Monthly Archives: July 2011

Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens

A lot of unusual things happen to the unassuming western folk of “Cowboys & Aliens.” Mainly, aliens land on earth. Yet, nobody seems to react to it. In fact, these people don’t react to anything at all. Is this a movie, or an assembly of cardboard cutouts?

“Cowboys & Aliens” has a cast of cutouts that includes some of Hollywood’s best action stars being reduced of their charms and talents. Daniel Craig plays a cutout named Jake Lonergan, a wanted man who wakes up one morning with a mysterious metal band around his arm and blurry memories that might involve aliens.
As he tries to piece this puzzle together, he wanders into town and captures the attention of the townspeople by standing up to the local rough-and-tumble outlaw, Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), who thinks he owns everything. Among the other people in town include the timid doctor (Sam Rockwell), and the token hot lady (Olivia Wilde). After Percy’s father Woodrow (Harrison Ford) rides into town, a series of “flying machines” begin attacking and what is deemed by the priest as “demons” is most certainly an extraterrestrial attack. Now, everyone must unite and fight for the future of humanity.
Where exactly did “Cowboys & Aliens” go wrong? In too many places to even keep count. With Jon Favreau at the helm, his direction feels more like it did in the second “Iron Man” as opposed to the original. That is, it feels like he started directing an action sequence and then halfway through it, gave up. As a director, Favreau hasn’t yet gotten to the stage where he can phone it in, and still pull it off. No, that takes many more years of experience.
“Cowboys & Aliens” was penned by “Lost”co-creator Damon Lindelof. It contains all of the intrigue of “Lost” without an of the wonder. If you are trying to put us into a time where the idea of life outside of earth is as foreign as the idea of cell phones, you must also put the audience into that sense of wonderment. Instead, all anyone can feel the whole time is, oh they are being attacked by evil aliens from space. Where is the film’s extra hook to really surprise us; where is the film’s polar bear in the jungle? How can we expect to take an alien species seriously when their spaceship looks like Squidward’s house?
The cutouts of “Cowboys & Aliens” consist mainly of a series of western archetypes. There is the young outlaw who’s seen too little, the old outlaw who’s seen too much, the knowledgeable doctor who can’t defend himself, the old coot with no teeth, and the guy who has to march down the town’s streets and yell about how he gets free drinks because he owns this town. None of the characters turn into anything above those stereotypes. I don’t blame this on the actors as much as I do on the writers.
The actors do the best they can, which is really all an actor can do with weak material. Craig, who has deservedly become the new face of James Bond, seems to struggle with his American accent. It doesn’t even come close to sounding like a grisled outlaw, it sounds more like an English guy trying to sound American. Besides the Bond movies, he should just stick to playing badass Jews from now on.
Harrison Ford, meanwhile, was the person I was most excited to see and yet, he doesn’t bring any of the typical Ford charm to his performance. Ford has played Cowboys before, in varying forms (Han Solo; Indiana Jones), yet Woodrow carries no outlaw spirit. He seems less angry about the aliens he has to fight and more angry that he is involved in this movie. He never even seems too concerned about the missing son that he is fighting the whole movie to get back. Shocking, as Ford is usually a master at yelling about missing family members.
I will say this, though: the closest the film ever comes to an actual human interaction is the scene in which Ford gives a young boy his knife. It is never very well explained, but these two characters are the only ones in the film that ever seem to have any chemistry. The fact that nothing is ever done with this represents all of the film’s underutilized potential.
“Cowboys & Aliens” strives to combine two genres that have been combined many times over, with much better results. In fact, the sci-fi western has been considered a genre for decades already, ever since “Star Wars” first came out in 1977. “Cowboys & Aliens” tries to fall under this genre, but it never makes these two very different genres seamlessly blend. The point of “Star Wars” was that if it took place in the Old West, it basically could have been “The Searchers.” I don’t even know what “Cowboys & Aliens” could have been. All I know is that it really made me want to keep watching “Firefly,” the TV series that did exactly what “Cowboys & Aliens” wanted to do, but in a much more exciting and coherent fashion.
The worst part of “Cowboys & Aliens” is that it isn’t very fun. I appreciate that Favreau wanted to tackle this story in a serious manner, but he takes the idea of straight-faced a step too far. Even Leone’s great western opuses had a sense of humor about themselves.
As for the sci-fi part of the film, the aliens feel less like an enemy, and more like a plot device. The aliens in the film look like those from “District 9,” but with way less personality. The reason why the aliens are here at this very moment remains totally unexplained. Even though “Super 8″ somewhat failed in that respect, at least they tried to make us understand its creature.
Amongst the seriousness, the makers of “Cowboys & Aliens” forgot that this is a summer blockbuster, and blockbusters can be both smart and serious while providing entertainment. This isn’t entertainment, this starring blankly at a bunch of preposterous characters and situations. Westerns are supposed to be slow, not boring.

Movie Review: I Heart Huckabees

Like any David O. Russell movie, “I Heart Huckabees” begins with a character talking faster than they can think. Or in the case of Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman), he’s thinking faster than any normal human being should ever think. Then again, that’s just the kind of behavior we should expect from any character played by Jason Schwartzman at this point.

“I Heart Huckabees” is what would happen if “Being John Malkovich” crossed paths with “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Most descriptions of this film (even the negative ones) will describe it as “quirky.” This is an overused and condescending term to describe odd character-driven films. Yes, this film is full of strange moments and eccentric characters, but to call it quirky would be like calling it cute. Frankly, there is nothing cute about existentialism.

Albert is an environmental activist currently fighting the development of a major department store, Huckabees, on open marshland. While Albert feels that his work isn’t appreciated, a strange coincidence triggers an internal crisis. In order to solve his coincidence, he turns to existential detectives Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin). Quite fittingly, their office lies at the end of a long, blank, confusing maze of a hallway. The detectives study human motives as opposed to actual crimes, and they go through a process of psychology and stalking their clients.

Albert is brought further down an existential rabbit hole after he meets Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), who is able to disprove the Jaffe philosophy. Corn is inspired by another existentialist, Caterine Vauban (Isabella Huppert). While the Jaffes follow the belief that everything in the universe is connected, Vauban believes the opposite. The Jaffes and Vauban soon partake in a philosophical tug-of-war for Albert’s psyche. After Albert’s company teams up with the vacuous Huckabees boss, Brad Stand (Jude Law), the existential problems become a little too public, and it prompts Brad to hire the Jaffes to explore his own problem. Lost yet? Just hang in there, please.

“I Heart Huckabees” is ambitious in all of the existential ground that it covers. Some think “Huckabees” gets lost at times sniffing Sartre’s existential farts. The film definitely has a few loose ends and some factors that don’t quite add up. For example, if the detectives follow Albert around, and he can see them spying on him, then how can they know that everything they see is the candid truth?

Then again, one could argue that the film is as flawed as the sprawling theory that it sets out to explore. And with the passage of time, the film has taken on a new meaning. It also represents the time following the War in Iraq that was ruled by “existential threat.” I am sure that David O. Russell didn’t intend for this to happen, but it is funny what the passage of time can do. The best example of this would be the scene in which Tommy argues about the significance of oil with a nice Christian family, and unravels all of their lives comforts in such a flawlessly deadpan matter. That is what existentialism does: it takes apart the meaning of existence, and reduces it to its most simplistic form. For this scene alone, “Huckabees” is a film that was just one slight step ahead of its time.

The sum of “I Heart Huckabees” can be viewed in two ways: whether it works as a philosophical whole, and whether it works as a film. Let’s just say it works out in both ways. The film’s loose ends are somewhat smoothed by its undeniably curious nature, its wit, and its chaotic and totally free form.

The characters’ enlightened meltdowns are all understandable and abide by the idea that one can only see their flaws once they are fully laid out in front of them. That is why it is understandable when the Huckabees model (Naomi Watts) tries to hide her beauty when she realizes that she is totally replaceable, and when a story Brad repeatedly tells ends up making him physically ill. That scene represents the one of the best moments in Jude Law’s acting career.

As for the rest of the ensemble, Tomlin plays into the film’s free structure and brings out her improvisational past. While Hoffman, under that mop of gray hair, plays one of the strangest neurotic messes he has ever played. Wahlberg, meanwhile, shows why he has become a coveted actor. His character doesn’t seem like someone who would ever transform into a brilliant philosopher, but he fits the role with the sort of subtle comedy chops that I never thought he was capable of. And then Schwartzman is just playing what I assume is a heightened version of himself, which he has gotten better and better at playing.

“I Heart Huckabees” may lose a lot of people early on. However, there is a sense of genuine and convincing connections that exist between the characters that becomes more apparent upon a second viewing. Also, its rebellious spirit, including its putdown of corporations and most mainstream American ideas isn’t exactly daring but it is definitely is refreshing. With “Three Kings” before it and “The Fighter” after it, “I Heart Huckabees” shows what a versatile filmmaker David O. Russell truly is. He deserves an extra accolade for turning a philosophy by some of the world’s darkest thinkers into slapstick comedy.

There is one exchange at the very end of “I Heart Huckabees” that stands out (don’t worry, this quote barely gives anything away). When discussing a protest involving chaining themselves to a bulldozer, Tommy asks, “Should I bring my own chains?” Albert ambiguously and succinctly replies, “We always do.” Once you’ve seen the whole movie you’ll understand that he wasn’t just talking about the protest.

Harry Potter: From an (In)different Perspective

WARNING: This article contains a brief, but pretty major spoiler for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” If you care that much, I suggest you stop reading now.

When “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two” concluded, a saga that had lasted over a decade had ended. Some people in the audience cried, others cheered, and pretty much everyone clapped wildly. For these people, it was a truly emotional moment.
Me? I made a fart sound with my mouth.
Maybe my reaction was a little bit immature. However, it summed up why I could just never get into this series. No matter how eye popping or imaginative “Harry Potter” could be, it just never clicked with me, whether in novel or film form.
My indifference to “Harry Potter” was never too personal. I read the first two books, and thoroughly enjoyed them. I saw the first two movies, enjoyed those, too. The series started to lose me around the fourth film, though I have always appreciated the increasingly dark tone of the series. Looking back on it, the “Harry Potter” series did many good things. Most importantly, J.K. Rowling inspired children not only to read, but to enjoy reading, and to want to read, and to finish a book that was over 800 pages in one sitting. Even Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl would have had trouble pulling that off.
I never made it to the seventh book, and after giving up on movie number four, I only saw the second half of the seventh film (longest second act, ever). Harry’s original story, as a misfit who doesn’t understand his potential power is easily relatable to any young teen trying to figure out who they are. I could relate to this (no, I am not a wizard and no, my parents never forced me to live in a closet under the stairs). Yet, no real emotional connection ever forged between me and the young witches and wizards of Rowling’s universe.
When I was younger, I became attached to certain sagas and passed over all others. The world of “Harry Potter” never appealed to me. I tried “The Matrix” for one film and while I love “Star Wars” I could never call myself a fanboy. Rather than obsessing over Potter, I spent most of elementary and middle school as a “Lord of the Rings” geek. Later on, it was the two part universe of “Kill Bill” that somehow got the best of me and made me embark on my never-ending journey to watch every movie I could find at the public library.
“Harry Potter” has always felt strangely cartoonish to me. Even in its most serious moments, I never got a grasp in my mind that this world of magic could actually exist, that Hogwarts was a place I could put myself into. As far as the movies ago, I was never a fan of its mentality of making a gripping and dark action scene and then trying to end it with a light-hearted moment. That one little one liner would always devalue some of the previous scene’s seriousness. That’s just taking the idea of comic relief too far. Maybe it’s just an English thing.
At this point you are probably wondering: where the hell is my review? I just spent $10.50 and two and a half hours of my life on this movie, so shouldn’t I have some clear, formulated opinion? Well, here it is: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2″ is a highly entertaining summer blockbuster. Its special effects are dazzling and show the very best Hollywood has to offer in the latest CGI. This film shows how much the series has changed since its humble roots. However, if this is your first “Harry Potter” film, or your first “Harry Potter” film in quite some time, then you will not find yourself enjoying it so much. I would offer another big blockbuster for you to see but unfortunately, the only other ones currently out are sequels. So instead, I’ll request you go watch the pristine images and dinosaurs in “The Tree of Life.” That’s what you get for not liking “Harry Potter” more, you resentful jerk.
Anyway, there are some things I really do like about “Harry Potter.” I really like what the series did with Snape. I also admire the film’s special effects, which are the moviemaking equivalent of magic. The CGI felt organic, not forced. But because this film took place in the middle of a story that I was never involved in, I don’t feel I can properly review this film to the highest degree. Therefore, I leave you with these last two paragraphs.
All in all, not feeling an emotional connection with Harry and his friends doesn’t mean you’re missing a piece of your heart. Those tears that people felt once future Harry, Ron, and Hermione sent their kids away to Hogwarts is the exact way I felt after watching Andy give away all of his toys last year in “Toy Story 3.”
When some people walked out of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” a piece of their childhood ended along with the franchise. Everyone my age grew up alongside the “Potter” kids. Their awkward changes once they hit puberty only rivaled our own.
For me, once the screen faded to black, I just continued living from where my life had left off right before the film. However, I did feel an immense sting of disappointment that I didn’t stick around for the trailer for “The Dark Knight Rises” that played following the credits.

Horrible Snubs: Why the Emmys Made Three Huge Mistakes this Year

Yes, this year’s Emmy nominations include not one, not two, but three horrendous snubs. Well, there are more; but three of them in particular are really bothering me. Only rarely do I cover other mediums besides film, but I figured this was worth it.

Let’s start with the most surprising snub: “Community.” It got absolutely nothing, besides being considered a shoo-in as a nomination for a few categories. I consider “Community” to be the best comedy on television. And if some don’t think it’s the best, then they at least have to admit that it’s the most inventive. What other show has brought back the traditional sitcom format while simultaneously tearing it to shreds? Think about “Paradigms of Human Memory,” in which the show mocked the clip show episode that every comedy has. Yet, instead of showing clips from previous episodes, they showed flashbacks that had never been seen, and acted like we knew all about it. They also went meta with Jesus, and became the second show to make “Dungeons & Dragons” seem cool (the first, of course, being “Freaks and Geeks”). All of this should usually lead to recognition. I guess voters don’t find a monkey named Annie’s Boobs as funny as I do.
To be honest, I wasn’t prepared to write about “Community” in a post about Emmy snubs. In fact, “Community” being snubbed didn’t cross my mind in the slightest bit. However, there were two shows I unfortunately expected to not get a thing: “Bored to Death” and “Archer.”
“Bored to Death” probably could’ve gotten more consideration, had its season been more than ten episodes and ended after Thanksgiving. But that’s part of what makes the show so special: it’s short, and that likely helps the creators focus more on making the show so good. While some shows are forced to churn out over 20 episodes a season, a shorter season allows more time to focus on making each episode nearly perfect.
In its second season, Jonathan Ames’s hipster noir tale of a struggling writer who moonlights as an unlicensed detective found its voice. “Bored to Death” is a rare show that actually benefitted from going more over-the-top than its previous season. It brought out the very best in its characters. And for the record, watching characters solve mysteries while stoned is a lot more entertaining than watching detectives find semen on everything a la every cop show that exists.
“Bored to Death” found an almost Woody Allenesque quality in its satire of all things pretentious. Also, “Bored to Death” is one of those shows that has a formula that it follows pretty much every episode. While following an episode-by-episode formula can sometimes harm even the best of shows (admit it: every once in a while, the structure of “Modern Family” can be slightly tiresome), it never hurt “Bored to Death,” as it still maintained a forward moving plot.
What other nominations were missing from “Bored to Death”? Most unfortunately is the inexplicable snub of Ted Danson as Jonathan’s (Jason Schwartzman) boss, who’s age hasn’t quite caught up to him yet, George Christopher. Danson so eloquently delivered some of George’s most inexplicable and offensive lines. I laughed when he tried to alter the evidence of a negative drug test, and then felt oddly inspired when he decided to quit his job at season’s end. And I am going to say it now, lest I totally forget, that Zach Galifianakis, as Ray, is equally deserving of a nomination. In his season long battle to win his girlfriend back, he proved himself more than just the guy who said “ruh-tard” in “The Hangover.”
The next show that lost big, like “Bored to Death” and “Community,” improved ten fold in its second season. However, while those two shows became more manic in order to become better, this one surprisingly went the opposite direction. Well, with a few exceptions.
Animated shows rarely get the credit they deserve with the Emmys. Even in its fifteenth season on the air, “South Park” was still brilliant enough to deserve something. I guess Matt Stone and Trey Parker will just have to live with all of the Tonys that “The Book of Mormon” just won. It is “Archer” that really should have made the cut.
This year, “Archer” went from FX’s answer to an Adult Swim show to something entirely different. Yes, it maintained insanity, but it also became a real story, and it did what any good, developing show should do: it focused on its characters backstories. And not just it’s bumbling, womanizing, alcoholic secret agent whose name bears the show’s title; everyone involved became equally important. Season two delved deeper into Sterling’s mommy issues, revealed Cheryl as a millionaire, and made the old servant Woodhouse into more than just some old servant. Throw in some pretty brilliant wordplay (one word: Meowschwitz), and a darkly hilarious cancer plot line, and ISIS becomes the new funniest place to work television.
“Community,” “Bored to Death,” and “Archer” may have trouble ever getting their due. Maybe it’s because their styles of humor aren’t just some simple laughs, or maybe its because the popularity of each hasn’t reached their peak yet. I don’t know what it is, but the fact that these shows will be empty handed come Emmy night somehow makes them all the better.
While “Parks and Recreation” got a variety of nominations (including Best Comedy), voters totally left out Nick Offerman, who plays the government-hating government employee Ron Swanson. Swanson is literally the best comedic character on television right now. Why he was snubbed is beyond the act of head scratching.

Movie Review: Horrible Bosses

Twelve years ago, Mike Judge mastered the cubicle comedy with “Office Space.” His workers just wanted freedom. In this summer’s “Horrible Bosses,” all the workers want to do is have their bosses killed. It’s funny how things change like that.

“Horrible Bosses” follows the lives of three men who are troubled at work: Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudekis), and Dale (Charlie Day). Nick goes by the life theory that good things only come when you work too hard and take orders excessively. His psychotic, manipulative boss Dave Harkin (Kevin Spacey), takes advantage of him and eventually takes over the job that would have been Nick’s.
Of the three of them, Kurt is happiest at his job as an accountant at a small chemical company until his boss’s son Bobby Pellitt (Collin Farrell) takes over the company. Bobby is a Scarface wannabe who has no regard for the company he works for. At one point, he tells Kurt to “trim the fat” from the company (by that, he means, fire all the fat people).
Then there is Dale, who’s only purpose in the world is to be the perfect husband. Though he does need some money to support himself, so naturally he becomes a dental hygienist. Unfortunately, his incredibly inappropriate boss, Julia (Jennifer Aniston), is sexually harassing him and prepares a blackmail plan to get him to have sex with her.
The three men constantly reconvene at Applebee’s and discuss their problems until one day they realize that they must kill their bosses in order to achieve happiness. So, they hire a criminal (Jamie Foxx) to help them out. As accordance to the law of comedy, things don’t work out quite as planned.
“Horrible Bosses” is a great summer blockbuster comedy and it succeeds where many other in this field have failed in both being funny and being entertaining. Films like this usually have to deal with following a stringent plot structure and arrive at a certain plot point (think of “The Hangover” movies). While “Horrible Bosses” must not veer from its murder attempt plot line, it also doesn’t hesitate to let everyone involved enjoy themselves a little. What can be picked up from the hilarious outtakes seen in the credits is that improvisation is not out of the “Horrible Bosses” formula.
I’ve always believed that comedy consists of a good mix of good acting, and even better writing. Writing makes a good comedy smart and plausible, and good acting makes the characters and every bit of dialogue spring to life. Yes, “Horrible Bosses” can be described as a dirty comedy in every sense of the word. However, the dirtiness seems more of showing a way people behave and think rather than a way to simply be shocking. A lot of the dirty humor is simply conversational, such as the scene in which the guys argue about who would be most likely to get raped in prison.
It is safe to say that “Horrible Bosses” has one of the best comedic ensembles assembled in many years. All three of the main stars have each developed a certain character and personality through their roles. Bateman plays the vulnerable workaholic straight man that he created in “Arrested Development.” Luckily, that persona never died once that show was cancelled. Day is basically playing the same version of his character in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”: a loveably inept idiot who shouldn’t be around, seeing as he screws everything up, but having him there makes the story all the better. Then there is Sudeikis, who can now be named a movie star. Here, he continues the horny everyman character he created in this past February’s underrated “Hall Pass.”
The villains are all perfectly cast as well, with Farrell giving the best (or maybe, the most believable) performance out of all of them. Spacey goes a little too over-the-top for comfort at times, but it definitely seems like he was enjoying himself. Aniston, usually the good girl, is surprisingly the dirtiest character in the whole film. Now, that is good shock humor: making an actor go totally outside their comfort zone, and then making them really good at it.
“Horrible Bosses” consistently works. It’s not perfect (I’m still not used to computers as being a main plot point a movie), but it does everything it can for laughs without debasing itself. Like any good comedy, it has a great sense of recall. As opposed to dropping side characters it introduces early on, it brings them back and ties them into the story in very neat ways. Also, it is not as predictable as, say, “The Hangover: Part II.” I think I can now forgive director Seth Gordon for having previously made “Four Christmases.”
The one thing I keep going back to in “Horrible Bosses,” is the strength of its characters. In good comedy, it is forgivable to have an implausible plot as long as the characters feel real. After all, humor usually comes from sticking ordinary people into a heightened reality. Because there’s nothing funnier than watching three white guys from the suburbs walk into a bar in downtown Los Angeles.

Movie Review: Terri

So little does Terri (Jacob Wysocki) care about everything that he wears his pajamas everywhere. Even in school.

“Terri” is the under the radar gem of the summer. It is sweet without being saccharine, funny without being unrealistic, and insightful without being preachy. Most of all, it earns every minute of its slow-paced running time.
Our titular anti-hero, Terri, is an overweight outcast in his small town high school. He lives with his mentally unstable uncle (Creed Bratton), who feeds his nephew toast and beans for basically every meal.
Terri’s demeanor at school worsens every day, and his principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) takes notice. Fitzgerald begins to meet with him frequently, and makes a real effort to turn Terri’s life around.
That last paragraph might have sounded like the premise for a Hallmark movie; but that would be looking at “Terri” incorrectly. It doesn’t look to solve all its problems by a few exchanged sentences and a lot of tears, but rather it goes deep into all of the problems the characters experience.
What also enriches the experience is the film’s ability to cover each character’s perspective and its ability to speak truly. Chad (Bridger Zedina), at first seems like nothing more than one of those people Fitzgerald describes as a “bad heart.” But then, writer and director Azazel Jacobs remarkably finds a way to keep him in the film, and his insecurities that are revealed turn him into more than a caricature. The same goes for Heather (Olivia Croicchia), whom Terri helps save from nearly getting kicked out of school. While “Terri” advertises itself as being mainly about the relationship between Terri and Fitzgerald, it is really about Terri’s relations with everyone in his life.
“Terri” is one of the rare films that can be described as a comedy relying on honesty. This is the kind of film that finds malted milk balls and long, awkward silences to be hilarious. A lot of this can be attributed to the sharp, realistic dialogue by Patrick DeWitt as well as Jacobs’s painfully sincere direction.
“Terri” benefits from having a mainly unknown cast. Most of its actors will breakout into bigger roles over the next few years. The most famous actor in the cast, Reilly, has jumped back and fourth over the years between drama (“Magnolia”) and comedy (“Step Brothers”). In “Terri,” he balances the two out perfectly. One of his funniest skills has to do with his voice, and how he can raise it to a level so loud and ridiculous that it could never be taken seriously. He also acts exactly as a corny high school principal who gives his students sunglasses would act.
And then, there are those moments where Reilly makes Fitzgerald more than that inspirational principal. It might just be the way he reacts to an important hug in the film that shows that he really cares. There are few characters I say this about in modern film, but Reilly makes Fitzgerald, well, inspirational. His lessons to Terri feel believable and actually make sense. It makes you wonder why Fitzgerald isn’t off doing bigger and better things. But then again, inspiring teenagers isn’t so bad.
To put it simply, “Terri” believes that everyone has their problems and justifications for bad behavior. To make that point a little deeper, “Terri” also believes that the only way to fight through those problems is to connect with other people, rather than distance yourself from them. “Terri” is a film that requires patience, but like its main character, the more you wait, the more you realize there is something truly great there.

Movie Review: Bad Teacher

It’s always a bad sign when the first point you have to make about a movie is that you have nothing interesting to say about it. It is also bad when the second thought you have about a movie is this: why does it even exist?

“Bad Teacher” doesn’t make the case for worst film of 2009, but it doesn’t really go much above mediocre. The “hero” of “Bad Teacher,” Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz), certainly could make the case for the worst teacher in America. Rather than actually teach her students, she shows them films like “Stand and Deliver” and she frequently smokes pot in the school parking lot.
Also, she uses men for their money, and couldn’t care less whether or not her students are learning. She instead aspires to scam the school out of enough money to pay for a new surgery she wants to get in order to impress a new teacher, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). A chirpy, overachieving teacher (Lucy Punch) tries to sabotage Ms. Halsey’s plans.
“Bad Teacher” is a movie in which nothing deserving happens, neither to the characters nor the audience. Comedies are fueled off characters who do bad things, but it is not enough to just be a bad person. In “Bridesmaids,” Kristen Wiig might say some terrible words to a young girl, but at least she wanted to open a bakery. Elizabeth Halsey, meanwhile, only does actions to serve herself. Once she has the chance for redemption, it barely feels earned.
Yet, the bright side of “Bad Teacher” lies most in its undervalued supporting cast. I would have preferred to see a movie about the chipper Ms. Squirrel, played by Lucy Punch. She gives off more personality and is funnier in one scene than Diaz is during the entire movie. Jason Segel steals many scenes as the school’s gym teacher. Timberlake, meanwhile, is surprisingly bland for an actor who is usually so energetic.
The reasons that Diaz’s teacher is so easily hatable isn’t just because of her lack of interest in her job as well as her ability to use people; that was intended. The other reason is that Diaz doesn’t make her character even worth giving a chance. Nefarious characters are meant to be looked down upon but they don’t necessarily have to be totally despicable. Characters doing bad things can often be ground to even more humor. Yet, Halsey is given so little charm or charisma that her crimes aren’t even entertaining to watch. Each one is just an excuse for her to get to her ultimate goal. The moment her character decides to turn around is basically a ripoff of a scene from “Billy Madison.” And stealing from “Billy Madison” is unacceptable.
I believe that most comedies (the high concept ones, mainly) run on karma, and characters becoming liked because they change. “Bad Teacher” follows neither of these as it punishes rewarding characters and doesn’t really change the bad ones. In its attempt to be dark and edgy, “Bad Teacher” fails as a possible black comedy. It is impossible to ever be funny or edgy when anything in your movie that could possibly be funny or edgy is revealed in the trailer.