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5 posts from June 2010

June 26, 2010

"Grown Ups"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Grown Ups' starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James It's The Big Chill Adam Sandler-style in the new comedy Grown Ups, when five childhood friends come together at a lake house to mourn the loss of their old middle school basketball coach.

Theirs was the coach's only championship team and his uplifting words have buoyed them through adulthood, so on the occasion of his death, the team reassembles, this time with their families, at the same cottage on Amoskeag Lake where they celebrated their victory 30 years ago.

A lot has changed — Lenny (Sandler) is a big-time Hollywood agent with spoiled kids, Eric (Kevin James) has fallen on hard times, Kurt (Chris Rock) is an unfulfilled house-husband, Marcus (David Spade) is still single and Rob (Rob Schneider) is in a rather unconventional relationship.

But one thing hasn't changed. Locals (Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, Steve Buscemi, et al.) still claim Lenny's winning shot was not legitimate. With just one weekend together, they manage to mend all of their relationships, straighten out the kids, and right things with the town yokels.

Director Dennis Dugan (Happy Gilmore, Saving Silverman) does the impossible, turning a plot as thin as it is predictable (penned by Sandler) into an extremely watchable movie thanks to pratfalls like James' rope-swinging fiasco and sassy dialog from Spade (who, at one point, call's Schneider's vintage wife "The St. Pauli Grandma").

That's OK. Not every film has to be a Citizen Kane. In fact, summer fun is more often synonymous with guilty pleasures like Stripes or Smokey and the Bandit than with loftier titles like Sophie's Choice or Lawrence of Arabia. That said, Grown Ups has nothing to apologize for.

There's not a lot to brag about, either. For one thing, the soundtrack comes off as an afterthought. Great selections, every one of them (Triumph, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Bob Seger) but they serve only as awkward segues, not mood setters.

Worse is that the cast is far from maximized. David Spade merely plays himself (to be fair, cracking wise is his milieu). Kevin James is "Paul Blart Goes to Camp" (though "Honeymooners" fans might detect a homage to episode No. 39). Maya Rudolph, one of the funniest SNL alums, is still looking for a showcase. Rob Schneider is always a treat, but except for his melodramatic rendition of "Ave Maria" brings nothing new.

The bottom line: Never put comedians in an ensemble; there just isn't enough room for them all to spread their wings.

Still, few movies have kept me laughing so hard throughout that I forgot how unremarkable the storyline actually was.


3 Honks
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13 for crude material, including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity (David Spade's not Kevin James' which is why it's PG-13 and not NC-17).

(July 5, 2010 NOTE: In retrospect, I may have been overly generous having come away from some extremely disappointing comedies)

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June 17, 2010

"Summer Screening List"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- Summer Screening List Rochester students of all ages are sent home with a summer reading list. So that the rest of us have something to do on rainy days, as well, I’ve created a summer “screening” list of essential contemporary classics that everyone ought to be exposed to. Watch them closely, there will be a test.


Gangs of New York (2002)
Director Martin Scorsese sets his most epic film against a backdrop of 19th century New York City’s notorious “Five Points” and all the contentions we may have heard about but have never seen personified: the Draft Riots, Irish immigration, Boss Tweed’s legendarily corrupt Tammany Hall. Yes, it sounds like a history class we slept through, but Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, and Leonardo DiCaprio (in his first of many Scorsese collaborations) bring it to life.


Defending Your Life (1991)
Albert Brooks dies in auto accident and wakes in Judgment City where he must justify his life in order to move forward in the universe, elsewise he will be relegated back to Earth to try again. Meryl Streep co-stars as his motivation to push past the fears that hold him back. A visit to the Past Lives Pavilion is particularly revealing. Brooks’ best comedy.


Rain Man (1988)
It was the best film of 1988 thanks to brilliant performances by Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Cruise is the headstrong Charlie Babbitt who only learns he has an institutionalized autistic brother when he returns home for the reading of his father’s will. Raymond got three million dollars (but he didn’t get the rose bushes), so Charlie takes him on a cross-country road trip assuming the bequest comes along for the ride. It doesn’t, but when it’s over, Charlie gets something more valuable, “a connection.” My favorite moment: “Rain Man, let’s play some cards.”


Man on the Moon (1999)
In case you didn’t know, Andy Kaufman was a hit-or-miss entertainer. But when he hit it was amazing. “You're insane,” Danny DeVito, as manager George Shapiro, concludes, “but you might also be brilliant.” In truth, Kaufman, who Jim Carrey masterfully channels here, was both and this film, like the similarly titled R.E.M. track, is a dignified tribute.


Tombstone (1993)
Kurt Russell does an admirable job as the righteous Wyatt Earp in the lawless west but it’s Val Kilmer as sidekick Doc Holliday who steals the show delivering innocuous lines like “I’m your huckleberry,” and “let’s have a spelling contest” with such panache they’ll forever be part of your own vernacular. Easily the best of all modern westerns and to Silverado fans who’ll call me out for that endorsement I say, “You’re a daisy if you do.”

"Split Ends"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Split Ends' The owner of a small hair salon in a gentrified area of Manningtree, New Jersey learns her entire block is being taken under eminent domain for a huge urban project.


Cut and Run? Never.

Relaxed pace reminiscent of Burt Lancaster's Local Hero. Co-stars Sopranos' Vincent Pastore.





June 10, 2010

"The Karate Kid"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'The Karate Kid ' starring Jaden Smith and Jackie ChanWill Smith scion Jaden and action star Jackie Chan have big “gis” to fill in the new remake of the 1984 classic, The Karate Kid.
    Twelve year-old Detroit expat Dre Parker (Smith) is not fitting-in well at his new Beijing school. He knows little about the language and less about the protocol. Distracting a local girl from her violin practice, one afternoon, puts him on the wrong side of a bully named Cheng, leaving him little choice but to fight back.
    After observing Dre futilely prepare, and later intervening in the boy’s shellacking, Mr. Han (Chan), the building maintenance man, agrees to take him under his tutelage. Han visits the Kung Fu school where the boys are wrongfully taught a darker application of the discipline: “No weakness. No pain. No mercy.” He convinces the master there to agree to a tournament to settle the matter. The rest, as they say, is history.
    The Karate Kid is a dignified retelling of a revered film. Jackie Chan is restrained, nothing at all like either his Rush Hour Detective Lee or Pat Morita’s original and more likable sensei, Mr. Miyagi. Neither is Jaden Smith’s broody Dre reminiscent of Daniel LaRusso, Ralph Macchio’s archetypal Newark to Reseda transplant. Nonetheless, they’re good fits for a film that feels richer than it is cliché (and let’s be honest, any martial arts movie that manages to avoid the Carl Douglas song “Kung Fu Fighting” is automatically pretty remarkable).
    But there’s a cost. Much of what made the original a fixture of pop culture is absent. Macchio’s Jersey boy. Miyagi’s wit. These couldn’t be improved so it’s wise that they didn’t try. They’re missed, of course, though not nearly as much as marked high points like Daniel’s climactic execution of the ‘wounded crane’ or that moment when he realizes ‘wax on, wax off’ and ‘paint the fence’ weren’t chores after all, but defensive techniques. This one’s much more measured. That doesn’t make it worse, it just makes it different … and, apparently, extremely popular.
    The Karate Kid topped the box office its opening weekend, twice-over besting another 80s fixture: The A-Team which alienated at least one original cast member (Mr. T refused a cameo). On the contrary, Macchio embraced this one as “a testament to the legacy that we created.” That may be a little too much back-patting for someone whose last major role was as a “yute” opposite The Munster’s Fred Gwynne.
    Yes, the original was formidable, but this one’s no slouching tiger.
    It’s a good film, a great story, and a respectable remake. 


3 Honks
MPAA Rating: 
PG for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language.

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June 04, 2010

"Get Him to the Greek"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Get Him to the Greek' starring Jonah Hill and Russell Brand Jonah Hill tries to corral British comedian Russell Brand’s little-bit-Jagger little-bit-Lohan spoof-rocker in the new comedy “Get Him to the Greek.

After his last release, “African Child,” was panned as the "the worst thing to happen to that country since apartheid," Aldus Snow (Brand) went into a self-imposed exile. Now, ten years later, an anniversary show at the Greek Theater might not only resurrect his career but also save the jobs of everyone at the label, not the least of whom is intern Aaron Green (Hill) who’s been assigned the task of getting the notoriously unmanageable talent from London to Los Angeles in 72 hours.

For the trip, they’ve packed too much emotional baggage. Green needs to overcome an infatuation with the rock god and balance his own delicate relationship with his girlfriend; Snow needs to reconcile a failed marriage and patch things-up with his estranged father. Oh, and there’s the music. Snow insists on opening with his last release. Green, however, knows it’s the classics that fans want but is under strict orders from record mogul Sergio Roma (Sean Combs) not to chance bruising the star’s delicate ego, “tell him you brush your teeth to that one every morning!” A near-fiasco on “The Today Show” ultimately set a course for the comeback of the century.

Aldus Snow was a break-out character from the 2008 romcom Forgetting Sarah Marshall, arguably the highlight of that film (though I found the puppet opera, “A Taste for Love,” a snippet of which can be found on YouTube, more entertaining). Brand’s parody of an iconic self-destructing nihilistic rocker is spot-on and hysterical … in small doses. But director Nicholas Stoller (who helmed both films) comes dangerously close to ruining the caricature by adding dimension (pseudo-introspect and detachments from various loved ones, a dweebish son, for instance).

What works best are the hit-and-run gags: the opening mocumentary, Sarah Marshall’s cameo in the promo for “Blind Medicine,” and the knifing in Las Vegas. Clearly the most bizarre is the green room encounter with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman; a surreal attempt that only accomplishes making the liberal columnist look smallish.

This is one film that should have stuck to the formula. Miss the flight? Rent a car, take a bus, hitchhike. No cash? Take an odd job or put-on an impromptu concert in Peoria and pass the hat. Instead, it’s little more than one big sex, drugs and rock-and-roll cliché.

Get Him to the Greek could have been a funny movie instead of settling for just a few funny moments.

2 Honks
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content and drug use throughout, and pervasive language

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