This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr takes the week off because the studios didn’t screen the new releases anywhere near him. In fact, he was specifically told not to come to one particular screening. And that can’t be a good sign, can it? What else can you expect for the movies in the weeks leading up to the Oscars, ‘cause the new ones in the theaters don’t stand a chance of winning anything next year. To take away the pain of not seeing movies this week, Kevin makes a deal with the devil, selling his soul for the ability to set his skull on fire whenever he sees a bad movie. Unfortunately, the light from said flaming skull got him kicked out of the theater because someone thought he was using his cell phone to pirate the film.
Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen as Kevin is joined by Ronald Nicholls from BoxOfficeBUZ.com to talk about what they didn’t see this week.
GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Ciaran Hinds, Christopher Lambert and Violante Placido
Directed by: Neveldine/Taylor
What it’s about: In this sequel to the 2007 Marvel superhero movie, Nicolas Cage returns as the vigilante with the flaming skull. Johnny Blaze (Cage) is still trying to break the curse in which a vengeful demon pimps out his ride with flames and smoke. An old friend asks for his help to find a boy who is destined to become the antichrist before the Devil can fulfill a prophecy.
What makes the grade: It’s rare to be able to draw such a distinct line between the good and the bad of a movie. While Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance appears on the surface to be absolute crap, there are some redeeming value to it. Most of that comes in the form of the digital effects, which look much cooler and grittier than in the previous films, as well as the action moments.
Directors Neveldine and Taylor have shown time and again that they can handle high-octane action, as evidenced by their Crank films. Like a Transformers movie, when shit is blowing up, the movie is actually pretty cool.
What fails: Unfortunately, Neveldine and Taylor also prove with this movie that they can’t really make anything of substance beyond the Crank films. The plot is mostly nonsensical with an extremely disjointed flow. We see Blaze jump from scene to scene, often without explanation or transition. Similar to the Neveldine and Taylor mess that was Gamer, the reels of this movie could be shuffled around and yield as much understanding of the plot.
The 3D can be cool at times, but unfortunately Neveldine and Taylor didn’t adjust their shooting style to account for it. This results in shots and sequences that are so hard to focus on that your own skull might burst into flame. What’s worse is these moments come at the beginning of the film, when your eyes haven’t fully adjusted to the 3D.
Then there’s Nicolas Cage. Like William Shatner in the 80s, he’s finally in on the joke of how ridiculous he is in these movies. Less than seven minutes from when he shows up in the film (in voice over), he’s going full Cage, something he repeats no less than four times. One of the times he goes full Cage is so extreme that he cranks the Cage meter past Nigel Tufnel’s uber-powerful 11, reaching at least a 13 on a scale of 1-to-10. This whole demonstration might be a positive to some moviegoers, but it just got out of hand for me.
Who is gonna like this movie: Die-hard fans of Neveldine/Taylor.
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett and David Henrie
Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Gary Rydstrom
What it’s about: Based on the classic book “The Borrowers,” this film tells the story of a family of tiny people living under the floors and in the walls of our world. Fourteen-year-old Arrietty is taken on her first “borrowing,” in which her family takes a little bit of what they need from the human beings they live amongst, and she is accidentally seen by a boy living in the house. Arrietty’s family determines they must move to survive, but she insists the boy won’t hurt them. While this may be the case, being revealed to the boy’s family might result in danger.
What makes the grade: I’m a sucker for Studio Ghibli movies, and while this isn’t directed by legendary director Hayao Miyazaki, his gentle touch is seen in the film. (He was involved in the planning and writing of the movie.)
The Secret World of Arrietty is a beautiful film, celebrating the wonder of nature and the fascination that can be found in things big and small. It’s a charming film with its heart in the right place. There are themes of coexistence and acceptance that are clear in the film, but they’re not so pushy that it becomes preachy.
This may not be the best Studio Ghibli has to offer, but it’s pedigree helps it become a wonderful little movie to watch. Even though it is very much geared towards children, it has plenty to say to adults, and it takes its time. The movie doesn’t force itself on the viewer, and it challenges him or her to fall in love with the setting, characters and world that Arrietty and her family inhabits.
What fails: There’s very little problems with this film. Having not read the book (or seen the live-action American version from the 90s), I can’t say how close it is to the subject matter. But it works as a stand-alone film. The biggest problem one might have in seeing this is facing a restless theater of kids whose parents don’t demand any sort of attention span beyond your basic episode of Yo Gabba Gabba.
Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of Studio Ghibli films.
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Rated: PG-13 for some language
Starring: Montrail ‘Money’ Brown, O.C. Brown, Bill Courtney, Chavis Daniels and Mike Ray
Directed by: Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin
What it’s about: No, this isn’t that movie about Sarah Palin. Instead, it’s an Oscar-nominated documentary about the Manassas Tigers high school football team in Memphis. The film follows the team’s struggles as they try to get their hands on a winning season. But poverty, family strife and general problems of life make this a huge challenge for the players and their coach.
What makes the grade: Like a football-lite version of Hoop Dreams, Undefeated is less about the actual sport and more about the players and the challenges they face in life. It’s a film that can be inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.
At a time when educators are under attack all around this country, Undefeated shows them in a very human and positive light. Coach Bill Courtney doesn’t always make the best decisions, and he’s not a perfect man, but his story of how he handles the players on the team is one that’s worth noting.
What fails: Like most documentaries, Undefeated faces some pacing issues, with some sequences feeling like they are put in there for little more reason than to pad the running time. There’s also a nod to the same criticisms that the Tuohy’s from The Blind Side, questioning whether it’s ethical to just help out students who are potentially great sports players. Still, if you can look past the structure and foibles of a documentary, it’s still a worthwhile movie to watch.
Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of inspirational sports documentaries.
THIS MEANS WAR
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Rated: PG-13 for sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language
Starring: Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Laura Vandervoort and Til Schweiger
Directed by: McG
What it’s about: Reese Witherspoon stars as a women who is dating two men (Tom Hardy and Chris Pine). The problem is these guys are both CIA agents and the best of friends. When the guys discover their quandary, they decide to compete for her acceptance as the only man in her life.
What makes the grade: I can’t actually say what works in this movie because I didn’t get a chance to see it. Not for lack of trying, mind you. In fact, that story has as many twists and turns in it as This Means War does.
First, the studio was planning on opening the film on President’s Day weekend, because that’s a natural fit for an action comedy about CIA agents. Of course, being a Fox film, it wasn’t going to be screened in my market. Then, the studio decided to open it on Valentine’s Day and take advantage of the “make war, not love” angle. They sent out about a jillion press releases to support this.
Then, Fox decided to only sneak it on Valentine’s Day in order to get a date night bump. I took the opportunity to get a babysitter and take my lovely and gracious wife to see it. Of course, due to what appears to be a bad business decision, the normally reliable web site MovieTickets.com and AMC theater chain had parted ways. Unfortunately, this resulted in all the showtimes listed on MovieTickets.com to be inaccurate. In the end, my wife and I didn’t have a babysitter for long enough to see the movie at the time they were showing it, so we just had an early dinner and went home.
I swear, I haven’t tried so hard to see a movie that was actually available to the general public and failed so completely do to so.
What fails: But this is all well and good because I hear from trusted friends that this is not a good film. It makes a good trailer, but I’ve heard the movie is quite uninspired. And I’m inclined to believe them, not because there were no screenings in my market, but because it’s directed by McG. If you don’t understand that, I have four words for you: Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
Who is gonna like this movie: My wife would have probably enjoyed it quite a bit. Oh well…we’ll wait for the Blu-ray.