Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: December 9, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr hunkers down and braces for award season. He also prepares for an onslaught of celebrity guest stars in New Year’s Eve, which features a poster that looks like a “Friends available to chat” sidebar on Facebook. In order to watch all the movies for the week, Kevin hires the only babysitter available… Jonah Hill. What could possibly go wrong with that? Fortunately this frees him up to see some of the smaller releases, like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, W.E. and I Melt with You. And he wraps up the week wondering why everyone needs to talk about him.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen as Kevin chats with Devindra Hardawar from Slashfilmcast about all of this week’s movies.

Studio: New Line Cinema

Rated: PG-13 for language including some sexual references

Starring: Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges

Directed by: Garry Marshall

What it’s about: Because Valentine’s Day made so much money and all the other holidays were taken, Garry Marshall directs this ensemble cast of interconnected stories of people in New York falling in love on the last day of the year.

What I liked: On the whole, I like Garry Marshall, from his old television days to many of his later films. Sure, they’re fluffy and fun, but he usually delivers in the mindless rom com department. Usually.

At least the movie looked good, from an aesthetic standpoint.

What I didn’t: This movie feels exactly like what it is… a shameless grab at the same cash that Valentine’s Day made almost two years ago. The difference is that where you can romanticize Valentine’s Day, it’s harder to do so for New Year’s Eve. The movie ignores so many things – from the fact that people gather together to get fall-down drunk on New Year’s Eve rather than to fall in love to the stories in which people complain about having to work on this day, even though it falls on a Saturday.

The story is weaker, the punch lines are less creative and it carries the logic of a school play written by a third grader. Sure, the cast is good, but they’re working in a terrible environment of clueless storytelling and recycled sit com plots from the 80s. We’ve got the couple trapped in an elevator, the couple having a baby, the nosy neighbor and even the annoying musical guests. At least now they don’t have to make a Love Boat movie.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who looooooooooooved Valentine’s Day.

Grade: D+

Studio:20the Century Fox

Rated: R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and some violence

Starring: Jonah Hill, Sam Rockwell, Ari Graynor, Miriam McDonald and Erin Daniels

Directed by: David Gordon Green

What it’s about: Jonah Hill plays a twentysomething slacker (a stretch, I know) who is saddled with babysitting three psychotic children while his mother tries to get laid. After his would-be girlfriend asks him to score some coke and meet her in New York, he drags the kids into the city for a night of insanity.

What I liked: I can totally see what David Gordon Green was going for in this movie, and in principle it works. Playing off the 80s classic Adventures in Babysitting, only with Jonah Hill in Elisabeth Shue’s character. This could have worked had the script had even the least bit of focus to it.

What I didn’t: The core problem is that Jonah Hill’s character is an utter tool from frame one, and he never grows out of it in any sort of arc. Add to this that the kids are so alarmingly awful that the weird bonding that happens throughout. On one hand, the movie’s got some balls, having fun and not caring who it offends. Then the movie tries to be tender, letting Jonah Hill have a special Mike Brady moment with each of the kids. I just didn’t buy it.

The Sitter is wildly uneven and makes no sense at the end of the day. People coincidentally run into each other in a city of 15 million people, and by the end of the movie it’s clear that nothing will work out five minutes after the credits roll. I still can’t tell you whether Green was wanting this to be silly from beginning-to-end or if he really wanted to make a film that has heart. If you want a great child-endangerment film of one crazy night in New York City, go see A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas instead.

Who is gonna like this movie: Die-hard Jonah Hill fans.

Grade: D

Studio: Focus Features

Rated: R for violence, some sexuality/nudity and language

Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephen Graham

Directed by: Tomas Alfredson

What it’s about: Based on John le Carré’s classic novel from the 70s, Gary Oldman stars in a story about a retired spy brought back in the game to root out a mole in British Intelligence.

What I liked: There are a lot of great things about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, even if the movie as a whole has some problems. First, the cast is fantastic, filled with brilliant veteran actors who can make even the most mundane aspect of the spy game interesting. Also, the look of the film is quite impressive, tapping into the style and feel of 1974. Rather than looking like a period piece, it simply looks like it was shot in the early 70s.

It’s also neat to see a movie that gives a realistic portrayal of what espionage is really like. It’s not high action with James Bond or Jason Bourne. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy shows us that the spy game often involves a lot of sitting around and listening to other people. It’s quite refreshing to see, actually.

What I didn’t: With all these great elements, I still can’t call Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a great movie. Maybe it’s that I’m not British. Maybe it’s that I’ve never read anything that le Carré has written. I understand that the non-linear storytelling is quite true to the book, but if you’re just a big, dumb American like myself who doesn’t know the nuances of 70s-era British politics, it’s easy to get confused. In the end, I followed the movie, but it wasn’t as easy to do as I had hoped.

Who is gonna like this movie: The British and those who are already fans of the book.

Grade: B-

Studio: Oscilloscope Labs

Rated: R for disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality and language

Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Siobhan Fallon and Joseph Melendez

Directed by: Lynne Ramsay

What it’s about: Tilda Swinton stars as a mother who has a terrible time connecting with her first-born son Kevin. Over the years, he shows signs of aggression and defiance, and his father dismisses all of this as normal behavior. When he reaches teenage years and his mother decides something should be done, Kevin takes his problems to a violent and tragic level.

What I liked: As a parent, I found We Need to Talk About Kevin the most disturbing film of 2011. And I felt this way for two reasons. On one hand, it shows how delicate the raising of a child can be and the great potential for evil in people. On the other hand, it also shows a parent’s worst nightmare, how even if you do everything right, an outside force can cause great harm.

Swinton gives an understated performance, but it’s a powerful one. We see things from her point of view, out of order, so we know something awful is going to (or already has) happened. It’s not a story of sympathy for Kevin but rather a story of frustration for his mother. Whenever a real-life crime happens similar to the brutal actions of Kevin in the film, it is always shown that there were tremendous warning signs. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a story of inaction and the ignoring of such warning signs, told in an unflinching and disturbing way.

What I didn’t: Not much at all. This is an excellent film that strikes close to the heart.

Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone who wants to see a chilling family drama masquerading as a thriller.

Grade: A

Studio: The Weinstein Company

Rated: R for some domestic violence, nudity, and language

Starring: Abbie Cornish, Christina Chong, Natalie Dormer, Annabelle Wallisa and Richard Coyle

Directed by: Madonna

What it’s about: Unhappy Wally Winthrop is obsessed with the romanticized relationship between King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. She obsesses about the historical couple, conducting deep research into their lives. However, as she uncovers more about them, she learns that their relationship was not as perfect as she once thought.

What I liked: This movie isn’t totally worthless, though it is close to it. The look of the film is quite impressive. From the period production design and costuming to the slick cinematography and catchy soundtrack, “W.E.” has all the slickness you’d expect from a Madonna music video.

What I didn’t: Unfortunately, “W.E.” also has all the vacancy of a typical music video. It might be nice to look at, but “W.E.” is a hot mess of good artistic intentions melting down. The story is needlessly convoluted, making Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy seem downright straightforward this weekend. There’s absolutely no sense of narrative, with scenes crammed together with no real reason behind them.

Additionally, it appears that Madonna in her sophomore directorial effort wanted to really stretch her artistic legs in the film. However, her intricate understanding of the music scene doesn’t translate to film. In this case, it seems like she watched a slew of Oliver Stone films and sampled his technique through the movie without the understanding of why. There are random close-ups and clips shot in black and white, strung together with mind-numbingly awful newsreel narration that makes Atlas Shrugged: Part I seem expertly plotted.

For as much emotion there is in the story of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, it’s all squandered to make a neat looking film that no one would have any reason to want to look at.

Who is gonna like this movie: Madonna.

Grade: D-

Studio: Magnolia

Rated: R for pervasive drug use and language, some violence and sexual content

Starring: Carla Gugino, Jeremy Piven, Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe and Arielle Kebbel

Directed by: Mark Pellington

What it’s about: Twenty-five years after graduating, four friends reunite to enjoy a weekend of copious drinking, taking enough drugs to kill a mule and having random sexual encounters with girls half their age who should not be attracted to them in any way. More drugs. More alcohol. Drugs, drugs, drugs. Sasha Grey’s overexposed tits. Tragedy. Then Carla Gugino as a sheriff.

What I liked: Nothing. Not even Sasha Grey’s tits. After all, if I wanted to see her in a sex scene, I’d watch her ass-to-mouth footage found all over the internet.

What I didn’t: Everything about this movie is terrible. It’s a pointless mess of nonsensical action, blathering dialogue with the depth of a drunken dorm room conversation and multi-colored mood lighting that would make the cinematographer on the original Star Trek television series blush.

The talented cast is squandered, delivering a film that is meant to be in-your-face nihilistic but just rambles along for more than two hours for no reason whatsoever. I actually almost gave up on this film, but forced myself to finish watching it to see if things get better when the promised tragedy showed up. It didn’t. And the characters’ intentions and motivations made no sense whatsoever.

I Melt With You commits the greatest sin a film can commit. It presents terrible, horrible, no good, very bad characters that overstay their welcome. With only about 20 minutes of actual plot in this film, it is an exercise in self-love by once-talented director Mark Pellington.

Who is gonna like this movie: I can’t imagine anyone who would.

Grade: F

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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