Movie Review Time

Time to start my movie catch-ups for 2012, and I have to do them quickly because the new TV year starts two weeks from today when Sons of Anarchy starts its fifth season. Three reviews of movies I caught over vacation both at the theater and on DVD:

not your average love story.

RUBY SPARKS (playing right now at the Pocono Community Theater): It might be the most closeted case of a feminist view on relationships you’ll ever see. Does that sound bad? It’s actually not, it’s actually a compliment. Oh sure, there are chick flicks like The Notebook or Sleepless in Seattle or whatever that give the feminine view on what a fantasy relationship should look like. But Ruby Sparks isn’t that, not at all. If anything, it should be a wake-up call to all men to realize, “This is what women are afraid of in a relationship, so don’t do it.” During a Q&A after a screening of the movie at the Pocono Community Theater on Aug. 17, star Paul Dano said the script — written by his real-life girlfriend Zoe Kazan, also the female title lead — isn’t necessarily autobiographical, but instead more of a compilation of some of the relationships Kazan has been through. Well then it’s a good thing she’s with Dano now, because those other guys were not nice guys. In the movie, Kazan is a conjured-up girlfriend for the novelist Calvin Weir-Fields, played by Dano, a metaphor for the way every person enters a relationship as a blank page. How that blank page gets filled up — together or with the will and force of the partner — is up to you. Calvin completely abuses his power to make Ruby do his bidding until his creation pretty much spontaneously combusts in a fit of rage, confusion, pity and hopelessness. Yeah, I know, good times. But the movie is wickedly funny even if it’s not really supposed to be, it’s emotionally uplifting when you really get a hold of what it’s all about and it’s a decidedly different way to frame a classic boy-meets-girl chick flick. That’s a good thing. GRADE: B+

ha ha ha we're gonna die

HUNGER GAMES: My wife is a Hunger Games freak. She read the books over the winter and let herself get obsessed with them. Which is fine, it’s not like she was alone. Me? I don’t read. When I do read, it sure isn’t books. It’s Scott Pianowski at Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, it’s Bill Simmons and Grantland, it’s AVClub, it’s Vulture. Outside of those, I just don’t find that much interesting anymore. So when I told my wife that there was a Hunger Games movie being made that was coming out in March, I thought her eyes might physically pop out of her head. I didn’t get that level of excitement when I proposed. She went to the midnight opening — the first time she ever went to a midnight premiere — and came back raving about how perfect it was, how much it stuck to the book, how great the acting was, etc., etc. That actually got me interested, because my wife is really smart about these things and knows what I’m interested in. I agreed to go back with her to see it in the theater that weekend, but that never happened. The Blu-ray, however, found its way into my house the night it went on sale on Aug. 18 – and I was actually pretty stoked to watch it. Then I did. And I wasn’t as stoked anymore. You know how there are sequels where they say, “You don’t have to see the first to enjoy the second!” only then you watch that sequel and find yourself completely lost because you actually did need to see the first? That’s kind of how I felt about Hunger Games. I feel like I needed to read the book. I’m not a question-asker during movies, I avoid it like crazy. But every five minutes I had a question about the movie that I asked my wife because it didn’t make sense. And every time, the answer started with, “Oh, yeah, well in the book …” I’m aware that 78 trillion people read the books and fell in love with them. I get it. But I’m not one of them. So can I at least get a little backstory here? Please? And what’s with all these alliances? This isn’t Survivor, where you’re basically on vacation playing for money. YOU’RE PLAYING FOR YOUR LIFE!!! Instead of helping someone who is just going to drag you down and make you very vulnerable to the other alliance that is gunning for you in the first place, start slitting throats. If you can’t do it, fine, let the other guys do it. But the whole Katniss-Rue thing made absolutely no sense. None. Less than none. “It’s supposed to symbolize the relationship between Katniss and her sister Pru.” Hey, thanks Captain Obvious! Pru? Rue? Think I couldn’t figure that out myself? This book was written for 13-year-olds, it’s not like it’s that deep. And when I broached this annoying Katniss-Rue relationship with my wife? “Oh, yeah, well, in the book …” I feel really, really bad for my wife that she was so excited to have me see it, and I didn’t get it. I don’t feel bad for the movie, which isn’t good for anyone who didn’t read the books. And that’s giving it the benefit of the doubt, it might just not be any good. GRADE: C-

The aladeen people of New york city probably would not respond very aladeenly to the visit of a ruthless dictator.

THE DICTATOR: When you think of the most talented and our favorite comedians working in movies today, you think of the big names. Adam Sandler. Will Ferrell. And … wait, are there any other big names? The Frat Pack is getting close to death, even Ferrell. So aren’t we ready for a new crop of comedians to come up and rule the box office? I am. And right now, I’m pretty sure there’s only one guy from the new crop that I’d pay to see on a consistent basis — Sacha Baron Cohen. What’s he been bad in when he was near the top of a live-action comedy? Ali G Show was a riot, he was really funny in Talladega Nights, absolutely brilliant in Borat and still funny in Bruno. And you know what? The Dictator might be his most mature, well-crafted performance yet. I’m sure he was under a tremendous amount of pressure to churn out a non-mockumentary-type thing, and instead of just shutting himself in a room and coming up with a script, he went the exact opposite route. He surrounded himself with some of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s funniest writers — the trio team of Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer and David Mandel — and banged out a very funny script that maybe two other people could have pulled off. And neither of them are named Sandler or Ferrell. The Dictator is way funnier than it should be. It’s a silly premise (What happens if Osama bin Laden visited America?) that could have been hacked to pieces by Hollywood studios. It’s almost farcical enough to be considered an Airplane!-like spoof, gross enough to squeeze into Farrelley-Brothers-at-their-Something-About-Mary-best category and still funny enough to just fit into the category of straight comedy. The problem is that no one saw it, at least no one in America. Know what that means? Cohen’s next project will have a tighter budget, closer studio control and a script by whichever young hack just penned the latest Sandler POS that made $150 million on a $30 million budget. That’s how it works, folks. Oh well. At least Cohen got The Dictator out while he still could. It should have been longer (people paid for 83 minutes???) and the humor is assuredly an acquired taste. It’s just my taste. GRADE: B

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