Friday, August 24, 2012


This hackneyed horror entry from first time writer-director Todd Lincoln is nothing but a painfully derivative attempt at a spooky scare fest. After a nonsensical prologue, "The Apparition" introduces us to the film's two stars, most notably Ashley Greene of the "Twilight" franchise for whom this is clearly a vehicle. She plays Kelly who just recently moved in with her boyfriend, Ben (Sebastian Stan), which is surprising considering how little chemistry they exhibit together. In the film's obligatory everything's just fine opening, Kelly obsesses over wanting a cactus for the house. It's unclear where her sudden need for the plant even comes from, and yet when the couple makes a trip to Costco, she picks up a tiny little cactus. You may be wondering, why is this seemingly insignificant thing given so much attention? Kelly is on the phone with her mother back at the house with the cactus sitting on the desk before her. And then it dies for, like, no reason. Cue horror movie mode.

If that doesn't clue you in to the kind of writing we're dealing with in this movie, then I don't know what would. There's something haunted about the house, and when Kelly strips down for a PG-13 friendly shower scene, a decaying black mold substance appears on her bar of soap. A similar substance appears elsewhere in the house, but it turns out this otherworldly force isn't trying to haunt their home but rather invade Kelly. Sound familiar? Refer back to James Wan's ingenious "Insidious" where the child was haunted, not the house.

The source of this black mold poltergeist turns out to be a seance experiment conducted by Ben and his tech savvy friend, Patrick (Tom Felton feeling so out of place and uncomfortable it's almost sad), in college. They supposedly opened up a rift between their world and ours, and they're pushing their way in with no way to close it off again. Who's this so-called "they," and what is this "rift" business? No idea.

The potentially creepy setup and atmosphere of a cookie cutter development suburb in the middle of the desert -- which provides for some pretty stunning moments of cinematography from Daniel Peal who provided a similar effect in the 2003 "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake -- gets immediately squandered by Lincoln's inept writing and direction. Incomprehensible, not even remotely scary and so feebly constructed with an inescapable "been there, done that" feeling, "The Apparition" will no doubt bomb after today's release thanks to rapid word of mouth.

Monday, August 20, 2012


For those craving a departure from the usual summer movie fare, "Hope Springs" is a pretty good alternative. And for those wanting to see Meryl Streep's first role in which she acknowledges herself as a perfectly average older woman, this is it. Even in another romantic comedy, "It's Complicated," she had a youthful bounce. This is Streep's "The Bucket List," the one where Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman officially stamped themselves as senior citizen actors in 2007. Have no fear, however, as this is no "Bucket List." From director David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada"), Streep shines alongside fictional spouse Tommy Lee Jones in this realistic and touching look at a marriage stuck under the weight of time and without any spark left.

Within the confines of potentially stuffy material, Streep breathes life into Kay, a woman who too long ago became complacent in her 31-year marriage. She stopped seeking attention from her husband, Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), who otherwise has become preoccupied with his job, meals and the golf channel. All intimacy is absent, as well, with them no longer kissing, touching or hugging, and even sleeping in separate beds in separate rooms. Their life has become an unchanging routine, and the movie begins right as Kay realizes she desperately wants change.

Kay signs them up for intensive couples counseling in the quaint, postcard-ready town of Great Hope Springs, Maine with marriage expert Dr. Feld (Steve Carrell). Rather than suggesting the idea to Arnold, Kay tells him she bought plane tickets and hopes he will board the flight with her. Of course Arnold doesn't take kindly to this idea. Not realizing there's anything that needs fixing, he figures why disrupt the peace. Huffing and scowling all the way, he reluctantly agrees to go. Tommy Lee Jones is really the one to watch here as he presents Arnold as a stubborn and angry man, giving a performance we never knew he could. While stern, he also shows vulnerability slowly revealing more layers to Arnold's stonewall exterior.

Majority of the running time is spent inside Dr. Feld's office where Steve Carrell plays the compassionate counselor perfectly straight, no trace of comedy. With Carrell providing zero of the movie's humor (which stems from Streep and Jones only), he does two things. He gives Kay and Arnold the platform to sort through their issues for not only them but the audience, as well. With them both so visibly uncomfortable talking about their sex life, we begin to see how their marriage slumped into its current state. The screenplay from Vanessa Taylor is sharp in these instances but can also feel claustrophobic and sluggish at times. The other thing Carrell does is show a possible turning point for his career post-"Office" days.

"Hope Springs" is just three characters the whole time with only a glimpse into Kay and Arnold's family and outside life. Interaction with more people and a slightly larger scope would've given the movie more stretching room and made it feel less slight. Worth watching, though, is Streep and Jones, especially during a charming and hilarious movie theater scene where the couple tries something way outside their comfort zone. What's more is that this isn't just about a 20-plus year marriage crisis -- it's more universal and through the outlet of this couple reaches to themes about seemingly small problems in life that can grow to something more painful and permanent.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Political satire is certainly in the air with this year's presidential election heating up. Now comedic heavyweights Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are in the mix with the new comedy, "The Campaign," which follows a fictional congressional campaign between two knuckleheads. The movie feels like a combination of the small town vibe from this past season's story arc on NBC's "Parks and Recreation" (with Leslie Knope running for city council) and the incendiary foul language from HBO's "Veep" with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a disgruntled vice president. Now here's Adam McKay's team in the mix giving the most outrageous and over-the-top look at politics yet -- with a hefty dose of big laughs.

The R-rated comedy is directed by Jay Roach who also helmed 2008's "Recount" and this year's "Game Change" with Julianne Moore playing Sarah Palin. With his background in political scrutiny, it's no mistake this new comedy comes out the same year of a presidential campaign. Those HBO films were more subtle and critical observations on politics, so with this Roach and his writers really get to have some fun, and things do take a turn for the ridiculous. Adam McKay is credited to the story while Chris Henchy (of the comedy video site Funny or Die) and Shawn Harwell (of HBO's "Eastbown & Down") serve as screenwriters.

McKay and Henchy previously collaborated on the buddy cop flick "The Other Guys" pairing Ferrell with Mark Wahlberg, and a lot of the same style and humor appears again with slapstick debauchery and crude improvisational riffs. With Ferrell and McKay teamed up on Funny or Die, it only made sense for them to pull Galifianakis, who has appeared on the site, to act alongside Ferrell. It's a comedic pairing so inspired you may wonder why this is the first time they've starred in a movie together, and facing off against each other no less. Galifianakis feels even more comfortable here than he does with his Wolfpack buddies of "The Hangover" movies.

He plays Marty Huggins, a hapless small town dough ball of a man who's constantly struggling to live up to the expectation of his harsh father (Brian Cox). Marty is totally weird but also well-meaning and lovable with his bubbly wife (Sarah Baker) and two kids. But when he's requested by two conniving corporate heads, the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), to run for congressman against the otherwise unchallenged Cam Brady (Ferrell), he's excited as a young puppy but hopelessly clueless. Enter tough guy campaign manager, Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), who gives Marty and his family the proper makeover to look like a legitimate political candidate -- swapping out his pugs for Labradors and mounting a bald eagle pastel painting over his fireplace.

The shenanigans that follow quickly ramp up in intensity as Brady and his campaign manager (Jason Sudekis) continuously butt heads with Marty. Galifianakis and Ferrell spar with each other in bouts of great comic timing and also give their characters realistic motives and changes of heart. Meanwhile, every satirical button gets pressed with inflammatory attack ads from each side, backstabbing, manipulation and sex scandals galore. It's all played up for comedy, but Roach and his writers are clearly tapping into something smart and knowing, too. The sly kicker in the end is that a lot of the fakery, which feels ridiculous, actually rings pretty true in American politics today. Except maybe the baby punching.