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Rating History

Cars 2
Cars 2 (2011)
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Pixar's "Cars 2" shifts studio into reverse

I have made no secret throughout my entire career of reviewing movies of my glowing opinion of the Pixar animation studio. Every time I am dubious as to whether or not their newest project will have the impact of the others, I am once again surprised with just how amazing they can be.
However, after "Up" they announced they were going to do a rash of sequels over the coming years. Luckily, the first was "Toy Story 3" and we all know how that turned out. However, the second was "Cars 2," a sequel to a Pixar movie that I gave a good review, but admitted that it wasn't their best work. Keep in mind I said this before the releases of "Wall-E", "Up" and "Toy Story 3" which set the bar outrageously high.
So as the film came closer and closer to release, I became more and more worried. The original "Cars" wasn't all that spectacular back when it first came out. How would it fair after all these years of outrageous success? I'm going to give you the bad news now. The answer is: not all that well. It would be unfair to call "Cars 2" a bad movie, but from Pixar, the studio that has defined animation for well over a decade, this is a massive disappointment. We'll get to that later, though.
Despite having top billing and being at the center of the poster, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) isn't really the main character of this film. No, sadly the focus this time is on Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) who follows Lightning to a race overseas and is somehow swept up into a really convoluted and stupid story of international car espionage. So yeah, it's the clichéd, cookie cutter story of the inept bumbling screw-up who suddenly ends up a spy. Isn't that grand?
Anyway, the whole thing ends up being some sort of conspiracy to discredit alternative fuels and promote big oil, so this film has the dubious honor of taking an issue I actually agree with, and somehow managing to annoy me with its inclusion into the film because it's delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Lightning somehow gets wrapped up with the alternative fuel scheme during the race, so they can claim this is a sequel and not just a god awful Mater spin-off. Anyway, everything that you expect happens, kids leave the theater and go buy toys, Pixar gets money. The end.
Now I may seem over vitriolic about this to you, but that's because I honestly thought Pixar was above this kind of practice. Churning out a lazy product for ticket sales and toys just hasn't been their style. With their previous films, they were committed to excellence, producing a product that not only appealed to kids, to but to adults as well. Film were lauded by critics and won Oscars. "Cars 2" is no better than films like "Rio" which I take to task for not being as good as Pixar, and that's a depressing thing to see.
The animation is still top quality. I cannot fault them for that. Then again, the Pixar animators have always been great. It's the story they chose this time that was the mistake. Frankly, in addition to "Cars" not being all that strong a franchise to begin with, the idea to shift the focus to the sidekick character was simply a bad idea.
Some people still like Larry the Cable Guy. Most people don't. The whole Blue Collar comedy thing had a big year in the early 2000s, but then most people forgot about it. The same way people forgot about Carrot Top. Most comedians are flashes in the pan, and Larry the Cable Guy is no exception. It doesn't help that almost all of the characters from the old film have very minor roles. Again, it feels like a spin-off, rather than an actual sequel.
"Cars 2" is not a terrible movie. It is, however, the worst thing Pixar has ever made. It is a standard, run-of-the-mill animated movie that doesn't even seem like Pixar made it. Frankly, they're better than this and they don't deserve the Oscar this year. As of right now, I'd give it to "Rango", which was a much more satisfying animated feature.
My only solace is that Pixar's next project, "Brave," set to come out next year, looks very compelling. The new story shifts the focus to a female lead, forays into the fairy tale genre, and looks like it may be a return to their old quality standards. I know that it's impossible to keep a good thing going forever, but I had rather hoped that when Pixar did finally flounder, it wouldn't be quite this badly.
Grade: C-
Entertainment Value: 5

Super 8
Super 8 (2011)
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Super 8 is a nostalgic, fun thrill ride

When I was a little kid, Steven Spielberg was basically the director. He made incredibly entertaining, well-done films that often netted him a nomination for best director at the Oscars. He was, without a doubt, one of the most (if not the most) prolific filmmakers of the second half of the 20th century. Now, while he has done a fair few films since the start of the new millennium, his name isn't quite well known as it was when I was little. Spielberg, while still occasionally a director, has taken a much greater role in producing films as of late. In the case of the film I saw this past weekend, he produced a film directed by geek idol JJ Abrams, "Super 8." Thankfully, this film combines the best of both filmmakers and has produced something truly amazing.
Set during the late 1970s, our hero, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), is a young boy who has just lost his mother in a factory accident, leaving him and his father (Kyle Chandler) to pick up the pieces. Once school is let out for summer break, Joe begins to help his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths), who is an aspiring film director, to make an amateur film for a Super 8 contest (home movie cameras that used 8mm film). Joe and his friends sneak out one night in order to shoot a scene for the film. While the kids are shooting a scene at a rail yard, a train passes, and a pickup truck drives onto the track and purposefully derails the train.
The kids barely survive the litany of explosions and debris, but look around to find that the cargo is very odd. It consists of thousands of small metallic cubes, and then there is a strange noise of something apparently escaping the wreckage and running off into the wilderness. Though all of the kids agree to not tell anyone what they saw, or that they were there, the next day strange things beginning to happen around their town, and it becomes clear whatever that train was holding hasn't gone very far and before long everyone else will soon know as well.
What really makes "Super 8" special is that it feels classic, much like Spielberg's films of the 70s and 80s, while having a certain modern flair, particularly in the dialogue. In fact, the dialogue and chemistry between the kids is quite possibly the best thing about this film. Their banter is both very humorous, and incredibly real sounding. This level of characterization is what really sells this film. Sure, we've seen quirky kids find themselves in supernatural situations before, but the way in which the characters and dialogue are handled in this film makes you forget all about the premise and simply stick in the moment with them. It's very effective filmmaking and I think it's the writing and directing talent of JJ Abrams that really added this new and essential component to this very Spielbergian tale.
The look and aesthetic value of this film is perfect. This period piece captures the late 70s perfectly, as it would be expected, and this film was clearly a very personal piece for both Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams. For Spielberg, this era was during his ascent in the film industry, while he made some of the most famous films of the modern era. For Abrams, he was himself, one those kids. He was playing with his Super 8 camera, trying to make his own movies and trying to be just like Steven Spielberg. This film is a wonderful combination of eras, mixing the old with the new and finding just the right balance for making something truly spectacular.
I don't really want to spoil more about this film for you. I went into "Super 8" mostly blind, and I can tell you that it was a pretty amazing experience. Everything from the astounding visuals and effects, to the clever writing and stellar acting all the way to the always-brilliant Michael Giacchino score was simply phenomenal. This movie won the weekend, but its box office was fairly modest, so if you haven't seen this film, by all means go and do so, and if you have, then see it again. Just be sure to stick through the credits for a full cut version of the film the kids were making. You'd hate to miss something like that.
Grade: A
Entertainment Value: 10

Green Lantern
Green Lantern (2011)
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

This Green Lantern is a dim bulb

So how are you guys enjoying the super hero films this year? We had "Thor" last month, "X-Men" a few weeks ago, and we have "Captain America" on the horizon. You know what we could use? Another one! Yeah, I could totally go for that. And since all of the other three have been from Marvel related series, we should probably play fair and make this one a DC Comics film. The only problem is the next "Batman" or "Superman" movie isn't ready yet, so we're going to have to find something else. That's right, "Green Lantern!" Now, maybe you've heard of the "Green Lantern," I mean you've probably heard the name before at least. Or maybe you're actually a fan. I won't rule out that possibility, but the general rule of thumb is that if the series isn't "Superman" or "Batman," DC heroes tend to be a lot more obscure than Marvel ones. But the question is, does being a bit more obscure make for a more interesting hero film? I'm just going to spoil it now and say no. No, it doesn't.
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a fighter pilot on the edge who plays by his own rules. If he were a street smart detective his captain would have already told him to hand in his badge and gun for being too much of a loose canon. Anyway, after botching a simulated dogfight against some fancy robot drones due to his aforementioned tendency for roguish japery, Hal is feeling pretty down on himself. That is until a dying alien crash-lands on Earth to find a new hero to wield his Green Lantern ring.
The Green Lanterns, as we are told in the opening, are a corps of intergalactic peacekeepers who use the power of will (which is apparently green in color, go figure) to fight evil across space. A Green Lantern can use this power to make whatever they imagine appear in order to fight their enemies, which is actually a pretty cool super power. Too bad the movie kind of underutilizes it. Anyway, the Green Lantern who crashed on Earth was apparently the best one of them all but all we get see him do in the film is die, so I guess we'll have to take his word on that. Anyway, Hal is "chosen" by the ring, he becomes a super hero and the movie kind of goes all over the place from there.
Now, probably the biggest problem "The Green Lantern" has is that it tries to do way too much in one movie. It doesn't help that The Green Lantern has a much more complicated back-story than most super heroes. So in addition to tackling Hal Jordan's past and personal problems, we also had to cover the Green Lantern ring, its powers, what the Green Lantern Corps is, and all about the ancient guardian aliens that created them....whew!
However, in addition to that, this movie also covers big evil monster Parallax, who uses the power of fear (which is yellow, apparently) to destroy worlds and we meet Peter Sarsgaard who gets infected with yellow Parallax essence and becomes a mutant....too much? As if that wasn't enough, this film even starts to introduce the concept of other ring colors, and yeah, in Green Lantern there's pretty much a ring and corresponding corps of just about every color of the rainbow. In fact, the guy who is pretty much the main villain of the comic series spends the entire film as a hero, only hinting at his status as future villain during the end credits....confused yet?
So yes, this film bit off way more than it could chew, and most of it was superfluous. Naturally, because of everything they tried to cram in, there wasn't a lot of room for good writing or compelling characters, so don't expect to see any of that. It wasn't badly done, just very, very mediocre. Especially compared to "Thor" and "X-Men First Class," which were quite good in that respect. Also, this film used a lot of CG. A lot. Yeah, I get that the Green Lantern powers kind of lend themselves to CG, but did the suit really need to be animated too? There are a so many really talented prop makers and costume designers in Hollywood. It's ok for some of the things in your movie to actually be real.
In short, "Green Lantern" is an average super hero story that tries to do way more than it needed to with what should have been a more character driven, smaller scale, origin story. The movie cost 150 million and it only made 50 million this weekend, and with other high profile films coming out it's probably going to see a substantial drop-off. In any case, I don't necessarily think it was a bad idea to make a Green Lantern movie, but it certainly wasn't made the way it should have been.
Grade: C
Entertainment Value: 6.5

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Transformers 3 twists into tiresome predictability

What else can I say about Michael Bay? I've been saying the same things since I started reviewing movies. There really is no more to say on the matter. Michael Bay is good at explosions and nothing else.
Then again, it might be giving him too much credit to say he's good at explosions, when his overuse of them serves to make them boring. In any case, "Transformers 3" is exactly the same as the first two films, and indeed Michael Bay's entire body of work. If you liked the other two movies, you can stop reading here. This is the same. You will like it too. You will like just about anything, I would guess. If you want to read my analysis of just exactly that is wrong with this movie, then please, continue perusing.
Apparently, that moon landing we made such a big deal about in 1969 wasn't just for scientific progress, or just some international showmanship contest to one-up the Soviets. No, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went up there because transformers had crashed on it, and we needed to check it out. Ultimately this ends up being pointless back-story for the textbook crisis this film throws at us, and the moon isn't all that important. It did give them an excuse to bring in Buzz Aldrin as himself, though, to make a mockery of his life's greatest achievement by saying on camera that he did, indeed, go to the moon to look for aliens. Yeah, that's right. Remember when Buzz Aldrin punched the guy for saying the moon landing was fake? In my opinion, he should have told Michael Bay he was going to be in his movie, gone the set, punched Bay, and then left. Lord knows the guy certainly deserves it.
Shia LaBeouf is in this movie again, because we can't really do these stupid things without him. His plot at the beginning is trying to find a job, and it's totally pointless and unnecessary and wastes twenty minutes for a film that is two and half hours long. Seriously, after the robot stuff starts it doesn't get brought up again. Why is it even in the movie?
Shia is now living with his girlfriend, who is Not Megan Fox (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). She may look a lot like her (since both of them are actually made of plastic instead of being actual humans) but she is not Megan Fox. They also didn't try to pass her off as the same character, which is good, but they didn't really bother to change anything but name, which is bad.
It's painfully obvious that Megan Fox's character was in an early draft of this script, and when she left the production (or got dumped depending on what "Smoking Gun" site you believe) they just changed the name and added a line about Megan Fox leaving.
The new girl acts like she's been with Shia forever, which is convenient because we never learn anything about her and we don't need to build any sort of character at all. That would require this mystical talent called "writing." Shia professes that she is "the one" despite the fact she's a complete mystery to the audience, and we have no idea who she really is or how they met. She's just there. Like a prop.
And while we're on the subject of characters, I think I need to bring up that once again, Michael Bay has way too many in his movies. In addition to all the robots I can't keep straight, we introduce a bevy of human characters, most of who are completely unnecessary and could have been written out with minimal rewriting. John Malkovich, for instance, is Shia's boss. He's only in the first twenty minutes. He has several scenes; at least two actually involve robots. Then he simply leaves. He contributes no necessary plot or character information. He's just there, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. I could write an entire review just on the train wreck that is this film's cast of characters alone.
Don't even get me started on the robots. One dies in this movie; one of the good ones, I mean. I'm pretty sure he was one of the ones who's been there since the first film, but I still didn't really know who he was, because he wasn't Optimus Prime or Bumblebee, who are the only two the movies ever spend a significant time with. Leonard Nimoy lends his voice to one of the new robots in this film. He even drops a Spock line. That didn't exactly win the film points in my book. In fact, it kind of made things worse.
In the very, very light positive column, the score, composed by the incredibly talented Steve Jablonsky, is still amazing, and the series continues to not deserve it in any way whatsoever. Also, the film has raised the stakes slightly, and ends up feeling a touch less superfluous than the second movie. There were fewer moments I slapped my face in frustration, though that may just be me getting used to these films by now.
Finally, Michael Bay did at least listen to enough reviews of the last film to ditch the highly offensive racist robots from the previous film. Unfortunately, he replaced them with two other robots who are just as annoying and only a little less racist, as they are Italian American stereotypes instead (Mama-Mia, that's a spicy meatball!) Nice to know some things never change.
"Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon" is a lame, predictable retread of a movie made simply to cash in on an audience who is easily fascinated by shiny things that twist around and transmogrify into something else. The story is predictable, the action is boring and I didn't care what happened to anyone, just like with the last two films. Once again, it's making a sickening amount of money ($100 million US alone) at the box office.
Just like last time, my complaints will fall mostly on deaf ears. All I can hope is that Michael Bay feels he has beaten the proverbial dead horse enough and will finally abandon this franchise. It certainly felt like the last one. Then again, that was probably just wishful thinking.
Grade: D+
Entertainment Value: 3.5

Horrible Bosses
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Horrible Bosses" is a hilarious summer surprise

On occasion, a movie concept that sounds incredibly simple on paper just happens to turn out to be something amazing. Let's face it, the white-collar cliché of hating one's jerk-of-a-boss is nothing new to fiction, or many people's every day lives. The concept of imagining killing one's boss in jest (or maybe not) in fiction is also pretty common. As for how this translates to real life; feel free to speculate.
So, if someone were to come up and tell me that there was a movie about three male friends who decide to try and kill their bosses and comedy ensued, I wouldn't be sold right away. However, after seeing "Horrible Bosses" I can tell you I was not only sold, but was laughing all the way home. This was better than "The Hangover 2" in my opinion, if only for the sole reason of feeling fresher, even with its familiar sounding premise.
Our frustrated employees are Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day). Nick is a hard working mid-level corporate businessman. His boss (Kevin Spacey) frequently torments him and threatens him, denying him every chance of ever moving forward in his career. Kurt's boss is a likeable old man who runs a chemical company, but after he dies, his cocaine-addicted son (Colin Farrell) takes over, running the company incredibly irresponsibly and threatening to run it into the ground.
Dale is dental hygienist who also happens to be on the sex offender database for drunkenly urinating in an abandoned playground at night (no one was around). His boss (Jennifer Aniston) continually sexually harasses him, threatening to lie to his fiancé about their relationship if he doesn't reciprocate.
After numerous abuses, the trio decides rather than quit and face the nearly hopeless job market (especially in Dale's case,) that their lives would be a lot easier if their employers were dead. After some hysterical missteps in trying to hire a hit man, the group agrees to follow the example of Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" and each kill each other's bosses, removing the motive and making the crime unsolvable. And since this is a comedy, hijinks ensue from there.
While the premise may sound average, the easy-flowing dialogue and excellent chemistry between the three leads makes it seem all the better. Clever and hilarious dialogue offsets the wacky antics. The bosses are all appropriately horrible in their own ways and the heroes are all likeable in their sarcastic everyman personas, with each one playing a slightly different role.
Jason Bateman, as always, plays the deadpan straight man. Jason Sudeikis plays the girl-crazy snarker, and Charlie Day plays the ditzy, often overreacting, wildcard. Throw in an amusing minor role by Jamie Foxx, and you've got a recipe for a comedic goldmine.
"Horrible Bosses" succeeds, much like the original "Hangover" did because of its simplicity. It's more about the way the characters react to the bizarre situations and each other rather than the turns of the plot that keeps the entertainment factor so high in this film. In fact, I'd say it's right up there with "Bridesmaids" for the best comedy I've seen all year. It certainly beats "Transformers 3", which still won the weekend, though with almost a $50 million dollar drop-off, in no small part due to this film, (which made nearly $30 million; pretty great for a comedy like this.)
So, while America did succumb once again to the junk food of Michael Bay's latest fiasco, the interest seems to be waning, which is good. Because seeing a film like "Horrible Bosses" is much better for you in terms of general quality and entertainment; a Healthy Hungry Man Dinner of laughs filled with all the funny goodness you can possibly hold.

Grade: A-
Entertainment Value: 9.5