Tag Archives: J.B. Smoove

[Trailer] – The Dictator

7 May

Next week Sacha Baron Cohen‘s The Dictator finally hits theaters, and if kidnapping Martin Scorsese on Saturday Night Live this past weekend wasn’t enough, we’ve now gotten a brand new red-band trailer for the film which you can watch after the cut.

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[Trailer] – The Dictator

28 Mar


A brand new trailer for Sacha Baron Cohen‘s new film, The Dictator, has just been released, and this one’s actually succeeded in getting me excited for the film.

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We Bought a Zoo

28 Dec

Title: We Bought a Zoo
Year: 2011
Director: Cameron Crowe
Writers: Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe, based on the memoir by Benjamin Mee
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Angus MacFadyen, Patrick Fugit, J.B. Smoove, Peter Riegert
MPAA Rating: PG, language and some thematic elements
Runtime: 124 min
IMDb Rating: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Metacritic: 58


I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thoroughly disappointed by We Bought a Zoo. Okay, maybe not thoroughly disappointed, but disappointed, certainly. Cameron Crowe is the guy that made Almost Famous, one of my ten or twenty favorite films of all-time, not to mention he’s also the guy that gave us Jerry Maguire and Say Anything. However, in 2005 he did Elizabethtown, a film most remember nowadays for being the one that made critic Nathan Rabin coin the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe Kirsten Dunst’s character, which is just as well because the film was quite forgettable, a step down for such a great director. It seemed as though the critical and commercial failure of that film did a number on Cameron Crowe, taking a long six years off. He returned this year with Pearl Jam Twenty, a great documentary about a band he loves so much (I gave it an A-), but this was the one that mattered. And while it’s a very good film, it’s not great, and that to me, considering I waited six years for it, is a disappointment.

The thing that made this one a disappointment is that it was just overly-sentimental, and shamelessly so, not in a nuanced way that Cameron Crowe is so incredible at, but in a way that was just too schmaltzy, not hiding the fact that it wanted to tug your heartstrings that just didn’t do it for me. An even bigger pity considering that Matt Damon actually does a pretty wonderful job in the lead role, getting us to really sympathize with his story and really grounding the whole film with his presence alone. It’s because of him, such a fine actor, that this film works as well as it does, making the film truly funny and sweet no matter the incredulous amount of corniness surrounding it. Maybe I wanted a new Almost Famous, a perfect film, but what we got is a director bouncing back from a previous failure (though personally I thought Elizabethtown was okay), showing he still has impeccable taste and feeling, even if he goes a bit overboard with it in this one.

The film tells the truly extraordinary real-life story of Benjamin Mee, though with some creative alterations, a recenlty-widowed single father with two kids in tow who one day decides to move his family, to get a fresh start, and relocates them to a zoo they’ll now call home, and, alongside his family and a series of new friends, he starts the work of getting the zoo back to how it was in its glory days. Few directors are as unapologetically romantic as Mr. Crowe, whether it’s the boombox blasting ‘In Your Eyes’ or telling a girl she completes you, this guy is a genius at making romantic quotes because he never shies away from such an open sincerity, and We Bought a Zoo has that romantic vibe to it as well, it’s just that instead of it being between two people, it’s between a whole entire family, extended friends and recently-purchased animals included.

This may not be Almost Famous or Jerry Maguire, true enough, but just take a look at that cast, it’s incredibly likable and you can be damn sure they’ll make for good company for a couple of hours, not to mention that Mr. Crowe makes actors he directs be great (he’s the reason why the words “Academy Award winner” go before the name of Cuba Gooding Jr.). As the film opens we see Mr. Damon, who seems truly sincere every time he’s on screen, quitting his job at the L.A. Times with a confidence and easiness that just doesn’t ring true in this economic climate, but still, he just goes ahead and quits his job, not wondering for a second how he’s going to provide for his children or anything like that, just selling his house and buying a new house with a great view, and lions and tigers and a zookeeper that’s played by Scarlett Johansson, Kelly, who of course is single.

You can probably know how much of the film is going to turn out. The zoo starts getting repaired bit by bit, we get to see Patrick Fugit as an employee which will be a treat to Almost Famous fans, we get to see Thomas Haden Church who’s always delightful, and we get to see Elle Fanning, a young actress who’s on the road to greatness, play Lily, a cousin of Kelly’s who’ll of course be paired up with Dylan, the fourteen year-old sulking son of Benjamin. And he was my biggest problem with this film, the role of Dylan, because Mr. Crowe pays a lot of attention to the tension that starts building between him and his father, and instead of us finding the heart that’s in the rest of the movie there, it ends up feeling as though Dylan is just a typical moaning adolescent and not a kid grieving over the death of his mom.

As many clichés as We Bought a Zoo may have, of which there are some, this is still a winning film. Everything is just beautifully shot by Rodrigo Prieto (the cinematographer of choice of Alejandro González Iñárritu and an Oscar nominee for Brokeback Mountain) and the performances by absolutely everyone are really great here. Especially that of Mr. Damon, a man who brings this kind of sweet touch to the role, never once over-selling a single scene with a co-star, acting on pure honest instinct that’s just great to see. I thought We Bought a Zoo was a disappointment, that’s true, but that’s because I was expecting a pretty much perfect film. It may have been off-base to expect so much after a six year absence, and at the very least We Bought a Zoo is a film that approaches that greatness, comes close to it, doesn’t achieve it because it’s just too much of a saccharine ride, but it still has a handful of excellent performances that show us why Mr. Crowe is a director unlike any other, unafraid to go to that place of raw sentimentality. Here’s for not having to wait an extra six years.

Grade: B+

The Sitter

25 Dec

Title: The Sitter
Year: 2011
Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka
Starring: Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor, Max Records, Landry Bender, Kevin Hernandez, Sam Rockwell, J.B. Smoove, Method Man
MPAA Rating: R, crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and some violence
Runtime: 81 min
IMDb Rating: 5.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 25%
Metacritic: 38


David Gordon Green is a director that took a 180 with the direction his career seemed to be taking. He started out with indie dramas like the brilliant George Washington as well as All the Real Girls, which had Zooey Deschanel delivering a truly outstanding performance, films that established him as one of the most talented young American directors around. And then in 2008 he suddenly made the transition to comedy, teaming up with Seth Rogen and James Franco to give us the stoner comedy Pineapple Express as well as for getting together with one of that film’s co-stars, Danny McBride, to deliver HBO’s raucously funny Eastbound & Down. Now, don’t get me wrong, even though I loved the dramas he made, those comedic chops the man proved to have were outstanding; Pineapple Express I ranked as my eleventh favorite film of all 2008 and remains as one of my favorite comedies of that past decade, and Eastbound & Down is one of the five funniest shows on TV.

As such, I started really getting amped when it was announced that earlier this year Mr. Green would be releasing Your Higness, another stoner comedy, this time one set in the medieval times, that would reunite him with Mr. Franco and Mr. McBride from Pineapple Express, with the gorgeous Ms. Deschanel from All the Real Girls and also have Natalie Portman, fresh off her Oscar, as part of the cast. My expectations for Your Highness were seriously high (pardon the pun), and I was fully ready to embrace it as the best comedy of the year, a worthy successor to Pineapple Express. The result, however, was seriously disappointing, I gave it a low B but even that was being generous and mostly because how much I already love the people in front of the cameras, but yeah, it was a huge letdown for me.

So of course I went into Mr. Green’s second offering of the year, The Sitter, prepared for the worst, not to mention that this one still didn’t look nearly as awesome as Your Highness did on paper. The film has him directing Jonah Hill, in the last performance we’ll see of his with his chubby physique, as a really irresponsible babysitter who takes the three kids he was supposed to be taking care of through the streets of New York one night where all sorts of R-rated adventures will then obviously ensue. The result? Well, it’s a plot that’s like something we’ve seen plenty of times before, jokes that aren’t great at all and performance from Jonah Hill that he could deliver in his sleep and that’s nothing like the superb job he did earlier this year in his first serious performance in Moneyball (which I gave an A+ to). Though none of this is his fault, he’s still super charming and warm in this film, it’s just that the film doesn’t use him well.

It’s a pity really that this film turned out to be so misguided in which the jokes seem to be too raunchy considering the subject matter, and which not even Mr. Hill, who’s infinitely likable, can salvage with his comedic chops. Your Highness was a disappointment but I still liked it fine, this one I couldn’t even really like all that much. I mean, you have Mr. Hill talking really fast like he always does, but that whole hyperkinetic vibe does nothing for this film, because even though it tries to amp it all up and deliver R-rated antics, the results are actually really tame and familiar, with lessons about growing up and your usual mumbo jumbo. Much as I loved Pineapple Express and I love Eastbound & Down, I think it may now be time for Mr. Green to go back to do an indie, maybe just one and then return to comedies, find a small film with great style and pacing and do what he does best, you know, one for him, one for the big studios, stay true to himself.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a few funny moments in this film and least it’s really short so it’s not as though it drags along, but the second we see Noah, who’s the character Mr. Hill plays, a college dropout, we know that something’s about to go off, and as soon as his mom persuades him to take care of three of the three kids, you know just what that’s going to be. So of course there’s going to be sex, drugs, thievery and policemen, and a drug dealer played by Sam Rockwell. By which I mean, this is exactly like the storyline of so many other R-rated affairs we’ve seen recently, okay maybe not the storyline because you don’t R-rated comedies about babysitters all that often, but every single situation is such a cliché of the genre that I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to quit out on this film and go watch Superbad or something of actual high quality.

I wouldn’t recommend The Sitter. If you want to see Mr. Hill be funny there are a number of better films for your consumption, if you want to see Max Records, who plays one of the kids Noah babysits, be super fun and charming go check out Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are (my twelveth favorite film of 2009), and if you want to see a good David Gordon Green film, then check out Pineapple Express if you’re in for the laughs, or, better yet, one of his four previous efforts if you want to see films few people actually saw when many should have. It’s really saddening to see him settle for so little, and I know producers want this kind of films in which a swear word is used every minute and there’s cocaine involved with kids around and cars and violence, and I know getting films like George Washington made isn’t easy, but he’s made two mediocre films in a row now, he should at least give going back to what he does best a shot.

Grade: C+

Hall Pass

10 Apr

Title: Hall Pass
Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly
Writers: Pete Jones, Peter Farrelly, Kevin Barnett and Bobby Farrelly, based on a story by Pete Jones
Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Stephen Merchant, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Joy Behar, J.B. Smoove, Richard Jenkins, Alyssa Milano
MPAA Rating:
R, crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity and drug use
105 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

I really wanted to like Hall Pass. That’s mostly because I really wanted to go back to liking the Farrelly brothers. These are the guys that started out their career in the 90s, giving us both Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, their best film to date, during that decade. In the last decade the quality of their work decreased: Me, Myself & Irene was only so-so, Osmosis Jones was quite cool but still nothing amazing, Shallow Hal had good leading performances but not much else, Stuck on You was actually pretty good but still wasn’t as great as their 90’s efforts, and Fever Pitch had its charm but was ultimate quite mediocre, and their last one, The Heartbreak Kid, was the worst one they have done in their careers.

So yes, I really wanted the Farrelly Brothers to get back to the quality of their earliest work with this one, their first effort in the new decade. But we didn’t even get a film as solid as Fever Pitch, as this proved one was closer to the level of accomplishment of The Heartbreak Kid, though not as horrible. This one is a different sort of film for the brothers, one that has less offensive gags and is more on the moral side of it all, and the cast they have lined up here is pretty cool, but the script just didn’t warrant an adequate amount of laughs for this to be considered a success.

And the reason why the laughs were so few and far between is that the film as a whole feels terribly forced, like they want you to laugh too much, and that’s the surest of ways for a director to kill any chance of laughter happening. Hit YouTube and look for the trailer for this movie and I doubt you’ll think it looks any good, and yet, trust me, the trailer makes it look as though the film would be better than it actually is.

I know the Farrelly’s were trying to make Hall Pass be the film in which they announced to the world that they had grown up. And it’s an honorable intention, and the film really does try to stand by the good values of life while still embedding it with their trademark gross humor, but the balance between the two always seem to be off, and as a result there are pretty much no laughs to go around here.

Anyways, just so you get the basic idea of what this is all about if you haven’t seen the trailer. We have two guys, played by Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, that get a hall pass from their wives, played by Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate who were easily the best parts of this film, to do whatever they want with those young ladies they’re always looking at and fantasizing about, so that they finally get it all out of their systems.

And what happens next is that the men really don’t know what to do once they are liberated from their marital leash, continuing to hang out with their buddies and not really knowing how to approach the single females out there on the prowl. That could have made for a good comedy film had the script then went ahead and granted it with good scenes, however everything here just feels horribly uninspired, the situations really badly scripted and the characters just absolutely flat, no matter how much effort the actors, especially the aforementioned Ms. Fischer and Ms. Applegate, as well as the always-terrific Richard Jenkins, put into it.

The thing that bugs me is that the Farrelly brothers have proved in the past that they can balance their brand of humor with a good dosage of heart, There’s Something About Mary is a prime example of that, and even Stuck on You did it quite convincingly. So we know these two can hit it out of the park when the script is great, but even though they had a bunch of actors that would have potentially been amazing at delivering raunchy comedy, the script just wasn’t there, and as such Hall Pass just falls flat on its face.

Grade: C