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Observe and Report (2009)

21 Jun

Observe and Report

Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

All right, let’s get it out of the way. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” was released the same year as “Observe and Report” and they each feature a mall cop as a leading character. Whoop-de-do.

But both movies are undeniably different from each other. While they are satirical looks at this sort of “rent-a-cop” occupation, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” is a suitable family film in that it’s lighthearted, silly nonsense, while “Observe and Report” is…I mean, holy *bleep*. This movie is like the Bizarro “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” It’s dark, unusual, twisted, demented, crude, and completely *bleep*ed up. Seriously, this is a freaking deranged film. At times, it’s funny in its dementedness; other times, it’s very uncomfortable in such; and mostly, it’s unpleasant. One thing that I can’t deny, however, is that writer-director Jody Hill (of the equally-unusual “The Foot-Fist Way”) isn’t afraid to go all out with how crazily he can develop a story.

Seth Rogen stars as the “mall cop” of the story, but don’t expect a lovable loser from this character and performance. While Rogen has been funny and likable as an appealing schmoe in movies like “Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express,” he’s not how people would want to see him usually. And those who do probably won’t know what to make of his Ronnie Barnhardt, Mall Cop. This guy is just an a-hole—a sociopath who has a short fuse, a loud mouth, a tendency to get himself in situations he doesn’t belong…and yes this guy is Chief of Security at Forest Ridge Mall. He’s one of the most disturbed, hateful leading men you’ll ever find in a comedy, and Rogen gets lost into the role, to his credit. Ronnie lives with his alcoholic mother (Celia Weston), works with four other mall cops, including Dennis (Michael Pena) and the Yuen twins (John and Matt Yuan), and constantly keeps an eye on a cosmetics girl he has a crush on, Brandi (Anna Faris), even though Nell (Collette Wolfe), another female worker at the mall (though more good-natured than Brandi is), clearly has an interest in him. When a flasher invades the mall parking lot and some of the indoor stores get robbed as well, Ronnie takes it upon himself to one-up the police, particularly crude Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), and “crack the cases” himself.

How do you properly describe the tone of “Observe and Report?” Well, at least it’s consistently dark, and, since it mostly centers around a detestable mall employee, a connection could further be made with “Bad Santa” rather than “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” Both “Bad Santa” and this movie have a darkly-comedic tone that comes with the deeds/actions of a unbelievably socially inept main character and a sense of biting satire. In this case, there are satirical elements to be found, mostly towards Ronnie’s profession (malls, mall-cop, gun use); and there’s also some to be found from the actions of supposed professional police detective Harrison, who at one point can’t take Ronnie’s behavior anymore, calling him “retard” even. Mainly it’s all a series of lowbrow, less sophisticated comedic setups and gags—some of which are funny, others are uncomfortable to watch, and others are somewhat unnecessary (an example of this is an exchange of multiple “f-you’s” from loud to whisper to simply mouthing the words—is that supposed to be funny?). There are so many gags that are very much “out there,” you’ll be wondering if what you’re seeing is really happening or a sick fantasy in deranged Ronnie’s mind.

I don’t think I properly got the point more across as to how much of a creep Ronnie is. It’s hard to sympathize with him, even when Harrison tricks him and leads him to a dangerous part of town where drug dealers attack (led by Hill’s former leading man, Danny McBride). What supplies some of the film’s humor is the way that Ronnie sees himself as the hero of this story, while most of us would think otherwise.

I don’t see the point in some of the side characters. I found Michael Pena to be wasted in the role of Ronnie’s second-in-command, and a twist involving his character didn’t make me laugh or interest me in the slightest. The main joke involving the Yuen twins is that they want to use guns…fine. But then there’s Ronnie’s mother, who is completely incompetent at giving inspirational talks to her son because she’s drunk half the time; Nell, who serves to be the ultimate love-interest once Ronnie realizes that maybe Brandi isn’t the woman for him; and speaking of which, Brandi does go on a dinner date with Ronnie, and it leads to…I’m not going to lie, a pretty hilarious (though so-wrong) sexual encounter. I will always think of Anna Faris as an airhead ever since the “Scary Movie” films, but…damn she’s brave.

“Observe and Report” is about as dark a “dark comedy” can get, and as unusual as such can get. I didn’t laugh much, but when I did, I laughed my ass off. The climax, in particular, is probably the weirdest thing in the movie, but I laughed and laughed and laughed! Is this crazy film worth recommending for those few laughs? Well…not necessarily. But I do have some sort of respect towards both Hill and Rogen for making something as dark and nasty without holding back.

Hannibal (2001)

8 May

Hannibal

Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

You know that old saying, “Less is more?” That was certainly true of “The Silence of the Lambs,” which implied heavy violence while actually showing the aftermath so that we, as an audience, can picture what it must have been like. It maintained a terrific amount of psychological tension that way. It would be a mistake to show in graphic blood-and-gore details and lose the psychological terror of the situations. I say this because 10 years after “The Silence of the Lambs” was released, “Hannibal” would come around and also turn things around. It shows more; it delivers more blood and gore. It seems as if a majority of the film’s budget went into how the filmmakers were going to gross people out. So much for psychological terror.

“Hannibal” is the sequel to “The Silence of the Lambs,” both films based on novels by Thomas Harris. Director Jonathan Demme has not returned this time around, and instead has been replaced by Ridley Scott. And also, Jodie Foster, whose portrayal of heroine Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs” won her a richly-deserved Academy Award, has decided not to return to the role this time. Instead, she’s replaced with Julianne Moore. But we still have Anthony Hopkins back in the iconic villainous role of cannibalistic serial killer/former psychiatrist Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. But even his psychotic charisma isn’t enough to save “Hannibal,” which is a big step down from what made “The Silence of the Lambs” special.

This is not the gripping psychological thriller it would like us to believe. We see everything that would have been implied in the original film in graphic detail, just because Scott feels the need to shock his audience. We have a man cutting off his face (and then feeding it to his dogs); we have men being eaten alive by numerous boars; and there’s also a scene in which a man has his skull cut open, exposing his brain and having Lecter cut out a part of it, sauté it, and then feed it to the man, who is still alive.

While Clarice Starling was a complex center of the original story, Clarice this time around is hardly anything more than a plot device. She is brushed aside to make room for running time with Lecter, who is really the center of “Hannibal” (going by the title, that should be obvious). The intricate characterization of Clarice Starling is practically nonexistent here. The relationship between Lecter and Clarice (the most captivating part of the original film) is barely here, as the two only have a few scenes together. And even then, when they have their final encounter in the climax, it’s more disappointing than it is compelling. I give Julianne Moore credit for doing what she can with the role, but she’s given much of interest to do. (Besides, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Jodie Foster in the role anyway.)

Hopkins’ creepiness factor that came with the character of Hannibal Lecter has been toned down for “Hannibal,” which also seems like a disadvantage. While it does make Lecter more of an anti-hero than a full-fledged villain this time around, it’s not exactly what we like to see from the character. Oh, he still commits horrible crimes in this one, but there’s never a sense that we wish he would get caught, which itself makes it kind of sick in a way.

And here’s a question—even though Lecter’s disappearance and the search for him has become so notorious that his stuff is selling on eBay, Lecter has somehow managed to create a false identity among society in Florence; how is it that only one person seems to notice who he is?

Other characters include—hateful politician Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) who is constantly on Clarice’s case; Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) is that aforementioned person to see through Lecter’s phony identity, as he attempts to capture him for the reward money; and there’s also one of Lecter’s previous victims, an attorney named Mason Verger (Gary Oldman, uncredited) whose face is horribly disfigured since his encounter with Lecter and is more ruthless than Clarice suspected when he put her on the case for a new lead in the search for Lecter. Neither one of these characters reach three-dimensionality; though to be fair, Merger comes somewhat close, but not quite enough.

But what about Scott? How does he fare as the director this time around? Well, being a Ridley Scott film, “Hannibal” is laced with atmosphere and inventive shots, and I suppose I can give him credit for being able to pull off what probably couldn’t have been filmed by many other filmmakers (the brain-eating scene, for example). One thing “Hannibal” that is undeniable is that it’s stylistic.

“Hannibal” is clumsy, ordinary, unnecessary, and worst of all, it’s anticlimactic. After so much buildup waiting for Lecter and Clarice to square down, we’re subjected to a “climax” (if you would even call it that) that is so disappointing that it’s hardly worth talking about. Something terrific could have been made here; as it is, it’s pretty much disposable.

Top Gun (1986)

5 May

Top Gun movie image Tom Cruise

Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Top Gun” was one of the highest-grossing films of the 1980s and is considered to be a nostalgic staple of the decade, as it is still being quoted and referenced by movie buffs to this day. And around the time it was released in the summer of 1986, this movie practically ruled the world. The soundtrack (which included Berlin’s Oscar-winning ballad “Take My Breath Away” and Kenny Loggins’ awesome “Danger Zone”) was known by all; lead actor Tom Cruise became a huge Hollywood star; and the film had many quotable lines such as “I feel the need—the need for SPEED!” Also, it was the top-grossing film of the year.

But truth be told, I’ve always found “Top Gun” to be overrated. I was bored by a good majority of the material. There are many reviews of action-packed summer blockbusters from critics that want more human-interest story than high-energy action. This is an unusual case in that the human-interest element of “Top Gun” is a bore, in comparison to the action sequences, which are admittedly top-notch.

To be fair though, I think this had something to do with test audiences feeling there was too much action in the original cut, and not enough of the romantic angle between lead actors Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. So, in a last-ditch effort to please audiences, Cruise and McGillis were called back to film a couple more scenes, including an overly-stylized sex scene. At first, I thought these scenes were Scott’s attempt to cash in on thematic elements originated from 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman”—not only with an academy of hotshot military men (in case, Navy Fighter Pilots) and their misadventures (in addition to the mystery of a heroic father, the rivalry with a fellow group member, etc.), but also with a steamy, complicated romance between the most eager of the group and an attractive young woman. In some way, I believe they were, but the additions didn’t help much. I wouldn’t mind so much if they were interesting, but while the actors are talented and appealing, they just aren’t given juicy material to work with. Everything is basic and obligatory, without a moment in which you can’t predict what’s going to happen.

But what am I talking about? The film isn’t about the human-interest story, you might say. It’s about the action. Well, when a good chunk of human-interest story demands as much attention, it can’t be ignored for what it is. What it is didn’t work for me at all. But the aerial sequences—Wait. I’m getting way ahead of myself here. For those who don’t know what “Top Gun” is about (so few of you, I’m assuming), I’ll do you a favor:

Tom Cruise plays an ace Navy pilot, whose code name is Maverick. In a terrific opening scene, we see him fly upside-down a few inches above a Russian-built MiG and take a picture of the enemy pilot, before flipping the finger and flying off. That stunt impresses Navy personnel, which leads to Maverick and his co-pilot, Goose (Anthony Edwards), selected for the Navy’s elite flying academy, which engages in numerous aerial dogfights. (The best graduate from the school is labeled “Top Gun,” hence the title.) And this is where many of those obligatory elements come into place—Maverick has a father whose identity is a mystery to him but not to some important people; he runs afoul of a pompous pilot, Iceman (Val Kilmer), who becomes his rival; and Maverick falls for a pretty young woman, Charlie (Kelly McGillis), who is actually one of the instructors.

OK, enough of the plot. Let’s get to the brilliant aerial dogfight sequences. First of all, I should state that creating scene upon scene set in the air can’t be easy to do. It’s a true challenge to pull off, and even if you manage to make it seem convincing, there’s a danger that the audience will be disoriented from dizziness. But these are actually well-choreographed and pretty exciting in the way that we follow these pilots every step (or flight) of the way. You really get the sense of what it’s like to be in one of these experiences. They’re the only reason to see “Top Gun,” which unfortunately hardly has a clue about how a romantic couple might act. The scenes set on the ground needed to be rewritten; as it is, it’s extremely predictable and hardly investing. The scenes between Maverick and Goose have more sexual tension than Maverick and Charlie. (Rimshot)

I was hardly surprised by anything other than the aerial scenes in “Top Gun.” Those scenes are well-crafted and brilliant. But in the scenes set on the ground, in which the characters talk to each other, it really brings the film down. “Top Gun” may be fun to some people, and the scenes set in the air are a good deal of fun. For me, I was wishing for more.

Good Burger (1997)

20 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Good Burger” is more targeted for the young Nickelodeon crowd than the cynical adults and teenagers who would rather be watching something like “Austin Powers” for their lighthearted entertainment. Though, to be fair, I wouldn’t mind anyone enjoying this film, despite my negative review. It’s like this—I can’t recommend the movie to anyone over the age of 11 or 12, but I can see why it can be entertaining even for them. It’s likeable, good-natured, at times pretty funny, and entertaining. However, it’s also sporadically funny, occasionally stupid, at (some) times mean-spirited, and thus making it inconsistently entertaining.

“Good Burger” is based on the popular sketch on the Nickelodeon comedy series “All That,” though even those who aren’t affiliated with the sketch will catch on quick (there’s nothing too important to remember that isn’t caught up with in the movie). It stars Kel Mitchell as Ed, an unbelievably dim-witted counter guy working at Good Burger, a small-town fast food joint employed with as much diversity as possible—including a vegetarian; an aging old man (Abe Vigoda); and a large weirdo named Spatch (Ron Lester) who swats a fly on his forehead with a spatula and then eats it. And apparently, Ed is the only one who can work the cash register, as we see in an opening scene, Ed is late and everyone else is calling for him.

Good Burger has some serious competition right across the street—the exaggeratedly huge Mondo Burger, managed by neo-Nazi Kurt (Jan Schwieterman), who plans to take Good Burger down by selling more burgers. (These burgers, I might add, are also ridiculously large. It even weighs Spatch’s spatula down.)

Kenan Thompson (Kel Mitchell’s partner-in-crime on Nickelodeon’s “Kenan and Kel”) plays Dexter Reed, a teenage slacker who is looking forward to spending summer vacation without the annoyance of a summer job. But bad luck occurs when Dexter winds up hitting the car of his teacher Mr. Wheat (Sinbad, portraying a Shaft wannabe—by the way, I love the part where he spins briefly to the tune of “Shaft”), even without a license and borrowing his mom’s car. Dexter needs money to pay for the car, and so he meets Ed, who gives him the job of Good Burger’s delivery boy.

With Mondo Burger becoming more popular every day, and Good Burger slowly going out of business, Dexter comes up with the idea to put upon their own burgers a special, delicious, secret sauce, invented by Ed. Ed’s sauce becomes a big hit, which of course makes Good Burger Kurt’s personal enemy.

“Good Burger” is not for everybody, simply because it’s mostly a kid movie. There are so many contrivances that only the Nickelodeon crowd will appreciate—a bizarre opening-credit sequence in which Ed unwittingly causes mayhem on his way to work (a baby and a basketball are switched at one point); the slapstick-induced sequence in which a sexy Mondo Burger spy named Roxanne attempts to seduce Ed, which ends painfully; and let’s not forget the whole deal late in the film about how Kurt has Ed and Dexter committed to an insane asylum, from which they must escape via stolen ice cream truck, as the bad guys give chase. This movie is all over the map.

Oh, and there’s also an attempt to have a genuine moment, involving a backstory about Dexter’s late father. How can you take this scene seriously when it’s clumsily fitted into a movie with a scene such as the one where Ed shoves grapes in his nostrils and constantly chants, “Bloobity bloobity bloobity”?

But there are some things I do like about it. Foremost is Kel Mitchell as Ed. While a lot of the script’s jokes aren’t very funny on paper, Mitchell’s delivery of them is just priceless. Mitchell portrays Ed as just so dumb, but does playfully so that it’s hard not to like him. Kel Mitchell is the real reason to check out “Good Burger.” He is immensely funny and likeable.

Here’s an example of Ed’s behavior—he’s asked what would look great on a corndog, to which he responds, “A turtleneck?” And also, whenever the shake machine is broken, he actually gets inside it to fix it and emerges in pink goop. My favorite moment, though, is at the end, when we see just how amazingly bright Ed is when he has to be.

Kenan Thompson, as straight-man to Ed’s antics, is an effective foil—first, Dexter is confused by Ed’s behavior, then he’s annoyed quickly, then he decides to take advantage of him so that he gets most of the money Ed makes for his sauce (Ed is oblivious to this, of course), and then he decides to tolerate him, as they both set out to see exactly what Mondo Burger is up to with their food (is Mondo Burger using illegal food additives?). And Thompson has a few funny moments as well, particularly when he’s stammering while coming up with the right thing to say in certain situations. And there’s also a sweet romantic subplot involving him and a co-worker named Monique (Shar Jackson), who dates him because of how Ed takes to him as a buddy. (“Whomever he likes can’t be all that bad,” she admits.)

I can’t necessarily recommend “Good Burger,” but I do give the filmmakers (particularly director Brian Robbins and co-writers Kevin Kopelow, Heath Seifert, and Dan Schneider—the third one portrays Good Burger’s manager) credit for the film’s good nature and I have to admit that I find myself going back to the film every now and then to see the parts that I like. Maybe I could recommend the film just for myself. But then again, I started watching this movie when I was a little kid, obsessed with Nickelodeon. Maybe you could call it nostalgia. But I don’t know. There are some movies out there that I loved when I was a kid that have not held up at all now (like “Angels in the Outfield,” for example), so what does that say?

I don’t know, but I’m giving “Good Burger” a negative review, but also an affectionate review.

MacGruber (2010)

19 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Let me just put this out of the way. “MacGruber” is not one of the worst SNL-sketch adaptations. But then again, it’s not one of the best either. This is a slick but sort-of depraved action-comedy with an unlikable hero and jokes that are mostly hit-and-miss. Sure there were parts when I laughed but even those were chuckles when all I wanted was to laugh out loud. I am a fan of the original sketch that runs on “Saturday Night Live.” For those who aren’t familiar with the sketch, it features Will Forte as a low-rent MacGyver named MacGruber (complete with blond mullet and said in one of the sketches to be MacGyver’s son), who in each sketch is caught along with his partner (Kristen Wiig) in desperate situations in which he must defuse a bomb with household materials and yet is always distracted. The sketches are funny and made with a great deal of energy humor.

It should come as no surprise that the director of the film adaptation to the sketches (named “MacGruber”) is Jorma Taccone. What does surprise me, however, is how less he has to work with here and how much more he could’ve made out of the material, given the energy and creativity and humor of the SNL Digital Shorts he co-creates with Akiva Schaffer and Andy Samberg (all three are the Lonely Island; Schaffer is an executive producer here).

What also surprises me is how much of a jerk MacGruber is. If one of the characters were to say that about MacGruber in the film, they would not say “jerk.” They would’ve used the seven-letter word for “jerk.” There is a great deal of profanity in this R-rated movie; f-bombs are being dropped and even the main villain’s name can’t be said. His name is Dieter van C^%#@h (use your imagination but do not say it out loud). But back to what I was trying to get across at the beginning of this paragraph. In the sketch, you would get a few guesses that MacGruber might be a jerk but you wouldn’t care because you’d be laughing at how goofy he is. But here, Will Forte plays MacGruber as a man who uses his own partner as a shield from gunfire, rips out unsuspecting guards’ throats, and acts as if he wants everyone to take a hike.

I guess I can say that Will Forte, very funny on “Saturday Night Live,” plays the main character very well. He does show some potential as a comedic actor. For example, there’s a scene in which he distracts security guards for the villain by stripping naked and walking towards them with his hands covering his privates and a stick of celery sticking out of his rear end. I also like how he takes his car radio with him every time he steps out of his Ferrari and how he fires a machine gun. He looks as if it’s the first time he’s ever fired one.

Showing more comedic charisma are Forte’s co-stars Kristen Wiig (always fabulous), reprising her role as MacGruber’s assistant Vicki St. Elmo, and Ryan Philippe as the straitlaced Lt. Dixon Piper. They play off Forte very well as comedic foils. I especially liked how Wiig, in one scene, shows her comedic talent in a scene set in a restaurant while disguised as MacGruber. She’s really funny here. I also liked her doing the countdowns in a few bits when they’re needed. Ryan Philippe is good as the lieutenant who, in one scene, is used as a human target when MacGruber is attacked. “How’d you know I was wearing a bulletproof vest?” “You were wearing a bulletproof vest?!”

You may have heard those quotes in the trailer. With the exception of that stick of celery, just about every amusing bit from this movie is in the trailer. That’s always a bad move. It inspires people to ask the question, “Why didn’t I just watch the trailer so many times?”

Oh I should also mention the name of the actor who plays the profanely named villain. Well, it’s Val Kilmer and he’s suitably slimy in a role that requires him to be a standard action movie villain. The movie’s main plot involves MacGruber taking down this bad guy who stole a nuclear missile to blow up Washington, DC. What he’s planning on accomplishing, I don’t know. Oh and I should also point out that the reason Maya Rudolph was only in the first MacGruber sketch and never seen again is not that Rudolph left the show (although that is true) but because the villain in this movie killed her character. (Maya Rudolph shows up in a flashback for a cameo.)

I have to say I smiled at the beginning of “MacGruber.” When the opening credits rolled and we first see MacGruber in a montage, I smiled widely when the music turned into an orchestra version of the “MacGruber” theme song. And then the choir ended it with “MacGruber…he made a f—ing movie! MacGruber!” I thought for sure I was in for a treat. What I got was not one of the worst SNL adaptations but definitely one of the best. Maybe if Jorma Taccone had spent more time giving us more of MacGruber’s origins and gave us more of his goofiness. Instead, we get MacGruber in one bizarre sex scene and strangely enough, I think MacGruber only made one explosive device in this entire hour-and-a-half movie. Only one. Too bad it didn’t work.

Secret Admirer (1985)

15 Apr

secret-admirer-original

Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The ‘80s comedy “Secret Admirer” features teenagers and a lot of them, as did “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Porky’s,” “Valley Girl,” “Sixteen Candles,” and a few other titles I could mention (the worst of them being “Porky’s”). But rarely in a movie like this do you see adults who are given the same amount of screen time. In fact, if you split the scenes with the adults and teenagers apart, and then time them, you’d have almost the same length of each. The adults are the parents of the teenaged main character and his crush. They’re here because of a conflict that was the teenagers’ own business in the first place but became something more—something almost tragic. Read on and you’ll see why.

C. Thomas Howell plays Michael, a teenager who has the hots for the popular girl in school Deborah (Kelly Preston, who spends the duration of the film dressing like a slut—the movie’s target audience will love that), who is dating the tough college guy Steve. Michael’s best friend is Toni (Lori Loughlin), and she likes Michael more than a friend. But of course, Michael doesn’t catch on (they never do in these movies). Toni sends Michael a love letter, anonymously, but Michael believes that it’s from Deborah. So he decides to send his own anonymous letter to her and have Toni deliver it to her, much to Toni’s reluctance.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with their parents? Well, Michael’s little brother finds the letter that was written to Michael and brings it to the breakfast table. After he leaves, the mother (Dee Wallace-Stone) finds the letter, reads it, and suspects that her husband (Cliff de Young) may be having an affair. Then one of Michael’s letters to Deborah winds up with Deborah’s parents and each parent (played by Leigh Taylor-Young and Fred Ward) is suspecting that they’re both having an affair with Michael’s parents (de Young is in Taylor-Young’s night class). Then all of the adults are brought together at a bridge party and slapstick, cartoon violence ensues.

It’s satisfying to see adults put in the same length duration as the teenagers—their scenes are separate from the scenes that show Michael trying to score with Deborah. But why did they have to be treated like idiots? And why did they have to be victims of unfunny comic scenes? Why are they treated like this? But to be fair, they are well-acted—especially Fred Ward, who has a presence that is part-Terminator, part-goofiness.

I was interested in the teenagers’ story until it got to the predictable final half, in which everything is settled and redeemed after an hour of complication. Of course Deborah turns out to be a slut that Michael doesn’t want to bother with anymore. Of course Michael realizes how much Toni feels for him. Of course they’re going to wind up together. I wish I could tell you that how they wind up together was unpredictable…but it wasn’t.

The teenagers are well-played. C. Thomas Howell has an appealing personality, Kelly Preston is suitably attractive and sour, and Lori Loughlin (the best of the bunch) is wonderful and fetching. Then there’s another teenager, played by Casey Siemasko, who is a slob and a party animal who puts himself into the wrong situations every time he tries to smart off. Even he has some appeal.

I wish I could’ve seen these people in a different movie. “Secret Admirer” undermines their uniqueness and talent, which is too bad. I will say this though—this is a much better film that any of the “Porky’s” movies. But of course, that’s not saying much.

Three Short Films by Jordan Mears

14 Apr

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Santa Run

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Here’s a delightful lump of coal for your stocking come Christmastime. Written, produced, and directed by Jordan Mears, the 10-minute short “Santa Run” is a Christmas fable that can best be described as “naughty.” It’s a crude, vulgar, profane, shocking dark-comedy that is also unique, original, and imaginative.

“Santa Run” is mostly made up of dialogue, and so it belongs to the group of independent short films that are created by the thought, “I have no money; I’ll write funny jokes.” (See my review of Daniel Campbell’s “Antiquities” as well.) I honestly have no idea what was going through Mears’ mind when he decided to write “Santa Run,” but I’d like to know.

The concept is inventive, to say the least. The film takes place on the night before Christmas, just a few minutes before midnight, as (get this) two Santa Claus clones sit in a car and prepare to deliver gifts in a certain neighborhood. Apparently, Santa Claus can’t deliver presents to every child in the world in just one night—his scattered clones do the work for him. Santa doesn’t even go out to do what he should be doing (“Santa Claus gets to sit naked in a hot tub full of eggnog,” one of the clones complains to the other).

One of those clones (whom we learn has dyed his hair and shaved his chin, in contrast to his partner who resembles the traditional Santa Claus) is a rebellious young man who decides not to go through with this this Christmas. This leads to an argument between the rebellious Santa clone and the good-natured Santa clone…and I can’t believe I just typed that.

Despite that silly premise, this is about as dark a Christmas movie could possibly get (with the exception of sexual activity in “Bad Santa” starring Billy Bob Thornton). Both Santa clones constantly spew profanities (it’s more shocking to hear the “traditional-Santa” say “f***in’ quit” than to hear the “rebellious-clean-shaven-Santa” angrily yell to the sky, “I f***ed Mrs. Claus!”); one of them snorts cocaine and drinks booze; they both talk about having sex with Santa’s elves (herpes is even mentioned at one point); and the resolution of the argument, without giving anything away, results in a tremendously dark matter. “Santa Run” may open and close with shots of Christmas decorations in a suburban neighborhood, but the central section is anything but jolly.

It’s weird how this twisted short film “Santa Run” works, but it is original and it is intriguing, and Mears’ script hardly lets up on how devious the tale can get (though I wonder what a feature-length script of this idea would look like). The acting is somewhat natural, as Shannon Dellapelle (as the traditional Santa clone) and Ryan Heumier (as the rebellious Santa clone) deliver convincing banter with each other. The cinematography is surprisingly well-handled. And more importantly, I did laugh. That was the intention of “Santa Run” to begin with—to shock and to amuse. It did its job well.

NOTE: The film can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=md8avhcwPhI

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Mime Time

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Mime Time” is yet another imaginative short film from the very talented, creative young filmmaker Jordan Mears, who also made the 10-minute dark-comedy “Santa Run.” While the tone is somewhat lighter now, for “Mime Time,” the inventiveness is still as impressive. What’s the premise? A young street mime must find a new job before is evicted from his apartment. Enough said, right?

I don’t think so.

Seen entirely in black-and-white and virtually no dialogue, the short begins as a talented young street mime (Shannon Dellapelle, from “Santa Run”) is performing on the street, when he is upstaged by a “rocker” mime who performs air-guitar. His decrease of tips (one dollar) forces the Boss Mime to revoke his license—I swear, I am not kidding; there is a Boss Mime that sits behind a desk in a dimly-lit office, and sports white makeup with a black mustache and (get this) exaggeratedly-thick black eyebrows. I don’t care who you are; that is hilarious!

Anyway, the mime is also about to be kicked out of his apartment and has to find a new job soon. This leads to a very funny montage in which he looks through the newspaper want ads and imagines him in certain positions, such as telemarketer, therapist, and even singing-instructor. What can you even say about this? It’s so out-there and so damn funny.

The ending, or rather the “punchline” of the film, I wouldn’t dare give away, but I can truly say it’s beyond hilarious…and yet oddly touching at the same time as well.

“Mime Time” is a treasure. It’s funny, it’s touching, and when all is said and done, it’s just a wonderfully-inventive short film created by a truly talented young filmmaker.

NOTE: The film can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryl7KluBoaM

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A Way Out

Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I can’t blame Jordan Mears for wanting to experiment with something new in filmmaking. Usually known for his wildly-creative short films “Santa Run” and “Mime Time,” Mears tries his hand at directing and co-writing (with Rachel McGee) a serious drama. Unfortunately, while I give credit for effort, “A Way Out” is mainly a rushed, unsatisfying melodrama.

The film is about two sisters who live together—one is in her early-20s and works as a waitress at the local bar in a small community; the other is just about to graduate high school. When the older sister learns that her younger sister has been accepted into college, she learns that she can’t fully pay for tuition, and so she tries to figure out how to handle the situation.

Now let me just state that I am not saying that the drama in this 13-minute short film isn’t legitimate. I’m saying that it’s too rushed for me to care. With a film with this short amount of running time, it’s difficult to make it work effectively. As it is here, there’s hardly enough room for development to make its dramatic payoff fully satisfying. For this to work, maybe at least another 10-15 minutes (in addition to further work on the script) could have allowed for more to tell, and then there would be that chance of pulling viewers further into what’s occurring in the characters’ lives. As it is, in my opinion, there just isn’t enough to work with here.

The film isn’t a total failure, however. F.E. Mosby is quite good in the lead role; she and Johnnie Brannon (as her friend and co-worker) share a nice, credible scene in which they talk about how to pay for Mosby’s sister’s college tuition; and Mears certainly shows his growth as a director (the opening shot that shows the goings-on in a bar, where the lead character works as a waitress, is chillingly realistic). But the dysfunctional interaction between the two sisters is unoriginal, the younger sister is too much of a brat for me to care about whether or not she winds up going to college (and her obligatory mood change, into better understanding, comes so sporadically that the shift doesn’t work), the ending is rushed (we get just one shot to clarify a dramatic payoff, and then boom! Credits roll), and “A Way Out” just wasn’t as effective as it should have been.

NOTE: The film can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRR9Cfx_iu4

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003)

10 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” is an inspired idea for a comedy, or even a serious drama. It’s about a washed-up former child actor who attempts to get a comeback. This is actually an interesting story idea. There are a lot of former child stars whose careers ended too quickly, and for a movie about them, you can play off on the notion that they’d want a comeback. Unfortunately, “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” is not that movie. It’s a false attempt that could have been funny if it wasn’t so smarmy.

Dickie Roberts (David Spade) is a former child star famous for his starring role in a ‘70s TV sitcom. Now he’s working as a valet parker at a restaurant. He desperately wants a comeback and keeps telling his friends that it’s going to happen. And he thinks he can catch a break if he auditions for the lead role in the new Rob Reiner film. But Reiner (yes, the Rob Reiner playing himself) tells Dickie he’s all wrong for the part, which is just a normal person—something that Dickie never got the chance to be. Reiner says he’d have to relive his childhood, just like how actors research their roles.

And that’s what Dickie does—he hires a family in the suburbs to let him stay with them, so that he can learn what it’s like to be a kid. The two kids of the house—Sam (Scott Terra) and Sally (Jenna Boyd)—call him “Stranger Danger” and give him a hard time at first. But they befriend him, as do their mother Grace (Mary McCormack), and they help him get ready for the audition in time.

The main problem with the movie is the character of Dickie Roberts, former child star, himself. Played by David Spade (who also co-wrote the screenplay), he’s a creepy, irritating menace who is supposed to be our hero. Spade can be funny, but he just tries too hard to generate laughs. He thinks the best way to make Dickie into a lovable character is to play him as narcissistic as possible. When the movie gives us scenes in which we’re supposed to sympathize with him, it doesn’t work because of what followed. (To be fair, at least Spade tries to make us care in those scenes, particularly the scene in which he tells his agent Sidney about a memory he had with his real father—not David Soul.) Bottom line—I wanted to smack him.

The movie starts out promisingly with a mock E! Hollywood story telling the biography of Dickie. When he was a little boy, his materialistic actress mother (Doris Roberts) made him audition for everything, until he got his big break at age 6 as the center of a TV show. His catchphrase: “This is nucking futs!” (Aw, ain’t that cucking fute?) This opening skit alone is pretty funny, as we learn of rumors that David Soul (Hutch from “Starsky and Hutch”) is Dickie’s father, and get a cameo from “Eight is Enough” regular Dick Van Patten, talking about the danger of being a child star, having worked around eight…which is enough. And it’s followed by a Celebrity Boxing stint in which he gets beat up by Emmanuel “Webster” Lewis, which is also funny. But then, we get a better look at Dickie’s personality and the film becomes less funny.

The screenplay is full of sitcom clichés, mainly involving Dickie and the two kids. Dickie goes through all the motions—he tells off the school bullies, helps Sally make it into the pep squad, and aids Sam in impressing the girl next door. But even sitcoms aren’t as distasteful as the scene in which Sally auditions for the squad—you see, this is followed by a very disturbing bit in which her rival dirty-dances to “Bad” by Britney Spears. Ick!

And of course, Dickie and Grace must fall in love because that’s what happens in comedies like this. Grace’s husband George (Craig Bierko) will grow to become a jerk and leave her for Dickie’s slutty ex-girlfriend Cyndi (Alyssa Mulano), so that Dickie and Grace can be together. How convenient.

There are some things to like about “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.” For one thing, I really enjoyed the cameos that are scattered throughout the movie. I already mentioned Rob Reiner, who gamely plays…himself. He has some funny moments, which include his Nicholson impression. And there’s a scene in which Dickie plays poker with his friends, all former child stars—Leif Garrett, Barry Williams, Danny Bonaduce, Dustin Diamond, and Corey Feldman, all playing themselves. I liked that scene—their conversations were nice to listen to. (But dude, if I found out that Barry Williams really does carry around so many “Brady Bunch” props to bet on, I’d give him a psychiatrist’s number.)

And the best sequence in the movie comes during the end credits. It’s a video featuring a ton of former child stars, having their own song about how they’re not who they were anymore and would rather move on to other things. (Gee, if only Dickie took that route.) Among these welcome attractions are Maureen McCormick (don’t ever call her “Marcia” again!), Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster), the three Brady brothers, and Todd “Willis” Bridges (“You wanna autography, well I’m-a tell you this, don’t ask a brother when he’s takin’ a piss!”), to name a few.

There’s another laugh I got from this movie. It’s a visual gag in which Dickie tries out a Slip-n-Slide for the first time in his life. Only, on his first try, there’s no water yet. Maybe it’s because I wanted inflicted pain among this guy, but I laughed out loud.

Mary McCormack is charming in her lazily-written role as Grace and does what she can with it. I liked the two kids, who do suitable jobs. Jon Lovitz is very funny as Dickie’s agent Sidney who gives a liver if it means getting Dickie an audition. He has some of the best lines in the movie. Craig Bierko and Alyssa Mulano, however, are horribly miscast.

What’s more insulting? Just like in every other Adam-Sandler-produced film such as this, this movie tries to add a heavy dose of sentimentality for the ending. When is Sandler going to learn that it doesn’t mix with overdone slapstick comedy? OK, fine—Dickie gets what he wants, he learns the value of family, and everyone lives happily ever after. Even Dickie’s friends, who—and I’m not going to lie; this part was appealing—get roles in Dickie’s new sitcom about his life (Leif Garrett plays Dickie.) I would rather see a movie about that, or just the series. I want to watch these former child stars. Not Dickie Roberts.

Teen Wolf (1985)

8 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Teen Wolf” has a couple of good ideas and a likable leading actor, but it’s too busy trying to rebuke on old ideas from better high school movies. It’s about a high school teenager who discovers that when he gets excited or nervous, he gains wolf-like abilities, as well as full-body fur, fangs, and claws. But unlike most werewolves, his personality remains the same. It’s only his appearance and abilities that have changed.

Michael J. Fox plays the teen wolf. In the beginning of the movie, he, as teenager Scott Howard, is shown as a high school basketball player whose team is last place in the state. Gee, haven’t we seen this before? If only there was some way the team could redeem themselves in a climactic “big game”…

Yes, I was being sarcastic. “Teen Wolf” does end with a big game and it’s obvious which team is going to win.

But I digress. Scott is also insecure about himself. He’s not like his best friend Stiles (played almost over the top with slyness and can-do attitude by Jerry Levine), who is so wild and cool that he’ll pretend to surf on top of a moving van to the tune of “Surfin USA” by the Beach Boys.

Another cliché—Scott has a crush on the busty blonde girl in school and doesn’t even realize that the nice brunette girl (named Boof, whatever kind of name that is) has liked him for a long time. Don’t teenagers in movies notice anything anymore? They’re not in junior high anymore—it’s time for them to open their eyes.

Scott begins to turn into a wolf when excited and nervous while spending “seven minutes in heaven.” It turns out his dad has the same curse (actually, according to him, it’s a gift) and it runs in the family. Scott can turn into a wolf and back into a kid whenever he wants to. This brings many advantages to his high school life as he becomes popular with the nickname “Teen Wolf” and the captain of the basketball team, which suddenly has a winning streak, now that Scott’s powers make him the star player.

“Teen Wolf” has gained a cult status. I’m not (nor am I going to be) a part of that cult because this, to me, is feeble, innocuous, and doesn’t take many chances with Scott’s newly discovered wolf. And it laboriously gives us the moral of being yourself. I could have told you that. Michael J. Fox is likable in the lead role, but compare this to “Back to the Future” and he plays the same character, only this time with fangs, pointy ears, and fur. “Back to the Future” was a great movie with a tricky premise and complicated yet fun storyline. “Teen Wolf” is not a good movie because it doesn’t take as many chances as “Back to the Future.” I wish the director and writers had better story material go on for this premise.

Halloween II (1981)

7 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

John Carpenter’s great 1978 chiller “Halloween” did not need a sequel. Sure, it was a box-office success, was the most profitable independent film at the time, and became the phenomenon that would create the “slasher” genre. But it didn’t need a sequel. It was fine on its own.

But with all the trashy, deplorable “slasher” movies (movies in which dumb teenagers are stalked and sliced by some psycho) hoping to cash in on the film’s success, critics and cynics at the time must have hoped that “Halloween II” would at least show copycats of the original how to do this craft properly. But as it turns out, the film is only here as an attempt to cash in, just like the other movies of this sort. It’s a disappointing, repetitive, and (worst of all) boring thriller that lacks the tension and compelling nature of the original film. It’s as if they didn’t want to try so hard with this one because they knew that whatever they would make for a sequel to “Halloween,” it would make money either way.

The eeriness is monotonous and not very tense. The characters are unbelievably dumb. The masked killer, the Shape, has lost his effectiveness as a menacing force, and has instead become a typical slasher-movie villain. Even the gore-level is turned up because apparently, blood and gore sells with audiences (those who are fond of the original remember how bloodless it is, and it had atmosphere and suspense to keep people tense).

“Halloween II” begins just a few minutes after the original film ended. Sick psychotic Michael Myers attempted to kill babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) before Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) shot him seven times (even though he repeatedly, frightfully yells he shot him SIX times, but whatever), and yet his body disappeared without Loomis noticing. Now, Laurie is taken to the nearest hospital, which conveniently (for a horror film) has one doctor on duty and just a few nurses. (I’m not quite sure there are any other patients either—if there were, I’m sure that would explain why there are no complaints about the poor lighting of the building.)

But wouldn’t you know! Michael Myers makes his way to the hospital and kills everyone he comes across!

Wait, how did he know where Laurie was? Why does he still want to kill her? Well, so this sequel can be made, I guess.

Anyway, Michael creeps about the hospital and kills off the people he comes across, while Laurie relies on her wits to fend for herself…Oh wait, I’m sorry; this time around, Laurie is a broken, catatonic fool who is about as complex as Barbra from “Night of the Living Dead.” Scenes that feature her in danger grow really boring as a result.

While all of this is going on, Dr. Loomis is still out to find his patient (Michael) and somehow stop him because he knows for sure that he’s alive because “he’s not a man—he’s evil!” (That’s one of many screaming rants he likes to deliver, including “I shot him six times!”) But soon, he learns of a family connection between Michael and…Laurie? Really? OK, it’s one thing to have a backstory over a character that didn’t need one in “Halloween,” but to have him related to Laurie is to give up hope for this movie.