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Sometimes my love of the ridiculous leads me to the sublime. And sometimes it leads me to Men at Work. “WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY EMILIO ESTEVEZ,” I surely shouted. “How could this not be amazing?” That it starred brothers Estevez and Sheen and featured a score by Stewart Copeland (drummer for the Police) only seemed to pave the way for success.

Though released in 1990, the movie has an unmistakable 80s feel. Emilio and Charlie play lovable garbage men who witness the murder of a politician, Rear Window style. Only much creepier. Of course, they don’t realize it was a hit until the dead politician turns up on their garbage route. Hilarity then ensues, with some Weekend at Bernie’s riffing. Well, except for the hilarity. Almost all of the movie misses, and misses badly. Part of the charm of this sort of wacky 80s escapade movie is the irreverence. It would take a whole lot of artfulness to wedge deft wordplay into such a script, so the fact that Estevez fails in that respect isn’t necessarily a knock against him. But where’s the wackiness? Indeed, the movie sometimes feels like it has a decent frame, as if the straight man is delivering his lines, but the comic partner is nowhere around to knock down the jokes.

The only parts of the movie that do work are the zany ones. The increasingly disgusting office pranks, for example. And primarily, Keith David. I link to his imdb profile because he might not be familiar by name, so you might be saying, “Who can it be now?” (like there was any chance I’d make it through this post without a bad reference to the Aussie band) but by face (and especially voice) he is. Arbiter from Halo, for crying out loud! So, yes, Mr. David rocks. And in Men at Work, it seems Emilio Estevez basically said, “OK, go crazy.” And crazy Keith David went. To some degree of mania I’ve never seen. Almost inexplicably, it references the truly amazing Better Off Dead, a point I verified through (also almost inexplicably) another blog post on this movie.

The bad guy, played by John Getz, is one of the lamest bad guys ever. He’s got your typical moronic henchman, but his evil plan is…to continue illegally dumping toxic waste? How nefarious! Mr. Getz plays the villain rather awkwardly. The female lead is Leslie Hope, who doesn’t do much for me, but who popped up a decade later to play Jack Bauer’s wife in 24. So that’s something.

I normally don’t notice these things, much less comment on them, but the homophobia in the movie goes way beyond latent. On multiple occasions, bad guys (or, at least, enemies of the brothers Sheen) end up tied together in sexually suggestive positions. And yes, the fact that they are tied together in sexually suggestive positions is overtly referenced in the movie.

Feel free to skip Men at Work. The laughs are few and far between. If you watch it with a friend, you very well might be men at sleep.

A pretty ridiculous trailer after the jump Read the rest of this entry »

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If we ever recap 1981’s Oscar season, I have a pretty strong suspicion I’ll be railing against the inclusion of Reds in the discussion. Nominated for 12 Oscars, it won three (Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Director). Without having seen many of the other movies nominated or having the potential to be nominated, I suppose I can’t say anything too definitive, but I imagine the only Oscars I could have supported were the nominated performances of Diane Keaton (Best Actress) and Jack Nicholson (Best Supporting Actor). By the way, the last four years Jack’s been nominated for an Oscar? 1988, 1993, 1998, and 2003. Just saying.

Reds is based on the story of John Reed’s life. John Reed was a journalist from the U.S. who was in Russia when the Communists took over. He later wrote Ten Days That Shook The World about the experience. The book is still relatively well-known, and special to me because I somehow still remember seeing it in the University of Maryland library for some high school report I was writing.

The movie, written by Warren Beatty and Trevor Griffiths, is framed by the love story of Reed (Beatty) and Louise Bryant (Keaton), but also makes forays into intellectualism in the U.S. at the time and the Bolshevik Revolution and its immediate effects. Not succinctly either, the sucker clocks in at over three hours. And there’s the ultimate problem of the movie, in my opinion. The range of the movie is epic, and while it might be necessary to tell John Reed’s story, it also hinders enjoyment of the film. The way Reed and Bryant meet is cute (or “meet cute” as I may have learned from watching The Holiday recently (review to come)), but did we really need twenty minutes (or whatever) of Bryant’s ensuing ennui as Reed and his intellectual cronies including Eugene O’Neill (Nicholson) blabbered? And how is Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton in an Oscar-winning role) relevant to the story at all? In my mind, her nomination was Ruby Dee-esque. Finally, while the old people recounting stories of Reed and Bryant sometimes served to break things up (and did bring to mind When Harry Meant Sally), but the bits seemed jarring and out of place.

The movie does have much to applaud, especially for those who enjoy an intermission in films they watch. As I mentioned, I thought Nicholson and Keaton were great. And I’m a bit of a Warren Beatty fan. It is also fun to see Gene Hackman show up. Balancing a relatively standard love story with the events of 1917 and their fallout in the U.S.A. and Russia is obviously quite difficult, and the film ably straddles that line often. Beatty (as writer, director, and actor) does an admirable job displaying Reed’s determination in sticking to his convictions even as he becomes disillusioned with the Bolsheviks, and with the Communists in the United States. Especially considering the time when the movie was filmed, Beatty takes in the high road in largely not reducing the Bolsheviks to caricatures, but instead painting them in a relatively honest (historically-speaking) light.

Reds is a decent movie, though not great. While it certainly could have been a little shorter, I’m not sure that would have bumped it up a star for me. There are interesting stories within, but as a whole, Reds fails to congeal into a cohesive movie.

After the jump, one of the most misleading trailers I’ve ever seen: Read the rest of this entry »

I don’t know how much more there is to say about Juno. Through Oscar season we had the hype, the acclaim, the backlash, the backlash to the backlash… All I can say is that I loved the movie and that it was one of the few films I saw that I immediately wanted to see again.

Most of the controversy seems to revolve around the script. Is the dialogue too cutesy, are the characters too quirky? I don’t think so. The first five minutes smacked of trying too hard, but throughout I thought it adeptly walked the line to keep it from becoming too precious. Too much time has been spent complaining that Juno doesn’t speak realistically. Um, it’s a movie. No one in a movie talks realistically! Real people don’t have the coherence, dramatic touch, or comedic timing of movie characters. But, honestly, Juno doesn’t talk all that weirdly. Yes she doesn’t talk like a normal teenager, but she does talk like a self-absorbed, know-it-all, cocky, hip teen who thinks she’s awesome… which is exactly what Juno is! A viewing companion mentioned that he couldn’t believe that Juno would think Mark wouldn’t know Mott the Hoople. I think a sixteen-year-old who thinks she knows everything about music would definitely make that mistake. Teens think they’re bees knees and everyone else is lame. It’s a time honored tradition. I think sometimes Juno so frequently plays up how put-together she is that we forget she really isn’t.

The lingo-filled dialogue might have propelled Diablo Cody to a well-deserved Original Screenplay Oscar win, but it’s really the characters that make Juno special. I love how Juno’s layers are pulled back, revealing the self-sure dynamo’s insecurities. Ellen Page deftly lets the emotion peek out, never ever stooping to the melodramatic. Jason Bateman’s Mark and Jennifer Garner’s Vanessa start out looking like one type of couple and shift into something completely different. JK Simmons and Allison Janney as Juno’s father and step-mother are the caring and wise (and witty) parents that movie parents are rarely allowed to be. Read the rest of this entry »

Movie: The Bank Job

Released: 2008

Stars: Jason Statham

With: Saffron Burrows, Colin Salmon, David Suchet, and lots of British actors who sort of blend together.

Written By: Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais

Reason for Watching: Seemed intriguing, and I’m not going to lie, David Suchet was a pretty big draw.

I Can Name This Movie In One Note: A bank heist takes a turn when the loot includes some incriminating pictures.

You Should See This Movie Because: For me, the only reason to see this movie is David Suchet.  Suchet, of course, plays Agatha Christie’s Poirot, reruns of which pop up on A&E when we’re lucky.  (At the bottom is a clip of the opening, which is one of my favorites.)  If you are a fan of the show, you’ll love Suchet as a smut king.  And hearing what I presume is his native accent provides a shock almost on the order of hearing Hugh Laurie’s real accent.  Also, I’m a Jason Statham fan.

I will say that fellow Grouches Brian and John both seemed to enjoy the movie.  Of course, they’ve been wrong before.

And British slang is amazing.

You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: I didn’t find the story all that engaging.  It is a heist movie with no real twistiness.  There’s mild political intrigue without it being particularly intriguing.  A conspiracy theory that isn’t really spine-tingling.

Something seems off about Saffron Burrows, but I can’t quite place it.  I think it might be that’s she’s too skinny.  And here’s probably where I should reference her being in The MatchMaker.  I didn’t realize Colin Salmon was in the movie until the credits.  Colin Salmon being Charles Robinson from three Pierce Brosnan Bond movies.

Bottom Line: Eh.  You could do better.

Trailer:

Movie: The Miracle Match aka The Game of Their Lives

Released: 2005

Stars: Gerard Butler

With: West Bentley, Jay Rodan, Gavin Rossdale, Costas and Louis Mandylor, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Zachery Ty Brian, Terry Kinney, Patrick Stewart

Written By: Angelo Pizzo

Reason for Watching: A soccer movie where the U.S. beats England?  I’m there.

I Can Name This Movie In One Note: A ragtag group of U.S. amateur soccer players beat the English team in the World Cup, in what should have been one of the greatest underdog movies ever.

You Should See This Movie Because: Um, I got nothing.

You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: Wow, so many things go wrong.  The cast is very exciting, with a former Spartan, Mr. Gwen Stefani, a Heroes alum, one of the kids from Home Improvement, the dad from Save the Last Dance (what, you got a problem with that?), and Patrick Stewart.  Totally bizarre cast, except they don’t really leave any mark on the film.

I feel like they must have tried to make such a great story so boring.  It is hard to come up with an appropriate parallel in today’s sporting world.  On the order of Israel beating the U.S. in the World Baseball Cup.  Except in a competition about which the entire world cared.  And yet everything feels wrong here.  We aren’t drawn into any of the players.  We never really care about the team itself or learn to hate/be awed by the Brits.  The soccer is poorly filmed.  The actual match never seems all that exciting.  The events are poorly portrayed, in the sense that we never get a good grip on what actually happened and why.  And we really never get a true sense of the magnitude of the Americans’ accomplishment, other than some throwaway lines about the match not even being on the books.

Bottom Line: I watched the movie as “The Miracle Match” on DVD, apparently they changed the title to that on DVD from the theater release of The Game of Their Lives.  That should tell something.

Most disappointing of all?  The movie was done by the director and writer battery that brought us Hoosiers and Rudy.  I’m truly stunned someone could write Rudy and then write this.  It makes absolutely no sense to me at all.

Movie: Bats

Released: 1999

Stars: LOU DIAMOND PHILLIPS!

With: Dina Meyer, Bob Gunton, Leon

Written By: John Logan

Reason for Watching: LDP!  The movie was part of a Lou Diamond Phillips three pack my brothers got me as a birthday present a few years ago.

I Can Name This Movie In One Note: Bats attack a small town, in about as boring a manner as possible.

You Should See This Movie Because: Lou Diamond Phillips.  Come on.  Lou Diamond Phillips!

You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: It is really really bad.  I guess it is supposed to be a horror movie, but it isn’t scary so much as not scary.  And it isn’t exciting or funny either.  At least the bats are really friggin’ ugly in the few closeups we get of them.  Basically, it is a terribly written movie.

Bob Gunton (the warden in Shawshank, among other that guy roles) should have been given a much meatier role.  And Leon (of Jamaican bobsled fame) is a terrible waste as the stock wacky/scaredy cat black supporting actor.

Bottom Line: Bats is your typical movie that shouldn’t be made (except to give Sweet Lou a regular paycheck, of course).  Interesting factoid: What do Bats, Gladiator, The Aviator, Sweeney Todd, and Any Given Sunday all have in common?  Answer after a TV Promo

All those movie were written or co-written by John Logan.  I can’t figure it either.

 

Movie: Scoop

Released: 2006

Stars: Woody Allen, Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane

Written By: Woody Allen

Reason for Watching: Miss Scarlett.  Also, I liked Match Point.

I Can Name This Movie In One Note: Woody Allen’s take on mystery.

You Should See This Movie Because: The actors are all really fun.  Woody Allen’s shtick is still lovably zany.  Hugh Jackman obviously plays well as an upper class Englishman.  Scarlett Johansson is impossibly attractive, as always, but I’ll submit this (hopefully) early part of her career has generally had a theme of misfit characters tending to interact with their betters.  But hey, whatever she’s doing, she’s doing it right.  Ian McShane (perhaps most notably Al Swearengen, but was also in a pretty good Columbo, the one where you think you see a picture of Mrs. Columbo) predictably steals his scenes.

I’ve made no secret of my undying love for Scarlett.  She’s too classy to be seen wearing anything too revealing, but her short scene with a red one-piece swimsuit did take my breath away for the whole scene.  Maybe because it wasn’t skimpy, I don’t know.  In any case, I can think of no better way to christen the new YouTube capabilities than by sharing it (though it isn’t quite the same out of context):

You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: Woody Allen needs a writing partner.  Scoop is a mystery like Gosford Park is a mystery, and that’s not a compliment.  Ian McShane’s scenes could probably have been woven into the movie more effectively, though in some sense he’s a classic Woody Allen character.  And some scenes just seem awkwardly written.

Bottom Line: I go back and forth on Woody Allen.  Bananas is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen; I don’t love Annie Hall as much as some, but respect it to no end for its groundbreaking nature; and Without Feathers is nothing short of amazing.  Sometimes I wonder if his talents would be better served on TV, maybe in a sketch comedy show.  Scoop is an enjoyable movie, but not particularly notable.

(trailer after the jump)

Read the rest of this entry »

Movie: Goal!: The Dream Begins

Released: 2006

Stars: Kuno Becker

With: Alessandro Nivola, Stephen Dillane, Tony Plana, Anna Friel (!)

Written By: Mike Jefferies, Adrian Butchart, Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais

Reason for Watching: Soccer movie!

I Can Name This Movie In One Note: Underdog sports tale of young star who just needs a break.

You Should See This Movie Because: Hey, a soccer movie!  And the soccer is actually relatively decent, at least as far as soccer movies go.

Anna Friel.  The co-star of Pushing Daisies, for those who haven’t seen the show (and you should, just for the record).  With a British accent.  I mean, yeah, she’s playing the garden variety female interest in the movie, and doesn’t get nearly enough screen time, but still.

The illegal immigration subplot.  Sure, it is handled relatively poorly, but I found it the one bold risk the movie took.

The ridiculous cameos by the likes of Beckham and Zidane.

You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: It falls into all of the pits of an underdog movie without redeeming itself very often.  The main character gets oodles and oodles of breaks.  Because people believe in him.  Which is great.  But it makes him seem whiny and lucky, not sympathetic at all.  It takes baby steps toward being interesting, such as the illegal immigration subplot, the disapproving father angle, the Roger Dorn-like star of the soccer team, for example.  Ultimately, though, these are all resolved by taking the easy way out.  Which is fine for a chill-inducer like, say, The Rookie.  But there’s really only like 1.5 chills scenes, tops.  And even those aren’t super huge.

Bottom Line: Two of the writers wrote The Bank Job, which I’ll get to shortly, but was a movie I didn’t love (though other Grouches may disagree).  So it is possible I just don’t get them.  More likely, though, this movies has serious flaws, ones that should have been ironed out in the writing process.  I think there may be a really interesting sports movie in this story, but that’s not the movie that ended up being made.

Things We Lost in the Fire is the sort of deliberately-paced, melodramatic family tear-jerker that seems to usually drive the Academy wild. With a bit more cohesion and, more importantly, a lot more box office dollars this film may have gone somewhere.

Which isn’t to say I particularly liked it. I found it decent at best and strangely distant for a film that relies so much on heavy emotion. And I think a lot of that is because almost all of the characters felt wrong.

The film follows Halle Berry’s Audrey, a widow after her husband is murdered, and her two children. It turns out that Brian, the dead husband played in flashbacks by David Duchovny, was pretty much a saint that everybody loved. His childhood friend is Jerry, a down-on-his-luck drug addict played by Benicio Del Toro. Brian has always supported Jerry despite Audrey’s wishes. After Brian’s death she decides to take Jerry in, I guess as sort of a nod to her husband’s kindness.

Jerry ends up becoming like the surrogate Brian to everyone in Brian’s life and the film becomes sort of unintentionally creepy. There’s will they or won’t they tension with Audrey, Brian’s neighborhood pal insists Jerry go running with him like Brian used to, and Jerry gets involved in the children’s lives. Throughout it all I found myself connecting only with unstable, distant, addicted Jerry. With every conflict we’re supposed to be following Jerry’s internal struggle but really all I saw in him was what I was thinking, which was, “This is really weird, right??” Read the rest of this entry »

Movie: Edmond

Released: 2006

Stars: William H. Macy

With: Denise Richards, Bai Ling, Mena Suvari, Julia Stiles, Dule Hill, George Wendt, Debi Mazar, Joe Mantegna, assorted Mamet regulars

Written By: David Mamet

Reason for Watching: Did you see that cast?

I Can Name This Movie In One Note: Filmed morality play of one man’s descent (or is it ascent?) into knowledge of self.

You Should See This Movie Because: You shouldn’t need any other reason that William H. Macy, who here continues his streak of playing really interesting characters really well.  Also, he always strikes me as a really odd, yet really spectacular, choice to be a leading man.

Denise Richards working in a strip club?  Mena Suvari as a high class hooker?  Julia Stiles side-boob?  David Mamet, you are a genius!

I can see being in the minority here, but I thought the ending was nearly superb.  Fitting, jarring, and so different from how the movie starts.  The last five to ten minutes bumped the movie up from two to three stars.

You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: It basically is a play.  Just with more convincing scenery.  I mean that particularly the script (but how the movie was filmed, as well) feels like a play.  Which isn’t out of the ordinary for Mamet, the whole is just so stylized that I think it detracts from the movie.

Denise Richards has 45 seconds of screen time?  Mena Suvari has a minute?  Julia Stiles is in the movie for one scene?  David Mamet, you are a bastard.

The story gets a bit tedious and (intentionally) short-sighted.  The payoff may not necessarily be worth it.

Bottom Line: There are valid reasons to see this movie, those just don’t include the cast (other than the Mace) and the story.

April 2008
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