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  • Will Ferrell antics the key contribution to ‘The Campaign’

    Campaign political movie review north idahoNo matter how dirty this election season gets, take comfort that it won’t come close to matching the shenanigans in “The Campaign.”

    This R-rated takedown of American politics is everything you’d expect from stars Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis, including foul verbal hissy fits, sex, drugs and occasional fistfights with babies.

    OK, minus that last one, “The Campaign” isn’t all that implausible.

    Ferrell plays incumbent Democratic congressman Cam Brady, an obvious model of John Edwards with a dose of Ferrell’s hilarious George W. Bush inflection. He’s a huge horndog and speaks exclusively in vague buzz words on the campaign trail (“Jesus. Freedom. America.”)

    Galifianakis is modest family man and lifelong Republican Marty Huggins, who is plucked by sinister corporate forces (embodied by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) to face Brady in the election. The powers-that-be think they can manipulate the unknown into literally selling part of North Carolina to China.

    “The Campaign” is Ferrell at his debaucherous best as Brady slowly unravels when Huggins gains momentum in the polls. The rivalry extends into accusing each other of terrorism connections and “not being Christian enough,” leading to even more of Ferrell acting like a complete buffoon (the way we like him!)

    Huggins is a strange invention with a distracting accent, and Galifianakis unfortunately doesn’t pull much funny out of it. Still, the character is oddly likeable, even as he foolishly follows the plans of his villainous handlers.

    The movie is directed by Jay Roach, the man behind not just “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents,” but also the excellent political HBO films, “Recount” and “Game Change.” “The Campaign” is more “Austin Powers” in tone, but there are a few insights into our system that resonate on the eve of a national election.

    Mostly “The Campaign” is your annual dose of larger-than-life Will Ferrell. For his fans, the laugh hit-miss ratio is pretty solid. The sporadic social commentary is just a bonus.
    Grade: B+


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  • Why we need more Batman

    This year’s trifecta of “The Avengers,” “Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises” is easily the most widespread saturation of superheroes in popular culture we’ve ever had.

    Going into the season, I, like many, wondered if comic book movies would need a break. The over-familiarity of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” especially in how it retells the origin story of Peter Parker, amplified a genre fatigue that has been growing from summer to summer.

    “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” at least provide a continuation of stories, and both do a good job of further developing the characters and conflicts in their respective worlds.

    Still, on the eve of “The Dark Knight Rises” premiere, with the knowledge that director Christopher Nolan would NOT return for more Batman installments, I was ready for the superhero genre to take an extended vacation.

    Then I saw “The Dark Knight Rises.” Now I can’t wait to see Batman on the big screen again.

    It’s not that I particularly love everything about Nolan’s trilogy capper. It may be the biggest movie in the series, but it’s also the messiest. The final act especially fails to control all the sprawling storylines and characters that are introduced over the course of its exhausting running time.

    Nevertheless, the movie celebrates the influence and importance of Batman in our culture. He’s a symbol for hope; something more than a single man can ever be. We need something like Batman to remind us that we can stand against evil and madness. Rather than succumb to fear, like Bruce Wayne, we must embrace the fear and use it as a tool against what frightens us. (more…)

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  • ‘Dark Knight Rises’ – Midnight, shootings and reaction

    It’s difficult to reflect on the experience of seeing “The Dark Knight Trilogy” Thursday night in the AMC Theaters at Spokane’s River Park Square without pausing to acknowledge the tragic shooting that happened at a screening in Colorado.

    As an unsettling footnote, a plastic burning odor resulted in the complete evacuation of River Park Square around the same time as the Colorado incident. Thankfully our evacuation was the result of an overheated AC unit and not something unspeakable.

    Listening to the news the next morning nearly eliminated my desire to talk about “The Dark Knight Rises” experience. But you hug your kid, get dressed and be thankful you even get to discuss the strengths and shortcomings of a superhero movie. Some people don’t get to do that today.

    In terms of scale, Nolan has outdone himself with “The Dark Knight Rises.” Whereas Batman fought individual villains in previous films, this time he’s faced with the full-on Occupation of an entire city. This is no mere superhero movie; Nolan has much more on his mind about class inequality and the nature of authority in our post 9/11 society. (more…)

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  • ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ swings into familiar skies

    Advertising for “The Amazing Spider-Man” heralds the reboot as “the untold story” of web-slinging teenager Peter Parker and his mysterious past. Don’t be fooled.

    The new film, released a little over 10 years after the first “Spider-Man” movie, is no novelty. It’s the “well and frequently told” story of how Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him superpowers. And with great power comes great responsibility and blah, blah, blah.

    It’s the same movie, folks. Only the actors and some of the details have changed. Instead of Mary Jane Watson, it’s Gwen Stacy. Instead of a power-hungry villain in a green suit of armor, it’s a power hungry villain with green scales.

    And yet despite this crushing feeling of been-there, done-that, “The Amazing Spider-Man” does quite a few things right.

    For one, the casting is terrific. Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) provides Peter Parker with the right combination of teenage awkwardness and whiny angst. And his crush, Gwen Stacy, played by the always terrific Emma Stone, is the whip-smart dream girl-next-door. Garfield and Stone have such natural chemistry that their quiet scenes of courtship prove to be far more exciting than the generic CGI action that dominates the film’s second half.

    Sally Field and Martin Sheen play Peter’s loving aunt and uncle – two great actors that ease the pain of watching the same story beats all over again. And Rhys Ifans plays Dr. Curt Connors, the one-armed scientist who eventually mutates into The Lizard. Ifans tries to infuse a personality into the villain, but his overall arc is entirely circumstantial to the plot of the film. Spider-Man simply needs a beast to fight on top of a skyscraper.

    “Amazing Spider-Man” is a solid directorial effort from Marc Webb, a filmmaker with only the romantic-comedy, “(500) Days of Summer” under his belt. His action sequences are competent, and Spider-Man’s web-slinging is more realistic looking thanks to better CGI (and better application of physics) than the 2002 film.

    It may not be fair to judge “Amazing Spider-Man” based on its similarities to the original film. Still, the film’s backers chose to tell the Spider-Man origin story again despite already telling it fairly well just 10 years ago. A few tweaks here and there don’t add up to a compelling viewing experience. There needs to be a significant change in vision to make a reboot worthwhile, and “Amazing Spider-Man” unfortunately falls into the ever-growing pile of generic and forgettable superhero movies.

    Now, a movie about Peter Parker’s long-absent parents and how they connect to Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man would have been a compelling new vision. Pity “Amazing Spider-Man” removes all traces of this story strand after the first 20 minutes. Even the film’s television commercials contained related lines of dialogue that were removed from the final cut. Clearly they’re saving us something for the sequel.

    At least now the groundwork has been set. “Spider-Man 2” was the best of the Sam Raimi movies, so maybe the next “Amazing Spider-Man” entry will be something special. But why couldn’t we just skip ahead? The drama isn’t really about how Peter Parker learns that with great power comes great responsibility. It’s about living with that responsibility and overcoming the challenges that come with that responsibility.

    But hey, “The Amazing Spider-Man” lets us see a spider bite Peter Parker. Again.

    Grade: B-


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  • Pixar’s ‘Brave’ a worth spin on Disney Princess line

    With anything concerning Pixar, expectations can be a problem. Every new film from the computer-animated powerhouse is immediately compared to their grandest achievements, like “The Incredibles,” “WALL-E” and the “Toy Story” series.

    It’s an unfair comparison, especially considering many of the studio’s major talents have been focusing on non-Pixar projects lately (think Brad Bird with the latest “Mission: Impossible” or Andrew Stanton with “John Carter”).

    Their latest effort, the Scottish fairy-tale adventure “Brave,” has drawn criticism from some as being “too conventional” or “too Disney,” an especially baffling criticism considering Disney now owns Pixar outright.

    But understanding what the filmmakers are trying to accomplish with “Brave” is the key to enjoying the experience. This is a character-focused, decidedly-Pixar spin on the fairy tale genre, and what a beautifully executed spin it is. (more…)

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  • ‘Avengers’ exceeds its lofty expectations

    Marvel has successfully assembled Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk together on the big screen. After years of teasing and tedious setup (ahem, “Iron Man 2”), “The Avengers” is the movie that fans have long deserved.

    The Avengers film still

    And, after two theatrical misfires, The Hulk finally gets a bold, fantastic showcase.

    When banished demigod Loki (Tom Hiddleson) threatens Earth with hostile takeover, spy extraordinaire Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) works to bring together a ragtag team of extraordinary heroes – billionaire egomaniac Tony Stark (aka Iron Man aka Robert Downey Jr.), super-soldier/1940s transplant Captain America (Chris Evans), scientist-with-a-hulking-secret Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Loki’s noble brother/the God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). There’s also the acrobatic spy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and arrow wielding Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to round out the team.

    “The Avengers” spends quite a bit of time bringing them all together, in part to give individual screen time to these complicated superheroes. The early character moments reward fans of the previous movies with new revelations while helping new viewers to understand the backstory just in time for “The Avengers” to throw down a breathtaking set of action sequences. (more…)

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  • ‘Cabin in the Woods’ skewers horror movie cliches

    Cabin in the Woods castI want to tell you why you should run out and see “The Cabin in the Woods.” I just can’t without giving away its secrets. Don’t worry. What follows is vague, spoiler-free praise.

    “The Cabin in the Woods” delightfully hacks and slashes through all the pathetic horror movie clichés that have ruined the genre in recent years. If anyone bothers to make a “traditional” horror movie again, good luck to them. “The Cabin in the Woods” will hopefully act as a restart button for the genre, challenging filmmakers to do better and audiences to expect more. (more…)

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  • Normdog Entertainment Podcast – The First Ever!

    Podcasts were a big thing several years ago, so naturally we are just getting into the phenomenon.

    Here is the very first edition of the Normdog Podcast. It’s shorter than the one’s you’ll hear in the future. Really, I was just testing the audio quality– it’s predictably terrible.

    Each topic will cover a specific topic in the world of entertainment – a recent movie, an older one, maybe a television show, book or general trend we’ve noticed. I’ll be joined by a rotating guest each week, just to keep things somewhat fresh.

    We could easily do a video podcast, which I hear is more in fashion these days. I don’t like shaving or wearing nice clothes, so we will keep it audio for now.

    Here it is!

    Normdog Podcast 1 – Click to Download!

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  • ‘Melancholia’ the most depressing good movie ever

    There may not be a movie as depressing as “Melancholia,” a fitting title for a good movie you’re probably better off not seeing.

    It takes an intimate look at the end of the world, focusing on the emotional state of two sisters rather than the destruction of national landmarks. There are no sensational news reports, few CGI effects, and not a single kid fretting over the nighttime use of Pull-Ups (I’m looking at you, John Cusack’s daughter in “2012”).

    “Melancholia,” directed by the controversial filmmaker Lars von Trier (“Dogville,” “Antichrist”), is more about the state of melancholia rather than a giant gaseous planet on a collision course with Earth (also called Melancholia). It’s available now on home video and is streaming on Netflix Instant starting April 13.

    The movie is separated into two parts, the first focusing on the lavish wedding of Justine (Kirsten Dunst). She’s trying her best to be happy, but the combination of feuding parents, unrelenting bosses and her own emotional instability results in a miserable evening that serves as the catalyst for Justine’s pending mental illness. (more…)

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  • ‘American Reunion’ shows its age

    The fourth installment in the “American Pie” franchise (eight if you count four straight-to-DVD titles) is predictably one-fourth as funny as the original film.

    “American Reunion” brings the horny cast together this time for their 13th-high school reunion. That’s not a real thing, of course, but never mind. We’ve got numerous raunchy sex jokes and just under two hours to get through them all.

    The appeal of the series (the theatrical releases anyway) boils down to a few engaging characters. Hapless Jim (Jason Biggs) still gets himself in embarrassing sex predicaments (sexdicaments?), almost none of them very funny, but you have to appreciate how Biggs will do literally anything to top his previous “achievements.” (more…)

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