Movie Review: “This Is Where I Leave You”

Starring
Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant, Connie Britton
Director
Shawn Levy

Shawn Levy wants a do-over. The man who carved out a very successful career as a director that, as the Onion A/V Club once joked, you didn’t know you hated, now wants people to take him seriously. Levy actually turned some heads with the underrated “Real Steel” (his best movie by a country mile), but then followed that with last year’s “The Internship” (you had already forgotten about that one, didn’t you?), and in two months, he unleashes a third “Night at the Museum” film upon a public that thought two “Night at the Museum” films was more than enough, thank you. He’s typecast, and he doesn’t like it one bit. In other words, he now knows how it feels to be nearly every actor or actress who’s ever appeared in one of his films.

Levy’s latest attempt to rebrand himself is “This Is Where I Leave You,” a dysfunctional family dramedy that is filled with rapid-fire jokes (funny ones, too) and boasts a pitch-perfect cast. The biggest problem with the movie, sadly, is Levy himself. He seems out of his depth, and derails the momentum at odd times, lingering too long on a shot here and overdoing the camera work there. A director more experienced with the genre would have fared only marginally better, yes, but Levy had a chance to prove himself here, and he comes up short.

Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is not having a good year. Not long after walking in on his wife cheating on him with his boss (Dax Shepard), his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) calls to inform him that their father has died. The family isn’t close – their mother Hilary (Jane Fonda) aired the kids’ dirty laundry in the form of a best-selling novel – so the news that their father’s dying wish was for the family to sit Shiva, keeping all four siblings and their significant others in the same house for seven days, is not warmly received. In those seven days, hearts mend, hearts are broken, sibling rivalries both real and imagined rear their ugly heads, and Hilary talks way too openly about, well, everything.

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Movie Review: “Muppets Most Wanted”

Starring
Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz
Director
James Bobin

Hats off to the sequel that begins with poking fun at its inherent shortcomings – in a musical number, no less – then proceeds to surpass its predecessor in nearly every way. “Muppets Most Wanted” has a plot that will challenge the kids without boring their parents, better songs (by a country mile), and a healthy dose of self-awareness. The main appeal of the Jason Segel-scripted “The Muppets” was its innocence and a longing for a less cynical time, but for the franchise to remain so naïve to the real world would have been disastrous. “Muppets Most Wanted” finds that ideal middle ground between their world and ours.

The story begins, in a behind-the-curtain manner, at the very end of the previous film, as the first of many cameos calls a wrap on the first film and the Muppets are left pondering what to do next. In steps agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais, and he insists it’s pronounced ‘Badgie’), who suggests that the Muppets do a European tour. What the Muppets don’t know is that Badguy is a world-class thief, as well as the right-hand man to Constantine, the world’s most dangerous criminal mastermind and a dead ringer for Kermit the Frog. Constantine escapes from his Siberian prison, while Dominic sets up Kermit to be mistaken for recent escapee Constantine. Kermit is sent to Siberia, and Dominic and Constantine revolve the Muppets’ European tour around the locations of the artifacts that will enable them to pull off the ultimate heist. Strangely, no one suspects that Kermit has been replaced, though certain members of the group smelled a rat from the beginning. Why doesn’t anyone listen to the drummer?

Speaking as a parent, one of the great things about “Muppets Most Wanted” is how it shows kids the dark side of always getting what they want, which is that it comes at the expense of getting what they need. Kermit has always been a father figure to the members of his troupe, and that role is magnified here when he’s replaced with a cold careerist who wins them over by indulging their egos. The plot may mandate that the rest of the Muppets cannot tell right away that Constantine isn’t Kermit, but in their hearts, they know that this newfound freedom and lack of discipline is wrong. Parental win!

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Lacey Chabert (“Scarecrow”)

Lacey Chabert got her start in acting before she was out of single digits, but her big break came just after crossing into double-digit territory, when she was cast as Claudia Salinger in FOX’s “Party of Five,” giving her a full-time gig for six seasons. Since the show’s cancellation in 2000, Chabert has continued to work regularly, sometimes as a voice actor – you may remember her as Eliza from “The Wild Thornberrys,” but she’s still in the studio on a regular basis for other series, most recently on The Hub’s “Transformers: Rescue Bots” – but definitely still in front of the camera on a regular basis, too. Chabert can be seen in the latest SyFy original movie, “Scarecrow,” which premieres tonight, and she chatted with Bullz-Eye about her experiences working on the film, reminisced about some of her other past projects, and explained how she’s belatedly found her way onto social media…but only on her terms.

LC1

Bullz-Eye: So how did you enjoy doing “Scarecrow”? I’ve only seen the trailer so far, but it looks like it would’ve been fun to do…or, at least, I hope it was!

Lacey Chabert: It was a lot of fun! I’ve never done a horror film where I was… Well, I was in “Black Christmas,” but I got killed kind of early on in that film. [Laughs.] My character didn’t even know that the killer was there! But this was something where I’m actually running from the killer…you know, the predator, the scary monster. So we’re running from him for basically the entire film, so that was a whole new challenge, something that I’d never done before, and…it was fun. It’s a fun Halloween movie!

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Movie Review: “Admission”

Starring
Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Nat Wolff, Lily Tomlin, Michael Sheen, Wallace Shawn
Director
Paul Weitz

There was a time when Paul Weitz used to make great movies. After reviving the teen sex comedy with “American Pie” and adapting the Nick Hornby bestseller “About a Boy” alongside brother Chris, the eldest Weitz stepped out on his own, continuing his fantastic track record with underrated gems like “In Good Company” and “American Dreamz.” In recent years, however, the director’s career has been marred by a series of flops, and though “Admission” is probably the best of his cinematic failures, it’s a failure nonetheless. Not even Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, arguably two of Hollywood’s most likable performers, are able to do much to save Weitz’s latest effort, and that only makes “Admission” even more of a disappointment.

Fey stars as Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton University who spends her days diligently poring over student applications and her nights with her dull, longtime boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen), who also works at the university as an English literature professor. When she receives a call one day from John Pressman (Rudd), a teacher at the alternative academy New Quest, asking her to visit the campus to meet a promising student named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), she’s completely blindsided by John’s suggestion that the gifted teen is the child she gave up for adoption nearly 20 years earlier. Though Jeremiah is far from the typical Princeton applicant, he’s a prodigy and self-proclaimed autodidact who wants nothing more than to attend the university. But while Portia comes to appreciate Jeremiah the more time that she spends with him, she faces an uphill battle convincing her peers that he’s worth the risk, all while hiding the fact that he may be her son.

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Golden Globes tonight

Ricky Gervais caused quite a stir last year at the Golden Globes with his opening monologue (see above) and his smartass comments throughout the show. Nothing was sacred and frankly he was hilarious, even if he managed to piss off a number of guests in the audience.

Ricky is back again this year and you can catch the Golden Globes tonight on NBC. If you’re going to watch any award shows this season this is the one to see. Many guests in the audience get drunk so some of the acceptance speeches are hilarious.

Tina Fey is nominated again, and here’s a pic of her showing off her Phillies New Era Cap at the HBO Luxury Lounge as she gets ready for the show.

  

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