Inc. was great in part because it took an absolutely ingenious concept and rode it for all it was worth. The idea of "monsters in the closet" actually being real and using magic doors that transport them into kids' rooms to elicit screams that are essentially natural resources in the monsters' world is brilliant. However, the fact that Monsters University is a prequel and not a sequel means that that same imagination is not found here. Instead, we see monsters at college, learning to scare (although the lesser monsters take courses in door construction and so on), which gives the movie plenty of humorous setups for easy laughs, but doesn't give us the imaginative ideas that we expect from Pixar.

The film actually avoids being predictable, even if it means that at the end (don't worry, I won't spoil anything) some quick work has to be done to build a bridge from this film to Monsters Inc. The animation, as usual, is outstanding and a joy to behold. I still believe that nobody does animation quite like Pixar, even if other studios have made films with better scripts or more laughs in the last few years.

Ultimately, your thoughts on Monsters University will depend a lot on how much you liked the previous film. If you loved Monsters Inc., you will be glad just to see Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan again, even if the prequel doesn't quite reach the heights of its predecessor. If you weren't much of a fan of Monsters Inc., this movie won't change your mind. Grade: B


150 Movies in 90 Days: Despicable Me 2

July 6- #32, Despicable Me 2

I watched the All 4 One video for "I Swear" and was disappointed they weren't all wearing white and rolling around on a hill.

So, I never saw the original Despicable Me, and the trailer for the sequel was freaking terrible. With annoying music and an all-around spazzy vibe, it seemed like it was put together by Robin Williams on a caffeine binge. However, I also realized that when I can combine my dadly duties with my quest to watch a buttload of movies, it's a good thing. So off I went with the kids to see Despicable Me 2.

And holy crap, it was actually funny! It wasn't that the script was inherently clever or that the situations were exceedingly comical, but it's hard to think of an animated movie that has done physical comedy better than this one did in the last few years.

The minions? Freaking awesome. And there were some other great scenes, too, particularly when Gru first meets Lucy Wilde, or when Gru goes on an ill-advised date. Unless your comedic tastes are really high-brow, you'll at least get a chuckle out of the wonderfully-animated pratfalls and bloopers. Did I mention the minions are hilarious? I don't care if their voices are ripped right out of the Worms video games or not, they're funny.

There are also some beautifully plotted and animated action sequences, and the production altogether is top-notch. You can tell that Universal dumped over $75 million into this thing. Sure, Steve Carrell sounds more like Adam Sandler doing one of his rather annoying voices, and the film doesn't exactly do anything new. Still, it made my kids and I laugh together, and maybe that makes me impossibly biased, but to me that's one of the most important things an animated family film can do. Grade: B+ 


150 Movies in 90 Days: The Running Man and American Psycho 2

So. Far. Behind. I'm buried beneath a buttload of writing work and a final draft for an independent study course that ran into the summer. It's okay, because like Todd Parker in Boogie Nights, "I gotta plan, I gotta very good plan." In the meantime, I'm just trying to watch a movie whenever I can, so I've got two more, including the first certifiable turd of the summer.

July 2- #30, The Running Man

If you've seen The Hunger Games or American Gladiators, this will seem very familiar
When I saw this was readily available to watch for free (even available in its entirety on YouTube), I knew I had to see it, mostly because it's one of a few notable holes in my 80s action film viewing history. An Arnold film, shot in his prime, that I haven't seen yet? Blasphemy!

I don't know how I got through my childhood, which was literally spent watching rated R movies, without seeing this. After all, Commando and Predator were classics that I watched dozens of times. Anyway, while watching this, I was aware that grown up me may not see it as impressionable ten-year old me might have, so I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt.

And right away, The Running Man tested my resolve. I mean, watch the first scene of this film and tell me that's not legendarily bad acting, even by Arnold's standards. I mean, that's like Cinemax soft porn acting. I'm telling you, I've seen plenty of Arnold's films, and that's bad acting, even for him.

You know what's not bad? Jesse Ventura as Captain Freedom. Ventura either got the memo about how over the top he was supposed to play Captain Freedom, or simply reverted to his pro wrestling days, because Captain Freedom is pure gold. Of course, this is an 80s action flick, so there are other great touches to enjoy as well. Want a woman working out in lingerie? There you go! Want a villain who wears hockey gear and kills with a bladed goalie stick? Why not, here you go. How about a couple of corny one-liners after Arnold kills bad guys? Sure, you know we've got that covered here.

There are some interesting ideas here, doubtlessly coming from the Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King) book of the same name. Many of the ideas can be found in something like The Hunger Games. You've got a government that controls everything and has separated the nation into "districts", a competition where your life is at stake, and a reality show that documents said competition. Between this and Battle Royale, it's almost like Suzanne Collins just plain ripped off these concepts and pieced them together, knowing that her target audience wouldn't know the source material! But we all know people don't really do things like that, right?

Pictured: the FIRST "Sub-Zero". No, really.
Anyway, instead of talking about what has ripped off the ideas in this film ("American Gladiators" also obviously coming from the competition in the movie), let's talk about some of the issues. For one, it's a story of a government that rules with an iron fist, but they still have to "convince" Arnold's character, who has been framed and is a convict, to participate. Then, they go ahead and force some of Arnold's buddies and the obligatory love interest to participate, making you wonder why he had to agree and other people could simply be forced.

That kind of stuff is to be expected though, I guess. There's a lot of great stuff here, though. One of the prizes you can get by competing on the show is a trial by jury. Ha! A guy gets launched into a target and killed and Arnold says, "Well, that hit the spot." On top of it all, this is an 80s version of what people actually expected life to be like in 2017...four years from now. There's a lot of great stuff here, even if this doesn't stand alongside Arnold's other classics. Grade: B

July 5- #31, American Psycho 2

Check your brain at the door

Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time watching movies knows that there are different kinds of bad. There's so-bad-it's-good (a cousin of so-dumb-it's-funny), there's bad on purpose, and there's lovably bad. Then, there's just plain bad. Not bad in an entertaining way, not bad on purpose as a kind of parody, but just awful. I'll let you guess which one American Psycho 2 is.

I knew that I should avoid this. I knew. In a way, that's why I watched it- to see if it was as terrible as I expected. I'm here to tell you, American Psycho 2 did not let me down.

First of all, it is a sequel in name only. Basically, it's an incredibly stupid story of a girl (played by a 19-year old Mila Kunis, seen here during the middle of her run on "That 70's Show") who first says she's obsessed with getting a prestigious position as a teaching assistant with her professor  (which almost always leads to a shot at being an FBI investigator) so she can find and kill other killers, Dexter-style.

To accomplish this, she has to take care of the students who she thinks are her biggest competition for the job. To do this, she kills them, even though she's a freshman and freshmen aren't eligible for the position, as is pointed out early on in the story. Oh, but then again, how is she in a class with juniors and seniors taught by a former elite FBI profiler, in that case? Oh, fuck it, who cares.

The story takes place in apparently the smallest college in the world, which is located in the smallest town in the world. We know this because we see the same ten people over and over again, and they all know each other extremely well. The psychiatrist that Rachael (Kunis) sees is best buddies with her professor (William Shatner, I shit you not), for instance. Oh, and when Rachael's parents visit her and they go to a restaurant, it's the same restaurant that her psychiatrist is at, because there's only one restaurant in town, too.

Fortunately, even in the world's smallest town, people don't notice when others simply disappear, or are murdered in the middle of the day at a table in the public library. This allows the story to continue even as dead bodies rot in the library or in dorm rooms, as everybody blissfully continues their lives, unaware of the rotting carcasses around them as Rachael keeps doing her thing. I mean, I can suspend my disbelief, but this movie takes it a little far. For instance:

- Her psychiatrist breaks client/doctor privilege and calls the professor right away after his first consultation with Rachael, saying she's a "sociopath". Why? Because she said, "I have to have this teaching assistant position" in a very determined voice.

- During a car chase at the end, one cop chastises another for "driving 60 in a 30" even though they're chasing a criminal. He even writes the guy tickets and gives him a running total of his fines to try to get him to slow down. It was at this point in the film, I realized that everyone in the town is completely nuts.

- Oh, and how is this tied to American Psycho? Well, there's a flashback in the beginning where Rachael explains that her babysitter was obsessed with serial killers and decided to take her over to Patrick Bateman's house one night. Bateman was about to kill them both when Rachael escaped and stabbed him with an ice pick from behind. When both Batemen and the babysitter were found dead, it was a big mystery and she "was never placed at the scene", even though her fucking babysitter was there.

Seriously, fuck this movie. Grade: F