Archive for March, 2008

31 Mar 2008


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Even with the thrill of learning card-counting techniques, “21″is not able to overcome its ultimately predictable and bland true story.

Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess, “Across the Universe”) is an exceptionally brilliant MIT student with the all-too-common need for more money. When his math teacher Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey, “Fred Claus”) realizes he could use Campbell’s talent in his weekend “business,”he offers Ben a job as a Vegas card counter.

Ben does much soul searching and decides to take his teacher’s offer at card-counting hottie Jill Taylor’s (Kate Bosworth, “The Girl in the Park”) insistence. However, Ben decides to go only to earn enough money to go to Harvard Medical School. As the money pours in and Campbell’s boring life turns into one of a playboy, he slowly loses grasp of reality.

No matter how many times Vegas is seen on the big screen, the thrills of the flashing lights and skimpily dressed cocktail waitresses never get old. While “21″carries on the tradition of displaying “Sin City”to its fullest, the been-there-seen-that feeling of the story dulls the captivating experience.

While “21″is not a poorly made movie, it never becomes unique enough to stand out in a cinematic sea of overplayed themes. A perfect example is the stereotypical acting from each of the college card counters. Take away the Vegas theme and replace it with almost any football drama and the characters could be the same.

Sturgess plays the new kid, who quickly becomes the cool guy whose new cocky attitude gets him in trouble. On the other hand, Bosworth may as well be playing the hard-to-get cheerleader who conveniently finds a conscience while the jock loses his.

The teenage movie feel brings the movie down. Though the movie is mostly well-made, there are a few annoying technical errors that distract the audience from the gambling frenzy.

The most obvious flub comes during Ben and Jill’s big love scene. The scene is implied to be in a suite at the Hard Rock Hotel. During their bland and disappointingly nudity-free humping session, the Bellagio fountains are seen in the background.  The problem is, the Hard Rock Hotel is geographically located nowhere near the fountains – in fact, it is not even on the strip!

The only entertaining part of “21″is the quirky performances from skilled actors, Spacey and Laurence Fishburne. Unlike the rest of the actors, Spacey brings a much-needed sense of professionalism and reality to their scam. Though the students are always joking around, he constantly reminds his pupils that card counting is strictly a business and that losing big leads to swift unemployment.

Fishburne also takes the stakes higher (lame pun intended) by being the casino’s intimidating “loss prevention.”Any poor soul caught in the act of cheating quickly wishes the authorities would have caught him/her in the act after Fishburne’s New York-accented character treats them to a few knuckle sandwiches in the dark basement.
If only the audience could be as satisfied with the movie as Ben’s friends are with his dumb jokes. The movie ultimately fails because it is a clichéd structure with a new facade.

Director: Robert Luketic
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, and Laurence Fishburne
Release Date: March 28
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13 for some violence, and sexual content including partial nudity
Grade: C

17 Mar 2008

Funny Games

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funny_games.jpgThe most that “Funny Games”ever achieves is provoking the audience to want to play some “not-so-funny games”with the film’s self-indulgent and twisted director.

The plot of “Funny Games”is ever so simple: A rich family goes to their beach house for the weekend. Upon arriving at the beach house, the family is treated by two unexpected guests wearing matching white tennis outfits. Once inside the house, the guests proceed to break the father’s leg and inform the family that they are now involved in a game for their lives.

If only the rest of the film played out as smoothly as that plot summary.

The film immediately sets a tense tone and thrills the viewer with its mix of calming, classical music and head-banging, screaming gibberish.

Naomi Watts (“Eastern Promises”) and Tim Roth (“Virgin Territory”) play the typical adoring couple, which makes seeing Michael Pitt’s (“Silk”) and Brady Corbet’s (“Full-Dress”) characters torture of the couple even more difficult to watch. Once the games begin though, viewers will shamelessly watch the madness play out with anticipation.

“Cat and mouse,”“Guess what”and “Playing a good wife”are some of the games the family must suffer through at the demands of the young psychopaths. But Watts acts her heart out by slowly transforming into a devastated mess, who will do what she can to keep her family alive.

On the other hand, Pitt and Corbet give the phrase “mentally defective”new meaning. While Pitt plays it cool and devilishly leads the deadly duo, Corbet brings an appealing humor to the screen by playing the role of the moronic and completely obedient henchman.

All is fun and games, no pun intended, until the first plot twist, which inadvertently brings the film’s demise. For a whopping 20 minutes, the audience is forced to sit through Watts and Roth overacting in a few scenes. Half of those 20 minutes takes place in a living room where not one word of dialogue is spoken. During this time, it was not surprising to see the few intelligent people in the theater walk out on what was to become one of the most irritating conclusions in all of cinematic history.

Watching the film’s director, Michael Haneke, walk on screen and flip the audience off would be better than to suffer through the final minutes of the movie.

Haneke tries to be smart by breaking down the fourth wall, but only manages to piss the audience off even more. At one point, Haneke actually has Pitt’s character turn to the camera and say, “We’re not up to feature film length yet. You want a real ending with plausible plot development?”The answer is no. I want you to burn in Hell, you sick bastard, and give me my $9.50 back.

Release Date: March 14
Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Rating: R for terror, violence and some language
Grade: D-

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04 Mar 2008


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‘Semi-Pro’ shoots for dumb humor and gets points


With a little bit of curly chest hair and a lot of “cojones,”Ferrell turns yet another typically boring inspirational sports film into a bear-wrestling, dumpster-diving madhouse of fun.

“Semi-Pro”tells the story of Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell, “Blades of Glory”), a former recording artist of one, and only one, hit song, “Love Me Sexy.”Once the song became multi-platinum and Jackie became a millionaire, he decided to create his own basketball team, the Flint Tropics which he would own, coach and even play for.

Years go by, attendance rates decrease and Jackie’s league announces that it is merging four of its best teams with the NBA while the rest will be left to fade away. Unable to accept the demise of his team, Jackie acquires an old pro, Monix (Woody Harrelson, “No Country for Old Men”) to rejuvenate the lackluster team.

When a film opens with a song about a man talking about loving, licking, sucking and humping sexy, there is only one conclusion to be made: Will Ferrell is headlining this movie.

Ferrell has made one of the most impressive comedy careers of all time with the same idiotic, fat-bellied, smooth-talking character in each film. While Jackie Moon may not be as sexy as Chazz Michael Michaels (“Blades of Glory”), or as suave as Ron Burgundy (“Anchorman”), he is easily the most foul-mouthed and self-centered of the group.

Sure he may take one for the team by wrestling a baby bear named Dewie to increase attendance, but once that bear gets loose, he has no problem cowering in a corner shouting, “If you have a small child, use it as a shield, they love that tender meat!”

The fact is, this movie relies so heavily on Ferrell, that when he is not onscreen, it becomes as boring as a lecture on the production of rice cakes. Writer Scot Armstrong added an unneeded subplot between Harrelson and a former lover who lives in the Tropics’ hometown.

The only beneficial part that came from the subplot was Rob Corddry (“The Heartbreak Kid”) as Harrelson’s ex-lover’s new lover who just happens to be Harrelson’s biggest fan. Upon finding Harrelson and his girl having some sweet couch love, Corddry relishes in the beauty and proceeds to beat off instead of causing a big fuss.

Behind the layers of absurd fellatio jokes, there are some surprisingly clever cameos and past movie references. Former child star Jackie Earle Haley makes a surprise appearance as a shirtless hippie named Dukes who makes a court-long shot for $10,000. Unable to acquire the funds for Dukes, Jackie fools him into believing the giant check he received for winning can be cashed out. Poor, stoned Dukes is never able to find a bank willing to cash it.

“Semi-Pro”also plays off a joke from Harrelson’s last sports comedy, “Kingpin.”In “Kingpin,”Harrelson’s last name was Munson, which in the urban dictionary roughly means someone who had it all but screwed it all because of greed. In “Semi-Pro”a player by the name of Twiggy Munson had previous dealings with Monix that led to broken bones and Munson’s chance to become a big star.

Mindless fun doesn’t come in any better form than “Semi-Pro.”

Release Date: Feb. 29
Director: Kent Alterman
Starring: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson and Andre Benjamin
Genre: Comedy, Sport
Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Grade: B