Happy Christmas (2014)

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Director: Joe Swanberg

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg, Mark Webber

Screenplay: Joe Swanberg

82 mins. Rated R for language, drug use and some sexual content.

 

Happy Christmas is about…wait, let me think for a minute. No,seriously, nothing exciting or entertaining happened here, but I’ll give it my best shot. So Jenny (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect, Into the Woods) breaks up with her boyfriend and goes to live with her brother Jeff (director Joe Swanberg, Drinking Buddies, V/H/S) and his wife Kelly (TV’s Togetherness, Up in the Air). She makes their life terrible essentially. I mean, supposedly they all grow as people, but I didn’t see it.

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This movie was boring as shit. Nothing happened where I felt a connection to these characters. Jenny actually convinces Kelly to throw away her writing abilities to write smut a la Fifty Shades of Grey-like ripoff. The performance serve the screenplay (also by Swanberg), but the story takes them nowhere. This is partly due to the fact that the screenplay called for improvisation and most of the cast could not deliver.

Now Swanberg can direct. I’ve seen some of his work and I liked it. He also can serviceably act. Writing, though? Not so sure.

I’m lucky I watched Happy Christmas by myself at home because I got up and left the room several times out of frustration. Even the dialogue gave me nothing to cling to, which sucks because I love Anna Kendrick and could possibly watch her paint a house and enjoy it, or at least I thought.

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Happy Christmas is so disappointing that I strain to find any merit. There is a great scene post-credits I guess…but even that doesn’t fit the characters and I merely enjoyed the banter between the two female leads and Carson (Lena Dunham, TV’s Girls, This is 40). Seriously. This movie pained me. Bad. Bad movie.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Sex Tape (2014)

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Director: Jake Kasdan

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

Screenplay: Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller

94 mins. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.

 

Sometimes an actor or actress is a part of a film so bad that it really jars your experience of everything they do after for a long time. For Cameron Diaz, that film was The Other Woman. I really didn’t want to see Sex Tape. I didn’t want to get hurt again. When I finally did get around to it, I was pleasantly wrong in my assumption of it.

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Sex Tape is the story of Annie (Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Annie) and Jay (Jason Segel, TV’s How I Met Your Mother, This is 40), two lovebirds who feel like the magic has gone from their sex life. So they do what all-too-many celebrities do when the spark is gone: make a sex tape! They do, and Jay promises to delete it after. He doesn’t, and instead activates a program on his ipad which syncs it to every other ipad in his cloud. Jay gives out his old ipads to neighbors, families, and friends, so now everyone who wants to can witness the erotic masterpiece. Now, Annie and Jay have to get back all the sex tape copies before their mutual copulation becomes public domain!

Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Bad Teacher) creates some interesting work, and while it doesn’t always work, it is certainly worth a viewing. Sex Tape has a lot of humor and a lot of emotional truths that should hit a lot of relationships. Much of the humor lands nicely, but not all of it. There are some great over-the-top moments, like the sex book that the two decide to mimic for their tape, and the drug-fueled tirade Annie gets into with potential new boss Hank (Rob Lowe, TV’s The West Wing, Killing Kennedy). I like that this film gets into its own minutiae and creates conflict based on little errors in judgment.

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Sex Tape isn’t a perfect film. Far from it. It is, however, one of the finer comedies of the year and worth much more recognition than Diaz’s previous work with The Other Woman. We will call it performance redemption.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, John Turturro

Screenplay: Ehren Krueger, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

150 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

 

I was extremely surprised that I enjoyed Michael Bay’s Transformers. I had convinced myself all the way up to the premiere night that I was in for a long slow burn of disappointment. I was wrong. I had fun. That was a similar case with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the 2009 sequel featuring Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, Lawless, Fury) heading to college and trying to balance his life and relationships with Mikaela (Megan Fox, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, This is 40) with that of Bumblebee and the Transformers. I found the film to be an occasionally enjoyable romp with much lower quality of technical achievement. I didn’t think the movie was boring, but I felt like they had stretched the premise of the first film without offering anything new of merit. It felt like a big budget movie with absolutely no forward momentum for its characters. It looked nice, but really nothing special.

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Sam Witwicky is college bound. Unfortunately, his Autobot friends are challenged by threats old and new including the reanimation of Megatron and the reemergence of an exiled Transformer known only as The Fallen. The remaining Autobots have joined with new allies as well as a human tactical team called NEST, featuring old friends Major Lennox (Josh Duhamel, TV’s Las Vegas, Scenic Route) and USAF Master Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Black Nativity). Before leaving for college, Sam uncovers a piece of the Allspark which gives him visions of Autobot language and clues leading him around the world in search of a mystical tool that can save his friends and defeat The Fallen.

After multiple viewings, I began to notice how none of the plot actually made a whole lot of sense. The convoluted quest Sam finds himself on is strange as it is leading him to something he doesn’t even need yet. It isn’t until partway through the quest that he actually has a use for what he is looking for.

Shia LaBeouf’s performance is downright underwhelming. If there was an award for yelling “Bumblebee!” as many times as you can, he might win, but performances don’t really matter when the script is so shotty. We have to blame the writer’s strike, which caused the death of several terrific television series and a screenplay that wasn’t ready entering production. Disappointing, too, because if waited on, I’m sure the film would have been more successful, but this team just didn’t have the time to actually create an organic story. This is more jerry-rigged.

Ehren Kruger (The Ring, Blood and Chocolate) added some underwhelming touches to the original material drafted by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), and I feel like he was too attached to the material as he was quoted as being a major Transformers fan. Of course he can’t do justice to the film. Too much pressure.

I didn’t really hate all the annoying characters (I tend to believe that Jar Jar Binks is needed in Episode I to prove that some aliens are going to be annoying as shit), but there was a lot of them, ranging from Autobots to humans.

The big win of the film is Devastator, a Decepticon comprised of several moving parts and automobiles. That was some great creature design.

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If given the option, find a copy of this film in its IMAX edition because the only major element of this film that works is the Visual Effects (even if Bay does continue to show us the robots transforming just because). This movie will delight fans of the Transformers brand, but likely no one else.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Michael Bay’s Transformers, click here.

For my review of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, click here.

For my review of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, click here.

Transformers (2007)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Anderson, Megan Fox, Rachael Taylor, John Turturro, Jon Voight

Screenplay: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

I had a conversation once with a friend who told me something very profound and possibly the best description of director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pain & Gain). He said, “Michael Bay makes likable trash.” It’s true. None of his films are very well put together, so going into them with the thought process that you are reviewing a Best Picture nominee would be a mistake. You have to take it at face value.

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That being said, I think Transformers is one of his best works. It stars Shia LaBeouf (Lawless, Fury) as Sam Witwicky, a teenager who just wants a car. He wants something that is his, something that he thinks will make him unique. He quickly finds out how true that is when he comes across the realization that his newly acquired vehicle is actually a robot in disguise named Bumblebee. Bumblebee is an Autobot, a good guy, and he isn’t the only Transformer on Earth. In fact, Sam soon finds himself entangled in a battle between the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, and the Decepticons, led by an unknown force. Sam only has romantic interest Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, This is 40) to assist him as he is hunted by the mysterious government agency Sector 7 and its leader Agent Simmons (John Turturro, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Exodus: Gods and Kings). Meanwhile, a military base in Qatar is attacked by Decepticon forces, leading Captain William Lennox (Josh Duhamel, TV’s Las Vegas, Scenic Route) and USAF Tech Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Black Nativity) across the desert in search of rescue and answers.

I walked into Transformers expecting crap, but what I got was a fun romp that didn’t take itself very seriously and worked for that very reason. It had a lighthearted screenplay from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and strong actors in the roles, with the exception of Megan Fox who essentially fills the role of Boobs and Ass very nicely, but is little more than a thing to look at when the robots aren’t fighting. Bay doesn’t take his source material very seriously either, and I think that is why it works so well. He was reported as almost turning down the film based on the fact that he didn’t know or like the Transformers line. The same can be said of J.J. Abrams when he took the role of director on the Star Trek films. He wasn’t a fan of them and therefore came at the material from an unclaimed perspective.

I think that is one of the reasons that the sequels to Transformers suffer from so many more flaws, but the original film is a good time. Most of the production’s technical aspects are nothing too exciting, but the post-production work with the visual effects is astounding and if you asked me, and of course you are, I think that it got robbed the Oscar in visual effects that year.

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Have fun with this movie. I did. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how much fun I had. It had some pretty likable trash indeed.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Cast: Megan Fox, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszak, Noel Fisher, Will Arnett, Danny Woodburn, William Fichter, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub

Screenplay: John Applebaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daugherty

101 mins.  Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

 

 

The Ninja Turtles are back! Go Ninja Go Ninja Go!, and while they may not be the same Teenage Mutants that we knew from previous installments, and they may not be as good yet, fans who are willing to jump in and evolve with the franchise will find some thrills here.

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This year’s TMNT sees our fabled turtles meeting up with April O’Neil (Megan Fox, Transformers, This is 40) and her partner Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett, TV’s Bojack Horseman, The Lego Movie) to stop an evil corporate tycoon (William Fichter, The Dark Knight, Elysium) allied with the vicious Shredder from unleashing a fatal toxin the general public. Pretty normal fare, I know that, and it isn’t all winners, so let’s break it down.

Megan Fox is just terrible. She is the worst April O’Neil I have ever seen, and it isn’t particularly difficult as far as roles go. Luckily she has some solid help from the always wonderful Will Arnett as Vernon, the video guy that wants in April’s jumpsuit. Arnett is the absolute saving grace performer here, as he gives nods to his other likable roles (did anybody else see him make the parmesan mustard sandwich from Arrested Development?) and provides us with exactly what this picture sometimes lacked: levity.

My only other major character qualm is in the form of the ruthless Shredder, a very underdeveloped monstrosity who serves only as the “final boss” of this video game of a film. In the inevitable sequel, I want more Shredder. I want to know Shredder like I did in the live-action 90s predecessor.

The turtles are much more developed individuals, and I can see the similarities between this incarnation and the 2003 animated series. I like that we see some more fleshed out characters, the animosity and rivalry between Leonardo and Raphael, the often giggle-able Michelangelo, and the kooky and odd machine-freak Donatello.

The major win here is the effects. I know watching the trailer made my stomach churn as I imagined really badly animated turtles, but thankfully, some solid fixing up before the release made this an extravaganza.

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Well, this incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wasn’t perfect by any means, but I would disagree with former Turtle performer Robbie Rist, who at one time claimed that Michael Bay was sodomizing the characters (please South Park, do not dig too deeply into this). I think that these are turtles with room to grow and develop further, and to be honest, I didn’t really find them cringe-worthy (a fear I had previously held). This movie is fun. I already hear rumblings of a sequel and I hope that the creative team is willing to take time to listen to the feedback they received for this initial outing and use it to make the second installment worthy of the TMNT moniker. For now though, I had a lot of fun at the theater, and if you see this film willing to actually give it a go, I think you will be presently surprised.

 

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Did you enjoy some ninja pizza or did your enjoyment vanish quickly without trace? Let me know!

 

For my review of Jonathan Liebesman’s Darkness Falls, click here.

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