Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Leatherheads Review

Originally posted April 7, 2008. Reprinted with permission.

I aspire to be selective in my movie going experiences. I usually don’t go to see movies that I suspect will be disappointing. I didn’t see the third Pirates or Shrek and I skipped every Adam Sandler movie since Happy Gilmore. What I get in return is the more satisfying feeling of going into a movie with nominal expectations and leaving pleasantly surprised. For example, a few weeks ago I went to see The Bank Job, expecting a decent caper movie. Instead, I left convinced I had seen the best heist movie in years. So, more often than not, I see a better movie than I had hoped for and my faith in film continues to beat strong in my heart. Conversely, the far rarer occurrence is when I am really anticipating a movie and end up being truly let down by it. Unfortunately, Leatherheads is such a movie.

Hollywood hyphenate George Clooney directs, acts and left the Writer’s Guild over his rewriting credit of this homage to 1920’s football and screwball comedies. Starring as a pro football player in the good old days when nobody cared about pro football, he tries to draw in John Krasinski, the Princeton star/World War I hero, in order to boost ticket sales. Sadly, Krasinski is saddled with Renee Zellweger by his side as a reporter looking to cook his goose over his hero story.

That’s basically the story and just about where I stopped paying attention as well. Perhaps I was unfair in comparing this film to movies such as The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, and It Happened One Night and maybe I even got a little spoiled by watching I Was A Male War Bride the morning before. As a huge fan of screwball comedies and such talents as Howard Hawks, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, I was really excited to see Clooney and Krasinski verbally spar over a professional woman who they obviously think is more attractive than I do. (Renee ain’t got shit on Rosalind.) George is great as the lead, shining and mugging more like a Clark Gable than anyone else. Clearly, the Oscar winner knows how to lay back and lets others shine, but he can still command a picture, as he does here. However, he is the movie’s lone strong point. In the constructs of a screwball comedy, the movie falls flat in every area. For a comedy, it does not stay funny consistently. It gets slow and weighty at times, especially with flashbacks to the war and the ongoing battle in the second half between the Tribune and Krasinski’s agent, played by Johnathon Pryce. The dialogue crackles between Clooney and Renee but then they fall in love and it doesn’t anymore. The love triangle between the three also feels forced, mostly because Renee comes across as a cute tart, but with few redeeming qualities. Granted, the conventions of a screwball are quite dated and the fact that opposites attract and the two can fall in love by the end of the picture may seem nostalgic and corny to modern audiences, but when the romantic leads aren’t even forced together in common goals or awkward situations, the potential for sparks to fly is nonexistent. The fact that neither George and Renee or John and Renee are after the same thing as a couple, translates into Clooney and Krasinski having more chemistry than Zellweger and either of the male leads. Furthermore, as the third wheel, the Krasinski character has to either be the straight man or the comedic foil to Clooney’s character and through some flaw in design that I honestly believe to be unintentional, Clooney has the best dialogue, the most scenes and is the most likeable character. Krasinski simply has to little to do, yet his character is the focal point of the story. His agent does most of the talking for him and as a side note, as much as I enjoy Johnathon Pryce, couldn’t Clooney have gotten David Strathairn in that role? He’s always been terrific in his period sports films like A League of Their Own and Eight Men Out.

I actually walked out of the show with about fifteen minutes left, because even though it was time for the big game, I felt like everything had already been resolved between the characters. I loved good night, and good luck and I guess I was expecting another knockout like that. However, this movie had no modern day relevance and while it may have lacked a defined genre, it also suffers from stretching itself thin over two too many. So, perhaps I am biased, since I despise football, Renee Zellweger and comedies without enough comedy, but I am looking forward to a good rest of April in next three weeks, with Street Kings, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Baby Mama and by the first weekend in May, well, it’s all over.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Baby Mama Review

Tina Fey is hot. Just need to get that out of the way and let you know where I’m coming from, I think Tina Fey is way hot. Funny, attractive, intelligent and those glasses! I loved her on Saturday Night Live, she was the only reason I watched Mean Girls and I feel truly blessed to have her in my home every week on 30 Rock. I’ve been looking forward to seeing Baby Mama as soon as I heard about it last year. Amy Poehler is also a gifted comedienne and I loved her chemistry with Tina on Weekend Update as well as her appearances in everything from Southland Tales to of course, Arrested Development. I had high expectations of this movie and gratefully, it did not disappoint.

The story begins without much preamble, opening on Kate (Fey) as a career woman who just never got around to having a child and feels her biological clock ticking. Exhausting all methods to become pregnant, she seeks a surrogate mother and finds white trash, foul mouth, future Jerry Springer guest Angie (Poehler). They move in together, with Kate taking care of both mother and child and the two of them clash like a modern day female version of Felix and Oscar. The movie is funny with the two opposites becoming friends, touching with its sister solidarity and even poignant when dealing with the real and serious issue of infertility. Of course, the leading ladies bounce off each other effortlessly and the best scenes in the movie are simple dialogue between the two whether they’re at home, in birthing classes or having a girl’s night out at the club. The plot does slow at times, with a few subplots involving Kate and Angie’s respective male counterparts. As funny as both Tina and Amy are, (and smoking hot in Tina’s case.) neither of them are very gifted actors. This does not make the movie suffer because the parts that are strictly story move quickly and are insulated with enough jokes to keep the comedic pace moving along. It does become slightly predictable near the end, but the movie was still absolutely entertaining and engaging. But any movie with Steve Martin in it, NOT playing someone’s dad, is worth a ticket.

I know that for me, the movie really hit home because despite being ten years the junior to Kate, I too have had ‘nesting fever’ or the urge to have children. I suppose because my parents had me when they were only 21, I had expected to be married and have children by now. It’s even more unsettling when most of the people you graduated from high school with are either spouses or babies or both. The only thing more disturbing than that is when someone I had been with has a kid and I think to myself, “Wow! That could have been my kid.” I do think a lot about having my own children someday and it has ended a few relationships of mine in the past. I think about rubbing someone’s feet, going to the store at odd hours and attending Lamaze. One of my favorite episodes of Frasier is when Daphne is pregnant and Niles starts his sympathy pregnancy. I want to do that! I want to be able to be a good father, a sympathetic man and the movie really let me see it from a woman’s point of view without being melodramatic, strongly vaginal or insulting my intelligence. The movie does not take lightly the subject of infertility and really examines Kate’s intentions and borderline obsession with having a baby. The best things in life cannot be forced, but can come to you with positive thoughts and proactive behavior. I don’t want to wait to be Kate’s age to have kids, but like her, maybe one day, when’s its right and in a way you might not expect, I too can experience the pitter patter of little feet. And maybe, God willing with some as hot as Tina Fey!

Friday, April 25, 2008

My Top Ten Movies of Summer 2008

Summer kicks off officially on May 1 at 8:00 Pm in select cities with the release of Iron Man. But, is Iron Man the movie that I’m most excited to see this summer? Read on…

10. Towelhead

I was fortunate enough to catch a test screening of this film last year with my brother and Alan Ball in the audience. The movie centers on a young Arab girl living in Texas with her father during the first Gulf War. Neither the girl nor her father is a well known actor, but Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette and Maria Bello also star. So, why would I want to see it again? Alan Ball is probably best known for writing American Beauty and Six Feet Under and he both writes and directs this film. If that’s not enough to get you to go, then remember that you heard it hear first, Peter Macdissi, who plays the girl’s father, will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Opens in limited release August 8.

9. The Incredible Hulk

I really feel like the first Hulk movie from Ang Lee was a lot like an HJ from a hot girl inasmuch as sure, you’re digging it, but you can’t help but think there is something more that you’re missing out on. This one looks to be more action packed, as I hear that the final battle between the Hulk and Abomination in downtown Manhattan lasts twenty three minutes and hopefully they crush a martini bar with the women from Sex and the City inside. Kidding, unless you’re gonna do it. Plus, I am a big fan of Edward Norton and am really encouraged by the fact that he had a hand in working on the script. Throw in a cameo from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and I’m there. Opens June 13.

8. Wanted

Lord knows, I’m not the biggest Angelina Jolie fan in the world, but the Lord also knows that nothing is hotter than hot women with guns, peace be with you. I like James McAvoy and looking forward to seeing him in fun like this, plus the action and violence look so over the top, similar to Shoot ‘Em Up last year, it’s enough to get me into the theatre, even if the poster is lacking. It’s the day before my birthday and I’m not going to see Wall-E. One question though, does this mean Jolie will break up McAvoy’s relationship? Too soon? Opens June 27.

7. Get Smart

Of course, I’m too young to really remember the original series, but I did watch them on Nick at Nite and what can you say about a television series created by one of the all time heavyweight champions of comedy, Sir Mel Brooks? Steve Carell is hilarious in everything he does and from the interviews at Comic-Con last year it is clear he has a unique take on the movie that I’m looking forward too. With Anne Hathaway and The Rock co-starring as C.O.N.T.R.O.L. agents, there’s something for guys and girls to look at the whole movie! Opens June 20.

6. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Why is Indy so far down the list? Despite my highest hopes and against my better judgment, I have to side with George Lucas who downplays the importance of this movie, calling it, “just a movie”. Spielberg seems in touch with his inner geek, but something tells me that this movie will be good, but not great. But, every Indy movie is great, so that makes for some kind of math that I cannot even calculate. Of course we’re all going to go see it? That’s doesn’t mean its any good. *cough Phantom Menace!

Excuse me. Opens May 22.

5. Tropic Thunder

I’m not the biggest Ben Stiller fan but this looks to be absolutely genius. Ben Stiller doing what he does best, playing against type as an actor, Jack Black as Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr. as a black man, Nick Nolte as a crazed Vietnam vet, Steve Coogan as a perfectionist director and a cameo from Tom Cruise to boot. I think that just about makes something for everybody in this movie. Wow. Opens August 15.

4. Hancock

Will Smith as a superhero on Will Smith Weekend. A superhero with some un-Will Smith problems like alcoholism, no people skills and a terrible smile. There’s the rub. Need more? How about Charlize Theron as his love interest? More? Fine, two words. Jason Bateman. Thursday, midnight, mark it dude. Opens July 2.

3. Pineapple Express

I’m almost sure this will be funnier than Hancock. Stoner action? Like if Half Baked had been all about the heist and not about selling drugs? Any movie with Seth Rogen and Craig Robinson in it will be worth catching, so here’s an early announcement for the two of them along with Elizabeth Banks in the new Kevin Smith movie, Zach and Miri Make A Porno, coming in October. But back to this one. Just go see it already. Opens August 8.

2. Iron Man

I have personally been waiting on this one a long time. I love Robert Downey Jr. and feel a personal connection to both him and the character of Tony Stark. I’m also really excited to see Jon Favreau take on a comic book movie, because he is one of the few directors that I have absolute faith in. Marvel has put all their marbles on this one, along with Incredible Hulk to launch their own studio and I believe it will payoff for them, big time. Oh yes, it also features Academy Award winners Gwyneth Paltrow and Hillary Swank and Oscar nominees Jeff Bridges and Terrance Howard. Did I mention the Oscars? Downey was nominated for one as well. Opens May 2.

1. The Dark Knight

Let’s be frank, the hype surrounding this movie has not changed despite Heath Ledger’s death, or even because of it. The man was amazing as an actor and I truly mourned his passing. I loved Batman Begins so much that I’ve been waiting three long, dark, cold years for this movie. They’re doing such a great job with the marketing the film that nobody is still really sure what it’s about. And even though we still haven’t seen any pictures of Cillian Murphy, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Jai White, Eric Roberts but that IMAX teaser was more than enough to hold me for the past four months. Quick question – when will Christian Bale get an Oscar… nomination?! Opens July 18.

I hope I’ve given you something to look forward to this summer, besides escalating gas prices and another Red Sox World Series run. Please drop back in, as I will most likely be reviewing all these films. I would love to find out what you thought of them if you get out and catch any or all of them. The last item for this post is, of course, the special mention. The Special Mention Summer Movie of 2008 is… Son of Rambow!

Opens in limited release May 2.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wayne's World - Retro Review

In the lexicon of films created from Saturday Night Live sketches, from Coneheads to The Ladies Man, the one that stands head and shoulders above the pack is Wayne’s World. Starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as the titular Wayne and Garth, it was born out of sketch that was simple in premise and outstanding in execution. Two Gen-Xer’s broadcast on public access a show about rock music that always managed to gets the same amazing guests appearing on SNL that week. But, Wayne and Garth did become quite the zeitgeists of their time and managed to become a sensation on the show in a cast that included Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller, Norm McDonald, Chris Farley, David Spade, Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. And it proved to be the break out characters for both Myers and Carvey, allowing them to pursue a career after the show in film. Sure, perhaps more movies could have been made of some funnier sketches or not as many movies about some really shitty ones, but what do I know? I’m just a caveman!

The first film worked mostly as a comedy of the absurd. By using the simple plot premise of Wayne and Garth’s show being picked up and commercialized, the movie satires television, literature, film, music, pop culture, language, sports, social issues such as the entertainment business and hilarity ensues. The movie pokes fun at such diverse targets as rock stars, Star Trek, product placement, Kierkegaard, Laverne and Shirley, the state of Delaware, Annie Hall, Claudia Schiffer, Psycho, television commercials, pop music, hip hop, metal, Lassie, Led Zepplin, and Terminator 2. But, the humor really came from the structure of the movie and utilizing classic techniques of the spoof movies pioneered by such films as Blazing Saddles and Airplane! By acknowledging breaks in the continuity, breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience and really being able to make fun of themselves more than anything, they not only draw the audience into the film, but they really succeed in drawing them into the joke. All the jokes are designed to be broad, not over the top or over indulgent either. A remarkable fact about the movie is that it is rated PG, which would preclude that they really tried to translate the television sketch to the big screen, creating a much longer sketch with jokes that never made it past dress rehearsal on Saturday night, not unlike a movie like Reno 911! Miami or Borat. Also, the film contains one of the first known recordings of, “That’s what she said.”

I need to sidetrack here for just a paragraph and tell you that my true affection for Wayne’s World is rooted in the belief that like movies such as The Godfather, The Big Lebowski and Coming to America, this movie could be the post-modern Tai Chi, containing the answer to every question. Highly quotable, the dialogue works its way into my everyday conversation and even now, sometimes with out my conscious knowledge. Is someone planning on surprising you? Let them know, “If it’s a severed head, I’m going to be very upset.” Do you find yourself unable to get through to a stubborn friend? Live in the now!” And of course, in times of relationship difficulties, never forget that, “Marriage is punishment for shoplifting in some countries.”

In Wayne’s World 2, Wayne and Garth produce a massive concert event, but the plot really just serves the larger parody of movies, mainly, The Doors, The Graduate and Woodstock. And while there are again great bits to riff and skewer film noir, An Officer and A Gentleman, Carvey’s Cary Grant impression, Myer’s Scottish accent and The Village People, there are moments where the story simply serves the joke, like the Jurassic Park bit. Does the film lose its way or suffer for it? No, not at all. But, to me, it does mark the end of the great comedy spoof films and the beginning of a very uninteresting period of comedies. Unfortunately today, more movies are put out like Meet The Spartans and Superhero Movie and less like Wayne’s World or for that matter, Hot Fuzz or SuperBad. To me, the movie highlights the dearth of original comedic talent in the industry in the past ten to fifteen years. People wonder why they don’t make movies like Airplane! or Blazing Saddles or Caddyshack and Stripes. It’s doesn’t matter if it’s the economics of making movies or a cultural shift in audiences. All I know is I hope everyone gets to enjoy more movies that they find entertaining, whimsical and yet relevant, with an underlying revisionist conceit that bullied the films emotional attachments to the subject matter. Or at the very least, I just hope you don’t think it sucked.