Tuesday, December 27, 2011




Release Date: May 26, 2011



Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha



Screenwriters: Scott Armstrong, Craig Mazin, Todd Phillips



Pitch: Another bachelor night, another blurry morning after, another person missing.



Rating: ½


What works: Nothing. I haven't blogged about a movie in ages, but felt compelled to after watching this on DVD. I loved the original but this is the worst movie I have seen in ages. I feel sorry for the writers (none of whom received credit for the original). Surely they did not produce the script without major creative interference from the studio and producers. This is a completely recycled movie, a scene for scene rehash of the original Hangover.


The ONLY difference is the setting. I can hear the execs: Okay, so we did Vegas. Can we do Vegas again? No, then we'd need a new story. Hey! How about Bangkok? Yeah, totally different!


No. No. No.


Do NOT set comedy sequels in Thailand! Did we learning nothing from Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason?!


I give the movie half a star and that is for the one chuckle I got that had to do with Long John Silver's.


Where it fumbles: From the first scene to the last. Is there nothing new to do with these characters after the 100-minute original movie? No extensions of characters or story lines? Once again, the writers do away with Justin Bartha's Doug character, not because he goes missing this time, but apparently because he didn't figure prominently in the original. Heaven forbid that his character should be developed. And I groaned in agony when Mike Tyson made another appearance. Really? They had to bring back Tyson?! Whose idea was that?


A total retread. So disappointing. Even worse, the people behind this lame excuse for a movie will only be encouraged to clone other successful movies based on this movie's $580,000,000 global box office. Sad. This is sequel filmmaking at its worst.

Monday, May 24, 2010

AWAY WE GO


Release Date: December 2009

Starring: John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, with brief appearances by Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal

Screenwriters: Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida

Pitch: Expecting their first baby, a couple contemplates how their lives will change and searches for the right place to call home.

Rating: *** ½

What works: This began with a crisp screenplay and was only enhanced by strong performances by the leads and the supporting actors who pop up during different legs of the journey. It is the acting, more than the writing, that ultimately stands out. What a compliment to Eggers and Vida! Krasinski is geeky good as Burt and Rudolph blew me away with a seemingly effortless performance as Verona. She delivered her lines so naturally I felt her character was real and I was just listening in. O’Hara chews up her brief part as Burt’s mother. I’ve never been a fan of Allison Janney, but she had a delectable part, over the top yet realistic. We all know women like this who have no boundaries with what they say and do. (I’m hoping Janney gets more comedic roles.) Gyllenhaal had a tricky part as a grating Mother Earth character, yet she pulled it off. Again, it’s a sign of good writing that the quirky roles work so well.

The natural dialog between Burt and Verona is lovely. He’s na├»ve and she is guarded. She accepts him for the odd duck he is. They came across as more defined, more real than what you see in most rom-coms of today. I’d put the film right up there with “(500) Days of Summer” and “Flirting with Disaster”.

As a film that begins with an unorthodox discovery that Verona is pregnant and focuses on a time when she is six months pregnant, I was relieved that the film ended without Verona giving birth. We’ve seen so many delivery scenes. This movie is not really about the baby. The pregnancy is a catalyst to get Burt and Verona to examine what they’ve (not) accomplished and to look ahead.

Where it fumbles: It’s tricky to have the movie switch to so many locations (original home, Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, Montreal, Miami), with all characters other than Burt and Verona only appearing in a single leg of the couple’s journey in search of a new place to call home. Each new location comes off as a separate vignette and this makes the film uneven. You can’t have each leg equally strong. The fact that the strongest scenes are the opening ones with O’Hara and Janney hurts the pacing as well. Rather than building momentum, there is a feeling of fizzle midway. To be clear, Burt and Verona never lose their appeal; it’s just that the supporting character storylines don’t snap like the early scenes.

Still, it’s a movie well worth seeing. I’m left scratching my head as to why the film only grossed $9.5 million at the box office. While not blockbuster fare, its earnings should have been + $25 mill. Sad when you think that “The Proposal” earned $163 million and even “Did You Hear about the Morgans?” grossed $29 million.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

THE BOYS ARE BACK



Release Date: 2009

Starring: Clive Owen

Screenwriter: Allan Cubitt

Pitch: An uninvolved father must parent his two sons while grieving the loss of his wife.

Rating: ** ½

What works: Not sure if Clive Owen in the lead helps or hurts the film. He oozes machismo out his pores in a way that appeals to women viewers, but for this script he rarely shows us anything more than a brick wall as his character grieves quietly, privately. And the frustration of having to take the helm as a single dad never fully comes through. Owen has a physical presence that is hard to look worn down. Paul Giamatti (Sideways) would have been a better choice in the role of Joe War, unfiltered emotions shown completely and without distraction.

The younger son’s part is well written and acted although I would have liked to have seen a bit more early on about the “comatose” state Artie lapses into for thirty minutes at a time, presumably as he struggles with his mother’s death. We see his father join him on the floor, but it’s unclear what is happening in the moment. Joe has seen his son in this condition before. It would seem more dramatic for an earlier scene when this happens for the first time, giving more impact to the scene actually in the film as Joe has learned how something about is son and how to offer support.

The older son’s story is compelling. Aside from holiday visits and occasions when work brings Joe to England, the boy was abandoned by Joe ten years ago when Joe ran off and married Katy. Things should be tense from the moment of his arrival, but his initial growth also seems to happen off camera. We see him react with annoyance at a pillow fight between Joe and Artie and he storms off when they try to include him. But then he’s happily playing soccer in the house with Artie. How did he change? I also have no idea how he suddenly hooked up at a bonfire with a group of partying teens. Seems it just happened. Makes me wonder what was lost on the editing room floor. While Harry later confronts his father about leaving Harry behind, there is a lot of drama lost in this plot.

Where it fumbles: Once again, I seem to have discussed some of the flaws above. It’s hard not to. The film is frustrating. The harder Clive Owen as Joe tries to contain his emotions, the more peeved I get with what could have been a more intense drama. Is it the actor, the director or the screenwriter who bares the brunt of the blame? If I cared enough, I’d read the book upon which the movie is based, Simon Carr’s The Boys Are Back in Town.

I was put off from the opening scene as Joe drives along a beach with Artie riding recklessly on the hood. This shows the two fully united in the rules-be-damned parenting style that Joe develops after Katy dies. We see that, while his parenting style is unorthodox, he has bonded with Artie. That siphons away much of the potential drama as the scenes that follow flash back to life with Katy and her painful death. Yes, there are initial challenges in caring for Artie alone, but the opening scene is a spoiler and should have been deleted or played just prior to Harry’s arrival. (Just as Joe’s figured out Artie, he now has to get to know his older son.) Harry should be resentful from the outset, perhaps even relieved Katy died. In his eyes, she was a big part of the reason his father walked out of his life. Such a revelation would have built more conflict and perhaps allowed Joe to let out some of his grief, albeit inappropriately, at Harry’s expense.

The biggest problem is that the script and the acting fail to break down the mighty wall to Joe Warr’s soul. The scenes with Joe and Katy’s mother convey zero warmth. Even when he hugs her, it’s a stoic gesture. I kept thinking back to Tom Hanks’ grieving father role in “Sleepless in Seattle”. In one phone call to a radio talk show host, Hanks showed more heart than Owens does in an entire movie.

This movie’s potential is never achieved.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

EASY RIDER


Release Date: July 1969

Starring: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson

Screenwriters: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Terry Southern

Pitch: Inhale. Brush off long hair putdowns. Rev the Harley. Look at the pretty scenery. Inhale.

Rating: **

What works: This movie presents a snapshot of hippie culture in the late ’60s. It highlights drug culture, freedom as a mindset, communal living and anti-hippie sentiment. I added the second star on account of the awesome movie soundtrack (“Born to be Wild”; “The Weight”) and an amusing tagalong parade scene.

Where it fumbles: Sorry, I didn’t get it. It’s a much lauded “iconic” film that I’m supposed to find pretty trippy. My reaction when the end credits rolled: “That’s it?!”, combined with “Thank God that’s over.” Character development? Forget it! Plot? Forget it! It feels like Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Terry Southern, who each received “writing” credits, had a general idea—road trip to New Orleans, meet hippies, meet hippie haters—and winged it. Smoking pot and popping some potent pills, I suppose they felt they had something groovy and rad. Watching it while drinking a glass of wine, I didn’t feel the vibe. The scene in which Jack Nicholson’s lawyer character pretends he doesn’t know what to do with a joint is unintentionally comical. Even Jack Nicholson at his Oscar-caliber best can’t be convincing in that situation!

Was there an actual screenplay or just an outline prior to filming? The dialogue seems like it was improvised and rehearsed once or twice before each scene was filmed. In the hands of Mike Leigh, it might have meant something. Capturing a mood or a time is one thing, but a film still has to tell a story. As it is, it’s one Why Bother shoulder shrug.

Monday, April 26, 2010

UP IN THE AIR


Release Date: December 2009

Starring: George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga

Screenwriters: Sheldon Turner, Jason Reitman

Pitch: If you keep moving, life may never catch you. “Firing” squad specialist reconsiders his ways as two women shake his personal and professional worlds.

Rating: ****

What works:
- First, it’s an unusual job that is featured: a contract guy who flies around the U.S. terminating corporate employees. Not only is it unusual, the position is highly relevant in the current recession economy.

- The character is odd. A fortysomething who actually likes the fact his has no real home, no roots, no longterm relationships. And it’s the perfect role for Clooney, a suave A-list movie star who has never settled down to marriage and a family.

- The two female characters play extremely well off Clooney’s Ryan. One mirrors his no-strings-attached way of life, the other (Natalie) questions it. Ryan, in turn, spars with Natalie over her Internet-driven, impersonal plan for firing people more expeditiously. Ryan and Natalie are walking contradictions: each professing to care or not care when a large part of their lives defies this.

- There is sharp dialog throughout. Wish I could remember some of it now, but there were many WOW writing moments, especially the scenes between Ryan and Natalie as they pushed each other’s buttons.

Where it fumbles:
- The fact that Ryan would be summoned to save his sister’s wedding when the groom gets cold feet is a wonderful plot point for Ryan, a man who sees no value in marriage. His having to convince the groom actually leads to Ryan viewing commitment differently. Beautiful from a screenwriter’s perspective. Unfortunately, it is too contrived. Why is the groom sitting all alone as he thinks of bowing out of his wedding on the wedding day? Where are the best man and his family members? It is completely unrealistic that the long lost brother of the bride would be the one called in to give the pivotal pep talk.

- It was an unforeseen twist to have the woman Ryan has an affair with end up being not only married but a parent of young children. Methinks too unforeseen. One of those Gotcha screenwriting moments that is a letdown. How is this female character to be believed as being a mother who cares about her kids, given her extensive job traveling and her ballsy personality?

- This leads to an odd ending. Ryan at first seems not to care about reaching his ten million air miles goal. It seems he awakens inside to realize there is no heart in that achievement, not like what could have been achieved by being more involved with his sisters’ lives or by striving for something more than a carefree relationship with a woman. But no, in the end, he goes back to the air, continuing to travel the country firing people and apparently satisfied in doing so. Are we to really believe that, after a couple of epiphanies, he is just going back to life as he knows it? Ryan hasn’t changed and it’s not at all satisfying. This is particularly frustrating because, up until the last ten or fifteen minutes, the movie was brilliant.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

THE PROPOSAL


“THE PROPOSAL”

Release Date: June 2009

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds

Screenwriter: Pete Chiarelli

Pitch: A tyrant of a book editor attempts to avoid deportation to (shiver in your parkas) Canada by proposing to marry her long suffering assistant.

Rating: **

What works: Yes, what does work? I’ve been struggling with this. As a romantic comedy, it left my funny bone feeling like it was broken. And yet somehow I cared about the hokey final scene. I don’t think I ever bought that Sandra Bullock’s character was the monster that the email alerts warning of her arrival told us she was several times in the opening frames. Show, don’t tell. Sure, she fires a guy, but he’s apparently a lazy guy who doesn’t even bother to call a client about an Oprah appearance and, worse, is an adulterer. We’re supposed to find Bullock ruthless? She does require the Ryan Reynolds character to work the weekend and miss granny’s 90th birthday and she’s apparently quite demanding about having her specialty coffee ready. It just doesn’t seem enough. Miranda Priestly lite. There was nothing wrong with the beginning scenes in establishing character, but they just weren’t enough in and of themselves. She has to say some horrendous things to Ryan’s character and that never seems to occur.

So things start flawed. As in so many romantic comedies, the lovers are supposed to loathe one another in the beginning. Ryan hates Sandra. Got it. Sandra rolls over Ryan? Maybe.

And then we get to the humor or lack thereof. Betty White! I was ready for her to spar with Sandra. The affable granny bearing her dentures when no one else sees it. But no! Betty is more Rose Nylund than Sue Ann Nivens. A shame. Even in Rose mode, it isn’t enough. She does an aboriginal dance. That’s supposed to be wacky?! And poor Mary Steenburgen. This is the same actress who one an Oscar for her role in 1980’s “Melvin and Howard” and played such a fully formed, compelling character in 1983’s “Cross Creek”. It’s been a painful decline ever since. Here she has nothing to do but be happy for her son and annoyed with Craig T. Nelson (playing a typical Craig T. Nelson character). These recognizable actors don’t get to stand out in any way.

There’s the eagle-takes-dog scene that probably generated some laughs in the theater. (Later, when Bullock finds herself in the woods, I worried there was going to be a groaner of a scene with a bear. I upped my rating by a half star, thanking the film for not going there.) The male stripper? Shrug. The naked collision between Sandra and Ryan? Maybe. If anything, that much talked about scene only surprised and distracted me in that Bullock’s belly seemed fleshier than I’d expected. I think this scene, more than anything about the writing, brought viewers to the movie. To be more specific, Ryan Reynolds’ buff body brought the Box Office.

Where it fumbles: Oops. I think I talked about fumbles above. Couldn’t help myself. I think it comes down to Bullock’s character not being fully established. I’ll admit I’ve never thought Bullock has acting chops and here she fails to convey enough ruthlessness and self-absorption to make her ultimate change that much of a transformation. It’s not just Bullock’s fault. It feels as if some opening scenes were cut—as if producers (and Bullock is one of them) didn’t want beloved Sandra to come off as TOO unlikable. (Odd. Her best role was in “Crash” when she was thoroughly unlikable.) If you don’t set the tone right in the beginning and your supporting characters have little to do except repeatedly say, “Come on, dear. We’re taking you out. Just the ladies”, then there isn’t much to see.

Well, except for Ryan Reynolds’ abs.