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Hidden Netflix Gems – Everything Must Go

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Hollywood has a rich history of well-known comic actors taking on more serious and weighty roles, from Robin Williams to Ben Stiller to Jim Carrey, and now Will Ferrell, in what is probably his very best performance to date. Everything Must Go bears a strong resemblance to Stiller’s work in Noah Baumbach‘s Greenberg, or Adam Sandler‘s in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Punch-Drunk Love, in its portrayal of a flawed but basically good-hearted man going through difficult times and coming out better for it. The difference between Ferrell and Sandler, of course, is that Ferrell’s comedies generally don’t suck.

Ferrell plays Nick Halsey, an alcoholic who loses his job at the beginning of the film and, after an ill-advised revenge against his boss, Gary (Glenn Howerton), returns home to discover that his wife has left him. Not only that, she has locked him out of the house, frozen their joint bank account, and left all of his possessions out on the front lawn. Nick is understandably upset, and reacts in the defeated way that has apparently become his life’s standard recourse: he buys a lot of beer and camps out in his La-Z-Boy on the lawn for the night. In the morning, having exhausted his beer supply and unable to find his car keys, he borrows a bicycle from his twelve-year-old neighbor, Kenny Loftus (Christopher Jordan Wallace), and heads down to the convenience store for more beer while Kenny keeps an eye on his stuff.

Nick also befriends his new neighbor, Samantha (Rebecca Hall), a beautiful young photographer who has just moved by herself from New York, where her husband is wrapping things up at his company, planning to join her in Arizona as soon as possible. There are hints that their marriage is on the rocks, as when she tells Nick early on that her husband wants to name their unborn baby (with whom she is currently pregnant) Jack, after himself, a practice she thinks is “kind of ridiculous.” I found this especially ironic knowing that the excellent young actor who plays Kenny is in fact the son of the other Christopher Wallace, best known as The Notorious B.I.G. We also meet Nick’s friend and former Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, Frank Garcia (Michael Pena), when he rescues Nick from arrest by virtue of the fact that Frank is himself a higher-ranking officer than the ones sent to Nick’s house on a complaint from his neighbors.

Frank allows Nick to remain living on his lawn for the next few days under the pretense that he is holding a yard sale; after that, if Nick can’t get himself together, Frank will have no choice but to take him to jail. Clearly, this is not a plot-driven film, but that is not to say it isn’t a very well-structured one; the yard sale provides the forward thrust for Nick’s attempt to get his life back on track, and subtle details pay off in unexpected ways throughout. It is to the great credit of first-time writer-director Dan Rush that the film never takes the easy or expected routes, and it also takes its time in developing its characters and their relationships, all of which are nuanced and believable. The approach is well-suited to the author of its source material, the great Raymond Carver, and the film finds a perfect balance between poignancy and humor, both of which are equally effective when employed.

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

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Box Office Recap: Pixar ‘Braves’ its way to the top yet again

Nearly every review of Pixar’s “Brave” has been quick to point out that while the film is decent, it does not uphold the impossibly high standards the studio has set for itself. Indeed, ‘Brave” is one of just three Pixar films to earn a score of less than 90 percent on the Tomatometer. The picture currently stands at 74 percent. “Cars” earned the same rating while its sequel garnered an abysmal 38 percent.

That said, “Brave” had no trouble in the money making department, grossing $66.7 million in its opening weekend. That makes it Pixar’s fifth-best debut and perhaps more importantly, the number one movie in America.

But unfortunately for Fox Studios and Focus Features, the weekend’s other new releases didn’t fare nearly as well. The former’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” came in third with $16.5 million, which in this blogger’s humble opinion is $16.5 million too much, while the latter’s “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” found itself at the end of the charts, coming in tenth place with just $3.8 million. The indie production’s numbers are especially disappointing given its two big name stars in Steve Carell and Keira Knightley and the fact that it just barely beat out Focus’s other current release, Wes Anderson’sMoonrise Kingdom,” despite playing in 1,230 more theaters.

In between the two and ten spots, things remained largely static. “Prometheus” and “Rock of Ages” slid from last week’s second and third spots into fourth and fifth, respectively. Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi grossed $10 million, while the troubled hair metal musical took in $8 million.

Among the weekend charts’ two fluctuations was the genre-mashing (or rather clashing) “Snow White and the Huntsman” hopping over “That’s my Boy,” which is in only its second week. “Snow White” slid back one spot into sixth place with $8 million, but inched past the Adam Sandler comedy by a mere $100,000. Likewise, “Men in Black 3,” which stands at ninth on the charts with $5.6 million, fell behind “The Avengers” for the first time since its release. The superhero flick came in the eighth after grossing $7 million.

Here are the results for this weekend’s top 10 at the box office:

Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume
1. Brave, 1/4,164, Buena Vista, $66.739 million.
2. Madagascar 3, 3/3,920, Paramount/Dreamworks, $20.2 million, $157.572 million.
3. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 1/3,108, $16.5 million.
4. Prometheus, 3/2,862, Fox, $10 million, $108.547 million.
5. Rock of Ages, 2/3,470, Warner Bros., $8 million, $28.763 million.
6. Snow White and the Huntsman, 4/2,919, Universal, $8 million, $137.1 million.
7. That’s My Boy, 5/3,030, Sony, $7.9 million, $28.18 million.
8. The Avengers, 8/2,230, Disney/Marvel Studios, $7.04 million, $598.3million.
9. Men in Black 3, 5/2,462, Sony, $5.6 million, $163.339 million.
10. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, 1/1,625, Focus, $3.836 million.

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Box Office Preview: ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘That’s My Boy’

Rock of Ages

OK, so “Rock of Ages” is an adaptation of a Broadway musical that uses hair metal the way “Across the Universe” used The Beatles. First problem: who the hell likes hair metal? It’s certainly not baby boomers or kids these days. The target audience seems to be the tiny sliver of the American population that was both a teenager during the 1980′s and enjoyed the crap, excuse me, music, at the top of the pop charts at the time. Maybe that’s a decent amount of people, but I sincerely hope not.

Anyway, on to the plot. Small town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough), who’s presumably living in a lonely world, boards a midnight er, bus, going specifically to Los Angeles, which I suppose is close enough to “anywhere.” She’s mugged soon after arriving, but is saved by city boy Drew (origins unknown). Cue love story. Drew (Diego Boneta) is a busboy at Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand’s (character’s) nightclub, The Bourbon Room, but dreams of being a rock star (imagine that). The club is struggling, but its owner hopes Stacee Jaxx’s (Tom Cruise) final show before going solo will help spark revenues. That may just be the one upside in this movie, anyone who’s seen “Tropic Thunder” knows when Cruise gets a little self-deprecating it can earn major laughs. Meanwhile, Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), along with his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are launching a campaign to clean up the city, starting with The Bourbon Room. You disappoint me Bryan Cranston, but I doubt I’ll see this movie and “Breaking Bad” starts in a month, so my love for you shall survive.

Despite its star-studded cast and Cruise making an ass of himself, “Rock of Ages” is at a 44 percent on the Tomatometer, and Bullz-eye’s David Medsker had this to say:

If you look at “Rock of Ages” as a movie that knows it’s beyond salvation and is interested in finding out just far down the rabbit hole it can go, then it might earn some respect as the next cult classic in the making. Unfortunately, this is far closer to “The Apple” (look it up, if you dare) than it is to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” In the end, it’s just one of those movies that was never going to work. Pity no one realized this before they spent tens of millions to make it.

There you have it, if you’re a huge and I mean huge fan of musicals, hair metal, or any of the actors involved (Paul Giamatti’s in there too, somehow it never came up) then see this movie. But you’ve probably got better things to do.

That’s My Boy

So, it has come to this. Andy Samberg is Adam Sandler’s son, laughs ensue, or they would if this movie didn’t look so god awful. Also, is it just me or is the above picture a really bad photoshop job? Anyway, let’s just stick to the official synopsis:

While still in his teens, Donny (Adam Sandler) fathered a son, Todd (Andy Samberg), and raised him as a single parent up until Todd’s 18th birthday. Now, after not seeing each other for years, Todd’s world comes crashing down on the eve of his wedding when an uninvited Donny suddenly shows up. Trying desperately to reconnect with his son, Donny is now forced to deal with the repercussions of his bad parenting skills.

Specifically, Donny shows up because Todd is a hot shot hedge fund manager and he owes $43,000 to the IRS. He recieves this information from lawyer Jim Nance, played by Rex Ryan. That’s right, Rex Ryan, head coach of the New York Jets. I love sexy Rexy but c’mon, what does a football coach with no acting experience getting a part tell you about this movie?

If you didn’t get it from a thousand other hints, it tells you that it sucks. “That’s My Boy” is at an abysmal 23 percent on the Tomatometer. The best line of a review I’ve read so far comes from Adam Graham of The Detroit News: “Sandler’s Berger is the most loutish, annoying character he’s come up with since ‘Little Nicky.’ Nicky came from hell; viewers of ‘That’s My Boy’ will feel like they’re in it.”

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Box office preview: Will “Just Go With It” flow well? Will “Never Say Never” make Bieliebers of us all?

This is the first weekend in some time when we have more than a couple of new movies opening wide and it’s a weird one. We’ve got a powerhouse team of A-listers vying for first place against a 16 year-old musical phenom whose talent is, as least in the opinion of most adults and nearly all males, vastly less than phenomenal. Gotta love show biz.

If you’re betting on this weekend, you should probably demand some odds if your choice for the #1 spot is not “Just Go With It.” At least on paper, this is a smartly designed movie in terms of attracting a mass audience. To be stereotypical about it, there’s a little romance for the women, and little raunchy comedy for the men and a slightly unusual pairing of rom-com reliable Jennifer Aniston and raunch-com superstar Adam Sandler.

Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in

The cinematic seers and soothsayers referenced over at the L.A. Times and THR differ only very slightly in suggesting that the comedy from Sony/Columbia, will do something in the neighborhood of $30 million, or perhaps a bit more. Neither Aniston nor Sandler have ever been critical darlings and their latest outing isn’t changing that.

The strange aspect of this is that the film is an unheralded remake of 1969′s “Cactus Flower,” which had a screenplay adapted by the later-career collaborator of Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, and starred Walter Matthau and my hugest crush ever, Ingrid Bergman, in the roles now inhabited by Sandler and Anniston. I’ve liked both Sandler and Anniston in movies from time to time but, my God, talk about devolution. I’ve never seen model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker in anything, so I’ll spare her the comparison to Goldie Hawn, who won an Oscar for her role.

Meanwhile, there’s more than a little mystery about just how much Paramount’s “Justin Beiber: Never Say Never” will make. Apparently, Beiber’s very young, very female fan base is defying marketers’ ability to measure and predict the results for this 3D docu-concert flick. The really weird part of all this is that, of all four movies being released this week, the biographical documentary has the best reviews with a respectable enough 64% Fresh rating over a Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. A sad commentary, perhaps, or just another sign of the show biz apocalypse. Could this film actually top the week’s box office? Probably not, but never say “never.”

Gnomeo and JulietNext is the 3D animated comedy, “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Disney apparently wanted to keep this one at arm’s length and is releasing it through Touchstone, usually reserved for racier properties, despite the film’s G-rating. My hunch is that animation chief John Lasseter felt the rom-com suitable for the very young wasn’t quite up to snuff all around. The reviews, however, are not completely awful and the voice cast — which includes James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Sir Michael Caine, Dame Maggie Smith and, in a voice-acting debut, Jason Statham — is beyond first rate. It also boasts music by Elton John and parents can also feel like they’re prepping their kids for Shakespeare even if this is comedy and not tragedy. So, the guess of $15-20 million seems reasonable enough to me.

Finally, we’ve got swords, sandals, Channing Tatum, and Jamie Bell in “The Eagle.” No one seems very excited about this costume actioner and that non-excitement seems to be communicating itself through some underwhelming box office guesses to match its deeply “meh” notices.

In limited release in some 16 theaters according to Box Office Mojo, the world always needs a good, or half-way decent, comedy and the large majority of critics seem to agree that “Cedar Rapids” is just that. With a cast of tip-top comedy veterans including Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche, among others, it’s hard not to have an upbeat attitude about this one.

Ed Helms and Anne Heche are in

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Hey, I’m back, sort of, with weekend box office results

I’m still keeping busy and enjoying the tail end of the Los Angeles Film Festival, which wraps in just a couple of hours, but I thought I’d see how quickly I can give you all at least some of this weekend’s genuinely fascinating box office results as gleaned from both Anne Thompson and Nikki Finke.

Toy Story 3

Well, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Pixar formula — i.e., dollops of laughter and heart (what a concept!) and now a dash of 3-D ticket prices — has once again worked wonders and “Toy Story 3” took on all comers, earning an estimated $59 million for Disney in its second weekend. Meanwhile, it was also a good weekend for the eternal appeal of low humor and, it seems Adam Sandler, at least when accompanied by four other comic known quantities of varying degrees of box office hotness. It was clear that the scatological-joke loving masses were only encouraged by, I’m guessing, entirely correct godawful reviews of Sony’s “Grown-Ups.”

Perhaps also reflecting a dearth of comedy right now, the film actually was a personal box office best — not adjusted for inflation — for Sandler, earning $41 million. Personally, though I like him in actual quality films like the, I think, severely underrated “Funny People” and the brilliant “Punch Drunk Love,” I’ve never gotten the comic appeal of Sandler, going back to his SNL days, and can’t even remember gong through a phase where I found farts inherently hysterical, so I can only throw up my hands here.

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in
On the other hand, there is little joy in the five or six buildings the Church of Scientology owns on Hollywood Blvd, as the Tom Cruise (and Cameron Diaz) action comedy vehicle, “Knight and Day” earned an estimated $27.7 million. Not bad, actually, except considering Cruise’s far better past performances back in the day when stars like him could routinely “open” a film and, according to Finke, the budget for the film was either roughly $117 or $107 million, depending on whether you calculate tax breaks. In other words, Cruise’s thetans might take longer to clear.

In other news, I’m happy to say, that things are hopping on the indie scene. The new wartime documentary “Restrepo” and the Duplass Brother’s enjoyable entry into the semi-mainstream, “Cyrus,” are both doing quite well, as are other newish films.

On the other hand, the controversially violent “The Killer Inside Me” appears to be suffering, perhaps, from an older indie audience that might be turned off by the fuss, which some say has been exaggerated to a certain degree and appears to have surprised its skilled, if highly uneven, director Michael Winterbottom. Interesting how an adaptation of a once obscure fifty-eight year old pulp novel can still raise hackles. Also shows that while a perception of too-little blood and guts can harm a horror film, a perception of too much can perhaps harm even a “hard R” thriller/drama. Advice to the suits: know your audience.

As usual, Indiewire has the indie scoop.

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A Chat with Megyn Price (“Rules of Engagement”)

If you’re a sitcom aficionado, then there are a trio of shows from which you’ll be familiar with Megyn Price. Her first big claim to fame was starring alongside Al Franken, Miguel Ferrer, and Robert Foxworth in the short-lived NBC series “LateLine,” which was followed by the decidedly longer-lived “Grounded for Life,” which ambled along hilariously for five seasons. Currently, however, she can be found playing the wife to Patrick Warburton on CBS’s “Rules of Engagement,” which returns to the network tonight, March 1st, for its new season. I had a chance to chat with the lovely Ms. Price about all three of these series, but I didn’t let her get away before I needled her briefly about her appearance in “Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector.” Most importantly, though, I finally got to thank her for providing me with my favorite anecdote of the summer 2009 TCA Press Tour. What was it? To find out, you’ll have to join us for…

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“Avatar” tops a weekend of holiday box office bounty

If you’ve been following the horse-race over at Nikki Finke’s place, you’ll know it’s been a very long holiday weekend of box office ups and down. However, for those of us who can wait a day or two for the results, it’s actually somewhat simple.

Avatar movie image (3)

James Cameron‘s super-expensive 3-D extravaganza for Fox, “Avatar,” emerged as the victor of a three-way battle for the top prize with an outstanding second-weekend estimated take of $75 million and an absolutely minuscule drop from it’s first weekend of 2.6%, according to Box-Office Mojo. The Hollywood conventional wisdom has it that most science fiction films drop by at least 50% on their second weekend. Clearly, this is not most science fiction films and the fact that people are waiting to see this one in 3D and paying extra for the privilege is not hurting. So, as I’ve alluded to often enough, the word of mouth on this thing is something else. However, as always, I await the backlash as some folks plunk down their extra-heavy 3D ticket price and fail to have a religious experience.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, or some version thereofSecond place, of course, was Guy Ritchie’s unorthodox action-comedy take on probably the oldest genre franchise in the biz, “Sherlock Holmes.” The Robert Downey, Jr./Jude Law team-up loosely drawn from the late 19th/early 20th century works of Arthur Conan Doyle defeated “Avatar” and all-comers on its record setting Christmas opening. It then fell a bit and earned a still whopping estimated $65.38 for Warner Brothers, a company that certainly has some experience with franchises. Better yet, this one is in the public domain, which means fewer folks get a share in the wealth.

Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” actually beat “Avatar” by a couple of million on its early opening day last Wednesday, but fell sharply on Christmas Eve and rebounded the rest of the weekend, for a very healthy estimated third place showing of $50.2 million. Critics may detest it; parents may barely tolerate it, but, to paraphrase the old blues song, the little kids understand (or don’t know any better). The film’s total estimated take starting from its early opening is just a tad over $77 million.

Considering it’s a Golden Globe-nominated sex comedy presumably aimed at a very grown-up audience — not only because of the average age of its stars but also because it’s R-rated, Universal’s “It’s Complicated” has generated the critical equivalent of a shrug, with our own David Medsker coming down on the very much negative side. That doesn’t bode extremely well for this sort of movie, which can use all the critical and awards help it can get.

Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in Still, this weekend’s rising tide managed to lift this boat to the tune of an estimated $22 million or so, which is really not bad for this kind of film. Or, it wouldn’t be because Nikki Finke claims the budget was $80 million, which is way high for this kind of movie  and suggests to me that it’s possible stars Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin let their agents negotiate extra-hard for a big pay-day because they were perhaps less than wowed by the film artistically. Universal just doesn’t seem to be cutting itself any breaks lately.

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Playing catch-up

Predator with Arnold Schwarzennegger

A few more random items worth mentioning…

* Robert Rodriguez is producing a “Predator” reboot, entitled “Predators,” to be directed by Hungarian-American helmer Nimród Antal. As per today’s Variety, along for the ride are Adrien Brody and Topher Grace. I, personally, will wait for the movie to decide first whether I’ll bother to see it and second whether these two undoubtedly talented actors are well cast here. (Grace is kind of a personal favorite and this sounds like chance to be sort of a badass Norman Bates, which I can kind of see.) However, as usual geek film bloggers and some film geek bloggers can’t wait for the movie to have an opinion, and Spout’s Christopher Campbell collates the reaction. No word on Brody’s chances for eventually becoming a not-too competent and unlucky governor of California.

* Two very tentative but interesting items from Mike Fleming today. Gary Ross, who’s past specialty was such seriocomic Oscarish fare as “Dave,” “Pleasantville,” and “Seabiscuit” but who is doing the the latest rewrite on the next “Spiderman” film may also be directing as well as rewriting a proposed “Venom” movie, without Topher Grace, most likely. The many problems with “Spider-Man 3” to my mind had nothing at all to do with Grace, but who said life was fair?

* The second Fleming item has screenwriter-director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls“) “in discussions” to return to biographical material somewhat along the lines of “Gods and Monsters” and “Kinsey,” with a proposed film about the late Richard Pryor to star Marlon Wayans. Adam Sandler‘s “Happy Madison” company is involved at this point, which makes sense given the reverence nearly all modern comedians have for Pryor.

* Speaking of people who’ve been known to throw a few M-F bombs in the name of a laugh, our own Will Harris has an interview with the praised and maligned indie film mainstay and part-time funny de facto stand-up comic, Kevin Smith at Bullz-Eye. Very definitely worth a read. And, though I probably don’t need to say it, the following video is NSFW and is just plain dangerous to your life and career if you are anywhere near Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Spielberg, or George Lucas.

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Is the “Funny People” box office take half full or half empty?

Like so many things in life, the meaning of the weekend gross for the Judd Apatow/Adam Sandler “serious comedy,” “Funny People,” is a matter of perspective. On the more cheerful side, we have the trades, which typically enough are accentuating the positive, noting that the somewhat risky project, at least by modern mainstream film standards, was actually #1 at the box office, even if the amount it took the lead by was less than mega-spectacular.

The Hollywood Reporter (actually the AP as carried by THR) thinks that Judd Apatow is living in the best of all possible box office worlds:

Movie audiences have taken a liking to Adam Sandler’s more serious side…["Funny People"] grabbed the top spot at the weekend boxoffice with a $23.4 million debut.

Variety takes a more measured, but still somewhat upbeat, tone:

Adam Sandler’s “Funny People” has topped a moderate weekend box office with $23.4 million at 3,008 playdates.

Nikki Finke, however, has a different way of seeing things. Here’s her headline:

‘Funny People’ No Laughing Matter; Opens To Lousy $8.6M Fri And Worse $7.4M Sat For Disappointing $23.4M Weekend

La Finke goes on to point out that Universal has been lowering expectations from Sandler’s usual $30-$40 million openers to a more modest $25 million, and fell a bit short of that.

Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, and Adam Sandler kvetch over turkey It really does come down to your frame of reference. In my weekend preview post, I mentioned the Sally Field/Tom Hanks starring “Punchline,” which I think is a better point of comparison than any particular Apatow or Adam Sandler film, including 2002′s “Punch-Drunk Love,” simply because of the subject matter, the more-serious-than-you-might-expect approach, and the level of star power. That movie got similarly mixed reviews but was one of 1988′s lowest grossing films, despite the presence of two bankable stars. Two small differences: one had laughs, the other doesn’t, and Sally Field was not ever thought of as a great comedian, “The Flying Nun” notwithstanding.

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Will “Funny People” be a sad clown at the box office?

Whatever my reaction to it winds up being when I finally see “Funny People,” Judd Apatow has my respect. As a producer, writer, and sometime director of mostly R-rated comedies, he’s enjoyed a level of unusually consistent box office and artistic/critical success over a large number of movies that only Pixar, which takes much longer to make its very different brand of crowd-pleaser, can top right now.

Making good movies requires taking risks, and Apatow is taking one right now with a film that is being described as a tragicomedy and with his only hedge being a cast dominated by popular comic actors led by Adam Sandler. That the film seems to be largely dividing critics and generating confused reactions would, if I were Apatow or Universal, make me a little nervous. Actually, Universal may be more nervous than Apatow. As Nikki Finke and everyone else is reporting tonight, the hyphenate comedy guy just inked a 3-picture deal with them, so he’s set for the time being.

Variety‘s Dave McNary reports that box office predictions vary pretty widely for the film, from the low twenty millions to the mid-thirties. No wonder. A casual look around the wilds of Rotten Tomatoes indicates that the Apatow’s third feature as a director after “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” is far different piece of work and what you might call “difficult.” As far as I can remember, this has almost never indicated an immediate box office success — better to have critics universally detest the movie, it seems, than be conflicted. Movies that elicit this kind of reaction have more than once emerged years later as cult hits or even, as in the case of “Blade Runner,” legitimate classics. On the other hand, Adam Sandler’s name will count for something, and the presence of Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, among others, certainly won’t hurt. But, on the other other hand, we’ve seen the power of stars amount to less than expected results more than once over the last year or so.

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