Lost in London (Live)

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Release: Thursday, January 19, 2017 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Woody Harrelson

Directed by: Woody Harrelson

Has Woody Harrelson just reinvented the wheel? Or just lost his mind? One thing is for certain: he has taken risk and vulnerability to an entirely new level with his decision to direct, write, and star in the first-ever full-length feature film to be live-streamed into select American cinemas (approximately 500 nationwide, with one international location in London).

The unlikelihood of this film happening hits you over and again as you watch rehearsed chaos unfold in real time. Never mind that the shoot had to be adjusted to accommodate a police investigation into the discovery of an undetonated World War II bomb found at the bottom of the Thames.* Or that a 100-minute-long, single shot necessitated every cast and crew member to be on form like they had never been before. One stumble, one forgotten line, one unforeseen development (I guess I mean besides the unearthing/unwatering of an archaic explosive device) would spell disaster.

Lost in London is a dramatization of a little run-in the actor had while visiting the city back at the turn of the century. Harrelson was on a trip to take his family to the set of the Harry Potter films. This was of course before he experienced a career resurgence that now finds the former Cheers star taking part in iconic blockbusters like Star Wars and the rebooted Planet of the Apes sequel. It details, apparently, “the worst night of [his] life” when he had an altercation with a cab driver and then the coppers after becoming belligerent and destructive. He spent a night in jail. As repentance, he offered to take his jailor and his son to the set as well (or at least he does in the film).

That what you are witnessing is taking place at that very moment elevates the experience. Perhaps that’s something that only holds intrigue for the millennial, and the gimmickry tends to bring attention to itself when parts of the film slow to a crawl as it’s clear the filmmakers are trying to just make it through the shoot without any foul-ups. In his holding cell, the actor is visited in his sleep by the “Dalai Lama of Texas” himself, Willie Nelson. He’s a welcomed presence but he comes into a part of the film where the story seems to be running out of gas. Even still, there’s a surprising amount of narrative cohesion and laughter to be had in this self-deprecatory examination of how Hollywood celebs are viewed in other countries. Owen Wilson features prominently as well, playing up the personal relationship he has shared with Harrelson for over two decades. Wes Anderson is frequently cited (natch).

Lost in London is absolutely a vanity project but it works on so many levels it would spoil the fun to question why the popular Hollywood A-lister felt the need to present himself in this way and to put himself under such incredible stress for the sake of reinvention. This is more than a gimmick; this is a potential gateway to the future. And to think so many of your fellow thespians doubted you, Woodrow. Actors know that taking risks is vital for personal and professional growth. It’s time now for you to sit back, relax, and reap the rewards. You’ve created something that’s not only unique but damn well entertaining.

* My screening experienced a 15-minute “delay,” which meant we had actually missed something close to 15 minutes of the film. I would like to think the snag had something to do with this incredible development but in all likelihood it was probably the result of AMC employees not doing their job. We will never know!

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3-5Recommendation: Fans of Woody Harrelson are in for a treat. Since the film was a one-time live-event hosted by Fathom Events I’m unsure how to point those fans who didn’t get the opportunity to check it out when it debuted in the right direction, but I’m sure someone has bootlegged the thing and put it on YouTube. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 100 mins.

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Masterminds

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Release: Friday, September 30, 2016 

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Bowman; Hubbel Palmer; Emily Spivey

Directed by: Jared Hess

Masterminds didn’t need to be masterfully made to be effective, but a little discipline could have gone a long way.

Directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite; Nacho Libre), the film is a comedic dramatization of the October 1997 Loomis Fargo bank robbery that took place in Charlotte, North Carolina. The story made national headlines when an employee made off with $17.3 million from the bank’s vault, making it at the time the second-largest cash heist in American history, second only to a Jacksonville, Florida incident seven months prior in which the same bank lost $18.8 million to the driver of an armored vehicle transporting the cash. Not a great year for Loomis Fargo, admittedly.

The details of the heist seem ripe for the tabloids, or even a solid comedic outing. Hess adopts the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction angle by going balls-out on the zaniness and slapstick elements, employing star Zach Galifianakis‘ trademark gooberisms to often irritating effect. Masterminds is a film stuck on one setting and it never demonstrates aspirations to become something more . . . not even important, but watchable. A collaborative screenplay is only ever interested in puerile jokes, making fun of “simple Southern folk” and accommodating Galifianakis and his weirdness.

David Scott Ghantt (Galifianakis) is the focus of this southern-fried farce. He’s a loyal employee of his local bank although quite the simpleton. He has a crush on a girl he works with, a Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) who suddenly quits her job because it sucks, basically. She falls in with a rough crowd and cozies up to the bad news Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), who has this idea to take that branch for all it’s worth. Good thing Kelly happens to know someone on the inside that she can manipulate/seduce into pulling it all off.

Masterminds is aggressively unfunny. Having absolutely no faith that the sheer absurdity of the actual circumstances will do much of the work for them, the filmmakers overcompensate, aiming for the lowest common denominator as loud farts, sweaty redneck culture and Wiig’s cleavage become major talking points. Galifianakis tries his best to make us empathize with David but he can’t. And he doesn’t get much help from the rest of the ensemble, as Wiig looks bored, Owen Wilson is still just Owen Wilson, and Jason Sudeikis and Kate McKinnon lay two distinctly rotten eggs — the former playing the world’s worst hitman and the latter David’s psychotic country bumpkin fiancée. (If you somehow make it through the film’s opening 10 minutes or so, you might as well stay. McKinnon features prominently here and she’s the worst part of the film.)

You’d think with Wilson’s casting there’d be an element of Bottle Rocket to proceedings in this heist film, but sadly that film with made-up characters feels more authentic than this one based upon real individuals. What we have here are caricatures who shout dumb things, make weird noises and enthusiastically check off items from a master list presumably titled ‘Things Everyone Who Has Never Lived There Hates About the South.’ The movie doesn’t mean to offend but it does when the whole thing is just so inept.

Recommendation: Offensively low joke-to-laugh ratios can be found in Masterminds, an ill-advisedly goofy recreation of a bizarre real-world bank heist. If you have love for any of the actors in this movie, I have to say you should try and keep that love going by outright skipping this turkey. A deep-fried, southern turkey covered in about as many stereotypes as you can think of. Zach Galifianakis is only as good as the material he works with, so here I have to say he’s actually pretty awful.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 94 mins.

Quoted: “Katie Candy Cane . . . is she a stripper?”

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No Escape

Release: Wednesday, August 26, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: John Erick Dowdle; Drew Dowdle

Directed by: John Erick Dowdle

No Escape shouldn’t work as well as it does and yet, strong performances from an unlikely cast make for a taut thriller that plays to the tune of Taken, becoming an often absurd yet emotionally resonant tale of survival.

Owen Wilson finds inspiration in drama once again as family man Jack Dwyer whose recent job change has moved him, his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (nine-year-old actress Claire Geare) to a nondescript Southeast Asian country. Feeling immediately displaced the family bumps into a friendly man named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan, in the ideal post-James Bond cameo) who helps arrange some transportation for them at the airport.

Jack has joined Cardiff, a conglomerate that distributes clean water to third-world nations. He reassures his older daughter that this job will be more stable since this company is much bigger than his old one. The one thing he doesn’t mention is that all they need now is to overcome some culture shock. And then come to terms with the fact that his very presence is about to put all their lives at risk when the city erupts suddenly in a violent and bloody revolt. It quickly becomes clear how unwelcome foreigners like Jack are in this place, as locals set about on a ruthless murdering spree that ends up accounting for three-quarters of the total runtime. Opening lucidly, the dialogue-lite narrative allows precious little time for Wilson and Bell to settle into these decidedly restrained performances as heads of household. But it’s just enough.

No Escape certainly isn’t complicated. This is a contemporary survival film, demanding the bare minimum from viewers in terms of intellectual engagement. In fact it is so plot-less — we watch as a desperate family clings to life bouncing from point A to point B — drama develops emotionally rather than logically, à la Taken. Simply ignore all the (good) changes of fortune this family manages to experience throughout this harrowing adventure. If you are able to mentally block out the fact that in this world Asians are either the ones doing the killing or the ones being killed, you are all the better for it. With a little luck those feelings of resentment, annoyance, maybe even anger born out of the injustices we are forced to watch eventually will subside and yield some sense of relief come the film’s predictable albeit preferable conclusion.

Although I suspect leaving the theater completely satisfied isn’t going to be possible for a few. This isn’t the most pleasant film you’ll watch this year. The violence is brutal and virtually unrelenting from the half-hour mark onward and, as it was in another Owen Wilson-led drama set behind enemy lines, the bloodletting-as-demarcation-between-good-guy-and-bad-guy is ill advised. Nor is it a subtle technique; the Dwyers get so good at dodging bullets you might assume they stepped off the plane and into the matrix rather than an Asian country.

Yet this is hardly the film’s undoing. Where No Escape lacks in sensitivity and subtlety it compensates with a strong family dynamic. Wilson plays one of his most affable and natural characters in years, while Bell turns a new leaf as his loving, trusting wife trying her best to deal with such chaotic circumstances. There’s nary a sign of Bell’s comedic background here. The two children are realized honestly and convincingly, and best of all they aren’t saddled with the cliches that make kids in movies annoying and one-dimensional. Indeed, if there’s a reason to care at all about the film’s politics, it’s that this charming Western family doesn’t deserve to be any sort of target.

The Dowdles — John directed while his brother Drew wrote the story — don’t have the most original thriller in their pockets but their product isn’t false advertising. This is pretty thrilling stuff, even if the sociopolitical commentary is sloppy, and any attempts to immerse us in the culture are half-hearted at best. (Ironically the last thing we want is to be further immersed in this place once those first shots have been fired.) Brosnan bears worth mentioning as well, offering some much-needed grit as an apparent agent of the night, popping in ever so conveniently when the Dwyers seem to have met their fates. Hammond isn’t a well-established character but he’s also too likable to dismiss. Plus, you know, he’s got those skills that come in really handy. And a British accent that gives No Escape the facade of ‘international thriller’ it longs for.

From a strictly entertainment standpoint, the brothers Dowdle extract a consistently engaging journey out of chaos and hostility. The effort reminds us through solid performances and often confronting and pervasive violence, that there are few motivations stronger than a person’s will to survive.

Recommendation: Unquestionably flawed movie delivers the goods in the form of hard-hitting action sequences that go beyond mere visual panache. No Escape is trying to say something with its bloodiness, but unfortunately the script isn’t nearly good enough to warrant much comment on that. If, like me, you’ve been waiting for Wilson to do something different with his talents, then wait no more. His partnership with Brosnan is as entertaining as it seems on paper. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “We’ve got to get ourselves to the American Embassy.”

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TBT: Behind Enemy Lines (2001)

. . . and just when everyone thought this thread was dead uhhhh-gain, it makes a triumphant reappearance. Well, semi-triumphant. I finally watched a war film I had been wanting to see for many a year and as it turned out, well . . . phooey on all that anticipating. It wasn’t really worth it! Oh well. It’s still a decent romp. You could do a lot worse as far as cheap-looking war movies are concerned, things that fail to succeed to even entertain on some basic level, such as what can only be presumed to be the case for the disastrous direct-to-VHS sequels to 

Today’s food for thought: Behind Enemy Lines.

Being ridiculously jingoistic since: November 30, 2001

[DVD]

Behind Enemy Lines is an awkward blend of entertainment and information. Or maybe misinformation would be a better term. Director John Moore’s fictionalized account of American involvement in the final days of the Bosnian War isn’t so much irresponsible as it is lazy. This is too easy of a film, quickly digestible and dispensable. But at least it was . . . fun?

Owen Wilson played Navy flight officer Lieutenant Chris Burnett, an intelligent but rather undisciplined young man who gets deployed on a holiday mission by Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman). Joining him in what was supposed to be a routine reconnaissance mission is pilot Lieutenant Jeremy Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht). During the flight Burnett suggests they make use of their “shiny new digital camera” — since they’re missing the Christmas dinner onboard the ship they may as well make good use of their time. They end up taking aerial photos of a site that is decidedly outside of their lawful flying route, a demilitarized zone that just so happens to contain a mass grave, an operation being conducted secretly by Bosnian-Serb paramilitary General Miroslav Lokar (Russian actor Vladimir Mashkov). Of course they are spotted and subsequently shot down.

The Americans eject and avoid death by pine tree at Mach 3, though Stackhouse suffers a leg injury and stays behind while Burnett searches for higher ground to radio back to the USS Carl Vinson for help. Unfortunately Serbian forces appear over the horizon and gasp, spoilers! are quick to interrogate and then execute the lone Stackhouse. Burnett goes on the run, but not before he accidentally exposes himself (no, not in the Lenny Kravitz in Sweden kind of way). So ensues an hour and a half of cat-and-mouse across the frozen and rugged mountains of Bosnia-Herzegovina. How long can a sole American Naval officer survive behind enemy lines? If this film’s questionable historical basis (that of U.S. Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady) is anything to go by, apparently it’s six days (or as long as the running time says).

To provide the drama at least some depth, Moore injects his production with the typical political farce. Burnett’s survival hinges upon whether Hackman’s Reigart can convince the dispassionate NATO Commander — who is overseeing the peace talks between American and Serbian forces — that it will be worth his while to rescue this one guy. While the concerns of Admiral Piquet (Portuguese actor Joaquim de Almeida) are valid, there’s very little to justify how long it takes for Admiral Reigart to finally disobey orders by taking matters into his own hands.

Plot holes and predictability notwithstanding, Behind Enemy Lines is, at its best, exemplary of that ‘good-old boys’ huzzah that was clearly gunning for the viewer not as concerned with more accurate, less video-gamey war depictions in the vein of Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the Gates and Black Hawk Down. Though its can-do spirit feels more like faded glory now as the special effects are profoundly poor, chaotic and overly dramatic. Added to which a script that has the typically excellent Gene Hackman stuck between a rock and a hard place delivering, visibly hesitant, corny lines that are intended to motivate Burnett. The blue wash of light from the ship’s command center on Hackman’s face offers some concealment of an actor in discomfort. And as refreshing as it is to see Wilson in a dramatic role — this, mind you, being in retrospect given his upcoming career — he doesn’t fare much better when his final dozen lines devolve into a festival of “goddamnit”‘s.

Behind Enemy Lines has almost innumerable issues, from the technical to the practical. Portrayals of Serbs as the obvious bad guys and Americans as the unquestionable do-gooders make the film ripe for parody. It’s not much of a surprise to learn the filmmakers were unable to hire any Serbian actors for those particular roles. That wasn’t enough to stop Moore from creating a silly, slight but still somewhat enjoyable slice of American action.

Recommendation: Behind Enemy Lines is far from the best war film you’ll see but the cast do a thorough enough job getting into character so believing in the situation isn’t as absurd as it might have been with less experienced actors. That said, the special effects and general clumsiness of the script (particularly the dialogue) leave too much to be desired to warrant anything but a shaky recommendation from me. All that said, this has got to be legions better than anything else that has proceeded it in the so-called “series.” 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 106 mins.

TBTrivia: Director John Moore was nearly killed in the scene where the tank busts through the wall. He was pulled away by a stuntman just in time.

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Inherent Vice

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Release: January 9, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by:  Paul Thomas Anderson

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

The Andersonian school of thought is that one ought to at least work a little for their entertainment. A movie featuring a bunch of booze, bongs and babes doesn’t seem like it would be hard to follow along with, but if you don’t know Anderson then know this: the undertaking is going to be inherently complex.

You know when you are being told that story about someone that knew someone else by way of their sister’s bestie who had a rude neighbor and it was that neighbor’s uncle who was important — and by the time Uncle has factored in to the story your attention is well on its way out the door? A similar phenomenon has been known to occur with this already infamously meandering tale about sex, drugs, a lot of paranoia and a little Private Eye-ing.

I suggest passing on this joint if you are the type to tune out of the Uncle anecdote before we even get to the Neighbor. For there are a whole lot of people to meet, an even greater pile of Hindu Kush to burn through and a sea of narrative drift and perhaps indulgently long takes to overcome before arriving at a conclusion that really doesn’t deliver much in the way of closure.

Joaquin Phoenix is tapped to portray a character in a story everyone thought impossible to adapt to the silver screen. Though the buzz has morphed into something else now: the adaptation is possible but perhaps not without throwing a lot of people, the stoned and the sober alike, into confusion after one too many character introductions. But let’s start from the beginning. Doc Sportello is awoken on his surf-side couch in southern California by the sudden reappearance of his ex, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), who tells him she’s got a new boyfriend.

The new Mr. Wonderful is someone of fair prominence, a shady real estate developer named Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). There is a plot, either perceived or actual — just like a great many other situations at hand here — by Wolfmann’s wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and her extra-somethin’-somethin’ (Jordan Christian-Hearn) to have Mickey institutionalized for his wanting to join a clan of neo-Nazis, despite his being brought up Jewish.

This appears to be mission numero uno. On top of this, however, a smorgasbord of subplots start working their way into the fold, including one involving one of Mickey’s bodyguards, who currently owes a lot of dough to some thug named . . . ah, what’s the use with names . . . the guy is played by Michael Kenneth Williams. When Doc goes to investigate the bodyguard’s whereabouts he stumbles upon not a private home but a brothel; when he’s knocked unconscious there he awakens not to the sight of two beautiful girls fighting over his stash of smokable items but rather a disgruntled right-wing, anti-hippie detective named (this one’s important) Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (an absolutely hilarious Josh Brolin) who demands he tell him who killed the bodyguard. And, who is responsible for the recent disappearance of Wolfmann and Shasta Fay.

Ding-ding-ding. Suddenly the priorities change for Doc. But first, another puff. Given the news of his “ex old lady,” he plunges himself deep into the murky waters of the So-Cal beach scene of the early ’70s, a scene that’s loath to obfuscate the difference between acceptable and unacceptable lifestyles — weed is for losers guys, but not cocaine — and assorted other addictions. Doc is a fish-out-of-water 9 times out of 10 as he’s high 10 times out of those same 10, possessing a kind of nonchalance that manifests more often as befuddlement. And of course Bigfoot, himself a former hippie but now more interested in gaining power and prestige, has a field day taking apart and putting back together the cliché that is Doc Sportello.

Behind the year’s best mutton chops lies a surprisingly perceptive private investigator, and a remorseful ex-boyfriend. Though the complexities of Inherent Vice don’t make it easy to access anything on a very deep level, Doc is easy to love. His life choices probably aren’t acceptable to many but when compared to the filth and squalor surrounding him, a misery that encrusts itself upon these shores like barnacles on a ship hull, his vices feel harmless. As Doc works alongside Bigfoot as a favor to him rather than being converted into an informant as requested, he is aided in the unraveling of this seemingly never-ending yarn by a true friend in Sauncho Smilax (Benecio del Toro), a man posing as a criminal lawyer.

There is no point in being vague: I did not understand or keep up with everything that went on during this incredibly sprawling investigation. I could have honestly benefitted from reading the book but there’s something about being confined in a theater chair, completely engrossed by what you’re watching without really any sense of direction or a clear path to the end. Inherent Vice is mesmeric in its ambition. Poetic in its cinematography; entertaining by virtue of its thematic depravity.

Ultimately and unfortunately, not an experience everyone will get high off of though.

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3-5Recommendation: Fans of Paul Thomas Anderson, we may not have the most coherent film ever but this is quite intentional. Readers of DSB, this is also not the most coherent review ever either. Intentional? I think not. This is a damned hard film to describe and I actually really dig that about it. The fundamentals are there for me: stunning cinematography, solid performances enhanced by an incredibly entertaining wardrobe selection, humor, an interesting plot and a hell of an atmosphere. If any of that appeals, hit this one in theaters while you can.

Rated: R

Running Time: 148 mins.

Quoted: “Doc may not be a ‘Do-Gooder,’ but he’s done good.”

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TBT: Wedding Crashers (2005)

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Throwback Thursday March-es on with the final entry of the month hitting on yet another comic note. Really, comedies are pretty easy to review for this feature since they make up a majority of what I have in my DVD collection. They lay strewn across my floor in front of my T.V. and very often I find myself weaving a path through them as I shuffle throughout my apartment. When nothing seemed to be standing out for this week, a white and red cover grabbed my attention and it was none other than another solid comedy featuring two actors who often find their contributions to comedy maligned, sometimes perhaps excessively so. Though I don’t deny the accusations of the pair becoming a predictable routine at this point, I cannot and will not hate on the chemistry that is quite evident between Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Sure, their usage has been at times misjudged or mishandled. Such is the nature of what they’ve chosen to do this point in their careers; its a very hit and miss approach. And maybe they are more miss than hit, and so be it. Very similarly to a post I did last year, I think I’ll use this space to get on my high horse as I defend why I support a movie like 

Today’s food for thought: Wedding Crashers

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Release: July 15, 2005

[DVD]

If you are going to crash a wedding, you better do it with a Vince Vaughn who is in Swingers-mode and the other guy who looks like he’d be willing to throw back a shot with you even at the most inopportune of times. Yes indeed, if you happen to have the likes of Jeremy Grey (Vaughn) and John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) in your midst you may well get your tickets to the boobs-‘n-booty show punched if you even so much as take a sip of their outrageous Kool Aid. Just don’t drink the other stuff, unless getting roofied is your sort of thing.

You might consider them, particularly Vaughn’s larger-than-life Jeremy, as a pair of frat guys who strategically and perpetually avoided growing up. That’s precisely who both of them were, and that’s precisely the lesson to be learned in Wedding Crashers. One needed only to mention the term ‘wedding season’ to witness them pitching tents in the crotch of their pants. They may have posed as divorce mediators at the film’s open, but off the clock (which is to say for the rest of the duration) they posed as anything but when in the presence of their other ‘clientele,’ single women they picked up at weddings. In their world of hard partying, ‘mazel tov’ may as well have meant ‘Hello’ and ‘get lost’ was translated as ‘I love you.’

David Dobkin followed up Shanghai Nights with this completely reckless and gleeful joyride that pit Vaughn and Wilson alongside one another as they assumed their most infectious roles to date. Other terms that might apply: sleazy; dishonest; desperate. Sure, those are all good, although they are largely dismissive of how good Vaughn and Wilson’s chemistry was here. Vaughn was the yang to Wilson’s comedic yin. Or the other way around; whatever, it still works.

Jeremy and John had become quite skilled in the art of the con, and with the latest season of festivities drawing to a close, Jeremy decided to raise the stakes and the thrills by crashing a major wedding event hosted by none other than U.S. Secretary of the Treasury William Cleary (Christopher Walken). It would be the last big hoorah of the year. His partner’s reluctance to dive in headfirst, however, caused Jeremy to question his commitment to the cause, perhaps even to their friendship.

And because this was a movie, John eventually caved and the next thing we knew we were waist-deep in politicians, pretense and another ridiculous scheme concocted by the two sex-fiends/lawyers. While the day was intended to honor Secretary Cleary’s daughter’s wedlock, neither she nor her husband-to-be were intended to be the focus. What ensued proved you can’t apply peanut butter without jelly: Vaughn and Wilson shared the screen so as to never really draw more attention to the other. In tandem, the two were fantastic, with Vaughn working his size and a very goofy, doe-eyed stare to his advantage while Wilson poured on the saccharine sweetness like they were molasses. Both had proved to be successful strategies in the weddings leading up to this. Would they be as successful with the women they inevitably meet at this spectacular occasion? Or would their hard-on for hard partying go flaccid right at the last second?

This raunchfest not only benefitted from the two great and energetic lead performances in Vaughn and Wilson, it featured an intensely humorous antagonist in Bradley Cooper’s break-out performance as Sack Large (yes, that indeed would make it Large Sack if ever to be written out on a legal document). Cooper at the time was convincing as this tough-guy jock who really had no interest in his girlfriend, Claire Cleary (Rachel McAdams), other than to make her his trophy wife, but the character is so much funnier now when one pauses to consider how against-type he was playing. But he was not alone in the strong contributor category. A very strange man named Todd (played by Keir O’Donnell), the son of the prestigious William Cleary provided a great foil for Vaughn’s Jeremy as Jeremy reluctantly became entangled in the family with the excitable red-head woman he intended to one-night stand. Todd took affection to Jeremy and this side story offers up some of the film’s most painful guffaws.

Not forgetting the quality Will Ferrell cameo as Chazz, who was the notorious albeit deluded man who invented ‘the rules of wedding crashing,’ or the beautiful montage of half-naked women being bedded in the film’s earlygoing set to the classic celebratory song ‘Shout,’ Wedding Crashers has assured its place among the great raunchy comedies of modern day filmmaking. It has all the trademarks of a classic, in the interest of full (frontal nudity) disclosure.

With increasing numbers of people subscribing to the notion that the Vaughn-Wilson comedy vehicle has long since run out of gas, perhaps a revisiting of Wedding Crashers is in order, just to remind one’s self of why the pattern exists at all. Why have they been recycling themselves? What once worked really well that doesn’t so much anymore? It’s hard to imagine there being another Crashers-quality match-up between Vaughn and Wilson, even for this fan. 2005 spawned a comedy that simply hit all the right notes, romantic, comedic and otherwise.

Yes indeed, we have a stage-five clinger on our hands.

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3-5Recommendation: It’s a great reminder of the potential Vaughn and Wilson have on screen together. Having not reached a comedic level like it since, it’s easy to understand a lot of the complaints guided their way yet some of it seems excessive. Wedding Crashers sees the two in fine form, along with it bringing out sterling performances from a varied and deeply talented crew of comedians and comediennes. This one’s for anyone who ever said weddings can’t be fun. What a blast this procession is.

Rated: R

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “It’s the first quarter of the big game and you wanna toss up a Hail Mary! I’d like to be pimps from Oakland, or cowboys from Arizona, but it’s not Halloween. Grow up Peter Pan, Count Chocula. Look, we’ve been to a million weddings. And guess what, we’ve rocked them all!”

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Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Release: Friday, March 7, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Getting to work with Wes Anderson on any given project just has to be an unforgettable experience. If he called, I honestly don’t know how one would be able to use the word ‘No’ during that conversation; that scheduling conflict better be worth it.

Whether just a weekend visitor or planning to rent out a room for the long term, an actor who steps foot inside the lobby of Wes Anderson’s creative space is never quite the same afterwards. Ideally, this is what happens anyway. The opportunity of getting to work alongside such a unique and self-assured director has been one a diverse collection of actors has already taken advantage of and benefitted from.

It’s like clockwork with this guy. Each time he has a new offering there are more big names to point out in a cast that seems to continuously expand. In the case of his latest, the roster has swelled to very grand proportions indeed. Weekend visitors this time around include the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan and Léa Seydoux — all names that bear much recognition already but that also decided they could use some time away at the Wes Anderson school hotel of filmmaking in order to tap new potential.

Their career moves aren’t so much brave as they are smart. In 2014 the aforementioned names are to join the Wes Anderson fraternity — Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, among others all being potential role models for the newcomers to this wild and wacky world created by one of the most original filmmakers in the business today. By attracting this large of a cast, his new work seems to be bursting at the seams with potential to take his signature quirk to the highest level.

This year Anderson has whipped up The Grand Budapest Hotel, a rollercoaster ride of a friendship between hotel concierge M. Gustave H (Fiennes) and his lobby boy-in-training, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). Taking up the task of training the wet-behind-the-ears lad, Gustave proudly and confidently tours both Zero and the audience through the expansive and elegant enclaves of the hotel whilst explaining the proper etiquette that is expected of its staff. Gustave is something of a celebrity in the mountainous region of the Republic of Zubrowka, where his hotel is located, as he has been known to go to bed with several of his female guests — all of whom have been blonde.

His latest escapade with an elderly woman leaves Gustave embroiled in controversy when evidence of her mysterious death surfaces and doesn’t exactly cast him in a favorable light. As it turns out, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) was an incredibly wealthy individual with a number of possessions to give away. In a surprise move, she bequeathes a rare painting to Gustave for his kindness and care in her later years, and this is done to her surviving family’s great chagrin.

Embittered and angry sons Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and Jopling — which must be a Zubrowkan name for ‘Dracula’ or something because Willem Dafoe looks the part — plot Gustave’s demise in the ensuing chapters. Gustave and Zero bond over the years as they attempt to prove his innocence in the matter by traveling all over the ridiculous place just to get him an alibi. He has to consort with the mysterious Serge X (Mathieu Amalric) in order to do so and at the same time, avoid the increasing threat posed by Jopling and Dmitri. For his assistance and loyalty in this most trying time, Gustave promises to make young Zero his heir at the Grand Budapest, all in due course. . .of course.

Despite the film borrowing shamelessly elements from all other Anderson films — as all other Anderson films do of all other Anderson films — The Grand Budapest Hotel is decidedly one of the darker tales. It shares the same giddy levels of cartoonish action and physical comedy, and the writing is sharply written to the point of guaranteeing at least one painful laugh per half hour. It is even divided up into small chapters like other films are. It features heavy narration and a bevy of well-known actors in funny roles and outfits.

Upon reflection, the 2014 effort features a central story that’s generally bleaker than a lot of his other material has been. Though it is not completely lacking, there isn’t quite as much adoration or affection presented in the affairs ongoing. Even though we’re told about it, we don’t see Zero’s passionate love affair develop much with Agatha (Saoirse Ronan); there are more threats than laughs coming from Madame D’s family as the investigation continues into the death of a member of elite society; Gustave goes to prison for some time because he gets framed for the murder. When Zero’s backstory is given time to be explained, the film looks to be heading in the direction of full-on drama but thanks to the strength of the screenplay and the awareness of Anderson, we never quite go there.

Even when it is apparent that the fate of the hotel is anything but certain given the looming violence on the European horizon, this is through-and-through a Wes Anderson comedy-drama that banks on the same appeal his films have consistently displayed and been appreciated for over the last 20 years.

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4-0Recommendation: Although it doesn’t do much in the way of providing an argument as to why it should be considered his best, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a traditional Anderson dish with a European flare. Almost slapstick in delivering the laughs, the tale is quickly paced once it gets going, though first-time or on-the-fence viewers might find the first twenty minutes or so a bit tedious. Although, the Anderson tropes and the film’s slow opening may all be forgotten if one is a big enough fan of Ralph Fiennes. A stellar turn for the man in a role that contrasts considerably from his usual fare.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “You’re looking so well darling, you really are. I don’t know what sort of cream they put on you down at the morgue but, I want some.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Starsky & Hutch (2004)

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Okay, so while I was unable to cook up a post today that would feature a certain bird that we, as Americans, are entitled to gorge ourselves on all day today, I hope that the little symbol thing on the ticket above will suffice for “theming” out this week’s throwback. . . (And while we are at it, let’s not forget the millions of Native Americans we have trampled in getting to this point. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!) After cycling through lists of quote-unquote classic Thanksgiving-related films, it became clear that this was going to be a difficult post to keep aligned with the theme of buddy-feel good comedies AND today’s holiday theme. Also, I came to realize how few films on these lists I had actually seen. There were more than several that would qualify, but unfortunately these titles are only available for DVD delivery through Netflix so they wouldn’t necessarily be here in time to review for today. While Planes, Trains & Automobiles was my film of choice for today, I think what I found instead will do just fine. It may not be one that sits right with everyone, but it qualifies for the two things I’m looking for in films of yesteryear on this month’s TBT

Today’s food for thought: Starsky & Hutch

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Release: March 5, 2004

[DVD]

It’s no hit television show from the seventies but Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are intent on making you believe that they can do it, too.

Annnnnd. . .to some mildly amusing degree, they can. As actors they may not replace the vintage nonchalance of the show’s Paul Michael Graser and David Soul but this contemporary match-up ekes out some pretty good laughs and even a heartfelt moment or two in this loosely-dramatized story of two cops who are first getting to know each other when they’re out busting up huge drug deals in the fictitious Bay City, California.

Much to director Todd Phillips’ credit, his film serves as a prequel of sorts to the events that occur in the four-season-long T.V. series, and as such this story is afforded a greater amount of playing room it might not have otherwise had if it were strictly trying to follow or recreate a particular arc or theme. Indeed, this does succumb to the typical unlikely-partnership formula more often than it reaches for great(er) comedy, but as far as buddy-comedies go, one can do far, far worse than this guns-n-girls “remake.”

As a ‘prequel,’ Starsky & Hutch takes us back to a time where both cops’ egos were largely unknown to one another; where the anally-retentive but street-smart David Starsky was ignorant to the particular charms and intellectual superiority of blond Kenneth ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson. Part of the fun of this film is watching the two get to know each other better. No male actor plays ‘looking annoyed’ better than Ben Stiller. And is it just me, or is that crooked nose Owen Wilson has intentionally part of his charm? Either way, the two make for a largely entertaining duo when the plot kicks it into high gear, somewhere near the middle.

Hot-headed Starsky and cool-hand Luke. . .er, Hutch have been charged with chasing down any leads that may uncover drug kingpin Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn)’s ultimate plans for drug distribution in Bay City. He’s been able to concoct a type of cocaine that is completely undetectable. From one coke-head to another, I hope you know that this plot development is simply ludicrous, since the narcotic is virtually undetectable to begin with. This little nuance is something shiny and new that Phillips wanted to add to his story for want of not coming across as ‘lame, ‘square,’ or ‘unhip.’

Also, he thought it’d be totally groovy to give Vince Vaughn something to be upset about. When he learns that one of his drug pushers screwed up his job, he kills him and leaves his body to float up on shore (as they are out on Feldman’s yacht in the open ocean at the time). Insert Starsky and Hutch into the equation (i.e. the reason viewers should care). The two must find and track down the true source of the drug using any means possible: getting into a threesome with cheerleaders, peer-pressuring Snoop Dogg Lion into being a golf caddy, adopting completely ridiculous disguises for some freak named Big Earl (Will Ferrell)’s perverted amusement. There are some other good moments as well, but these are the events that come to define Starsky & Hutch, the movie.

As its own product, it does just well enough subsisting on broad humor and thinly-written, semi-poorly-conceived story developments to pass. A quick browse of mainstream aggregate review sites (Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, Metacritic) indicates a significantly lower audience rating than its critical consensus, and this I feel is owed more to the fact that this is an entirely different, standalone Starsky & Hutch experience. Stiller, for once is really funny in a lead role and his chemistry with the amiable Owen Wilson is what drives the energetic little narrative. It may not “feel” like a Starsky & Hutch adventure to fans of the old show, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this film shouldn’t exist, either.

Besides, that’s the worst case scenario we’re talking about. Most should find this a perfectly entertaining film that won’t involve a great deal of brain exercises.

Stiller and Wilson have an undeniable repartee in this modern adaptation, whilst unexpected contributions are made from the likes of Snoop Dogg Lion (damn it, again!), Vaughn (who really just chews scenery and acts like an asshole), Matt Walsch (as Eddie) and of course, Amy Smart and Carmen Electra as the two cheerleaders. The obligatory cameo from the originals — Graser and Soul — puts Phillips’ comedy over the top and into “acceptable” territory.

My shameless inclusion of this photo tells you everything you need to know about what I think of the movie update of the beloved TV series

My shameless inclusion of this photo tells you everything you need to know about what I think of the movie update of the beloved TV series

3-0Recommendation: Though it’s pretty obvious the film was made with an entirely new generation in mind, Todd Phillips’ sense of humor blends well with the classic good-cop/awkward-cop routine. There may not be enough here to convert loyal viewers of the show but for anyone interested in seeing ANYthing Starsky & Hutch-related, this should satisfy the Thanksgiving palate.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “Do it.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Internship

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Release: Friday, June 7, 2013

[Theater]

This only makes my second advanced screening since Tropic Thunder. Clearly, I need to find myself in the right place at the right time more often….

Because it was a sneak-peek, I think it’s easier to jump to conclusions and either be immediately in love with a film because you saw it ahead of time, or immediately take a dislike to it and want to warn others because you saw it ahead of time. No false advertising here though, guys and gals — The Internship is an unqualified success, and likely will wind up becoming one of the best and more successful comedies of 2013.

The Internship is a perfect blend of several things I really love about comedies: first, a chance to mine an unlikely, unique location for comedic gold (in this case, it’s the Google main campus in Silicon Valley); second, the buddy-buddy lead roles that also function as one source of some of the bigger laughs  (Vince Vaughn, who plays Billy and Owen Wilson who is Nicky are some of the best in the game to call upon for this role, and they do succeed here just as they did in Wedding Crashers); third, relevant commentary on social status, life goals, or something more grandiose than simply what the main storyline presents (with The Internship, it’s about coming together as a team and working effectively, something that the movie itself demonstrates with utmost skill, while operating in the Vaughn/Wilson comedic style appropriately). Many are going to dismiss this as a bland comedy, but in so doing, they’d be missing the mark by a good long shot.

For starters, there’s nothing at all bland about Vaughn and Wilson riding around campus on the Google-colored bikes, or wearing the ‘Noogle’ caps that are required of all new interns at Google. Not only are such fanciful elements great sight gags, a lot of it is true to what goes on on campus. This movie may not be bold enough to go where no other comedy has gone before — and by that I am really referring to its overall direction and character development — but what has been developed here is more than enough to make a touching movie that is also intelligent, funny, and timely. (Well, maybe less so on the third part, Google has been around for a minute…but it is nice to see a movie that now incorporates this conglomerate website into the story). This setting in particular also lends the film an unusually visual feel that is impossible to ignore.

I need to really not gush here, so let’s now focus on what exactly is working for this movie, and how it manages to stave off mediocrity and rise above to be something worth remembering months from now.

Billy and Nicky are two out-of-work salesmen who once sold watches but now find themselves fighting to gain a viable job with this massive company. Thankfully, all they have to compete against are young twenty-somethings fresh off the boat from their respective Ivy League schools. During a relatively ridiculous application process, the pair insist that they can provide the company with something new, something fresh….if they are just given the opportunity to try.

One particularly skeptical employer (Aasif Mandvi) is quick to dismiss Billy and Nicky as not only borderline age-inappropriate for the jobs at hand, but also lacking in brain function to really fit into Google’s intern program; alas, he reluctantly accepts them and off we go, foraying into “some sort of mental Hunger Games against a bunch of genius kids for just a handful of jobs.”

Day One: all interns are to group themselves together to work towards accomplishing several tasks which include reading and developing code for the website, creating and demonstrating a new, “legitimate” Google application, and working customer service hotlines. Through the process it becomes clear who’s good at what and who’s terrible at other aspects. The Internship pieces this together nicely, while giving ample time (arguably a bit too much time) to branching off, using Wilson and Vaughn as the experienced guys who can show some young up-and-comers a thing or two about managing their own expectations, personal/professional goals and defining what should be most important to them.

Sensitive direction from Shawn Levy (Real Steel) is to thank for most of this film’s easygoing nature. It’s neither too sappy nor too over-the-top, providing a good mixture of humorous and serious undercurrents.

I suppose one fault the movie might have (and I’m not even sure if this is necessarily a bad fault anyway) is that it does borrow a lot from the comedic style of Wedding Crashers. Wilson and Vaughn ostensibly are the same, perpetually optimistic straight-talkers going through a crash-course on how to fit into groups they otherwise would be ostracized from. But if that’s a weakness, that’s an acceptable and far more preferable one to the alternative — not being funny at all.

I give Vaughn more credit especially since he is the man behind the idea of taking a film set to the Google campus. He explained how well the project came along; that there was a kind of natural alignment of comedic talent, scriptwriting, and trust amongst every person involved that all seemed to perpetuate a thoroughly enjoyable filmmaking experience. I tend to believe the relationships that were built coming into the film generated a better movie, since it’s hard to argue how these two always appear to be enjoying one another’s on-camera energy. In 2005 it was there, and now, eight years later it’s certainly there, but with a much funnier and stranger backdrop.

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3-5Recommendation: There’s not a whole lot of studying you need to do before taking The Internship. If you don’t mind — better yet, really enjoy — the mentoring of comedic masters Vaughn and Wilson, this will be an enjoyable way to spend your time. If not, then I’d say look for something somewhere else (on Google, of course).

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 119 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Hall Pass

Hall Pass movie promo

Release: Friday, February 25, 2011

[Netflix]

I finally got around to seeing this in my apartment thanks to my roommate’s Netflix. I remember seeing previews for this awhile ago, but then I forgot, like I have with so many other good movies, to check it out. As it turns out, a free viewing proves just as good. This movie was somewhat easy to review..

You need not know any more than the basic premise of this reckless joke-a-thon to know its not a so-called ‘realistic’ movie.

Give two men in their mid-to-late-thirties some time off from their marriages and let them “do what they want.” Clearly, this isn’t a good date movie. It’s what could be defined as a ‘fantasy movie’ because at times the things the two men say or do borders on the absolutely ridiculous. At times indeed these guys really do give men a bad name everywhere. On the flip side of that coin though, it means that the ladies can do whatever they want. Grace lays on the charm with an attractive baseball player, while Rick’s wife becomes involved with the baseball coach, who is obviously quite a bit older than she is.

Owen Wilson gives a solid performance, playing as per usual the winningly ‘nice guy,’ despite the fact that he lusts after the hot barista at the local coffee shop, Leigh. Jason Sudeikis is convincingly desperate as Fred. Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate complement the cast well as the wives of Rick (Wilson) and Fred (Sudeikis) respectively.

Rick appears at first as the guy more reluctant to leave his wife. For him the day-to-day of married life seemed like a cushy norm, and had been for awhile, now that he has the chance to see it without his wife and child around. Contrarily, Fred openly embraces the opportunity and immediately establishes himself as the alpha male and/or possible jackass. However, as the movie goes on Rick begins to want to be with Leigh, and encounters a few ridiculous attacks from her lunatic coworker along the way, including a horrific vandalizing of Fred’s minivan, and gunshots.

Stephen Merchant makes an excellent addition in his role as Gary, a slightly screwy British man also interested in this idea of a ‘hall pass,’ but who cannot exercise it for one reason or another. (I was unclear of whether or not he was in a relationship himself, just that he was a hilarious character…)

Hall Pass does seem to teeter on the verge of being a bit too serious for its own good at times, however. The moments that are not heavily saturated in testosterone as Fred and Rick hound after women they’d rather have sex with, are starkly serious and leave you feeling guilty for even having sided with the protagonists in the beginning.

Nevertheless they are necessary scenes that somewhat ground the movie from becoming a bit too over-the-top, prevent it from harkening towards the likes of an old-man National Lampoon installment.

It’s a kick in the face to see how perverted these two guys are (well, for that matter, every single male in the film pretty much) and what they will do to try and prove they would possibly be better off had they never gotten married. In truth, most of what they do is supposed to be hard to watch — they are hapless fools in their early forties/late thirties! The entire experiment is both ridiculous and hilarious, and simply should not be taken for anything more than that.

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3-0Recommendation: See it (after a pint of beer!!) Nah, but really go check it out. Its a good laugh, despite the rather predictable plot and unoriginal and unrealistic conclusion. Not the most appropriate film you’d want to take a date to, but a great one with the boys. Especially if you’re off the market (and prepared to watch a totally unrealistic movie).

Rated: R

Running Time: 105 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com