February 26, 2013

Sushi Girl (2012)

ON A DARK AND RAINY NIGHT, four men who botched a diamond heist six years ago reunite to celebrate the arrival of their fifth member, Fish (The Neverending Story’s Noah Hathaway), who was just released from prison and has kept his mouth shut about his partners in crime and the location of the diamonds. The celebration takes place during a sushi dinner, served off the naked body of a beautiful woman (Cortney Palm).

However, the celebration quickly turns to suspicion: The four men – leader Duke (Candyman’s Tony Todd), foul-mouthed hothead Max (Andy Mackenzie), recovering addict Francis (James Duval), and effeminate sadist Crow (Mark Hamill) – believe that Fish knows where the missing loot is. And they’ll stop at nothing to find out the truth.

Comparisons of Sushi Girl to Reservoir Dogs are inevitable and multiple. Much like Quentin Tarantino’s neo-classic, Sushi Girl takes place entirely in one central location; several of its criminals torture and mutilate a person to get information; suspicion grows that there’s a rat among them; their heist and its fallout are shown in flashbacks; and it all revolves around a missing stash of diamonds. Sushi Girl even ends with a Mexican standoff between several members of the crew, a la the final showdown between Dogs’ surviving criminals. (A twist following Sushi Girl’s standoff comes off more as “huh” than “wow.”)

Much like Reservoir Dogs, Sushi Girl’s singular setting could lend it to a stage performance – an irony, since the cast delivers their dialogue with such heavy-handed melodramatics it feels as if they’re playing to a theater audience. Nearly unrecognizable in the cast is Star Wars’ Hamill, looking like the love child of Kurt Cobain and Truman Capote. He really seems to be relishing the role, hamming it up without being a complete camera hog. (The cast also includes why-bother cameos by Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, and Danny Trejo (The Grind), all crammed into one five-minute flashback.) 

Sushi Girl director Kern Saxton (who co-wrote the script with the co-star of Bravo’s Millionaire Matchmaker) offers some wonderful tracking shots and tinges of dark humor. But he makes it hard for us to believe this group of drastically different and combative criminals would even agree on where to get lunch, let alone collaborate on an armed diamond heist. Derivative, gratuitous, and self-indulgent, Sushi Girl is indeed raw…but watching it feels like getting food poisoning of the eyes.


Is it suitable for your kids?
No. Sushi Girl is rated R for strong bloody violence, torture, language, nudity, and brief drug use.
Strong Bloody Violence: Multiple people are shot, with blood splatterings a-plenty; one man has his hand cut off, and the bloody stump is shown.
Torture: Long scenes of torture, where a character is punched repeatedly, has his ribs broken, chop sticks are driven into his legs, and his face is ripped to shreds from a swinging bag of broken glass.
Language: A countless amount of strong profanities, racial epithets, gay slurs, and crude insults.
Nudity: A woman's nude body is shown in close-up and in long shots throughout most of the film (sometimes with strategically placed pieces of sushi covering the naughty bits).
Alcohol/Drugs: The men at the sushi dinner drink sake. A man snorts a line of cocaine.
Miscellaneous: A man vomits into a sink.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
She may be intrigued by the casting of Star Wars icon Mark Hamill in a way-against-type role, but the overabundance of tough-guy talk combined with the graphic violence and torture will probably turn her off.

(gulp) "Uh, I'm sorry sir, but your card has been declined..."

Sushi Girl
* Director: Kern Saxton
* Screenwriters: Destin Pfaff and Kern Saxton
* Stars: Tony Todd, James Duval, Noah Hathaway, Andy Mackenzie, Mark Hamill, Cyrus Alexander, Michael Biehn, Sonny Chiba, Danny Trejo, Jeff Fahey, Cortney Palm
* MPAA Rating: R

Rent Sushi Girl from Netflix >>

February 20, 2013

Junior High Spy (2012)

PUT OFF BY the high-quality entertainment and production value of Spy Kids and Agent Cody Banks? Have we got a movie for YOU!

Junior high student Ricky (Christopher Lazlo) is a budding secret agent in training, thanks to the support of his FBI father, Richard (Harry Edison). But when his dad is kidnapped by Very Bad Men and the FBI’s leads dry up, Ricky enlists the help of his whiz-kid friend Jack (Matthew Downs) to help him track down the bad guys and bring his dad home.

Despite the fact that Junior High Spy is centered around the American-based FBI, the film is obviously a Canadian production – from the unmistakable accent (they talk aboot Ricky’s dad being held hostage in a big hoose, eh?) to the maple leaf flag displayed on the speedboat where the bad guys knock Ricky out and abduct his dad.

This is obviously an independent feature with a limited budget, but the filmmakers should’ve squeezed out a few extra bucks for acting lessons. The kid actors’ wooden, unconvincing performances are fittingly on par with a junior high play, and the adult actors aren’t much better.

The script by Barry Cowan is solid – it’s the execution that comes up short. Flat delivery of lines, uneven pacing, odd editing, and long stretches where nothing happens to advance the story or character development. And despite an abundance of FBI agents and Very Bad Men, not one gun in sight. (Oh, those polite Canadians and their wacky gun control laws!)

Even at just 87 minutes, Junior High Spy is stuffed with gobs of filler – mostly consisting of Ricky patrolling the mansion grounds on his ATV or cheesecake footage of teenager Kate (Jessica Ducharme) strolling the hillsides in a bikini top and short-shorts. In addition, the musical score consists of exactly four themes, repeated ad nauseum: there’s Main Titles Theme, Investigation Theme, Suspense Theme, and Action Theme.

Halfway through Junior High Spy, FilmBoy and I started talking back to the screen at all the ridiculousness. The stiff performances, the “oh no, not again” recurrence of the film’s limited soundtrack, the unconvincing fight scenes…they all provided fodder for us to make goofy comments and turn the experience from brutally painful to barely tolerable.

Released by independent studio Skylight Films and distributed by Inception Media Group, Junior High Spy eventually reaches its happy ending, but leaves the door open for a sequel. One can only hope!*

*That it never happens.

aka Ricky Lazio Jr., FBI.
Normally a movie like this would rate 1 star,
but for unintentional entertainment value, it gets:

What did FilmBoy think?
“Okay. It was good. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever seen.” The repetition of the same four soundtrack themes did start to get on his nerves. He also thought it was hysterical the way the Canadian cast says “house” (“hoose”); the fact that it’s said repeatedly by Ricky only made it funnier.

Is it suitable for your kids?
Language: Mentions of “butt,” “dummy,” and “perv.”
Violence: There are several fight scenes, mostly involving martial arts. No bloodshed or deaths.
Adult situations: Kate is seen in various skimpy clothing and bikinis; Ricky shares a kiss with Kate’s younger sister, Kylie (Mikayla Ottonello). The antics of 12-year-old Jack are sometimes uncomfortable: He describes Kate as “definitely hot,” comments on her “heavenly body,” literally pants over her in one scene, and tries to sneak a glass of wine at a swank party at the mansion. There’s brief mention of the bad guys being involved in “smuggling,” though it’s never made clear exactly what they’re smuggling.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Can’t think of one reason why she would.

Let's go to work.
(While being mindful of child labor laws.)

Junior High Spy
* Directors: Mark McNabb, Kelly Rae Irwin
* Screenwriter: Barry Cowan
* Stars: Christopher Fazio, Mikayla Ottonello, Matthew Downs, Harry Edison, Dorothy Downs, Jessica Ducharme
* MPAA Rating: N/A

Rent Junior High Spy from Netflix >>

February 15, 2013

So Undercover (2012)

LET’S GET THIS OVER WITH: Miley Cyrus (Bolt) plays a private investigator named Molly (that’s Molly, not Miley) who’s hired by an FBI agent (Jeremy Piven) to protect the daughter of a key mob witness while the daughter is living in a college sorority house. To accomplish this, Molly (not Miley) goes undercover as a student to keep the daughter safe, while trying not to blow her cover or fall for beau-hunk classmate Nicholas (Joshua Bowman).

Whether or not you’ll enjoy – or even tolerate – So Undercover depends on how open you are to believing the FBI would put their trust in a two-bit junior PI to protect the relative of an important government witness. And for someone who’s been assigned to closely protect this relative, Molly spends large amounts of time apart from her as she endures numerous debriefings from Piven’s agent and makes goo-goo eyes at Nicholas.

So Undercover is almost nothing but variations of Molly unknowingly spewing a bunch of inside-speak about her profession, then poorly covering it up with a bimbo-esque declaration. As Molly’s boss, Piven brings more to his role than the film deserves, and it’s a bit sad that this is the kind of work you get after winning three Emmys on Entourage.

Devoid of laughs, charm, or believability, So Undercover is Cyrus’ latest attempt to shake her teenybopper image and play grown-up, complete with parading around in her underwear and occasionally swearing. But her cherubic looks and disturbingly bleach-white teeth betray her attempt at portraying a cynical FBI operative. Cyrus probably feels like she’s got something to prove to make America forget about Hannah Montana, but So Undercover is so not helping.


Is it suitable for your kids?
So Undercover is rated PG-13 for “mature and suggestive content.” It includes mild profanities peppered throughout, alcohol consumption at a party, several close-ups of girls’ chests and/or cleavage, and random gunplay.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Unless your FilmMother is twelve (and if she is, you’ve got bigger problems), I doubt it.

(*sigh*) Of course they're making me do
Gangnam Style as part of the initiation...

So Undercover
* Director: Tom Vaughan
* Screenwriters: Allan Loeb, Steven Pearl
* Stars: Miley Cyrus, Jeremy Piven, Mike O'Malley, Kelly Osbourne, Eloise Mumford, Megan Park, Lauren McKnight, Autumn Reeser, Matthew Settle
* MPAA Rating: PG-13

Rent So Undercover from Netflix >>

February 8, 2013

The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure (2012)

THEY COME FROM THE MAN who gave us the Teletubbies.

They look like Barney the Dinosaur, the Doodlebops, and H.R. Pufnstuf had a freaky three-way.

They had the worst box-office opening of all time.

And now, they’re coming to your home.

Yes, last fall’s infamous bomb The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure is now available on home video. It features the adventures of full-bodied puppet-kids Goobie, Zoozie, and Toofie as they plan a surprise birthday party for their friend Schluufy, who happens to be…a gibberish-spewing pillow. But when their friend, a vacuum named J. Edgar (because he’s a Hoover, get it?), trips and loses five magical balloons meant for Schluufy, the Oogies set out to retrieve the balloons in time for the party.

The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure is an interactive movie, with the Oogies talking to the screen and urging preschoolers to get out of their seats at various points in the film and take part in song and dance routines, complete with follow-the-bouncing-ball lyrics displayed at the bottom. These overzealous commands quickly spiral out of control, often coming just minutes apart and sometimes lasting for mere seconds before the kids are told to sit down. (It makes the stand-sit-pray frequency of a Catholic mass look tame.) The songs are of the Chinese-water-torture variety, repeating the same verse over and over until you confess to crimes you didn’t even commit.

The Oogies encounter actual human beings in their journeys, and it makes you wonder what career-ending scandals these actors are hiding that allowed them to be blackmailed into appearing:
  • Cloris Leachman as a polka-dot-loving shrew named (wait for it) Dottie
  • Chazz Palminteri as Marvin Milkshake, who basically hazes his customers into dancing for their drinks at his dairy bar
  • Toni Braxton (whose recent bankruptcy might explain her presence here) as a pop diva in a painfully long segment where she sings a ballad about coughing and sneezing
  • The Princess Bride’s Cary Elwes, who seems to be enjoying himself way too much as a bubble-loving cowboy whose bouncy swagger makes him look like he has to pee
  • Jaime Pressly as a latino salsa dancer and her partner Christopher Lloyd, who’s dressed in flamenco garb and speaks only by beating his bongos

And just when it seems all of Schluufy’s birthday balloons are safely retrieved by the Oogieloves, they’re lost again due to a strong wind. But before you can say deus ex machina, the balloons declare, “There’s only one thing stronger than the wind: love!” So the Oogies – and I am not making this up – start blowing kisses over and over to bring the balloons back. It’s at this point your mind starts coming to grips with the fact that the entire film centers around a surprise birthday party for a pillow. (When does life exactly begin for a pillow? Is it the manufacture date on the tag?)

Spoiler alert: The Oogies’ kisses bring the balloons back and the party is a success, as Schluufy sits there like some kind of stuffed invalid while everyone dances around him, seemingly rubbing their mobility in his face.

On some level, the Oogieloves’ creator Kenn Viselman (he of Teletubbies and Thomas the Tank Engine fame) should be commended for trying something different with the interactive nature of The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure and its world of bright colors, soft shapes, and surreal settings. But factor in the trite, grating musical numbers, stilted dialogue, inept animal puppetry, often-insulting tone, and complete lack of substance, and you’re left with nothing more than an 88-minute mess. The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure may be filled with the best intentions, but so is the road to Hell.


What did FilmBoy and Jack-Jack think?
FilmBoy thought The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure was awful, declaring at mid-point, “How is the guy who created this not embarrassed?” Jack-Jack kept saying repeatedly, “Why was this in the theaters?” – though secretly, I think he may enjoy the film more than he lets on.

Is it suitable for your kids?
From a strictly content perspective, yes – unless you consider Jaime Pressly kissing the Oogieloves’ pet fish on the lips to be subversive.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
My FilmMother thought The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure was trippy, annoying, and devoid of any educational value. Halfway through, she said to me, “We’re never gonna get these moments back, you know.”

More like the Oogiehates, amiright?
Thank you, try the veal.

The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure
* Director: Matthew Diamond
* Screenwriter: Scott Stabile
* Stars: Christopher Lloyd, Cary Elwes, Jaime Pressly, Cloris Leachman, Chazz Palminteri, Toni Braxton, Garrett Clayton, Maya Stange, Nick Drago, Malerie Grady, Steve Blackwood
* MPAA Rating: G

Rent The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure from Netflix >>


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