From the bottom line to the punch line. “Humor Me,” a yearly charity event in support of Sick Kids Hospital youth at risk has raised more than $1 million to date. The idea is simple three CEOs selected form some of Canada’s biggest companies do strand up comedy and are judged by a panel that includes Richard, Yuk Yuk’s founder Mark Breslin and writer Jim Slotek. Think “American Idol” with jokes and where all the money goes to a great cause. This year the show will be hosted by comedian Dave Foley of “Kids in the Hall” and headlined by comedy legend Bill Cosby. This year the show is on Tuesday, October 14, 2014, 7:30pm at the Elgin Theatre, Toronto. More info HERE!
SYNOPSIS: Based on the Marvel comic book, the action in “Thor” really begins with our hero about to be named king by his father (Anthony Hopkins, classing up the joint). Seconds before daddy says the words, “You are king,” Frost Giants from an enemy realm interrupt the ceremony. Furious that his big day has been marred Thor (Chris Hemsworth) disobeys his father and skips realms to confront the invaders. His punishment for his reckless, arrogant behaviour is banishment to Earth and the arms of meteorologist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).
Richard: Mark, its hammer time! Thor, the ball peen superhero is big, loud cheesy fun. It feels a bit like an amuse bouche to the all-superhero-all-the-time Avengers movie coming next year, but as an origin movie it gets the job done. Unlike its star, the incredibly buff Chris Hemsworth, the movie is a bit soft in the middle. It starts off well, slows to a crawl midway, but as soon as Thor Gets His Groove back… er… Gets His Hammer Back the movie gets back on track. What did you think?
Mark: Well, it did feel long to me. In fact, my ath ith thtill a bit thor. But I liked the way it moved back and forth between the worlds of Earth and Thor’s home planet. It almost felt like two different movies were going on, but just almost. At first I couldn’t believe that Kenneth Branagh would direct a comic book movie, but the film does have a Shakespearean feel at times. What say you, Richard?
RC: It’s a greatest hits of Willy’s themes—love, deception, death and daddy issues and Anthony Hopkins classes up the joint a little bit, although the way he chews the scenery it’s like he hasn’t eaten in a month, but I wish it didn’t sag in the middle. The Natalie Portman love story is the weakest thing about the movie.
MB: And Portman is the weakest link in the film, period. But what about the lead, Chris Hemsworth? I thought he was very good in a ludicrous role, and the twinkle in his eye and swagger in his step really made the part bearable, as did his spectacular pecs.
RC: Couldn’t agree more about Portman. She’s miscast. Kat Dennings, in a throwaway role that she turns into a charismatic supporting part, would have been a better and more interesting lead. As for Hemsworth, initially I didn’t know if he was going to cut it with his oh-so-serious line delivery, but later, his realization that as “the Mighty Thor” has lost some of his powers is fun. The movie is actually a lot funnier than I thought it would be.
MB: Intentionally funny, I might add, which is unusual for this kind of movie. I liked the visuals on Planet Whatever, they were rich and deep, which is more than I can say for the now-mandatory 3D, which I found tepid. But not the noise level! Talk about Hammer time! I’m just getting my hearing back now.
Nova Prescott (Aimee Teegarden) is an overachieving senior and head of the prom committee. After spending weeks working on decorations for the big night a mysterious fire reduces her hard work to ash. Will the prom go on? Will school rebel Jesse Richter (Johnny Depp look-a-like Thomas McDonell) actually turn out to be a good guy? Will anyone care by the time the credits roll? Over the course of the extra long running time, hearts are broken and mended, tears are spilled, rugs are cut and the true meaning of prom is revealed.
Richard: Zero stars
Richard Crouse: Mark, first of thanks for the corsage. It was perfect for the Prom screening, and how did you know aqua carnations are my favorite? As for the movie itself, I know it is meant for teens and we’re somewhat older than the target audience, but really, I think there is a case to be made to bring the filmmakers up on charges of elder abuse for making us sit through this tedious exercise in youth entertainment. What did you think?
Mark Breslin: Richard, I would have hated this movie even when I was a teen. My objection is not that it was for teenagers, but that it was made for stupid and uncritical teenagers. There have been lots of smart, sly high school movies: Heathers, Mean Girls, Jawbreaker, Easy A. This is not one of them. Except for the incredible plot twist revealed halfway through the picture, there would be no reason to see it.
RC: Incredible plot twist? I just saw it and have no idea what you mean. This is as by the book as it gets. Anyone who doesn’t know how this is going to end by the time the opening credits have played has never seen a movie before. Predictable in the extreme, even the stuff this kind of movie usually gets right, like the comic relief, doesn’t bring any relief.
MB: The plot twist is this: One of the girls gets accepted to Parsons School of Design for the following semester, but the letter is clearly dated 2015. That means the entire movie is taking place four years into the future, during which time a group of orthodontists from outer space colonize a high school and replace the students with insipid, dweeby versions of themselves, giving them all perfect teeth in the process. Diabolical! Then they turn the males into Eighties teen star clones of Ralph Macchio, Keanu Reeves, John Cusack, etc. Diabolical, I say!
RC: Ha! the only truly diabolical thing about this movie is the script, which makes the old Afternoon Specials seem like Chekov. The characters all seem borrowed from The Breakfast Club, only without the special touch that John Hughes brought to his movies. The Johnny Depp lookalike almost brings the bad boys thing to life, but the rest of them are straight outta central casting.
MB: And I’ve never seen a bad boy roll over so fast. I don’t think a principal can order a student to do extracurricular work. That bad boy shoulda called the ACLU!
SYNOPSIS: Set during the Great Depression, the story begins with veterinary student Jacob Jankowski (Twilight’s Robert Pattinson) finding a job as caretaker to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth menagerie. On the job he meets Marlena, (Reese Witherspoon) a beautiful equestrian star married to August (Inglourious Basterds’ Christoph Waltz), an abusive animal trainer. He falls in love with her while tending to Rosie, the faltering circus’ 10,000 pound star attraction.
RC: Mark, Water for Elephants is told from the point of view of an older man. He’s looking back at the most important years of his life, but at first I wondered why they bothered with this device. Other than giving us a chance to see Hal Holbrook, which is always welcome, it didn’t seem to ad much to the story. Then I realized that the story has a warm fuzzy kind of glow that is the result of being told from the point of view of memory and not reality. Does that make sense to you?
MB:Well, it worked for The Notebook, so why not? And it allows the film to sneak in a happy ending, although if even Robert Pattinson winds up looking like Hal Holbrook it’s a reminder that time is indeed cruel. But I enjoyed the movie very much. You, Richard?
RC: I did. It feels a bit old fashioned, which I guess, fits the period of the film. I liked the nostalgic glow. I also liked the performances. Reese Witherspoon looks like she was born to sit atop an elephant, R. Patz gets more action here than in all the Twilight movies combined and Christoph Waltz once again shows he was a way with cruel and unusual characters.
MB: I especially liked the first third of the movie with its exploration of the circus hierarchy and its magical evocation of time and place. But I still think Robert Pattinson feels like a manufactured star even though he acquits himself well in the film. Reese really can top a pachyderm, and if Waltz plays one more villain I’m going to cast him in a Jennifer Aniston rom-com at gunpoint.
RC: The only thing missing from Waltz’s bad guy performance here is his SS uniform from Inglourious Basterds. He really is becoming Hollywood’s guy we love to hate, and he’s good at being bad, but I’d like to see if he can do other things as well. I wouldn’t wish an Aniston rom-com on anyone, but his typecasting is getting old. Pattinson on the other hand proved to me that he can play something other than a lovesick vampire, which, the success of Twilight aside, is kind of limiting career wise.
MB: Only one quibble: early in the picture, we’re told to expect “the worst disaster in circus history.” I expected something of Biblical proportion, but Cecil B. DeMille clearly did not direct this one.
In Rio, nerd actor du jour Jesse Eisenberg plays, what else, a nerdy birdie—a domesticated macaw—from small-town Minnesota named Blu. He’s never learned to fly, but enjoys a happy and healthy life with his owner and BFF Linda (Leslie Mann). When they discover the last remaining female blue macaw (voice of Anne Hathaway) in the world lives in Rio de Janeiro, they make the journey to find her, but their trip doesn’t go as planned.
Richard: Mark, I have to get the 800-pound elephant—or in this case, the big blue bird—out of the way right away. Let me say that Rio has an OK story and fine animation but it really lacks the depth of a Pixar film. Maybe I’m spoiled, but when I watch animated movies, whether they are Dreamworks, or, like this one, from Fox, I can’t help but think, “What would the wizards at Pixar have done with this story?”
MB: Richard, I agree. Pixar is the gold standard of animated films, but sometimes, you just have to go for the bronze. Or as Stephen Stills once sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” I found there were a lot of things to enjoy about the movie, even if it wasn’t Pixar perfect. Let’s start with the look and setting: ravishing colour palette and exotic location.
RC: Don`t get me wrong, Rio is perfectly serviceable. It`s colourful and filled with nice little touches like a little bird who warms himself against a traffic light, flitting back-and-forth between the red and green lights, in snowy Minnesota, but even with all the good stuff it isn`t particularly memorable. It`ll keep the little ones occupied in the theatre—although very little kids may find some of the action a bit too intense—and has some good messages, but there`s no real sticky content here.
MB: Yes, the story is weak, and 15 minutes too long. But I found the movie came alive during the three musical numbers, and if there only had been more, a full-blown musical, the movie might have been a near classic. But there were nice moments of visual wit, and I appreciated Jesse Eisenberg’s attempts at Woody Allen line readings. Nigel, the avian villain, is good, as is Tracy Morgan’s drooly bulldog. Could have used more of him.
RC: I agree. The movie is just off by 20 per cent. I wasn’t much taken with the voice work from the leads but will.i.am, Jamie Foxx, Morgan and particularly Jemaine Clement are great. When their characters are on screen the movie comes alive, when they’re not, it doesn’t really take flight.
MB: And although it is a sanitized version of Rio de Janeiro presented in the film, I was pleased to see some references to street urchins, favelas, pickpockets and bad Brazilian steakhouses as part of the movie.
SYNOPSIS: Russell Brand is Arthur Bach, the ne’re-do-well heir to an enormous fortune. He’s a womanizing playboy, a drunk man-child whose nanny (Helen Mirren) describes as “merely shaped like an adult.” When he embarrasses his mother, she brings down the hammer. Either he straightens up and marries the beautiful but all-business Susan or be disinherited. Trouble is, he’s in love with Naomi (Greta Gerwig) a charismatic Grand Central Station tour guide.
Richard Crouse: Mark, “Arthur Redux” isn’t an improvement on the original, but it isn’t a complete waste of time, either. I really think your enjoyment of Arthur, the remake of the 30-year-old Dudley Moore comedy, is in direct ratio to your enjoyment of Russell Brand. His brand of Brit-speak verbal diarrhea works in small doses, the trick here is to see whether audiences will sit through two hours of wordplay rivalled only by Charlie Sheen on a crack-fuelled Internet rant.
Mark Breslin: I liked the movie. In fact, I really liked it when I saw it in 1980. It is in no way superior to the original, but Russell Brand does pull it off, although with far less subtlety than Dudley Moore. The lines are good if not great, but I thought everybody else in the film paled in comparison. Even the great Helen Mirren was no John Gielgud, and Greta Gerwig still seems like she’s the best thing in a student film.
RC: Mirren may not equal Gielgud here, but it’s almost worth the price of admission to see her wear a Darth Vader mask. As for Gerwig, I honestly think she’s the best thing in the movie. She’s naturally charismatic and as un-Hollywood an actor as we have in Hollywood films right now. She’s quirky, cool and without her, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as effective. The second half, when it takes a turn for the touching, is better than the “funny” first half and she’s responsible for that.
MB: Interesting. It’s the second, “serious” half of the movie that didn’t work for me. Brand lacks the tragic element that Moore brought, probably because at five-foot-two, Dudley looks vulnerable (and infantile) from the start. And not to attack Ms. Gerwig, but I didn’t get why Arthur would choose her as a romantic interest above all others. She wasn’t all that wild or even all that Bohemian. I thought Luis Guzman was a far better match, although that would have been a very different movie. Nice to see Nick Nolte, although his extended cameo does not qualify as a comeback vehicle.
RC: Funny how we’ve spent very little time discussing the star of the movie. Brand can deliver a joke, unfortunately in the first half of the movie he delivers every line like they are all punch lines. Like the character he’s playing, he’s not as charming as he thinks he is, but he can raise a smile here and there.
Synopsis: Hop begins on Easter Island, home base of the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie) and his son, EB (Russell Brand). On the other side of the planet, Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) is an unemployed SoCal slacker housesitting for his sister’s wealthy boss. Both EB and Fred have one thing in common—daddy issues. When EB and Fred hook up in Hollywood the pair discovers they might be able to help one another out and save Easter in the process.
Richard Crouse: Mark, to me Hop feels more like an hour-and-a-half advertisement for plush stuffed bunnies than it does a movie. EB and his bunny and Easter chick friends are cute, but clearly more time was spent on the marketing angle than the story. What did you think?
Mark Breslin: Richard, let’s face it; we’ve lost the battle when it comes to marketing of characters in kids’ movies. I now just assume that the movie is just a promo for the spending to come. A five-year-old will be transfixed by the eye candy onscreen. The question is whether there’s anything for their parents to enjoy. In movies like Toy Story or Shrek, there’s plenty. But in this one, Richard? What do you think?
RC: The humour and broad acting style is directed at little kids, yet the movie is rated PG, which means that parents can’t just send their kids solo. Grown-ups might get a chuckle out of EB’s jellybean gag — he poops jellybeans and says at one point, “I just jellybeaned all over your dreams” —but the odd cameo from David Hasselhoff — he’s going for the William Shatner self-aware shtick — is as funny as you’d imagine a cameo from The Hoff to be. There’s not much here for anyone over four years old. Harvey this ain’t.
MB: No, but I did enjoy the look of the movie, all primary colours and a few visual gags that popped up just often enough to keep me from losing my mind. The oddest part of the movie was the casting, and not just Hasselhoff. I thought Russell Brand, the comedian du jour, had been so neutered he was wasted in the part (and I don’t mean wasted in the usual Russell Brand way). Couldn’t the part have been done by any Brit?
RC: If this had even a little bit of edge I could see why they chose him, but it seems like he’s only there because Ricky Gervais and Eddie Izzard were too busy or too clever to take the role. I actually had some hope for Hop when I heard Brand was involved because I thought he might bring something interesting to it. Instead it is just average, which is a shame given how kid’s flicks have made strides in recent years away from treating kids like they’re stupid.
MB: Of course, to the four-year-old sitting next to me, it was Citizen Kane.
Emily Browning plays Baby Doll, wrongfully imprisoned in a mental institution where a sadistic orderly, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), has her scheduled for a lobotomy. As it turns out, this medical facility is also facilitating more than just its patients, so Baby Doll hatches an escape plan involving a mix of fantasy and reality. Aided by four other inmates she has just one week to get away before her scheduled operation.
Ratings: Richard: *** for visuals, * for everything else = ** Mark: *
Richard Crouse: Mark, the first thing that came to mind after watching Sucker Punch was, “What the heck was that?” The visual sensualist in me loved the look of it, but the rest of me wanted other things. Like a story. Or characters. It made my eyeballs dance, but left the rest of me bored. You?
Mark Breslin: Bored would be an improvement on how I felt. I HATED this thing. It was structured and shot like a video game. Angry Birds has more character development. And the acting? The lead, Emily Browning, had one expression throughout, a doleful countenance that made me think she had a gastrointestinal problem. Can you find anything good to say about this flick, Richard? Besides the “look”?
RC: It’s hard to find much to say about this other than commenting on the look. The soundtrack is interesting and Synder has a way with a camera, just not so much with the story. I also expected more from the action sequences. Unlike Kill Bill, another grrrl power movie with samurai swords, the action scenes here are all basically the same. Tarantino understood the value of the violence and changed it up. Synder doesn’t.
MB: Snyder is to Tarantino as Salieri is to Mozart … I will give Jena Malone credit for making me feel something and it was nice seeing Scott Glenn, even though he’s looking more like a carving board every day. But the cruelty of the movie wore me down, and the idea of a mental institution used as a front for a brothel was too ridiculous even as a fantasy within a fantasy. And what’s with Jon Hamm’s cameo at the end? Huh?
RC: I cannot imagine why Jon Hamm would take this role. It’s one of those parts that the characters talk about a great deal but when they finally show up on screen they only have three or four lines. He could have shot this on his lunch break from Mad Men. I don’t get it. I do get Abbie Cornish however. For one thing she looks like a young Nicole Kidman, and for another she, for me, was the best part of the movie.
MB: The best part of the movie for me was when it ended. By the way, one of the production credits reads “A Cruel and Unusual Production.” ‘Nuff said.
RC: Agreed. High ain’t-it-cool factor, but no heart.
SYNOPSIS: Bradley Cooper plays a slacker writer with a crappy apartment, an ex-wife and soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. His life changes when he begins taking a drug that allows him to access the other 80%. Suddenly he can learn languages in hours and can retrieve everything he has ever read, seen or thought about. His intellectual ability is, as the title says, limitless. Also limitless are the people who will do almost anything to lay their hands on the drug.
RC: Mark, I enjoyed the heck out of Limitless despite the fact I’m not exactly sure what message the movie is trying to send. Its first act would make Timothy Leary proud—drugs open up the mind, man—then becomes a Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” drama before winding down to an ambiguous ending. I wasn’t expecting Requiem for a Dream, but I would have liked a clearer point of view. You?
MB: Actually, I appreciated its ambiguous point of view especially since the middle section was a bit preachy. I think the movie was illustrating that whoever goes up must come down—usually with a crashing headache. And that we’re all addicted to something. I felt the Bradley Cooper character was as addicted to his success and material comforts as to the drug itself.
RC: Certainly he becomes a kind of yuppified Keith Richards, a chemically enhanced knowledge junkie with a taste for the good life, which I thought that was an interesting take for a drug movie. I’m not sure I could have accepted Cooper in a grittier role. I thought he carried the movie—he’s a good leading man, can do comedy and has the chops to do drama.
MB: I agree, Richard. He’s in almost every scene of the movie, and it stands or falls on his abilities. Though I have to give some kudos to the director, Neil Burger, who fills the first half of the movie with appropriate psychedelia. Watching the movie, I sometimes felt like I had taken that drug, or maybe there was just something off in the hot golden topping.
RC: I liked much of the look of the movie, the drug haze scenes are effective and the 18-hour blackout sequence is a kind of a tour de force, complete with Bruce Lee flashbacks, but I thought the attempts to illustrate his newfound intelligence a bit gimmicky. Letters falling from the ceiling while he is furiously writing. Really?
MB: And I’ve seen that somewhere before, I just can’t remember where. Maybe if I were on the drug, I would. Also, in the Sixties there was a movie called Charly about a slow-witted man who becomes a genius after an operation. But it was the Sixties so he doesn’t try to corner the stock market. And if I see one more Russian villain, I’m going to organize a lobby on their behalf. No matter. I really liked this one.