Movie Review ~ Annie (2014)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A foster kid, who lives with her mean foster mom, sees her life change when business tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks makes a thinly-veiled campaign move and takes her in.

Stars:  Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Bobby Cannavale,Rose Byrne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Zayas, Stephanie Kurtzuba

Director: Will Gluck

Rated: PG

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I think it’s part of the job of a movie critic to do their best to remove any personal bias before entering into any film, trying to take what they are seeing for face value and reporting back how that experience felt to them.  I have to admit that going into this re-imagined take on the Broadway musical Annie I carried with me some baggage I’ve been dragging around since the project was first announced several years ago.

So OK, perhaps the 1982 film version wasn’t the box office success studios had hoped.  At the time, it was critically drubbed, mostly due to the ghastly amount of money spent on it which, to be fair, helped give the film an old-school big Big BIG feel with more orphans than you could shake a shtick at, huge city scapes that brought audiences convincingly back to the Great Depression, and a massive mansion with a singing and dancing staff ready to step-ball-change with every downbeat.

Full disclosure, Annie was the first film I ever saw in the theater and even as a two year old I cast a critical side eye at the musical tale of a scrappy orphan that evades crooks, rescues a dog, and wins the heart of the richest man in America in 127 minutes.  I actually didn’t make it through the whole film, opting to high-tail it out when my movie treats had disappeared.  Subsequent viewings over the years has endeared the film to me, particularly with Carol Burnett’s dynamite turn as the boozy Miss Hannigan and Ann Reinking as the leggy secretary to Albert Finney’s Oliver Warbucks.

An early preview of the film made the reboot (produced by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith) look positively frightful and subsequent clips gave me a bad taste in my mouth.  I waited with a mixture of glee and dread for the screening to arrive and was prepared to revel in my disdain for what modern spins were put on Annie and trounce those involved for their association with it all.

Consider it a minor Christmas miracle that I left the screening with very little venom for the retooling and a sizable lump in my throat.  Though it’s far from perfect and misses the mark more often than it should, this 2014 Annie is neither the embarrassment I had feared nor the train wreck I had secretly hoped for.

Let’s start with the bad and that would be Cameron Diaz.  Though Sandra Bullock was the first choice for Miss Hannigan (now fashioned as a foster mom…the words “orphan” and “orphanage” are tantamount to four letter expletives here) when she declined Diaz (Sex Tape, The Other Woman) signed on and the results are less than successful.  Admittedly, I got a nice chuckle out of this Hannigan being a faded star former member of C+C Music Factory but would have loved to see the part cast with someone that can sing without the extensive use of auto-tune.

Speaking of auto-tune, I’m shocked that the vocal sweetening tool wasn’t given its own production credit because it comes to the aid of everyone that sings a note here.  Some need it more than others (Diaz and Rose Byrne) but its use is so extensive it sounds like your iPhone’s Siri is singing one of the tunes from composers Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin.  Some Strouse/Charnin songs remain intact but most have been modernized to varying degrees of success.  Three new tunes are all over the map, with only one solo for Annie having a modicum of overall value.

The film is so heavy on modern technology and product placement that it will be dated two hours after it’s released in much the same way we look back at early 90s films sporting technology that looks like it was created in the Dark Ages.  While the 1982 film was a period piece and could get away with having a timeless feel, this new millennium Annie will be out of date the moment the next Apple product is released.

On the good side, we have Quvenzhané Wallis (the youngest Best Actress nominee in history for her breathtaking turn in Beasts of the Southern Wild) as our spunky heroine.  In recent appearances, Wallis has been low energy and in an Adderall daze for her lyp-synched performances but it’s nice to report that in the actual film her spirit is infectious and her singing more than admirable.  The aforementioned new song written for her is a delight, performed with sweet honesty.  Her chemistry with businessman turned mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained) is a chief saving grace of the film and the reason why you may find yourself wishing you’d brought a tissue with you by the time the finale rolls around.  Wallis actually makes Foxx tolerable, no small feat for an actor that never met a role he couldn’t preen and preside over.  Though saddled with a loser of a song and a lame humble beginnings history, Foxx looks like he’s having fun here.

Even if Byrne (This is Where I Leave You) receives some help in the singing department, she’s a nicely modern Grace…although I did miss the flair Reinking brought to the role in the 1982 version.  Special mention must also be made to Stephanie Kurtzuba (The Wolf of Wall Street) who steals scenes (and then promptly disappears) as a rough around the edges pencil pusher more excited than Annie is when both tour the awesome penthouse belonging to Stacks.  Too bad the role couldn’t have been packaged with Miss Hannigan and given over to Kurtzuba…I’ve a feeling it could have been a true star-making turn.

Director Will Gluck comes dangerously close to making a Stomp! film that happens to feature Annie tunes thanks to an opening sequence heavy on percussive elements found in the city leading into two songs featuring lots of clapping, foot stomping, and bucket pounding.  Eventually Gluck calms down and lets the actors and the script from Aline Brosh McKenna (We Bought a Zoo) do most of the work.

At the end of the day, did we need yet another version of Annie?  Probably not.  Even so, the masses of children at the screening I attended didn’t seem to mind any technical shortcomings or vocally assisted performances because they understood the message of a can-do attitude and family at the heart of the story.  Turns out maybe I was the one that needed to get that message more than anyone.

Movie Review ~ Sex Tape

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The Facts:

Synopsis: To spice up their marriage, a couple decides to make a sex tape. It seems like a great idea – until they discover that their most private video is no longer private.

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe 

Director: Jake Kasdan

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I think most audiences would be forgiven if they heard the title of Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel’s new comedy and write it off as another inane foul-mouthed raunch fest, the kind of flick both actors have been involved with in the past; she in There’s Something About Mary and The Sweetest Thing, he in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  And, to some extent, they wouldn’t be wrong to assume that.  Sex Tape IS an inane foul-mouthed raunch fest but it’s also surprisingly sprightly, moving fast through 94 minutes that showcase the best, um, assets of its leads.

Not wasting any time, Sex Tape opens on mommy blogger Diaz (going for another hit in 2014 after April’s The Other Woman) fondly recalling her early years meeting, sleeping with, and marrying her college boyfriend (Segel, The Five-Year Engagement).  These early scenes are heavy on the sexcapades as Diaz and Segel (looking like plastic automatons after being digitally smoothed out to look decades younger/thinner) try out every position in the book as they discover each other and fall in love.

Surprise surprise, like the similar in style (but totally wretched) This is 40 the movie lets us know that getting older ain’t that fun, kids put a cramp in romance, and sex becomes something you schedule between PTA meetings and soccer practice.  What sets Sex Tape apart from Judd Apatow’s lame-o exploration of a mid-life relationship crisis is that the central couple decides to do something about it rather than complain to their friends how unhappy they are.

One night after a few drinks and a failed attempt at a roller-skating role-playing fantasy (showcasing that Diaz doesn’t need any digital help in the body-ody-ody department) they decide to film themselves going through every position in The Joy of Sex.  The next morning they’re hung-over and ready to get back to their kids and careers, largely forgetting their naughty filmmaking session.  Through some questionable and quickly explained away tech developments, their iPad filmed home movie gets sent to all the linked iPads in their network (Segel’s character likes to give away iPads as gifts…must be nice to be so cash solvent and Apple sponsored).  When a mysterious text reveals the gaffe, Segel and Diaz set out find the texter and to recover all the gifted iPads which houses their taped tryst just a click away.

I’m not sure a full 90 minutes was needed to tell this tale and obviously the filmmakers didn’t either because so much extra material is loaded in to pad the proceedings that the movie quickly loses its way once Diaz and Segel embark on their reconnaissance mission.  Along the way they pick up their best friends (the annoying duo of Rob Corddry, Warm Bodies & Ellie Kemper, 21 Jump Street), stop by for a lengthy con to get an iPad back from Diaz’s potential boss (a dreadfully miscast Rob Lowe, way too in on the joke), and break into the headquarters of an adult site with an owner brought to cameo-ed life by a one-time A-lister.

The entire film feels like it was made in someone’s backyard with many shots taking place in front of a green screen or standard set piece lifted from the Desperate Housewives backlot.  There’s also a fair amount of very long scenes for a comedy, I counted at least three scenes where the camera just cuts between Segel and Diaz bickering for minutes on end.  Even though the film mostly breezes by, these are the scenes you’ll be checking your watches in and wondering why director Jake Kasdan didn’t do something more creative.

What saves the film are Diaz and Segel’s willingness to play along with it all.  Both actors aren’t afraid to bare some skin and poke fun at themselves and what’s more, I actually believed they were this couple with these children living this life.  The sophomoric material is beneath everyone involved but it’s the commitment to it that makes the performances work so well.  I’m not sure which of the endings I liked the best (the film climaxes several times) but it ends on a pleasing note of sweetness that’s fairly rare for this genre of lewd comedies.

I’ve seen much worse comedies this year (Blended, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and the Typhoid Mary of summer, Tammy) and don’t have a problem suggesting Sex Tape for a matinee viewing based on performances that rise above the material.

The Silver Bullet ~ Sex Tape

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Synopsis: A married couple wakes up to discover that the sex tape they made the evening before has gone missing, leading to a frantic search for its whereabouts.

Release Date: July 25, 2014

Thoughts: Aside from it being a little more than mildly amusing that Cameron Diaz (The Other Woman) and Jason Segel (The Five Year Engagement) have graduated to roles as suburban parents, this very NSFW trailer for their summer romp Sex Tape looks like the type of raunchy fun both actors have excelled at in their careers. Diaz and Segel have made a few bids for more serious work, but this is clearly where their talent lies so this seems like a good fit for both of them. I’m a little over this type of ribald humor, feeling that it’s been done (and better) in other films but if a balance can be struck between foul-mouthed comedy and honestly hysterical moments this could be a much needed slam-dunk for the two actors.

Movie Review ~ The Other Woman

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After discovering her boyfriend is married, Carly soon meets the wife he’s been cheating on. And when yet another affair is discovered, all three women team up to plot mutual revenge on the three-timing SOB.

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Kate Upton, Taylor Kinney, Nicki Minaj

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: In my review of the trailer for The Other Woman, I remarked that I felt the movie looked “like a mash-up of Outrageous Fortune and The First Wives Club” and that wasn’t too far off the mark. Actually, I’d add a few other girl power movies to that stew as well…titles like 9 to 5 and The Witches of Eastwick popped into my mind occasionally as this pretty flimsy but modestly entertaining film breezed by.

Probably destined to be added to the selections to consider at a Friday night martini slumber party for best girlfriends, The Other Woman brings nothing new to the landscape of female driven comedies. This is thanks in no small part to a hackneyed script from first timer Melissa K. Stack and slack direction from Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook). Both screenwriter and director let the film get away from them, with jokes that go on to long and a bizarre final dénouement that feels too heavy to rest of the shoulders of what had up until that point been a feather light revenge comedy.

What keeps the film afloat is a performance from Cameron Diaz that finds the actress at her most fresh, focused, and funny. Diaz is an actress that I have a love-hate relationship with…her film roles have always frustratingly reflected an actress that doesn’t want to be pigeonholed (The Counselor, What to Expect When You’re Expecting), but her talent clearly lies in comedy and her new film reflects a return to form that I welcomed with open arms. Decked out in svelte clothes that show off her just-past 40 bod and residing in the kind of glam NYC apartment that seems appropriate for a high powered attorney, Diaz brings her A game to what is a B- picture.

Second billed Leslie Mann (Rio, Rio 2) had something to prove to me: could she thrive in a film not directed by her husband (Judd Apatow…responsible for directing Mann in the heinous This is 40) and for the most part Mann keeps things on the up and up. I was worried at first that her voice was going to grate my eardrums like a block of cheese (it’s actually the awful Nicki Minaj, barely in the movie as Diaz’s annoying assistant that will make your ears bleed) but thankfully a brief adjustment period brought forth a ribald side to Mann that shows she can be ballsy without being Apatow-like crude. Even so, every now and then when a comedic bit would go on too long I couldn’t help but wonder if Apatow was on set that day.

Mann and Diaz are the wife and mistress of a businessman (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Mama, Headhunters) that discover each other by accident. Unable to confront her husband or talk to any of their mutual friends about the infidelity, she turns to Diaz for a toned shoulder to cry on. Initially hesitant to buddy up with the wife of her flame, Diaz is soon won over by milquetoast Mann and in short order the ladies raid Diaz’s closet, braid each other’s hair, have at least two drunk scenes, and then find out hubby is cheating on both of them with a Hamptons beach bunny, played by the buxom swimsuit model Kate Upton that’s been blessed with a fine figure yet not one scintilla of acting promise. Somehow, the three jiltees team up to take down Mr. Cheater but by then the movie is half over and there’s barely time to throw in some last minute shenanigans about embezzlement, an afterthought of a romance for Diaz (the genial Taylor Kinney), and an extended trip to the Bahamas which seemed like an expensive excuse for Diaz, Mann, and Upton to work on their tans.

Then there’s that ending. Comeuppance is always the payoff in these films yet what Stack worked up and how Cassavetes filmed it makes it feel like it came from a different, darker film. It doesn’t help matters that Coster-Waldau plays these final moments like he’s auditioning for a Scorsese film and overall isn’t very good as the philandering husband, never finding the balance between charm and smarm.

With several continuity errors, equipment visible (I saw Diaz’s wireless mic pack twice), and messy overdubbing to remove swear words that would have brought the film to an R rating, the film feels a little choppy though it does manage to find some smooth waters for Diaz and Mann to sail in. There are certain movie theaters that let you bring drinks to your seat with you and The Other Woman is one where a daiquiri, martini, or Long Island ice tea would enhance the experience quite nicely. Not terrible, not great…it’s sophisticated and funny enough to get a slight recommendation from me.

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The Silver Bullet ~ Annie (2014)

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Synopsis
: Wealthy businessman Benjamin Stacks comes to the aid of a young girl living in an orphanage run by the tyrannical Miss Hannigan.

Release Date:  December 19, 2014

Thoughts:  I’m not totally opposed to remakes, reboots, reinventions, what have you…but I want them to have some sort of point of view.  I’ve been dreading seeing the first trailer for a modern day version of the Broadway musical that opened in 1977 and was already made into a film in 1982 and it turns out I wasn’t wrong to live in fear.  It looks absolutely dreadful, a wise-cracking and sassy version of a story that once had a lot of heart.  I never knew what was so bad about the original film which was raked over the coals by critics and considered a bit of a flop, so perhaps I’m holding that movie too close in my memory.  With new songs from Jay-Z, it was originally planned as a vehicle for Willow Smith (because, of course, her parents are producing it) with a script from Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks).  Thompson’s script looks to be a distant memory now that the new Annie is Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Oliver Warbucks, sorry, Benjamin Stacks (ugh) is none other than Jamie Foxx (White House Down) who chews scenery almost as bad as he chews food.  Though Rose Byrne (Insidious, The Place Beyond the Pines) seems like a nice choice for Grace, one look at Cameron Diaz (What to Expect When You’re Expecting) glammed up as the boozy Miss Hannigan and I knew it was all downhill from there.   I’m sure this will make a killing at the box office…but good golly…I hope it’s somewhat better than the trailer makes it look.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Other Woman

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Synopsis: After realizing she is not her boyfriend’s primary lover, a woman teams up with his wife and plots mutual revenge.

Release Date: April 25, 2014

Thoughts: I blame only myself…just a few days ago I was talking with a friend and commenting how thankful I was that overrated rapper Nicki Minaj had yet to make the leap from video star to movie star.  Then I catch Minaj in the trailer for The Other Woman and realize that I probably cosmically jinxed myself.  It looks as though Minaj plays a supporting role in the revenge comedy, leaving the heavy lifting to Cameron Diaz (The Counselor, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) and Leslie Mann (This is 40).  Coming off like a mash-up of Outrageous Fortune and The First Wives Club, The Other Woman doesn’t appear to be more than a standard “girls rule, boys drool” kinda affair and though I find Diaz and Mann and costar Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Headhunters, Mama) to be intermittently enjoyable this isn’t one I’d put high on my list.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Counselor

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Synopsis: A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.

Release Date:  October 25, 2013

Thoughts: Three time Oscar nominated director Ridley Scott (Prometheus, Thelma & Louise, Alien) is one of my most trusted directors not because he’s been involved with some of my favorite films but because he’s never been one to be locked in a box.  Comfortable with drama as much as he is with muscle-y bravado action films he’s willing to take risks with material usually to strong results.  In The Counselor, he’s assembled a truly A-List cast to bring prolific author Cormac McCarthy’s first screenplay to life.  McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men inspired a truly haunting film that deservedly won Best Picture in 2008.  I’m not sure The Counselor will be going after that big prize but with a cast this impressive teaming up with Scott and McCarthy…this is a movie to get excited for.

The Silver Bullet ~ Gambit

Synopsis: An art curator decides to seek revenge on his abusive boss by conning him into buying a fake Monet, but his plan requires the help of an eccentric and unpredictable Texas rodeo queen.

Release Date:  TBA

Thoughts: With a script from the Cohen Brothers that’s adapted from a late 60’s British caper film (starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine) and a game cast, this looks like a slyly fun movie that might just end up to be a harmless blip on the radar for all involved.  Early word on the film is that it’s a marzipan treat that will be pleasing to view but nothing much more than that.  Sometimes, that’s OK…as long as everyone is on the same page.  Cameron Diaz will never be a real leading lady in my book but Colin Firth seems to be on his game here.  Never count out Alan Rickman as he likes to keep things fresh and fun.