Most Anticipated: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

49. Jeff, Who Lives at Home (R) - Runtime: 83 minutes
Starring: Jason Segal, Ed Helms, Susan Surandon
Director: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass

I think I'm becoming an avid fan of the Duplass brothers. I've really enjoyed Baghead and Cyrus - two movies that, while not perfect, managed to make me laugh and really, really care for the quirky and sincere characters they wrote. I think Jeff, Who Lives at Home is by far their best work to date and it's almost a perfect movie. And clocking in at less than an hour and half, the movie is easily digestable and a fun little movie that not only has some laughs, but some honestly touching moments.

Jeff, played by Segal, is a man-child who still lives with his mom and believes in destiny and signs. In fact, Jeff is first introduced by talking about the movie Signs (that dreadful M. Night Shyamalan movie with Mel Gibson and the aliens). He talks about how all these seemingly random and insignificant events in the movie all culminate into one perfect ending. He believes himself to be destined. Ed Helms plays his brother, Pat, an egotistical asshole who has responded to his father's death in a much different way. So when Jeff gets a wrong phone call (or is there no wrong numbers?) for a "Kevin," it leads him on a quest to reconcile his past and confront his destiny.

It all sounds a bit too heavy, but trust me, the movie is actually light on all the drama (even though there is some serious shit going on). That's what I really enjoyed about the movie - it filters itself through Jeff's eyes so we can only merely shake our head at the absurdity of it all. The movie isn't necessarily unrealistic, but much like Signs, there are stronger forces at work pulling everyone together for the perfect ending. And it truly is a moving ending, I found myself choking up near the end. This is where Maggie would chime in and say "Ha! I knew it was a sad movie!" But I was actually tearing up over how happy I felt. It certainly is an uplifting movie.

As for the performances - it's nice to see Segal and Helms get to stretch themselves dramatically. Helms has been known for playing lovable oafs, but this time around he's much more cynical and a jerk, so it's nice to see him play something out of his wheelhouse. As for Segal, I feel like he's reprised his role from Freaks & Geeks. Jeff is just a grown up Nick Andopolis, searching for his destiny. And Surandon plays their mom who's having trouble trying to let loose and have some fun.

The movie is short and doesn't have a hard time jumping right into the action. It all takes place in one day and the pacing couldn't have been better. You get right into the movie and at the end you'll find yourself wondering where those 83 minutes went. It's a fun story and certainly worth watching - if not for the story, then the wonderful performances on display.

Rating: Rent It!


Most Anticipated: Ted

26. Ted (R) - Runtime: 106 minutes
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane (voice)
Director: Seth MacFarlane

I stopped watching Family Guy when it came back on air after being cancelled. I had run out and bought the two box sets and watched them over and over again while I was in college. I soon got burned out and when Fox brought back the show (why oh why didn't they do this with Arrested Development???) I was so sick of Peter Griffin's family, I grew to loathe his voice and all those fill-in-the-blanks, mad-lib style jokes. So I thought Ted might be a nice refreshing change for Mr. MacFarlane - he's stepping out from the shadow of his animated show to try something new. Unfortunately, Ted is just a hard-R version of Family Guy. In fact, you could switch Ted the bear with Peter Griffin and wouldn't know the difference. Which, for some (including the whole audience I watched the movie with) is probably the greatest thing ever. But I did not laugh out loud even once.

The plot is pretty out there and you'll just have to disregard logic and reality in order to get past the set up. In 1985, John is a lonely boy and he makes a Christmas wish when he's 8 and magically, his teddy bear comes to life. This is a real teddy bear, not part of his imagination and the movie never explains why John is so special, nor why this has never happened before to any kid who makes a wish on Christmas Day. Whatever, it's a really dumb reason for Ted to come into existence and you just have to go with it, otherwise you might find yourself getting really annoyed. Flash to the present and John is a loser - working middle management, getting high and watching old Flash Gordon episodes. For some strange reason he has a super hot girlfriend. Oh and Ted lives with him, getting high and basically being a loser too after the fame of being a talking teddy bear died out. So stuff happens and yada yada yada it all leads to John growing up and realizing his potential.

So lets get down to brass tacks - Ted is straight up an asshole. He doesn't really care about anyone except for John and his whole existence is filled with weird conundrums. The bear is filled with stuffing, but can get high and drunk. He doesn't have a penis, but clearly is shown having sex. I tried really really hard to get past some of these problems, but I couldn't. I could buy every other premise in this movie except for what Ted actually does. He's not human, but the movie would have worked better if he was a human best friend. But then you lose the really wonderful (/sarcasm) gimmick of a walking, talking, crude teddy bear!

As for the jokes in the movie - the movie has a few shining moments (the love affair for Flash Gordon is pretty good), but overall, they all fall flat with either obscure pop culture references or if they do talk about relevant pop culture jokes, they all are pretty lame. Think late night TV show jokes. Yeah, we get it, Katy Perry is a bad singer, sheesh. But the biggest offense in the movie is the stolen scene they steal from Airplane! It's not a homage or a faithful tribute, the movie acts like it came up with the scene itself. The scene in particular is when Ted Striker sees Elaine at a disco - it's pretty much a parody of Saturday Night Fever, but really funny in the original. Instead of being a great tribute or giving their own spin on the parody, the movie just flat out steals the whole scene, shot for shot. It's completely distasteful and extremely lazy.

And that's the main problem with this movie - the jokes and scenes all were written probably in couple hours time. It's a lazy movie and deciding to just blatantly rip off a scene from one of the greatest comedies of all time is truly offensive. The movie even rips of Family Guy's famous chicken fighting scene. Yes, Ted and John have a fight in the motel and it goes on forever (much like Peter Griffin and the chicken) and we're supposed to find it funny but it's already been done! I understand comedies steal from each other all the time and nothing's really original anymore, but this was just obviously lacking in any sort of creativity.

The movie's a big waste of time because you don't care about anything that's happening, nor are the characters interesting. Ted's a jerk, John's a lazy turd and John's girlfriend is so dumb for sticking around that you wonder if she's mentally deficient. It's amazing MacFarlane got two really great actors to play these parts because their characters are DOA in this movie. There's a couple of good cameos, but overall it didn't make the movie better.

If you really like Family Guy, this is probably up your alley. I was the only one in the theater that wasn't laughing hysterically at all the jokes (in fact, sometimes the audience would start cracking up before the jokes were even finished!). I don't know if I'm out of touch with the cool kids, but I just thought it was supremely lame and for sure the worst movie I've seen this year!

Rating: Avoid Like the Plague!


Most Anticipated: Prometheus

6. Prometheus (R) - Runtime: 124 minutes
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender
Director: Ridley Scott

Prometheus is by far my favorite movie this year. I probably could not explain how much I was looking forward to this movie. When I wrote my Most Anticipated list, the trailer had not yet arrived and I think just in the past few months I would have bumped this up into my top three must-see! Kudos to the marketing team - they did an excellent job at selling this movie. Going into the theater, I was expecting a pretty intense sci-fi action flick, but what I got instead was something far more intricate and complex.

It's hard to write a review on this movie without mentioning the Alien franchise. Obviously, the movie is a prequel to the Alien movie and so of course you have to consider the source material and how much this influenced Prometheus. I am a huge Aliens fan - when I was home sick every day because of cancer I would watch my brother's VHS tapes of the trilogy (that and Dazed & Confused - I know - weird, weird choices for a 13 year-old kid) and I have very fond memories of each of those movies. In fact, I really dug Alien 3, which most people wrote off. So when Alien: Resurrection came to theaters in 1997, I was eagerly awaiting the next installment of my favorite trilogy. But when I left the theater I was only disappointed in what was the worst Aliens film by far and quite possibly one of the worst movies that year (I recently bought the Blu-Ray Anthology for Christmas and have yet to watch it). I think that's when my love for the trilogy had waned and when Aliens Vs. Predator came out, I was not going to be fooled again - I have yet to see that movie and its sequel.

My feelings have been mixed ever since - even when I found out about Prometheus. But Ridley Scott was back on board, there was a terrific cast and the previews looked mind-blowing! Well, expectations have been met and I really, really want to go back to the theaters to watch this one again!

The movie begins with flyover scenes of beautiful landscapes and we finally see a near-naked humanoid alien stand by a cliff's edge and drink some sort of black gooey stuff. He soon deteriorates physically and we see him fall off the cliff into the water where his DNA becomes deconstructed and then reconstructed into new cells. Cut to 2093 and we see Prometheus, a ship bound for a distant planet (actually a habitable moon of a planet). There the crew's scientists (Elizabeth Shaw and her boyfriend, Charlie Holloway) explain the reason for this expedition - ancient ruins show giant humans pointing to the sky of a distant planet and thus must be alien visitors. Shaw is hoping to find her creators (and possibly disavow her deeply held Christian beliefs) while Charlie is merely hoping to find an advanced alien civilization. And when they finally arrive, nothing is what they're expecting.

Now if you're an Aliens fan, you'll enjoy this movie - there's no doubt you will - because everything about this movie (the setting, the story, the tone and look) is steeped in Aliens lore. In fact, it answers a lot of questions about the lore and delivers some really jaw-dropping moments (seriously, my mouth was wide open during one scene in particular!). For those not too familiar with the franchise, I'm going to try and look at the film from its own standpoint, aside from its origins and answer the very basic question: Is this a good movie?

I would say a resounding yes. The beauty of the original Alien movie and to some extent, Prometheus, is how much it takes from the horror genre. A well-crafted horror movie makes sure to leave a lot to the imagination and not reveal the scary monster too much during the movie. Alien did this to perfection and Prometheus does this as well. There's not necessarily one main monster in this movie - it's a little more complex than "they find an alien, it hides and everyone dies except for one lone survivor." But the movie only reveals the horror at the right times. There's a lot of mystery to this movie and it doesn't give you answers right away. In fact, I would say the movie leaves quite a bit unanswered, but not to the point where it was unsatisfying - there's still gotta be some mystery, right?

Now when I talk about how complex the movie is, I'm talking about the different layers the movie has. There's more than just scary alien life-forms happening in the movie. The movie is about humanity's own search for answers - and can we really know the whole truth as to the meaning of life? Shaw and her boyfriend Charlie are complete opposites - one has faith and the other doesn't. But I think they both find meaning in their visit but that also leads to even more questions. The film is just about humanity's never-ending curiosity as it is about cool alien technology.

There's also another layer that somewhat ties into themes of human life. And that is artfully portrayed by Fassbender as the human-like android, Dave. Dave cannot feel human emotion and is subsequently ridiculed and mocked by the rest of the crew for this. But Dave is much more sinister then he looks and he has questions of his own. There's an interesting scene where Dave is talking to Charlie and asks him the same question they want to ask these aliens: Why did you create me? Charlie responds to Dave by saying "Because we could." A kind of harsh thing to say to your creation and you start to see parallels between Dave's relationship with his creator and the crew's quest to find answers. It's astonishingly deep and thought-provoking.

The movie doesn't spoon-feed you any answers and it actually raises more questions when you start to think about the movie as a whole. The performances are top-notch. Rapace replaces Sigourney Weaver's role as the tough female who can overcome anything with her ingenuity and strength. Theron is perfectly suited as the corporate asshole who won't let the mission falter despite people dying around her. Idris Elba is the no-nonsense pilot who doesn't care too much for science, but get's his due as the hero. And Fassbender is probably the best thing about this movie - he's simply the most brilliant and deeply psychotic android ever to be put on screen. I got chills from his performance - there's a bit of The Shining coming through in one scene (when he's all alone on the ship with the basketball) and other times I felt sad for his role in the ship's crew.

So great performances, a nuanced story and spectacular action and horror - you can't go wrong. There's one scene in particular that still haunts me (the aforementioned jaw-dropper) where Rapace has to throw herself into this robot-surgery auto-pod. It's simply one of the scariest and can't-look-away moments in movies I've seen in a while. I would say give this movie a shot even if you haven't seen the other Alien movies. It's got a grandeur that no movie can match it so far this year!

Rating: See It!

Most Anticipated: Snow White & The Huntsman

28. Snow White & The Huntsman (PG-13) - Runtime: 127 Minutes
Starring: Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth
Director: Rupert Sanders

I am not that familiar with the Snow White story - sure I've seen the Disney movie, but that was a very long time ago. And I've been watching the TV show Once Upon a Time, but the story of Snow White gets mixed up with all these other fairy tale characters. I know the general story and how it plays out, but I was excited to see how this version tells the tale. And to be quite honest, the movie, aside from being visually stunning, was really, really good. This is a deadly serious tale - it takes it's cues from Lord of the Rings (in fact, it's pretty much Lord of the Rings except there's actual women in the movie).

I won't rehash the plot here - the movie stays true to the original story and does not deviate too much. Suffice to say it does a good job telling the story in its own way. The beginning introduction where the narrator talks about the evil queen, Ravenna, and how she cleverly deceives the king is really a great set up. And from there on, I found myself really enjoying each and every scene, not only for the amazing designs and feel of each set, but how the story progresses. The movie really de-emphasizes the dwarf characters - they're barely in it and I feel fine with that because I always thought those characters (especially from the Disney version! Have you actually seen that movie lately? Their song is literally two lines long - Hi Ho Hi Ho, It's off to work we go - sung repeatedly ad nauseum.) were pretty much boring and added little to no weight to the story. Here it's sort of the same, but they get their fair share of helping out Snow White and they actually matter in the story.

Speaking of Snow White, the marketing (and title!) would leave you to believe that Snow White is the focal point of this movie, but really, the evil queen Ravenna steals the show. In fact, Theron's performance in this movie is quite fantastic. She's just so evil and they actually give her a backstory as to why she's so evil which I found fitting. In fact, her story is somewhat similar in nature to Snow White's beginnings, but with a much more sinister tone. Had Ravenna been born under different circumstances (or if she responded more kindly to her situation), she might not have turned out so awful.

It's funny that if you look at most of the media and trailers released for this movie - you'll barely see Kristen Stewart talk. And it's kind of true in the movie - she's almost not a character, but a motivation (or MacGuffin for all you bookworms) for everyone else to rally around and defeat the queen. So the movie title really should read Ravenna vs. the Huntsman and Dwarves and Other People Including Snow White. This may seem like I'm taking a dig at the movie, but really I didn't mind this. It made for a quite different take on the tale. Another good thing is that they didn't portray Snow White as just the damsel in distress (oh she's in distress sometimes for sure because duh!). I'd actually have to watch the movie again to really read into the whole gender-roles vibe going on. Snow White isn't completely helpless throughout the movie, and it's actually true that you could argue she saves the Huntsman near the end of the movie.

As for the performances - Theron is top notch - she's the reason to go see this movie besides the awesome visuals. Stewart is serviceable as Snow White (although like I said, they didn't give her much to chew on) and Hemsworth is really good in this movie. I think he plays these roles perfectly - Thor and the Huntsman have similar qualities (guardian and protector, charming and egotistical) in them that I think Hemsworth portrays effectively. And the marketing never mentions the dwarves - but they are chock full of amazing actors that should have gotten more screen time - Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins. At least these guys got to give the Dwarves their due - like I said earlier, the dwarf characters weren't my favorite in the original story, but these actors managed to make the most of their limited screen time. Seriously, these names should have been properly given their due in the marketing, but it seems like Universal was hell bent on gearing this towards a young female audience.

Which is a shame because this movie is more than just a fairy tale. If you're at all into fantasy and action - this movie will do you no wrong. It's a fun adventure and surprisingly refreshing even though the story has been retold a thousand times. You'll go to see this movie for it's visuals and Theron, but you'll stay for the well-told story and its new spin on old characters. Go see this one!

Rating: See It!