Author: David Medsker (Page 1 of 65)

Dream House

Months before its late-September release date, we received notification that “Dream House” would be screened in our area. And then, at the last minute, the screening was pulled. The screening for a movie that starred Daniel Craig, Rachael Weisz, and Naomi Watts…was pulled. That is not a good sign, to say the least. It speaks to a sudden lack of confidence in your product, and the studio has gone into damage control mode in order to preserve whatever box office potential it may still have.

Good call, as it turns out, though that’s not to say that “Dream House” didn’t have a wealth of promise. Will Atenton (Craig) quits his job to spend more time with his wife (Weisz) and kids while writing the Great American Novel, but almost as soon as he’s home, his family is threatened by a mysterious stalker. His neighbor Ann (Watts) is sympathetic, but she’s the only one. Once Will discovers that a mass murder took place in his house, he decides to find out more about the crime in question, only to discover that the trail leads directly back to him.

That’s a pretty damn good setup – the only question is where you go from there, and that is where “Dream House” loses its way. There are a myriad of paths the story could have taken, but damned if they didn’t take the simplest option available. Seriously, the explanation for why things went down the way they did is just head-slappingly dumb, and it kills us that we cannot explain why. Add just one more layer to the story, and this could be one of those “Jacob’s Ladder”-type movies where you never really know what is real and what is fantasy. Instead, they took the easy way out. Sometimes it’s better to keep it simple. This, however, is not one of those times, not when you begin the movie by pulling the wool over the audience’s eyes. If your movie is high-concept, then see it through to the very end.

Anyone who grew up watching M. Night Shyamalan movies – and are therefore always on the look for the hook or the twist – will not miss the clues in “Dream House,” which form a veritable trail of bread crumbs. Hopefully the three leads will make another movie down the road, because goodness knows that under better circumstances, they could create something special. (Universal 2012)

Click to buy Dream House from Amazon

2011 Year End Movie Review: David Medsker

A funny thing happened at the movies this year: absolutely nothing blew me away.

There were things I really liked, but my list of favorite movies is kind of a joke, really. They’re not bad movies (not in my mind, anyway), but there are few, if any, Best Picture candidates in the bunch. Compare that to last year, where six of my top 10 movies were nominated for Best Picture. This time around, that’s just not happening. Just want to lay that out up front.

Worse, there isn’t one movie that stands above the others. I liked my favorite movies equally, more or less. That might sound like a copout, but it’s true. Of the movies I’ve seen so far, this was the year where movies were just sort of…there. Maybe we’ll have better luck next year.

My Favorite Movies of 2011


Margin Call
Selling one’s soul is a popular subject in movies, since no two people are willing to settle for the same amount. “Margin Call” explores the subject on a massive scale, since the ripple effect of the actions of a few will be felt around the world. It’s not a thriller in the traditional sense, but it’s absolutely gripping. Kevin Spacey shines here, as does the ever-reliable Stanley Tucci.


Super 8
It probably helped that I grew up in a small Ohio town not terribly unlike the one in “Super 8” (though no one used the word ‘mint’ the way Riley Griffiths’ character does here), but “Super 8” wasn’t merely an exercise in nostalgia; the movie delivered top-notch thrills, well-drawn characters, and the most spectacular sequence of the year with that jaw-dropping train crash. Elle Fanning, meanwhile, put on an acting clinic, and she’s only 13. Wow.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Rooney Mara gives it all, and shows it all, too. Did she really get her nipples pierced for the part? That’s dedication, right there.


Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Oh, is this movie fun. A pair of back woods regular guys are mistaken for serial killers by a group of college kids, who begin dying in horrific accidents that look like the work of, yep, a pair of serial killers. Tyler Labine and the great Alan Tudyk have terrific chemistry, and Katrina Bowden just might be the cutest thing on the planet.


Source Code
Despite the fact that the movie ends with one giant unanswered question, this is one hell of a time travel ride. Duncan Jones (yep, he’s David Bowie’s son) is proving himself to be quite the director, and getting Scott Bakula to play Jake Gyllenhaal’s father was a great in-joke.


The Adjustment Bureau
You just met the girl of your dreams. Now imagine a group of “agents” telling you that they’ll turn you into a vegetable if you pursue her, because that is not your fate. What a neat idea, merging a chase movie with the concept of divine intervention, and peppering it with some of the most realistic boy/girl dialogue the movies have seen in years. The scene between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in the bathroom is one of the greatest meet cutes of all time.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II
Not only was this a blast from start to finish, it contained the most emotional weight of any “Potter” movie, namely the moment where Severus Snape reveals to Harry why he’s been so hard on him all these years. Still, Harry really names his son Albus Severus Potter? It’s a heartfelt gesture, but that’s almost as bad a name as Renesmee. More on that later.


The Ides of March
Was the movie an exploration of how quickly idealism gives way to survivalism, or a subtle promotional film for George Clooney’s eventual transition into politics? Either way, it was a well crafted, if not wildly original, exploration of how everyone in politics eventually gets his hands dirty.


Kung Fu Panda 2
Rare is the animated sequel that ups the action ante while fleshing out the back story in such a fulfilling way. “Kung Fu Panda 2” kicked ass, took names, and opened the door for a more grown-up “KFP3.” Also, Gary Oldman was awesome as the evil peacock.


The Artist
The scene of Berenice Bejo pretending to be felt up by Jean Dujardin by slipping her arm into one of his jacket sleeves is pure poetry.


Horrible Bosses
“The Hangover 2” may have taken in twice as much money, but I’ll take Bateman, Sudeikis and Day over the wolf pack any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Likewise, people are still going nuts over “Bridesmaids,” and while it has its good points, it isn’t a tenth as clever as the writing here (both EW critics put “Bridesmaids” in their Top 10? Really?). And just try looking at a Prius on the highway without thinking to yourself, “I don’t win much.”

Movies I still need to see

Drive
Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Tree of Life (though I’d rather not)
Young Adult
Hugo
Melancholia

My Least Favorite Movies of 2011

This list was much easier to assemble than the first one. Isn’t that always the way.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Ugly, mean and pointless, and they destroyed the beautiful Chicago skyline in the process. There was one cool shot, and that was Char the Beef getting thrown out of, and back into, Bumblebee. Everything else was masturbation.

New Year’s Eve
Did you like how they used one Warner Bros. movie to promote another Warner Bros. movie opening the following week (“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows“)? And to think, that was actually one of the least obnoxious things about this movie.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part I
“Sleep with me.” “I really shouldn’t.” “Come on, we’re married now.” “Yeah, but I could, you know…” “What?” “Nothing.” “Cool. (*hot sex*) Hey, that was awesome, if a bit rough. Hey, why do I feel like I’m about to die?” “Oh, I guess I should have told you…” Are you fucking kidding me? And they named their daughter Renesmee? Like the world isn’t already overloaded with people who will saddle their kids with the worst, most idiotic names ever invented simply because they’re trendy? This is your cross to bear, Stephenie Meyer.

Cowboys and Aliens
This could have been so, so cool. Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde and Jon Favreau together on a movie, and it isn’t awesome? Huge, huge disappointment.

Battle: Los Angeles
The cinematic equivalent of a migraine headache. I’m not one to be snarky, but this movie is painful, in the worst way.

The Dilemma
How did so much talent make a movie so aggressively mediocre? At least we had the Fratellis and “Chelsea Dagger” to pick us up at the end.

Hop
I was about to say that you have to think that James Marsden and Russell Brand gave each other a knowing look before every scene, the “Yeah, this sucks, but we’ll be able to buy vacation houses with the money” look. And then I think, “Wait, Russell was just doing voice work, meaning Marsden was on his own.” Tsk tsk.

Puss in Boots
My kids love this movie. They’re also 4 and 2. They like everything.

The Eagle
I feel bad ripping on something that clearly has noble intentions, but who wants to see this movie? Judging by the box office, no one.

Movies I didn’t see (nor could you make me)

Jack and Jill
I Don’t Know How She Does It
Drive Angry
Season of the Witch
Big Momma: Like Mother, Like Son
I Am Number Four
Johnny English Reborn

Final Destination 5

After a terribly disappointing fourth installment in the popular teen death series, New Line does the unthinkable by not only making a fifth “Final Destination” but, horrors (see what we did there?), casting old people as the leads. You know, people who are, like, 30, and even some born in the ’70s, ewww. Who wants to see old people die?

As it turns out, it was a very savvy move. “The Final Destination” was in a tough position in that its predecessor ramped up the death scenes’ difficulty factor (Rube Goldberg would have been proud, then probably ashamed) while maintaining self-awareness. “FD4” tried to maintain the planned chaos, but it was undone by bad dialogue, poor acting, and too much foreshadowing. From the very beginning, “Final Destination 5” does two things to separate itself from the previous movie: it casts grown-ups in the lead roles (David Koechner and Courtney B. Vance, holler) and gets serious in a hurry after a premonition on a suspension bridge leads a group of white collar drones to hop off the bus, Gus. Also, there are no bad last lines like “I’ve got my eye on you” (poor, poor Krista Allen), and while a death may be triggered by a chain reaction, the cause of death itself is often something normal (fall, fire). Don’t think they didn’t get creative, though; one of the women suffers a particularly gruesome accident that is impossible not to react to.

This, as you might imagine, does not end well.

They’ve also changed the rules – which is ironic, but for reasons we cannot divulge – when coroner William Blodworth (Tony “Candyman” Todd, returning for a third tour of duty, fourth if you include his voice work in “FD3”) suggests that the survivors can cheat death by killing someone else, a la “The Ring.” It adds an interesting wrinkle, since you get a glimpse of what people are willing to do in order to stay alive. Do not under any circumstances watch the bonus features if you haven’t yet seen the movie, otherwise the big surprise, which is a good one, will be spoiled. Definitely check them out afterwards, though, as you’ll get a glimpse of Koechner adding some of his natural comic flair. A welcome return to form for what was presumed to be a, um, dead franchise.

Click to buy Final Destination 5 from Amazon

Horrible Bosses Blu-ray extras: a lesson in comedic economics

Click here to read our review of “Horrible Bosses”

The thing about people who are naturally good at making people laugh is that they often lose sight of when it’s time to drop the mic and walk away. Now take a movie like “Horrible Bosses,” which is 96 of the funniest minutes you’ll spend this year or any other. For a movie so packed with humor and wit, there is surely something just as awesome that didn’t make the cut, right?

Well, maybe. The truth is, we have yet to watch the extended version of the film (it’s eight minutes longer, and if we knew where those eight minutes were, we’d go straight to them), but if the deleted scenes in the Special Features section on the Blu-ray are any indication, the makers of “Horrible Bosses” left nothing in the bag, as it were. There are a couple of alternate openings, neither of which is as good as the one in the final film, and we get to hear the full recording of Kurt’s tryst with Nick’s boss’ wife (hint: it doesn’t take long). The only other scene worth the film it’s printed on is Colin Farrell at the supermarket, accosting the pharmacist (a snippet of which you can see in the closing credits of the movie). There are featurettes on working for horrible people and how much fun it is to play mean, but the general tone of the featurettes is pretty dry. This is a movie worth owning, no question, but don’t expect the bonus features to serve as the motivation for the purchase. They’re really just a pleasant addition.

Of course, we may change our minds on that once we’ve seen the Totally Inappropriate Edition of the movie, but we’re betting against it. ‘Unrated’ tends to mean ‘overrated’ when it comes to these things.

Phineas and Ferb, The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension

It’s wildly inappropriate to sing the praises of a Disney Channel show by saying that it pisses genius, but “Phineas and Ferb” does just that, deftly blending dry relationship humor with high-concept science and one of the best pop soundtracks you’ll find outside of “South Park” (back when they wrote songs, anyway). Having wrapped their 39-episode (!) second season last fall, their first all-new show of 2011 is the wildly ambitious full-length movie “Across the 2nd Dimension,” and to the surprise of no one, it’s pretty awesome. Phineas and Ferb invent a portal to another dimension, and they discover a world where the nefarious Dr. Doofenshmirtz is a much more successful evil genius than the one in our world, and he plans to use the boys’ portal to take over our tri-state area as well. The producers have a great time playing against type (the other Candace is an ass-kicking resistance fighter, while the boys are timid and never leave the house), but the overall tone of the film is quite dark, which may not sit well with younger kiddos. Thankfully, the movie’s mini-tunes are the ringing pop gems fans have come to expect, to the point where one of the movie’s best songs wound up on the cutting room floor.

The DVD of “Across the 2nd Dimenson” uses the alternate world in a cheeky manner by splitting the bonus features between two title screens (poke around the main screen, and you’ll figure it out). The deleted scenes are quite good, but the two musical numbers, a longer version of “Robot Riot” and Candace’s great “Mysterious Force” (arguably the best song Ashley Tisdale has sung in years) are the winners. They also included the episode “Attack of the 50 Foot Sister,” which each universe in the DVD sporting its own audio commentary, one of which is the voice actors behind Dr. Doofenshmirtz and Major Monogram in character. This should satisfy fans of the show while the producers are hard at work on the show’s third season.

Click to buy Phineas and Ferb, The Movie from Amazon

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