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March 2010 Reviews

By Shawn McKenzie 3/5/2010

Here are my reviews of the movies that were released in March of 2010.  Check back later as the month progresses for more reviews.

Go directly to my review of Alice in Wonderland, Hot Tub Time Machine, Greenberg, and The Last Song.

Alice in Wonderland Review

In London sometime in the 19th century, 19-year-old Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) finds out that she is to be married to a nobleman named Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) in an arrangement.  She has no desire to do so, because being married to the boring Hamish would stifle her creativity.  During an amusing scene where everyone literally watches Hamish ask for Alice’s hand in marriage in a gazebo, Alice runs away and follows the pocket watch-carrying White Rabbit (voice of Michael Sheen) down a long rabbit hole and into Underland…a place that she keeps seeing in her dreams.  While she is there, she drinks a potion and eats a cake in order to get her through a small door, where she finds a weird land with odd characters.  The White Rabbit, twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both played by Matt Lucas), Dormouse Mallymkun (voice of Barbara Windsor), a frequently disappearing feline named Cheshire Cat (voice of Stephen Fry), Uilleam the Dodo (Michael Gough), and hookah-smoking caterpillar named Absolem (voice of Alan Rickman) are amongst the characters who are all wondering if she is the real Alice or not.  She finds out that she is supposed slay a fierce dragon known as the Jabberwocky (voice of Christopher Lee) on the Frabjous Day using the Vorpal Sword.  The Jabberwocky is the guardian of Iracebeth, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who took the crown of her younger sister Mirana, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway.)  If Alice slays the dragon, then Mirana will return to power.  Iracebeth has heard of Alice’s return though, so she orders her eye-patched lieutenant, Ilosovic Stayne, the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover), to find Alice, and he uses bloodhound dog Bayard (voice of Timothy Spall) to sniff her out (Bayard only helps him in order to ensure the freedom of his wife and their pups.)  The Cheshire Cat takes Alice to see the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) and the equally mad tea party guest Thackery Earwicket, the March Hare (voice of Paul Whitehouse), to see if they could help her out.  The Hatter used to make hats for the White Queen, but became mad apparently from the mercury used in making the hats.  He just wants to overthrow the Red Queen, so he helps her out on this dangerous mission.  Just so you know…this movie is just a loose adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from 1865 and Through the Looking-Glass from 1871…not a remake of the 1951 Disney cartoon (even though both movies were produced by Disney.)  The first half of this Tim Burton adaptation was a little bit dull with the weird exposition and the introduction of the characters, but after that is established, things took off.  Visually, it’s impressive…and could only be made by Burton.  He is making the seventh movie with Depp, who becomes a bigger character here than he is in any other adaptation.  Depp does his usual kooky character (somewhat reminiscent of his portrayal of Willy Wonka in 2005’s Charlie & the Chocolate Factory…right down to having a tall stovepipe hat.)  Carter is funny as the Red Queen with an oversized CGI-created head.  Wasikowska does a serviceable job as Alice.  The 3D effects of course are amazing…and if any movie deserved to be shown in 3D, it’s this movie.  I do recommend seeing this movie in theaters (watching 3D on TV isn’t as cool), but keep in mind that this isn’t the Alice you may recognize from the books or the fifties cartoon.


Hot Tub Time Machine Review

Adam (John Cusack), Lou Dorchen (Rob Corddry), and Nick Webber-Agnou (Craig Robinson) have been best friends since high school where they…as Eddie Murphy used to sing…“partied all the time.”  Their friendship has soured over time though, and all of them now have their individual problems.  Adam is now an insurance salesman who’s girlfriend Lilly has dumped him, and she has taken most of their things…including his flat-screen TV.  He lives with his 20-year-old video game geek nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) because Jacob’s mom (Adam’s sister) Kelly (Collette Wolfe) has run off with a new boyfriend.  Nick used to be the lead singer of a group called Chocolate Lipstick, but he now runs a posh dog grooming business called ‘Sup Dawg where he must do disgusting things in order to please his clients (you’ll have to see what I mean.)  He fears that his younger wife Courtney (Kellee Stewart) is cheating on him (she has also made him change his named to a hyphenate…he used to be just named Nick Webber.)  Lou used to be the biggest partier (they called him “Violator”), but now he is a divorced businessman who tends to drink away his sorrows.  One night, Lou is coming home from a bender and he parks in his garage listening to Mötley Crüe when the garage door closes, covering the garage with carbon monoxide.  It is assumed that he didn’t get out of the garage because he was suicidal, and when he lands in the hospital, he denies that he was trying to kill himself.  They decide to go the Kodiak Valley ski resort…the place that they all had some of their best times.  They bring Jacob along, but once they get there, they see that the town that houses the ski lodge has seen better times.  The lodge isn’t the lively place that it once was, and the lodge’s bellhop, Phil (Crispin Glover), is one-armed and bitter.  The room isn’t all that exciting…especially the hot tub, which looks broken and abandoned.  Later that night, the hot tub miraculously seems to work, and they have a wild time with it.  Unfortunately, an illegal Russian energy drink spills onto the tub’s console, and the four find themselves transported to 1986.  They discover that their outside image looks like themselves back how they looked in 1986 to others, but they look like their middle-aged selves to one another (except for Jacob, who looks exactly the same…but flickers one and a while.)  A happy, two-armed Phil brings their bags to them, and a mysterious maintenance repairman (Chevy Chase) arrives and tells them not to mess with the hot tub until he repairs it.  They interpret his weird ramblings to mean that they don’t want to change the future until they go home, so they have to do the same things they did that weekend in 1986.  Lou is supposed to be beaten up by ski patrol bully Blaine (Sebastian Stan.)  Adam has to break up with his then-girlfriend Jennie (Lyndsy Fonseca), who will stab him in the face with a fork…but he is distracted by his attraction to a music journalist for Spin magazine named April (Lizzy Caplan), who is there to report on a Poison concert.  Nick is supposed to have sex with a big-boobed groupie named Tara (Jessica Paré) and have a terrible performance with Chocolate Lipstick.  Jacob realizes that he was born exactly nine months from this weekend, so he figures that his mom Kelly got pregnant that weekend.  The lure to change their futures is tempting, so they are gambling with their livelihood by changing their actions.  I bet when you first heard the title of this movie, you thought, “This is going to be really dumb.”  Well…you were right.  It is dumb…but in all the right ways.  For one, it’s an homage to eighties movies.  More specifically…Back to the Future and John Cusack’s eighties movies.  Glover was in Back to the Future where he was the young and old version of George McFly, and his supporting role is one of the many in-jokes in this movie.  It also spoofs Cusack’s movies Better Off Dead, The Sure Thing, One Crazy Summer, and Sixteen Candles (especially Better Off Dead, with the whole ski lodge setting.  At one point I head someone say, “I want my two dollars.”)  The person who steals the show though is Corddry, whose raunchiness is actually funny (unlike the unfunny raunchy antics of someone like Tom Green.)  Robinson actually gets to have more of a fleshed out role here, unlike his small roles in his previous movies and on NBC’s “The Office.”  He even has his own Future homage involving a musical performance (check it out…he’s actually pretty good.)  I know Duke from ABC Family’s “Greek,” and I’m glad he is getting a good role here.  If I had any gripes…it would be the time travel element.  I tried hard to suspend my belief, because I knew it would have many time-traveling continuity errors…but I can’t overlook this one.  It is established that Duke’s character Jacob is 20 years old and that he was born nine months after their weekend in 1986.  Assuming that the beginning of the movie takes place in the “present” (a.k.a. 2010)…how could Jacob be 20 years old?  Depending on when in 1986 the movie took place, Jacob would be somewhere between 22 and 24 years old…not 20.  If you can suspend your belief on the time traveling elements and just watch this raunchy love letter to eighties comedies (especially if you grew up watching them yourself), I highly recommend the movie.


Greenberg Review

Forty-something Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is a guy from New York who comes to L.A. following his release from a mental hospital to house-sit for his younger, more successful brother Phillip (Chris Messina) who’s off on an extended vacation with his family in Vietnam.  Roger is a carpenter by trade, but he decides to work hard at “doing nothing,” except for making a fancy doghouse for Phillip’s German Shepherd named Mahler.  Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig) is Phillip’s 25-year-old personal assistant who has the duty of stopping by the house and helping Roger out in any way she can.  She is an aspiring singer, but she seems like she just goes through several random hookups while hanging out with her best friend Gina (Merrit Wever.)  She and Roger eventually end up having sex together, but while Florence develops feelings for Roger, he is so damaged that he can’t quite give her the same appreciation.  He starts hanging out with Ivan Schrank (Rhys Ifans), his best friend and former band mate in a group they were in together in their twenties who were about to sign a recording deal until Roger’s snobby feelings about their music ruined their chances.  Ivan talks the reluctant Roger into going to the barbeque of their former band mate Eric (Mark Duplass)…who is a little bitter that Roger messed up their chances to make it big.  Ivan is upset about what Roger did as well, but he has issues that are more pressing…like saving his crumbling marriage.  While at the barbeque, Roger runs into his ex-girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who has kids now, and is going through a divorce.  Roger can’t seem to figure out what he wants to do with his life…which seems to affect both Florence and Ivan.  Noah Baumbach directed this movie based off a story written by he and Leigh (who is also his wife.)  It’s another one of those pretentious “indie” movies where a big name comic star slums it in the world of independent cinema in order to get treated with some respectability.  For every comic actor who attempts semi-serious indie roles, like Adam Sandler in 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love or Jim Carrey in 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there are those same comedians who make crap like Sandler’s 2004 movie Spanglish or Carrey’s 2007 movie The Number 23.  It’s not like he hasn’t done some good dramas (1994’s Reality Bites, which he directed; 1998’s Zero Effect, Your Friends & Neighbors, and Permanent Midnight…the same year he made his biggest hit, There’s Something About Mary), but this movie isn’t one of them.  The acting is okay…but it’s depressing without any kind of conclusion.  Baumbach has made this type of movie before with 2005’s The Squid and the Whale (he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for it)…but that movie was funny and entertaining.  Despite showcasing the talents of Gerwig, this movie was all about Stiller and his character’s self-important take on things.  He writes letters to all of the companies that have done him wrong, and he lectures how kids today are scary.  I won’t object to Stiller making another stab at drama, but this is his The Majestic (a.k.a. the 2001 critical and financial flop starring Jim Carrey.)

The Last Song Review

Veronica “Ronnie” Miller (Miley Cyrus) is a 17-year-old girl living with her mom Kim (Kelly Preston) and her younger brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) in New York.  Kim has Ronnie and Jonah spend the summer with their father Steve (Greg Kinnear) at his beachfront home in Tybee Island, Georgia, so that they can get to know him better.  Ronnie got in trouble in New York shoplifting as a form of acting out because she is still upset over her parents’ divorce and Steve moving away.  She is a child piano prodigy (Steve is a talented piano player as well), but she hasn’t touched the piano since the divorce (despite being accepted to attend The Juilliard School in New York.)  When they get there, Jonah helps Steve craft a new stained glass window for the local church that recently burned down, while Ronnie just explores the town.  She meets a fellow rebellious teen named Blaze (Carly Chaikin), and they are friends briefly, until Blaze sees Ronnie supposedly flirting with her fireball-juggling jerky boyfriend Marcus (Nick Lashaway.)  She also meets Will Blakelee (Liam Hemsworth), another local teen who works in an auto shop with his friend Scott (Hallock Beals) when he’s not playing volleyball (with Scott) or volunteering at the town’s aquarium.  When he accidentally knocks the milkshake that she was holding and it spills it all over her clothes, Ronnie and Will “meet cute.”  Ronnie doesn’t like him at first, but when she decides to protect a Loggerhead Sea Turtle nest, his help with it makes her start to have feelings for him.  They start falling in love, and like with every Nicholas Sparks adaptation…something tragic happens.  This is the sixth movie adapted from one of his books (the second one this year alone…Dear John came out in February), and they are all relatively the same.  A man and a woman meet in the summertime near a small coastal town, they are indifferent towards one another but eventually fall in love…and then someone dies (usually of a fatal health problem, but not always.)  You could almost take bets on who will die in each movie.  I first realized what a clichéd writer Sparks was when I saw 2002’s A Walk to Remember (a.k.a. A Love Story in a high school setting instead of a college setting.)  After 2004’s The Notebook became the huge weepy chick flick hit of the decade, I went back and re-watched the first Sparks adaptation, 1999’s Message in a Bottle.  It had the same elements!  The next adaptation I watched, 2008’s Nights in Rodanthe, had the same elements again (plus I don’t like Richard Gere.)  I knew that Rodanthe would suck, so when I got to this year’s Dear John, I figured that it would suck as well (it did…and I don’t like Channing Tatum, a.k.a. Richard Gere Jr.)  Not that I had the highest hopes for this movie, but I always like to be pleasantly surprised.  Fortunately, it wasn’t bad as I thought it would be.  It’s not like I loved it, but it was at least it was better than Notebook, Rodanthe, and John in entertainment value.  I think I’m just fascinated to see Miley have a bigger career than her dad Billy Ray ever had (if you’ve ever seen his attempt at acting…you would understand my fascination, because Miley actually seems to know how to act.)  While I wish she hadn’t done a Sparks adaptation to graduate her from “Hanna Montana,” at least I think she made a good choice for her career.  Why take my word for it…women all around will come to any Sparks adaptation with hankies in hand.  Look forward to my ranting when True Believer comes out in 2011 and The Lucky One comes out in 2012!


Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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