Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Dinner for Schmucks

In Dinner for Schmucks, wealthy Wall Street types invite stooges to a dinner, holding a contest to see who has found the biggest moron.

The M. Night Shyamalan-style twist is that the movie ends up awarding the prize to you. The movie scoffs, “I suckered you into paying $10 to re-watch the few funny moments I already showed you in my trailer! Now sit there for two hours of misery, sucker!”

Based on a 1998 French film, the movie makes you wish Steve Carell would retire from movies instead of his role on The Office. His character, an IRS agent named Barry who moonlights as a taxidermist with a specialty of crafting dioramas with mice dressed in human-like clothing, is meant to be grating and unnerving. Carell does too good a job at making his schmuck an intolerable annoyance. A cross between Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber and Jerry Lewis’s madcap stooge schtick, Barry is a miscalculation that makes the movie implode.

Paul Rudd is a game straight man as Tim, a corporate climber who recruits Barry to the big, film-ending dinner despite his morals and the nagging of his distant live-in girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak). The most entertaining character by far is Kieran (Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords), a pretentious artist who is Tim’s rival for Julie’s affections. I wished the movie would have stuck with Kieran, who graphically describes himself becoming one with nature while living with goats and delivering baby zebras with his bare hands.

Director Jay Roach tries hard for a Planes, Trains and Automobiles vibe, pairing the doe-eyed, eager-to-please Barry with the poker-faced, ever-flustered Tim in an evolving relationship that develops into mutual devotion. Rudd has a few moments of hilarity when he launches into angry tirades, showing hints of the brilliance he displayed in Role Models, but too often has to step into the background as Carell goes for slapstick gags that seem tired enough to be from a movie from half a century ago.

By the time Tim sees the light and gives Barry the obligatory apology and accompanying respect, you smack your head and just wish the movie would stop with the moralizing and get back to its floundering attempts at jokes.

There’s no excuse for this thing to stretch to nearly two hours. The movie could have benefited from some serious editing, maybe to get it down to 90 minutes, or better yet, that 30 second trailer that will earn the movie any success it manages to steal.

Starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd. Written by David Guion and Michael Handelman, based on the film by Francis Veber. Directed by Jay Roach. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Time Magazine

Mentions the book in a post about how not to save money.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The New York Times blogs my book

I hassled them for months and months and months about this and my badgering has finally paid off. Now I'm looking at you, Newsweek and Maxim.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Movie review: Salt

This is posted at OK.

I’m fairly certain Salt is not a fictional drama, but instead an insider documentary on the secret life of Angelina Jolie.

Just look at those eyes of hers. You can just tell she’s up to crazy things in the dark of night. So it stands to reason that she’s a triple agent superspy capable of assassinating multiple heads of state within a 24-hour period, start and end a nuclear war before it begins, murder hundreds of gun-toting cronies with hand-to-hand death grip kills and dye her hair black just because.

And what a perfect cover it is to make a movie about this secret life. Now if anyone were to accuse her of being superspy Evelyn Salt, people will just laugh it off as mistaking movies for reality. That is, unless you’re as smart as me, and know that everything you see in movies – especially spy movies -- is exactly true.

The movie does solve one other mystery about Jolie’s life, which is why it is she adopts approximately 700 kids per day. The reason, my friends, is guilt. See, on a daily basis she offs at least 388.888 mindless goons who foolishly stand in her way, so being that the goons are family goons who have an average of 1.8 goonchildren each, Jolie takes it upon herself to raise the innocent youngsters. Which seems nice and all, but is actually obscenely cruel, given that if Angelina Jolie is your mother you can’t think of her in, you know, that way.

It’s a small condolence for the kids that they’re likely given free passes to their mom’s movies. They’re in luck with Salt, which is as exciting and wonderfully ludicrous a spy thriller as I’ve seen in a while. It’s basically the Bourne movies without all the calmness and stark attention to reality.

Remember the scene in one The Bourne Identity in which Bourne races around in a Mini Cooper and wrecks a city? Yeah, Salt doesn’t need a Mini Cooper to do that. Girlfriend is intense. She’s an unstoppable hurricane of fists, feet and bullets.

Let me cite an example of just what a badass she is. Early in the movie, a Russian dude tells the CIA that salt is going to kill the Russian president when he comes to the U.S. The CIA, Secret Service and basically every ninja warrior fed in the country bands together to prevent this from happening, but guess what? In comes Salt, hair dyed black because Salt with black hair looks nothing like Salt with brown hair, and, well (spoiler alert) they don’t make movies about superspy assassins who can’t make their targets fall through giant holes in churches she makes with improvised explosives.

From there it just gets crazier. Salt meets up with an ex Soviet spy guru who trained her to become a sleeper agent by, no joke, making her watch Brady Bunch and kiss his ring. He has even crazier plans for her, but Salt has her own plans, one of which involves dressing up like a dude who’s about as convincing as Amanda Bynes in What a Girl Wants. Why? Because nothing in this bat-doodie crazy movie makes a lick of sense. But don’t blame the writers, blame Jolie, live-er of what Ricky Martin once referred to as “La Vida Loca.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Review: Inception

This is posted at OK.

We've all seen these opaque, befuddling Inception trailers for months now, and everyone knew it would be mind-blowingly awesome because it's directed by Christopher Nolan, maker of the two amazing Batman movies, The Prestige and Memento. The guy is so talented he could make a blockbuster if you gave him a still camera, a monkey, a beach ball and a glitter pen.

The thing is, no matter how much you read up about the movie, you had no idea what it was about. I can't tell you how many times over the summer I've had conversations that went just like this:

Person: Hey, have you seen Inception yet?

Me: No, but it looks awesome.

Person: Yeah it does. What's it about?

Me: I have no idea. But it will definitely be awesome.

So now I've watched Inception, had my mind splattered all over the theater just like I knew it would be, and I still don't really know what it's about. That's just how amazing this movie is.

The movie is so good that I feel superior to you for having seen it though you haven't. Sort of like how your grandparents lived through the Depression and can always shoot down any sob story you've got by saying "Well, I lived through the Depression." This is the exact opposite of that. You can tell me you've won the lottery and are going to be a back-up dancer in the next Beyonce video and I can top it with "Well, I've seen Inception."

Without giving too much away, here is what I learned from the movie:

-"Inception" means implanting an idea into someone's brain. The act is believed, in the world of this movie, to be impossible. Which, of course, means that it totally IS possible, but will take an entire 2 1/2 hour movie to prove that this is so.

-Leonardo DiCaprio and his sidekick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, play dream-hackers who travel the globe sedating targets -- secret agents and big business types -- and siphoning secrets from their subconsciousness as they sleep.

-Secret agents and big business types would rather not have their dreams hacked, not only to protect their secrets but because then they'd have to wake up and explain to their wives, girlfriends and therapists why they were dreaming about Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all night. So they purchase Norton Utilities Dream Security 7.0, which puts lots of skiing, white-camouflaged, machine-gun toting assassins in their dreams. They're pretty scary but not so great at aiming. Which is good because if they were the movie would have been a lot shorter and ended not as happily.

-Everything, and this is the most important, is not what it... wait for it... seems.

Ellen Page checks in later as a Padawan dream Jedi in training, Ken Watanabe is the billionaire businessman who bankrolls the heroes' latest expedition and Cillian Murphy, the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, plays the billion-heir energy corporation scion whom everyone is hacking with a dream within a dream within a dream.

Confused yet? Good, because Inception totally inceptions the idea of confusion into your brain. Along with unrelenting awesomeness and many "there is no spoon"-like moments of profound bewilderment that will get you philosophizing, arguing, pontificating, hoping for a sequel and praying you don't dream about Leonardo DiCaprio tricking you into thinking your dream is a reality so he can make you fall asleep into a second dream which you think is yours but is actually his and find out your ATM pin number and by the way my brain is melting so I should really stop.

In sum, the most important thing to take away is that I have seen Inception and you have not.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ken Watanabe. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Rated PG-13. 148 minutes.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Best Video Games Of The Year So Far

1. Tecmo Bowl Throwback

2. Red Dead Redemption

3. Heavy Rain

4. Picross 3D

5. God of War III

6. Alan Wake

7. Super Mario Galaxy 2

8. Bayonetta

9. No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle

10. Darksiders

11. Mass Effect 2

12. Super Street Fighter IV

13. Blur

14. Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Review: Despicable Me

This is also posted at OK Magazine.

“Despicable” is too harsh an evaluation for the animated 3D kid magnet du jour. I’d go with “Bland Me” or “Direct-To-Video-Worthy Me.”

The anti-hero, voiced by Steve “I’m Leaving The Office To Star In Forgettable Movies” Carell, is a pointy-nosed Dr. Evil clone named Gru who wants to pull off the biggest heist in history. Something even bigger than what Sex and the City 2 did to throngs of unwitting Carrie devotees. He wants to launch a rocket skyward, zap the Moon with a shrink ray then keep it for himself.

Gru treats the world the way LeBron James does the Cavaliers. He makes kids balloon animals just to pop them in their faces. He laughs in the faces of minions who demand raises. He’s the kind of guy who , if left to your own devices, would fill up your DVR with MTV reality shows so there’s not enough room left for True Blood.

I’d have been content with watching Gru continue to spread his brand of palatable evil for 95 minutes, but the filmmakers see fit to give him a heart of gold. Gru adopts a trio of sisters with the sole reason of sending them to a rival’s evil lair to help him steal that shrink ray he needs. But they bring out his softer side, and you don’t need to take your 3D glasses off to see where this decidedly
one-dimensional story is headed.

Carell lends little of his personality into Gru, and instead blends an Eastern European accent with a series of grunts, joining with the writers to make Gru the least interesting character in the film. The sisters, Annie-like scamps who have the best lines, are more watchable, but the real winners are the minions, runt-sized yellow blobs of slapstick incompetence that resemble Pac-Man ghosts. Whenever the little guys leave the screen you long for their return.

Usually Luke, my 3-year-old, and I see eye to eye on kid movies. But our roads fork here. The little man cackled endlessly at jokes intended and not, and was genuinely interested in the utterly nonsensical story that didn’t whip up as much drama and tension as the too-slowly-advancing numbers on my cell phone clock. So parents, you’ll definitely want to spare yourself some boredom and send your 3-year-olds out alone to watch this one.

Starring the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel and Russell Brand. Written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, based on a Sergio Pablos story. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. Rated PG. 95 minutes.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Little Known Fact

Before 1997, wide theater screens did not exist. You may think you remember seeing them before that point, but that's because you're nothing but a contradictory agitator with a fuzzy memory who is foolish enough to challenge my authority.

No, before '97, theater screens were perfect squares, just like your TV screens, or at least the way they were before HDTVs existed.

Like all inventions, the creation of the widescreen format was born out of necessity. See, this was the year the movie Titanic came out, and Kate Winslet was so unbelievably fat in that movie -- contrary to popular belief, the film was called Titanic after Winslet's character, and not the ship in the film -- that scientists had to come up with entirely new technology to accommodate her overwhelming girth without having to crop part of her image out of the screen.

So hence, widescreen. We all get to see more of our movies than we otherwise would, all thanks to Kate Winslet. And Twinkies. A whole lot of Twinkies.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Luke's Jim Crow Laws

Discrimination in Arizona isn't limited to HB1070. Luke (3) has tried to restrict access to the backyard playhouse to Emma (1) because of her still-developing speech abilities.

"The castle is only for people who talk easily," Luke says.

He's been overruled by the Supreme Court, me, but sadly reflects the biased sentiments of half the child populace in my household.