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Archive for the ‘Movie Review’ Category

Honorable Mentions: Chronicle, Killing Them Softly, Jeff Who Lives at Home

10. Argo — Ben Afleck’s thriller illustrates how stoicism and determination can heal a world frenzied by terrorism and celebrity. With a careful grasp on tempo and atmosphere, this swift film carries us through danger with unforgettable finesse.

9. Seven Psychopaths — Martin McDonagh’s sophomore feature film mutates our expectations when it comes to the gangster genre. He surprises us with conflicted yet sympathetic characters and stories-within-stories such that we care for these seemingly immoral people.

8. Skyfall — Although the latest Bond movie has several plot flaws, its personal turmoils make for a compellingly intimate espionage tale. Roger Deakins provides some of this year’s most memorable cinematography, and Sam Mendes proves that he is as talented at shooting action as he is at unfolding drama.

7. Looper — Rian Johnson blends together the sleekness of Science Fiction and French New Wave with the ruggedness of Westerns to create an appropriate experience that fits perfectly with his story’s sense of duality. His theme of how violence cycles from one generation to the next works as a wonderful symbol for the literal loop Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character deals with.

6. Holy Motors — This movie is a whimsical oddity that explores art within the nooks and crannies of this Earth. By inventing truly bizarre and random vignettes around Paris, director Leos Carax shows us how cinema can occur with makeup, imagination, and the willingness to unhinge oneself from reality.

5. The Cabin in the Woods — Not only do Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard deconstruct the realm of horror, they completely obliterate the ecosystem with their genre-bending film. Their shrewd commentary on how we as moviegoers revel in seeing people get killed serves as a way for some insane reflection on the current state of cinema.

4. ParaNorman — The meticulous passion that went into making this 3D stop-motion film shows that a juxtaposition of future technology and past techniques can create a charming experience. Similarly, it contrasts a child’s mentality with an adult’s, poetically highlighting issues we face no matter how old we are.

3. Indie Game: The Movie — It’s difficult for me to ignore this documentary when it captures material that I deal with every day of my life. Seeing independent video game developers risk their financial lives to produce something they wholeheartedly believe in is an inspiration not just for software engineers, but for anyone who’s dedicated to creating something from scratch.

2. The Imposter — Documentaries and unreliable narrators don’t usually cross paths. However, an allegiance between these typically estranged concepts created one of this year’s most probing, enigmatic theatrical experiences. Director Bart Layton toys with our perception as he documents the true story of Frederic Bourdin, an infamous criminal who impersonates a 16-year-old Texan teen.

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild — We are often frustrated with things that ultimately define us as individuals. Our families always find ways to annoy us; our hometowns typically dissolve into memories we wish to banish; our former loved ones haunt us with pain we shared in the past. The characters in this film adhere to these ideas, but they find a way to embrace their roots – blemishes and all. This film has an unconditional love that cannot be torn by death or disaster, and oddly enough, that is why it’s my favorite film of the year.

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It’s challenging to explicitly articulate how I feel about Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest experiment, The Master, after just one viewing. With its estranged set of characters and languid structure, the film crumbles the concept of clarity, and it yearns for multiple viewings in order one to gain an understanding of Anderson’s thesis. However, his deliberate aimlessness archives the true beauty of cinema, and he successfully illustrates the frustration we as humans can harbor when we are forced to explain ourselves.

The Master contends emptiness against self-actualization when Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a volatile, misguided alcoholic falls into the confident hands of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour-Hoffman), a theatrical philosopher who also revels in drunkenness. Dodd is the father of “The Cause”, a religious movement intended to give members peace by spiritually connecting them with their souls through simple yet intense thought exercises. Although these exercises appear to be fruitless, their repetitive executions persuade people into thinking they have been healed. With this confidence, Dodd believes he can raise Freddie from his savage, primordial state to a higher plane of humanness.

Slowly, Freddie learns about the insincerity of “The Cause”. Dodd’s own son, Val (Jesse Plemmons), somberly states that “He is making it all up as he goes along,” and dissenters make rational invectives that this religious group is nothing but a cult. Even Freddie’s primitive perspective notices how pointless Dodd’s exercises and speeches are.

Dodd and Quell’s relationship staggers between friendship and mutual hatred. The two are ostensibly counterparts to one another; Quell is an unleashed animal incapable of being tamed, while Dodd is a puppeteer who has mastered the art of conversation. However, their altercations display how alike they are as men; by relying on the bestial technique of yelling and cursing to secure their points, Lancaster and Freddie automatically lowers themselves to primates, becoming equivalent for a few awful moments.

Freddie and Lancaster play their roles particularly well. However, their relationship doesn’t allow them to be themselves completely. Lancaster cannot simply talk his way into healing Freddie. His exercises are all ideal, but they don’t provide concrete improvement. Lancaster’s repetitive processes of spiritually guiding a person into his or her past are frustratingly intangible, and the overall vagueness never truly cleanses anyone; it’s not until Freddie takes it upon himself to physically encounter his past that he finally gets some sort of catharsis. Freddie is certainly guided by “The Cause”, but Lancaster misses several crucial elements to completely cure him.

At times, Anderson misses some opportunities in The Master too. He has several characters aside from Lancaster and Freddie to play with, but they simply melt into the background. PTA started his career with major epics, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, two films that featured an array of strong, unique characters. He progressed by keeping the lens on just 1 or 2 people with Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. This film could have been a perfect amalgam of his past and present, but he doesn’t really develop an arc for anyone besides Lancaster and Freddie. The emptiness is however filled by the gorgeous cinematography and alluring score. Together, they create an unsettling tone that bleeds with tension and despair.

I’ve been thinking about The Master for about a day and a half, and I still haven’t established a strong opinion on where the characters end up. It’s funny that Lancaster’s “Cause” implies that we are never quite where we ought to be anyway. We simply have trails that can lead us to happiness, and only he can take us there. Hopefully, more viewings will lead me down a trail of understanding (only Anderson can lead me there). Until then, I’ll have to just think about it all.

8.5 out of 10

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From an early age, we are conditioned to believe that the impression we make on others is perhaps the most significant thing we have to offer. It’s a mentality that drives us to aggrandize our own esteem and to diminish those we see less fit. Ultimately, life is a competition, and we are mammals of sport. We strive for the highest degree of importance, either in support or in spite of our impression.

However humanly sordid this subject may seem, its correlation with the world of today provides a perfect story to tell in David Fincher’s The Social Network. Through dramatized insight into the life of the youngest billionaire on the planet, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), we see imperfect, damaged individuals interact with success and competition in a way that sadly worsens their overall image.

The film begins at a Harvard bar where Zuckerberg gets dumped. In a short scene, writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher depict the man (or child, to be more specific) we are about to follow on screen for two hours. He is condescending, flippant, and vindictive, but it’s difficult to loathe him completely. His behavior is reactive to the frustrating exclusivity of the world encircling him. All Zuckerberg wants is to be accepted by Harvard’s most elite societies, and when he knows he can’t have that, he believes that his only choice is to be just as relentless.

Getting dumped works as enough incentive for Zuckerberg. He has no final clubs, no girlfriend, and not enough sociability to obtain either one of them directly. With his drunken woes, he realizes that he must make an impression peripherally, behind a computer screen. With the help of his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), he concocts Facemash.com, a site that compares the attractiveness of girls at Harvard University. The resulting sensation attracts entrepreneurs Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss to hire Mark for their website, Harvard Connection. Although Mark agrees to work for them, he uses his time and their ideas to create The Facebook. Thereafter, things begin to swell.

What makes The Social Network captivating isn’t its reliance on our familiarity with the world’s most popular website. Rather, it’s the intricate bravura that drives the storytelling. Fincher and Sorkin narrate from three different angles; one is the linear set of events that capture the genesis of Facebook, and the other two are in the form of litigations when both Saverin and the Winklevoss twins are respectively suing Mark years after Facebook’s inception. The film successfully hopscotches around time and space to tell one cohesive tale.

Again, my fascination with this film doesn’t stem from its brutal action because there is, in fact, none. Instead, it’s people just talking. However, the fervor with which all the characters speak is magnetic and almost poetic; writer Aaron Sorkin, best known for his work on The West Wing, writes such sharp dialogue with enough contrast between characters to give each scene its own arc and momentum. David Fincher, who is notorious for fashionable cinematography, reserves grandiose camera work only for the film’s most important scenes. Otherwise, he utilizes much quieter movement to create natural, unstoppable momentum.

Similarly, Fincher’s actors take on their roles carefully. Jesse Eisenberg plays an insecure anti-hero whose flaws are easy to sympathize with. Throughout Sorkin’s energetic script, Eisenberg finds solace in the silent moments with fierce facial expressions that are as defined as they are insidious. The Mark Zuckerberg featured in The Social Network is a hero in the most classical sense, and he is one of the most interesting characters of the year because of that.

Andrew Garfield’s Eduardo Saverin is brutally sympathetic, but I feel there is not as much development with him. His passivity leads me to question why he is friends with Zuckerberg in the first place; their relationship on screen is rightfully represented, but it’s still difficult to see what Saverin sees in Zuckerberg. Yes, he wants to be a successful business man; yes, he wants to impress his father; yes, he wants to be accepted just as Mark does. However, this aspect of the film could have used a little more aggression to further enhance his despairing side of the story.

The Social Network currently stands as one of my favorite films of the year. Its Shakespearean approach to telling a tale about greed, ambition, and betrayal is something I haven’t seen in some time, and it should be commended for that. Despite its few issues–Saverin’s underdevelopment and the tonal and thematic misogyny–Fincher’s latest movie is wonderful. Zuckerberg is a man blinded by his desire to leave a lasting impression of importance. He has no regard for those around him, but he wants to be accepted. Easily corrupted by the conniving Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), Zuckerberg transforms into a character that isn’t so easily defined. He’s complicated and well written, and Jesse Eisenberg gives him full life.

9.5 out of 10

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THE PAST

With the start of another semester approaching, I feel I should take a second to contemplate the year thus far. In short, I believe it’s been a cinematic drought. The past eight months have provided us with only a handful of noteworthy films. Otherwise, the lot has been filled with either cash-grabbing remakes, uninspired sequels, or straightforward disappointments. To assuage the disappointment of this year’s fruitless filmic delivery, I’ve compiled a list of my personal favorites. I should be a little optimistic, right?

3. Terribly Happy

Although Terrbily Happy hails from Denmark, it’s a film that is surprisingly inspired by some of America’s greatest directors. Impressions of David Lynch and the Coen Brothers are prevalent throughout the movie’s tensest scenes, and simple American iconography is seen percolating in the quieter, much somber moments. It’s an interesting tone for an even more interesting story. Consolidating film noir and western together, Terribly Happy saunters its way into telling a compelling and very tragic tale.

2. Inception

Unlike anything we’ve seen this year, Inception bends physics, alters time, and damns the viewers’ mind. Director Christopher Nolan imbues us with a cinematic pleasure that’s as precious as the the movie’s subject. Ornately dressed with special effects and great performances, Inception is one of 2010’s best moviegoing experiences.

1. How to Train Your Dragon

Yes, it remains! How to Train Your Dragon is still my favorite film of 2010. Sure, it’s a simple story of a boy and his pet, but to me, it’s a conglomeration of emotions so subjective and personal that it’s impossible to describe on this blog. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of things I can say…The film explores infinite terrain with whimsical scope, but the sense of danger that is projected is unmistakably real. This is done with great technical craftsmanship, but an equally satisfying core of characters also aids in making this film outstanding.

THE PRESENT

Despite my aversion towards this year’s catalog of films, there are some great titles out right now. For instance…

Cyrus

Brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, the innovators behind the mumblecore movement, dually take on their first “Hollywood” film. To the movie’s benefit, Cyrus elegantly uses minimalism to naturally elicit deep characterization and pure emotional resonance.

The Kids are All Right

I’ll be seeing this in the next few days, so I will give my full thoughts then. However, reviews for this dramedy continue to be glowing with positivity.

Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone has been accumulating buzz since its premiere at the Sundance Festival. Winning the Grand Jury Prize, this literary adaptation is carrying a lot of momentum on its shoulders. Hopefully, I can check it out when it comes to the local art theater at school.

Some other films available now include:

  • Mother
  • Get Low
  • Animal Kingdom

THE FUTURE

So what is there to look forward to? Well, there’s…

  • Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (August 13)
    • Comedy action
    • Directed by Edgar Wright
  • The American (September 1)
    • Noir thriller
    • Starring George Clooney
  • The Town (September 10)
    • Gangster thriller
    • Directed by Ben Afleck.
    • Starring Ben Afleck, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Jon Ham.
  • The Social Network (October 1)
    • Drama about the birth of Facebook
    • Directed by David Fincher.
    • Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake.
  • 127 Hours (November 5)
    • Directed by Danny Boyle.
    • Starring James Franco
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (November 19)
    • Part 1 of 2 for the final chapter of Harry Potter
  • Black Swan (December 1)
    • Psychological thriller
    • Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
    • Starring Natalie Portman
  • Tron Legacy (December 17)
    • Sci-fi action sequel
    • Starring Jeff Bridges
  • True Grit (December 25)
    • Western remake by the Coen Brothers.
    • Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin

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***Review contains spoilers***

Inception is as much an illusion as it is a film. Within each cranny of this well-traversed labyrinth of a movie is an assessment of reality and our incomplete understanding of it all. Our perception is guided (and even misdirected) by the meticulous management of director Christopher Nolan; he is the Architect, the Forger, the Extractor, and the Shade. He creates a holistic world in which we are simply just the Tourist, and as we know, “There’s no room for tourists on these jobs.”

Inception begins with an idea. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a master thief whose lucrative method involves breaking into people’s dreams in order to steal their secrets. He is offered a job-specifically his last job-which is to plant an idea into a subject’s mind and to trick the mind into thinking it’s the subject’s own idea to begin with. What follows is an elaborate heist film that crosses several planes of subconscious existence.

And just like any idea, it begins to expand. We learn that Cobb is a deeply haunted person that has difficulty letting go. In a world where dreams are infinite, he is internally imprisoned by his own past. What helps him break free is the cast of peripheral characters: his right hand man, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an architecture prodigy, Ariadne (Ellen Page), a forger of identities, Eames (Tom Hardy), the one who hires him, Saito (Ken Watanabe), and the mark of the job, Fischer (Cillian Murpy).

The idea that Inception is an illusory maze now begins to manifest. We have the plot, the characters, the action, and the destination. What we don’t see coming is the way these factors come together.

The plot is cleverly reflective of the film’s ideas and visuals; it initially unfolds upon itself like the dreamworld we witness in the first half hour. Towards the end, the plot becomes buried underneath layers and layers of dreams and flashbacks, and while this sounds confusing, the narrative is surprisingly straightforward. It is actually very linear, but it is forged by successfully mindbending techniques, further clouding our perception.

I’m one to argue that people tend to do this. We, the architects of our own psyche, choose to complicate our minds with paranoia, misjudgment, and prejudice. However, our problems can sometimes be the simplest things to solve. The film acknowledges this frustrating paradox with its deceptive narrative structure, and I find it quite remarkable.

Similarly, the characters are utilized in a uniquely effective way. Aside from Cobb and his wife, Mal, all of the characters are bland, but their collective facelessness is a quality that enhances the surrealism of the dreamworld. As Cobb becomes unhinged by his subliminal demons, the rest of the cast becomes mute in the midst of action-covering their faces with ski-masks or floating idly in zero-gravity. The characters break into deeper levels of the subject’s subconscious, and the emotional arc of the story simultaneously becomes more singular. Cobb’s imprisonment parasitically evolves from simple, faded memories to an entire dimension of loneliness and torture.

Inception’s idea begins to spiral uncontrollably. With Cobb at the mercy of his guilt, the film takes us through several lapses of time and many unique dimensions of thought. Visually, we are struck with images of rain, snow, light, and darkness. Furthermore, Nolan’s hindrance as a poor director of action sequences is used to his advantage. Disorienting our perception with chaotically shot action is a perfect way to throw us off.

And beautifully, the idea comes to a halt. Cobb reaches his destination, and he is able to let go. However, Nolan uses the final moments of the movie to finish his illusion. Before cutting to credits, the audience is left with a question: Is it reality or is it a dream? We never get to see Cobb’s totem finish its action, and this ambiguity is all we are left with. So, does the totem fall? Or does it keep spinning?

Well, I have two answers…

1. It doesn’t matter. It can fall and it can not fall. Both conclusions make sense, and there is enough evidence to support either claim. With an ambiguous ending, we are expected to speculate and to make theories. We have ideas about everything, but these ideas are planted by Christopher Nolan, himself. Thus, Inception has been performed on us.

2. Although I just said it doesn’t matter, part of me likes the film more if he is still in a dream, and here is why. The film begins with the ending. Nolan is known to do this; he does it in Memento and The Prestige. When we reach the ending of the aforementioned movies, a metaphorical loop is closed, and everything makes sense. With Inception, the film ends where it begins, and this loop is seemingly closed. However, the very idea of loops is something Nolan plays with. He utilizes loops as a motif in the film, but he uses them as illusions-for instance, the paradoxical infinite stairs. By making the ending the beginning, and the beginning the ending, a loop is formed, but as Inception itself is an illusion, so is this loop. It’s a paradox, designed by Nolan, and Mr. Cobb is trapped in his dream.

What makes Inception so great is that it has multiple meanings. These are just my takes, and they are bizarre ones at that. Being The Tourist of Christopher Nolan’s mind is chaotic joy, and I hope to hear your opinions. Feel free to leave comments!

10 out of 10

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The silver screen is not a dividing median that separates the moviegoer from the moviemaker. It’s a collaborative and reflective device that merges the two together. Filmmakers create ideas based off their own experiences, and the degree to which we enjoy them is based off ours. In a way, it’s therapy. We take a great deal of our personality to the theaters, and we leave an hour and a half later evolved, engaged, and affected. This interactive achievement is what some people refer to as “movie magic.”

In a year of disappointing movies, Pixar manages to once again capture that magic perfectly in Toy Story 3. To this film, we bring everything we’ve endured since the last installment’s release 11 years ago. Since then, I’m sure we’ve all gone through triumph, death, and heartbreak; whatever the results were from those moments, they are what brought us to wherever we are right now.

So the remaining question is: where are our favorite Pixar characters right now? Well, Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang are in a toy box, ignored. Andy-he is now making preparations for college, and playtime with the toys is expectedly absent. His intentions are to stock them in the attic, but through a series of mishaps, they are mistakenly placed in the donation box destined for Sunnyside Daycare Center.

Upon their arrival, the toys are cordially greeted by the daycare’s senior members. At the helm are Lots-O’, a huggable teddy bear that smells of strawberries, and Ken, the renowned counterpart to Barbie. The illusion that Sunnyside is a sweet sort of retirement home is immediately shattered when the gang becomes treated like jailbirds. What follows is an epic prison break.

Right away, Toy Story 3 makes it clear what the story is all about. We know where the inevitable point B is for Woody, Buzz and Jesse, and the narrative’s various beats lead us right to it. The time spent following these characters to their bittersweet conclusion doesn’t necessarily feel like anything new. Specifically, our heroes don’t grow or change perception, and the newly introduced characters merely act as roadblocks. There aren’t any emotional arcs for our characters to discover. Simply put, they reach a point that signifies the end of the trilogy.

In no way is this a fault. Rather, I think it’s the point, and it’s a poignant one at that. As Buzz says early in the film, “Our mission with Andy is over.” For these toys, their purpose isn’t of much use to Andy, and similarly, Andy’s purpose as owner is no longer effective. They are both obsolete to one another, and because of that, the next logical step is to separate. This becomes the hardest thing for our protagonists to do, but their understanding of why it must be done is perfect.

Similar to the way we get out of touch with people, perhaps it happens because there’s nothing more to be gained from them. I don’t mean to pontificate this point with pessimism although it might seem so, but what I’m trying to say is: when we break up, when we are fired, when we move on…maybe it is because we are supposed to, maybe we gave all we had to give, and maybe we learned all we had to learn from the experience. It’s not an existential crisis; it’s an existential understanding, and for Woody and the gang, this understanding is the last lesson to be learned. In doing so, they simply have to get to the previously mentioned Point B and say goodbye to Andy.

As they always are, farewells are difficult. Our lives have been invested in this franchise, and the glory of nostalgia can sometimes be insurmountable. Pixar beautifully sends off its characters by allowing Andy to give each of them a nice little description. Some might say this curtain call is too on the nose, but I say it’s absolutely necessary. It’s necessary for Andy; the acknowledgment of his childhood is the perfect way to cap off his character. It’s necessary for the toys; one last time with Andy is all they wanted, and hearing him explain why he loves each and everyone of them allows them to fully realize their importance. Finally, it’s necessary for us; outwardly expressing inner thoughts is that therapeutic motion that leads to closure and acceptance.

I understand that this is more of a contextual analysis rather than a movie review. As I said before, much of our response to film is subjective, and right now, my relationship with Toy Story is triggered by emotion. For those looking for objective critiques, I do have some. I do believe Lots-O’s characterization is fairly weak, and the infrastructure of the prison-like Sunnyside Daycare Center needs more development. The writing and the comedy are less witty, having to refer to obvious jokes (Ken’s masculinity, Buzz’s Spanish malfunction) to extract laughter.

I’d like to close with a quote that my Differential Equations professor once shared. “It’s most important to know when you don’t know.” Transitively, I think one of the hardest things to learn is the fact that you may have nothing left to learn-whether it’s from a parent, or a friend, or a significant other. Moving on can be difficult when it most often seems hopeless, but Toy Story 3’s understated advice is comforting.

9.5 out of 10

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Of all the characters in 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Russell Brand’s raunchy and downright sexy Aldous Snow is the most intriguing. Without question, his charming flamboyancy makes him the perfect candidate to be featured in a spin-off, and there is no better sidekick to have than, of course, Jonah Hill. Together, they are able to produce a fairly strong comedy– Get Him to the Greek— but it doesn’t have that resonance that almost every other Apatow-produced film does.

Simplistic in nature, Get Him to the Greek captures Aaron Green’s (Jonah Hill) quest to bring esteemed yet broken down rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from England to play a 10 year anniversary show in Los Angeles. Along the way, expected hijinks ensue, and both characters learn a little bit about themselves in a frenzied process.

Much like last year’s The Hangover, this film goes from one crazy subplot to the next. To say these narrative points are random isn’t necessarily true, seeing as that they frustratingly advance the film. It’s cleverly characteristic of Aldous Snow, himself. However, several scenes do overstay their welcome, and the funniness decreases with every vomit-joke and/or scene of drunken debauchery. This necessarily isn’t a problem (The Hangover is successful in that regard), but the film tacks on levels of emotion that don’t quite fit the film. Giving Aldous Snow and Aaron Green personalized arcs seems great on paper, but when the execution feels compulsory, I’m left with the question, “Why bother?”

Get Him to the Greek never gets the chance to earn its emotional scenes towards the end. By that point, the film is far too muddled in threesomes, parties, and drugs to ever get me to care about the subtext behind the characters’ actions.

The fault is not at the hands of Jonah Hill or Russell Brand though. The two play their parts fantastically, and the emotional scenes do give the actors opportunities to explore new territories. They succeed in practically every way; their chemistry, be it comedic or serious, is pleasant throughout, and a sense of realism is achieved by both their jaunty connections and their life-threatening disconnections.

Yes, Get Him to the Greek is pretty funny. The jokes come at a fast pace, and the addition of Puff Daddy makes the humor even more charming. However, it surprisingly lacks the quotability that Apatow’s other hits have. Minutes after seeing it, my friends and I struggled to remember moments we laughed at. That’s pretty strange…

6 out of 10

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