Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I Origins, Wish I Was Here, Sex Tape, Mood Indigo, Planes: Fire & Rescue

I Origins
Wish I Was Here

Sex Tape
Mood Indigo

Planes: Fire & Rescue (my rating)

Planes: Fire & Rescue (Big Scruffy's and Little Scruffy's rating)

Reviews on five of the week's new movies:

Director Mike Cahill and hyphenate Brit Marling, who teamed for 2011's captivating "Another Earth," find less success with the moody new sci-fi thriller "I Origins." Michael Pitt plays Dr. Ian Gray, a biologist specializing in the evolution of the human eye, who botches a spontaneous sexual encounter at a party but finds Sofi's (Astrid Bergѐs-Frisbey) eyes on a cosmetics billboard, Googles her, and tracks her down. They become lovers, but when she dies in a (poorly staged) elevator accident, Marling's Karen, Ian's bespectacled graduate assistant, swoops in to take her place. They have a son who's brought back to hospital for a precautionary autism test and has a strong negative reaction to some of the photos he's shown. This sends Ian on an odyssey from Idaho to India, where an orphan girl's eyes may be an exact match for Sofi's - the ocular equivalent of two identical snowflakes. "I Origins" picks up in its second half, making some subliminal connections and creating an atmosphere of mystery, possibility and dread. But not even one as talented as Marling can survive lines like "Maybe the eyes really are a window to the soul" and "This could be the most important scientific discovery in the history of mankind!" The premise is less outlandish than that of "Another Earth," but ends up coming off as so much mystical hooey.

Whatever your opinion of "Garden State" - and mine was not high - you'll want to vote Zach Braff out of movies after enduring the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard "Wish I Was Here," an exercise in unmitigated self-indulgence that firmly establishes Braff as a poor man's Ray Romano. He's Aidan Bloom, a failed actor somehow still feeding a family of four on residuals from a toothpaste commercial and wife Sarah's (Kate Hudson) earnings at a job where she shares a cubicle with a guy who talks to her in the voice of his "half boner." (When she complains to her supervisor, he tells her to lighten up.) Braff lights these sets dimly and shoots them from in tight, both clichés, while in other scenes Sarah claims to love her work (?). Aidan's dad, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), has been in remission for years, but when his cancer returns, Gabe stops paying his grandkids' (precocious Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) tuition to Jewish school. Meanwhile, Aidan's reclusive brother, Noah (Josh Gad), lives in a Malibu mobile home overlooking the beach (yeah, right - I can only imagine how much it cost just to rent the space), where he spends his days perfecting his costume for ComicCon, complete with astronaut helmet. There's also a dog named Kugel congenitally incapable of peeing where he's supposed to. And aliens. But you probably knew that.

Are you tired? I'm exhausted. "Wish I Was Here" is a mess, a kitchen-sink cholent of a movie with no discernible structure that careens from staggeringly unfunny comedy (a five-year-old kid saying "hairy balls") to endless, sappy scenes at the dying dad's bedside, to low-tech sci-fi dream sequences. The rabbinical stereotypes wouldn't be out of place at a dinner-theater "Fiddler on the Roof" in Little Rock. It's the kind of work a studio - or a filmmaker of any talent - would take one look at and quietly dump on DVD. Braff, on the other hand, has been making the rounds, promoting its Kickstarter funding and claiming to have poured every ounce of himself into it. What facile tripe it is, too, trading on cheap sentiment and callous vulgarity. And not only is Braff himself repellent, he's handpicked two of the most insufferable actors working today in Patinkin and Gad. Why am I not surprised? Still, each scene ends with a pan to Braff's mug, giving himself the last word and stretching the runtime to an ungodly two hours. Here is a true shonda for the neighbors.

Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) have been married for ten years. They fucked like bunnies in college, but now, between kids and work, they're not only scheduling lovemaking appointments; they're starting to sleep through them. They hit on the idea of reigniting the flame by making a sex tape in the ingeniously titled new comedy "Sex Tape," directed by Jake Kasdan, who partnered with Diaz on a better movie called "Bad Teacher" a few years back. This picture has a few laughs, thanks mostly to Diaz, who's become a gifted comedienne with the lovability of a Goldie Hawn; no matter how bad the material, we're content merely to spend time in her presence. Rob Corddry also snags a few as one of the couple's best friends, who keeps hoping Jay will forget he has an iPad with the sex tape downloaded to it. The plot fails because we're asked to believe that Jay, whose job appears to involve constructing iTunes playlists, wouldn't know (how) to remote-wipe the video. Instead, he and Annie break into an adult film studio and take a sledgehammer to actual data drives; they're caught by the label's impresario, Jack Black, who accuses them of spying for one of his rivals - an excuse to rattle off fictitious porn names (a bit that Kevin Smith originated in "Clerks" two decades ago). For what it's worth, there's a clumsy authenticity to much of the sex that's appealing (though far from titillating). I think I might now be able to tell Jason Segel and Jason Sudeikis apart. 

The first half of Michel Gondry's "Mood Indigo" is as deliciously, deliriously inventive as any film since "Amélie" in 2001. Colin (Romain Duris) enjoys a Parisian existence as insouciant as money can buy. His factotum, Nicolas (Omar Sy of the overrated "The Intouchables"), cooks enormous meals for him and his best friend Chick (comic Gad Elmaleh of last year's poor "Capital"), then throws away the plates. When Chick, who's obsessed with the philosophical writer Jean-Sol Partre, announces he's met a girl, Colin whimpers that he wants one too - and at a party that very night encounters his soon-to-be soul mate, Chloe (Audrey Tautou). They fly over the Eiffel Tower in a pedicab cloud and explore snow-covered subterranean forests open only to them. Gondry pours as much humor and visual wit into these first 45 minutes as into all of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," and it's one of the best films of the year. 

Then comes the second half, and the spell is broken. Chloe contracts - well, not cancer, but a water lily on her lung that can only be treated with expensive (and still moving) silver pills that look like Altoids gone rogue. Put simply, the movie stops being fun and turns into a swooning romantic tearjerker. Trouble is, we're not emotionally invested in Colin and Chloe - it's all been a lark up to now - and these 45 minutes, drained of color and energy, go groggy with grandiosity and symbolism as heavy-lidded as it is heavy-handed. "The Science of Sleep" remains my favorite of Gondry's works, the one best able to sustain its tone throughout. Too bad, for "Mood Indigo" had been walking a four-star path.

What's best about the animated sequel "Planes: Fire & Rescue" is its dead-serious approach to the dangers and realities of aerial firefighting. Dusty's (Dane Cook) gearbox goes kaput early on, putting the kibosh on his illustrious air-racing career. When he inadvertently starts a fire that gets the Propwash Junction airport shut down for lack of a second firefighter, he finds his new calling. His mentor, Mayday (Hal Holbrook), sends him to the veteran instructor Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) for training and certification, but Dusty, afraid to tell Blade he can't go past a certain level of torque, keeps messing up. 

That won't cut it when a massive forest fire threatens Piston Peak national park and the thousands of tourists in town for the grand re-opening of its luxury lodge. Here's a movie that knows the ins and outs of aerial firefighting and presents it without either exaggeration or sugarcoating. The lessons Blade inculcates in Dusty are potent and forthright, and the movie does a good job of showing how even big, strong firefighters can be overcome by an out-of-control blaze (itself very much a living thing). I'd recommend it strongly to a smart kid with an interest in aviation, firefighting, or both. The surrounding material - an inane love interest (Julie Bowen), some really wan wordplay (an RV named "Arvy"), and the requisite fart jokes - isn't worth first-run prices. Still, it'll be a welcome addition to your kids' video library.

Something of a split vote from the Scruffies on "P:F&R." Big appreciated the sophisticated avionics and realistic depiction of danger. Little, meanwhile, got a wee bit lost in the technical jargon, and some scenes were too scary for him (as when he dropped a pawful of peanut M&M's and scampered into my arms). Ultimately, they consensed on a rating of two paws (out of four).

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