Established May 2010.

Gordie: Do you think I'm weird?
Chris: Definitely.
Gordie: No man, seriously. Am I weird?
Chris: Yeah, but so what? Everybody's weird.

Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

Member of THE LAMB: The Large Association of Movie Blogs LAMB #1588

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Movie Review: ADMISSION

Director: Paul Weitz
Starring: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, Wallace Shawn, Gloria Reuben, Michael Sheen

"Just be yourself" seems to be the motto of Portia Nathan (Fey). Portia is an admissions officer at Princeton University and that is her pitch and words of advice to all of the incoming prospects who are desperate to get in. Portia's life seems to be a bit in shambles. Her boyfriend, Mark (Sheen), has left her with no notice for a snooty Virginia Woolf scholar. She is battling her coworker (Reuben) for a promotion after her boss (Shawn) announces his pending retirement. On top of that, her relationship with her mother, Susannah (Tomlin), is not the greatest.

During one of her recruiting trips, she pays a visit to New Quest School. New Quest is pretty non-traditional in every sense of the word. It seems to be in the middle of the woods like a summer camp. There should be no surprise when the GPS in Portia's car loses signal before she arrives on site. There she reconnects with John Pressman (Rudd) a former classmate who now runs New Quest. He presents to her Jeremiah, one of his most gift students who would like to attend Princeton. John believes that Jeremiah may be the child that Portia had in school but gave up for adoption.

Does the story seem kind of ho-hum so far? Admission is another example of the kind of movie where the actors make the movie what it is and are the only reason to see it. There is really nothing all that special about the story. The plot is weak and wanders all around the troubles of Portia's life. When you think of Fey and Rudd, you expect lots of quirky moments and good laughs along the way. The script is not all that funny. I was surprised to find it to be more of a dramedy that your standard witty comedy those two are typically associated with doing. I have been a fan of both of them for years and years and applaud them for trying something a little different. It may surprise you to find out that this is their first project together. They are both strong enough actors and have great chemistry together that they keep you moderately interested despite the many flaws with the film. Tomlin and Shawn are comedic veterans so it is always a treat seeing them on screen. If you are a fan of Fey, Rudd, or Tomlin you will enjoy the movie but do not be surprised if you come out wanting more.

RATING: *** (3 out of 5 stars)

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Movie Review: WRECK-IT RALPH

Director: Rich Moore
Starring the Voices of: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer

"Fix-It Felix, Jr." is a popular arcade game celebrating its 30th anniversary. The classic villain of the game is Wreck-It Ralph (Reilly) who must destroy a building before its hero and main character Fix-It Felix (McBrayer) has a chance to fix the wreckage. When the doors of the arcade close at the end of the day, these characters and worlds come alive. They can go in and out of their games through the Game Central Station as long as they are back to their game when the arcade doors open. A child could easily tell if one of the characters has gone missing from the game.

After thirty years, Ralph is feeling depressed as he is always the villain. He attends Bad-Anon meetings with other villains to work out his feelings. He comes back to the game to find all of the characters are having an anniversary party, but he was not invited. He goes up to the party and Felix sympathizes with him and lets him in. Ralph gets angry when he sees a Ralph figurine is left at the bottom of the cake while everyone else is on the top of the cake. He notices the Felix figurine has a medal and does not understand why he cannot have a medal. Mayhem and a big mess ensue when Ralph throws a tantrum.

Ralph learns that he can win a medal by winning the shooting game, "Hero’s Duty". He encounters Sargent Calhoun (Lynch), the heavy-duty, tough-as-nails leader of the game. Ralph quickly gets his medal but a bot stuck to his escape pod forces him out of the game and subsequently sends him crashing into the racing game, "Sugar Rush Speedway". In this saccharine new world Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweetz(Silverman) hanging off a candy tree. She is a spunky little girl that has felt neglected by the other characters of Sugar Rush as they feel she is not as cool as them as she is only a glitch. All she wants to do is drive a race car like all of the other girls. She snatches the medal from Ralph and uses it to enter the race. Ralph’s desperate attempt to get his medal back opens his eyes to realize that the world of "Sugar Rush Speedway" may not be the cheery and exciting game it is from the outside. He and Vanellope may have more in common than he thought.

The Disney animation studios have really hit it out of the ballpark again with one of their best animated movies in the last decade. The attention and thought put into all of the intricate detail is astonishing. It seems apparent that each world of each video game was thoroughly conceptualized and designed as to not leave any loopholes for any avid gamer to notice. The transitions between the "real" world and the world inside of the game are flawless and cleverly morphed together. The design is so rich in each of the games that it would take multiple viewings to notice all of the subtle choices and references to past video game characters or the kinds of sweet treats that make up "Sugar Rush Speedway". The animators took great care and detail to appropriately design some of the characters movements to match the style of that game or time period. Some characters seem a bit more pixelated and move around a bit more robotic if they are from older games.

The script is witty with constant laughs appropriate for younger and older audiences without ever feeling dumbed down and cheap. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the characters were given background stories and dimensions, especially for supporting characters like Vanellope and Calhoun. All too often supporting characters tend to be the dopey or sassy sidekick who annoys the main character. The voice work done by Reilly and Silverman, in particular, stays grounded and relatable and never borders obnoxious kid-movie tendencies. If you ever played in an arcade when you were younger, you are bound to be flooded with memories as characters show up throughout the movie. The Bad-Anon scene is a stitch! If you are not a gamer, do not feel like you are being left out of the game. It is still plenty enjoyable for us non-gaming folks. I do not consider myself a gamer in my adult life, but I was fascinated and enraptured by the visuals created to bring these games to life. If you are a gamer, you will love it even more as it honors the arcade world.

RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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Monday, March 11, 2013


Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff

Disney's latest 3D CGI explosion takes a look into the land of Oz before Dorothy left her mark in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. The classic film means the world to me as I have many fond memories involving that movie. I love seeing new interpretations of the story, but at the same time maybe I am too judgmental of them. Oz, The Great and Powerful takes on the story of the Wizard and how he came to the land called Oz. Oscar "Oz" Diggs is a struggling magician in a small carnival circuit. His trustee sidekick Frank (Braff) is always there to assist him with his illusions. He is revealed to be a fraud when he cannot cure a wheelchair bound girl (Joey King) who cannot walk. That same day Annie (Williams), the woman he loves, breaks the news to him that she is choosing to be with another man, John Gale. A storm approaches and Oscar takes off in his hot air balloon as a circus strongman comes after him. Oscar gets sucked into a twister and makes a promise to God that he will become a good man if he survives.

Oscar's world of black and white turns into technicolor as he lands in the magical colorful world of Oz. The witch Theodora (Kunis) approaches him and informs Oscar that he is the great Oz that is destined to save the land of Oz and become king. The Wicked Witch killed Theodora's father who was the previous king of Oz. Theodora and Oscar travel to the Emerald City where Thedora's sister Evanora (Weisz) stands guard over the throne awaiting the new king. Evanora tells Oscar he must find the Wicked Witch and break her wand in order to destroy the curse. Oscar sets outs to find the Wicked Witch and along the way joins forces with Glinda the Good Witch (Willims), a porcelain China Girl (voice of King), and Finley the Flying Monkey (voice of Braff).

I have a love/hate relationship with movies that fully rely on CGI effects to carry the movie. If done well like The Lord of the Rings trilogy or Life of Pi, the worlds and special effects come alive and seem all the more realistic. On the other end of the spectrum lies movies like Alice in Wonderland and The Mummy movies. For me, these movies seem fake from the first frame. Unfortunately, Oz, The Great and Powerful falls under the second category. Back in 1939, there was no CGI to make Oz or the Emerald City. There is a magic, mystery, and wonder that comes along with having real sets and effects. All of that seems to be lost when you feel like you know the actors are just standing in front of a green screen. For a movie that is supposed to be about a magical wizard, that magic and illusion seemed to be missing just like it was with the character.

Speaking of something missing from the character, one of the biggest misfires that really hinders the film is the casting. James Franco seems to be way out of his element here. He can be a fine actor, but he cannot get passed the dazed stoner quality he always has upon his face. Franco was Raimi’s third choice after Robert Downey, Jr. dropped out and Johnny Depp passed on it. The idea and thought behind Mila Kunis’ casting seems appropriate but she seems to falter at times as well. Weisz and Williams give good performances for the material they were given. I think with a better script they easily could have given bigger and richer performances. Two of my favorite actors in the film happen to be the voice work done by Zach Braff and Joey King. I do not know if Finley or the China Doll appear in the L. Frank Baum books, so it is easier to enjoy their performances when you are not constantly reminded of other actors' portrayals.

The movie does have some redeeming qualities. Even though Warner Bros has a tight hold on anything related to The Wizard of Oz, there are enough references and nods to that story that are enjoyable. Could John Gale be the potential father of Dorothy Gale? With Evanora and Theodora being sisters could one of them have a house fall on them in an upcoming sequel? Glinda still travels around at times in a bubble. There are ferocious flying monkeys. I loved the transition between black and white to color. It evokes the same feeling as it did in The Wizard of Oz regarding the realities of both worlds. Even though I generally found the look of the film to be too CGI fakey, there were moments of stunning visuals. The 3D helps bring those moments out. The movie had all the right ingredients: Sam Raimi, screenplay by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, Danny Elfman score, and great actors, but the end product turned out to be a huge mess. That is the disappointing part about it. I know many people that will love this movie, and I wish I was one of them. I am not giving much away by saying that the ending sets up for a sequel. I hope the follow-up will be a little darker and more realistic looking. Let’s actually build some sets and models for the next one!

RATING: ** (2 out of 5 stars)

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Thursday, March 7, 2013


Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Amy Acker as Beatrice
             Alexis Denisof as Benedick
             Nathan Fillion as Dogberry
             Clark Gregg as Leonato
             Reed Diamond as Don Pedro
             Fran Kranz as Claudio
             Sean Maher as Don John
             Spencer Treat Clark as Borachio
             Riki Lindhome as Conrade
             Ashley Johnson as Margaret
             Emma Bates as Ursula
             Tom Lenk as Verges
             Nick Kocher as First Watchman

Joss Whedon fans are rejoicing at the release of his latest work. The Whedonites are a strong group of devout followers. I have being getting on the Whedon bandwagon lately with his work on The Cabin in the Woods and Marvel's The Avengers, two of my favorite films of 2012. This time Joss and his fellow company of actors bring us a new adaptation of William Shakespeare's play "Much Ado About Nothing". Whedon and his cast and crew shot the movie very discreetly back in 2011 at his house over a brief time. The film had its first premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last year and will make it's U.S. premiere at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival in March. Being a big Shakespeare fan, I get a little leery with film adaptations. In this case, I trust Joss and love the black and white look of the film. What are your first impressions?

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