‘R.I.P.D.’ Opens July 19! Enter to Win Passes to the St. Louis Advance Screening!
Jul 2013 16

Enter to win a pass for two!

RIPD Movie Poster High ResJeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds headline the 3D supernatural action-adventure R.I.P.D. as two cops dispatched by the otherworldly Rest In Peace Department to protect and serve the living from an increasingly destructive array of souls who refuse to move peacefully to the other side. R.I.P.D. is directed by Robert Schwentke (Red) and produced by Neal H. Moritz (Fast & Furious series, I Am Legend), Mike Richardson (Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army) and Michael Fottrell (Fast & Furious series, Live Free or Die Hard).

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak
Director: Robert Schwentke

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Oct 2011 14

Footloose Remake Movie PosterFootloose, opens much like the original – with kids in a small town dancing to the musical strains of Kenny Loggins. How small is this town, you ask? It’s so small that the kids who live there still dance to Kenny Loggins. Honest to God…Kenny Loggins. When tragedy strikes after one of their adult-contemporary inspired bacchanalias, the town passes a series of draconian laws culminating with a ban on dancing. (Yet Kenny Loggins walks free.) Into this madness walks our hero Kenny Wormald as Zac Effron, ummm, I mean…as Ren MacCormack, a recently orphaned teenager from the big city who loves to dance and isn’t afraid to break the rules. Well, as long as the rule in question is a poorly thought-out reactionary one.

For the people concerned about having their memory of the original tarnished, might I suggest that perhaps you haven’t seen the original in a while? It’s a good film; enjoyable even. But Singin’ in the Rain it is not. That being said, this film is remarkably faithful to its predecessor. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a shock given that the screenplay is co-written by Dean Pitchford, the writer of the original. So Ren still falls in love with the preacher’s daughter (Julianne Hough), he still has redneck friend (Miles Teller) who can’t dance, he still plays a game of chicken with his nemesis and, perhaps most importantly of all, he still wears a red velvet jacket to prom. Even the soundtrack is remarkably similar, spotlighting four of the songs from the original. Granted, Dennis Quaid, as the preacher who spearheads the dancing ban, is two-dimensional but that’s one more dimension than John Lithgow brought to the role. But Miles Teller, as Wren’s dancing-impaired sidekick, steals every scene he’s in.

Look, it’d be real easy for me to “snark up” the joint on a movie like this. (I think I kinda just did actually.) It’s earnest. The anachronistic soundtrack is nothing like what people today actually dance to. Wormald’s haircut looks like he’s auditioning for a community theater production of Grease 2. And a generation of kids forbidden from dancing throws off the shackles of oppression and instantly transforms into the cast of Rent. But this movie isn’t for the present-day me. It’s for the 15-year old me. And you know what? The 15-year old me…well, he kinda loved it. The film was fun and, at times, funny. The dancing scenes have been Step Up-ified for a modern audience (yeah, that’s a word now). And if you can check your nostalgia fueled skepticism at the door, you might actually find yourself having a good time.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the original Footloose and 1 being It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown, Footloose gets a 7.
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Oct 2011 14

Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald in "Footloose"As a woman, I’m inclined to bestow immediate praise on the new version of Footloose. I mean, the only way this movie could appeal to my nostalgic ladyparts even more would be to randomly include neon Lisa Frank art and unicorns.

And then that realization kind of scared me, so I had a frank talk with my vagina. “Vagina,” I said, “the old Footloose is gone. Despite having a cute, snotty troublemaker and a lot of spaztastic dancing, this movie still is a bastardized version of what you remember – and what you secretly still watch on a monthly basis.”

“But Allison,” my vagina said, “sometimes cheap shots of nostalgia and unnecessary musical numbers are all that I need. Stop overthinking.”

I hate to say it, but my vagina made sense. Even though the new Footloose feels like wispy cotton candy compared to the original’s all-day sucker, it still is tasty.

The tent poles that held up the 1984 version are in place for the 2011 flick: An opinionated teenage boy leaves the big city to live with relatives in a small town that time forgot. He falls in love with the town bicycle, urges her preacher daddy to change the ridiculous law against basic revelry, and throws together the biggest (and only) senior prom his high school class has ever seen.

The story still works, though details have changed. Ren (Kenny Wormald, Center Stage: Turn It Up) now hails from Boston instead of Chicago and uses his “Yankee sarcasm” to push the plot along; I almost didn’t miss Kevin Bacon in the role. Almost. Ren’s uncle Wes replaces his now-departed mom as his moral compass, and Ray McKinnon (“Sons of Anarchy,” “Deadwood”) completely turns the character around, giving Wes some much-needed humor and patience. Ariel (Julianne Hough, “Dancing with the Stars”) is decidedly more slutty and otherwise lifeless, while her father Shaw (Dennis Quaid, The Rookie, Great Balls of Fire) lacks the firey conviction that John Lithgow had in the 1984 version. And Ren’s best friend Willard isn’t quite as clownish as the original film offered; Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) shows that Willard is a bit cunning and can learn dance steps fairly easily.

Those dance steps are what make Footloose such a guilty treat. The entire cast is so good that you think you’re watching a production by the New York City Ballet instead of a rebellion movie. At times, the professionalism is a little too slick, but the prevalence of cowboy hats and teenage hormones balances everything out.

Fans will revel in the many homages that the new flick makes to the 1984 Footloose. We’re thrust into the beginning of the movie with an expansion on the “dancing feet” opening credits sequence that features Kenny Loggins’ title track. Ren and jerkface Chuck (Patrick John Flueger, “The 4400”) cause a ruckus while playing “chicken” (Ignore that the event occurs at a stupid speedway). And Willard learns to shake a tail feather, thanks to Ren’s guidance and some saucy little girls.

But the nods to the original movie sometimes feel like cop-outs. While I usually hate when new projects deviate much from source material, the new Footloose is dangerously close to being a carbon copy. Sure, some scenes and background info are a bit more fleshed out, but on the whole, the 2011 version feels like a fan simply reshot the entire movie. Many times, the framing, the scenes and the words are lifted directly from the original film. And the soundtrack? I’m all for nostalgic songs, but having most of the original tracks in this flick is a bit lazy. Don’t even get me started on how they’re now country-fied, either.

Still, my vagina swooned at the spectacle of the new Footloose, and that nostalgic bit inside me can’t help but agree with her. Footloose is a dance-happy, sing-songy flick, and it’s no mystery who its target audience is. But despite the film’s copycat nature, sometimes you have to listen to your vagina and shout, “I thought this was a party? LET’S DAAAAAANCE!”

Jul 2011 29

“I have loved her, even when I hated her.”

Hollywood movies nowadays rarely surprise me. They might shock me in regards to how appallingly bad they are (I’m looking at you, Splice), but generally they don’t really have the wherewithal to leave me speechless.

I’ve always been a Steve Carell fan. The Office remains one of my favorite shows to date, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an actor who can so eloquently pull off the naive nature of Michael Scott like Steve does.

Going off the trailers for Crazy, Stupid, Love, I pretty much expected it to be a light-hearted story covering a man dealing with his divorce before realizing how much he still loves his wife. In many ways it is that, but to say that is all is comparable to saying a guitar’s a box of wood with strings attached. This film isn’t just a romantic comedy; in fact, I’m hesitant to even try to affix that description. I was initially kinda meh on the idea of seeing it, but I was enticed by the offer of getting dinner cooked for me by three lovely ladies in exchange for taking them, so I took the bait.

The focal point of the film centers on Cal (Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) Weaver. Over a dinner date, Emily tells Cal that she wants a divorce and coincidentally slept with a co-worker, David (Kevin Bacon). Understandably shell-shocked, Cal does his best to adjust and ends up moving into his own apartment and frequenting a bar, where he tries to talk to the patrons, yearning simply to be heard.

The one man who does hear him (Ryan Gosling) happens to be an absolute master at picking up ladies. His formula for getting girls is shockingly simple: buy them a drink, listen to them talk about themselves, have a lot of money, and be really, really, ridiculously good looking.

After undergoing a wardrobe makeover, Jacob begins teaching Cal the science of picking up women. The first few attempts are disastrous, but after his first success (Marisa Tomei), his confidence soars and in no time he’s transformed into a regular Don Juan.

Invariably, Cal comes to the realization that he still misses his wife, his soulmate, despite bedding many younger, more appealing ladies in her stead. As Jacob pointed out when he first met him, his wife left because Cal had lost track of who he was, as a man and as a husband. Cal must also deal with his son, Robby (Jonah Bobo), who simply idolizes his father and is secretly in love with the 17-year old babysitter (Analeigh Tipton), who happens to secretly be in love with Cal.

If this sounds like a typical romantic comedy thus far, you’re right. The first half of the film follows the typical formula. The second half of the film is where it really begins to shine. After a brief encounter in the first few scenes, Hannah (Emma Stone) plays a more significant role. She initially rejected Jacob’s advances in the bar, but after a letdown by the man she’s dating, she shows up drunkenly to the bar and proceeds to turn Jacob’s world upside-down, eventually prompting him to open up and admit his lack of happiness.

It should be noted that the second half of the film has some major deus ex machina bits. I was initially going to write them off as being outlandish, but truly stranger things have happened in real life, and I somewhat applaud the filmmakers’ decision to throw caution to the wind and go all out.

The cast is very cohesive and works well together. Moore gives a solid performance as a woman struggling to remember what it was she truly wanted in life. Gosling will certainly draw the ladies to the film, but the stars of the film are Bobo and Carell. Bobo’s attempts to win over Jessica are humorous yet earnest, and he seems to be wise beyond his years. I actually had to kind of sympathize with his plight; as a 12-year old, I fell head over heels for a girl on my older sister’s basketball team. As a 16-year old, I fell head over heels for a waitress at the sports bar I used to dishwash at. Naive? Maybe. But any younger guy who’s liked an older girl can certainly understand.

Carell, however, is the focal point. Up until now, his roles have strictly been comedic with little character depth. He’s 48, but he often exudes an innocence that never really matches his age. This is the first part I’ve seen him in that can actually show his depth. As a 44-year old going through the first emotional turbulence in his life, his efforts to deal with his shortcomings and take care of his family culminate perfectly in the final bar meeting with Jacob.

Perhaps others won’t find it so moving and will simply consider it a standard rom-com. For that purpose, it’s a solid, entertaining film. But delve a little deeper and you might find a bit more than you thought you would. In keeping with the nature of the film, the ending was perfect for me. I cannot recommend this movie enough for those who like Steve Carell, situational comedies, or the opportunity to ponder whether true love still holds true throughout the years.

Crazy, Stupid Love gets an A.

Jun 2011 03

X-Men: First Class is a great comic book film that is anchored by a fantastic cast and resets the X-Men universe in an era ripe for potential future films.

The film opens up right where the franchise did, with Erik Lehnsherr being separated from his family at a Nazi concentration camp and ripping a fence down in the process.  Where we go from there is all new. After an introduction to Mystique and Charles Xavier who have become childhood/lifelong friends we catch back up with Erik who is hunting down the Nazi’s who tortured him and his family in the camp.  Erik’s main target is Sebastian Shaw, a mutant himself who has collected a few others (mutants) around him, and Shaw is hatching something sinister between the U.S. and Russia.

The film is set right in the heart of the cold war, the Soviets and America on the verge of nuclear war, and Kennedy is in the White House trying to diffuse the situation.  The unexpected help comes from these newly discovered mutants and this fresh new era really gives the series a fun playground to play in.  The 60’s look is cool, sexy, and allows the characters to have a lot of fun, especially in these younger incarnations of these characters.  The two leads, Erik and Xavier, are of course Magneto and Professor X from the films we are familiar with and getting to see them as young men is really quite fantastic.  From the Professor’s womanizing and lame pickup lines, or Erik’s Nazi hunting background, the film makes these characters fresh and we look at them anew.  In fact, I want to see a whole movie about Erik in the days we missed between the concentration camp and were we pick up with him as an adult.  Magneto hunting Nazi’s is fantastic in the short bursts we get here and leaves us craving for more.

Mixing the mutants in with American history is a compelling narrative and director Matthew Vaughn and writer/producer Bryan Singer nail it right on the head.  The potential for future films in this reboot of the franchise are endless and if they were smart they would continue to blend the mutants’ history into our own.  In fact, one of the film’s writers has a brilliant potential opening for the sequel.

The 60’s in particular gave the film a ton of style and the filmmakers were sure to take full advantage.  Whether it’s the sexy outfits for the ladies, the sharp suits for the men, or the atomic era serving as an excellent plot point, the two worlds just fit perfectly together.  I almost don’t want them to leave the times set up here, but it could be cool if they could bend the franchise to fit with subsequent eras.

The film has a lot going for it, as you can see, but its cast takes things to the next level.  It all starts with Michael Fassbender as Erik who has, hopefully, finally cemented himself as a superstar.  Fassbender is phenomenal in the film and we can’t get enough of him.  He is cool, powerful, and tortured as a young Magneto and I can’t wait to see where he takes the character in future films.  Nearly matching him is Kevin Bacon who rocks as Sebastian Shaw.  One of the best villains in recent memory, it is a shame we didn’t get more of him here.  Bacon steals every scene he is in though and somehow makes that helmet look cool on someone else besides Magneto.  James McAvoy is not far behind those two and completely changes the way we look at Xavier.  Smooth and fast talking, McAvoy is a blast to watch, but he is more than capable of nailing the reserved leadership role he needs to take as well.  Like Xavier, Mystique is given a surprising amount of depth and background by Jennifer Lawrence who gives so much to a character we didn’t really know.  Lawrence has the looks and the chops to make a blue person compelling as she continues to prove she is one of the best young actresses around.  Nicholas Hoult steps up his game as Hank McCoy and gives him a reserved nerdiness that is needed to make his transformation into Beast all the more effective.  Rose Byrne plays the straight character in the picture, but does a fine job nonetheless; I just think she has the ability to be given an even more complex character.  January Jones is also unfortunately not given a whole lot to do as well, but she is gorgeous and fits the character’s persona just fine acting wise.  The rest of the cast is a series of familiar faces and they all do pretty great work across the board; I particularly enjoyed their casting of a lot of “that guy’s” for smallish roles they could have given to anyone.

In the end, X-Men: First Class is a great entry from the Marvel brand. The film is fast paced, the action beats are great, and the cast is about as strong of an ensemble that you could ask for.  Fans of the franchise will most likely find this to be the best yet, I surely did, and newbies can jump in and feel right at home.  Vaughn throws a ton of characters at you and most get their due without relying on the viewers’ prior knowledge.  First Class is the superhero movie to beat this summer and I can’t wait to get back into this world.

X-Men: First Class is an A

 

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