THE BOSS BABY (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild Rude Humor

Directed by: Tom McGrath

Written by: Michael McCullers

(based on the picture book THE BOSS BABY by Marla Frazee)

Voices of: Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi, Tobey Maguire, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow & Conrad Vernon

To be completely honest, I had hopes for THE BOSS BABY. The trailers made this film look like a silly family friendly comedy, some of the jokes made me laugh, and the animation looked visually pleasing. DreamWorks Animation also has a pretty good track record, slight hiccups aside (cough, HOME, cough, SHREK THE THIRD). So I rented THE BOSS BABY with a pep in my step and hoped for the best. 97 minutes later, I’m baffled as to what the director, writer, cast, crew, and producers were even attempting to do with this movie. Despite having a couple of positive qualities, THE BOSS BABY is a mind-boggling combination of bad ideas and uneven storytelling.

Based on the picture book of the same name, THE BOSS BABY follows young Tim Templeton (Miles Bakshi) who’s content with being an only child and receiving all the love from his parents (Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow). Tim finds his normal life shattered when his parents arrive with new baby brother Theodore (Alec Baldwin). This suit-wearing infant (who’s constantly carrying a briefcase) isn’t like other babies though, because he’s actually been sent from Baby Corp to stop the rival company Puppy Co. from stealing love away from babies worldwide. Things get more complicated when Tim realizes his new brother’s identity and the two work together to stop evil CEO Francis E. Francis (Steve Buscemi) from killing off new babies forever.

From the plot description, you may be thinking to yourself, “Man, THE BOSS BABY sounds really stupid and weird.” Well, you haven’t heard the last of this movie’s strangeness. In a creative decision that seems clever at first and then becomes confusing, THE BOSS BABY has imagination sequences in which Tim shows off his crazy thoughts and pretends to be on adventures. A smarter movie might have framed the entire “infant secret agent versus adorable puppies” storyline as a product of Tim’s overactive imagination. BOSS BABY’s visual style makes it clear that the imagination sequences have nothing to do with the super-smart infant with a business mindset.

This movie might make sense if the viewer were high whilst watching it (not that I’m advocating that…unless it’s legal where you live). In BABY’s own mismatched logic, the storyline doesn’t make a lick of sense. Of course, this piece of family entertainment also tries to cap things off with a forced feel-good message about brotherly love and family in the final ten minutes. However, this only left me scratching my head and rolling my eyes. After all, how will THE BOSS BABY 2 (scheduled for 2021) ever happen if we’re to buy into the would-be emotional ending that this film tries to sell us?

As far as the voice cast goes, the two big stand-outs are Alec Baldwin as the titular boss baby and Steve Buscemi as the CEO antagonist. Baldwin’s constant mixing of baby language with adult business lingo supplies a few laughs. The film’s humor also has references to GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and even THE MATRIX for older viewers to enjoy, but constantly goes to the well of toilet, drool, fart, and vomit jokes. Meanwhile, Buscemi’s baddie and his lumbering silent sidekick provide genuine laughs as over-the-top evil characters. I enjoyed watching their scenes and these moments are easily the best bits in the entire film. Every other character is bland and predictable, including main character Tim.

THE BOSS BABY seemingly doesn’t know what audience it’s aiming for and is constantly conflicted about its cinematic identity. There are fart jokes and colorful images to keep the kiddies occupied. However, the plot gets needlessly complex (with a never-explained mixture of imagination and “reality”) and a crazy conspiracy thriller aspect. A Tobey Maguire narrated epilogue attempts to sell this as an emotional tale, but that feels entirely unnecessary and unearned. At the end of the day, the animation is nice to look at and there are a handful of laughs to be had, but those are about the only positive things I can say for THE BOSS BABY. Again, I’m not advocating it (unless it’s legal where you live), but THE BOSS BABY is indeed a children’s film that might make more sense and be far more enjoyable if the viewer was high.

Grade: D+

THE RIDICULOUS 6 (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Frank Coraci

Written by: Tim Herlihy & Adam Sandler

Starring: Adam Sandler, Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Nick Nolte, Will Forte, Nick Swardson, Steve Zahn, Julia Jones, Danny Trejo, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Jon Lovitz & John Turturro

Adam Sandler is a polarizing comedian. He was hugely successful in the 90s with recurring sketches on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and this was followed by a series of hit comedies (the best of which is easily HAPPY GILMORE). Somewhere around the mid-2000’s, the quality of Sandler’s output went downhill and he’s progressively gotten lazier and more unfunny as the years have rolled on. We’ve gotten to a point where studios have passed on Sandler’s ideas and he’s signed an eight-film(!) deal with Netflix. 2015’s THE RIDICULOUS 6 is the first of these eight straight-to-Netflix Sandler films, earning a whopping 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and breaking Netflix records as their most-watched film. While RIDICULOUS 6 isn’t Sandler’s worst movie, it’s definitely on the low end of his filmography.

Set in the Old West, the story follows Tom “White Knife” Stockburn (Adam Sandler). Tom never knew his father and was raised by a Native American tribe. One day, Tom’s deadbeat dad (Nick Nolte) inexplicably walks back into his life and is promptly kidnapped by an outlaw gang, led by fearsome murderer Cicero (Danny Trejo). In order to rescue his father, Tom begins robbing banks…only to realize that his dad had five other children with five other women. The gang of six misfit brothers sets off on an adventure that sees them stealing from various jerks, encountering historical figures, and ending up in (what else) an Old West gun fight. Meanwhile, about 1/4th of the jokes get laughs and 3/4ths fall flat.

Adam Sandler phones in his performance as White Knife. He seems to be trying to do a gruff Clint Eastwood impression, but lacks any charisma and the faintest bit of effort in this part. Sandler as a straight-man never should have been attempted in the first place, because he doesn’t seem fit for this part in comedy. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I might have preferred a more over-the-top, silly-voiced Sandler as the lead. Even more surprising is that Rob Schneider isn’t half-bad as the stereotypical Mexican brother and actually got a few chuckles out of me.

Delivering the worst performance in the film, Taylor Lautner is godawful as a high-pitched hillbilly. Nearly every moment he’s on screen is insufferable. Almost as bad as Lautner is Jorge Garcia (a.k.a. Hurley from LOST) who plays an incomprehensible mountain man. Luke Wilson and Terry Crews are also in this movie as the two other brothers and they don’t contribute much to the proceedings or laughs. Danny Trejo and Nick Nolte also show up, but are clearly phoning it in.

To its credit, THE RIDICULOUS 6 looks like it had a budget behind it. There’s only one scene of cheap CGI and that comes early on. The sets and cinematography are rather well done for a western comedy spoof, though I still much prefer Seth MacFarlane’s serviceable A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST over this. Two of RIDICULOUS 6’s main problem comes from its long running time and messy pacing. This film almost feels like an endurance test, because the story frequently meanders and there are many dull moments. If it ran at 90 minutes, this might have been far better. The first hour is dedicated to the brothers running into each other, following a predictable pattern of: the characters going to a location, meeting another brother, and then going to another location.

Three-quarters of the jokes in RIDICULOUS 6 are lame. This isn’t because they’re offensive and gross, but rather because they’re just plain lazy. The juvenile bits include: a donkey with explosive diarrhea, bestiality, farting, a fly getting castrated, charades for sex, and crude-sounding Native American names. Are we having fun yet? No, but what about a long musical number around a campfire that comes out of nowhere and lasts for nearly 5 minutes. Still not laughing, but what about half-assed cameo appearances from Vanilla Ice (as Mark Twain), David Spade (as Colonel Muster), Chris Kattan (as John Wilkes Booth), and Jon Lovitz (as a snobby rich poker player)? I wanted to laugh at Vanilla Ice playing one of America’s most celebrated writers, but they do nothing with it. The joke is simply him appearing as that character and nothing else.

Though I’m railing on this film’s flaccid excuses for humor, there are a handful of genuine laughs to be had. These are few and far between, but they do exist. Early cracks about the racism of the time made me giggle, while cross-eyed Steve Zahn gets a few good moments as a gun-toting hick. Steve Buscemi makes the most of his time as the small-town doctor/barber. Meanwhile, Harvey Keitel gets the darkest laugh of the entire movie and John Turturro is fantastic as the inventor of baseball (who makes up rules to avoid being beaten at his own game).

THE RIDICULOUS 6 is not Adam Sandler’s worst film because there are a few good laughs in this mess of a movie. That’s more than I can say about the likes of GROWN UPS and JACK AND JILL. A bloated running time and monotonous story take an unfixable toll on the proceedings, one that’s further hindered by a majority of the would-be jokes falling flat. I really hope that THE RIDICULOUS 6 winds up being the worst Adam Sandler straight-to-Netflix film, because this lazy and that in itself seems a little insulting to the Sandman’s fanbase.

Grade: D

CON AIR (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language

Directed by: Simon West

Written by: Scott Rosenberg

Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Colm Meaney, Danny Trejo, M.C. Gainey, Nick Chinlund & Dave Chappelle

Even though the 80s was home to lots of cheesy R-rated action flicks, the 90s seemed bound and determined to churn out increasingly ridiculous action entertainment. Originally released in the same month as another outrageous Nicolas Cage action vehicle FACE/OFF, CON AIR is a crazy ride. It’s stupid and ludicrous, but it’s also funny and enjoyable. The material’s cheesiness lends to the entertainment factor as we get one hell of a cast, competently directed action, and unrealistically high stakes. If you want explosions and Nicolas Cage (in a mullet, trying to pull of a bad accent), then CON AIR is for you.

After killing a man to protect his wife, Army Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) has been handed a ten-year prison sentence. Being a good guy at heart, Poe quietly serves his time and waits to go home to his loving wife and daughter (who doesn’t know him yet, but still writes him adorable letters). When he’s granted parole, Poe boards the massive prison aircraft Jailbird. Things go awry when the evil madman “Cyrus the Virus” (John Malkovich) and the rest of the dangerous convicts wind up taking over the plane. If he wishes to ever see his wife again and hopes to save some lives in the process, Poe will have to carefully help take down the prisoner-hijacked plane. Meanwhile, U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) attempts to stop folks from simply blowing up the plane.

CON AIR is stupid, ridiculously stupid. There’s the whole prisoner revolt sequence, which seems to rely on an unlikely series of coincidences (with a prisoner smuggling gasoline on board) and a series of easily-accessible levers. As if the hijacked airplane wasn’t enough for the plot’s high stakes, they also throw in a subplot about Poe’s cellmate being diabetic and all of the syringes on the plane being smashed. To boot, the laws of physics are frequently defied and you know what? All of this stupidity and the sheer ridiculous nature of the film are the bombastic fun to watch! This is a big dumb popcorn movie and doesn’t aspire to be anything more than that.

As the heroic Poe, Nicolas Cage has horribly wooden line delivery and evokes a cheesiness that remains unrivaled in his filmography. Cage’s serious moments are hilarious and they’re not supposed to be. He also sports the worst mullet in the world and tries to pull of a terrible Southern accent (which downright disappears during a few scenes). As a so-so supporting character, John Cusack sweats on the ground level and gets involved in the finale when the action leaves the confines of the plane. Colm Meaney plays a hot-headed higher-up and adds to the tension as he seems just a tad too trigger-happy.

The convicts are the real show-stealers though, because each one of these colorful characters adds something memorable to the film. Ving Rhames plays intimidating gangster henchman Diamond Dog, while Danny Trejo (who was once a real-life convict) has the role of a rape-happy thug. M.C. Gainey is a huge highlight as hyperactive pilot prisoner “Swamp Thing” and delivers one of the cheesiest jokes in the entire film. There’s also a miscast Dave Chappelle as junkie “Pinball.” Steve Buscemi stars as serial killer Garland Greene (whose murders make the Manson Family look like the Partridge Family), coming off as both creepy and unexpectedly funny. John Malkovich gives the best performance in the film as “Cyrus the Virus.” He’s such an entertaining baddie and his death scene is probably one of my favorite action deaths ever (as it goes on for a while and he bites it in three increasingly over-the-top ways).

In terms of action, CON AIR never once gets repetitive. There are one-on-one fights, plane crashes, car chases, explosions, midair combat, and showdowns in various locations. The film is also shot in a way wherein the viewer can make out what the hell is going on and which characters are giving/receiving the blows/bullets. To say that the film gets over-the-top in its action would be a huge understatement as one scene has a broken propeller flying between Cage and Malkovich…to break up their confrontation in the most insane way possible.

CON AIR has lots of goofy details and obvious flaws. There’s the silly performance from Nicolas Cage and the colorful prisoners (who all contribute to the humor and action). The film’s soundtrack seems downright strange in places (Trisha Yearwood’s “How Do I Live” is incredibly out-of-place for this film, but still received an Oscar nomination) and the same guitar riff is played around a hundred times throughout the score. For all of its faults and stupidity, CON AIR is fun and succeeds at being entertaining from start to finish. If you’re into action movies (especially ridiculous ones) and you haven’t seen CON AIR, you owe it to yourself to sit through this one!

Grade: B

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some Scary Images, Action and Rude Humor

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Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky

Written by: Robert Smigel & Adam Sandler

Voices of: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Asher Blinkoff, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Mel Brooks, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Rob Riggle & Jon Lovitz

I enjoy the original HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA. Though it had nothing on other kid-friendly horror flicks like PARANORMAN and FRANKENWEENIE of the same year (2012), HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA served as a colorful, innocent and funny take on classic monsters. It wasn’t nearly as bad as one might expect an Adam Sandler animated comedy to be either. I had fun watching it, even though it didn’t quite know how to end. I wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea of a sequel and the trailer for this second installment had me intrigued. The advertising for HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 make it seem as if this second film goes in a different direction than the first and for the most part, it does. However, this sequel carries over some of the exact same problems that the original movie suffered from as well.

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Since the events of the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, Mavis (Dracula’s daughter) and Johnny (her human boyfriend) have tied the knot. A short while later, the two have a kid. It’s up in the air as to whether their son, Dennis, is a human or a vampire. If he’s a monster, the kid will sprout fangs within his first five years. Dracula becomes concerned that his grandson isn’t the bloodsucking fiend that he hoped he would be and does his best to bring out the monster inside of Dennis, all while Johnny introduces Mavis to the human world in California. There’s only a few days until Dennis’s fifth birthday. Is Dennis actually a vampire? If he’s only human, will Dracula (his vampa, short for vampire grandpa) be willing to accept him for who he is? I guess you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

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I’ll address the positives first. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 is very well animated. There’s a good atmosphere hovering over the whole film that feels like a kid-friendly version of something like THE ADDAMS FAMILY. The characters are all creative and creepily cute in their designs. I especially liked the inclusion of Dracula’s grandpa, Vlad, who appears to be an almost Nosferatu-like presence. The voice cast all fit their roles, with my favorite still being Steve Buscemi as a worn-out werewolf with over 300 kids. The subplot involving Mavis and Johnny in California is more enjoyable for the adults than it really is for children. What’s especially funny are the misguided lengths that Johnny’s parents will go to in order to make Mavis feel accepted in their mortal home. These moments did get some solid laughs out of me.

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The main plot at hand focuses on Dracula and his monstrous crew trying to get Dennis to sprout his potentially nonexistent fangs. While the film gets off to a slow, episodic start, it really finds its stride when Dracula hits the road with Dennis. During this middle section, the film moves from creative set-piece to creative set-piece as the monsters try to showcase their old-school abilities (e.g. the mummy conjuring a sand storm, the werewolf killing an innocent animal, etc.) and ultimately finding that they’re not as young as they used to be. This middle section is also chock full of big laughs for both children and adults. As well-paced as the momentum is, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 doesn’t stick the landing at all. This movie has a really stupid ending. The film seemed as if it was building towards a potentially powerful message that could be taken to heart by both kids and adults, ultimately something you wouldn’t expect at all from a sequel to an animated Adam Sandler comedy. The screenplay botches this by introducing a last-minute baddie for no apparent reason other than to have an obvious villain and also includes a repetitive, cheap fight sequence. This doesn’t exactly sink this entire film up to that point, especially considering that the first movie suffered from the exact same problem, but it is disappointing.

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HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 should definitely keep kids entertained for just under 90 minutes with its colorful animation, obvious jokes and whatnot. There are pieces of adult humor that will go right over children’s heads and the middle is definitely the strongest part of the whole film. Ultimately, if you liked the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, then you’ll enjoy this second installment. I consider them on the same playing field. Both films have strong animation, a good premise, and solid laughs throughout. However, they both drag a little too long and don’t quite stick the landing due to tacked-on, dumb endings. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 is cute, harmless fun and that’s all it was ever meant to be.

Grade: B-

RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language

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Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Quentin Tarantino & Kirk Baltz

Quentin Tarantino’s rise to fame is a tale that inspires any filmmaker. This twenty-something transformed from a video store clerk/film buff seemingly overnight to a sensation at Sundance 1992 with his directorial debut, RESERVOIR DOGS. Tarantino is clearly a guy who loves movies and that comes across in his work. While some might find his frequent homages to older movies to be a bit obnoxious, those who love the man’s work really love the man’s work. I fall into the latter category. Tarantino became one of my favorite filmmakers during formative years of high school when my passion for critiquing films was coming out. Though it can be a bit too self-indulgent in its dialogue, RESERVOIR DOGS is part of the reason that independent cinema is where it is today and Tarantino’s debut still holds up over two decades later.

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A mob boss and his son organize an elaborate, seemingly foolproof diamond heist. In the process, they hire six criminals and assign each an alias (Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Brown). In a shocking twist, the robbery goes horribly wrong with two men dying, Orange getting a bullet in his gut, and the rest of the crooks scrambling to put together why this happened and what to do about it. They come to the conclusion that there must be an undercover cop in their midst and the whole job was doomed to begin with. As minutes pass, blood spills and the criminals get more desperate for the identity of the rat. We are given these answers and plot points through flashbacks of the remaining criminals.

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Non-linear storytelling is part of the reason that RESERVOIR DOGS works so well. What might have been huge restrictions for other directors (a lack of sets and short amount of time), Tarantino turns into strengths. We never see the actual robbery, but we hear details about it from the characters. We are also shown the direct aftermath of the botched job which leads helps our imaginations piece together what a bloody, chaotic mess it was. Using careful stylistic choices, Tarantino thrusts the viewer right into the film’s oddball tone right from the beginning. This movie is violent and serious, but also has a twisted and darkly comical sense of humor. The latter is immediately obvious through an opening monologue about Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” actually being a song about big dicks and a now infamous torture scene set to the song “Stuck in the Middle with You.” It bears mentioning that Tarantino knew how to implement good soundtracks from the beginning of his career. With a running joke of K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies playing on the radio, Tarantino appropriately uses songs to help set the tone of his movie.

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If there’s anything that will make or break your experience with RESERVOIR DOGS, it will be whether or not you enjoy watching these criminals. Frankly, I love these colorful (not only in name) characters. Tarantino doesn’t make the mistake of glamorizing their immoral lifestyle as he shows the ugly nature and frequent conflicts erupting amongst them. Harvey Keitel is fantastic as Mr. White. Though we aren’t given much info about his personal life, you can see that there are redeeming qualities to this villainous character by the way he treats the wounded Mr. Orange. Another big stand-out is Michael Madsen as the psychopathic Mr. Blonde. He’s just as entertaining as he is scary. Meanwhile, Steve Buscemi plays the slimy “professional” Mr. Pink extremely well. Lawrence Tierney and Chris Penn blend right into the roles of mob boss Joe and his son Nice Guy Eddie. The only performance that occasionally gets over-the-top in comes from Tim Roth as Mr. Orange. A few of his lines come off like he’s overacting.

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RESERVOIR DOGS is one of the most influential independent films in cinematic history. It helped revolutionize a new era of filmmaking during the 90’s. Though Tarantino can be a little too self-indulgent in moments (he’s not a good actor, but still gives himself a cameo as Mr. Brown), his directorial debut stands as one of the most darkly entertaining crime movies ever made. RESERVOIR DOGS is pretty much required viewing for cinephiles everywhere.

Grade: A

ANIMAL FACTORY (2000)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Language, Violence and Drug Use

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Directed by: Steve Buscemi

Written by: Edward Bunker & John Steppling

(based on the novel ANIMAL FACTORY by Edward Bunker)

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, John Heard, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold, Seymour Cassel, Mark Boone Jr. & Steve Buscemi

I discovered ANIMAL FACTORY while perusing through one of those countless “Best Movies You’ve Never Seen” lists that exist on the internet. This sounded like a really great movie in theory and comments about the film from various people (also including apparent ex-convicts) stated that this was the most realistic look at life in prison ever brought to the screen. If that’s the case, then I’d much rather stick with my SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and other exaggerated prison films, because this movie isn’t necessarily interesting or well-done.

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Ron Decker has been convicted of drug possession and happened to be sentenced on an election year. This leads to him being sent for a lengthy stay at a harsh prison. Seeing as he’s only 21 years old and has boyish good looks, Ron is a prime target for rapists and violent gang leaders. Life inside the bars gets a lot easier for Ron once he strikes up a friendship with old veteran criminal Earl Copen. Copen has a handle on the whole prison system and is a highly respected leader to most of the inmates. Copen takes Ron under his wing to show him the ropes of daily prison life and, most of all, to help him survive on the inside.

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The cast is probably the first thing that sticks out to anyone about ANIMAL FACTORY and I have to admit that these actors were well-chosen for their parts. Surprisingly, Edward Furlong gives what’s possibly his last decent performance of his career as our protagonist. Willem Dafoe is excellently cast as Copen, who seems to be a bad man with some good left in his heart. Mickey Rourke also pops up as Ron’s transvestite cell mate, but only receives about five total minutes of screen time. Danny Trejo plays every Danny Trejo character ever as Copen’s second-in-command. Though he’s pulling directorial duty behind the camera, Steve Buscemi still finds some time to briefly appear as a parole lawyer.

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The problems with ANIMAL FACTORY come in messy pacing and boring direction. This movie just looks so plain and it’s no wonder why it debuted on television (after a brief festival run). Everything about it from the sets to just the way that scenes are framed looks and feels kind of bland. The plot starts off interestingly enough in Ron’s initial meeting with Copen, but the film picks up two weeks after Ron has been sent to prison. We don’t really experience any of the initial fear of meeting a cell mate and being introduced to the horrible environment. This seems like a development that might have made for a good introduction as opposed to just throwing the viewer two weeks into Ron’s stay. Other plot points are either rushed through far too quickly or focused on entirely too much. I would have liked more time spent on a dread-soaked subplot involving Tom Arnold as a creepy rapist who has his eye on Norton’s character. On the opposite end of the spectrum, far less time should have been dedicated to a super clichéd and overly familiar climax that felt like the ultimate shrug-inducing ending.

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Ultimately, ANIMAL FACTORY suffers from a messy script, bad pacing and boring direction behind the camera. The talented cast lends a lot of the quality to just another otherwise standard, tame prison movie. This really isn’t anything that you haven’t seen before and I can’t recommend it. Stick with SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION for the best prison movie ever made and OZ for a disturbing, dark view on the system. They might not exactly be “realistic,” but they sure aren’t as tedious and overly tame as ANIMAL FACTORY.

Grade: C

GROWN UPS (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude Material including Suggestive References, Language and some Male Rear Nudity

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Directed by: Dennis Dugan

Written by: Adam Sandler & Fred Wolf

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Blake Clark & Steve Buscemi

Adam Sandler has easily become one of the most picked-on figures in Hollywood. It seems like I’m jumping on the band wagon by turning Sandler into a punching bag, but I originally liked this comedian. HAPPY GILMORE, BIG DADDY, and ANGER MANAGEMENT are probably my favorite films that Sandler has been involved in as a comedic actor, but the man can also really act in serious roles too (see PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE). It’s absolutely infuriating to see Sandler rely on lowest common denominator humor and phone in damn near every movie he’s been involved with in the last decade. Who thought JACK & JILL (ranked one of the worst movies of all time) was a good idea? How about THAT’S MY BOY (also ranked one of the worst movies of all time) or BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR (which Adam co-wrote)? GROWN UPS is no exception. It’s not that the film is out-and-out unwatchable, but rather that it’s bland beyond belief and plays out more like a horrible feature-length episode of a bad sitcom.

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The so-called story of GROWN UPS revolves around a group of childhood friends reuniting for a weekend of fun after their old basketball coach dies. That’s the whole plot in a nutshell. Each friend has their own separate issues, some more than others, and the tone can’t seem to make up its mind about either being sappy family friendly film or a gross-out affair. The really awful thing about either one of these is that they both feel forced. It’s all been-there done-that humor. Plenty of jokes involving bad hair (courtesy of Rob Schneider), sex with old women (also courtesy of Schneider), farts, breast milk being drunken by a four-year-old child, and somebody getting hurt with no real repercussions. Comedy is a subjective art form, but everything here has been done to death in previous films or is at the level of a Junior High kid’s sense of humor.

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One thing I kept thinking while watching GROWN UPS was about the lack of continuity in the story. It played out more like a series of SNL skits that were all thrown together in a single movie. A webisode format on the official Happy Madison website would have been a more effective way of getting these scenes out (although the material would still be just as lame). What’s even more insulting to the viewer is that everything feels half-assed as far as this being a full-length movie. Some inherent conflicts are set up between a couple of characters and then resolved about two minutes later. A skillfully crafted film might exploit these potential sub-plots for all they were worth and make a coherent plot around it of sorts. Not GROWN UPS and not Adam Sandler, he’s far more concerned about getting back to slow-motion scenes of David Spade falling face-first into a cow turd (not only seen once, but twice).

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The cardinal sin with GROWN UPS is that it doesn’t seem like anybody’s putting any real effort into being funny. It’s a comedy without laughs or a story to speak of. I have a theory that this was all a ruse set up as an excuse for the Happy Madison crew to hang out. The viewer is paying the price for to watch some of these admittedly funny (in the right roles) actors just phone it in. This includes everybody, even an underused Maya Rudolph (seen in a brief part in MACGRUBER with far more laughs than this film) and even more underused Steve Buscemi (appearing for three scenes total). When the movie tries to be sentimental is when it really goes down, because it showed a brief promise that there could have been a decent story inside of GROWN UPS. It all seems like a rushed, phoned in, forced, and false comedy on every affront.

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GROWN UPS wasn’t funny in the slightest. It would have been right at home as a bad TV movie on NBC complete with a laugh track, because everything is just so tame and lame. Some of the crude material gives it the PG-13 rating (mainly due to the disgusting breast milk scenes), but it’s just not anything new or remotely entertaining. Most of the devoted followers of Adam Sandler claim that the hatred for him is unneeded, but Sandler used to be funny and he isn’t anymore. I didn’t think some of his earlier work was good (e.g. BILLY MADISON), but things like HAPPY GILMORE and BIG DADDY entertained me. As he’s progressed in his (unfortunately) successful career, Sandler has become content with playing it easy.

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The jokes in GROWN UPS are obvious, forced, or just plain lame. There’s no story to the film and nobody’s trying with this material. It’s one of the worst comedies I’ve seen in the past five years and the hatred for Sandler is very much warranted if this is the kind of crap he’ll keep pumping out. GROWN UPS is a waste of everybody’s time with the possible exception of the all-star cast. They probably got paid handsomely for their farts.

Grade: D-

YOUTH IN REVOLT (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content, Language and Drug Use

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Directed by: Miguel Arteta

Written by: Gustin Nash

(based on the novel YOUTH IN REVOLT by C.D. Payne)

Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Mary Kay Place, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Long, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, M. Emmet Walsh, Jonathan Bradford Wright, Erik Knudson, Fred Willard & Rooney Mara

YOUTH IN REVOLT is a lesser known movie featuring Michael Cera as an awkward teenager. Granted Cera has made this kind of role work in other films, namely SUPERBAD or SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (his best film yet). The only real difference with YOUTH IN REVOLT is that it’s based on a novel and features a ton of big names in the cast. Ironically, this is also a very flat, stale, and uninteresting piece of work.

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Nick Twisp (Cera) is living a stressful existence. He’s a cultured, intelligent young man and also a virgin. It seems like all the jerks around him have girlfriends. His mother is a piece of white trash dating a pathological liar and his father is a neglectful creep dating a 25-year-old hottie. As Nick states, it’s aggravating how many people around him are getting action. It isn’t until he moves to a trailer park for a week that he runs across Sheeni Saunders, who takes an immediate interest in him. The two of them fall fast in love, but when the struggles of life makes things difficult to stay together, Nick finds that he must become a rebel (in the form of an alter-ego named Francois Dillinger) to win her heart.

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There is a lot of ground this story covers in the ever-present difficulties that get in the way of Nick and Sheeni’s romance. Seeing as the film is a mere 90 minutes long (counting credits), things move at a super rushed pace. It’s annoying how fast the film goes and it left barely any time for anything to develop enough for me to care as a viewer. There were moments of stylized storytelling that I appreciated. From the credits sequence to a few montages, the film incorporates animation of differing styles. This element actually worked quite well and somewhat set it apart from being just another teenage comedy in that respect.

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Most of the flaws come with the characters. Michael Cera’s voiceover at the beginning the film made me feel like this might turn out to be an underrated gem. The introduction of each character is funny enough and there was plenty of potential to be realized for most of them. However, not much is done with any of these colorful people. Big name actors are wasted as popping up in two or three scenes and then forgotten without any further notice. Steve Buscemi takes on the role of Nick’s neglectful father and just doesn’t get to do much with it. Another potentially fun character, Ray Liotta as a cop, is wasted. He could have been one of the best characters in the film and winds up in about 5 minutes of screen time.

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You may notice that I’m neglecting to mention the two leads. That’s because neither of them give anything spectacular. Portia Doubleday just comes off as a bland love interest and the viewer isn’t given much reason to care about her, thanks to most of their romance being shown in a few forgettable scenes and a brief montage. Michael Cera plays the socially inept teenager. We’ve seen him play it before and he plays it again here. There isn’t any charm to the character of Nick Twisp and it makes for a pretty empty experience altogether.

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YOUTH IN REVOLT relies on jokes that almost always fall flat, a plot that we’ve seen many times before, and a big name cast that aren’t given much to do. As a romance, it’s hollow. It doesn’t work as a coming-of-age tale either. As a comedy, I didn’t laugh more than five times. There is a certain style to the film that sets it apart from being terrible, but it’s not good or even middle-of-the-road either. It’s just disappointing, bland, and should remain forgotten. Don’t waste your time on this one.

Grade: C-

FARGO (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Language and Sexuality

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Directed by: Joel Coen

Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Starring: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Harve Presnell, Kristin Rudrud

FARGO is one of those films that I hear about all the time and have never seen before. It’s ironic, because I really dig everything I’ve seen from the Coen brothers (even their less popular efforts like BURN AFTER READING and THE LADYKILLERS). A lot of people seem to constantly reference or laugh about the funny moments in FARGO, but it’s not a total comedy. FARGO is actually a crime thriller that hinges on a lot of intricate plans that go sour due to misunderstandings between the characters and unexpected bumps in the road.

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It’s 1987 and the dead of winter. Jerry (William H. Macy) is an awkward car salesman dealing with some serious financial trouble. In order to score the money he needs to settle his debt, Jerry has set up the kidnapping of his own wife. Her father is extremely rich and will pay the ransom….to be dropped off by Jerry. The two kidnappers (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) go through with the plan, as Jerry’s problems become more frustrating. Things go wrong and blood is shed, which brings in Marge Gunderson, a pregnant police officer. Despite expecting a baby in a matter of a few months, Marge is on top of her game and this creates even more difficulties for Jerry.

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Besides their mad directing skills, the Coen brothers are also famous for their writing talent. FARGO displays the siblings at the top of their game. The only redeeming traits in the lot of characters belong to Marge, Jean (Jerry’s wife) and a few characters only seen for less than 10 minutes of screen time. I’ve said it many times before and it still holds true with this film that characters don’t need to be seen as “good” people to be compelling. Jerry is a total scumbag, but he’s very entertaining to watch in how he’s simultaneously a coward and a constant manipulator. The real stand-outs belong to Carl and Gaear, the two kidnappers. These are two of the funniest villains to ever grace the screen and the laughs come for two completely different reasons. Buscemi plays the part of the short, funny-looking (as many other characters describe him) motor mouth. On the other hand, Stormare is a hulking thug who doesn’t say much and is far more intimidating, but also garners plenty of jokes from his subtle performance.

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The unexpected directions in the plot seem to come naturally too. Instead of a grand revelation or twist ending, we see the circumstances that all the characters are thrown in escalate for one reason or another. Needless to say that everything doesn’t go as planned, much in the same way as their later BURN AFTER READING, this could be viewed as a sort of comedy-of-errors. The tone is far more serious than people give it credit for though. That’s not to say that there aren’t funny moments though, because the script is packed with plenty of the Coens’ unique brand of humor.

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FARGO is the classic everybody harps it up to being, but it also delivers on far more than just humor. A few minutes before the conclusion, a certain character delivers a bit of profound dialogue that puts the events of the entire film in perspective. What this person says seems fairly obvious and to the point, but it’s the way in which the speech is delivered that leaves it sticking out in my mind. That’s what I believe all fantastic cinema should set out to accomplish. It should leave the viewer with something to chew on, whilst also delivering on telling an original (or at least, creative) story. FARGO excels at this and stands as one of the Coen brothers’ best films!

Grade: A+

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