3 Billion and Counting
Alpha & Omega
Humphrey (voice of Justin Long), an Omega wolf, has fallen in love with Kate (voice of Hayden Panettiere), an Alpha wolf who’s the daughter of the pack’s leader, Winston (voice of Danny Glover). The Omega wolf pack’s leader, Tony (voice of Dennis Hopper) persuades Winston to unite the two packs during a foot shortage in order to avoid an imminent war between both packs. Winston arranges a marriage between Kate and Tony’s macho son, Garth (voice of Chris Carmack), but Kate doesn’t truly love him. Before the marriage takes place, though, park rangers all-of-a-sudden capture Humphrey and Kate and ship them from Canada to a park in Idaho where they’re supposed repopulate. It’s now up to Humphrey and Kate to find a way to get back home before a war commences between the Alpha and Omega packs. Marcel (voice of Larry Miller), a French Canadian goose, helps them throughout their long trek. Christina Ricci provides the voice of Lilly, Kate’s younger sister whom Garth falls in love in the meantime. Co-screenwriters Chris Denk and Steve Moore combine action adventure, drama and comic relief in ways that will entertain all ages. The scenes during which Garth tries to howl, unsuccessfully, have funny consequences. Marcel the goose, with his French accent, has some hilarious, clever one-liners that adults can appreciate. There’s also a very amusing musical number which won’t be spoiled here. At its very core, Alpha and Omega is a heartwarming story with a classic narrative arc that can be found in many tales involving an awkward male underdog who’s truly destined to be together with a female who’s out of his league. You’ll find Humphrey and Kate’s journey to be thrilling, delightful and enchanting. It will win your heart. Sure, the plot is predictable, but what’s fundamentally wrong with following a predictable formula as long as it’s skillfully directed and thoroughly enjoyable? Co-directors Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck wisely keep the pace moving along briskly so that none of the scenes drag. A terrific animated film ought to have a great story, well-written characters and great animation which, fortunately, is the case here. The CGI animation together with the 3D makes for an exhilarating visual feast that makes you feel as though you’re joining Humphrey and Kate along for the ride. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 28 minutes, Alpha and Omega is a thrilling adventure full of imagination and humor. It’s the best animated film of the season. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy it.
Yaniv 'Nev' Schulman, a photographer, agrees to let his brother, Ariel 'Rel' Schulman, and Henry Joost film him as a corresponds with the family of Abby, an 8-old girl from Michigan who impressed him by shipping him a painting of a photograph that he had took for a newspaper. He communicates with Abby via Facebook and, soon enough, also communicates with Abby’s mother, Angela, and Abby’s sexy, older half-sister, Meghan, with who he eventually falls in love with. Abby keeps sending him more paintings as Nev becomes increasingly interested in her family even though he’s never met them. He does, though, speak to Meghan, Angela and, briefly, Abby over the phone. The first sign that something’s fishy occurs when Meghan lies to Nev about singing a song that she sent him via email. Other small lies crop up, but now the real question that Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost ponder is whether or not Abby and her family are playing a joke on him, so they persuade him to fly to Abby’s home all the way in Ishpeming, Michigan, without invitation, in hopes of meeting her family in person. The precise events that transpire once her arrives to their home won’t be spoiled here, but please be rest assured that Catfish does not veer into Hitchcock territory except for a 5-minute scene and that no one gets butchered Hostel-style like the deceptive trailer might lead you to believe. In fact, some scenes are amusing or funny, i.e. when Nev reads the conversations he had with Meghan when they were sexting. Shulman and Joost do a great job of combining a wide variety of technology, i.e. Google Maps, to give the film some style with their limited budget. A few moments, though, have nauseating shaky camera movements. If you’re an intelligent person who uses logic and reason, you’ll be able to figure out the truth about Abby’s family from the get-go and find yourself yelling at how naïve and gullible Nev is---hasn’t he learned by now not to blindly trust strangers on the internet? Once Nev learns the truth, you’ll probably already be way ahead of him at that point. Some of the later scenes feel quite moving and raise provocative, timely issues about the way our society has evolved through technology. The film’s overall message, though, is far from profound or revelatory because of how obvious it is—you’ll find yourself going, “Duuh” rather than “Oooh” or “Hmmm.” It’s more interesting to ponder which portions of the documentary are fiction and which ones are real. At a running time of 1 hour and 26 minutes, Catfish is a somewhat amusing, funny and heartfelt blend of reality and fiction with no real surprises to offer and a social message that’s far from profound.
Olive (Emma Stone), a high school student, has been coasting along through high school years with a reputation of being a goody-goody without much in terms of popularity. She seizes the opportunity to gain popularity after she lies to her best friend, Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), that she lost her virginity. When the false rumor spreads like wildfire throughout the school, Olive doesn’t deny it and, soon enough, gets branded as being easy with guys. She even starts to accept money and gifts from guys who want her to spread a false rumor that she slept with them. Her gay friend, Brandon (Dan Byrd), also wants to experiment with the rumor mill, so she agrees to help him out by pretending to have loud sex with him in a bedroom during a keg party---a scene reminiscent of the simulated sex scene between Michelle and Ramon in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci add plenty of comic relief as their free-spirited parents, Rosemary and Dill, who are so funny in an offbeat sort of way together that you’d think you’re watching a Christopher Guest film. Thomas Hayden Church shows up as Olive’s English teacher and Lisa Kudrow plays his unfaithful wife who’s also the school’s guidance counselor. Then there’s Amanda Bynes as Marianne, Olive’s super-righteous classmate a la Mandy Moore’s character in Saved!. The screenplay by Bert V. Royal is smart, funny and very accurate when it comes to ways that teenagers react to rumors. It’s an absolute delight to watch Emma Stone sink her teeth into such a funny role with so much panache and witty one-liners. Much like Mean Girls, Election and even Ghost World, Easy A goes above and beyond the ordinary teen dramedy because of its many social commentaries and biting humor that will make you laugh one minute and think the next. Hopefully, Emma Stone’s popularity as an actress will skyrocket after you see her in this meaty, fun role. At a running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes, Easy A is such an unconventionally smart, funny and delightful teen comedy that it’s like a breath of fresh air. It’s this year’s Mean Girls.
Annie (Katie Aselton) and Darren (Dax Shepard), a young married couple living in Los Angeles, have a seemingly healthy relationship because they get along with one another like good friends and truly love each other. One night, though, as they lay side by side in bed, they mutually agree that their sex life has grown stale given that neither of them can remember the last time they had sex. Instead of going to couples therapy or getting to the root of their problem like truly mature couple would, they try an experimental, highly unconventional solution: choosing one night, a “freebie,” during which each of them can go out separately to have sex with anyone they want to, but without disclosing the details of their experiences upon returning home. Will their experiment ameliorate their relationship or worsen it? Will they even be able to find a sex partner on that particular night? The precise consequences of their experiment won’t be spoiled here, but it’s worth mentioning that it doesn’t quite go as they expected. Writer/director Katie Aselton maintains a sense of realism because the dialogue feels very organic and, therefore, the situations that Annie and Darren go through are believable and without contrivance. She wisely chooses not to resort to shakey camera movements as a means of acheiving that realism.The same can be said for Katie Aselton’s raw, emotionally charged performance and that of Dax Shepard. It’s very refreshing to watch Shepard handle such a dramatic, meaty role so convincingly because he’s usually typecast in comedic roles, i.e. in Old Dogs, Smother, Baby Mama, The Comebacks and Idiocracy. Admittedly, the characters of Annie and Darren come across as a bit naïve given that they expect their “freebie” to run so smoothly, but, fortunately, they’re much less irritating, unlikable and silly as the couple in Breaking Upwards, a romantic dramedy that treads similar waters. Aselton knows how to balance the drama with just the right amount of drama along with off-kilter comedic situations without going overboard in either direction because she grounds each scene in a sense of realism while tackling, sans preachiness, the universal issues of fidelity, trust, friendship and love with sensitivity.
Gone With the Pope
The Happy Poet
Jack Goes Boating
The Last Day of Summer
Joe (DJ Qualls) works a lowly job as a janitor at a fast food joint, Jim’s Burger Haven. His boss, Mr. Crolick (William Sadler), drives him up the wall by degrading, harassing and embarrassing him every single day at work. Not surprisingly, Joe can’t stand his job and bottles his rage inside of him the entire time until, one day, he snaps when Mr. Crolick humiliates him in front of everyone, including customers, by announcing that he must scrub the excrement from a toilet. When Joe gets fired, he prepares to shoot everyone upon arriving at work the next day and even goes to the extent of recording a farewell speech explaining his motives. Just when you think that Last Day of Summer will go right into Falling Down territory by having Joe cross many moral boundaries as he suffers a mental breakdown, Joe notices a sexy costumer, Stefanie (Nikki Reed), assumes that she’s flirting with him, and takes her hostage instead of killing Mr. Crolick. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Vlad Yudin essentially stalls in the second act once Joe holds Stefanie hostage in a motel. It’s not easy to grasp what makes Stefanie so trustworthy of Joe all of a sudden because he doesn’t really open up to her enough for her or you, the audience, for that matter to get to know him as a sensitive, complex human being. What was his childhood like? What are/were his parents or other family members like? Similarly, you never really get to know Stefanie nor will you find her eventually friendliness with Joe as warranted or believable. There’s simply no credible way that she could develop Stockholm syndrome so quickly. Yudin resorts to juvenile, crass and silly humor as a means of entertainment, but that kind of comedy juxtaposed with the drama gives a very uneven tone to the plot. On top of that, the third act feels so rushed that it leaves no time for Joe to believably and organically change as a character. At a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, Last Day of Summer squanders an intriguing premise with an uneven, lazy and painfully juvenile screenplay that's low on laughs and imagination.
Leaves of Grass
Music Makes a City
The Other City
Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo
The Temptation of St. Tony
Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) leads a team of ruthless thieves who rob banks in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The other members of the team include Jem (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy (Slaine) and Desmond (Owen Burk ). During their most recent bank robbery, Jem takes the bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), as a hostage and blindfolds her before letting her go beside the Charles River. Doug stalks Claire and, soon enough, bumps into her at a laundromat where the two of them instantly hit it off. Little does she know that he’s among the notorious thieves who robbed the bank that she works at. Meanwhile, FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) hunts Doug and his team down to try to arrest them for their series of crimes. He even interrogates Doug’s former lover, Krista (Blake Lively), to try to get some information from her. Pete Postelthwaite plays a crime boss who doubles as a flower shop owner. Chris Cooper briefly shows up as Doug’s incarcerated father who spread the family tradition of crime down the family line. Co-writers Peter Craig, Ben Afflect and Aaron Stockard go beyond the thrilling plot involving Doug’s attempts to avoid getting captured by the FBI because they ground the film in other genres through a subplot where Doug has a romance with Claire. To add more drama, there’s Doug’s innate struggles to escape for his life of crime, a task that’s much easier said than done. Each actor delivers a convincing performance that helps to keep you engaged throughout the course of the film so that not a single scene feels dull. Sure, some of the action sequences stretch credibility, but at least they’re fun to watch, i.e. when Doug & co. dress wear hilariously ugly nun costumes to rob a bank. Director Ben Affleck wisely doesn’t resort to the use of a shaky camera to generate tension. Instead, the tension comes from the tight script that brings its characters to life so that they’re not one-dimensional. You’ll find yourself caring about Doug and even rooting for him despite that he crosses many moral boundaries because, after all, he’s human and wants to start a better life far away from the Charlestown. At a running time of 2 hours and 5 minutes, The Town is a well-acted, suspenseful, refreshingly intelligent and character-driven crime thriller with just the right balance of action, drama and comic relief.
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