All About Evil
Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
A German shepherd, Diggs (voice of James Marsden), becomes an agent for an elite team of dog spies called DOGS. Meanwhile, the team of cat spies can be found in MEOW. Could the names of those spy teams been any less imaginative and boring? Diggs and his DOGS partner, Butch (Nick Nolte), a mutt, learn that evil feline Kitty Galore (Bette Midler) plans to take over the world by turning dogs against cats as soon as dogs hear a “Call of the Wild” that she plans to broadcast globally, so they do everything in their capabilities to hunt her down and stop her. Eventually, a pigeon, Seamus (voice of Katt Williams), and Catherina (voice of Christina Applegate), a cat from MEOW, join the mission. Co-writers Ron J. Friedman and Steve Bencich, just as you would expect, include plenty of pop cultural references and homages ranging from Hannibal Lector to James, the former of which will definitely go over kids’ heads. Even if you can forgive the increasingly outrageous plot that aims for lowbrow humor, you won’t be able to forgive its lack of freshness and cleverness. Little kids might find themselves to be amused at times especially given that the animals talk and behave as if they were humans, but adults will grow tired of it all and be painfully checking their watches while wishing that the film would just simply end right away. Bette Midler’s campy performance eventually gets over-the-top in a very grating way. Even the action sequences and CGI animation fail to be impressive or to add to the every-so-slight amount of thrills. If you stick around during the credits sequence, you’ll be treated something far more entertaining than anything else in the film: clips of cats and dogs interacting with one another as friends, enemies and even lovers. Please be sure to stay for a stinger after the end credits. At thankfully brief running time of just 1 hour and 22 minutes, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore is a lazy, painfully dull, unfunny and nauseatingly silly action comedy that should have gone direct-to-DVD.
Charlie St. Cloud
Based on the novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, by Ben Sherwood. Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) lives with his mother, Claire (Kim Basinger), and twelve-year-old brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), at a small town bordering the sea. His talents in sailing have earned him a scholarship to Stanford University, but the night of his high school graduation turns tragic when a drunk driver sends his car crashing into a truck. He luckily survives the accident; Sam, his passenger, dies. Charlie promises Sam that he’ll meet him every day in their traditional spot in the woods to throw around a baseball. Five years later, Charlie, works as a cemetery caretaker and has still kept his promise to his beloved younger brother whom he’s somehow able to see even though he’s dead. Alistair (Augustus Prew), Charlie’s good friend/co-worker, tries to help him out so that he wouldn’t be so forlorn, but to no avail. Perhaps Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew), a former high school classmate, can awaken something within him and help him to overcome his grief. She has issues of her own to deal with, though, and prepares for a six-month-long sailing race. Ray Liotta shows up as Florio Ferrente, the paramedic who saved Charlie’s life after he flatlined. Donal Logue plays Tess’s sailing coach, Tink, while Dave Franco (James Franco’s younger brother) briefly steals a scene as a friend of Charlie who’s a soldier. Unfortunately, the lazy and uneven screenplay by Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick doesn’t do its source material any justice. The scenes when Charlie throws the baseball around with Sam should have been poignant, but instead it feels hackneyed and awkward. The same can be said for the romance between Charlie and Tess that will probably make you roll your eyes because it’s so cheesy and contrived. Charlie experiences grief and has yet to overcome it, but the way in which he achieves that is very inorganic and oversimplified. An unpredictable twist that transpires later on just takes away from the modicum of momentum that the film was building up ever so slightly. Burr Steer directs the film as if it were a Lifetime TV movie-of-the-week crammed picturesque scenery that tries to make you forget the corny dialogue, i.e. when the cancer-stricken Florio sits down for coffee with Charlie and tells him that everything happens for a reason. Zac Efron is a decent actor capable of showing range, and at least radiates some charisma onscreen here, so hopefully next time he’ll choose a much more intelligent, focused and organic screenplay. At a running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes, Charlie St. Cloud is a hackneyed, disjointed, painfully corny and contrived drama that can’t be saved by breathtaking scenery or Zac Efron’s charming performance. It’s best suited as a Lifetime TV movie-of-the-week.
Dinner for Schmucks
Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd) desperately wants to get a promotion at his job at Fender Financial in order to impress his long-time girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), whom he’s planning to propose to. The head of the company, Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood), invites him to a dinner at his mansion the following evening, but it’s not your average kind of dinner: each guest must bring an idiot with them as a form of entertainment. Whoever brings the biggest idiot wins the game. Later that day, Tim finds his idiot when he accidentally strikes Barry Speck (Steve Carell) with his car and, as it turns out, Barry is a dimwitted IRS employee/amateur taxidermist who stuffs dead mice and turns them into bizarre anthropomorphic artworks. Julie doesn’t approve of Tim tricking Barry into coming to the dinner. Barry, unexpectedly, shows up at Tim’s apartment, and after a series of comedic errors which won’t be spoiled here, Julie end up with the impression that Tim is cheating on her with a former lover, Darla (Lucy Punch), so she seeks the comfort of Kieran Vollard (Jemaine Clement), a bold artist whose work she wants to curate. Zach Galifianakis plays Barry’s IRS boss who specializes in mind control and has even written a book entitled, Your Mind is My Puppet. The screenplay by co-writers David Guion and Michael Handelman takes absurdity to a new level and offers plenty of outrageous sight gags and hilarious bits of dialogue that never fall flat thanks to the terrific comedic timing of every member of the cast, especially when it comes to the reliable-as-always Steve Carell. The underrated Jemaine Clement also gets a chance to shine here as does Zach Galifianakis. A truly great comedy ought to be grounded at least somewhat in reality and have palpable chemistry between its leads as well. Fortunately, Dinner for Schmucks has both: Tim and Barry’s irresistibly entertaining rapport with one another and a few surprisingly heartfelt dramatic scenes that balance the mean-spirited humor. Director Jay Roach, who previously directed Meet the Parents and the first two Austin Powers, knows how to move the film along at a brisk enough pace so that not a single moment drags and so that you’re always anticipating the next gut-bustingly funny scene. Blink and you’ll miss a champagne bottle with the words “Champagne de Veber” on its label, a clever wink the French original’s director, Francis Veber. Please be sure to stick around for a stinger after the end credits roll. At a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, Dinner for Schmucks is outrageously funny, delightful and heartfelt. Steve Carell has never been funnier. You’ll laugh ‘til it hurts.
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The Dry Land
Enemies of the People
This provocative and harrowing documentary follows Cambodian journal/filmmaker Thet Sambath as he sets out to investigate and expose the reasons why the Khmer Rouge were capable of viciously murdering their own countrymen back in the mid-to-late 1970’s. During those years, Pol Pot served as the communist leader of the Khmer Rouge and Prime Minister of Cambodia who used fascist tactics to implement Year Zero, a plan to cleanse the country’s culture by starting an agrarian-based society and evacuating urban areas. Nearly two million dissidents were murdered and placed in mass graves referred to as the “killing fields.” The Khmer Rouge killed Thet Sambath’s father when he refused to hand over his buffalo to them while his mother was forced to marry a Khmer Rouge militia man and later died in childbirth. Thet bravely points the camera at Nuon Chea, formerly the second-in-command leader under Pol Pot, and allows him to give his own accounts of the brutal killings that took place back then. Yes, Nuon comes across as a monster given the crimes against humanity that he committed, but he’s also a very human monster because he shows emotion. His confessions are captivating, disturbing and will probably bring you to tears. The same can be said for the confessions of former Khmer Rouge soldiers who describe in vivid details how they precisely cut the civilians’ throats. It’s a miraculous testament to co-directors Thet Sambath and Rob Lemkin’s skills as investigative journalists that they were able to earn the trust of these Khmer Rouge members so that they’d be willing to talk so openly and candidly about the horrors of the genocide right in front of the camera without resorting to euphemisms. Lemkin’s own relatives were killed during the Holocaust, so he and Sambath easily connected and understood one another’s thoughts and feelings. Technically, genocide had already taken place right here in American when Native Americans were persecuted and killed back in 1492. Can something similar happen again here? Before you answer that, first try to name one society with a secret prison system whose government did not eventually turn against its own people. History does tend to repeat itself, especially when the public is so desensitized to violence and lacks awareness of the true horrors of genocides perpetrated by governments against their very own people or other cultures, but, every now and then, an extensive, fearless, cathartic documentary such as this comes along to wake you up and shake you up to the realities of such horrors. At a running time of 1 hour and 34 minutes, Enemies of the People is provocative, unflinchingly honest, harrowing and unforgettable. It’s among the most powerful and important documentaries of the year.
The Extra Man
In 1930s Tennessee, Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), has lived as a hermit in his secluded home for the past thirty years. The local townspeople, including Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black) and Carl (Scott Cooper), can be found either throwing rocks at his window, deriding him or making up stories about him. One day, he realizes that he’s imminently going to die, or euphemistically, to “get low”, so he goes into town to do something that no one has done before: pre-paying for his very own funeral ceremony where he plans to invite all the townspeople and to confess to them his true stories, thereby debunking all the stories that were passed around about him. He also plans hear everyone’s stories about him and to seek forgiveness from them for his past sins, not of which will be spoiled here. It turns out that Buddy works at a funeral home where he and his opportunistic boss, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), hope to make a lot of profit from this new business venture. Felix reunites with his former lover, Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), who’s now a widow, but rekindling their flame is easier said than done because of Felix’s troubled past. Bill Cobbs plays Reverend Charlie, a friend of Felix who refuses to speak at his funeral party. The screenplay by co-writers Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell treads too much water before it starts to feel even remotely engrossing because it doesn’t provide you with information from Felix’s past until the actual funeral party itself. Until then, the only suspense is trying to figure out what sins Felix actually committed in his past, but you’re not given enough of a reason to care about him to begin with. Robert Duvall does give a well-nuanced, lowkey performance as does the always-reliable Sissy Spacek. Both of them add some gravitas while Bill Murray provides the much-needed, dry, offbeat humor that won’t make you laugh-out-loud per se, but just lightly chuckle at times. Director Aaron Schneider maintains a slow pace that’s too slow at times because it makes the film drag, although it does help to let you absorb the scenery and to take notice of the authentic-looking set/costume designs. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Get Low is poorly-directed and often drags while lacking palpable tension. Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek’s well-nuanced performances can’t save it from sinking into a mostly forgettable, stale drama.
Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel
The New Year
Sunny (Trieste Kelly Dunn) leaves college and comes back to her hometown in Florida to take care of her father, Daniel (Marc Petersen), who’s dying of cancer. She accepts a job at a bowling alley where she spends some of her nights practicing her bowling skills. Her boyfriend, Neal (Kevin Wheatly), doesn’t quite please her on an emotional level anymore, but she still likes him. Does she truly love him, though, or is she just not that into him? Isaac (Ryan Hunter), an old friend from high school, reemerges in her life and the two of them flirt with each other in ways that threaten her relationship with Neal. Meanwhile, Amy (Linda Lee McBride), Sunny’s good friend who’s expecting a baby with her beloved husband, remains by her side, gives her advice, and even cracks her up with her warped sense of humor----i.e., her dream about finding a bucket full of vaginas on a beach. One of the film’s many strengths is that you can sense on a palpable level the friendship between Sunny and Amy. The same can be said for the blossoming romantic spark between Sunny and Isaac. Director/co-writer Brett Haley wisely treats his characters with respect and sensitivity because each of them comes across as complex human beings instead of mere cardboard charicatures; there’s no one who’s bad per se---just fallible. Concurrently, Haley and his co-writer, Elizabeth Kennedy, treat you, the audience, with respect and never insult your intelligence. It’s quite refreshing to note that none of the characters are annoyingly narcissistic or over-the-top in any contrived way. Sunny, an ironic name for the protagonist given her loneliness, innate sadness and regret, loves her father deeply and doesn’t want to hurt Neal’s feelings or her own for that matter, but what’s stopping her from making a decision between Neal and Issac is her emotional confusion because she’s going through a lot of unpredictable changes lately. Trieste Kelly Dunn holds much of the burden of the film and, fortunately, delivers a charismatic performance that convincingly tackles Sunny’s fragility as well as the vicissitudes of her emotional state. Sunny’s warmth, intelligence and kind heart make her both appealing and accessible to audiences. Anyone who is currently going through or has gone through an unexpected turning point in his or her life will be able to relate to her struggles and to truly care about her each and every step of the way toward her inevitable epiphany. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, The New Year is absorbing, wise, true-to-life and universally relatable with just the right balance of sweetness, tenderness and humor. Trieste Kelly Dunn shines in a charismatic, warm and genuinely heartfelt performance.
Smash His Camera
What's the Matter with Kansas?
This unfocused and bland documentary, based on the book by Thomas Frank, follows a handful of Kansas as they share their variegated political and social thoughts and feelings. There’s a farmer, Donn Teske, who serves as the president of the Farmer’s Union. He used to be Republican and explains how and why he chose to be an independent instead. He’s not particularly happy that the land that has been passed down from generation to generation in his family will be lost because of corporate greed, a terrible vice---who wouldn’t agree with that? Then there’s eight-year-old Brittany Barden, the youngest of those featured in the film, who’s a proud republican and fervent believer in the Christian faith. She plans on attending a conservative college and hopes to bring America back to its Christian roots. Does the church and state truly belong together? Director Joe Winston doesn’t even ask that or other important questions about such provocative issues. Angel Dillard, another proud Republican, voices her pro-life beliefs at the state fair. Then there’s Terry Fox, pastor of the Immanuel Baptist Church who viscerally denounces gay marriage among other touchy subjects. Again, Winston fails to ask him any sharp questions to dig deeper into his thoughts and feelings, so all you get is what you see on the surface. The documentary often feels unfocused because Winston meanders from one broad subject matter, i.e. abortion, to another, i.e. gay marriage and Christianity, with weak transitions between each one. What is Winston’s thesis for that matter regarding Kansas? His disorganized assembly of footage blurs his thesis so that you’ll forget what the film is actually trying to say about the residents of Kansas. Moreover, the lack of analysis which comes across as lazy and cowardly because it takes provocative, multifaceted issues and leaves them unexplored while forcing you to make your own opinions, assuming that they’re educated opinions. By the time the camera lingers on a food grilling on barbeque for the umpteenth time, you’ll keep on wondering that this documentary is actually about to begin with and wishing that there were much more meat provided with among all those potatoes, so-to-speak. At a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, What’s the Matter with Kansas? is unfocused, dry and boring. It’s a squandered opportunity to extensively and compellingly tackle provocative political, social and moral issues plaguing America.
Who Killed Nancy?