Saturday, August 27, 2011

Crazy, Stupid Love

The Flick: Crazy, Stupid Love

The Peeps: Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone (havin' a moment), Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei, Josh Groban (yeah, that Josh Groban), etc.

The Dealio: While Carell's Cal is thinking 'What a perfect life I have', Emma, his wife of over 20 years is thinking divorce. Meanwhile Gosling's Jacob is hectically playing ladies' man extraordinaire, except that his usual magic is not working on the one lady he can't get out of his mind-or into his bed. Hannah (Stone) is hoping for a twofer: passing the boards and getting a proposal in the same week. Which she does. But not exactly as planned. And, Cal and Emma's son is heavily smitten with his babysitter, who has her eye on someone else entirely. Oh, I'm sorry, should have warned you to spreadsheet all this.

The Grading Session: 4.33 pengies out of 5. With more than a glancing nod to such previous films as Love, Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral, CSL is still one that stands out in a crowd. At times silly, melodramatic and frothy, it is also one deeply romantic movie, that is unafraid to show the bittersweet edge of romance. The cast is very strong-although Tomei ratchets up the way-too-hungry-ex-lush thaang a notch or two too many on several occasions. Still, it is nice to see her work. And there is a typical ending in which is couched a deeply felt, but almost cliched declaration of love. But, even as I was sort of shaking my head at the lack of originality of the whole thing, I suddenly felt very...moved and emotional about what was happening on the screen. And not only to the person speaking the lines. Nicely done.

Lessons Learned: If someone says they will jump out of the car if you do not stop talking...take them at their word and put a sock in it. Also- Ryan Gosling totally looks photo-shopped. Sorry, but he does. Finally, this: love is inconvenient, goofy, nonsensical and just plain crazy, not to mention stupid. But it is also worth all of that if it possesses the real stuff.

Notable Quotes: 'You are better than the Gap!' 'OK, normally, I would tell you to just be yourself. But, on this occasion, my advice to you is to be the exact opposite of yourself.' 'You're David Lindhaven?' (followed by loads of piling-on).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Change Up

The Film: The Change Up

The Peeps: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Olivia Wilde, Leslie Mann, Alan Arkin, etc.

The Dealio: One night, after a particularly frustrating day, buds Mitch (Reynolds) and Dave (Bateman), express a keen desire to switch lives while peeing in a fountain. Well, of course, as these things always go, this was no everyday, ordinary fountain, but one with a sharp sense of humor. Sure enough, each awakens to find he has swapped places, but not bods, with the other. For dedicated, but harried dad-of-three-married-to-the-hot-wife Dave, this is like summer vacation. For about three minutes. Then, the reality of being a type A professional stuck in a slacker, irresponsible dude's body, hits him like a 30 pound halibut to the melon. For playboy, occasional lorn-actor Mitch, it is a trip to Hell without any possibility of detour or parole. Any one who doesn't know how this is going to play out, raise your hand now. You're excused. Go check out 13 Going On 30, Double Trouble, The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday or any similar cinematic dissertation on the ramifications of swapping places with someone you think has it all figured out. SPOILER ALERT: turns out, they do not.

The Grading Session: 3.901 pengies out of 5. As I said in the tripline: do not go see this movie with someone like me. The scenes with Dave/Mitch interacting with his twins were excruciating for someone like me! Listen, I know it is totally unfair to bring my professional life to the movies with me, but I can not help myself. Full marks to Prendie for not gagging me after the first two outbursts: 'OMG! No powder for the babies! What is he thinking!? ' And, 'Dear God! Tell me he is not heating up the bottles in a pan or microwave! I can't look!' I had to actually step into the lobby to stop my hyperventilation when the babies started playing with knives. No. Seriously, it was an acceptable movie of its kind, and seemed like the cinematic version of summer comfort food (mashed potatoes with lite margarine, versus butter): easy to digest, very familiar and not liable to change your life-outlook,. Or your cholesterol count.

Lessons Learned: Two very appealing leads can only carry a flick so far. A fresh-eyed script should definitely come first. Also, be prepared. Start right this minute. Against the possibility of such a thing ever actually happening in your life, rehearse phrases, words and questions that would cue in your significant others that there has been a total body transplant. Prendie and I are already prepped for such an eventuality. You should be , too.

Notable Quotable: Well, this one always makes Prendie laugh out loud, so I'll spring for this one: 'Oh, no you don't! Don't go backing that thing up into me. I can't believe you'd come at me guns hot.'

30 Minutes Or Less

The Flick: 30 Minutes or Less

The Peeps: Danny McBride, Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Fred Ward, Nick Swardson, etc.

The Dealio: Based upon a real-life event (with much less upbeat ending), this is the story, like so many others, about a slacker-Eisenberg's Nick- and his marginally more achievement-oriented bud, who wind up pulling a robbery at the behest of two wastrels who have strapped a bomb to Nick's chest. This is billed as a comedy, but, from the first time someone gets shot, you know that, if this is comedy, it is of the depths of a moonless night variety. Violence, toilet talk and the low road to every punchline are the hallmarks of this 'buddy flick'. By the time you get to the man on fire- and not in a figurative sense, you almost want to smack everyone concerned. See how blatant violence breeds the violent response. Well. Maybe just in me. Sorry 'bout that.

The Grading Session: 2.0001 pengies out of 5. This is time I will never get back. Damn it.

Lessons Learned: Well, for Danny McBride, who rocks supporting roles, perhaps he should go one of two routes, from here on in: either read thoroughly before taking the money. Or, just a thought: go back to the supporting roles, where you have had notable success in the past. For me: I have outgrown stoner-driven movies.

Quotes of Note: 'Well, officer, you just brought a gun to a bomb fight.' And, 'I loved that bear. You...I don't even know.'

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Read It Or Listen To It, Then See It. What're You Waiting For?

The Flick: The Help

The Peeps: Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Alison Janney, Cecily Tyson, etc.

The Dealio: Based on the 2009 Kathryn Stockett novel (she also wrote the screen adaptation), this is the story of 'colored maids' in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi, interpreted through the words of Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan. Skeeter is a misfit: too tall, too awkward, too unclassically pretty, too smart and liberal for the tastes the the Junior League world of Jackson. Frustrated by her inability to wedge her way into a journalistic job, she accepts a post with a smaller paper, writing a cleaning column. Not much of a cleaner herself, Skeeter seeks the advice and council of Aibileen Clark, the maid for one of her sorority sisters, and the breathing, loving heart of this tale. What she winds up getting is a glimpse into the everyday lives of the black women who raise the babies of the white society folks. She also gets an education into the far-reaching repercussions of the law-mandated injustices of the time.

The Grading Session: 5.61 pengies out of 5. I was utterly taken by the charms and skilled vocal portrayals of the audio version of this book- imagine my surprise when I noted that Octavia Spencer, one of those involved in that audio, actually was cast to play the same role (Minny), in the movie! Bonus! From the start, this movie held the entire audience in its thrall: people-and yep, there were men in the theatre, too- were on board from the very first scene, laughing, cheering and crying in turn with each development. The soundtrack tapped into the vivid popular music of the time to set the table appropriately, so a real feast ensued. Oh, dear. Am I gushing? Well, yes. Yes, I am. Go see this one, and you will gush, too.

Quote Picks: "So bring all your old commodes to the Holbrook home." "You is kind, you is smart, you is special." "Some Mexican cocoa and a very special ingredient."

Lessons Learned: A terrific book CAN be made into a terrific movie. How 'bout that?!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

The Film: Cowboys and Aliens

The Peeps: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, etc.

The Dealio: Time? Post Civil War. Place? The Western Territories of the US. The Set-Up? Into the town of Absolution staggers a wounded, fuzzy-headed, much-the-worse-for-wear c'boy...wearing an enigmatic expression. Oh, yeah, and a bracelet that apparently is able to track interplanetary spaceships and knock them from the sky. So far, just your basic horse opera, right? Riiiiight. In short order, the cowboy-Jake Lonergan- has run afoul of the obnoxious, spoiled and violent son of Woodrow Dolarhyde, the ex-military man who holds the whole of Absolution and everyone and thing in it- in his iron grasp. Lonergan also encounters a strangely reticent barkeep called 'Doc' and a 'strapped', comely female who insists that he must help her in her mysterious quest. Problem #1: Lonergan has no idea who he is, where he came from, how he got his wound and what that danged thing on his wrist is. Then, on a quiet night, ripped apart by peculiar animal behavior and flashing lights, the cuff chugs to life, and rapidly dispatches two flying menaces. While the town is trying to figure out what just happened, many more of the flying vehicles swoop in low, lasso-ing men, women, children- even livestock. Now we need a posse. And some cooperation. Good luck with that.

The Grading Session: 4.53 pengies out of 5. Very action-packed movie. Favreau is at his fanboy best with this one. My official commentator on all things military was...oddly silent during the run of this film. Everyone turned in well-tuned, tiny, gemlike performances. I was a bit jarred by the gorgeous Ella, in minimalist, Wild West make-up, wearing a very imposing shootin' iron, front and center, over her gingham dress. But, I nitpick. There was only one cool hat in the entire show- and Craig's Lonergan scored that one, lifting it from the head of a renegade bandito he's just blasted to smithereens with his wrist-activated RPG. Recurrent themes that are beloved of Favreau were all represented: fathers and sons, loyalty and unity in the face of an outside threat, and redemption through self-sacrifice. This was a great summer movie with enough diversity to suit every one's needs. And, of course bug-lizard-Alien-and-Predator-style bad guys. What IS it with the insect aliens? Have film makers decided that this is the ultimate scary-unknown? Get over it; ultimately scary is US, but mutated, invisibly.

Lessons Learned: When a character in a movie is suddenly in possession of super-powers or super-weapons, the learning curve seems to be very tiny: one minute, the possessor is fumbling along, singeing him/her self with the damned thing. The next minute, they are battling aliens, doing major surgery and whipping up a chocolate souffle with the thaang. That's the kind of a deal I want to own. Might be worth a few singeing incidents...if I can manage a souffle, after all is said and done. Then, too, this: do not look into the light. Ever.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

The Flick: Captain America: The First Avenger

The Peeps: Chris Evans ( both regular and mini), Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper, Hugo Weaving, Neal McDonough, Toby Jones, (What? Nothing for Andy Serkis?!), etc.

The Dealio: This film takes us back to WWII, and the sort of 90 pound weakling who used to get sand kicked in his face at the beach. Nowadays, those are the guys who create things like Microsoft and FB. But, back then, well, there was a war on, and it was seen as the duty of every red-blooded man (and some women, let's face it) to come to the aid of their country. And, they did. In droves. Except for Steve Rogers, who couldn't pass a draft physical to save his soul. After the ninth unsuccessful try, Steve unburdens himself to his BFF, who just signed up. If only he could have the chance. He knew, just knew, he could do something grand. While Steve is spinning his tale of woe, he is unaware that he has been overheard by a quiet little anonymous man, loitering around the queue. That little man is none other than Dr. Abraham Erskine, once a leading scientist in Germany. Erskine's heart goes out to the earnest, if decidedly, um, unimpressively built Rogers. And, naturally, he has a plan. He sells Rogers on the idea of being an experimental subject in the quest to manufacture the world's most perfect fighting machine. Seems Erskine was very close to a break-through, when the political climate- as well as the goals of the radical Johann Schmidt- became too threatening. Erskine moved his ops to the good ol' US of A, and now, is recruiting a totally new sort of fighting man: power with empathy, ability with compassion. He sees what no one else does in Rogers- including the military boss in this project, a fairly apoplectic (as apoplectic as Jones can allow himself to become) Colonel Chester Phillips. Will Rogers become the nation's best hope of ending the war? Well, lemme see...what's the name of this flick? You got it. And, don't worry; Rogers has got our back.

The Grading Session: 4.91 pengies out of 5: everyone was totally on board with this mix of history, action, sci-fi and a touch of romance. The music was a great, accurate fit and- although we did not see the film in 3D, the money invested in the FX seemed well spent. A few debits for the flummery of the costumes (I know, pre-ordained by the comic. Noted. Still.....that mask. That shield!)

Noteworthy Quote(s): Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! New Feature Alert! This movie inspired me to add a new feature to the reviews. Quotes. Sometimes, they will be from the book or movie itself. Sometimes, they will be harvested from the 'overheard bin'. So. Shall we begin with one from this last category? Yesssss. Overheard walking out of the theatre: 'Wow! This movie sure makes me proud to be an American!' 'I know! Who knew we were able to do all that way back during WWII.' OK, folks. Reality check: you did know this was fiction, did you not? Based on a comic book? Am I right? So, new question on the table: what the tarnation did the same peeps think of Inglourious Basterds?

Lessons Learned: Never underestimate the power of film to sway an audience. To sweep them up into the action and even to melt their nerve endings to the point where they cannot separate fact from really, really creative fiction. Also this: What if Napoleon has a B-52? Incredible amount of history rewriting required, no? Lastly this: even without all this scientific hocus-pocus, never kick sand into the 90 pound weakling's face. You just never know where he/she will turn up next. Maybe even opposite you in a job interview? Think about it.