Sunday, August 20, 2006

Movie Review: The Benchwarmers

U.S. Release Date:
Running Time: 1:20
Rated: PG-13 (Crude humor, Language)
Cast: Rob Schneider, David Spade, Jon Heder, Jon Lovitz, Craig Kilborn, Molly Sims, Tim Meadows, Nick Swardson

Director: Dennis Dugan
Producers: Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo
Screenplay: Allen Covert, Nick Swardson
Music: Ian Grushka, Waddy Wachtel
Studio: Sony Pictures, Revolution Studios

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To use any words like “hilarious,” “comical,” and “side-splitting,” in critiquing The Benchwarmers would be an utter overstatement. More appropriate vocabulary would be: “below-average,” “immature,” and “ho-hum.” Adam Sandler’s production company’s latest attempt to combine comedic actors and throw them into an open-field of unfunny sketches and sports clichés is not worth your investment—be it 80 minutes or 80 cents.

Landscaper and husband of a beautiful blonde (Molly Sims), Gus (Rob Schneider), suddenly gets the idea to teach his nerdy friends to play America’s pastime. His pals are video-store clerk Richie (David Spade) and paperboy Clarke (Jon Heder). Considering Richie and Clarke never stepped foot on a baseball diamond, Gus has a lot of coaching to do. But, Gus’s time is limited when their three-man team is challenged by a full squad of Little Leaguers.

After achieving victory and beating a bundle of twelve-year-old jocks, former nerd and current billionaire, Mel (Jon Lovitz), organizes a tournament in which the three “Benchwarmers” will play a wide variety of Little League teams to win a new stadium. Then again, the other coaches are willing to do anything to win.

Any film whose strongest secondary characters consist of a little person who builds sculptures made of peanut-butter, a kid who incessantly gleets computer-generated spit, and an agoraphobic brother who screams at the sight of the sun and eats sun-block, can’t be taken seriously. In addition, when the plot is sprinkled with scenes like a projectile baseball bat killing three squirrels, a goat’s turd smeared on the face of a kid, and a dog being ran over with a lawnmower, your bad-movie radar begins to beep. Furthermore, familiar sports faces like Bill Romanowski, Sean Salisbury, Craig Kilborn, Reggie Jackson, and Dan Patrick further lower the already unsatisfactory acting level of the production.

It is understood – even before watching the film – that The Benchwarmers is one of those movies that require you to leave your brain at the door. Nonetheless, bearing in mind the nonstop juvenilia you are forced to endure, your brain feels used rather than amused. Packed with outright crude, stupid humor, The Benchwarmers is far from being a standout Happy Madison production and close to being the “goat’s turd” it so eloquently speaks of.

Unless words like “poop” and “dingleberry” make you immediately roll with laughter, The Benchwarmers supplies nothing more than a few mild chuckles. It’s a pathetic rehashing of Bad News Bears dusted with character hints of Napoleon Dynamite, Deuce Bigalow, and Dickie Roberts. Enough said. (* out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Movie Review: Talladega Nights

U.S. Release Date: 8/4/06
Running Time: 1:44
Rated: PG-13 (Profanity, sexual situations)
Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Leslie Bibb, Amy Adams, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sacha Baron Cohen, Greg Germann, Gary Cole

Director: Adam McKay
Producers: Judd Apatow, Jimmy Miller
Screenplay: Will Ferrell & Adam McKay
Music: Alex Wurman
Studio: Columbia Pictures

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Stuffed with sponsorships and advertising agendas, Talladega Nights pulls off one of the most ingenious conceptual marketing projects to hit the silver-screen. Too bad the same can’t be said concerning the quality.

Be that as it may, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is a great title, and the standalone concept of Will Ferrell playing a NASCAR driver is golden in theory. However, Talladega Nights is not on par with Ferrell’s prior effort, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. While both films possess similar titles in structure, in The Ballad of Ricky Robby, the laughs aren’t quite as frequent. Hands down, Talladega Nights is a comedy with more bark than bite.

The film depicts the rise, fall, and rise of NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell). Between his best pal, Cal Naughton Jr. (John C. Reilly), and his trashy gold-digging wife, Carley (Leslie Bibb), Ricky thinks he has it made both in life on the NASCAR circuit. He is the father of two foul-mouthed boys named Walker (Houston Tumlin) and Texas Ranger (Grayson Russell) and his pit-crew is managed by a fine manager in Lucius Washington (Michael Clarke Duncan). In every aspect, Ricky Bobby feels as if he is headed down the track to superstardom.

Conversely, when a French Formula One racecar driver named Jean Girrard (Sacha Baron Cohen) tries his hand at NASCAR, Ricky’s patience and stature are tried. With the help of his returning father (Gary Cole), Ricky Bobby strives to regain #1 and – above all – drive fast.

For the Ferrell faithful, Talladega Nights will definitely account for multiple viewings; this way, fans can receive the most joy in reciting the funniest of quotes again and again. However, considering nothing is too memorable this time around, excluding the “shake and bake” fist pound, Talladega Nights is not as consistently funny as Anchorman. Like always, the fun only arises in the cheesy soundtrack, the overacting, and the inflated ego of its lead. Only this time, the one-liners aren’t as big of zingers as they were in The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Even though the overall NASCAR experience is not non-stop, drop-dead hilarity, it is most certainly precisely what Ferrell and McKay intended it to be. While all of those involved in the production are able to sheepishly laugh their way straight to the bank, Ferrell-humored audiences will feel content in receiving an ample helping of cursing children, Applebee’s commercials, and talk on Baby Jesus. On the other hand, those who have come to dislike the former S.N.L. star will only see Talladega Nights as yet another vehicle for Ferrell’s unfunny antics. (**1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Movie Review: Choose Your Own Adventure: The Abominable Snowman (DVD)

U.S. Release Date: 7/25/06 (DVD)
Running Time: 1:25
Rated: NR (Family Approved)
Cast: William H. Macy, Frankie Muniz, Lacey Chabert, Daryl Sabara, Felicity Huffman

Director: Bob Doucette
Producers: Michelle Crames, Jeff Norton
Screenplay: Shawn Tanaka, Douglas Wood (based on the book by R.A. Montgomery)
Studio: Goldhil Entertainment

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The words “Choose Your Own Adventure” recall an array of childhood memories.

After pacing down the aisles of the musty school library and looking over the titles, it was always easy to be drawn to an R.A. Montgomery novel. Why? Well, for starters, those cheesy-sounding titles and creepy-looking illustrations were nearly enough, but the ability to choose your own path of reading was always the determining factor.

Within the realm of juvenile entertainment, the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series is legendary; and, in today’s free society, choice is paramount. By granting this generation’s pre-teens the capacity to pick their own cinematic plots via DVD remote, the C.Y.O.A. publishers are certainly doing their part in keeping up with the times. The result is an entertaining DVD that is notable in its structure, yet flat and childish in its content.

The three North kids (Ben [Frankie Muniz], Crista [Lacey Chabert], and Marco [Daryl Sabara]) venture to Kathmandu, Nepal to save their exploring Uncle Rudy (William H. Macy). Uncle Rudy’s obsession with the abominable snowman has placed him in quite a pickle and in need of rescue.

The first interactive decision arrives when the kids’ plane experiences turbulence. At this point, you must choose to parachute from the diving aircraft or attempt to land the plane safely. From here, a web of choices must be decided upon—leading up to one of 13 different endings. The best of which explain the origins of the yeti, while the worst of which end abruptly in ill fate (or even depict a despicable sponsorship by Life cereal).

To say that Choose Your Own Adventure: The Abominable Snowman is suitable for all ages would be a boldfaced lie. The DVD appeals far more to the kiddy crowd than that of the adventure-thirsty grown-up segment. It’s well enough for the young, but too full of immature puns and wisecracks for the average movie veteran.

Furthermore, the film’s option of choice is its only real asset. Place this cinematic freewill in the palms of a viewer of a live-action film, and you may have something; give the children the privilege to create their own cartoon, and the only fun achieved is in the hokey humor and the power of pre-pubescent autonomy. While this may be the future of take-home entertainment, this time around, it’s not done right. Don’t get me wrong: choosing your own interactive adventure is a fresh concept; yet, The Abominable Snowman is only a glimmer of the potential that this type of media can muster.

While this may be recommended fun for any pre-teen, The Abominable Snowman is nothing more than a substandard cartoon escapade that is too afraid of scaring its audience with a fierce villain. Much like the yeti that this film depicts, this groundbreaking DVD will either be a “ginourmous” gimmick (rarely visible to the human eye) or merely an overly-publicized story spread by word-of-mouth. (** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Movie Review: World Trade Center

U.S. Release Date: 8/9/06
Running Time: 2:09
Rated: PG-13 (intense and emotional content, some disturbing images and language)

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Stephen Dorff, Jay Hernandez, Michael Shannon
Director: Olive Stone
Producer: Donald J. Lee Jr., Norm Golightly
Screenplay: Andrea Berloff
Music: Craig Armstrong
Studio: Paramount Pictures

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No review of World Trade Center would be inclusive without first comparing Oliver Stone’s production to that of United 93 and/or Flight 93. While both the big-screen and the made-for-TV accounts of United Airlines Flight 93 are predominantly focused on the in-air terrorism of 9/11, World Trade Center recounts the story of that same second Tuesday of September from ground zero. The result is a film that is harrowing, emotional, yet surprisingly hopeful. However, the question for most is, “Is it too early?”

Is it too early to sit and watch a retelling of a day so tragic? Is Stone’s depiction of the World Trade Center attacks just a commercial glorification of something so recent and so altogether personal? Initially, this may appear to be the case. On the other hand, perceptions can be deceiving.

As Sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and rookie Officer Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) begin their everyday watch over the Port Authority bus terminal on 42nd Street in Manhattan, the shadow of a plane suddenly washes over them. The impact is only heard, and the damage is only imagined.

Once the Port Authority officers arrive at the base of the World Trade Center, they view the destruction and the horror. The officers have no choice but to enter and help to evacuate the towers.

When the North Tower collapses like a thunderous tornado, Sergeant McLoughlin and Officer Jimeno become trapped in the freight elevator 5 region of the concourse level, between Towers 1 and 2. Pinned by and buried under 20 feet of rubble, McLaughlin and Jimeno are forced to endure (as one reporter called it) “complete chaos and utter hell.” Banged up, bleeding, and burned, the two courageous men strive to survive and unite with both their wives (played by Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal respectively) and children.

Despite the film emitting an overall silent and cold aura, the audience is inevitably lifted up come the closing. While the opening credits inform that the film is based on the “actual accounts of the surviving participants,” it is a true story that is calculable, yet so emotionally striking simultaneously. Only 20 people were pulled from the wreckage alive; McLaughlin and Jimeno were numbers 18 and 19.

The film’s only negative is that it may be a tad too “Hollywood” for a reenactment of a disastrous event that is only five years removed. Nonetheless, World Trade Center is still a film that all should see. It is the story of a paramedic redefined; an ex-marine determined to avenge his country; and both a memento and a requiem to the courageous men and women of the NYPD and the PAPD (among others) who lost their lives on that fateful day.

Underneath its shell of 9/11 terrorism, World Trade Center is a powerful story about love, hope, and the clout of perseverance. It makes you want to latch onto those you care about and never let them go. Additionally, it reminds us all to never take our lives or our loved ones for granted, and it leaves us all feeling proud of the country we live in and simultaneously grateful for who we are and what we have. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006