This Is 40


Release: Friday, December 21, 2012


I do like Judd Apatow but I’m going to veer off-course here, just like his directing does in this film, by saying this is in no way one of his best features. It’s certainly one of his longest.

Clocking in at over two-hours, This Is 40 is a chance to exploit life’s growing pains and the pitfalls of married life for profit. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that since this is Hollywood we’re talking about, where nothing’s off-limits; I just wished this film was funnier and a tad shorter.

We once again are introduced to Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), that all-too-unhappy pair from Apatow’s decidedly funnier Knocked Upbut this time we have to stay for dinner. And for a long time afterwards, too. We would enjoy the company more if there were company to actually enjoy. Instead what we’re provided in this (have I mentioned long?) cross-examination of these individuals’ day-to-day are mostly asinine details about the less-enjoyable times throughout the later stages of life — life revolving around a rather unlikeable family.

To name a few, the kids coming of age (pre-high school) — and if this film is any indication, this phase can be attributed to most people’s gray hairs; things on the work front not going so smoothly — Pete is a record label owner failing to produce sufficient revenue and new artists, Debbie as a shop owner whose business is not faring much better; and then there’s always the case of an extended family being a rather dysfunctional group of characters, including Albert Brooks as Pete’s perpetually mooching father, and a rare sighting of John Lithgow as Debbie’s estranged dad.

As does Lithgow, these moments of hyper-stress and “what are we going to do with ourselves” only occur but for a few moments at a time, and sporadically. They never really become substantial or even really convincing. Well, the children are as annoying as ever come the halfway mark.

Moving outside of the immediate family, Apatow decides he needs some scenery for the film, so he casts Megan Fox and Charlyne Yi as Debbie’s store employees — Fox as Desi, a promiscuous flaunt who is about as bad in this movie as she’s ever been. Understanding how obvious it might seem that she’s hired based primarily on her looks, I have to say this time it’s so incredibly apparent that to not point it out would be to overlook one of the most tacked-on facets of This Is 40.

Ultimately, This Is 40 winds up as a weird mix of the serious tone dominant in Funny People and the bubbly-happy pseudo-reality commonly found in an Apatow production. The result is not nearly as satisfying as one would think.


2-5Recommendation: As far as an Apatow production is concerned, I would save the money and wait for the next. A man this successful and talented is sure to pop out another here in a year or so. This was just a disappointment honestly.

Rated: R

Running Time: 133 mins.

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Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D


Release: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 (limited)


Lead by example. . . . by throwing your half-naked body down a ramp at 70 m.p.h. only to be flung off into space. That’s the American way, right?

Despite the multiple times we get smacked with that red warning label: “DO NOT ATTEMPT AT HOME” that’s not even close to accurate when you’re talking about the kind of stunts that Travis Pastrana and crew go through. It would be slightly more effective if it said something like: “DO NOT WATCH.” Bad ideas are going to abound for the folks who have less common sense than a pile of rocks, but ultimately, we can’t worry too much about those types. This film is just for entertainment, certainly of the ADHD-variety. In that way, it’s damn good entertainment.

Then again, I’ve always been a sucker for the action-sports genre. I first saw this film a few weeks ago on T.V. so yes, I have seen it; and no, unfortunately I did not benefit from the added bonus of silly little plastic glasses for an extra $2 at the theater. I guess I missed out in the opening scene, in which a series of slow-mo shots glorify the rhythm and intricate choreography of dozens of bikes jumping simultaneously as monster trucks rumble below them. Still, I was blown away by the sheer number of death-defying moments throughout this film. Some of these crazy events involve Pastrana, the Nitro Circus ringleader himself; a lot of them were the fates of his other idiotic/brave friends. (Depending on your worldview, you’ll choose either ‘idiot’ or ‘hero’ to describe these folks. There’s pretty much no middle-ground here.) Regardless of your take on the quality of these characters, it’s not going to do you any good to sit there and also say that what they’re doing is pointless. You can hate all day by claiming Nitro Circus: The Movie adds up to nothing more than highly paid stunt professionals stroking their egos for an hour and a half. I look at this more as a Cirque de Soleil without the tights.

Meh. Maybe with more RedBull and less grace and style.

There is no denying the film’s monotonous plot. We move location to location throughout North and Central America, following along with the Circus as they set up larger and more difficult stunts on a road to their final destination — Las Vegas, where they plan to perform an unprecedented live show of all their talent. Because it’s simply a backstory to who these guys are, it comes off a little slapdash and doesn’t boast a very impressive, complex storyline. It’s inspirational, though. If you’re not visually moved (or perhaps disturbed) by what these guys do on scooters, tricycles, monster trucks and motorbikes, then you’ve missed the only point the movie tried to make.

From childhood, this is what these kids have done: found ways to push their physical and mental limits by doing stunts that not only are creative, but blur the lines between life and death. Granted, these are not the means through which a good majority of friendships are established, by taking that ‘Go big or go home’ mantra very seriously. But who’s to say this isn’t what these guys were destined to do? It might seem silly — as a gentleman (in his late 40s or early 50s) tries to one-up his slightly older brother by jumping a semi-truck at world record heights and speeds over a dirt jump — but hey man, this is life for some. Personally, I’m glad they caught this all on camera. At times hilarious, self-depracating, and even touching (for a very brief spell) Nitro Circus: The Movie is a pretty fun trip to go on.

And there’s also no denying Pastrana et al’s tip-of-the-hat at the culture surrounding the infamous Jackass show, although the boys in the Circus are never willing (at least publicly) to sink to the depths of depravity that some of Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O’s friends often volunteer to go to. In sum, there’s a lot of action, a girl going through a full-loop on a tricycle, and a kid born with spina bifida doing a 4o-foot frontflip in his wheelchair, with some tiny-tapping in between.

I guess my only real question is. . . .do we have enough popcorn. . . ?


3-0Recommendation: If getting high on adrenaline in a relatively low-budget stunt film is priority one, those who can appreciate (or just have a lot of time on their hands) will lap it up. More than likely, though this will be wasted on those who avoid the X-Games genre on a regular basis. It also may very well have been better enjoyed in 3D, but I rented it on DVD so options were limited.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 88 mins.

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Silver Linings Playbook


Release: Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I don’t like to use the word ‘awesome’ all that much. It’s just, like, completely so totally not all that great to do.

But if someone would like to find me another word to use instead, I’m all ears — or fingertips, as the case may be here. Nearly every aspect of this film I loved, and it certainly was a film that spun more romance than comedy. Silver Linings Playbook is filled with its own hyperboles and emotional highs and lows, so my awesome comment kind of fits.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in your not-so-typical romantic comedy featuring two similarly mentally unstable individuals, Pat (Cooper) and Tiffany (Lawrence), who end up falling in love with each other after a most unlikely set of circumstances develop following Pat’s release from a mental institution.

Pat Solitano has recently been released after he nearly killed his wife’s apparent other love interest eight months prior, and is now living back at home with his parents (played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). Understandably concerned, his parents and those around him have all but backed off from Pat, even though he continues to insist he is changing his ways and has gained valuable insight about how to deal with his emotions. Though he’s lost his job, his house and remains under a restraining order from his wife, Pat remains upbeat, and knows eventually that he will get back together with Nikki.

But things get complicated when Pat bumps into a dark-haired girl named Tiffany. Yes, they get complicated as things always do when boy meets girl. Here I’m willing to stick to the predictable calls, because the playing field has been slightly tilted in neither protagonist’s favor, with the whole issue of mental illness inspiring and propelling the already great acting potential.

Cooper’s Pat is at times explosive, whiny, childish and most of the time filled with an unjustified tension that is convincing behavior of someone with bipolarity — what Pat suffers from. He’s not the nicest person a lot of the time. And then Tiffany is quite a nice reflection of that, with her occasional, albeit sudden, public outbursts; she also admits to her promiscuity, but insists that’s not who she is anymore, either.

Both of them are brutally honest people. Perhaps more so Tiffany than Pat, but both of them take a no-bullshit approach to interacting with others. It’s healthy for them, but healthier still for the movie. Theirs is a relationship I could buy into and hope that it not only begins, but lasts. Even if both characters remain rough around the edges, director David O. Russell handles with care, in building the relationship from a distance.

Pat’s ultimate wish is to get back with Nikki and in so doing, uses Tiffany as the means through which his letter(s) can reach her without violating his parole. Tiffany agrees to be the dove so long as Pat’s willing to help her with something in return. Her request is that Pat help her with a dance routine she’s working through to enter a dance competition. As they learn the moves, they learn about each other and eventually become good friends. But with Pat ever-determined to find his own silver lining still — if he’s patient enough and can show his wife that he is learning how to do something for the benefit of someone else and not himself — will Pat and Tiffany ever be together as couple? They seem cut out for one another, but does the timing ever quite work out?

With Pat’s parents at home driving up his stress levels — his dad, a bookie with OCD and a serious concern over his son spending time doing things that are healthy instead of self-destructive, is certainly  no help — Pat’s got his work cut out for him in his own playbook. In order to make his life work, he may have to throw out a few plays and just go with his improvisational skills. And the more Pat does, he begins to realize that Tiffany is the O to his X.

A great feat of Silver Linings Playbook is that it becomes sentimental and sweet, but O. Russell never sells those values to us. Instead, they’re earned and a kind of anxious excitement develops as the film builds. The cause: we get so invested in learning the ins and outs of how Pat thinks, how he reacts to changes, how he interacts with others. The effect: when something — FINALLY something — is going right for Pat (and Tiffany), we really do care. Damaged as these protagonists are, they’re of course deserving of the same kind of attention that others get who don’t suffer from a mental condition.

And further grounding this film in reality (and in good standing with me) is that by the end of the film you still realize these people have work to do on themselves. Work that may never end, as the case often is with mental disorders. At least now they have each other to share these experiences with.


4-0Recommendation: A great date movie, especially in the sense that it is one of the more original romance-comedy features in recent years. It may not be all fun-and-games all the time, but the reward in the film’s silver linings is well worth your patience and attention. There’s plenty of appeal for anyone who’s ever had to deal with these kinds of issues themselves, as well. A very respectful film to its subject matter, its acting department, and above all, its audience. O. Russell, well played sir. Well played.

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

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Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World


Release: Friday, June 22, 2012


Hey, it only seems appropriate, right? Some of us may be sitting and counting down the days to discovering just how accurate that Mayan calendar is, but some others are going to be just content enough to sit and write reviews of movies dealing with the end.

Another tale of ‘two halves,’ first-time director Lorene Scafaria‘s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is not a letdown, even if you let it bring you down. The first half — hilarious, strangely uplifting, chaotic; the second half — well, there’s just not so much fun to be had. But the second half is where we get the passionate acting and the love. We get the film’s saving grace and the final words ever to be uttered by lovers to one another. And boy, is it tear-jerking.

What makes this film is the particularly romantic chemistry between Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, who play apartment neighbors Dodge and Penny, respectively. Carell is becoming good at this, I tell you. He’s been in romance/dramas before (Dan In Real Life; Little Miss Sunshine) but this time he’s really downplaying the part of the nice guy getting left behind. What a time to be left alone, too, by the way. And Knightley is just as sweet and imperfect as ever as Penny, the one with no true ambitions anymore (since the world is going to end in less than three weeks) but with optimism for a bright future in abundance. Call her weird. Call her crazy. I call her the bright summer sun in a world soon doomed to darkness.

The grim news of a 70-mile-wide asteroid heading straight for Earth streams dismally over the radio in Dodge’s car as he and his wife listen in, panicked by the realization that life as everyone knows it is truly about to end. Naturally, that’s when the wife bails on him. (How cute it is once again for Steve to get his wife in real life, Nancy Carell, to play the part of yet another fleeting lover here. In case that’s vague, she played Carol Stills in The Office, Michael Scott’s real estate agent/concubine.) Dodge is left in a haze of finding no real purpose to his last few days on earth, while seemingly everyone else is living it up, forming drunken orgies in wealthy suburban neighborhoods, doing blow and hooking up with just about anyone in sight. But Dodge just doesn’t feel the same way about his life coming to an end, and that’s when he bumps into his neighbor, and when his life changes for………oh, the next 20 days. When she happens upon his windowsill one evening looking inconsolable, Dodge invites her in to calm down and talk things through. They get to know each other and are fast friends.

Later, in the midst of a riot that breaks out in town, Dodge has finally summoned the courage to rescue his newfound friend from her apartment as he fears they will be killed there if they stay. After tripping over a minor hazard, that is, Penny’s former loser-boyfriend (Adam Brody), they escape and set off on their journeys to find one last chance to say goodbye to and enjoy the end of the world with those who matter most. For Dodge, that’s his high school sweetheart, Olivia. For Penny, that’s a bigger challenge. Being from England, and with flights grounded permanently now, she hopes to get back to her family in time. But the two wind up more entangled than either of them had planned to be.

As the camaraderie between odd-man and odd-woman continues to grow, they make pitstops at certain places so that Penny can be sure that Dodge is definitely going to be able to meet up with his “true lover.” These places range from Penny’s ex-boyfriend Speck (an intimidating fella who’s already got his own survival plan fleshed out in a subterranean bomb shelter); to a random hitchhiking scenario in which their driver ends up killed in what appeared to be an arranged hit man murder-suicide (didn’t see that one coming); to Dodge’s estranged father’s house. While the romance begins to take shape, the film’s tone adjusts from one of comic relief from the brutal realities of armageddon, to one of deep personal sorrow, remorse and nostalgia. At times it swings to the point of making the viewer feel a little bipolar. The film never knows if it wants to be more serious or more funny. It takes equal doses of both, but the humor and seriousness switch off much too frequently.

Although at times it winds up a little confused in the tone, that carries as much weight as someone being “too angry” or “too sad” or “too anything” when news like this hits. How exactly does one or should one react to the end of the world? Who knows? The back-and-forth between comedy and drama almost suits that internal, personal chaos. Worst of all, the ending has been wholly misunderstood by critics nationwide. Written off as a disappointing third act, the last moments with Dodge and Penny are precious. Intensely personal and drawing from emotions all over the map, Scafaria allows her debut film to go out with a bang, so that even when you hear the sound of the asteroid’s impact guaranteeing our species extinction, you somehow feel okay with it.


3-0Recommendation: A great rental. Out of all the films that portray a doomsday scenario on the largest scale, this is the one that I’ve found that really grounds it in reality. If you’re seeking a film that will save you from the end of the world, look no further. Plenty of laughs, fun and romantic appeal. Plus a dog which is named Sorry. How perfect.

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

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The Tall Man


Release: Friday, August 31, 2012 (limited)


As per request, I got a hold of this little-known production from director Pascal Laugier. I’m so glad I did too, because I need to come to The Tall Man‘s rescue. It’s no sleeper hit, but it’s certainly not deserving of the critical backlash it received when it came out.

In a dark and lonely town buried somewhere in Washington state, children are being abducted — in broad daylight; in the cloak of night, never to be seen again. As if that’s not horrific enough, there’s not going to be much consolation for the families of the young victims, nor sufficient authority to help neutralize the threat. The local police moves with the speed of molasses, at best. After the town’s economy tanked following the closure of an important coal mine, most people seemed to have long abandoned hope in the growth and development of anything whatsoever. That also includes the pursuit of happiness.

The townspeople collectively understand these kidnappings to be the work of an unknown, rarely-seen ‘tall man’ in a dark hooded outfit. Every day they worry when their child will be the next to disappear off the streets. And wherever they go to afterwards is a thought best processed by the few policemen the town has.

When the camera finally pulls in close enough to start identifying individuals, we meet Jessica Biel‘s Julia Denning, the town’s nurse. In the opening scenes she is helping to deliver a child in a cruddy makeshift hospital ‘room,’ something that looks more like a classroom. Then she’s off her shift and heading over for a coffee at the shamble of a diner before heading home, where she goes about her business ignoring all the chatter about the kidnappings. That must get old, in a town of that size. Or maybe it gets old for reasons we’re not expecting.

That night she’s at home having just put her son David to bed and she and her sister are taking some shots before heading to bed themselves. Rather predictably, it’s where all the action begins to develop. Julia is awoken by some strange noises and comes downstairs to find her sister beaten up pretty badly and tied up in the kitchen, and her son missing. In a quick glimpse, Julia sees the man with her child and pursues the two of them on foot, eventually tracking down a large decrepit truck swerving on a lonely road. Her pursuit winds up in her being taken captive as well by this shadowy figure, but again she manages to throw a wrench into his escape plan, somehow upending the truck and getting all three pretty banged up in the process. Despite her injuries, though, Julia is still on the hunt after the man picks up David and heads to the forest. Good luck with that one, girl.

This chase scene turns out to be the catalyst for all other strange occurrences hence forth.

Now, I’m not one who’s particularly big on the horror genre. I am not quite sure if it’s simply the swiss-cheese plots they always entail — plots with absolutely ridiculous twists or loopholes — or if it’s the mood I’m almost always sure to find myself in afterwards (a crappy one). Horror films, to their credit, have a very limited space in which to operate. Becoming sentimental at any point usually is a wrong turn. Going heavy-handed on one’s own theologies (like the directors of Saw are famous for), leaves one in their seat, alienated by the vast sea of suffering and lack of humanity. This film is neither too sappy (but has its moments of caring), nor too gruesome (while still disturbing any parent, single or otherwise). The result is an interesting blend of drama and horror. It’s not full-on brutal in its treatment of human beings, but the suffering and the mistreatment are implied, which dresses Biel’s character’s conundrum in a veil of tragedy.

As her hunt for her child crumbles into her rescue by Lieutenant Dodd (played by a dismal-looking Stephen McHattie), we get a turn that I was really not expecting at all. With Julia in a safekeep (for now) at the diner, the rest of the diners, including several police, start talking frantically about whom had just been taken in. Suddenly, everyone’s on to her and Julia finds herself again on the loose. On the hunt. On her own.

Only now, the perspective has changed. As we go deeper and deeper into Julia’s desperate search, we come to understand that appearances are not all that they seem. After being tied up and broken down (again) by — TAA-DAAAHH!! — the tall man in his lair (which turns out to be some kind of useless, nondescript facility), Julia comes face to face with the ‘abductor,’ at long last. Now this could have turned out to be an insanely cliché turn, but given the suspense up until this point, what’s revealed is actually compelling.

Throughout the film, we’re given a messenger of sorts; a brooding, albeit brief, narration on the current state of the town, on the situation involving the abducted kids, and a reflection on the quality of life these children had under their biological mothers. This information comes via a very quiet girl, Jenny (Jodelle Ferland), who doesn’t utter a syllable. Her narration helps to edge the film along, though. In a town like this one, the quality of living was something near deplorable. And that was the whole point. There’s a great tragedy of life that stipulates every single one of us will be born into inequality, whether that be race, gender, physicality or otherwise. The Tall Man is a dramatic meditation on that thought, and I’ll bet you more than anything that this quality will be quickly overlooked due to its less-than-stellar acting. It shouldn’t be.

3-0Recommendation: Though not always the most riveting of movies, The Tall Man has some very unexpected turns and boasts some great acting from Jessica Biel, whom I wouldn’t have necessarily associated with this genre beforehand. Well, I guess she was in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Blade: Trinity, but this film has a different feel altogether.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

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Killing Them Softly


Release: Friday, November 30, 2012


Brad Pitt does not smile once in this movie.

And for that matter, the sun does not come out to shine in Killing Them Softly, either. Bring it on — the rain, the darkness, the bloodsplattering, and the poetic justice behind it all. Some won’t be as willing as I am to stand behind this film and support the violence that it portrays, and while that is understandable, it is sort of a problem for this film because there is a steady breeze of genius that drifts in and out of every major scene. The moments where there’s action, though, are likely to turn people’s stomachs if they’re not prepared.

With that in mind, I’d like to review Aussie director Andrew Dominik‘s adaptation of famed crime writer George V. Higgins‘ 1974 novel, Cogan’s Trade.

It was mostly a success, but there have been more than a fair share of the criminal-as-protagonist type storylines where we really don’t have any fresh air from other points of view, i.e. the “innocent person’s” perspective. Instead we have the viewpoint of thug going after other equally unlikeable guys. Martin Scorsese has done a few like that (great ones); Tarantino is known for them (he’s especially associated since all the blood and gore that go into his films seem to be done with a labor of love), and a host of other films across multiple directors share at least a few elements in common. They’re tough. They’re gritty. Mean-spirited. Difficult to justify at times. And those are but a few of the main trademarks of the criminal/gangster plot synopsis.

If we’re talking Softly, there’s not a whole lot of laughter — the pure and healthy-happy sort — in the realm of a bankrupted criminal world, during a time when the nation as a whole was in financial straits. Set in 2008 right before the economic collapse and during a fierce presidential race, the story is not a happy one. The script is very vulgar and at times pretty disturbing and disgusting; at least, when put into context with who’s saying what.

Two greedy thieves — Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) and Frankie (Scoot McNairy) — are set up by a mobster fronting as a laundromat manager (Vincent Curatola) to rob a mob-protected card game. The game is being hosted by Markie Trattman (another stalwart performance by Ray Liotta), a kind-faced slouch who’s already let a robbery happen at one of his games before. When Russell and Frankie somehow pull the stunt off successfully, Trattman finds himself in hot water with the rest of his “friends,” who at the same time have been bankrupted.

Cue Brad Pitt’s murdering hit man, Jackie Cogan. Jackie is called in to set things straight within the local organization, and time and again reiterates that it’s not what he really likes doing — killing people — but if it’s gotta be done, he’ll do it from a distance. Softly, and with an automatic shotgun. Hired out by an inconspicuous agent played by Richard Jenkins, Cogan’s mission is to track down the money and the low-level thieves responsible. Yes, make no mistake. People do pay dearly for their actions.

The beating scene and when Trattman finally is tracked down and killed in a slow-motion drive-by, are some of the most brutal and difficult to watch scenes I’ve come across since sitting through American History X. Indeed, I was not quite convinced all those times Jackie lamented the whole “having to kill people” part of his job, saying that that aspect is a result of push coming to shove. He doesn’t like getting all touchy-feely. But then when it came to doing it, there was relentless passion in the act. It was as though Tarantino had stolen the director’s chair. The cutting room floor would be a mess, in no time, I’m sure.

Bloody as they are, the scenes don’t reach the point of being gratuitously violent. Restraining much of the activities and unpleasantries that are part of the fabric of criminal life but for a few moments meant the plot would need to rely on substantial dialogue and other audio, such as the political commentary. That’s impressive. And must have been difficult to do.

Unfortunately, Dominik ended up delivering the political feed a bit too heavy handed, since there were more than a few moments when all other dialogue and audio had dropped out, leaving an isolated soundtrack of Obama or then-President Bush dangling in space. Statements on the health of the national economy penetrated like stray bullets when no one was talking in a scene. And the movie began on one as well; a message from Barack.

At times the political overtones became so loud and drove more of the issues down our throat that it seemed the entire criminal storyline had taken a backseat. When there was no one talking in a given scene, the speeches and campaigning between Obama and McCain, of Bush on the health of the national economy, became the pathos of the film. This is while Jackie Cogan just sat around looking pissed about what he gets paid.

There’s no doubt, though, that Pitt ensures the attention is never taken off him when he’s on screen. Jackie Cogan is both enigmatic and terrifying. The acting in general is very, very solid and combines to form a dark, strangely funny and colorful conversation. We may not enjoy listening to everything these lowlives have to say, but we get a very good portrait of that lifestyle. And we want to stay well clear of that neighborhood, too.


3-5Recommendation: If you’ve seen Dominik’s last release, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, you’ll be well-acclimated to the melodrama and violent undercurrents. I wasn’t, so I was taken by surprise. A thoroughly enjoyable film for 50 minutes or so, then turns into a lecture.

Rated: R

Running Time: 97 mins.

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Naughty Vs. Nice in Hollywood


Why, when I step outside of my apartment in the earlygoing of December, does it still feel like late September? It’s unreasonably comfortable outside! And I’m shirtless…and in Tennessee.

I suppose there’s my answer.

I could go pantless too but that’d be a little too greedy. Or just a little too inappropriate. Wait…would it be? Well, as tempting as it may be, I’ll stick to walking around without a shirt while creating this post for the upcoming winter season.

Regardless of what I am and am not wearing, the real discussion on the table here today boys and girls, involves some of the best and worst performances for 2012. Who would end up on Santa’s ‘naughty’ list and who would find themselves on the ‘nice’ one? That is to say, which ones out there did the best job pursuing their role and made it as convincing as possible, no matter if the movie was good or just so-so….and who pretty much turned in a lump of coal for their performance this time around?

Before I dive into it, I want to say a few things about my tactics. I do realize it’s a little unfair to put the blame on a single actor/actress for a product that turned out poorly….most of the time, it comes down to directing, writing, editing, or a myriad of other things that really go on before the acting ever starts happening. Success or failure, in most things, hardly ever comes down to a single person. However, in the grand scheme of Hollywood and the products it churns out daily, the acting, it turns out, is one of those things that are more noticeable than others. It is the actor’s responsibility to sell a script to an audience. Sometimes a great actor can take a dull, useless script and have fun with it and somehow turn it into something of interest to the rest of us. Conversely, a not so great actor may not be able to do anything with gold in his or her hands.

Here’s how some of them worked it out this year. I’ve come up with the 6 top performances of 2012 and the bottom 6. And yes, this is a very relative post because it shall include only those who I have seen this year. There are definitely many, many more performances that could be nominated for the N-o-N List. But here’s what I got (from best to worst).


  1. Daniel Day-Lewis, as the U.S.’s 16th President in Lincoln. If this man doesn’t win the Best Actor Oscar this year, then the world really is about to come to an end. He put on the performance of a lifetime and then some as Abraham Lincoln. He had the looks, he had the figure, he had the mannerisms. He carried with him all the charisma I could imagine the mystical Abe Lincoln having back in the 1800s. In a nutshell, as far as method acting goes, Day-Lewis is the cream of the crop.
  2. Tom Hardy, as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Yeah. I know that’s predictable. More predictable than when Santa’s supposed to come and clog up your chimney, but there’s no suppressing the truth here. One of the more refreshingly brilliant villains in recent years, Bane turned out to be a towering menace with a deep-booming voice, cold eyes and a terrifyingly masterful plan to rid Gotham for good. While the Heath Ledger Joker was undeniably the best of the series, that was four years ago and this is now. 
  3. Anne Hathaway, as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. I could not create this list without mentioning this incredibly playful, mischievous role. She was absolutely a treat to watch skulk around the dark streets of Gotham while everything else was going on. I argue she was the best actress to ever wear Salina Kyle’s outfits. She even said she cried when she was asked about how she felt leaving the role behind…now that’s dedication. It’s always been a big part of who she is as a top actress. And it truly showed here.
  4. Jack Black, as Bernie Tiede in Bernie. A refreshingly warm, serious role for Mr. Black. There have been moments he’s had more goofy roles than others that have fit into sillier or more serious scripts, but more often than not he’s your go-to-guy if you’re in the mood for watching any establishment become completely made a mockery of (School of Rock; Nacho Libre-type films). Not this time. He’s dead serious, and with a cute little mustache. Sometimes it’s nice when the direction of the wind changes from being right in your face to blowing gently behind your back.
  5. Denzel Washington, as Captain Whip Whitaker in Flight. I can’t say I’ve always been a huge fan of Mr. Washington. Of course, I’m aware of the man’s talent; he’s not a bad actor by any means. But here is his maturing role that got me interested in him 100%. While this was by no means a film that needed ‘saving,’ Denzel Washington does carry a lot of the strengths of this film. His lip quivers; his poker face (a.k.a his “Don’t bullshit me” face); his portrayal of an alcoholic in the throes of being denied his precious alcohol, it all adds up to one convincingly desperate performance.
  6. Guy Pearce, as Special Agent Charlie Rakes in Lawless. This guy was not exactly your friendly neighborhood Spider-man, and boy-oh-boy did Pearce make a good effort to be just the opposite. This out-of-town agent (specifically from Chicago) made it his business to hassle the Bondurant brothers while they were bootlegging moonshine in Prohibition-era America. As the film was based on factual events, I still have trouble believing the Bondurants were really up against a person as inhuman as this man. Possessing waxed eyebrows and slicked-back hair, a terrible temper and a severe disdain for the South, Rakes posed as nothing but a menace every time he stepped on screen. He was something to be reckoned with, even despite not having a cape. His title said he was a Special Agent, but really what he was was a monstrous bully.


  1. Jay Chandrasekhar, as Ron Jon in The Babymakers. I place the actor/director in the top of the pile because he had one of the worst bit parts in one of the worst films I’ve experienced this year. If the movie you’re responsible for (yes, he directed it) isn’t exactly going well to begin with, that’s one thing. But then don’t make the mistake of hampering your own progress by making a fool of yourself in front of the camera as well! #pwned 
  2. Thomas Mann, as Thomas in Project X. While this guy was terrible in a terrible movie, he really was no different than the rest. He just has the unfortunate distinction of being the first on the list of top-billed cast — and he also is one of the only with a picture beside his name. I guess most of the others who took part in this boozefest are still having problems finding work and a good pic of themselves. Understandable. Thomas is one of three extremely detestable soon-to-be high school graduates who has a major hand in destroying his parents home during an out-of-control graduation party. He’s irresponsible (glorified to a Hollywood level), not that attractive, and though he doesn’t share quite as passionately in the misogynistic banter as his friends, he’s still a crap character.
  3. Will Forte, as Sergeant Bressman in The Watch. Okay, this movie was just a very, very poor production. It had all the hallmarks of a so-called “classic” buddy-buddy action with a potentially huge gag reel but was more like just gag-making. This guy was the worst of the lot: an amalgam of all the most annoying cop cliches ever created. Poor guy. Here may be a case of a decent actor getting handed the short stick on creativity or whatever, but seriously. Bressman is one thorn that gets stuck in your side and burrows deeply. I picked mine out in a shower the next day.
  4. Ken Marino, as Rick in Wanderlust. Playing the older brother of Paul Rudd’s George Gergenblatt was easy enough for this former star of a pretty funny show called Party Down. If you were to drop ‘party’ from the Starz television show title, what you’re left with is descriptive of how well liked he is as this movie goes on…it just goes down, down, down. Wayyyy down. The official description of Rick in the movie’s premise says he’s “an awful brother.” What more do you need to know?
  5. Mila Kunis, as Lori Collins in Ted. Big disappointment here. I’ve liked Mila Kunis’ contributions to the inequitably sporadic films she’s been in. She’s always been the nice, somewhat straight-edged girl that provides good moral backbones for plots that usually entail wayward boyfriends. In Ted, though, she just stands back and lets John (Mark Wahlberg) do whatever he wants with his stuffed animal/best friend. Fortunately, that doesn’t come to sex, though, in case you were wondering. Finally, push comes to a ridiculously overdue shove and she delivers the predictable ultimatum: “either the stuffed animal leaves, or I do.” Even when she does that there’s really no humility behind it. She’s as pushover-ish as pushover gets. Not to mention, our amazement that she would even get back with someone as foolish as John Bennett is equal to, if not greater than, Lori’s frustration come time to wrap up the film. Meh….
  6. Ellen Page, as Monica in To Rome With Love. She was not so much a bad actress, as she was poorly cast. She’s certainly shown her cards in Inception and Juno. It was irritating seeing how many different things one girl can be in a movie. She was a show-off, and that’s how she was written. I had no doubt in my mind this would be one of Page’s worst roles ever. She had moments where she said some funny things but overall it was not a successful outing for her since it’s tough to believe she’s as rebellious as she’s touting herself to be in Woody Allen’s film. It gets to be a little obnoxious, actually. She was certainly not the worst of the worst this year, but I can just imagine the pay cut from her role as Ariadne in Inception to this one.

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The Babymakers


Release: Friday, August 3, 2012


I just got done having my eyeballs tortured after watching what might very well be the least-consequential movie of all time. Certainly of my time. Although vulgar to the max, it’s pretty lean on the funny jokes, and the acting is horrible. Just, horrible.

The promise of an elegant performance from Olivia Munn had me interested first, I’ll admit that right away. Not really delivered on. The next-best-thing, the prospect of an interesting plot. ‘Cool. Alright, I’ll bite.’ Not delivered on. Will I buy it? Well, I hope that’s a promise I don’t deliver on.

What struggled the most in this picture was character development. Well, the characters didn’t even really get created. Possibly not even talked about. Not with any evidence in what was caught on film and then considered final cut anyway. Not one lead role really stands out from one another, and on top of that, not many characters are worthy of being liked. Maybe Audrey (Olivia Munn). She wants a child, yet her husband “isn’t man enough to give it to her.” That’s a crap card to have been dealt and as crappy as it is she remains a pretty optimistic, faithful wife. All the other males in the film are pretty scumbaggy but make for some pathetic “I feel for you” kind of  guffaws. Unlikeable characters or no character appeal at all makes it difficult to engage in a story that’s as outlandish as this. The bare-bones plot winds up with Tommy (Paul Schneider) caught in a tough spot between the police — having just robbed a sperm bank — and getting his wife pregnant with a saved and still-frozen sample of his own semen from five years ago. Armed with only the tube, he makes a getaway and the two have a happy ending. Yayyy!!! Just don’t worry about how contrived and utterly gross it was in getting to that part.

If you can simply get over the sheer stupidity of the whole thing, there’s actually a few moments that are really damn funny in The Babymakers. But that’s one heck of a challenge.

“Hand over the jizz and get down on the ground now!”


That’s probably the best line in the film. My favorite, anyway. From there there are really just increments of a mix of stupidity, vulgarity and redundancy. And I am not really ever one to take offense to some of the cruder things that people can do or say, but when it’s the overriding theme here, it gets old really quickly. And more to the point, the jokes are heavy on the sex theme, which can get’cha every now and then but not at this level.

It’s definitely tasteless. Funny, at times…okay, yeah, maybe. With the right headphones. But it’s not enough to base a good movie on apparently.

Maybe director Jay Chandrasekhar just didn’t or wouldn’t do it well enough.

We begin with a couple who are longing to have a child, but seem to be having trouble and that center of attention ends up falling more on our anti-man-hero husband Tommy. When he and his disproportionately attractive wife try all sorts of things to have a natural pregnancy, and it doesn’t work, he still insists he doesn’t have an issue. But to be sure, he and his wife visit a doctor who informs him he does not possess ‘healthy’ sperm. In fact, he’s told his sperm are confused. Talk about personal. But Tommy continues to refuse to believe he is incapable of doing the deed with his wife and it’s a belief that begins to interfere with the marriage. So he turns to the questionable aid of his bonehead friends, Darrell, Wade and Zig-Zag. They join forces with a semi-sketchy former Indian mafia thug named Ron Jon (played by none other than our trusty director Jay). It’s basically this twit’s job to inform Tommy and the guys that Tommy is fucked for having a family if he can’t retrieve his own sperm sample — more frequently referred to throughout the film as jizz. So they organize a convoluted plan to break into the donation facility and get it back.


Predictably the three idiots succeed in screwing up most stages in their harebrained plot — a plot which actually gave them ample room to do just that to begin with. After some terrible slapstick scenes which I’m sure were meant to be hilarious mishaps, Tommy winds up with his only sperm sample left and they leave the place in a much worse condition than how they found it. (Yes, that does imply sperm were harmed during the making of this film.) After watching all this go down and you find yourself struggling to see any logic in this film whatsoever, you’re nearing the end. Well, I suppose if your threshold for raunch is really low that could be near the beginning. . . .After serving several months as a community service worker, Tommy’s free of the awkward looting charges, spared jail time and blessed with a child. And not a Chinese one either, as his wife wanted at first. But they do, yes indeed they do have a child.

Harder to believe than many other silly things in this impotent little romp is the difficulty that this man had in impregnating his wife. I mean. . .she’s beautiful. I’m sure there are more people than just Tommy’s on-screen wife who were wanting to know just what the major malfunction was. If the writing didn’t stoop to grade-level thinking, his major malfunction might have been explained better. Then, maybe, we would have felt sorry for him. But. . . come on. Neither actor — even if Munn and Schneder are B-list — can do much with this writing. It was flat, boring and lifeless. Cliched to all kinds of degrees and horribly one-dimensional. The occasional funny joke was thrown into the mix for good measure, but was more of a sprinkling into their pot of bubbling nonsense.

Wait, nevermind. His incompetence actually was explained. Also inconsequential, it was predictable and pretty lame. Seemed Tommy had a case of getting his tackle hung up around the edges too easily. Every corner or threatening object he could find he would get hit right there at the split of the pant leg. If these incidences weren’t brought back via cheesy flashbacks or happened in real time in just the most unlikely of ways, the joke might have been funny. Make it an actual story about why this guy has a problem with smacking his junk; give it some life and actuality. Some heart. Heck, any sort of meaning whatsoever would have been good. Instead they bypass the heart and go for an easy kick to the groin. What a shame.


1-5Recommendation: Not really a stand-out comedy. Fun for awhile and then it just gets old and stupid. Olivia Munn is a nice addition, but is, just like Schneider, stuck with a worse situation than being infertile: being first-billed names.

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins.

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