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Review: What’s Your Number?

29 Sep

Ally Darling (Anna Faris) is in one of the moments of reflection in her life. She’s 30 something. She’s in a friends-with-benefits relationship, while her younger sister is getting married. It’s against this backdrop that she reads an article stating that the average woman has had 10.5 lovers. She’s troubled by the fact that she has had 19. So at a celebratory event with the members of her sister’s wedding party, she asks each of the women to place the number of partners they’ve had in a bowl to be picked out one by one. Anna’s number doubles that of each of the other women. One of them cites a study which says once a woman reaches the number 20 her chances of marriage drop substantially. Supposedly that plateau reflects self esteem issues which prevent those women from forging long term relationships. Ally is determined not to reach 20.

Taking a cue from her sister who is marrying a guy she dated earlier in her life and then rediscovered, Ally decides to track down her former lovers. She enlists the help of her struggling musician neighbor Colin (Chris Evans), to use his skills as the son of a cop to find her ex’s.

As romantic comedies go, “What’s Your Number?” has it moments, but doesn’t really come together and gets a Rent It rating. First, in a romantic comedy there must be a strong chemistry between the stars. Faris and Evans work. No complains about them together. Next, these films by their nature tend to be a bit far fetched but this story just isn’t plausible at all: searching for past boyfriends so that she won’t reach the number 20 which will then make her unlikely to marry.

There’s a scene where Colin and Ally leave her apartment and the films cuts to the Boston Garden where they go to play basketball. Colin explains that he worked there years ago and still had his card key. Never mind the fact the first thing every employer does when employees leave is take their keys. The two of them play a game of strip, HORSE (One person has to make the shot the other has just made.) As Colin misses shots there is no mystery in it for Ally (or for viewers) since he has been nearly naked in almost every scene up to then. (The handiwork of lady screenwriters Gabrielle Allan, Jennifer Crittende?).

Speaking of the screenwriters, they have some creatively amusing lines, like when Ally’s sister explains why she doesn’t want her fiancé to help pick out the wedding announcements because, “He has terrible taste in fonts!” And of course the film has to end with one of those only in Hollywood “racing to find and tell the other person, I love you”, endings.

In our Cast Diversity Rating, “What’s Your Number?” gets a “B”. Black characters are among the wedding party, group scenes and one of the guys on Ally’s list of former beaus is played by Anthony Mackie.

Kudos to Anna Faris, she not only stars in the movie but is Executive Producer.

“What’s Your Number?” is a mildly entertaining production, but overall unexceptional film with a story which is a bit extreme and that means, Rent It.

“What’s Your Number?” is rated “R” for sexual content and language and is 106 minutes in length.

Review: 50/50

29 Sep

50/50 can be pretty good odds in a lot of things. Like having a baby of the desired gender. Or the odds of landing a job. And a baseball player who could produce hits at that ratio would be the greatest to ever play the game. But the chance of surviving an illness, well that’s a different story. Adam Lerner’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) life would be considered better than 50% good. He’s 27 with a job he likes, a girlfriend he loves and good friends. On the down side but not enough to make his existence more bad than good is the fact that Adam’s father has Alzheimer’s and his mother who takes care of his father still has enough time to interfere in Adam’s life.

Things change radically for Adam when he discovers that the back discomfort he experiences is really a large malignant tumor which has set up residence on his spine. Things change in other ways as well. His girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) says she’s with him for the long haul – but she’s really not. His best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen) tries to cheer him up by listing the names of famous people who survived cancer and includes Patrick Swayze who of course died of it. Adam decides to get counseling only to be assigned to someone who is still just a student.

50/50 is partially entertaining and is a perfect “Rent It”. It’s thought provoking and amusing and also a great film to watch at home. Adam is a sympathetic character which is important for the audience to emotionally bond with him. He’s a good guy but the writers don’t make him artificially nice or a candidate for sainthood. Kyle, his best friend, is authentic as a young guy trying his best to be supportive but is not exactly sure how to handle his friend’s illness.

The film drags a bit during the middle portions as the story follows Adam through counseling and adjusting to the situation.

50/50 was set in Seattle, though filmed exclusively in Vancouver, British Columbia.

As to our Cast Diversity Rating, this film gets a “D-”. It’s one of the least diverse films I have seen in a long time. Adam’s surgeon is an Asian woman but other than that there are almost no people of color in this film.

50/50 is good film, with well developed characters but not a movie you have to be in a hurry to see. Wait and rent it.

50/50 is 99 minutes in length and rated “R” for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use.

Review of the “Dolphin Tale”

23 Sep

Things were not going well for the pre teen Sawyer (Nathan Gamble). His father took off a few years earlier. His mother, Lorraine (Ashley Judd) has him in summer school were he’s none too popular, his cousin a local competitive swimming hero heads to Iraq for military duty. But Sawyer’s fortunes are about to change. He happens upon a baby dolphin whose been caught in a crab trap and is badly injured. Using his cell phone to summons help, Sawyer’s call leads to the dolphin coming under the care of Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) who operates a clinic for marine life.

Sawyer goes to the clinic to check on the dolphin who the staff has named Winter. The infirmary area of the clinic is off limits to outsiders. But Dr. Clay’s daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehisdorff) sneaks Sawyer in. Dr. Haskett objects to Sawyer’s presence until he notices that Winter reacts positively to Sawyer being around. So rather than going to summer school, Sawyer spends happy days helping nurse Winter. Unfortunately, Winter’s tale is so badly infected it has to be removed. But Winter ultimately recovers and even learns to swim without it. But then there is more bad news. The swimming motion the tailless Winter uses is an unnatural one and causes damage to his spine. Enter prosthetics doctor, Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman). Dr. McCarthy takes on the tremendous challenge of creating a water durable prosthetics device for Winter.

The Dolphin Tale lives up to expectations and gets a See It rating. True to form for this film genre, the writers really pile on the heart tugging elements of the characters’ lives. Sawyer is fatherless, his role model cousin is leaving, and his classmates hate him. His new friend, Hazel’s mother is dead. So like Sawyer, she has only one parent. Also the clinic is having financial problems and may have to close. But all of these subplots lay the foundation for a very happy ending.

As with many movies the writers take liberties with reality. For example, a hurricane arrives with barely an hour’s notice. With today’s technology, the arrival of storms is announced days in advance.

Dolphin Tale features a strong cast. Young Nathan Gamble as Sawyer has a strong on screen presence which is necessary as a leading character. Harry Connick, Jr, who appears to be in good shape, must have had it in his contract that he gets to wear tight shirts in every scene. Because he does.

On our Cast Diversity Rating, Dolphin Tale gets a “B”. Morgan Freeman has a pivotal role and saves the day as Dr. McCarthy. There are also people of color in other supporting roles.

Dolphin Tale does what is expected. It delivers an entertaining and heart warming story and it’s a See It. It’s rated PG for mild thematic elements and is 1 hour and 49 minutes in length.

Straw Dogs

16 Sep

Yes, you can go home again. In Straw Dogs, Hollywood writer David Sumner (James Marsden) and his actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) return to her rural Mississippi hometown. They plan to use Amy’s deceased parents’ homestead as a stress free refuge for David to finish a script he’s writing. Amy has a past with a local carpenter, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) whose tall muscular frame contrasts with the shorter, thinner intellectual David. Friction begins when David hires Charlie and some of his cohorts to do some work on the homestead. Amy resents what she views as David’s weakness in dealing with Charlie and his group’s excesses. David tries to avoid confrontation with them and even ventures to the local tavern to have a drink where a different drama unfolds with the local retired high school football coach (James Woods) who is obsessively angry at a mentally unstable man named Jeremy (Dominic Purcell). The coach sees Jeremy at a constant threat to molest his daughter Janice (Willa Holland). The issues and tension between David and Charlie and his gang, and the coach and Jeremy explode into violence one Friday night.

Straw Dogs is the remake of a 1971 classic. Unfortunately, this version lacks the intensity and character development of the classic of four decades ago. The directors should have more closely followed Sam Peckinpah’s stirring original screenplay. That script did a much better job of developing rich and provocative characters whose motives were clear and understandable. For example, the 1971 movie it was clear why the teenage Janice had an encounter with an older, mentally challenged local. In director/screenwriter Rod Lurie’s instant version it is unclear why the popular attractive Janice would pursue the unstable Jeremy.

James Marsden is every bit as effective in lead role as Dustin Hoffman was in the original film. However, Kate Bosworth lacks credibility as Amy the small town Mississippi girl. She doesn’t have even the slightest trace of a Southern accent. She explains that she had to lose the drawl for a role she played in Hollywood. But when actors enunciate differently for a character they don’t adopt that new way of speaking permanently. Once that role was over she would have reverted back to speaking in a normal (for her southern) tone.

Straw Dogs has a strong set of supporting actors. Alexander Skarsgard is perfectly cast as the not completely evil, not completely nice foe to David. The cinematography is interesting, using very creative angles.

Straw Dogs get a “C” on our cast diversity rating. Mississippi is 37% black but that substantial percentage is not reflected in this film. However, Laz Alonso does have a major role as the local sheriff.

The final verdict on Straw Dogs is that gets our highest rating: “See It” just by a nose. It’s powerfully entertaining and that’s what puts it over the top.

Straw Dogs is rated “R” for strong brutal violence including a sexual attack, menace, some sexual content and pervasive language. It’s 109 minutes.

Contagion

16 Sep

A pig eating a morsel off the floor as he’s being led slaughter. This simple act leads to catastrophic results. A handshake, a cough, all start what results in the international spread of a virulent virus.

Contagion focuses upon the victims and those battling the disease. There’s Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returning to Minneapolis from a business trip in Hong Kong. She suffers what she believes to be travel fatigue. Two days later, she’s dead and the doctors don’t have any answers for her husband (Matt Damon).

The U.S.’s Centers for Disease Control’s Deputy Director Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) battles the virus as well as the developing public and political hysteria. Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) is a brave young doctor serving as the foot soldier out investigating and treating the growing number of victims. Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) of the World Health Organization leads the battle against the crisis internationally. Jude Law plays an activist blogger who claims that he has the cure and alleges a governmental cover up.

Contagion like most of the sick people in the film is Dead On Arrival. It’s depressing with no counterbalancing entertainment value. Angela’s Ashes and The Elephant Man are examples of disheartening movies that were also interesting. But watching extreme human suffering without any historical or relevant basis is an empty exercise. Also, there are so many subplots that the movie seems disjointed.

This is an impressive all star cast; however, none of their characters are particularly interesting.

Contagion gets a “B” in our Cast Diversity rating. With Laurence Fishburne in starring role and Sanaa Lathan has a substantial supporting part.

“Contagion” is rated PG-13 for disturbing content and some language and is 106 minutes in length. And it is Dead On Arrival.

Review of: Our Idiot Brother

26 Aug

You can’t choose your family. And if you could, it’s unlikely that the Rochlin sisters, Liz (Emily Mortimer), Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) would choose their brother Ned (Paul Rudd). Ned has just been released from jail after foolishly selling pot to a uniformed police officer. He returns to the farm he shared with his girlfriend who now lives with someone else, a fact that she hadn’t gotten around to telling Ned. She also refuses to give up the dog named Willie Nelson that they both claim ownership of. With no place to stay, Ned turns to his mother. That doesn’t work so he moves to New York City where his sisters live. There’s Liz, the perfect urban housewife; Miranda, the social climbing writer for a major magazine, and the flamboyant Natalie who lives with her Lesbian lover. One by one, the well intentioned Ned causes problems in the lives and relationships of each sister.

Our Idiot Brother shot in an amazingly short, 30 days is a different kind of film. And gets a Rent It rating.

It’s different in that the grainy film quality stands out in this high definition world. Rudd’s long hair, his ex girlfriend and their wholesome farm gives creates an aura of the 70s. It’s only with the appearance of a dime-thin lap top does it become clear that this is set in the current day. It’s a character driven film in a time when action/special effects movies dominate. Additionally, Rudd is a different leading man. Viewers have come to expect male stars to have bodies that are the handiwork of personal trainers; Rudd’s physique is exceedingly normal.

The movie effectively captures both the conflicting affection/frustration character of close relationships.

This cast is exceptional with a strong chemistry. Some of them had pre-existing relationships and it shows because this group seems like a real family. The cast diversity rating is a “B” with Liz’s girlfriend being played by Rashida Jones and Sterling Brown as Ned’s tough but fair parole officer.

Our Idiot Brother loses it unique quality with a forced, Hollywood style happy ending. That’s disappointing. It had been refreshingly atypical up that point. It remains an entertaining movie with a good cast. But no need to go to the theater. Wait and Rent It.

Our Idiot Brother is rated “R” for some nudity and crass language and is 90 minutes in length.

Review of “Fright Night”.

19 Aug

What would happen if the new guy in the neighborhood that everyone seems to like turns out to be a vampire? That is the central question raised in Fright Night. Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) a teenager lives across the street from the new arrival, Jerry (Colin Farrell) but Charley is so busy with his new hot girlfriend and recently found acceptance by the most popular kids that he doesn’t give Jerry much thought.  But he does take note when his mom, (Toni Collette) flirts with Jerry and his former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) points out one of their friends as well as other kids have stopped coming to school.  Ed believes there is a connection between the disappearances and Jerry.   Since entering into the ranks of the cool kids, Charley has dropped the nerdy Ed but reluctantly agrees to go with him to investigate the disappearance of their friend. That investigation leads Charley to realize there really is something very strange about Jerry.

Fright Night fails to deliver and gets a ghoulish Dead on Arrival rating.  The first problem is Anton Yelchin as the lead character. He has almost no screen presence and is overshadowed by any one that he shares a scene with.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse who plays Ed is funny, yet determined and unashamed to be who he. Mintz-Plasse seems to make Yelchin irrelevant whenever they are on the screen together.

However on the other hand, Colin Farrell is eerily effective as Jerry your friendly neighborhood vampire.

Then there is the story itself which conveniently ignores details that realistically would be important. Like know no one seems to notice, accept Ed that KIDS HAVE STOPPED COMING TO SCHOOL!  Wouldn’t parents report their kids missing?!  Wouldn’t the schools officials become concerned? A house explodes and the next day it just sits there in the neighborhood. No police investigation. No yellow tape.  Nothing.

And the dialogue is laughable at times it shouldn’t be.   When Jerry the vampire has just tried to kill them and they escape in their car with Jerry in hot pursuit, Charley’s mother turns to Charley and says: “This is seriously NOT okay”.  I guess when Jerry tried to kill to them that was kind of not okay but chasing them in the car was now SERIOUSLY not okay.

As to our Cast Diversity rating, Fright Night gets a “D”. Only a few people of color in minor roles.

The point is Fright Night is frightfully bad.  It’s “R” for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references and is two hours long.  Again, it’s Dead on Arrival.