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Tuesday: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is worth a rental, at best.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
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My last review was for the Oscar-nominated drama Albert Nobbs. As discussed in that review, I defined Oscar-bait for those who have not heard of it. Well, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is yet another one of these types of flicks. However, it's one of these features for entirely different reasons. While the acting still shines above the rest of the film, the flaws differ. Fortunately, there's a bit more of a point behind the story and the plot actually moves along here. From the trailers, audiences were made fully aware that this film would be extremely sad. I prepared for that as I placed the blu-ray disc in my player, although I got something completely different than what I expected.

Believing that his father left him a message before dying in the September 11 attacks, young Oskar Schell embarks on an emotional odyssey through New York City to find the lock that matches a key he found among his father's belongings. Despite the fact that I'm not exactly a fan of these types of movies, there are certainly some big pros and big cons about the screenplay. There are times where the writing is absolutely excellent and the narrative of Oskar is quite interesting and we learn quite a bit about his character through this venture. The viewers are truly following Oskar through his emotional journey and we're left to piece the puzzle together as more and more information is released. However, the movie tries much too hard to be depressing. It isn't naturally a sad story, as any story rooting back to September 11 would be. Instead, Oskar is downright irritating at times and there are countless scenes that are much too sappy. It's difficult to connect with a film when it feels so much like an after school special. I feel that a good twenty minutes could have been taken out to make this feature flow better. The running time is a little over two hours, which feels much too long while watching it. While the ending is a bit unsatisfying, it's still a definite ending that leaves us with light at the end of the tunnel.

Once the trailers were released, I had a feeling that this would be receiving attention from the fans of Tom hanks and Sandra Bullock. Not to mention the fact that the Academy eats this stuff up. Hanks is barely in the feature, but he's fine for the time he's there. Thomas Horn has never starred in any films before this and he delivers a decent performance for a newcomer. There are times where Horn overacts a little bit, otherwise this is an acceptable leading performance. Sandra Bullock is the strongest asset to this film. She comes across as the most genuine character on screen, as she plays the mother of Oskar. Max von Sydow is Oskar's grandfather and he does a fantastic job as a man who will not speak.

Surprisingly, there are some redeeming values to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The film has its ups and downs, much like any other film, although there are more cons than pros here. The screenplay should have made this a more genuine story than having the one goal of making the audience cry. It was unsuccessful in that attempt in my household. By the time the movie ended, much of the movie felt too sappy for me to recommend this. There are times where our leading character feels far too irritating for us to root him on. The acting is solid, especially by Sandra Bullock and Max von Sydow. I'm still absolutely surprised that this was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. This doesn't come even remotely close to being one of the best flicks of 2011. This is Oscar-bait that didn't deserve the nomination. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is worth a rental, at best.

My Rating = Two Stars

Next movie: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Thursday: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is tedious and shouldn't have been made to begin with.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
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With all of the superhero buzz spreading about, especially after some major successes, the movie studios have decided to bring even the smaller of superheroes to the silver screen. Well, Ghost Rider is a series of comic books that I highly enjoyed as a little kid. Once the first film adapting him to the screen was announced, I was extremely excited. It ended up being a disappointment and I was angry with the casting decision of Nicolas Cage as the leading role. When the teasers for the sequel were being released, I got even more pumped up. It appeared to promise a darker tone to the film than the first, but once the PG-13 rating was declared, my hope took a nose dive. This is a dark hero who is extremely violent and should be portrayed as such on film. Why direct the films to a pre-teen audience when it should be towards older teenagers and young adults? Money.

When the devil resurfaces with aims to take over the world in human form, Johnny Blaze reluctantly comes out of hiding to transform into the flame-spewing supernatural hero Ghost Rider. He must rescue a 10-year-old boy from an unsavory end before it's too late. Naturally, audiences don't attend superhero flicks in order to receive an incredibly written story with beautifully crafted dialogue. Viewers want to see a lot of explosions, violence, guns, and car chases. In Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, we're offered a horrible story, even by action flick standards. The dialogue is incredibly tacky and by the end of the film, I still didn't find myself caring about any of the characters in the slightest. Even Ghost Rider was extremely watered down and does a bunch of things that he would never do. The Rider is known to destroy everything in the way without hesitation, although he simply stands there and takes the beating without putting up much of a fight. There's even a bunch of sequences where the Rider is actually injured and beaten up by ordinary humans. It simply doesn't make any sense. The movie feels long for what it is and it actually becomes tedious as it drags for the majority of the running time. The villain doesn't feel as threatening as he should and the Rider has much more difficulty fighting off his minions than the actual main villain himself. This screenplay feels like an absolute rush job. All of the darkness and carnage that I was hoping for isn't displayed here. This is just an utter mess that should never have been green lit.

Unsurprisingly, Nicolas Cage returns as Johnny Blaze. I still believe that he's a horrible casting decision here. In order to do the hero justice, they should have done a complete reboot with an entirely new cast. Cage is unconvincing and it's clear that he's in this only for the paycheck. Idris Elba is a nice surprise here, although even he cannot save this mess. The remainder of the cast is at the same level, which is below mediocre. I'm also not expecting incredible acting from a movie such as Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, but the casting department of this feature appears to be sloppy. I would have enjoyed to see an unknown actor in the role of Johnny Blaze to provide him a new face that we haven't seen in other flicks.

The teaser trailers looked absolutely incredible. Why shouldn't they? This is a big budgeted action flick. Well, as expected, the film doesn't let down in this department. The character of Ghost Rider actually looks better than he did in the first as they gave him a much more burnt and dark look, as opposed to the cartoonish appearance he was given in the first flick. Unfortunately, the action sequences are very repetitive and none of them leave you wanting more. It's just more of the same instead of bringing the insane amount of destruction that Ghost Rider fans are craving. As for the audio transfer, this is a top notch disc. Each speaker is oozing with sonic delight. Be careful with the volume knob, though, as this is a loud track. The subwoofer has an expected heavy workout here. The surround sound channels are filled with a ton of data. Be ready to be absolutely immersed in this fantastic audio.

I expected quite a bit more from the guys who created Crank. They're known for being absolutely insane and bringing a lot of violence to the silver screen. I'm suspecting that the studio wanting them to write something that's appropriate for pre-teens, therefore giving the movie a PG-13 rating. Don't be fooled by the well-made teaser trailers. They're the only cool scenes of the movie. I'm hoping that we will see a faithful adaptation of Ghost Rider that has an R rating and shows our dark hero as he's meant to be shown. Until then, I'm avoiding any future flicks from this series. Nicolas Case isn't right for the part, so I'm not sure why they cast him. The visuals are good, but the actual fight sequences aren't anything new or fun. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is tedious and shouldn't have been made to begin with. Skip this garbage.

My Rating = One Star

Next movie: 21 Jump Street

Saturday: 21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street is a hilarious film that isn't anything ground-breaking, but manages to be an entertaining film that confidently grasps the material it has with pride.

21 Jump Street
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In the age of reboots and remakes, no material is safe. No matter how old or how unnecessary the source material is. 21 Jump Street used to be a TV show from the 1980s, and somebody in Hollywood decided to make a motion picture based on it. This isn't exactly a shocker. However, once I heard how the filmmakers would modernize it, I actually became interested in how it might turn out. Once the trailers were released, I wanted to see it in theaters, although I never had the chance to see it. I finally was able to check it out now that it's available for rental on Netflix. With quite a bit of positive buzz spreading about regarding the film, you can be confident in knowing that you should believe such word of mouth.

Two youthful undercover cops work a local high school to investigate a drug ring. However, they find that a lot has changed since their own school days. The film begins by showing us Schmidt and Jenko while they were in high school as teenagers. Schmidt (Jonah Hill) was very intelligent, although was constantly being picked on for being so interested in education. Jenko (Channing Tatum) was the popular jock in high school who didn't care about school or his grades. The movie fast-forwards to present day as they both become policemen and become an interesting team. Jenko is the brawn and Schmidt is the brain. The film incorporates a lot of modern pop culture, such as new cliques in high schools and different attitudes than what used to be in high schools. New things are popular and funny that weren't when Jenko and Schmidt were in high school. The story itself is entertaining and keeps things moving. The jokes are crude and range from chuckle humor to scenes causing uproarious laughter. Some audiences might find some of the humor to be dumb, but if you enjoyed the humor in Judd Apatow-esque flicks, then you should find the humor here funny. The plot is extremely predictable, as most comedies are, although that doesn't mean that the journey itself isn't fun. I haven't seen the original TV show, so I cannot judge based on that. I'm reviewing this movie on its own terms. The screenplay isn't absolute gold, but there are a lot of good laughs to be had.

Speaking of Judd Apatow flicks, 21 Jump Street features one of the actors that made his big break through one of his films. This star is known as Jonah Hill, who performs as Schmidt. He fits the character and delivers quite a few laughs. He still has the same humorous presence that was seen in previous hits, such as Superbad. Channing Tatum hasn't made the best movies throughout his career. However, I'm glad to report that he's been becoming a stronger actor over time. I don't expect him to win any Oscars throughout his career, but he does a fine job at being believable in the roles he portrays. He plays Jenko here and interacts with Hill very well, creating a convincing and hilarious pair of actors. Those who weren't aware that James Franco has a younger brother will be surprised to know that he actually does. I didn't know this before seeing this film. Dave Franco plays Eric Molson, one of the popular teenagers at the school. He plays the part well. I cannot speak of the cast without bringing up Ice Cube, who plays Captain Dickson. He's absolutely hysterical as Schmidt and Jenko's boss.

Visually, the film accomplishes what it set out to do. The movie is polished and has some excellent gags that aid with the humor. The technical portion of this disc is what shines the brightest. The dialogue is loud and clear, as it's never difficult to understand what the actors are saying. The front speakers are constantly pouring out crisp sound, especially during the party sequences. The surround speakers are put to work throughout. The direction of the sound is excellent in order to immerse the audience. One of the most impressive uses of the surrounds is when Schmidt and Jenko get out of the limo at the prom with their group of friends and doves fly out. You're able to hear the small details of wings flapping through the surround speakers. Such detail is always appreciated. 21 Jump Street sports an audio track better than most comedies.

Whether or not you've seen the original TV show, you should check out this film. If you like crude humor, then you should find this to be absolutely hilarious. Despite the fact that this is simply bringing somebody else's material to the big screen, it still manages to feel fresh. The script is decent and has plenty of laughs from start to finish. The actors were well-cast and are convincing in the roles. Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures has done a marvelous job with the blu-ray disc, especially with the audio portion. 21 Jump Street is a hilarious film that isn't anything ground-breaking, but manages to be an entertaining film that confidently grasps the material it has with pride.

My Rating = Four Stars

Next movie: Playback