Summer Movie Review: The Change-Up

“Let’s tempt fate and piss in this public fountain.”

Apparently, the only way for an individual to learn valuable lessons about his or her own life is in the event that they are cursed to spend a few days walking in the shoes of another. At least that’s what Hollywood seems to imply as they continually recycle this very plot device. From Big to Dream a Little Dream to The Family Man, this theme has been explored in various ways, none more overdone than the Freaky Friday format where two characters wish for each others life and then wake up in an apparent nightmare. The Change-Up is essentially an adaptation of Freaky Friday, replacing the mother-daughter relationship with two lifelong best friends.

Nevermind the concept, because with Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman cast to work off one another as the two leads, the laughs are guaranteed no matter the material. Reynolds, alone, has a history of taking projects that should not have been as funny as they were, such as Van WilderWaiting, and Just Friends, and making them worth watching. Bateman, on the other hand, has a resume that suggests he needs a solid project to look good. While he was great on Arrested Development and in such films as Horrible Bosses and the criminally underrated Extract, he is not in the same class as Reynolds, who can take the most simple and unfunny line and deliver it in a way that will leave an audience in hysterics.

I imagine this is the same looks they gave after watching the premiere.
The opening scene to the movie introduces the audience to Dave (Bateman), a corporate lawyer whose marriage is in danger because he often puts his career before his family. While establishing the difficulties of parenthood for a hard-working father of three may seem necessary in a movie about not appreciating what you have, there are hundreds of better ways to address it than by featuring an infant who rapidly slams his head against the bars of his cradle before defecating in his father’s mouth. These are cheap gags which aspire for the cheapest of laughs, all within the first five minutes of the movie.
“Were we taking Ecstasy when we signed on for this crapfest?”

The first third of the movie was sloppy, aside from Mitch’s introduction, which featured some of Reynolds’ trademark comedic timing in his portrayal as a slacker whose daily routine involves smoking pot, auditioning for roles in low-budget, trashy Skinemax fare, and maintaining a strict schedule with the women he’s sleeping with. It’s as inconsistent as the idea that two men who are polar opposites of each other have maintained a lifelong bond without tiring of the others’ antics.

One of the earliest lessons taught in elementary English (or “reading”) classes is that cause and effect are essential to story-telling, regardless of the genre. Yet, somewhere along the line that has become a forgotten rule and stories are being told sans effect. In comedy, it’s become egregious to see such lack of payoff and build. The Change-Up is a serious culprit of this, but many other films are guilty of this as well. It seems that writers and directors have come to believe that the audience attention spans have become so poor that they need to be smacked in the face with what is irresponsibly being labeled as “raunchy” material. Perhaps audiences have, in fact, become so dumb that they can no longer relate to actual storytelling and sincerely need “Ow, My Balls.”

Olivia Wilde and Ryan Reynolds in The Change-Up

Once Dave and Mitch’s individual traits were defined, the movie slowly began to find itself and the poorly-written story became less of an issue as each actor literally began channeling the other. Reynolds has played the douchey slacker many times in the past, and Bateman has a similar history playing the conservative professional. That each actor is forced to step out of what may be their comedic comfort zones is a fun twist. Further, the supporting cast is quite solid. Leslie Mann (Funny People) provides the emotional backbone as Dave’s wife Jamie, Sydney Rouviere provides a lot of heart and laughs as their daughter Cara, and Olivia Wilde (Cowboys & Aliens) is stellar (but underused) as Dave’s assistant Sabrina.

Overall, The Change-Up is an unbalanced movie. Its good moments are enjoyable, but when it’s bad, it is borderline atrocious. The end result is a mediocre disappointment, as Reynolds and Bateman work well off of one another, and each possess an individual sense of comedic timing that could carry a movie. These two could remake My Dinner With Andre, verbatim, and get laughs, so it’s unfortunate that those involved in creating this film, be it the writers, producers, or the director, thought that ridiculously gross-out, over-the-top “humor” would be necessary for a project starring two of this era’s brightest comedic actors.

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Summer Movie Review: Captain America

Captain America: The First Avenger is the second blockbuster period piece this summer that explores the origins of a major Marvel comic book franchise. Unlike X-Men: First Class, which takes place primarily during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960’s while establishing a very loose continuity with the other X-Men films, the Captain America film, as its title implies, serves as a prequel to next summer’s Avengers. Of course, Cap is the fourth Avenger (and the second this year) to be featured on the big screen, and alongside both Iron Man movies, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor, the four superheroes have developed what Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures have dubbed the “Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

The Avengers: Black Widow, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, and S.H.I.E.L.D.

 

Steve Rogers, Pre-Super Serum

Prior to becoming America’s very own superhero, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, What’s Your Number?) was a frail and sickly 90-lb kid who, despite his earnest intentions to help his country by joining the military during the second World War, cannot even fend for himself in his hometown. After countless failed attempts at joining the armed service, Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, Easy A), a German scientist who is working with the US Military, acknowledges Rogers persistence and offers him an opportunity to enlist. Erskine takes a liking to Rogers and is convinced, upon sensing his goodwill, that he is perfect for the experimental Super Soldier Project. The early moments of this film make it a point to focus on the character of Steve Rogers more so than Stever Rogers, the character.

The Red Skull, leader of HYDRA and self-proclaimed god

Steve Rogers only becomes Captain America because he puts his patriotism and loyalty before himself. It is revealed, prior to the Super Soldier experiment, that the serum would not only increase Rogers’ muscle mass and athleticism, but it would further exemplify his inner being. Rogers’ humble demeanor and selflessness separated him from the subject of the prior Super Soldier experiment, which transformed power-hungry scientist Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, V for Vendetta) into the villainous Red Skull who is hellbent world domination.

Cap in the Stark-designed uniform, with his Vibranium shield

Continuity was certainly in place, with Captain America: The First Avenger tying itself more closely to Iron Man, the first movie in the Avenger film canon, than any other hero’s story. Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, The Devil’s Double), the father of the industrialist Avenger Tony Stark, had a very influential role in the film, not only working alongside the US Military, but by working on the Super Soldier Project with Dr. Erskine. After Cap’s rescue mission, Stark revealed to Rogers that he had been developing state of the art armor for the Super Soldier, including the indestructible Vibranium shield that serves as Cap’s most efficient offensive and defensive weapon. Other nods to the Marvel Cinematic Universe are references to the Yddrasil Tree of the World and the importance throughout the movie on the Cosmic Cube that was featured in Thor. The Super Soldier Serum, credited to Erskine’s alias Dr. Reinstein and developed by Stark Technologies, was also a prominent device in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Much like in the comic books, these properties are staying connected despite having different writers and directors behind each individual project.

Marvel nailed it by casting Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark
That director Joe Johnston managed to tell such a captivating story is an achievement worthy of recognition, especially since the era which this film takes place is one that 21st Century movie-goers should find very difficult to relate to. However, Johnston’s depiction of World War II-era New York City is as genuine and earnest as the title character’s personality. There are two montages that grasp the integrity of that era, one features a group of children huddling together to read Captain America comics, and the other features a group of young boys running around the streets of New York, role playing with trashcan lids painted in the likeness of their hero’s famous shield.
Captain America, surrounded by HYDRA soldiers

When Marvel Comics first introduced Captain America, it gave the United States a patriotic superhero that exemplified “truth, justice, and the America way” during World War II. This film should not be viewed as a re-imagining of that war, nor should its historical content be compared to the historical content of other films set in that era. Captain America: The First Avenger is not supposed to be Inglorious Bastards. Quite the contrary, Captain America has a 70 year canonical history all his own, and this movies explores the character’s origins. As such, the film is as faithful to its source material as any comic book movie ever has been.

This is the story of an underdog who becomes one of the greatest superheroes known to man. It is an action movie, but it is also a period piece and, ultimately, a tragic love story. The pathos in the romance is as heartfelt as it is heartbreaking, even for comic book fans who know Cap’s fate. Incredibly, despite being tasked with accomplishing so much, it succeeds by doing each of these very well. More than an excellent comic book movie, Captain America: The First Avenger is an exceptional film.

Great TV Shows Taken Before Their Time: Freaks and Geeks

Before Judd Apatow headed a fail-proof film production company, he was best known as the executive producer of Freaks and Geeks. Perhaps the most ambitious television programs to transition into the 21st Century, Freaks and Geeks was a period piece that fully grasped the simpler times of the 1980’s era it was set in. Despite being a contemporary of Fox’s That 70’s ShowFreaks and Geeks, which aired on NBC during its reign of television supremecy, balanced its comedy and drama with nostalgia in a way that had not been realized since The Wonder Years.
The Complete Main Cast of Freaks and Geeks
The series starred future household names such as James Franco (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Seth Rogen (50/50), Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother), Busy Phillipps (Cougar Town), Martin Starr (Party Down), and John Francis Daly (Bones). Unsurprisingly, the show’s casting directors won the Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series Emmy Award.
James Franco, Busy Phillipps, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel
Freaks and Geeks was centered around Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and Sam Weir (Daley), during their 1980-1981 school year at William McKinley High School. Lindsay is a high school senior who had been a star pupil with excellent grades and a stellar academic record, while Sam was just entering high school and trying to fit in. To impress Daniel Desario (Franco), Lindsay begins hanging out with his clique, Nick Andopolis (Segel), Ken Miller (Rogen), and Kim Kelly (Philipps), otherwise known at William McKinley as “freaks.” Sam and his friends, Bill Haverchuck (Starr) and Neal Schweiber (Samm Levine, Inglorious Bastards), are the “geeks” who are uncomfortably trying to adjust to their new school.
At its core, Freaks and Geeks was a window into the conundrum of high school social status and acceptance. On one side of it, the “freaks” were the group of slackers who have a certain reputation being rebellious, getting into trouble, and having fun all the while. In contrast, the “geeks” are the “losers” who play by the rules, get good grades, and have spotless records. Both groups, in a way, are made up of outcasts who stick together because they are all they have. While the freaks are out, celebrating their weekends on dates or at parties, the geeks are more often than not at home, watching a movie or playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons?
Like many of the unfortunately canceled programs featured in this blog series, Freaks and Geeks suffered from a poor scheduling. The dramedy premiered with an incredible pilot on Saturday, September 25th at 8pm, though it went on a month-long hiatus after its second episode for the MLB playoffs. Once the World Series was over, the show returned for three more weeks before NBC pulled it again from the air. As has become a familiar chorus with shows that have been prematurely canceled, Freaks and Geeks struggled to find its audience under such instability. Though it was seen as a positive sign for the series when the network moved it to Mondays at 8pm, the move coincided with ABC’s premiering an 8-week run of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in that very timeslot. Because Millionaire was that era’s American Idol, the freshman series lost any chance of being competitive and was cancelled after 12 episodes, though NBC went on to air three of the remaining six episodes that summer after one of the more inspired fan campaigns. The complete 18-episode series is available on DVD, and currently airs Fridays and Mondays at 11pm on IFC.

Summer Movie Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Steve Carell and Julianne Moore in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Another in a growing list of anti-romantic comedies, Crazy, Stupid, Love. stars Steve Carell (The Office), Ryan Gosling (Drive), Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right), and Emma Stone (Easy A) in what is a really well-put-together film that hits on all cylinders, from the writing, to the casting, to the directing. If this was the role that solidified Carell’s decision to walk away from his hit NBC sitcom, the comedic actor chose the right project to walk away with. This is his best film performance yet.

Cal and Jacob are the new Daniel-san and Mr. Miyagi

Carell stars as Cal Weaver, a 40-something who is facing the biggest crisis of his life after his wife, Emily (Moore), tells him she wants a divorce after nearly 25 years of marriage. With no friends to turn to in his time of need, Cal begins frequenting a local bar shortly after moving out of his house. He spends the first two weeks talking about how Emily cheated on him. Eventually, Jacob (Gosling) intervenes, taking him under his wing. Jacob is a lothario whose nightly endeavors consist of meeting women at the bar to take home. Seeing Cal as a man who has let himself go in defeat, Jacob becomes determined to make him his understudy and the two develop a bond as Jacob becomes Cal’s sole confidant.

Ryan Gosling’s Jacob trying to charm Emma Stone’s Hannah

However, when Jacob finally manages to win over Hannah (Stone), he finds himself breaking his own rules and falling in love. Emma Stone, who’s been on a career high of late, offers her usual comic relief while playing a role that becomes increasingly important as the film progresses. Her character, Hannah, is more than the romantic voice of reason that the trailer suggests Jacob so desperately needs. Rather unsurprisingly, she is very much the heart of the film.

Along with Emma Stone’s stellar performance, the rest of the supporting cast is phenomenal. Julianne Moore is charming as Cal’s disgruntled wife, Emily, might be conflicted in what she is searching for, but her questionable actions never really tread towards despicable. Like everyone does at some point in relationships, and in life, Emily’s character is struggling with being content and her mistake is one that she ultimately pays for. Analeigh Tipton (America’s Next Top Model) may have found her breakout role as the Weaver’s babysitter, Jessica. In a odd twist, Jessica secretly holds a crush on Cal while constantly being pursued by Cal’s son, 13-year-old Robbie (Jonah Bobo). Bobo, as Robbie, plays a crucial part in the film, as it’s in his firm belief that everyone has a soul mate with whom they are destined to find love with. Finally, Robbie’s teacher, Kate (Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler), is a recovering alcoholic who happens to be the first woman Cal takes home from the bar.

Emma Stone is phenomenal, as always.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. is far from a typical Hollywood relationship comedy, and, in many ways, it is this year’s 500 Days of Summer. Both films are smart, edgy, and original PG-13 films about complicated relationships released amongst the major blockbusters, animated family films, and racy R-rated comedies that so often dominate during these months. Crazy, Stupid, Love. offers a very realistic take on the ins-and-outs of what complicates a romance, but it manages to do so in a very feel-good manner. This film is a very welcome gem to the final weeks of the summer movie season.

HBO’s Entourage Nears Its End

Turtle, Vince, Ari, E, and Drama
Entourage, HBO’s longest running scripted series, will end its eight year run with 96 episodes having been produced. Since it will likely take three more seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm to surpass it, chances are that Mark Wahlberg’s series will retire uncontested by Larry David. The series, which began as a satirical series loosely based off of the lives of Wahlberg and his friends, has provided a window to the Hollywood lifestyle in a way that not even reality television has been able to.
One thing about this series that makes it stand out is the way it approaches each season arc. In a way, each year that Entourage has been on the air has been its own act in what has been the equivalent of  a never-ending Shakespearean drama that has yet to distinguish whether it is a comedy, tragedy, or romance. The series has been somewhat of a roller-coaster, with each of the main characters finding that with every success comes greater failure and that every reward results in the risk of losing sight of the hard work it took to earn it.
Where the first season introduced the characters of Vincent Chase, “Drama,” E, Turtle, and super agent Ari Gold while documenting Vince’s rising star, the second season featured the young actor’s rise as Hollywood’s next big thing. This was followed by an extended third season that had the budding A-list actor risk his own bankability by pursuing dream projects in place of guaranteed blockbusters. The consequences of Vince’s poor decision making are explored in season four and addressed directly throughout season five, with Vince’s career suffering a rapid decline. If the sixth season was one of redemption, than the seventh was about succumbing to the temptations that come along with success.
These guys have a few choices for what they’ll drive off into the sunset with.
Will it be all smiles when it’s all said and done?
While his entourage, much like the series itself, has always revolved around the life and career of Vincent Chase over those seven seasons, each member has seen his own personal and professional growth. Johnny “Drama” went from an industry joke to a successful television star, Turtle finds a knack for entrepreneurship, Ari becomes the most powerful agent in Hollywood at the risk of losing his family, and E’s career has thrived as Vince’s producer and manager as his personal relationships have suffered.
The past couple of seasons may have been significantly inconsistent in quality, but this trailer looks like all of the necessary devices are in place to tie it all together. If there’s truth to the rumor that there will be an Entourage feature film to follow the conclusion of the series, then this final season will need to find its earlier charm. With the eighth, and final, season now here, each star is at risk of fading before they are allowed to align.

Beavis and Butt-Head, the Original Bad Boys of MTV, Are Back!

Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and the cast of Jersey Shore beware: The boys are back in town!
It’s been 14 years since Beavis and Butt-Head roamed the halls of Highland High School, flipped a beef patty at Burger World, or spent an afternoon going on one of their trademark adventures. It’s been even longer since they have sat on their couch and offered their unique critique of music videos (Does MTV even play videos anymore?). This fall, Beavis and Butt-Head are heading back to their stomping grounds, and while the times may have changed, the two slackers haven’t aged a bit.
The Great Cornholio, ladies and gentlemen…

Much more than the dumbed-down entertainment it was often credited as, the half-hour animated comedy by creator Mike Judge was rather brilliant; a cleverly employed satire of youth culture, poking fun at Gen-Xers and the slacker/underachiever perception they were tagged with. Far more controversial than The Simpsons in its heyday, and well before the birth of South Park or Family GuyBeavis and Butt-Head was transgressive in that it was, in itself, an often misunderstood creative vehicle for social criticism. Thankfully, a whole new generation will have the chance to appreciate them. Hopefully they will, because this generation is in need of a social satire, more so than the last.

When “The Mike Judge Collection” series of DVDs was released a few years back, some hoped that it was a sign of things to come. There were rumors of a live-action film adaptation and of a animated series that featured the two slackers as senior citizens. While either would have been interesting, particularly the live action film, which many fans have long hoped for, these projects would only have a limited appeal to long-time fans.

Any chance Beavis and Butt-Head will offer blog critiques?

While this 2011 revival might be Beavis and Butt-Head for a new generation, it is still the same Beavis and Butt-Head that long-time fans had sorely missed. They are still snarky, outspoken, and hormonal adolescents who go to school to socialize, work low-paying, dead-end jobs, hang out at the mall, and make careless decisions that result in painful consequences. their lives. They also think they know better than everyone else. The only real difference between Beavis, Butt-Head, and every other teenager and young adult? These two might be right more often than not.

This time around, the couch critics will provide witty commentary while watching reality TV, YouTube viral videos, and MMA fights along with the occasional music video. See below for the hilarious sneak peak that was shown at San Diego Comic Con 2011.

Summer Movie Review: Friends With Benefits

It’s become somewhat of a Hollywood trend this year: A talented lead actress is cast opposite of a big name who lacks any acting ability in a movie about two best friends who complicate their relationship forever by sleeping with one another. Friends With Benefits benefits from solid storytelling, a strong supporting cast, and an irresistibly charming lead.

The film serves as a Mila Kunis vehicle, with the talented actress shining brighter than any other star in the film. Kunis’ transition from sitcom-to-feature film has nearly been flawless, having built a reputation as an actress who is incapable of giving a poor performance. Ever since her portrayal as Rachel Jansen in the 2008 hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Kunis has taken on some of the most diverse roles in Hollywood while. She followed that comedic masterpiece by starring opposite Jason Bateman in the Mike Judge’s embarrassingly underrated Extract before 2010 saw her standout in three very different roles in The Book of EliDate Night, and Black Swan. By proving she can carry her own film in Friends With Benefits, Kunis has become a certifiable movie star who is rapidly approaching Hollywood’s A-list.

In fact, her performance in this film may have been so strong that her co-stars on-screen mishaps may, in essence, be overlooked. While Kunis has had one of the most successful runs for a breakout actress over the past three years, Justin Timberlake has proven over that same time period that he is simply not a good actor. Timberlake’s acting career, to date, has been disappointing. He has typically been cast in supporting roles of bad films, such as Alpha DogSouthland TalesThe Love Guru, and this summer’s Bad Teacher. The one exception on his acting resume was his supporting role in The Social Network, but his performance suffered from his inability to deliver a line.

Drawing on faces: America’s favorite drunken pastime

Jamie (Kunis) is a successful headhunter who discovers Dylan (Timberlake) while he is working as an art director for a Los Angeles-based blog and offers to fly him to New York to interview for an opportunity with GQ magazine. To sell him on the position, she offers a personal tour of New York City, complete with drinks, dinner, and an organized flash mob in Times Square. After he accepts, the two continue to hang out, as Jamie is the only person Dylan knows in New York. A night of drinking results in the two forming a pact to have casual, emotionless sex without compromising their friendship.

With as much as was made of Jamie being emotionally damaged and unstable, not enough was done to exemplify the personality traits that the audience was consistently being told were there. Her unrealistic views on love and relationships might make her a sucker for sappy romance, but those views do not make her crazy. Further, while the audience is reminded of her instability, Jamie is portrayed as a rough around the edges woman with strong conviction. She comes from a broken home, raised by a mother who has a long history of running off with the next man, yet Jamie continues to somehow believe that “true” love exists.

She also shows quite a bit of gumption by standing up for herself on two different occasions after being mistreated by guys she thinks might be “the one.” Jamie has all the qualities of a leading lady, but despite the fact that she is beautiful, daring, confident, and quick on her feet, the audience is repeatedly told that her character has some serious dependency issues. It comes off as inconsistent, suggesting that the character with the most blatant heroic qualities is the one most in need of saving.

Dylan, on the other hand, has his own family drama going on. His mother walked out on his family ten years ago, and his father suffers from a progressively worsening Alzheimer’s Disease. When Jamie contacts him about the career opportunity, Dylan’s underlying concern is leaving his family. This is the burden he bears while in New York, and it’s exemplified when the pair travel to his home in Los Angeles for the 4th of July holiday. Dylan’s conflict regarding his father’s condition is among the most moving subplots throughout the film, and it is handled in a manner that is both respectful and comedic.

The relationship between Jamie and Dylan felt rushed at times, with important details of character back story being revealed on the fly. However, Friends With Benefits tells a charming enough story that minor oversights that attempt to add greater depth to already fleshed out characters can be forgiven. Despite the familiar theme and a not-yet-ready for prime time showing by Timberlake, Friends With Benefits is still one of the better romantic comedies of 2011 due to its solid story. As a follow-up to last year’s sleeper hit, Easy A, director Will Gluck continues to establish himself as one of the premiere up-and-coming filmmakers in Hollywood.