Author

Jenni Miller
Jenni Miller has been writing for fun and profit since the age of six. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College several years later, she dove into the wild world of online media — just before the dot com crash. She's interviewed everyone from Mike Leigh to The Lizardman, traversed the tundra of Park City, visited movie sets, and reviewed too many movies, books, and video games to count. Jenni was the senior editor of Premiere.com and has contributed to a variety of outlets, from classy joints like VanityFair.com and GQ.com to, well, other sites. She is planning to write a book (or at least a short story) about the weirdos who go to see movies on opening day, herself included.
  • 'Escape from Planet Earth': An Exercise in Product Placement — REVIEW
    By: Jenni Miller February 15, 2013 2:05pm EST
    It's an impressive feat for a movie to be strange and forgettable, subversive yet littered with crass product placement. Escape from Planet Earth manages to be all of these things and more. In this world, aliens are abducted by government officials, Roswell is an intergalactic work camp, an Army general is conducting an online affair with a sexy alien lady, and the stoners who work or hang out or whatever at 7-11 ply their new little blue friend with a matching blue Slurpee. Sounds promising, right? Not entirely. For the most part, the plodding plot is driven by a lackluster sibling rivalry between Gary Supernova (Rob Corddry) and his lantern-jawed brother Scorch (Brendan Fraser). These little blue dudes live on the planet Baab and work at BASA, which is (obviously) Baab's version of NASA. Gary's the nerdy mission control guy who saves his brother's butt when Scorch is off being a bad ass astronaut. A plodding series of events lands them both on Earth, a planet full of violent, devolved creatures where aliens from across the galaxy routinely go missing. There, they find the devious General Shanker (William Shatner) is snatching otherwise peaceful aliens and putting them to work on building a giant weapon that will destroy the universe. The other aliens Gary and Scorch run into are way more interesting and fun than the folks they left behind on Baab — a cafeteria food fight between Roswell employees and the aliens is more entertaining than 90% of the interactions between Gary and Scorch — which is a bummer since Gary's wife Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker) is hot on their heels to rescue them. Lena, the head of BASA, is a lovelorn villainess (Jessica Alba) who would be willing to blow up the world for a hot human with an Elvis pompadour that she met online. She and Kira used to be coworkers but now Lena's like, whatever, now you're a stay-at-home mom! And Kira's like, I will kick your butt. And so on. The female characters in the movie are pretty decent, all things considered. Still, Escape from Planet Earth is a bit of a mess. Are we rooting for family values? Or railing against how silly humans are? Or constantly, odiously plugging 7-11? There is also auto-tuned music on the soundtrack, although it's not clear if this was yet another invention of the aliens (like the iPhone, Facebook, the Internet, and Pixar, according to one montage) or yet another example of how humans have devolved. Adding to the confusion: a sexy news reporter alien voiced by Sofía Vergara. Escape from Plant Earth seems like its plot was originally cooked up by some sorta cool goofy dudes — I mean, Steve Zahn and Chris Parnell as stoners who work at 7-11? Pretty funny! — that was then wrangled into something a little more family-friendly. (Vis the website, which is littered with seals of approval from the Parents Television Council and the Dove Foundation.) It's not that it's particularly bad, it's just not something that sticks with you in any meaningful way. The rest of the voice cast is pretty good, like Craig Robinson as a cool talk radio "therapist" alien and Jane Lynch as a one-eyed librarian from the sun with anger management problems. It's just that there's so much other stuff happening that isn't particularly gripping. Like the crux of the entire story. Who cares if Gary and Scorch ever make up? Who cares that Kip thinks his dad is a pantywaist? You really don't. In a world where film-lovers of all ages can be challenged, entertained, and moved by animated film, it's entirely fair to expect more of family films. (Escape from Planet Earth is available in 3D, but for expediency's sake, I saw the 2D version.) 2.5/5 [Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company] From Our Partners: 'SI's 25 Sexiest Swimsuit Covers of All Time (Vh1) Pregnant Kate Middleton Bikini Pics Spark Palace Anger (Celebuzz)
  • Identity Thief Review
    By: Jenni Miller February 07, 2013 4:32am EST
    Misused talent is disappointing. Although Jason Bateman who stars as Sandy Patterson in Identity Thief was fantastic on Arrested Development he's never quite hit the same rhythm when it comes to movie roles. His co-star Melissa McCarthy who is probably best known for her Bridesmaids shenanigans has been quietly putting out terrific work for years — especially in the show Gilmore Girls. She's Bateman's foil in her latest film playing Diana a lifestyle identity thief whose social engineering wipes out Sandy's bank account tanks his credit and jeopardizes his new job at a financial firm. Cue 21st century financial distress plot point about the little guy just trying to make ends meet and how he's family man and blah blah blah. Too bad an accountant doesn't realize not to give his social security number out on the phone to a stranger. It's so easy to root for McCarthy and Bateman — so easy in fact that one can almost overlook the most half-baked aspects of Identity Thief: the limp road trip the even worse car chases the stupid subplot that affords us a few glimpses of beloved Breaking Bad-baddie Jonathan Banks the exhausting make-over and last but never least the weirdly moralistic and touchy-feely ending. Identity Thief asks a somewhat interesting question which is what could prompt a person to steal another's identity? The answer of course is a "Hobbit-sized" woman with an orange-tinted fake tan and tacky makeup who on one hand is charismatic enough to talk her way out of anything but lonely enough that she makes up a never-ending stream of lies to tell strangers who aren't listening anyway. In the end she's not a sociopath she's just an emotionally broken person who needs a cream rinse and some neutral eye shadow. There's something amazing and pathetic in the first scene where we meet Diana. She's buying drinks for an entire bar and naturally everyone is shouting her name (well Sandy's name) and clapping and rallying around her because who doesn't like free drinks? When a bartender gets tired of her hijinks he tries to take her down a peg by sneering at her that these strangers aren't her friends and they'll never be her friends and that they only like her because she's buying them stuff. So she punches him in the throat. There's promise in this premise when Diana is allowed to be vicious and wily but as the story transmogrifies into a road trip/morality lesson she is awkwardly defanged in what could be assumed is an attempt to flesh out her character and give her a past that would explain away everything. Sandy is a weak character to begin with; the ongoing jokes about how Sandy is a woman's name is all too typical of screenwriter Craig Mazin who's penned all three Hangover movies Scary Movie 3 and 4 and Superhero Movie. At least there's not a smoking monkey right? Bateman is often typecast as an Everyman because only in Hollywood could someone who looks like Jason Bateman pass for a regular guy on the street. He's that Everyman here too — a doting dad a loving husband a hardworking employee an honest citizen — but there's an ugly edge to him that Diana brings out. What's interesting about this dynamic is that Diana becomes much more empathetic even before Mazin et al throw in a ham-handed backstory for her. The people that encounter them on their road trip — and the explanation for that is too exhausting to get into — see Diana as a fun warm woman and they give Sandy a hard time for being a jerk to her. (Cheers to a great Ben Falcone cameo as one such gentleman.) It's not clear if we're supposed to be on Diana's side or if we're to believe that she's using her prodigious social engineering skills to her own ends or if it's supposed to be hilarious that men would actually find her sexually attractive and cool. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and go with the former. The latter in particular would just be too much to swallow especially given the garish make-up and clothes she's wearing before she realizes the error of her ways both morally and aesthetically. Identity Thief is better than The Hangover and on par with director Seth Gordon's Horrible Bosses which Bateman also appeared in. It's something you'll watch on demand one night when you don't feel like moving off your couch. Why is it so hard for these two talented actors and comedians to find good movie roles? If we learned anything from This is 40 it's that any movie can be improved by letting McCarthy improvise. How much longer do we have to wait to see their own respective projects get off the ground? And why isn't Gilmore Girls on Netflix Instant yet? From Our Partners: Celebrity Swimsuits Ever (Celebuzz) Stars: Where Are They Now? (Celebuzz)
  • Bullet to the Head Review
    By: Jenni Miller February 01, 2013 5:39am EST
    In many ways Bullet to the Head is as ludicrous as you would expect. A heavily tattooed Sylvester Stallone and Conan beefcake Jason Momoa arm themselves with axes for a fight. Christian Slater's sleazy lawyer character hosts a giant sexy party in his Garden District mansion complete with nude ladies doing the tango and Slater himself wearing a fox mask that's a little too on the nose. There's a corrupt real estate baron from Africa played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who uses not one but two canes and plans to demolish the "ghetto housing projects" in New Orleans to build sweet new condos or whatever. And all of the women that appear in the film — all of them that have any lines and plenty that don't say a word — show their breasts at one time or another evenSarah Shahi playing Stallone's daughter Lisa. Stallone's character is nicknamed Jimmy Bobo and he brings his own bottle of bourbon with him when he goes to bars — Bulleit of course. However unlike more recent action films like Jack Reacher or Stallone's endless Expendables Bullet to the Head is a pleasing solid genre flick. Part of the appeal along with the impressive fight scenes and laughably elaborate set-ups is that the film knows when it's being silly. "What are we f**king Vikings?" Stallone bellows right before he and Momoa come to blows. Slater is a perfectly ratty little lawyer who when tied to a chair and being threatened with bodily harm sneers "There's nothing you can do to men that I haven't done to myself for fun!" Stallone gets the best lines usually tossed-off phrases like suggesting someone's bullet wounds could be fixed up with "a band-aid and a blow pop " but he's also saddled with some of the worst. His interactions with his reluctant partner a handsome cop named Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) slow the movie down to a glacier's pace. One might imagine that director Walter Hill is trying to recall the dicey racial tension in the 48 Hrs. movies between Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte but it doesn't translate here at all. Jimmy Bobo's ribbing of Taylor isn't just unfunny it's boring. There's nothing particularly clever about any of the written jokes about tea leaves Confucius samurai and so forth; while Kang's character is supposed to be annoyed by this "banter " it looks like Kang himself isn't all that thrilled. Bullet to the Head is no masterpiece let's be clear. Plunking down Stallone et al. in New Orleans creates a cognitive dissonance that's laughable at best. Momoa who plays a vicious mercenary looks hilariously out of place in the redneck bar we first see him in; he's really born to play characters like Khal Drago in Game of Thrones where he just has to ride a horse and look like a dangerous-but-sexy warrior. People seem impossible to kill; often it takes you know a bullet to the head to finally keep 'em down. And that daughter of Jimmy's Sarah? She is a tattoo artist with one year of medical school under her belt so she's pretty swell when it comes to basic medical procedures. Like bullet removal. But let's go back to all those boobies. This is an R-rated movie with plenty of violence and drugs and nudity and that is fine by me. I do not mind looking at good-looking naked people not in the least. When the first character we meet is a prostitute who is merely referred to as a hooker for a good chunk of the movie and that's really one of the only female characters we meet that's a problem. When Lisa's mom is referred to as a dead hooker junky that's a trend. And when Lisa is lounging in the bathtub and Taylor breaks into her house for well whatever reason he and Jimmy came up with and she runs into him in her living room when she's wearing nothing but a towel and we can see her butt and breasts it makes me scratch my head a little. Look this is an action movie and one based on a comic book to boot so I'm not expecting Tennessee Williams here but give me a break. There were probably some women at the Garden District party who were clothed but the great majority of women in the movie are naked and/or referred to as totally disposable which is a frankly sickening trend in an otherwise enjoyable movie. It would have been better to leave all of the female characters on the cutting room floor and be done with it than treat them with such matter-of-fact contempt. Sadly this gross undercurrent knocks my original star rating down a half. Bullet to the Head is not a summer blockbuster but it's better than the typical January dregs. Spring can't come soon enough.
  • Movie 43 Review
    By: Jenni Miller January 25, 2013 8:27am EST
    It's not that Movie 43 is shocking or "edgy " or whatever any of the writers or directors would like to convince you. If you want to actually puke or cry or be shocked you can go to Rotten.com like the rest of us Internet miscreants. The Cinema of Transgression films by Nick Zedd and Richard Kern have more artistic value than Movie 43 and are generally more interesting. Which is saying a lot because Zedd's films can get pretty boring. You can only see Annie Sprinkle make out with a man who's listed as Ray the Burn Victim for so long... although I feel terrible for writing because everyone needs love. Sorry Ray. Movie 43 has 12 directors and 17 writers credited with this anthology of shorts modeled according to producers Peter Farrelly and Charlie Wessler in the spirit of Kentucky Fried Movie. Surprisingly none of those writers or directors go by the name Alan Smithee. It's not even totally clear which were written and directed by whom; the production notes are "hilarious first hand [sic] accounts from those who were a part of and were witnesses to the creation of MOVIE 43." Kate Winslet and Halle Berry and Richard Gere were tricked into participating which is supposed to make their "outrageous" shorts all the more titillating. One of the larger problems of Movie 43 is that it relies on this handful of mega-stars and on our reactions to them and their off-screen personas all in lieu of genuine comedy onscreen. Would it be funny if some schmuck on YouTube played a Steve Jobs-like character who didn't understand why his company's iBabe music player — which looks like a naked woman but has a coolant system with a fan between its legs — was mangling users? No it wouldn't. And it's definitely not any funnier because it's Richard Gere playing him. What's most offensive about Movie 43 isn't the scatological humor but how shoddily the whole thing was put together. (To be honest I did nearly walk out during the Anna Faris/Chris Pratt short about her desire to be pooped on. I also nearly barfed during Salo. Because poop.) In quite a few of the shorts half of the actors' heads are cut out of frame. Their heads are literally cut off of the screen in a movie that was professionally filmed by accredited cinematographers. Now it could have been the theater projecting the film that was having the problem but that's not really my concern. My concern was mainly that a handful of paying customers (including myself) were sitting through a studio movie where the top of actors' heads aren't in frame. The self-referential wraparound for the movie is embarrassing for everyone involved including the viewer. Dennis Quaid plays a disheveled crazy writer who holds a studio exec (Greg Kinnear) hostage until the exec agrees to buy his movie pitch. His pitch is the series of shorts which the exec obviously thinks is a terrible idea... because it is. This is like adding insult to injury because the creators know what they've made is crap. Even the studio exec that they themselves wrote thinks the premise of Movie 43 is crap and has to be held at gunpoint to bring the idea to his boss. This idea that you will have wasted 90 minutes of your life on — minutes you could have spent watching YouTube videos of people squeezing their own cysts or having botflies removed from their bodies or yes making out with burn victims. Complain all you like about stodgy critics who have no sense of humor and don't get "the kids" today and all that but it seems that Peter Farrelly and the group of people who forced this towards theaters (with little to no help from most of the stars or writers or directors) are the ones who are completely out of touch. With anything. Including humor.'s>
  • John Dies at the End Review
    By: Jenni Miller January 22, 2013 4:40am EST
    Salvador Dalí is often quoted as saying "I don't do drugs I am drugs." Whether or not this is a case of attribution decay it's certainly an appropriate statement for the surreal artist. Although it would be silly to suggest that John Dies at the End is on par with such an influential artist (and the movie will certainly never take over Dalí's monopoly of dorm room posters and assorted ephemera) it definitely feels like taking a trip down the rabbit hole. Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes star as Dave and John respectively best buds and regular dudes who find themselves face to face with grotesque monsters from alternate dimensions and a panoply of other mind-bending horrors all thanks to a drug nicknamed Soy Sauce. The Sauce is an icky sentient black goop that destroys most of the people who inject it (and those who live will never be the same). When we meet Dave and John they're problem-solvers of a sort; if something weird is happening to you — say you're being harassed by your dead boyfriend — they're the ones to call. The Sauce didn't kill them; it has given them a certain insight into the twisted nature of the universe. Much to Dave's dismay it chose them to save us from certain doom on a regular basis starting with a gross creature from another dimension called Korrok. It's kind of a bubbly vat of sentient goo with one terrible eyeball and it gains knowledge through osmosis. Naturally Korrok would like to nibble on Dave and John to learn their ways so it and a whole legion of freaky followers can hop into our dimension and take over the world we live in. Before they can do that they have a whole host of other problems to deal with like John's untimely demise for starters. John Dies at the End is a logic puzzle that the viewer has to tease out the meaning of. It benefits from subsequent viewings especially since writer/director Don Coscarelli and author David Wong throw so much at you from the very beginning. (Coscarelli adapted the book for the screen.) It's a hallucinatory midnight movie that is so damn fun it's easy to forgive just how hazy it seems in hindsight. There's also a certain sense of disappointment when Dave and John's mission comes to an end possibly because the two characters and all the weird things they encounter are so entertaining that we hate to leave them. Coscarelli fans will especially appreciate a small cameo by Angus Scrimm who played the terrifying Tall Man in Coscarelli's Phantasm series as a priest. And any genre lover worth their Sauce will love seeing Doug Jones out of prosthetics (but no less disarming) as a creepy interstellar traveler. Paul Giamatti plays a skeptical journalist who's writing a story about Dave and his misadventures; this narrative is the framing device and ultimately is a bit of a disappointment. The practical effects have a nice goopy look to them and Coscarelli makes the smart decision to use an animated sequence for some scenes that would have been extraordinarily difficult to create on such a small budget. John Dies at the End is alternately trippy gross and droll and it has a cool B-movie vibe without looking too cheap. Although it's available on demand this would be a fun night out at the movies.
  • Texas Chainsaw Review
    By: Jenni Miller January 04, 2013 10:52am EST
    Good news everyone! The first terrible movie of 2013 is in theaters in both 2D and barely 3D and it's called Texas Chainsaw! The special effects are terrible the plot is riddled with holes and it's unintentionally funny. The upside is that it's funnier than Parental Guidance and Leatherface is looking at least as rough around the edges as Billy Crystal. The downside is that any horror fan will be disappointed by its cheap tacky-looking effects and people who shelled out the extra money for 3D are being taken for a ride. As fans of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre know you can make a bloody great horror movie for not a lot of dough. Part of the charm of the first was its gritty sleazy aftertaste and the crazy family dynamics of an all-male clan whose most-bullied member is a giant freak who wears other people's faces on top of his face. It was a fairly simple set-up loosely based on Ed Gein's propensity for digging up corpses decorating his home with their body parts and wearing the skin of dead ladies. Unlike other horror movies there wasn't a great formula that could be replicated over and over again — no Crystal Lake with horny teens or endless nightmares to invade — so most of the follow-ups have tried to untangle the Sawyer family tree. As the wonderful/terrible Drayton Sawyer says in the wonderfully bonkers Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 "The saw is family!" Would that filmmakers would just leave it at that. The latest Chainsaw tries to add another branch to its tree with the arrival of Heather (Alexandra Daddario) a young woman who finds out that she was adopted if you can call being stolen from the arms of her dying mother after hicks burned her house down “adopted.” Heather is part of the infamous Sawyer clan and a cousin of Leatherface and she's inherited a strangely fancy old house somewhere in Texas from a grandmother she never knew she had. She also inherits Leatherface who lurks in the basement but she doesn't realize that until after he's killed all of her friends because she forgot to read her grandmother's letter until it's too late. But by then the mantra "Family is family" has been drilled into her and the script has been flipped; the monster that killed her friends and countless others is the victim of cruel townspeople who killed her family. (To be fair Heather's friends were stultifyingly dumb and boring and deserved to be killed.) What makes this iteration so puzzling is that it features footage at the very beginning from the original movie which leads longtime fans to believe it will fit into that particular family configuration as opposed to later movies that added in random family members. Instead Chainsaw veers crazily in another direction and actually creates an entirely different family history that doesn't make sense on its own terms or in the original first two Chainsaw movies. Texas Chainsaw had no less than four people involved in its script (the story was by Adam Marcus Debra Sullivan and Kirsten Elms while Marcus Sullivan and Stephen Susco are the credited screenwriters) which could explain why it's such a mess. The 3D is a joke; occasionally Leatherface will thrust the chainsaw at the screen or even better someone will throw the chainsaw. While the gore will definitely be too much for the squeamish it looks like bargain basement Halloween effects to the eye of an experienced horror movie fan. The cast isn't much better; Bill Moseley who appeared in the second movie plays a young Drayton Sawyer since the original actor Jim Siedow died in 2003. Marilyn Burns who played the final girl in the original movie shows up briefly as Heather's grandmother in a flashback. Daddario isn't given much to work with so it seems almost unfair to judge her based on this performance; her co-stars especially singer/songwriter Trey Songz are uniformly terrible. Even Leatherface played by Dan Yeager seems exhausted by this whole ordeal. The original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen appears in the beginning as one of the Sawyer clan. One can only imagine what he and Burns talked about around craft services.
  • Parental Guidance Review
    By: Jenni Miller December 26, 2012 5:25am EST
    There are some movies that are so startlingly bad that you have to wonder if the stars involved were being blackmailed. It's hard to believe that Parental Guidance was someone's baby just like it's hard to believe that Bette Midler and Billy Crystal could be a couple or Marisa Tomei would be their daughter. You know you're in for a dud when the movie kicks off with jokes about Facebook — poking! — Angry Birds and hashtags. We get it. This old dude named Artie (Crystal) is being fired from his job as a minor league baseball announcer because he's old. He's "dead wood." And so is the movie he's in. Artie and his wife Diane (Midler) rarely get a chance to see their daughter Alice (Tomei) or her family mostly because Artie is a self-centered jerk who refuses to honor his daughter and son-in-law's child-coddling ways. No one comes out of this looking good; writers Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse never miss an opportunity to poke fun of Alice and husband Phil's (Tom Everett Scott) tofu/sugar-free/computer-automated life while Artie is subject to countless scatological humiliations and testicle injuries. The only person who manages to come off okay is Midler as a saucy former weathergirl who deeply craves a loving relationship with her daughter and granddaughter. People coming to see Parental Guidance expecting an iota of the humor or intelligence that Midler or Tomei have shown in previous film performances will be sorely disappointed. Obviously a PG-rated family movie is not the place for Midler's bawdier side — let's never forget she got her start singing in gay bathhouses God bless her — but she's done fine in family fare like Hocus Pocus. Still she fights the good fight against the flatness of her role and she and Crystal share a sort of sweet scene where they do a little song and dance to "Who Wrote the Book of Love?" Tomei brings a touch of warmth to her role and has a kind of sweet but bland connection with Everett Scott; their secret naughty joke where he pretends to be a British rock star named Nigel and she presumably is a groupie is one of the only colorful details here. Crystal is still trying to dine out on movies like Analyze That and his voice acting work. (The less said about his Oscar hosting duties the better.) His humor hasn't aged well — it's subpar Borscht Belt — and he's not quite sharp enough to be a curmudgeon. It doesn't help that he's paired with a red-haired gremlin of a child who at one point climbs onto a half pipe and urinates down so that Tony Hawk's skateboard flies out from under him and lands the skater in a puddle of pee. (Seriously didn't those video games earn about a bazillion dollars? Why Tony why?) Ongoing jabs at parents today and their crazy "use your words!" methods aren't particularly insightful or relevant and even though Artie comes to realize that his methods weren't so hot either you just want to shake them all and tell him they really have nothing to complain about. There is nothing to make you believe these people give a rat's ass about each other or more to the point why they should. Diane accuses Artie of making everything about himself but in essence the entire movie is about Artie and his learning curve which is a lot to ask of a character based on a shtick. None of the actors are really allowed to tap into what makes them successful performers and instead they're all stuck with being called Fartie Artie and a randomly appearing restaurateur whose specialty is pan-Asian health food and being really great friends with one of the kids' invisible kangaroo. He is played by and I am not kidding you Gedde Watanabe of Long Duk Dong infamy a character that remains one of the bigger smudges on John Hughes's legacy. It's good to know that Watanabe hasn't abandoned his wheelhouse of playing offensive Asian characters though. There is almost nothing likable in Parental Guidance. You would be better off watching the fake fireplace channel for 12 hours straight than spending a minute with these people. Life is too short.
  • Jack Reacher Review
    By: Jenni Miller December 21, 2012 7:42am EST
    Jack Reacher is one confusing film. It's not confusing because of the plot though. The limp twists don't come close to the script for The Usual Suspects which snagged Reacher writer/director Christopher McQuarrie an Oscar. Reacher doesn't have nearly as much bite or intelligence or a strong enough cast to pull off the same feat. Let's give McQuarrie the benefit of the doubt; perhaps Reacher is hamstrung by its source material the ninth book in Lee Child's series about the bad-ass drifter who uses his military training to solve crimes. Although McQuarrie's direction is fairly faultless for an actioner like this the script and cast make it woefully uneven. Some of the actors seem to think it's a very serious film but the smarter and more interesting like Werner Herzog and Robert Duvall realize just how silly this all is and own it. Star Tom Cruise is weirdly blank a slab of stone-faced menace who dances around his own media persona. Cruise seems aware enough that will always be Tom Cruise™ in whatever role he takes on and the only choice he has is to embrace it and lampoon it as he did with Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder. Are we supposed to believe he's a lady-killer whose rock-hard abs make a female lawyer swoon? Does he realize how hilarious he sounds when he threatens a bad guy that he will "beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot"? Because that is hilarious. He has to know that he's parodying himself. (Do we need to mention that Jack Reacher is so fully realized by his creator Lee Child that he's described even down to his inseam? And that Cruise looks nothing like him?) On the other hand there are quite a few people who seem to take this all at face value. As Helen Rosamund Pike takes her job as a defense attorney very seriously mostly because her dad (played by always-reliable Richard Jenkins) is the pro-death penalty DA. She's sexually attracted to Reacher because all women are. But he's a drifter and a loner Dottie so forget that girly nonsense and hit the road. They try to talk shop but his shirtlessness apparently drives her to distraction. And when she thinks he's about to make a move on her and she's already protesting what a bad idea that is when he kicks her out. Broads man! Speaking of broads the only other woman in the movie (other than a silent meth head wrapped cozily in an afghan on a cook house's porch) is a sexy young thing named Sandy. When she tries to provoke Reacher (ladies am I right?) Cruise offers a one-liner comparing the definitions of "hooker" and "slut." There is just no way for someone like Cruise to pull off a deadpan line like this. Statham could do it maybe but this is like watching your dad flirt with a high schooler. "It's just what girls like me do!" Sandy tells him later. There's not enough snap to this script or its delivery to pull off such ickyness. David Oyelowo is another sinking stone of seriousness as a no-nonsense cop who is annoyed by Reacher and his off-the-cuff investigative methods. As Emerson he plays the bad cop and threatens to put the suspected sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora) in with the general population graphically describing the threats to Barr's various orifices. This should read as snappy cop chatter albeit stomach-turning (when will jail rape stop being a source of amusement?) but it falls flat. The only shining stars here are Duvall an old-timer who owns a shooting range in Ohio and Herzog a nubby-handed Russian who bit off several of his own fingers in a Siberian gulag and lost others to frostbite. He's also got one milky eye and every single line he delivers is gold. Jack Reacher needed 99% more Herzog and far fewer mindless car chases slut-shaming and weak plot twists. It could also have done with a ruthless editor who would have chiseled off at least 30 minutes from its bloated 2 hour and 10 minute run time. Let's just hope no one gets any wise ideas about adapting any of the other Jack Reacher novels. There are a lot to choose from.
  • The Guilt Trip Review
    By: Jenni Miller December 19, 2012 7:53am EST
    The stereotype of the smothering Jewish mother and her passive (and passive-aggressive) grown son is nothing new in pop culture. The Guilt Trip could have easily dipped into a mewling mommy-hating therapy session but star Barbra Streisand manages to transform a New Jersey widow who loves collecting frogs coffee klatches and coupons with her fellow yentes into something more than her neuroses. Seth Rogen is an amiable foil as her son Andy a frustrated organic chemist whose invention — a cleaner so natural you could drink it! — is going nowhere. Frankly Andy and his product are both pretty boring until Joyce comes along. Andy makes a rare pit stop at his childhood home before launching on a cross-country tour trying to convince execs to stock his product. After Joyce reveals a rather humanizing tidbit about her past he decides to invite her along. She's thrilled to spend time with her son who seems alternately amused and bemused by his colorful mom. They fall into a familiar squabbly rhythm that hits pretty close to home especially during the holiday season. Streisand and Rogen's chemistry keeps The Guilt Trip going. You get the feeling that Rogen who has been stretching himself in more serious roles like the cuckolded husband in Take This Waltz almost just shows up to have Streisand bounce off of him. It's hard to believe he's simmering with rage at his overbearing mom and it's easy to see that she is lonely and harmless; without these two factors the movie could have fallen flat or taken a much darker turn. (The latter would have been an interesting drama although a different movie entirely.) His little digs at her are mumbled asides that seem harmless but add up although Joyce can be kind of annoying in a particular way that only a child can sense about his/her parent. Another actor with a less gentle demeanor could have made Andy a real jerk but even in his jerkiest moments he's just sort of sad. There doesn't feel like there's much at stake here. The smaller moments are what sing even if they're a little sappy. What's so often overlooked by family comedies especially ones that have the opportunity to vilify the mother is that your parents are human. They had lives before you ever arrived and they will continue to do so after you've left. More importantly they have love lives and sexual histories whether you like it or not. Joyce is no naïf; she's less flummoxed by stopping at a strip club (bartended by the wonderful Dale Dickey) than Andy is. She likes to have a good time and men like her. People like her. They don't particularly like or are impressed by Andy. Although Joyce questions whether or not she's been a good mother especially since Andy is still single (The horror!) she never verges on truly castrating or cruel. When she finally lets loose in a total Streisand moment with a monologue that begins "You little sh*t…" you're on her side. Andy is being a little sh*t. Like many of us especially around the holidays he forgets his mom is human. The Guilt Trip is an interesting companion to the Apatow canon if we can call it that. It's hard not to associate Rogen's Andy Brewster with his earlier comedic roles. There's not a lot to him although Dan Fogelman's script does try and add a few layers that should surprise us. If we try to fill in the blanks it's easy to wonder if Andy is a slightly more grown-up version of Ben Stone who in Knocked Up has a dysfunctional relationship with his father and only got it together when he was trying to impress a woman. It would have been good to get to know Andy a little bit more but it's hard to compete with Babs and he's smart to let her take over. In the end The Guilt Tripis more about Joyce than Andy which makes it much more in line with adult fare like Hope Springs than Rogen's typical beat. While Joyce is still defined by her lack in many ways — she's single because she reasons she wants to be able to eat M&M's in bed without anyone judging her and we don't see how she supports herself or what she does other than cluck over old home movies — she's still a helluva lot more woman than we normally see on screen.
  • On the Road Review
    By: Jenni Miller December 10, 2012 7:19am EST
    Is On the Road the first successful attempt to bring Jack Kerouac's beloved novel to the screen? Depends on who you ask. Fans of the Beat Generation will undoubtedly love this film directed by Walter Salles and adapted by Jose Rivera and those familiar with Kerouac's mythos might be able to play along. But if you've never heard of this group of writers and miscreants you might be eating their dust. On the Road is occasionally beautiful and entirely too long. Its narrator Sal Paradise Kerouac's alter ego is played by Sam Riley with a sort of muted watchfulness; he's an outsider the writer narrating it all along for the ride but the script doesn't do justice to the tastes of Kerouac's writing (although we get a taste in some small voiceovers). Garrett Hedlund owns this movie from top to bottom as Dean Moriarty with his buoyant earthy sexuality and total irresponsibility. In reality Dean is the sort of user and mooch that would be a total drain of energy and resources but we see him as Sal does: alive free sensual somehow utterly honest in his protestations of love and honesty despite his constant betrayals. Dean is absolutely the sex and love object of the movie his pansexual groove attracting and scaring Sal and in a way breaking his heart. Dean also breaks the hearts of Marylou his on-again off-again child bride played by Kristen Stewart; Camille the mother of his children played by Kirsten Dunst; and most movingly Carlo Marx the alter ego of Allen Ginsberg who is played by Tom Sturridge. Sturridge is excellent as the lovelorn poet who's alternately suicidal and joyous and his scenes with Hedlund are some of the most erotic and moving. The female characters get short shrift especially Marylou who lacks much of a personality; how much of what she does is egged on by Dean and how much is of her own volition? The ballyhoo over her nude scenes were overblown by half; although they're somewhat sexy they're overshadowed by all of the sexual tension between the leads. Two of the most interesting characters in On the Road are Old Bull Lee and his wife Jane. Bull is the alter ego of William S. Burroughs and Jane is Joan Vollmer Burroughs's common-law wife and the mother of his children. (Vollmer a writer in her own right was accidentally killed by Burroughs.) Jane played by Amy Adams is bizarre and fascinating a wild-haired lady and drug addict and mother of Bull's children but not much more than that. One could watch an entire movie of Viggo Mortensen playing Bull a sharp-dressed heroin addict who nods off with his child in his arms and strips off his clothes to get in an orgone accumulator he built in his backyard. The movie barely makes a pit stop at their crumbling Louisiana farm and their importance in Sal's life and the Beat generation is never quite explained. One might argue that the loopy timeline of the film mimics the unending road trip of Dean's life but it doesn't serve the final product. Incorporating more of Kerouac's writing as voice-overs or something similar would have given it more life the kind of vivacity Kerouac sought out in spades which is why he tolerated Dean's vagaries for so long. More than most movies it feels like On the Road could have gone in any direction expanding or reducing characters shortening the trips to concentrate on the characters more emphasizing the effects of their missing fathers or not and it's this wishy-washiness that undermines the movie. It feels much longer than it is. It's a loving tribute to its subjects and a movie that acts as a showcase for rising stars Hedlund and Riley but it fizzles when it should burn.