Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Captain America: The Worst Avenger

By Karl Scarano-Schulze, Top Critic
Hollywood, California

I felt a little guilty last week when I realized that I know very little about Captain America. I’m sure he’s kinda important on the grand scale of superheroes (unlike Green Lantern, who I still know nothing about, thanks to one of the most forgettable movies ever made). Hell, I love America as much as the next pup, so going to see Captain America: The First Avenger seemed like a great way to support our troops without getting my paws dirty. Plus, it’s really hot outside, so it seemed like a win/win.

But apparently, I didn’t know anything about Captain America, because there’s nothing to know. He sucks! He was skinny, but then the government gave him steroids, so his powers are on par with Barry Bonds’s. He did a few song-and-dance numbers for an off-Broadway production, and is still a virgin. He has a big shield, but shoots bad guys with those puny little girl guns. He didn’t help kill Hitler, but he did help kill Hitler’s friend. Who was mad at the world because he got a bad chemical peel, so he’s going to destroy it by harnessing the awesome power of blue.

Another empty, hollow summer blockbuster with zero heart and even less excitement. Chris Evans, playing the title role as well as his alter ego, Steve Rogers, was absolutely flat – from his painful one-liners to his passionless onscreen kissing, to his needlessly-uncomfortable motorcycle stunts. Hugo Weaving, as Red Skull, was genuinely threatening and maniacal – when he still had his face on. The moment he took off his human visage, the rubbery red latex underneath made him about as terrifying as Jim Carrey in The Mask. Cap’s ragtag bunch of battle buddies were such offensive stereotypes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Captain Ireland was demanding reparations. Onscreen love interest Peggy Carter had a great rack, but they didn’t show it often enough to make her character interesting. I didn’t go to film school, but my animal instincts indicate that set design and art direction were sub-par. And if you were sticking around just for a sneak peak at next summer’s The Avengers – don’t waste your time. It was just too little, and way too late.

Summary: You’ll sympathize with the Nazis – when they’re biting down on their cyanide capsules.

Wags: 2/5

Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter and the End of an Era

By River Shaughnessy, Top Critic
Denver, Colorado

Second only to The Simpsons, Harry Potter and his pals have been the most beloved fictional characters of my lifetime. Since first picking up "Sorcerer’s Stone" in 1997, it’s always just been a matter of time until I could sink my teeth into a new adventure – whether on the printed page or the silver screen. Sure, it’s been four years since the final book in the series was released, and boy, that was a bittersweet end to a truly magical time in this dog’s life. And although I’ve known for quite some time that the final film in the Harry Potter franchise was due out this summer, I’m not sure I fully realized what an emotional roller coaster it would be. But then the previews ended, we faded in, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

It’s hot out, and I do most of my breathing out of my mouth, so I won’t waste too much breath telling you about how the movie was pretty much perfect. How an ensemble cast of this caliber will likely never be replicated. Or how watching these kids grow up into truly talented young actors has been as practically rewarding as raising pups of my own. The truth is, it’s hard to turn a critical eye to something that has had such a profound effect on the imaginations of kids and adults of all ages, in every corner of the globe. So how did Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 stand up to it’s predecessors as well as the book it was based on? Like only Harry Potter could – with courage and grace.

Too many people deserve congratulations for the triumph that this final installment truly was. Trying to imagine the movie without Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham-Carter, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Warwick Davis and so many others would be like watching a symphony without any instruments. While naturally the kids deserve a tremendous amount of credit for maturing onscreen and honing their craft the way they did, the incredible supporting performances only made the young wizards that much more watchable. And while I’m sure director David Yates had his work cut out for him, he did something I really appreciated it a filmmaker. He made it seem effortless, as if the shit really did hit the fan at Hogwarts, and he just happened to be there to capture it all on film. The only time I was pulled out of the moment for a second was to delight in the fact that they'd finally conjured a role for my darling Kelly MacDonald, as Rowena Ravenclaw’s ghost-daughter, Helena. But what I appreciate most is perhaps the finite end of the story and the franchise. No sequels, no prequels, no spinoffs. Bittersweet as it may be, this is the end of the road for Harry and his pals, and I wish them nothing but the very best. Accio, tissues.

Summary: Harry goes out with a bang, a sob, and a standing ovation.

Wags: 5/5

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Heart Attack!

By Stella Cole, Top Critic
Hollywood, California

I know, I know. It’s hard to get excited about alien invasion movies these days. Every month, there are more to choose from, each one with a bigger visual effects budget than the last. Who needs another one? Not me, and certainly not the moviegoers at last night’s screening of Attack The Block – hands down, the best adventure of 2011 so far. No A-list stars. No kissing. No green screens. No problem!

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Attack The Block is a genius little 85 minute sci-fi/comedy/horror/adventure flick about some inner-city British kids who have to defend their neighborhood from some very analog, puppet-like, bloodthirsty creatures from outer space. They’re thugs! They’re British! They’re pitch-perfect, authentic, and incredibly winning. Let’s just say that in comparison, they make the pretty-damn-good Super 8 kids look like the Mickey Mouse club. The story just works - it’s simple, the writing is effortless, and the performances are spot-on. And what a treat it was to realize that we didn’t sign up for saving the entire planet! It’s us against them, for the salvation of the apartment building, and every minute is a funny, scary treat.

Shaun of the Dead fans will recognize Nick Frost – the films only recognizable star and resident pot grower. The lead ruffian, played by mini-Denzel Joe Boyega, shows a surprising amount of depth and complexity for a first-timer. His character, Moses, demonstrates subtleties that haven’t been seen in Hollywood since god knows when. His stoic performance only served to enhance the dynamic of the group, without beating you over the head with the whole delinquent-with-heart-of-gold cliche. But the real star here is probably writer/director Joe Cornish who proves that when it comes to movie making, it still pays to KISS – keep it simple, stupid! So do yourself a favor, take a break from the big budget Hollywood blockbusters. Get yourself an extra large buttered popcorn, plenty of soda, and settle in for the pure summer fun that is Attack The Block. You can thank me later.

Summary: Just say "No" to Hollywood schlock. Say "Yes" to Attack the Block!

Wags: 4/5

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Horrible Bosses: Promotions All Around

By Miss Tummy Cole, Top Critic
San Francisco, California

I'm just a simple dog at heart. The history of modern cinema as I see it is as follows: first, Caddyshack, then, the Princess Bride, then nothing for about 20 years. Then Judd Apatow came along and filled a huge void in cinema with his gross-out comedy/buddy pics. While it didn't exactly break new ground in movie-making, Horrible Bosses was a satisfying little adventure that had enough of an Apatow-directed Office Space feel to keep me entertained for 100 straight minutes. Granted, I brought my own popcorn (have you tried Orville Redenbacher's new Pop-Up bowl?? genius!!), and I would have paid $10 alone just to see Colin Farrell's awesome comb-over. But the movie itself combined a mediocre caper setup with a pretty talented cast to produce a genuinely fresh romp worthy of buying on Blu-Ray for the outtakes alone.

Nick, Kurt, and Dale are three working-class stiffs in the middle of a recession who decide that with no other options available, they need to solve their problems with upper management using a little homicide. As a currently unemployed beagle, I really sympathized with their plight. Stuck in dead-end jobs with abusive bosses and no other way out, I found myself on-board with the killings almost from the get-go. The most enjoyable part of the movie is the early reveal of just how loathsome these bosses truly are. A particularly entertaining Jennifer Aniston really seems to relish her role as the potty mouthed man-eating dentist, and rightly so. (Despite the fact that her plotline was ridiculously implausible, her tarty little outfits more than made up for it.) The boys consult a local tough guy for advice (a surprisingly lively Jamie Foxx), then enthusiastically bumble through operation surveillance. Hijinks ensue.

A big congrats goes to director Seth Gordon, former documentarian of King of Kong fame, for proving that he can be just as winning with fiction as he is with non. Underdog it ain't, but Horrible Bosses invoked enough sympathy for their likeable leads and hatred for their repugnant bosses that I found myself rooting for a successful triple homicide. And, miracle of miracles, I gained a nugget of respect for Jennifer Aniston.

Summary: Head and shoulders above anything we’ve seen from Bateman or Aniston in the last 5 years.

Wags: 3/5

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ruff Day For Michael Bay

By Stella Cole, Top Critic
Hollywood, California

Personally, I don't think it's very likely that advanced alien life forms are comprised of gears and hinges, sheet metal and turbines. Even today, this kind of technology is already becoming antiquated. Don't get me wrong - I get why it works from Hasbro's perspective. Transformers are the ultimate playthings of little boys around the world - familiar, yet sophisticated. Powerful, yet relatable. But I couldn't help but ponder why this would be such a powerful draw as to compel Michael Bay to dedicate his life and career to a line of 80s action figures. Then it came to me. It's so clear! "Michael Bay" is actually just three little boys, standing on each other's shoulders, wearing a trench coat and pretending that they're one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.

Case in point: Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon. From the bad acting, to the schmaltzy script, to the over-the-top action sequences, to the wide pans of Rosie Huntington Whitely's impeccable body and empty, soulless expressions, this movie is only suitable viewing for boys under the age of 10. We're still stuck with Sam Witwicky, who is now 3 months out of college and unable to find a job in DC, as saving the world, twice, doesn't count as job experience. Meanwhile, something top secret happened on the moon a long time ago, and some other shit hits the fan at Chernobyl. Yadda yadda yadda, Sam has to help Optimus Prime and pals stop the Decepticons from opening a time/space portal, transporting their dying world into Earth's atmosphere, and enslaving all humans. For some reason, Patrick Dempsey is hot for this idea, and helps the Decepticons carry out their evil plan.

But did any cool cars turn into giant robots?, you might be asking. Yes, of course. And John Malkovick was there, and Frances McDormand, and John Turturro, and nobody died if you knew their name. A couple of modern rock ballads were sprinkled in, only confirming my suspicion that Michael Bay is made out of kids. You were never sure when you were watching the dramatic climax, everything that happened, at all, happened at level 10 intensity. Did I mentioned it's 2 1/2 hours long? That's 150 loud, slow, tedious minutes of robots punching each other to death.

Summary: Oh, but if you don't pay money to see this movie, it means you hate America.

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