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 and has contributed to a variety of outlets, from classy joints like and 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.
  • End of Watch Review
    By: Jenni Miller Sep 20, 2012
    The cop genre can be a little tired but few have explored it as thoroughly as David Ayer. Ayer wrote the modern crooked cop movie Training Day with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke and he's written and directed a handful of other cop dramas based in South Central Los Angeles. Ayer's latest End of Watch has some of the same tropes at his previous movies — crookedness in the force the bond between two partners the push and pull between family and career — but our protagonists' biggest test is the street itself not each other. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are partners and best friends who sling racist insults at each other as often as they pledge their loyalty. As Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Peña) they are instantly likeable; they're goofy foul-mouthed brothers who are on the beat in South Central LA. They're definitely not always above board and they're a little smug about a recent bust; they want to find another big catch but when they do it lands them in the middle of a turf war and something way bigger than they could have anticipated. It's ugly it's graphic and it is in some ways a bit salacious in its portrayal of the violence most of us merely read about in the papers. The conceit that Ayer uses to bring the viewer in close is that Brian is filming their work for a filmmaking class he's taking. Besides the dubious legality there are plenty of times when it's impossible for Brian to be filming so Ayers only uses this device when it's most convenient. At other times the camera moves to a typical third-person POV or even as if we were looking at footage from the in-car camera of a police chase. The most unbelievable aspect of the handheld camera is when the gangsters they're after are filming themselves at parties or on drive-bys. While it's interesting and effective insofar as it brings us up right into the action it's just not logical. At one point Ayer even uses night vision for a suddenly and weirdly introduced enemy. On one hand the use of Brian's footage (and how much it ticks off his fellow cops) is quite effective but on the other it's simply illogical. We're supposed to believe that this is indicative of Brian's goals his desire to grow past the life of an officer on the beat and start a family and all that but at the same time there's not much backing that idea up. Although the family angle comes in later it doesn't seem likely that Brian will give up life with his partner without a big push in another direction. Ayer deftly switches between the violence of the job and the cops' intimate conversations in their car their regular off-duty lives and the bravado among officers jockeying for position on the force. The type of events Brian and Mike encounter can be stomach-turning; even the cops turn away before the camera offers the audience a look at what they've encountered. It's shocking at times and graphic in a way that's different than a horror movie or a shoot-'em-up like The Expendables 2. It sticks with you after the credits have rolled. End of Watch also grabs you emotionally although sometimes it is a bit too on the nose. There are more than enough scenes where characters get drunk and mournful about the lifespan or lifestyle of a cop. Brian who is a bit of a womanizer finally meets a woman he can't believe would go for a cop Janet (Anna Kendrick). Kendrick isn't given a lot to do but when she's onscreen she brings some levity to this grim business. Mike's wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez) also has quite a few zingers although her screen time is even less than Kendrick's. There aren't many other notable female characters. It's great to see America Ferrera play against her Traveling Pants type as a police officer who comes from the neighborhood and knows the people she's up against. Although the butch lesbian cop is played-out Ferrera does a good job bringing Orozco to life. There's also a hint that she was once romantically involved with the female leader of the Latin gang that's taking over South Central. The various gang members and other people the cops meet on their beat are fairly flat too; they're just the bogeymen and women who haunt cops on the streets and in their nightmares. There are some references about a street code and the changing gangs of South Central but it's more of a plot device than anything else. In the end though this isn't a sociological study; this is a portrait of a friendship. End of Watch has a lot to offer for fans of the genre especially if they've got their Kleenex at the ready.
  • Resident Evil: Retribution Review
    By: Jenni Miller Sep 14, 2012
    "Sorry if my snoring bothered you." Those are not the first words I'd expect out of the mouth of someone who got up on a Friday morning to catch the 10:30 AM screening of a new movie but that is more or less what the fellow who'd been sitting behind me said as I passed him on my way out. I'd heard him snoring over the constant rat-a-tat-tat of bullets and butt-kicking being doled out by Milla Jovovich et al in this latest iteration of the never-ending Resident Evil series (this time in IMAX 3D) but I figured maybe I was hearing things. Nope he was asleep. I used to play Resident Evil on my ancient PlayStation when it first came out. It scared the crap out of me. I enjoyed the first two movies — hey they included the skinless zombie dogs! — but I lost interest soon after that. How many times can you make the zombie apocalypse exciting? How many different skintight outfits can Jovovich wear while killing grotesque creatures who shoot evil grasping tentacles out of their mouths? Why should we care about all the blood and guts when we know the people we're supposed to be emotionally invested in will never die? We don't. Try as he might there are only so many ways for writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson to give the Resident Evil series fresh new layers for each new movie. The Umbrella Corporation is the big bad. They were playing with biological weapons and somehow there was an accident that let one of the viruses loose... and boom you've got a zombie apocalypse on your hands. Our heroine is Alice played by Milla Jovovich and there is a rotating cast of characters who help her fight the good fight against the hordes of brain-eaters and whatever is left of the Umbrella Corporation that's now after her. There are some parallels to the video game series but Paul W.S. Anderson (a gamer himself) has taken lots of liberties with the basic plot over the years. While Anderson's flashy style is especially suited to these types of movies there's not enough plot to make it work. We don't go to video game movies for plot of course but there has to be something to hold onto; otherwise why would we care if our protagonist were in danger? Anderson tries some neat tricks to snap us back to attention like bringing back characters that were killed in previous movies and throwing in a cloning subplot that calls into question some of the characters' true identities but it's still hard to get worked up about anything onscreen. However it ultimately sidesteps any deeper ideas that might take our attention away from all the guns. And there are so many guns and explosions and elegant butt-kickings doled out by Milla and her pals (or former pals in the case of Michelle Rodriguez's character Rain) that they blend together. It is especially difficult to work up any interest in the story because it's a franchise and no matter how many times the stars or director might say they're not that interested in doing another everyone is just waiting to see how much money this will make before deciding to go forward. There is no question how franchise movies will end; there will be no derring-do on the part of the writer or director to actually kill off a beloved character permanently. At one point it seemed like Anderson was going to pull the old "And then she woke up!" trick which would have been bold both because it's such a hackneyed idea that it would make writing professors' heads explode all over the world but also because it would have required Anderson to play in a different universe and expand his repertoire a bit. Alas like Alice and Anderson himself we just can't seem to escape this rabbit hole.
  • The Words Review
    By: Jenni Miller Sep 05, 2012
    The Words is the cinematic equivalent of a sentimental airport novel. It's someone's baby a work forged of sweat and blood as all creative ventures are but just as our protagonist Rory discovers that's not always enough. Although the movie would like to stir up conversation about fact and fiction creativity and ownership it's full of flimsy contrivances and sappiness that makes a movie (or a novel) thin and forgettable. The Words tries to be clever by wrapping a story within a story within a story but it's ultimately undermined by underdeveloped characters and sentimental trifles. Dennis Quaid plays a successful author Clay Hammond who kicks the movie off by reading from his new book The Words to a packed house of enthusiastic fans and colleagues. He's being pursued by a gorgeous MFA student named Danielle (Olivia Wilde) who's interested in Clay's attention but almost as if she could absorb some of his supposed brilliance through osmosis (or you know sex). The book he's reading from is about Rory Jensen a floundering writer played by Bradley Cooper with every ounce of emotional depth the Hangover star can muster. Despite his lovely and eternally supportive wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) Rory can't help but feel ripped off by life. He's paying his dues writing all night and working at a publishing house in the mail room all day but he can't get anywhere with his work. It's just not marketable it's too internal people wouldn't get it. Rory is so misunderstood and his life sucks. That is until he finds a lost manuscript in a leather briefcase that he and Dora bought on their Paris honeymoon. It's genius everyone loves it and he's living large. When an old man who is simply referred to as "The Old Man" (played by Jeremy Irons in some sort of aging make-up that makes him look like his face is slowing melting like candle wax) appears to claim his book Rory (and the audience) is forced to listen to another story. We're sucked into post-war Paris and The Old Man's tragic life. Most of The Words is told through various narrators which further undercuts the already underdeveloped characters. We're not given much to go on when it comes to Rory and why he writes or even why Dora is so crazy about him that she jumps his bones when he's trying to work on his epic novel. There's little indication what she does other than be supportive of Rory's work even when he's being a giant putz and telling her that nothing in his life is right. He is what one might imagine most petulant overly intelligent successful male writers are like in real life but without any of the actual meat and blood to make him worthy of Dora's or our interest. While The Old Man's story is interesting it is fairly vacuous. Irons shows a little bite here and there but he's your stock Sad Old Lonely Man character who chain smokes and feeds the birds in the park and coughs with a certain ominous foreshadowing. Last but not least Clay is supposed to be the mastermind behind all this bringing up questions of fact versus fiction and what we give up to become artists and creators and how that affects our relationships with everyone around us. While these are all ultimately unanswerable questions Clay and his fictional doppelgangers aren't deep enough to really hazard a guess. The women they talk to are ciphers muses or pushovers. This is the directorial debut of Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman who also wrote the script together. (They're previous credits include TRON: Legacy.) The cinematography isn't particularly a stand out although giving the scenes set in the '40s a sort of sepia tint works well if a little too on the nose. The score is too intrusive and self-important; it tries entirely too hard to make the audience feel things that aren't in the movie itself. The Words is the sort of movie you'd watch on an airplane or on cable some Sunday afternoon. The characters' moral quandaries in the end don't say anything at all.
  • The Possession Review
    By: Jenni Miller Aug 29, 2012
    There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics. The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl. The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost. Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily. The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect. The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew. It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
  • The Apparition Review
    By: Jenni Miller Aug 24, 2012
    The Apparition is your typical ultimately forgettable horror film that serves up more unintentional laughs than scares. Tom Felton of the Harry Potter series appears as Patrick a sort of paranormal-obsessed Encyclopedia Brown whose jerry-rigged college experiment ends with one of the participants being sucked up into -- somewhere the wall? The maw of the Apparition? Who knows. She's gone and the apparition is on the loose. Fast forward a few years and Patrick's paranormal accomplice Ben (Sebastian Stan of Captain America and Gone) is attempting to make a life for himself with his girlfriend Kelly (Ashley Greene). They've just moved into a house in a mostly empty land development in Palmdale CA where their only neighbors seem to be a guy and his daughter and their dog. Kelly's parents bought the house as an investment like the Bluths from Arrested Development minus any personality and plus a ghost. Immediately something otherwordly begins screwing with their absolutely normal Costco-going everyday lives. Things move doors open nasty-looking "mold" begins growing on things and once Kelly discovers Ben's ghost-hunting past (and the fact that the girl who disappeared was his ex sob!) their relationship begins unraveling as the ghost ramps up its reign of terror. This gives Patrick the chance to re-enter his friend's life so they can bust out their ghost-hunting (and ideally ghost-trapping) gear and get to work. Sometimes a movie gives you the feeling that something's been left on the cutting room floor. Somewhere along the line scenes were snipped or added toned down or ramped up and what you're left with is a messy confusing final product. One might be generous and think this is the case with The Apparition. Was there supposed to be more of a commentary on suburban life? If not why does Costco keep popping up? Did someone with greater clout persuade the writer or director to inject an appearance of the ghost that's so ludicrous it made me think someone had swapped out a reel from Scary Movie? Was it supposed to be purposefully funny in places and someone higher up demanded they tone it down? It's not really our job as viewers to try and figure out what went wrong only that it did go wrong. The Apparition is a DVD rental at best unless you enjoy paying money to tell characters onscreen how dumb they are. The best thing one can say about The Apparition is at least it's not another "found footage" movie. That's not saying much.
  • Hit & Run Review
    By: Jenni Miller Aug 21, 2012
    You know that video that went around a few months ago where Dax Shepard presented Kristen Bell a sloth for a little birthday cuddle and she promptly had an adorable crying fit? Instead of catching Hit and Run you're better off just watching that for 100 minutes interspersed with the car chase scenes from your favorite action movie. Hit and Run stars the real-life couple as a Mutt and Jeff pair living in a small town in California. Annie (Bell) is a professor who's presented with the opportunity for a big city gig at Stanford. The catch is it's in Los Angeles — and her beloved Charlie (Shepard) can't leave the city. Charlie Bronson is in the Witness Protection Plan for testifying against his bank robbin' buddies after a heist gone awry. Charlie was merely the getaway driver so his hands are relatively clean but he's on his former best friend's sh*tlist for ratting them out. Plus Annie's ex Gil (Michael Rosenbaum) is obsessed with winning her back. Add in prison rape jokes Bradley Cooper with a terrible wig of white boy dreads and Tom Arnold as That Guy the annoyingly goofy Federal Marshall assigned to protect Charlie and who only succeeds in crashing his car and discharging his gun and you've got a headache of a movie. Besides its uncomfortably lingering jabs at prison Hit and Run boasts a number of distasteful attempts at humor. It's possible to make almost anything funny but you must have talent to do it. This is not the case here. Kristin Chenoweth has a small part as Debbie Annie's boss who encourages Annie to take the job because she deserves it. Debbie doesn't because she got trashed a lot in college was date raped had an abortion and went to a state school. There's another running joke about a Grindr-like app and a gay cop — because it's funny for a cop to be gay. The characters keep accidentally barging into a hotel room full of swingers that are of various ages and body types because God forbid people who don't look like Bell or Shepard have sex. The only enjoyable aspect of the movie is the chemistry between Shepard and Bell although one could hazard a guess that their little fights are based on real-life tiffs. (Based on the movie's sensibilities it wouldn't be a far reach to imagine that Bell probably did have to teach Shepard why it wasn't okay to say things were "gay" instead of just uncool.) Their arguments about the present moment versus the past are interesting enough but it seems pretty dumb that she was fine with him being in protective custody for who-knows-what-crime only to suddenly freak out when she finds out what his crime really was or that he had a life before her (including a fiancée). How can she suddenly get mad at him for misrepresenting himself when she knew the whole time he was on the run from something? His new name is Charlie Bronson! Come on! There are so many problems with this story so many moments that fall flat so many unfunny jokes beaten to death so many moments of fuzzy logic that it's confounding how it was actually made. Shepard wrote the screenplay and co-directed with David Palmer and it looks serviceable enough. But someone needs to get the lovable and lovely Kristen Bell a new agent… yesterday.
  • Sparkle Review
    By: Jenni Miller Aug 17, 2012
    Sparkle isn't a great movie. It's possible that it's not even a very good movie. It is however a highly enjoyable sprawling soap opera with '60s fashion and period detail glamorous musical performances high drama and perhaps most importantly the late Whitney Houston's last performance on film. As Sparkle American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance alum Jordin Sparks carries the weight of the movie. Sparkle is a little "church mouse" who is too shy to sing the soulful songs she writes. Sister (Carmen Ejogo) who recently returned from New York and has a bad reputation is persuaded to take the lead. Sparkle and the family's third sister Dolores (Tika Sumpter) a pre-med and the sharpest in terms of intelligence and personality sing backup. As their band takes off they acquire a manager the starry-eyed Stix (Derek Luke) and although Sister was initially courted by Stix's cousin Levi he's quickly shoved aside for Satin (Mike Epps). Naturally Sister and Satin are a combustible pair Sparkle is only concerned with the future of their band and Dolores waits to find out if she got into medical school. Meanwhile matriarch Emma (Whitney Houston) has no idea her daughters are sneaking out to perform in clubs in Detroit. In one of the movie's especially silly contrivances she finds out when she sees them on late night TV. There are plenty of things in Sparkle that don't make sense. There are leaps in logic bizarre plot holes and a clumsy attempt to work civil rights into the mix. Somehow the magnetism of its stars especially Ejogo and Epps as the slickly sinister fiancé Satin helps make Sparkle a little bit more of the sum of its parts. And of course Houston's performance as Mama Bear Emma is worth the price of admission for fans of the diva. It doesn't matter if you're like gospel or not; when she belts out "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" with tears running down her face fans will swoon. Sparkle was a passion project for Houston who loved the original with Irene Cara and was an executive producer on this remake. Her character is steely and overprotective often at the cost of her daughters' self-esteem. Houston wows in a scene with Epps when they exchange words over a Sunday dinner. Emma doesn't just call Satin out for his disrespect of religion (in front of the reverend no less) but for the way his comedy panders to a white audience. This is one of the more successful moments when the civil rights movement is evoked; although the script makes nods towards Martin Luther King Jr. he's used as a sort of prop to try and convince Sparkle she should have faith in herself. In the end though Sparkle is a spectacle. It's false eyelashes and winged eyeliner diamonds and drugs smoke-filled clubs and a disapproving mom with her hair in curlers waiting at home with a glint in her eye. It is the kind of movie where choirs pop up from seemingly nowhere and you can achieve your dreams by waiting outside a record exec's office for days on end. It's baffling and mesmerizing. Fans will eat it up.
  • The Expendables 2 Review
    By: Jenni Miller Aug 13, 2012
    It's rare that a sequel trumps the original but The Expendables 2 manages to do just that with a steady stream of one-liners and welcome weathered faces as well as a few new ingredients. E2 seems even more self-aware of its own silliness especially with Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain (named Vilain of course) and Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger popping up in smaller roles alongside previous Expendables Sylvester Stallone Jason Statham Jet Li Dolph Lundgren Bruce Willis Terry Crews and Randy Couture. Then again The Expendables wasn't any sort of action classic; it was like writer/director/star Stallone threw a whole bunch of ideas at the wall to see which would stick then added massive amounts of weapons and the occasional hand-to-hand combat. It was popular but it definitely not the kind of awesome actioner that the stars were able to make 10 or 20 years ago. There's the rub actually; like women actors who have written or directed their own projects because nothing else was available or satisfactory Stallone created The Expendables because Hollywood didn't seem to know what to do with him and his fellow action stars as they got older. It's easy to criticize Stallone et al for not doing the same amount of stunt work or hand-to-hand fighting that for example Statham is capable of but the whole thrust of the movie is that they're expendable -- to themselves to the world and until Stallone kickstarted these movies to Hollywood. E2 is still clumsy but it's a little more adventurous and a little more introspective. Two new additions to the crew seem to throw everyone for a loop in one way or another. Liam Hemsworth shows up as Bill the Kid a sniper who left the military after a raid in Afghanistan went horribly wrong; his age and hopefulness not to mention physical prowess is a foil the Sylvester Stallone's Barney Ross and one that Barney is well aware of. Nan Yu joins the team as Maggie who is apparently the only person who can disarm the safe that holds whatever secret thing Church (Willis) has sent them to retrieve. And if the Expendables don't get her back alive Church will make them pay because even though Maggie is some sort of multilingual computer genius with a vicious roundhouse she's a lady. On one hand perhaps we're supposed to gather that this group of old dogs is learning new tricks by having to deal with a smart capable woman in their midst; the attempts Gunner (Lundgren) makes to flirt with her are clunky and goofy and she's obviously way too smart for fall for that claptrap. On the other when she whips out some instruments of torture Barney cracks "What are you going to do give them a pedicure?" And of course her role also devolves into an incredibly stilted and unbelievable romantic interest for Barney. One point for trying but two points deducted for falling into the romantic interest trap. At times it's hard to tell whether or not we're laughing with the crew or at them. Plus because of how jam-packed the cast is some actors get the short end of the stick. Statham is the most charismatic of the bunch and he also has the most impressive hand-to-hand fight scenes but the emphasis in E2 is sheer firepower so he doesn't get nearly enough screen time. Couture is fairly forgettable while Lundgren plays the lunkiest of lunkheads; the running joke is that he has a chemical engineering degree from MIT and was a Fulbright Scholar which is supposed to be funny... except it's also true. (We're to assume he's mended his evil ways between the first Expendables and the second.) Is Lundgren agreeably poking fun at himself the same way Schwarzenegger hams it up at every turn? Or does E2 have shades of JCVD which stars Van Damme was a washed-up action star? Are the emotional moments supposed to fall so hilariously flat on purpose? For some reason it seems important to tease out which parts of these movies are earnest and which are tongue-in-cheek. There's a weird melancholy about watching this group of aging action stars that has the same tang as watching someone you love grow older especially as they try so very hard to fight the ravages of time. If you dig a little deeper maybe deeper than E2 warrants you could find a well of sadness below the back-slapping antics. The world has changed and even though Stallone and his crew have muscles so hard and juicy they could pop out of their skin like grapes they can't compete with Bill the Kid and Maggie and others like them. They know it and we know it and while it's good fun to see old friends or onscreen enemies kill scores of bad guys (led by JCVD sporting a truly horrible fake Baphomet-style neck tattoo) there are better smarter more exciting and more interesting action films on the horizon. And there's also The Expendables 3.
  • Hope Springs Review
    By: Jenni Miller Aug 07, 2012
    The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life. Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable. After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits. Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight. It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny. The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days Review
    By: Jenni Miller Aug 03, 2012
    It is really hard to care about a movie when it seems like everyone involved doesn't seem to particularly care about it either. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to kids' movies relying on peeing-in-the-pool jokes and exaggerated facial expressions to try and coax a chuckle out of its audience. The third movie based on the popular books by Jeff Kinney is a series of vaguely related vignettes that chronicle the misadventures of Greg Heffley (Zach Gordon) the eponymous wimpy kid. Whether or not the disjointed nature of the script is because it is based on two of Kinney's books — The Last Straw and Dog Days according to his website — is beside the point; the fact remains that it's a mess and perhaps one last cash grab at the series before its stars age out of their roles.  Greg's main problems are that his crush Holly (Peyton List) didn't get a chance to leave her entire number in his yearbook before she was whisked away and that his dad Frank (Steve Zahn) wants him to do something other than play video games all day. His solution is to tag along with his friend Rowley (Robert Capron) to the fancy country club where Holly teaches tennis lessons to kids. As a bonus Greg tells his dad he's got a job there too. However he's kind of a putz so his problems are really his fault and caused by him lying and generally acting like a jerk to people like Rowley. Rowley is of course dorky and chubby and feels terrible when he lies and is generally a good kid; he's supposed to be a comic foil or a sidekick but it's really hard to rustle up any sympathy for such a poorly written and acted character. The role itself is thankless; the round-faced nerd with the bowl cut who really loves his parents (albeit to an uncomfortable degree) and is a loyal friend is never going to be the real hero of the story. The most pressing issue is that Greg is not a very compelling character. He's not really "wimpy" or unpopular or anything that would show he's as put-upon by the world as the title indicates; that would have at least opened up the opportunity for a discussion about bullying or something of that nature. He's not beleaguered he's exasperating. In fact pretty much all of the characters are. This is not drama that will lend itself to some grand epiphany but the father/son arc is so weak it's difficult to believe that they're having significant problems or that it means anything when they finally see eye to eye. There is a small but insidious mean streak in the movie as well. An early scene shows Greg hunting for his little brother in the men's locker room at the local pool and his discomfort at the scenes around him — Men with hairy backs! Men clipping their gross yellowed toenails! — illustrates a squeamishness that sets off a few alarm bells. Yes it's scary and weird to see the bodies of naked strangers especially when your own body is about to be going all crazy growing hair and zits and weird stuff but the way it's played for laughs is downright icky. Later Greg's brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) pretends to be drowning to get the attention of his crush and ends up getting CPR from an older man a gesture that leaves Rodrick practically gagging. The idea that it's weak and therefore unmanly to have love for one's parents and value honesty (as per Rowley) or engage in selflessness (as per the CPR-giver) isn't really disproved by the end. Greg makes amends with Rowley and Greg realizes that his dad isn't perfect either and that it really is better to be honest and loving towards your friends and family but it's all as hollow as a Hallmark movie that wraps everything up in time for the commercial break. The acting is about as good as you'd expect. Gordon reacts to almost everything with a sort of wizened/constipated look that may call to mind Woody Allen or some other menschy type but it doesn't fly. Zahn has an occasionally funny moment that some adults will pick up on but that's about it. Bostick reprises his role as Greg's older brother Rodrick who is a sort of mall punk desperate to impress Holly's horrible older sister Heather (Melissa Roxburgh). Bostick is sort of funny although this seems like the role that will probably embarrass him in years to come especially his performance in one of the very few entertaining scenes in the whole movie. (It involves pyrotechnics prissy sixteen-year-olds and a bug-eyed version of "Baby.") The talented Rachael Harris is saddled with the thankless job of playing the matriarch of this brood; she spends her scant time onscreen with a toddler on her hip imploring her husband and/or son to communicate and so forth. It's hard to not be cynical about kids' movies and studios looking to make a quick summer buck and Dog Days is a great example why. There are plenty of other interesting things for you and your family to enjoy in theaters this summer; really you would actually be better off staying home and playing video games with your kids than seeing Dog Days.