Monthly Archives: June 2019

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Movie Review – Ghost Ship

Category : Movie Review

Director: Steve Beck

Starring: Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Isaiah Washington

Year: 2002

I saw that I should watch Ghost Ship if only for the first ridiculous five minutes, and that’s about as long as my willing attention lasted.  It was a struggle to make it through to the end, since it was the worst movie that has ever been made, and I rue the day I heard its title.  No joke; I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything worse, at least not a film that real humans with real intentions produced in an effort for real audiences to watch (which obviously excluded The Room).  If I were part of this cast I would move to an island where no on had heard of cinema, because you’re never living this one down, the most embarrassing attempt at actual filmmaking in history, something that will never not be a complete disaster no matter how much time passes.

A ragtag salvage team who troll the ocean for wreckage they can turn into cash get a tip on a mysterious ship that no one has yet claimed, so off they go on another adventure to risk their lives for treasure and glory.  But the ship they find isn’t an ordinary wreck, it’s a lost ocean liner that’s been missing for 40 years under strange circumstances, and everyone on the boat seems to have died.  Their spirits haven’t gone far though, and the team is about to find out that these ghosts aren’t very friendly.  Our heroes begin to die one by one as the mystery unravels and the plot thickens; will any of them make it off the decks of this haunted junk alive?!

Steve Beck has directed two movies, Thir13en Ghosts and Ghost Ship, so obviously he can’t be trusted.  Other than doing some visual effects for some flicks in ’89 & ’90 that’s it, that’s all he’s given us, and he’s not done anything since, which I think is a godsend.  Seriously, what a horrendous movie and an embarrassing attempt at, well, anything, and we should all boo anyone involved whenever we see them on the streets.  Margulies, Byrne, Washington, Ron Eldard, Karl Urban, Emily Browning; Jesus Horatio Christ, if there was ever a more cringe-worthy cast I’ve not seen it.  And yes the first five minutes are insane, but not worth watching, because then you might feel compelled to watch the rest, and that’s something you really shouldn’t be doing.

My rating: ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Wife

Category : Movie Review

Director: Bjorn Runge

Starring: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce

Year: 2018

The only awards buzz The Wife received was for Glenn Close for Best Actress, and we all know that’s only because voters thinks she deserves a win after all her years of service and minimal recognition.  She’s been nominated for an Oscar seven times but has never won, and I think that about epitomizes her career; close but no cigar.  She’s a passable actress, a serviceable veteran, but not special enough to jump to that next level, and I think The Wife might have been one of her last chances.  She’s 72, if she hasn’t done it yet, she’s not gonna do it now, and this latest attempt just wasn’t unique enough to earn her any praise, let alone that illusive thing she’s been striving for.

When Joe Castleman wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, his wife Joan is swept up in the fanfare of his award, as the couple travels to Sweden to accept the honor.  Their son comes along, a writer as well, as is Joan, though neither ever reached the level that Joe was able to attain, and both harbor deep resentments.  But there’s even more to their anger than that, as a family secret begins to emerge after a nosy biographer pries into affairs that aren’t his.  But once open, Pandora’s box won’t hold its prisoners, and the truth will eventually get out.  After all these years of marriage, the union of Joe & Joan Castleman might end at what should be its happiness and highest point.

We’ve seen this before, minus this particular twist, and we’ve seen it done better.  Watch 45 Years if you like this style of dramatic, revelatory fiction, it’s so much better, from the acting to the directing, from the story to the execution.  This plot is a little cheesy, though interesting, so it takes stellar performances to take it all the way to the finish line, and that’s what this movie was missing.  Close isn’t what it needed, Pryce did his best, but the side actors failed to help, and the director didn’t have enough strength to steer what started to founder early into a friendly port.  The flashback scenes were pretty awful, but the modern scenes were solid, and I was interested to see how it would turn out, the acting simply wasn’t up to par with what I can see somewhere else and have watched before.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Book Review – Revival

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 2014

Revival might be the weakest King book I have ever read, and I’ve read my fair share.  I love his style, his immersion, his references, and basically all his stories; he has an unmatched gift that can’t ever be explained.  But Revival is weak sauce, throwaway fiction, without a real point or a strong hook, and it left me feeling like he wrote it in his spare time, not with any real focus.  In fact, this book was written in between King’s Bill Hodges Trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch), so maybe he quite literally did give birth to this story while he was busy doing other, more important things.  Because it feels like an afterthought, or perhaps a side note, a tale that could have made for an interesting short, but was never made for an independent novel, as it was doomed from the start.

Jamie Morton can’t escape the madness of his childhood minister, Charles Jacobs; the fates of both men have been intertwined for some dark purpose.  As a boy, Jamie looked up to Charles, they were friends even, and the minister shared his love of God with the curious child, as well as his passion for science and electricity, which were his obsessive hobbies.  But when Charles lost his wife and son in an accident, he left his religion behind, and Jamie grew up while growing further & further away from his own faith.  But the two were linked, and as Jamie fell into drug addiction, Charles advanced his experiments with the healing power of electricity, tapping into some other-worldly force to treat the sick, but with an ulterior motive that definitely wasn’t Godly.  Jamie would become an Igor to Charles’ Dr. Frankenstein, the pair playing with fire, all the while knowing that, beyond the veil between life and death, there might be a sleeping evil that won’t react well to being disturbed.

This novel is so convoluted with religion, addiction, trauma, and pseudoscience that it’s hard to wrap your brain around all the themes at once, while also trying to dive into a horror story that’s mostly neither scary nor interesting.  It’s a curious idea, but fleshed out far beyond its breaking point, like The Shining taken down the wrong road and given too many different threads to handle.  And I even felt that King was off his game, ending chapters with phrases like, “But I had no idea everyone around me was about to die”, as if he didn’t have any other tools at his disposal than cheap, college-level fiction tactics.  The entire book read as if it was written by someone on a lower talent tier than King’s usually-sharp standards, and that’s a major disappointment.  I’ve read almost everything he has ever offered, and Revival might be the most phoned in, the least thought through, and the only one without a reason to invest.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Napoleon Dynamite

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jared Hess

Starring: Jon Heder, Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez

Year: 2004

I will always love Napoleon Dynamite for its utter originality, and for its blatant disregard for anything approaching normal.  It’s the most bizarre comedy you’re ever likely to see, a coming-of-age tale about the world’s biggest weirdo, who has a family to match, set amid a timeless background that makes audiences feel nostalgic for the 70s, 80s, and 90s all at once.  At a time when movie quotes were my passion, Napoleon provided some of the best in history, awkward phrases that still make me laugh today, and there aren’t many weeks that go by without a prime opportunity to look exasperated and say, in an attempt at his one-of-a-kind voice, “Lucky!”  Consider yourself just that if you grew up with this film, because you got to experience pillar characters and content, if from a random, unlikely source.

Napoleon lives with his free-spirited Grandma and his unemployed, 30-something brother Kip, in a small town in Idaho.  The entire family is bizarre, including the washed-up and often creepy Uncle Rico, but Napoleon might be the strangest of all, or at least the least comfortable in his own skin.  He dresses strangely, draws fantasy creatures, constantly lies about his adventures outside school, and can’t find anyone he fits in with, simply floating grumpily through his own existence with his head in the clouds.  But he’s about to meet two equally unique people who will become his friends and change his life; Deb and Pedro.  Deb sells glamour, though she’s not very outgoing herself, and Pedro has a quiet confidence, though mostly he’s just quiet.  Together, the trio can take on anything, including running a campaign for Pedro for School President and maneuvering lame high school dances.  Perhaps Napoleon can get by with a little help from his friends, because if anyone could use a helping hand growing up, it’s him.

Our hero and title character is great, with his breathless indignation and constant low opinion of humanity.  And obviously he runs the show, the movie is named after him, he’s the driving force for all the comedy.  But it’s the side cast that makes this film magical; without them it would simply be funny, not monumental.  Kip will kill you with his dry, nerdy, embarrassing demeanor, and how they arc his role is so wonderfully weird.  Then there’s Uncle Rico (or Lazio from Real Genius, if you remember that one), and he’s so uncomfortable to watch that you go full circle and start rooting for him to win at something for once in his life.  Tina Majorino from Corrina, Corrina, Diedrich Bader from Office Space, Hillary Duff’s sister for some random reason; the acting doesn’t have to be amazing, because the character’s are already written that way.  Jared Hess would continue to be a oddball director for a few years, but could never top his debut film; Napoleon Dynamite is the kind of icon that can’t ever be matched.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Sky High

Category : Movie Review

Director: Mike Mitchell

Starring: Michael Angarano, Kurt Russell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Year: 2005

It’s approaching 15 years ago that my nephew was obsessed with Sky High and watched it over & over again.  I’d go over to my sister’s to play cards, she’d pop in the film, he’d enter another world, and the adults would relax; good times, noodle salad.  And I even remember laughing at times at the lines I was hearing in the background; “Sidekick!” when a kid messed up, “Bus Driver.” so no one forgot one character’s job title.  But it wasn’t until now that I sat down and watched from start to finish, this time with my son, who was ready with laughter at every prat fall and silly joke.  For that matter, so was I, and I enjoyed this Mid-Grade movie perhaps a little more than I thought I might.

Will Stronghold is the son of the two most famous superheroes in the world: Jetstream & The Commander.  To him they’re just mom & dad, but to average folk they are the pair who protect the innocent, who keep supervillains from taking control.  But when it’s his turn to begin training at Sky High to become the next savior of the planet, Will finds that his powers haven’t emerged yet, and that’s a sure ticket to being a lowly sidekick; not what he’d been imagining all these years.  His abilities may or may not come later in life, there’s no telling, but for now he will have to learn that being a part of a team can be just as rewarding as being a leader.  And when a villain attempts to take over the school, it’s the misfits who will have to step up and take control.

The humor of Sky High is inexplicably smart, or at least clever, and maybe that’s not so surprising, coming from the director of Trolls and Lego Movie 2.  Well, those movies aren’t exactly brilliant, they’re good though, and so is Sky High, a nice balance between kid comedy and passable quality.  It’s a little like Spy Kids, but SO much better, more like Harry Potter, but not as strong.  Somewhere in the middle, there’s a place where it’s OK to laugh at dumb jokes and then nod at a witty comment; a place for fun, really.  And this cast worked wonderfully, without them there’s a chance the same writing and direction doesn’t work: Angarano, Russell (who cracked me up), Winstead in an early role, Kelly Preston, Kevin Heffernan from Super Troopers, Lynda Carter, Bruce Campbell, Steven Strait from 10,000 BC, Cloris Leachman, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall.  Quite the team, and what’s more is they worked, which was maybe unexpected.  Sky High is like that; it’s a better movie than you might think.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Stan & Ollie

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jon S. Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly

Year: 2018

A more perfect tribute to past celebrity might not exist on the planet; Stan & Ollie may have just topped the list.  There are biopics that have won prestigious awards, but I’m not sure any of them have harnessed the heart of this film, have paid homage to what once was and will never be again.  This is an embodiment more than a reenactment, and another aspect sets it apart from other, higher-praised, biographic dramas; these actors weren’t in front of a camera to make themselves seen, they were there to bring something magical back into our hearts.  Stan & Ollie is a selfless movie, a pure wonder of entertainment and sweet exuberance, with no one stepping forward to hog the spotlight, no one actor looking to take home a prize.  This is real life brought to life, artist honoring artist, and wow can you feel it.

As their careers began to sputter to an end, Laurel & Hardy found themselves unwanted and unwatched, two has-beens with their best years behind them.  Not too long ago, they were the top comedy duo in the world, making movies and making people laugh, at the top of their game.  But show business is rough, they eventually went their separate ways, and life barreled on.  Years later, they team up one more time with the hope of producing some buzz, which will maybe lead to a new movie, stranger things have happened.  So they set out on a tour of the United Kingdom, which goes better than they ever could have hoped.  Audiences are cheering once again for Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, with their simple, physical, and hilarious routines.  But Ollie’s health won’t hold up forever, and eventually the old hats will have to be hung up; it’s not a matter of if but of when.

What a kind tribute, a nod to the old greats, without once puffing up into something modern and Hollywood, or a self-congratulating phony.  There were only real moments here, historical moments, attempts to allow audiences to skip back in time to see something that was special for a brief period, something that will never come again.  I applaud the whole team for creating something this sweet and well-intentioned, all the more because it worked, so special credit to the stars, Steve & John.  I’ve recently talked about John C. Reilly (The Sisters Brothers, Ralph Breaks the Internet), his mastery, his talent, how important he has been for the last few decades, his raw and unmatched ability.  But Steve Coogan (The Trip, Alan Partridge) isn’t far behind, with a wit and zing that’s unparalleled, and never gets old.  Put the two of them together to play the funniest men in history and you’ve got a film that can’t fail, and which didn’t, not once, not for one minute.  They were wonderful as Laurel & Hardy, excellent as professionals doing their job, but always with a sense that they wanted to be here; imitation is the highest form of flattery, after all.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – I Am Mother

Category : Movie Review

Director: Grant Sputore

Starring: Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank

Year: 2019

For a debut feature for a writer/director and a Netflix original sci-fi flick, I Am Mother is a stunning success.  I’ll even go one step further; it approaches Ex Machina in quality and craft, if not quite reaching that spectacular height.  But it doesn’t miss by much, maybe a key actor or two, where Ex Machina had three future legends working together at the very top of their game.  I Am Mother doesn’t have that exact talent level supporting its story, but the plot mostly speaks for itself, as do the awesome situations and predicaments its characters find themselves in.  Had the cast been more impacting, this film could have been one of the very best of the year, sci-fi or otherwise, streaming or not.  As it is, it doesn’t come up too short.

After a global catastrophic event, mankind has been effectively eliminated from the planet, and an underground bunker’s technology automatically kicks into action.  A robot called Mother is activated and begins bringing to life human embryos from a vast storage container holding the key to the repopulation of Earth.  A girl is born, called Daughter, and she grows up knowing nothing but life in the bunker, with a robot as her only companion.  But one day a noise outside brings the truth about the world crashing down; she’s not alone, there are survivors outside, and Mother might not be the wonderful maternal nurturer that she appears to be.

This story went exactly how I was hoping, and that doesn’t always happen.  When I was thinking “man I hope we find out more about the world outside” we did.  When I was thinking “wow I don’t want it to end this way” it didn’t.  And while movies don’t have to bend to my whims, I felt like Sputore had put himself in the shoes of the audience, had perhaps avoided a common pitfall when writing and creating this tale, which is making the film for himself alone, not considering that art doesn’t become anything other than static until it’s viewed by someone else.  He made something special with I Am Mother, and I’ll be thinking about this dystopic thriller the rest of the year.  I do wish the acting had been a little more powerful; Rugaard is a newcomer, Byrne was just a voice, Swank isn’t my favorite.  But they definitely didn’t detract, and I was on the edge of my seat from the opening scene to the last, fed enough detail to stay interested but also allowed to piece together the background at my own pace.  Netflix won with this bet, and I hope to see more from Sputore, because I think he has plenty to say.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – The Perfection

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Shepard

Starring: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber

Year: 2019

The Perfection is like if Get Out was crap.  The same lead actress, the same creepy white guy character, the envy of gifts, the imminent and bizarre blood; cou*copy*gh.  Richard Shepard, whose only “claim to fame” is Dom Hemingway, is more a TV and made-for-TV director, not a feature guy who can produce original content, so he simply stole a near-masterpiece of modern horror and added in a cello to make unsuspecting audiences think they were watching something completely new.  News flash, Richie; we’re not that dumb.  I don’t have much faith in humanity, but I’m sure there will be enough people who recognize what you did that I won’t feel completely alone.  But I’ve also seen gushing reviews come out, which only proves to me that some audiences/critics will love anything that’s remotely sensationalized, regardless of the messy rest.

A stunning cello virtuoso, Charlotte had to quit the instrument and leave a prestigious school when her mother became ill, putting her own dreams on hold.  Another girl, Elizabeth, took her top place, and would become a world-renowned player, while Charlotte watched from the sidelines.  Now that her mother has died, she is free to return to the world she once loved, though not as the young student rising to super-stardom; that path is now blocked.  But Elizabeth, Lizzie, seems lovely, and the pair of young ladies instantly connect upon meeting each other in Shanghai.  But it’s not all coming up daisies, there’s something more sinister in the air, starting with a strange sickness Lizzie contracts, and involving a small tattoo that both women share, connecting their mysterious pasts as well as their violent futures.

Lesbians are en vogue right now, and I can’t imagine how insulting that must be, while activists clamor for equal representation, to have your sexuality used as a tool to attract audiences.  It’s obvious when a story is done to reflect gay couples in real life and when it’s done to grab attention to a low-quality product, and I strongly feel that The Perfection is the latter.  This film isn’t edgy, isn’t groundbreaking, isn’t representational, it’s a gimmick, and that’s not cool.  It’s a recycling of a plot we recently watched, with the same actress we watched, from a slightly different point of view, with some of the same themes, about music instead of photography, with rape as a story arc done in bad taste; and we’re expected to applaud?  Bad on Netflix for picking up this project, and not simply for social reasons, maybe I’m just being too sensitive, but also because, well, it just sucks.  Allison Williams is talented, but literally no one else in the cast was, and the gore was stupid at best, insulting if you look into it too closely.  The plot was dumb, I hated the direction, the acting was no good, and I felt like I needed a shower after watching, which I’m guessing might have been part of the intention, a purposeful ick factor, but for that the filmmakers have only earned a “screw you”.

My rating: ☆

 


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Movie Review – Rocketman

Category : Movie Review

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden

Year: 2019

If Bohemian Rhapsody was one of the best films of 2018, Rocketman has to be considered one of the best films in the history of the world.  And while we’re comparing the two, if Rami Malek was the best actor of 2018, Taron Egerton must be the best actor who has ever drawn a breath.  If that’s what we’re doing here, if we were to put these movies as close to each other as their quality deserves, than whatever BoRhap got Rocketman needs one hundred fold, because it’s that much better.  Dexter Fletcher might just be getting started as a director, but he’s paired himself with Egerton twice, which shows that he’s smart, and he was willing to experiment a little with the typical biopic formula, which tells us that he’s brave as well.  For although this Elton John story feels similar to the Freddie Mercury tale we just heard, it’s miles above in daring drama, and should be unanimously voted as the superior feature.

Reginald Dwight didn’t seem destined for great things, growing up in England in the 50s, a child of a loveless marriage and the son of a distempered father.  But his talent for music, specifically the piano, singing, songwriting, and picking tunes out of thin air, was unmistakable.  Reggie would eventually get a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, and then would try his hand at making a record, putting his stuff on display for the first time.  A friendship with a tone deaf songwriter named Bernie Taupin got things going in the right direction, and, using Elton John as a stage name, the pair began to produce some hits.  But the life of a rock&roller isn’t just glamorous, it’s also dangerous, as wealth and happiness don’t always mix well, and neither do despair and recreational drugs, as Elton would soon find out, with rock bottom looming ever closer.

I’m already doing it and I probably shouldn’t be, but Rocketman is going to be compared to BoRhap, especially because the latter did so well last year, even though most of us understood that it wasn’t technically solid, despite its many awards.  It took good music and a hard-working performance further than it should have gone, because the bones of the movie weren’t that great, and we all probably would have been better off popping in a CD instead of plopping down on the couch.  But Rocketman is better, in every way, which will lead to a lot of unrest if it doesn’t receive even more acknowledgements than its predecessor, because it deserves them.  It’s punchier, it thinks outside the box, it brings in other actors than the lead, and it’s an all-around better film presentation; I know there are going to be people who disagree, but I think they’re wrong.

And I was a bit concerned at first; I didn’t know the genre was more musical than biopic, or that we would be drifting around through Elton’s memories like a ghost, often in fantasy mode instead of history.  That was a lot to take in at first, his mom and dad simply bursting into song, his songs, while he’s a little kid, and then EJ floating around on stage as in a dream; it knocks you back a step, but once you find the groove the creativity really does help elevate this picture above other similar, more static contemporaries.  Also, Taron Egerton > Rami Malek, it’s simple math, and he shows it in every scene.  This kid is the next big star, if he isn’t there already, and stumbles like Robin Hood (2018) won’t turn our attention away from the grand path he’s definitely on.  For the most part, the side cast was A1: Bell, Madden, the kid versions, Tate Donovan, Stephen Graham (who about stole the show).  The only actor I didn’t dig was Bryce Dallas Howard as Mrs. Dwight; she’s not British and she’s not that wonderful even when she’s American.  But that’s a minor glitch, as were the slightly poorly timed lip syncs and the repetition throughout of a few of the same themes.  The end will get you though, and the music is obviously fantastic, sang well by every cast member, with a story that we might have seen before, but perhaps not done quite so well.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Observe and Report

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jody Hill

Starring: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta

Year: 2009

Although Seth Rogen and Danny McBride often meet up in the movies, I think they represent two distinct styles of comedy that you’re either a fan of or you hate, and I happen to love Rogen, while I can’t stand McBride.  Jody Hill is the director who matches with McBride’s humor, works with him often, and if that’s your thing then more power to you, but it isn’t mine, which is why I can’t gush over Observe and Report.  It’s funny, Rogen is funny, some of the ideas are funny, but mostly the movie simply comes across as coarse and stereotypical, not original like Superbad or completely off the wall like This Is The End.  It has its moments, there is some cool comedy , and maybe I needed to watch it ten years ago when I was younger, but I see nothing special here other than an improved Paul Blart ripoff.

Ronnie wants more than anything to be a cop, but he’s currently only mall security, a job he takes way too seriously as he waits for his chance to make it big.  Some recent crimes have demanded his attention, and he’s so ready to face them head on & to make a name for himself.  First, a flasher shows his goods and then runs away, next a robber hits a shoe store, so there’s a chance for Ronnie to make a splash, if only the real detectives would get out of his way and let him get to work.  Also, on a personal note, Ronnie is in love with a makeup counter girl named Brandi, who isn’t the kind of lady you take home to mama, while the lovely Nell pines away without him even noticing.  A lot to maneuver, and Ronnie isn’t the brightest bulb, but sometimes you just get lucky; other times you fuck everything up and get fired, so.

Seriously, Paul Blart came out a few months before Observe and Report, one of those weird times of film dichotomy, which doesn’t make the latter look very good, even though the former was a complete flop.  Hill & Rogen were able to improve upon the concept, that’s for sure, but they still weren’t very original, and not all that clever either, resulting in a few laughs but nothing more.  I found the first half far more appealing than the second, as everything witty came early, and all we were left with by the end was an odd storyline and not enough talent to pull it off.  Also, the more you hear these jokes the more offensive they become, so I grew tired of the comedy quickly, and started to wonder if I should be laughing at all.  But I did, it’s a goofy romp, nothing more serious than that, Rogen is a natural, Faris is good too, this movie simply won’t go down as must-see cinema.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆