Tag: chris pratt


Onward (2020)
★★ / ★★★★

Dan Scanlon’s “Onward” is what it must be like if Pixar shed away the majority of its convincing rollercoaster of human emotions and taken on the more action-oriented Dreamworks mantra wherein the animation’s color and movement take precedence over telling a genuinely compelling story. This tale about two brothers who get a chance to spend one more day with their deceased father should have been far more emotional and worthy of contemplation. Instead, it is busy, loud, constantly on the move. It stops only when it is time to manipulate the audience into feeling something sad. I didn’t buy it at all.

I must admit I enjoyed looking at the animation initially. This marks the first time that Pixar employs fantasy elements—unicorns, trolls, elves, and the like—while mixing the old with modern touches—cars, cell phones, toaster ovens. It is fun to note the disparities between the past and present, especially since the story’s universe was once rooted upon magic. But because technology is more convenient than magic, it completely changed the creatures’ way of life over time. There are numerous amusing visual jokes that do not attract attention; they are simply there to be appreciated should the viewer bother to look a little closer.

But in Pixar films, being beautiful visually is not enough to warrant a recommendation. It must have a strong heart at its center and it must be explored fully. I think the overall appeal is lost on me because I was never convinced that Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) are actually brothers in conflict. Yes, they are presented as nearly opposites in physicality, personality, and interests, but the screenplay by Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley, and Keith Bunin fails to hone in on the complexities of being siblings who are several years apart.

If it did, it would have underscored that although they are different in many ways, these differences may actually complement one another at times. Or that their similarities are so potent, that these superficial differences may be negligible in the long run. Or both. Instead—observe carefully during the first fifteen minutes or so—we are inundated with dialogue that do not say much, slapstick and action that lead nowhere, and boring, barren busyness. And when the material does slow down eventually, note on how it relies on focusing on sad-looking Ian as he contemplates the father he’s never had. I found the formula to be obvious and mechanical.

Ian and Barley’s journey to restore their father’s body is uninteresting for the most part. Their quest involves learning how to cast and control magic, meeting curious creatures, gathering cryptic clues and making sense of them, and being thrown into moments of peril—but there is nothing particularly compelling about the journey. The reason is because the material fails to provide an answer to the question of why Ian and Barley are best suited to take on this quest. They simply… are. I suppose it is due to Ian having a natural talent for magic and Barley possessing knowledge about how mythic quests work (he’s a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons-style board games). But what else?

“Onward” may be intended for children, but Pixar has proven in the past that a movie can be targeted for kids—even very young kids—and still be savagely smart, emotionally true and complex, and wielding an intoxicating sense of adventure. This is why movies like “WALL-E,” “Toy Story 3,” and “Finding Nemo” (to name only a few) are modern classics. And conversely, movies like “Onward,” “Brave,” and all the “Cars” films feel like mere afterthoughts, existing solely to pass the time. We deserve better.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

You know there’s something wrong with a “Jurassic” sequel when you wonder why there isn’t more people being eaten by dinosaurs about halfway through the film. Although J.A. Bayona’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is arguably the most impressive entry visually, particularly when the camera lingers on an animal’s rough skin and even the details of the crevices are eye-catching, it commands neither a compelling story nor a potent social commentary—surprising because the question of whether genetically engineered dinosaurs ought be saved from an island about to undergo a volcanic eruption is at the forefront initially. Everybody has—or should have—an opinion when it comes to animal rights, but the screenplay misses the boat completely in engaging with the complexities of the subject matter.

Yes, a summer a blockbuster can be both wildly entertaining and educational—at the very least one that inspires conversations, particularly questions regarding what if or when technology finally catches up to us. No, it is not too much to ask; perhaps we should hold more films accountable so that we do not receive the same generic rubbish that goes on autopilot every year.

In this day and age, playing with genetics is more commercial than ever—I know because I am in the field. If the screenplay by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow were more scientifically curious, especially when it comes to science’s applications on our every day lives, the dialogue would have been more interesting rather than simply painting scientists as greedy or evil. Cue Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) eyeing one another longingly. Their relationship, whatever it is, goes nowhere in this installment.

Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” was so successful because the film was able to traverse the tricky balance of providing popcorn fluff and brain food. Here, however, the picture seems content in delivering spectacular special and visual effects but not necessarily modulating the audience’s more visceral reactions. Notice how busy the action sequences tend to be. While most of them take a moment or two of pause, they almost always end up with a jump scare and the inevitable extended chase. Its rigid adherence to the formula suffers from diminishing returns and I grew bored by the last third in which terrified characters run around a mansion where dinosaurs have escaped.

Aside from Owen and Claire’s flavorless main characters, even the supporting ones are a bore. This time around, a systems analyst (Justice Smith) and a paleoveterinarian (Daniella Pineda) are recruited to visit Isla Nublar and lend a hand on transferring the animals to a safer haven. Naturally, they find themselves unprepared and terrorized by the hungry beasts. Smith and Pineda’s characters are not written from an interesting angle. The original “Jurassic Park” has shown that side characters can function mainly as potential victims of dinosaur attack—siblings Tim and Lex quickly come to mind—but they must be so charming that the viewer roots for them anyway even when they make a last-minute dumb decision that puts everyone in further jeopardy. Here, the systems analyst and the paleoveterinarian make good choices and yet… they are dull. It should not be this way.

The picture promises a third “Jurassic World” installment and, I must say, I look forward to it. The way it is set up opens the door to limitless potential for exploration. Still, one cannot help but feel wary because this entry, too, shows potential to go beyond superficial entertainment—yet it does not. “Fallen Kingdom” is passable as a creature-feature film, but its many weapons in its arsenal are not utilized to set the bar high, to achieve greatness, or, at the very least, to become memorable. It seems content in delivering a safe spectacle.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

If one’s expectation is simply to be entertained, then “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” directed by James Gunn, is a winner, but those expecting to be surprised a second time by the breakout series featuring unlikely heroes is equally likely to be somewhat disappointed. It isn’t that the film is more of the same. After all, it does travel into uncharted territory in terms of the lineage of our sarcastic central protagonist Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). However, such exploration comes across as superficial, cursory, undercooked, even forced at times. Subtle dramatic moments is clearly not the picture’s strong suit.

Humor is found in every pore of the film and it is most welcome when it breaks moments that are supposed to be dead serious. To me, this is the attitude that defines these characters, why they are worth following: they may be good at what they do but they never take their tasks one hundred percent seriously. There is almost always room for messing around, for jokes, for verbal sparring. And when there isn’t, they make room. The ability to laugh at themselves and at one another is in their DNA. Gunn never loses track of this idea.

The action sequences are heavily driven by visual effects. Although I’m still not a fan of its pavonine explosions and obviously computerized spaceships, notice how scenes never linger on the action. Instead, it makes the habit of showing what goes on inside of the ship as our protagonists respond to the turn of events. It gives the impression that the filmmakers are aware that dogfights in space is not their forte, but such a thing must be delivered because it is what the audience expect. At one point I wondered if one day we would ever watch an installment in which there is no space duel whatsoever.

The camaraderie and chemistry among the Guardians is the most exciting ingredient. We want to be a part of this group because they tend to say exactly what we might think given a set of information. One of the surprises in this film is it provides time for us to understand characters we did not get to know that much in its predecessor. Drax (Dave Bautista), the brawniest member of the group who is ever unable to detect sarcasm, and Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) angry sister and determined rival, stand out here. With a few simple lines but convincing performances, I was especially moved by Nebula and Gamora’s relationship. Gamora and Peter’s romantic relationship, on the other hand, is played out. I felt it didn’t go anywhere new or interesting.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” takes the series in a forward direction because it attempts to make the characters grow in ways neither they nor we expect. While such efforts are not always successful, the dynamics of the group and the distractions they get into are so amusing at times that its flaws, in a way, come across as refreshing, even endearing. While big strides would certainly have made a better film, sometimes little steps is sufficient. I do hope, however, for “Vol. 3” to deliver a more defined, more formidable final villain.

Delivery Man

Delivery Man (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

David’s profile: a forty-something meat truck driver, personable but an underachiever, not very good at his job, unreliable, owes almost a hundred thousand dollars to a bunch of thugs, and has a girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) who just broke the news that she is pregnant. To top it off, a lawyer reveals to him that his sperm, in which he had donated about seven hundred times in a fertility clinic between 1991 and 1994, had created five hundred thirty-three children and one hundred forty-two of them wish to know his identity. David (Vince Vaughn) decides to look into them one by one to determine if he is fit to be a father.

It goes without saying that “Delivery Man,” written and directed by Ken Scott, has a ridiculous premise but that is not what prevents it from being just an average picture. And although it is not afraid to enter a more dramatic territory on occasion, the sudden shifts in tone and mood more often distract than compel. What results is a film that is highly uneven—very funny in certain sections but a drag the majority of the time.

Vaughn gets the many of the lines but he is overshadowed by his co-star. Chris Pratt gets about a third—if that—of screen time and yet every time he is in it, he knows what to do with his lines, face, body language, and has a way of making us wonder what his character’s life is really like divorced from his friendship with David. That is, we are curious to know the man who is neck-deep in stress when it comes to taking care of his four young children. Pratt’s posture and overall disposition screams very dad-like and so we believe his character, Brett, is genuinely trying to look out for his man-child friend.

Vaughn, on the other hand, delivers what is expected. His approach of talking really quickly works at times but I have grown tired of it. Whenever he is on screen, which is often, I wondered when he will do something surprising. He never does and it is such a disappointment because his early pictures, like Doug Liman’s “Swingers,” show that he is capable of so much more. If the comedic screenplay does not demand a challenge, I think he has reached a level where he can ask or suggest to be given something different to do. Otherwise, the movies that he chooses to appear in start to look and feel very similar.

The film is not above sentimentality but, admittedly, some of it worked for me. I was moved—to a point—during the scenes where David visits his disabled son, Ryan (Sébastien René), and the two (appear to) spend time just being around one another. They share not one line of conversation and yet their scenes contain more emotion than the most of the scenes where David must give a speech to someone in order to convince them that he has something to offer.

I wished that the scenes between Ryan and David were better executed, however. The montage approach does not work. I immediately thought about how a foreign or a seasoned director might have constructed the scenes in a smoother manner in order to really give us the time to absorb and understand how important it is for David to be with his son.

The picture might have worked better if the premise were dealt with during the halfway point. We all know how the movie will end so why take forever to get there? It tests the patience. Wouldn’t it have been a lot funnier if we got a chance to see how Thanksgiving or Christmas was like if one had about a hundred fifty children? I know that it gets crazy when my family and relatives gather in one house over the holidays—and there are only about thirty to forty of us. How about birthdays? Why not meet some of his kids’ parents? There are so many situational comedies unique to the subject’s situation that are left unexplored.

A remake of “Starbuck,” also directed by Scott and co-written with Martin Petit, “Delivery Man” is not unlike its main character. It settles on underachieving rather than attempting to push the limits of its potential. I look at the director and I wonder if it gave him artistic pleasure to repeat the same song and dance. I would have been bored. He probably was, too, because there are moments when it showed in his work.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World” seems to forget what made Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” so successful: The sense of awe the viewers experience when a dinosaur—whether it be a T-Rex, a velociraptor, or a triceratops—is placed front and center of the camera. I was not impressed with the way the dinosaurs look here. With the exception of one scene involving a creature taking its last breaths, they look too fake, non-tactile, very likely to be surpassed by CGI technology five to ten years from now. What makes the original special is that many of the dinosaurs to this day still look real. I declare that this sequel will not stand the test of time.

Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is in charge of making sure that operations in Jurassic World are running smoothly, but she is also tasked by her sister (Judy Greer) to show her nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), a good time. As the two boys sneak off to explore the theme park on their own, a dinosaur called Indominus rex (untamable king), simply called the I-Rex, ingeniously escapes from its enclosure and heads straight for twenty thousand visitors. This dinosaur is special because it is a hybrid of a T-Rex and… something else. We learn quickly that it is highly adaptable, extremely savage, and very intelligent.

The story is replete with unlikable or downright boring characters, from the controlling Claire, one of the main protagonists, to the villain (Vincent D’Onofrio) who wishes to use velociraptors as weapons in warfare. The brothers at the center of the story neither do nor say anything special about the park or the kinds of creatures they come across within the park. Although the screenplay forges a sort of bond between them toward the latter half, it comes across as forced because we learn next to nothing about who they are as people who just so happen to come face-to-face with extraordinary levels of danger.

The only memorable scene with the brothers involves being trapped in a cool-looking but ultimately claustrophobic gyrosphere and the I-Rex desperately wanting to eat them. I almost rooted for the dinosaur because then perhaps the movie would focus itself more on Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a raptor trainer who acknowledges and respects the inherent viciousness of these genetically modified animals. Despite this, I still thought Owen is not a very compelling character. His personality pales next to Drs. Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm from the previous pictures. Pratt can do more and should have been allowed to do so.

The product placement in this film is especially distracting to the point where I actually felt insulted. I am not the kind of viewer who is on the lookout for product placement but when a shot feels like it is only present for sake of showcasing a type of soda or a make of car, that is worthy criticism. The point of a movie is to experience a story as fully as possible. Leave the advertising to commercials. I felt so disgusted at times that I found myself wondering what the filmmakers were thinking when they decided to be so obvious about the products rather than what the characters are going through.

“Jurassic World” is not a terrible picture but it is tolerable because it does have some entertaining scenes beyond chase sequences. For example, we get a chance to see the ruins of a special location in Jurassic Park. Clearly, this film is not above utilizing nostalgia—including the insertion of the original “Jurassic Park” score from time to time. Ultimately, however, it is disappointing because one gets the impression that not enough effort is put into the material—whether it be from the writing, acting, or visual department—to give us an experience that makes its own undeniable footprint.

Watching “Jurassic World” is like going to California’s Great America but a lot of the rides happen to be broken at the time, and where I really want to go is Disney World with full-on VIP passes, VIP tours, an extended one week stay in a VIP room in a first-class hotel with free buffet accommodations. No, these are not too much to ask for when a movie costs hundreds of millions of dollars to make thereby having hundreds of millions of reasons to get it exactly right.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Just when I thought plots that have something to do with the destruction of a world or a universe are beginning to taste disgustingly stale, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” directed by James Gunn, arrives at the party to offer a slightly stilted spin on what we have learned to expect from modern superhero movies. No, its place is not alongside the best of Marvel movies—the likes of Bryan Singer’s “X2: X-Men United,” Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man,” and Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers”—but the picture is goofy, energetic, and colorful fun from top to bottom.

Because its characters are so different from what the Marvel-verse has put forward thus far, they are instantly one of the more memorable of the bunch. Consider the diversity of their appearances: a wise-cracking raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a multipurpose tree (voiced by Vin Diesel), a muscle head (Dave Bautista), an orphan with green pigmentation on her skin (Zoë Saldana), and a human abducted from Earth the night his mother passed (Chris Pratt—a perfect fit for the lead role). But the material does not simply rely on its characters looking different. Each is given a defined personality so when they clash it is interesting and when they get along there is emotional resonance.

Its strength is not the action sequences. They are relatively standard which makes the final third feel especially drawn out and boring at times. While the special and visual effects are beautiful, the final battle is almost weightless—which is odd because an endangered civilization is supposed to be at stake. Another reason why it does not work is because the residents of Xandar remain distant—we learn very little about their customs, culture, attitudes, or way of life. Thus, when the planet is threatened, we are not moved. We are aware that Xandarian lives would be lost but the level or significance of the loss remains up the air. At least with other works that involve Earth being destroyed, we are able to relate immediately.

Its strength is not in the representation of the villain either. Ronan (Lee Pace) is supposed to be this fearsome figure who has killed millions or even billions—including worlds. When intergalactic beings hear his name, they cower. But, to me, he is a big, bad bore. We learn one thing about him: Just like any typical growly villain, he craves power. But why is he interesting? The screenplay does not address this question and it is a most critical miscalculation. As a result, he is forgettable.

Why not write a villain like Loki, someone who we cannot help but wonder what he is thinking (or scheming) every time he is in front of the camera? The most powerful villains are not necessarily the best villains. The best villains are the most intelligent, most cunning, those who we love to hate but love nonetheless. In a way, the best villains tend to define our heroes. Take a look at Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” with respect to Batman and The Joker’s twisted symbiotic relationship.

So what is the picture’s strength? That would be the moments in-between. I loved it when a character would break into a dance in the middle of an event that is supposed to be dead serious. The bantering among the characters are wonderful to listen to not only because of the words in the script but because they capture the tone, mood, and pauses exactly right. And just when we think a romantic connection is going to happen between the green-skinned lady and our central protagonist with a penchant for ‘70s hits, it takes a left turn—and then another sudden left just when we are starting to get comfortable.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” works because it knows how to flirt with the audience. In some ways, it is a parody of Marvel movies that came before—but not so bloody obvious about it that we are taken out of the experience completely. Instead, it establishes a universe that is silly but serious enough that we can respect and look forward to more frolicking off-beat adventures.

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Packed with impressive visuals and a witty script that consistently amuses, “The Lego Movie,” based on the screenplay and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, is an animated film that many claim is equal to this decade’s “Toy Story.” Though it is an entertaining work on its own, compared to John Lasseter’s film, Lord and Miller’s work functions on a lower level.

Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) has a proclivity for categorization. Seeing different types of legos from different generations, themes, universes interacting just won’t do. So, he concocts a scheme: by using a device called the “Kragle” (short for Krazy Glue), not even the rebels collectively known as Master Builders—talented lego characters with the ability to assemble a pile of legos into weapons, mode of transport, or whatever they wish to create—will be able to redo or remove what he and his followers have constructed. However, it has been prophesied that eventually someone called the “Special” will rise and put an end to Lord Business’ evil plan. This chosen one turns out to be a very ordinary construction worker named Emmet (Chris Pratt).

The images exude a confident vivacity that is rare in movies—animated or otherwise. Because each lego character has a specific way of moving in one space, from one point to another, and expressing himself or herself, there is rarely a dull moment. We are given time to appreciate the details and we wonder how the filmmakers managed to make every leading and supporting character stand out. In other words, what is shown on screen is not just pretty pictures. It is refreshing when we feel like some thought and effort are actually put into the project instead of relying on vapid cuteness to appeal to the crowd. Yes, I’m looking at you, “Despicable Me 2.”

But the movie is not a completely immersive experience. Many of the jokes that are very funny when uttered or shown once or twice end up being repeated so much that they lose their impact. It tests the patience. More importantly, the romantic subplot between Emmet and Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) is forced and unnecessary. Why is it that so many animated movies these days feel like they must have some sort of romance? I don’t mind—as long as they work. But, really, we should ask ourselves: Do young children really care about the idea of romantic love being reciprocated? If the subplot were targeted for adults, it should have been written smarter, with a little more sweetness, maybe a bit more seduction. I did not care whether Wyldstyle and Emmet would end up together.

As a result, instead of building a steady upward momentum, the film is significantly less interesting when the two lovebirds interact. Why not simply focus on the mission? When I was a kid playing with LEGO bricks and toys, it was all about explosions, surprising twists, time running out, and rescuing captured comrades (or resurrecting them if they happened to have been killed in action). Even with my female action figures, they were not used as crushes or love interests for my male action figures. Why? Because saving the word—in this film, several universes—is more important than holding hands.

“The Lego Movie” really shines in the final quarter. The screenplay takes the characters’ universe and adds another dimension. I was surprised because at times I found myself quite moved with the parallels and differences drawn between one world and another. It was then I knew: the film is dedicated to children around the world of past, present, and future who use their toys as a conduit to their imagination.

What’s Your Number?

What’s Your Number? (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

After being fired from her job by a boss who likes to sniff his fingers (Joel McHale), Ally (Anna Faris) stumbles upon an article on “Marie Claire” about women and their sex lives. It claims that the average number of men women have sex with in their lifetime is about 10.5. Ally has been sexually intimate with nineteen. That scares her and right then she decides to make a change: she will remain celibate until she finds “the right man.” In her mind, one of the nineteen had to have been Mr. Right.

Inspired by “20 Times a Lady,” Karyn Bosnak’s novel, the film, based on a screenplay by Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden, is carried entirely by Faris’ wide-eyed charm. Ally’s joie de vivre is contagious. When something funny happens, she laughs loudest and longest. When something sad happens, she tries to make the most out of it. She does not necessarily make smart decisions, especially for a relatively successful city girl, but I wanted to see her find happiness because, at least in my eyes, people who radiate so much positivity deserve it.

The picture is forty-five minutes of relatively entertaining material stretched into over a hundred. At times it is most frustrating because it appears content with underachievement. For instance, Daisy (Ari Graynor) is underused as Ally’s sister and a bride-to-be. Ally makes a speech during her sister’s wedding. The toast’s theme is about what being a big sister means to Ally. It would have had emotional resonance if we had a chance to observe their relationship go through ups and downs. Instead, whenever the two women are in front of us, they are always so perky and happy—which does not ring true.

It fails to prove to us why Daisy will allow her older sister to contact former flames. There is a difference between being supportive and being practical. What if the guys are bitter and angry toward Ally? Is safety not a concern? Speaking of the ex-boyfriends (Chris Pratt, Zachary Quinto, Martin Freeman, Andy Samberg, among others), would it have been too much to ask if they were more… less weird? The quirks, though played for obvious laughs, are more distracting than amusing. I was not at all convinced that a woman of Ally’s caliber, even though she has moments of desperation, would put out with a guy who has a fixation for performing magic tricks—even in bed. It feels too much like a sitcom.

If the screenplay had allowed Ally to spend more time with her ex-lovers and we are able to point to at least one reason why they were together in the first place, there might have been tension and complexity in the sudden (forced) reconnections. Most of the time, when we unexpectedly bump into our ex-es in a cafe, a restaurant, or a movie theater, it is not always awkward or strange. Not everything has to be dramatic: sometimes we simply realize that the feelings are still there and wonder if they feel the same.

What the film lacks is emotional range with respect to the interactions. Only one is right on point: Ally meeting up with Tom (Anthony Mackie), an aspiring politician. Just as quickly, it moves on to others like Colin (Chris Evans), Ally’s neighbor from across the hall who seems to bed a different woman every other night. We can anticipate from a mile away that they are going to end up liking each other. Worse, there is no originality in their flirtations.

Directed by Mark Mylod, I was annoyed with the screenwriters because they chose not to make Ally a sharp character by allowing her to face difficult, life-changing decisions. They do not allow her to act like a real person either. What would it take for her to get so angry, she stops being cotton candy lovable?

The Five-Year Engagement

The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Tom (Jason Segel) felt it was time for him and his girlfriend, Violet (Emily Blunt), to get married and settle down so he proposed to her exactly a year since they met during a New Year’s Eve party in San Francisco. Violet was happy and excited to accept the proposal but this was before she found out that she’d been accepted to attend the University of Michigan to further her studies in social psychology. Although Tom agreed to uproot his career as a sous-chef in the West Coast and move with Violet to Michigan, he became increasingly unhappy upon realizing that his life, personal and professional, had grown stagnant. “The Five-Year Engagement,” based on the screenplay by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, had good bits of comedy but was at its prime when it took an unblinking look at a relationship, once healthy and mutualistic, being swarmed by jealousy, guilt, and resentment as one’s success became hand-in-hand with the other’s failure. Casting Segel and Blunt as a couple was both surprising and effective. One rather ordinary-looking and the other quite stunning, the actors were given the responsibility to build and continually work on their chemistry in order to create a believable couple whom we cared about as a duo as well as individuals. Over time, we came understand what Tom saw in Violet and, perhaps more importantly, what Violet saw in Tom. We’ve all come across couples and wondered what one was doing with the other given that we happen to believe that one was not quite on the “same level” of attractiveness as the other. I enjoyed that the writing was aware enough to acknowledge that fact without being so blunt about it. Furthermore, in order to balance negative emotions like fears and insecurities, there was also a lot of sweetness and tenderness between Tom and Violet. Interestingly enough, however, the supporting actors’ ability to steal the spotlight benefited and hurt the the film. Chris Pratt as Tom’s best friend and Alison Brie as Violet’s sister had hilarious lines of dialogue that each time they were on screen, I was excited by the unpredictability of their comic performances. Pratt and Brie commanded such presence that at times I wished the picture was about them. With a running time of about two hours, the bulk of Tom and Violet’s relationship, specifically after they moved to Michigan, contained a lot of sadness which eventually began to feel like a trial. The situations and feelings that were explored were absolutely necessary to story but the pacing was occasionally slow-moving and the various attempts at humor by the central couple were neither consistently funny nor as exciting as the couple serving as foils. Instead of the subplot involving Violet and her professor, arguably the weakest and most predictable part of the film, I would like to have seen the material explore the pressures that Tom and Violet felt from their parents, how the latter kept pushing them to just get married already. A lot of it was played for laughs but when it took a more serious approach, it was both genuine and challenging. Directed by Nicholas Stoller, it was apparent that the struggle between making a strong artistic statement about modern couples and achieving commercial success hindered “The Five-Year Engagement” from reaching its true potential. For what it is, however, it was still a good show.

Take Me Home Tonight

Take Me Home Tonight (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Matt (Topher Grace) graduated from MIT but he recently moved back home because he didn’t know what to do with his life. While working in a video store at the mall, Matt’s high school crush, Tori (Teresa Palmer), walked in. Embarrassed to be seen as a clerk, Matt pretended to be another shopper and she almost immediately recognized him. Hoping to catch up, Tori invited Matt to attend a party. “Take Me Home Tonight,” written by Jackie Filgo and Jeff Filgo, was a trip back to the 80s where shoulder pads and big hair reigned supreme. I was instantly drawn to it because of the wild fashion, catchy soundtrack, and the story about a young man whose life was at a standstill was relatable. However, the writers’ decision to focus on the party and the crazy happenings took away some precious time for us to really understand the pain and frustration that Matt was going through. There was no doubt that the party had its share of laughs. I chuckled watching Barry (Dan Fogler), Matt’s best friend, deliberately put himself into embarrassing situations. The dance-off didn’t propel the story forward but it added to the nostalgia. When I can tell that the actors are having fun, I can’t help but have fun, too. There was also a very funny bit involving an older woman, Barry, and a German guy who had a fetish for watching people have sex. What the picture needed was more introspective moments. There were two scenes that moved me: when Matt tried to convince Wendy (Anna Faris), his twin, not to marry her slug of a boyfriend (Chris Patt) and when Matt’s father (Michael Biehn) had to perform some tough love to motivate his son to get out of the rut he had grown accustomed to. The two scenes stood out because I learned about Matt through other people. Learning about him from another perspective was important because Matt didn’t really know himself. There was only one thing he wanted for sure: Tori. I wished there were less scenes between she and Matt. I understood that our protagonist was so fixated at the fantasy of being together with his high school crush and he needed to get her out of his system. She was a nice character, sure, but that was the problem: she was so nice, she was almost dull. I was more interested in Wendy and the unopened letter she had received from a prestigious graduate school in England. She was interesting because, unlike Matt, she took action to pursue her passion as a writer. She knew her career path but was weighed down by the responsibility of a romantic relationship. She had to choose. The film would have been stronger if the screenplay and direction had taken the twins and allowed them to serve as character foils for one another. Grace and Faris had wonderful chemistry. They didn’t need to do physical comedy to be funny. A friendly banter and rolling of the eyes were enough to make me want to keep listening to whatever they had to say because I felt like they shared a history. The rest were filler.

Bride Wars

Bride Wars (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

The trailers were more fun than the actual movie. Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson star as two best friends who, due to a clerical error, were scheduled to have their weddings on the same day. Since the two had their weddings all planned out since childhood, neither lets go of the day and they try to exact revenge on each other instead of dealing with the problem at hand like sane individuals. Having said that, I eventually saw the potential in this film when the two characters started to feel guilt for their actions. I wish the picture had focused more on that instead of the silly (and really ugly) pranks. Yes, the pranks were funny on the surface but there’s an inherent sadness and shame about the whole thing because the audiences are forced to see two best friends destroy each other’s lives. The pranks did not just impact the wedding but their careers and relationship with other people as well. In my opinion, the ending should have been more grim instead of the whole saying-“Sorry”-makes-everything-all-better approach. I doubt that Hathaway would want to be remembered in this wedding-themed movie because, although I love her in pretty much anything (including this one), the script was really weak and the message was way too obvious to fully engage an intelligent audience. While watching “Bride Wars,” I wished I was watching “Rachel Getting Married” instead because at least that one featured a character that was edgy, unlikeable and complex. In “Bride Wars,” everything felt so light and sugar-y to the point where it ended up getting kind of dull. I don’t consider it completely horrible because I like the cast. (Other than the leads, I also enjoyed watching Candice Bergen, Kristen Johnston, Bryan Greenberg, Steve Howey and Chris Pratt.) But it’s not something that I’ll recommend to people other than those who are specifically looking for something harmless and forgettable.