Tag Archives: Cinematical

Julia Finds Herself Eating, Praying, And Loving

Sally Mercedes at The Stir:

Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts and her hunky companions, opens this weekend.I already have tickets, so I wanted to know what to expect, but the Eat Pray Love reviews are all over the place.

Katrina Mitchell, CBS News:

[T]he best alternative to a pampered getaway might to [sic] indulge yourself vicariously in Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey of self discovery.

Dezhda Gaubert, E! Online:

While the movie is touching in all the right ways, it doesn’t leap off the screen the way Gilbert’s wry voice jumps off the page.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:

“Eat Pray Love” is shameless wish-fulfillment, a Harlequin novel crossed with a mystic travelogue

Kim Conte, The Stir:

The movie […] succeeds where the book fails. Instead of telling the story about one woman’s very specific path to spiritual enlightenment and self-discovery, it imparts a more universal tale about the search for love.

So, basically, you’re going to love it or hate it. You’ll either cry because you’re moved or completely bored. Good to know!

Robert Levin at Film School Rejects:

In Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) eats, prays and loves, while gliding through some of the world’s most beautiful settings. Populated with gorgeous people, vivid scenic vistas and picturesque multicultural happenings, the film would make an ideal promotional spot for its primary locations of Rome, India and Bali.

Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best selling, autobiographical self-help book (his directorial debut) gets the surface details right. Seen on a big enough screen, the pictures of Rome’s ornamental city streets, India’s sweat soaked ashrams and Bali’s lushly vegetated countryside provoke the sort of all-encompassing awe that in many respects defines the cinema.

But when it comes to the narrative woven around the scenery, the movie starts flat, stays flat and never recovers. Cast wrong and structured lazily, Eat Pray Love lacks the strong dramatic pull needed to sustain a 133-minute production. Mired in a milquetoast aesthetic obsessed with trendy “healing” tropes (meditation, close-ups on delicious looking pasta, Javier Bardem etc.) the movie rarely deviates from the genre’s standard path.

Eric Snider at Cinematical:

Among Julia Roberts‘ many talents is the ability to be likable even when she’s playing a character who isn’t. She’ll star in something dreadful like Runaway Bride or Mona Lisa Smile, and despite what a shrill stereotype the character is, Roberts herself will be infectiously pleasant.

This skill is taxed to its limits in Eat Pray Love, in which Roberts plays a privileged, self-absorbed narcissist who takes a year-long vacation to “find herself.” (You’re always in the last place you look, amirite?) This lady, Elizabeth Gilbert (also the name of the author from whose memoir the film was adapted), isn’t happy married, isn’t happy single, isn’t happy ever. She figures she needs to spend some time with no one but herself. Speaking as one who has spent 140 minutes with her, I would advise against that.

Dana Stevens at Slate:

Few actresses can telegraph pleasure as well as Roberts, which is why the “eat” portion of the film, in which her character packs away so much Roman pasta that her jean size soars from 0 to 1, is the most enjoyable of the three. But for those who haven’t read the book, it won’t be easy to grasp how and why Liz gets to Rome in the first place. A rushed and cursory setup has her breaking up with her husband (Billy Crudup) and embarking on a doomed affair with a young actor (James Franco) with little apparent motivation; both men, and in fact every male character in the movie, seem handsome, charming, and besotted with her. We know Liz has hit rock bottom because she tells her publisher, Delia (Viola Davis), “I’ve hit rock bottom,” not because we’ve accompanied her on the way down.

Prozac would be considerably less overprescribed if more writers had publishers like Delia, who lets herself be convinced that a book advance large enough to finance a year of world travel will be just the thing for what ails Liz. (It’s a flaw of both the book and the film that the negotiation of this contract is glossed over so hastily. There’s no shame in having landed a sweet book deal, and having the financial underpinnings of Gilbert’s trip made plain would help to mitigate the audience’s resentment at her barely acknowledged privilege.) Once in Italy, Liz takes language classes, wanders around in cute outfits gandering at fountains, and orders marvelous meals with an assortment of international friends, while Martha Stewart’s food stylist hovers just off-screen with a spray bottle of liquid glycerin. This part of the movie is my favorite because it’s an unabashed glossy travelogue; as viewers, we’re not asked to do anything more than acknowledge the irrefutable fact that il dolce far niente looks like a lot of fun.

The “pray” section, in which Liz seeks spiritual solace in an Indian ashram, is a tougher sell. Watching a person meditate makes for less than dynamic cinema, and the ooglety-booglety inner journeys that Gilbert describes in the book are hard to bring to life on the page, let alone on-screen. The dramatic interest of the India chapter comes from Richard (Richard Jenkins), a fellow spiritual seeker and recovering alcoholic from Texas who befriends Liz with mystifying alacrity—minutes into their first conversation, he’s already bestowed on her an affectionate nickname. Jenkins, a fine character actor, invests Richard with an easygoing gravitas, but I never got around the essential phoniness of the Liz/Richard relationship. His character seems to exist for the sole purpose of dispensing folksy epigrams about acceptance and faith. The one scene in which Richard does get a chance to tell his own story is a nakedly manipulative play on the viewer’s emotions. This scene is meant to show that Liz and Richard have reached a new level of trust with one another, but it marked the moment when I stopped trusting the movie.

Once Liz has checked spiritual seeking off her travel to-do list, she heads to Bali, where an old medicine man (Hadi Subiyanto) takes her on as a student and amanuensis. Amid the island’s lush jungles and libidinous expat parties, she meets a crinkly-eyed Brazilian businessman, Felipe (Javier Bardem), whose bossa-nova mix tapes might as well be titled “Have Sex With Me Right Now.” But Liz, still damaged by the wreckage of her past two relationships, takes a while to respond to Felipe’s advances.

Christian Toto at Big Hollywood:

“Pray,” based on the real exploits of author Elizabeth Gilbert, spends plenty of screen time on the main character’s soul search. Audiences may need to stretch during the film’s bloated running time, but despite the relaxed pace we still don’t adequately feel Liz’s pain.

The movie can’t be bothered to paint her marriage in anything but comically fleeting terms, using its dissolution for some quick laughs. And Crudup is left looking wounded and silly in the process. Who wouldn’t leave this sap? Better yet, who would begrudge herself for fleeing?

Roberts shapes Liz in a way lesser actresses simply couldn’t. She buries her “Pretty Woman” smile long enough to make us care about Liz’s plight, even if we can’t point to any particulars regarding her grieving process.

The film’s romantic angle comes so late in the story it’s a wonder it’s able to resonate at all. Credit Bardem for making the moments matter. He’s instantly relatable, a divorced man eager to resume his romantic life and not shy about showing his affection for his grown child.

Yes, the two kiss on the mouth – platonically, of course – and it’s as sweet a screen moment as you’ll see in the entire film.

What’s missing in “Love” is a sense of surprise. Yes, the Italian city scapes are beautiful, and yes, the food looks so delicious you’ll want to stop the movie and run to the nearest, best Trattoria.

But who couldn’t write such scenes?

The India sequences are equally predictable, down to the cute and cuddly old dude who allegedly possesses all the wisdom in the world – but has very few teeth.

“Eat Pray Love” deserves credit for its storytelling patience and having the smarts to install Roberts in the lead role. But those unfamiliar with the famous book will likely wonder what the fuss is all about.

Linda Holmes at NPR:

I’m not particularly interested in Eat Pray Love, I have to tell you. I own the book; I have not brought myself to read it. I might see the movie. I might not.

But I am rooting for it to become a giant smash hit, because maybe that would mean I would never have to read another “Is Julia Roberts Dead Yet?” piece as long as I live. (Or, for that matter, a piece like “Why Does Everyone Hate Julia Roberts?”, which claims that you can tell from Roberts’ smile that she’s a bad person, and that having had three — THREE! — well-known boyfriends before her husband raises the reasonable suspicion that she is “a bit of a man-eater.”)

I want to keep this reasonably short, because we covered this when Duplicity came out, but it’s worth noting a few issues with, for instance, this effort to evaluate her prospects.

The entire idea that Julia Roberts built her career as a rom-com queen is a questionable one. During her original period of popularity, she also made Steel Magnolias, Sleeping With The Enemy, Hook, and The Pelican Brief. Chuckle at Mary Reilly all you like — The Pelican Brief made 100 million bucks. Erin Brockovich made about $125 million. Audiences have never showed any unwillingness to see Roberts in anything except romantic comedies. She may or may not want to return to them. She may or may not need to.

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America Has A Little Less Splendor Today

John Hudson at The Atlantic with the round-up. Hudson:

Acclaimed comic-book author Harvey Pekar died Monday at the age of 70. He’s best known for his autobiographical comic series American Splendor, which was made into a 2003 film starring Paul Giamatti. In 1999, James Hynes described him as “thoughtful, articulate and, above all, angry, a rare and precious attribute in his age of yappie nihilism.”

Mel Valentin at Cinematical:

In sad, but not entirely unexpected news, Harvey Pekar, best known for his long-running American Splendor underground/indie comic book series, passed away early this morning at his home in Ohio. Pekar had been suffering from multiple illnesses, including prostrate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure, and depression. He was 70.

Pekar began American Splendor in 1976 to document non-superheroic, everyday life, including his own, in his native hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, often with a caustic, acerbic, self-deprecatory wit. Pekar’s work attracted some of the most-respected and well-known names in underground and mainstream comics, including Robert Crumb, Alison Bechdel, Chester Brown, Greg Budgett, David Collier, Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, Joe Sacco, Eddie Campbell, Gilbert Hernandez, and Ty Templeton. American Splendor’s last issue appeared in 2008.

Outside of underground comics, Pekar was best known for a recurring stint on the David Letterman show in the late 1980s. NBC eventually banned Pekar from appearing on the show due to a combination of Pekar’s open, combative style and repeated criticisms of NBC’s parent company, General Electric.

Popeater:

Pekar’s third wife is writer Joyce Brabner, with whom he collaborated on ‘Our Cancer Year,’ a graphic novel autobiography of his struggle with lymphoma. He lived in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, with Brabner and their foster daughter, Danielle.

Pekar’s ‘American Splendor’ comics, which he began publishing in 1976, chronicle his grousing about work, money and the monotony of life. A wide range of illustrators contributed to its pages, most famously R. Crumb, who first met Pekar in Cleveland in the 1960s and encouraged him to turn the stories he gathered on his travels through the city into comics.

The books gained a cult following, ultimately helping change the way comic books were perceived. They were adapted into the 2003 film ‘American Splendor,’ starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar.

Kevin Fallon at The Atlantic

Kate Ward at Entertainment Weekly:

Following the sad passing of famed writer Harvey Pekar, friends have begun issuing statements mourning the beloved author of the American Splendor series, who passed away at age 70.

Paul Giamatti, who played Pekar in 2003′s American Splendor: “Harvey was one of the most compassionate and empathetic human beings I’ve ever met. He had a huge brain and an even bigger soul. And he was hilarious. He was a great artist, a true American poet, and there is no one to replace him.”

Jonathan Vankin, an editor at Vertigo who oversaw American Splendor and The Quitter: “I am terribly sad today. Working with Harvey Pekar was one of my first experiences at Vertigo and it’s still one of my best, not only in comics but in my life. Underneath the well-known gruff exterior, Harvey was a deeply compassionate person and of course, a brilliant mind. He created, almost single-handedly, an entirely new kind of comics and his commitment to what he did was absolute and uncompromising. We’ve all suffered a huge loss today, in comics of course, but also in American culture.”

Robert Pulcini, co-director of American Splendor: “Harvey Pekar was one of the few originals I’ve met in my life. He deserves to be remembered as the patron saint of Cleveland.”

Shari Springer Berman, co-director of American Splendor: “I am so sad. There will never be another Harvey Pekar. I hope he is in a place where there is a great jazz soundtrack, lots of good books, and he can make plenty of money.”

SEK at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Harvey Pekar wasn’t included on the list of people I’m officially allowed to mourn, but that doesn’t mean I won’t mourn his passing anyway. I first came to American Splendor too early—when I started reading Love and Rockets and Cerebus in 1993—and then too late—after the release of the film American Splendor in 2003—so while I understood it, I never truly “got” his appeal. I appreciated his ear for language, but as a teenager thought what it captured unworthy of print, and as a literary scholar had encountered many similarly talented ears and was, therefore, less impressed by it than I should have been. But when I read the news of his passing earlier today, I realized something:

I knew Harvey Pekar.

I didn’t know him know him, but like all of his readers, I knew him as well as you know me. Pekar was a proto-blogger, if you will, because he turned his life into something worthy of public consumption. Our Cancer Year is a grueling read not because all cancer entails struggle, but because the patient stricken with it is someone whose failed dreams, stunted career, and intimate thoughts are familiar to us. We may not have known Harvey Pekar, but we knew “Harvey Pekar,” and unlike artists for whom the distance between characters and self is meticulously kept, in this case it really is just a matter of quotation marks.

Rest in peace, Harvey. Lord knows you deserve some.

Brian Doherty at Reason:

He was a great and original jazz critic, an entertaining movie inspiration and “star,” the smartest and sharpest of David Letterman’s 1980s gang of real-world curiosities, and the prime original creative force and inspiration for one of the most important (though its dominance is sometimes overstated) trends in modern literary comics, the quotidian autobiography.

He was Harvey Pekar, and he died very early this morning at his Cleveland home.

Pekar was one of the few writers of whom I can say I can and do read everything he writes with great pleasure, whether it’s about the music of Sonny Stitt, the writings of I.J. Singer, or his trip to the market to buy bread.

I reviewed Pekar’s graphic biography of libertarian troublemaker Michael Malice at Reason Online.

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Cruising For A Bruising

Christopher Orr at The Atlantic:

First, a clarification regarding the title of the newly released action-comedy Knight and Day: “Knight” refers either to a) the long-abandoned family name of one of the two principal characters, a glamorous superspy played by Tom Cruise who, for all narrative and promotional purposes, now goes by the name “Roy Miller”; or b) a small toy paladin in which a Secret Device that Could Change the World is briefly hidden. And “Day”? One might imagine that it refers to the spunky everygal played by costar Cameron Diaz. One would be wrong. (Her character’s name is “June Havens.”) In fact, it doesn’t refer to anything at all; the word’s sole purpose is to balance the already-a-stretch “Knight.” I mean honestly. If we had to go down this path at all, why not A Knight to Remember, or Knight Moves? The titillating PG-13 innuendo of A Knight in June? Or, with appropriate legal representation on call, Darkest Knight? But no, for no discernable reason outside the preferences of some anonymous focus group, we’re given Knight and Day, Cole Porter be damned.

A film that treats its own title so, ahem, cavalierly can hardly be expected to be diligent when it comes to such niceties as plot, character, and pacing–but Knight and Day exceeds even such anti-expectations. It is woefully scattered, alternatingly slack and frenetic, and transcendently preposterous. Remarkably, it is also, for a time, reasonably diverting for anyone willing to jettison everything they know about love, espionage, and narrative cohesion.

Dana Stevens at Slate:

Whoever read the last draft of the oft-rewritten script never even bothered to check whether the title made sense, which it doesn’t. “Knight,” it eventually comes out, is one of the aliases and possibly the real name of Cruise’s character, who goes by Roy Miller. It would have been easy enough to surname Cameron Diaz’s character “Day” for the sake of parallelism, but instead, she’s June Havens. You can’t help but wonder whether some assistant mentioned this discrepancy in a story meeting, only to be quashed by the confident assertion, “Ah, no one’ll notice!”

That misplaced self-confidence is exactly what’s so aggravating about Roy Miller. He doesn’t need to answer for his motivation, his origins, his reason for being. He just flashes that set of outsized mah-jongg-tile teeth in his disturbingly ageless face and jumps astride another vehicle careening through the streets of Salzburg, or Seville, or wherever the protagonists of this globe-hopping yet strangely incurious travelogue happen to find themselves. Even though Knight & Day wasn’t written for Cruise—a recent Times piece tracked its journey through the hands of Adam Sandler, Chris Tucker, and Gerard Butler—in its final version the film reads as a kind of treatise on the state of Cruise-itude in our time.

The character of Roy Miller is so quintessentially Cruise-ian that he skirts the edges of self-conscious parody. He’s an indestructible superspy who’s bottomlessly cheerful and yet vaguely malevolent. Roy seems to lack any interiority whatsoever; even when he’s telling the truth, he appears to be lying. (Cruise’s most memorable characters have tended to be liars: Jerry Maguire, the kid in Risky Business, the unstable self-help guru in Magnolia.)

Cole Abaius at Film School Rejects:

June Havens (Cameron Diaz) is trying to make it back home to Boston when she bumps into Roy Miller (Tom Cruise), a secret agent who has gone rogue with something very important to the federal government. As much as he tries to avoid her becoming a part of the game, she ends up either having to be glued to his side or taken out by some very bad men. The two will have to secure a young inventor (Paul Dano) and expose or kill the true rogue agent before it’s too late.

High concept stuff like this is usually a connect-the-dots version of filmmaking, and there are a lot of elements here that seem like they were looked up in the Screenwriters Dictionary. The characters, when they can, do their best to keep it light and distract from the fact that the chase scenes and momentum is the same we’ve seen from almost every spy movie out there (including a few that Cruise has been in before). At some points, the movie dances right up to the line of parody, but instead of crossing it boldly, the situations or shots end up simply looking like bad filmmaking.

This isn’t aided by how cheap the movie looks. A distracting amount of CGI looks like it was slapped on with an old brush – most noticeably the car sequences, which look like an updated version of the old green screen technique which found Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart doing the cabbage patch on the steering wheel while the car was going straight forward. Substitute Tom Cruise for Grant, gunfire for the cabbage patch, and stock footage of the city, and you’ll start to get the idea.

Those scenes seem in direct conflict with some capably shot action that genuinely evokes the gasp for air that a good explosion should. Plus, director James Mangold and company do something different with a handful of those scenes: taking a look at the action from the point of view of June’s character, a character completely trapped by circumstance. There is enough action to satiate (in fact, the whole movie is basically action), but in the beginning, much of the action happens from strange angles. Back seats of cars, off to the side just barely in view, from around a corner. It places the viewer right in the mindset of someone who’s effectively been kidnapped and tossed into a reality where grenades are the norm, and it works incredibly well. The ingenuity alone should be applauded, but pulling it off deserves a slow clap and a round of champagne.

Unfortunately, the experimentation of the film doesn’t stop there. There’s a particular plot device which also thrusts the viewer into June’s position, and it’s intriguing, but it makes the film choppy in an unforgivable way and often feels like the Lazy Man’s Plot Fix. It’s the kind of pacing issue that Mangold ran into with Identity, and it’s enough to make this movie feel more like Knight and Day, Interrupted.

As for Cruise and Diaz, this isn’t the first time they’ve worked on screen together, but they come off as far too cold. Each seems to have lost some of the original spark that first drew audiences to them, and it makes an otherwise brisk movie drag like it’s carrying a dying career carcass behind it. When the two do find that spark, the movie is full of life and eyebrow-raising moments, but too many times the pair seems to want to go through the bullet-dodging motions in order to get to the scenes that they’re actually looking forward to. Simply put – it’s always good to see actors having fun, but it’s torture to see actors working.

Patrick Bromley at Reelloop:

Say what you will about Tom Cruise –and in recent years, he’s given us all plenty to say — but for a long time, there were few superstar actors who knew how to pick just the right projects for themselves as well as he did. Even when the movies weren’t great (and they often weren’t), you could feel Cruise single-handedly dragging the film towards success through the sheer force of hard work and star power. But the Tom Cruise of 2010 (post Lions for Lambs and Valkyrie) is floundering, and it’s on display in Knight and Day, a movie that looks and feels like one of Cruise’s movies but which is just going through the motions. He can’t get away with playing another variation on Ethan Hunt anymore. The Knight and Day trailers suggest that Cruise’s character could be a superspy or he could just be a crazy person detached from reality, and the promise of that possibility is what got me into the theater. Not only would Cruise be subverting his own status as an action star, but also knowingly acknowledging the questions of his mental stability that so many audience members have had in the last four or five years. It would have been Cruise taking a risk as an actor, and transitioning his usual steel-eyed determination into a new phase of his career. More than anything, though, it would have given Knight and Day a reason for existing.

Sadly, Knight and Day has nothing new to offer. After a promising opening, the movie just melts away into a series of noisy action beats and sloppy dialogue exchanges. Diaz is appropriately shrieky, I guess, but fails to recapture any of the Vanilla Sky chemistry she once had with Cruise. Even the action is mostly handled in front of unconvincing green screens, all but ruining the inventive, practical stunt work we’ve come to expect from Cruise in the post-Mission: Impossible world. The villains aren’t threatening, character motivations don’t make much sense and director Mangold, usually so good at crafting solid populist entertainment just isn’t able to bring it all together in a satisfying way. The result is an action comedy that is neither funny nor exciting, trying to coast on the charm of two movie stars who haven’t been given characters to play.

Alison Nastasi at Cinematical:

If you want to see Tom Cruise reprise his role as secret agent Ethan Hunt then word around Hollywood is that you better pony up the ticket price to see Cruise’s latest film, Knight and Day. If that film flops, Paramount may drastically alter their plans for the fourth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise.

Reports state that Paramount executives are concerned about the opening tracking numbers for Cruise’s latest action film and are hoping the five day totals are respectable (which seems more like a dream than a realistic hope given that the opening day tally for the film was a paltry $3.8 million). Meanwhile, the script for the fourth installment in the M:I franchise has just been turned in, and Brad Grey and Rob Moore are in the process of trying to determine that film’s preliminary budget. If Knight and Day underperforms, the thinking is that Paramount will either scrap M:I4 completely, shift the focus of the film to Hunt and Shia LaBeouf a younger agent, or cut the budget dramatically. None of those things seems to bode particularly well for Cruise or the studio.

Brooks Barnes at New York Times:

Boy, are the knives out for Tom Cruise.

Consider a few of the headlines that have popped up even before “Knight and Day,” his latest big-budget movie, has completed its first weekend in the marketplace. Forbes: “Toys Will Crush Cruise At Box Office.” Cinematical.com: “See ‘Knight & Day’ and Save Tom Cruise’s Career.” New York Magazine: “Fox Struggles to Overcome the Tom Cruise Problem.”

There is certainly a case to be made that Mr. Cruise made this bed and now must lie in it. The couch jumping, the Scientology spouting, the dumping of his power publicist – it has without question hurt his career, perhaps irreparably.

And “Knight and Day” is certainly a wreck, with opening-day ticket sales of $3.8 million and some over-the-top critical hatred. But let’s be fair: This movie’s troubles don’t hang on Mr. Cruise’s shoulders alone.

Why is nobody talking about the failure of his co-star, Cameron Diaz, to deliver an audience here? Who came up with the title? It’s odd and doesn’t telegraph what the picture is about. Meanwhile, the studio marketing has also appeared tentative at times: billboards at the same time pump Mr. Cruise’s involvement — his name is big – while also downplaying it — where’s his picture?

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Eighties Nostalgia Almost All Played Out… Cue Up The Stirrings Of Nineties Nostalgia…

Dana Stevens in Slate:

Hanging over any remake, but especially over the remake of a classic, is the question “Why?” Sometimes that syllable is muttered with a shrug of resignation (“The Wicker Man with Nic Cage? Why?”). Sometimes it’s bellowed to the uncaring heavens in agony (“Last Tango in Paris with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes? WHYYY?”).

The notion of remaking The Karate Kid (Sony Pictures) elicits a “why?” of midlevel outrage. The 1984 original, in which Noriyuki “Pat” Morita coaches bullied teenager Ralph Macchio to victory in a karate championship, may have seemed like a standard-issue inspirational sports picture at the time, but (as with another box-office hit of the same year, The Terminator) a generation of remove reveals what a well-crafted movie it actually was. Rewatched today, the original Kid, directed by Rocky‘s John G. Avildsen, feels smart and fresh, with a wealth of small character details and a leisurely middle section that explores the boy’s developing respect for his teacher.

The first job of the new Karate Kid, then, was to not defile the spirit of the original—at that task this version succeeds almost too well. The script, by Christopher Murphey, reproduces the story of the earlier film beat for beat, and, at times, line for line. It’s respectful to the point of reverence, an odd stance to take toward a film that was fun in the first place because of its unpretentious pop schlockiness. To the credit of both Murphey and director Harald Zwart, that unhurried middle act remains intact—instead of using the nearly 2 ½-hour running time to cram in extra fight scenes, they give the mentor/student relationship at the movie’s heart time to unfold. While the fight scenes have been (literally) punched up by the inclusion of more spectacular martial-arts stunts—along with the bonecrunching sound effect now required to accompany all onscreen fisticuffs—this Karate Kid isn’t the rushed, coarsened, CGI-infested ripoff that fans of the original may be dreading. It’s as sweet-natured a movie as you could expect about a 12-year-old learning to beat the crap out of his schoolmates.

Cole Abaius at Film School Rejects:

Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) have been relocated (with no other real financial options) to China, where Sherry will be working in the automobile plant there. When Dre gets his eyes blackened by another boy on playground, he becomes obsessed with learning how to defend himself, and finds an unwilling mentor in maintenance man Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). Dre falls in puppy love with Meiying (Wenwen Han), but he faces difficult training ahead and the threat of fighting his attacker in an open kung fu tournament.

This movie, directed by Harald Zwart, is about as seriously dramatic as you can aim at a younger audience, only lit occasionally by sparks of humor. For the most part, it weighs just heavily enough to make all of the situations of its story seem intimately dire. The humor comes from a sarcastic young lead and the ubiquitous warmth of character that can be found in just about any movie Jackie Chan sets foot in, but the moments are few, far between, and welcomed not because of the heaviness of the film, but because of its effectiveness in making the audience feel almost as isolated as Dre.

Tonally, it’s a very quiet film that builds to its crescendo steadily. In the beginning, Dre and Sherry are the only characters focused on – they are in a foreign country, don’t speak the language, don’t understand the culture, and Dre is graphically, violently bullied on his first day. The physicality and impact of some of the fighting sequences – especially early on when Dre can’t fight back – are brutal in light of the fact these are 11 and 12 years old fighting.

Finally, a movie with the kind of child-on-child violence America has been demanding.

But it works. The Karate Kid is decidedly un-campy in its attempt to show what it might really be like to be young and forced to move away from the safety of everything you know. This is matched by Mr. Han’s storyline – an ultimately tragic one that explains why he’s so sullen until he finds the small joy of Dre taking to the training. It’s also matched in some small way by every main character. Dre is a stranger in a strange land, his mother Sherry is upbeat but also never shown socializing with anyone but her son, Mr. Han barely speaks or interacts with anyone, and the love interest Meiying is isolated by her parents’ pressure on her to succeed as a violinist which results in her practicing away her childhood for hours on end.

Erik Childress at Cinematical

Marshall Fine at Hollywood & Fine:

Director Harald Zwart’s resume includes such stellar entries as “Agent Cody Banks,” “The Pink Panther 2″ and now this dreary recapitulation of a movie that was tired when it was new, 25 years ago. Plodding doesn’t begin to describe the turgid pace of the film. And limited is a kind description of young Smith’s acting talent.

As for Oscar-nominee Henson, she has no character to play, only a mother figure. Which leaves Chan, who actually rises above the treacle to give a touchingly stolid and subdued performance. But he’s stuck with yet another subplot, one meant to explain why his character has isolated himself from the world – until he takes on Dre as a surrogate son.

Will Smith isn’t in “The Karate Kid” remake but this is a vanity project nonetheless. Kids will lap it up; their parents, however, can only hope to endure it.

And to our other flashback to the 80s, Carl Kozlowski at Big Hollywood:

Movies based on TV shows are often some of the most painful offerings studios have to offer. Whether suffering through the big-screen versions of “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “Car 54, Where Are You?”, “My Favorite Martian” or this summer’s mega-bomb “MacGruber,” the ratio of awful adaptations to successful ones is vastly disproportional.

Of course, once in awhile, some work: “Wayne’s World,” “The Blues Brothers” and (at least financially) the “Mission: Impossible” films come to mind. But with the new film version of “The A-Team,” Fox has concocted a wildly uneven yet (at many moments) even more wildly entertaining edition of the ridiculously fun ‘80s NBC series that manages to both disappoint and enthrall action fans within the span of a rollicking two hours.

Series purists may find plenty to grouse about, as the film kicks off with a somewhat-different take on the group, having Col. Hannibal Smith (played by Liam Neeson here and George Peppard on TV) meet B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson here, and the immortal Mr. T on TV) for the first time, as he forces him to let him hitch a ride en route to saving his friend “Faceman” (Bradley Cooper here, and Dirk Benedict on TV). They are immediately at odds before bonding over their mutual Army Rangers tattoos, a trait they share with Faceman and their final member, an insane chopper pilot named “Howling Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley of “District 9” here, and Dwight Schultz on TV).

The tattoo discovery and subsequent bonding is a bit heavy-handed and produced unintended chuckles from the audience, and the opening action set-piece involving rescuing Faceman from Mexican killers features both underwhelming action and annoying rap-rock on the score. Just when the film seems to be mired in bad writing and an obnoxious sensory overload, however, something starts to click.

Once the storyline jumps ten years from the opening action to the present, where the A-Team is mixed in with US troops in Iraq, it quickly finds its footing. A CIA agent named Lynch (Patrick Wilson) enlists Hannibal to bring the team out on a mission to find and retrieve US currency-making plates stolen by Iraqi soldiers during the first Gulf War, and which are now in danger of falling into even worse hands.

The team pulls off the plate retrieval, only to have a surprise twist occur that results in their being accused of high crimes, put on trial by the military and sent to individual prisons scattered around the planet. When they eventually get a chance to escape and save the day, the resulting four breakouts are again highly entertaining, although nothing tops a sequence in which the guys wind up in an aerial dogfight with two US fighter drone jets with heat-seeking missiles, while flying a tank. Crazier still is the sight of Faceman popping open the tank roof and manning a machine-gun turret against the drones.

Yes, you read right: they fly a tank. The sequence is absurd, over-the-top, and utterly amazing – to my mind one of the best action scenes I’ve ever witnessed, and it’s nearly matched just minutes later with an incredible heist and shootout involving the skyscrapers and streets of Berlin. Director/co-writer Joe Carnahan (the also audaciously entertaining “Smokin’ Aces”) is fast becoming a major force to be reckoned with.

Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline:

The A-Team would be more enjoyable if its stars had any charm, or if, five minutes after leaving the theater, we could remember anything about what their characters were like. Copley (who starred in last year’s low-budget sci-fi hit District 9) is Murdock, the crazy pilot. Cooper is Face, so called because he’s always sucking one. (Jessica Biel wanders through the movie, lost and underused, as one of his old love interests.) B.A. Baracus is played by former UFC light heavyweight champ Jackson, who has almost nothing to do except scowl and look brawny. And Neeson struggles not-so-valiantly in the George Peppard role as the cigar-chomping Hannibal Smith.

I have renewed respect for Neeson since he started taking roles in trashier movies: I loved watching him knock heads in Pierre Morel’s joyously disreputable Taken. Roles like these loosen him up, and in the opening sequence of The A-Team — in which he almost magically dispatches a duo of snarling Rottweilers without harming them — I thought he, and the movie, might be fun.

But he, and the movie, only ground me down. Neeson barely registers as a presence here. (I kind of remember Cooper, because of his radioactive glowing teeth.) The movie is cut in such a way that it doesn’t really contain scenes; it’s more like a bundle of dangling participles. That’s not good for actors, especially a performer like Neeson, who’s at his best, even in a total piece of crap, when he can inject a little soul here and there. There’s no room for soul in The A-Team. Even in the context of junky-fun action adventures, this one hits a new low. It’s a worst-case scenario for the way action movies are headed: It’s all action and no movie.

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon:

For a movie that reportedly required 11 writers and more than 10 years to complete — all without any real reason for existing in the first place — “The A-Team” is reasonably good fun. If you’re a 12-year-old boy riding an intense Cherry Pepsi buzz and totally devoted to destroying some brain cells, that is. But then, I can’t imagine what other demographic could possibly be intended for this carbo-loading action spectacle, which makes only the vaguest gestures at plot or characterization (or the not-so-lamented ’80s TV original) in between its helicopter chases, Frankfurt bank heists, Mexican drug-lord takedowns and other balletic but incoherent production numbers.

OK, I do have two younger colleagues who sheepishly admit that they thought Stephen J. Cannell’s NBC series, which starred George Peppard and Mr. T (he of Nancy Reagan fame) and ran from 1983 to 1987, was “cool.” They were little kids at the time; I suppose it’s forgivable. So there must exist a micro-generation of youngish adults for whom this title exerts a nostalgic pull. Well, you can keep your hoard of Pop Rocks and Ninja Turtles in storage a while longer, because “A-Team” director Joe Carnahan (a Tarantino or Guy Ritchie wannabe who’s been kicking around the film world for a generation) and his bevy of writers make no effort to create some clever retro-camp lovefest.

Which is just fine with me; we’ve seen quite enough resuscitated mid-’80s pop-culture mediocrity, thank you, and the TV “A-Team” didn’t even rise to that level. (I’m sorry, Flock of Seagulls and Tears for Fears fans. The time has come to move on.) What Carnahan and company have done instead is attempt to launch a new megabucks action franchise, aimed at younger viewers for whom the original “A-Team” is a misty fragment of cultural prehistory, perhaps referenced by their drunken hipster uncles at Fourth of July barbecues: “I pity the fool who gets between me and my Pabst Blue Ribbon!”

Alex Eichler at The Atlantic

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K. Diddy’s A Film Star And Other Improbable Tales

Peter Hall at Cinematical:

There is a quick and simple litmus test to tell whether or not you’ll enjoy Get Him to the Greek. If you found Aldous Snow, Russell Brand’s caricature of a rock star, to be one of the funnier elements of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, then you will no doubt have a riot with the increased raunchiness his character once again brings to the screen for director Nicholas Stoller. If, for whatever reason, you find Brand’s larger-than-life presence to be as insufferable as the real rock stars he’s lampooning, chances are good his spin-off film will do little to convince you there’s more to him than just an outrageous persona. Get Him to the Greek is exactly what the trailers advertise: Aldous Snow turned to 11.

The record company Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) works for is taking a beating in the recession. In an attempt to turn business around, Aaron’s boss, Sergio (Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs), agrees to go ahead with Aaron’s suggestion to put on a massive concert marking Aldous Snow’s band’s ten-year anniversary at the Greek theater in Los Angeles. Trouble is, the eccentric lead singer of Infant Sorrow is half-way around the world in London. Aaron must then fly to the UK just days before the concert is set to take place and escort the easily distracted rocker back to LA in time for the show. Aldous, who could care less about the concert, is far more interested in forcing his new pet Aaron out of his timid shell. Hilarity ensues.

That may sound mocking, but it’s not. Get Him to the Greek’s plot may be a feature film version of a sitcom, but it’s also the first film of 2010 that’s left me breathless from laughing too hard. Jonah Hill and Russell Brand have an enormous reservoir of chemistry together and every scenario the two are written into, almost all of which revolve around Brand’s perpetual quest for drugs, pays off with raucous, R-rated (but not gratuitous) glory. So, provided you actually enjoy Aldous Snow, there’s no denying that the film will have you convulsing with laughter throughout its brisk running time. At 109 minutes, Greek is one of the shorter films that bears Judd Apatow’s name as a producer. It also happens to be one of the most unique titles amongst that roster. Unfortunately, that’s not exclusively a compliment.

Dana Stevens at Slate:

If this frantically paced buddy comedy had a motto, it would have to be the one uttered by Spinal Tap’s glassy-eyed keyboardist near the end of This Is Spinal Tap: “Have a good time … all the time.” There’s no buildup, no narrative arc, just one scene of comically debauched partying after another. The only shifts occur in the locale (London, New York, Las Vegas, L.A.) and the substance being ingested: champagne, absinthe, heroin, and a joint that’s laced with everything but the kitchen sink and innocuously nicknamed a “Jeffrey.” Marathon revelry as a crucible for the forging of friendship is a time-honored trope, both at the movies and in college. But you don’t come to value a person just because the two of you get shitfaced together. You come to value them because you embark on ill-advised escapades, share indiscreet confidences, inadvertently hurt and then sloppily forgive one another … while being shitfaced together. A good party movie understands this. But recent guys-on-the-town comedies like Get Him to the Greek—I’d also include Hot Tub Time Machine and Superbad in this category—seem so keen to amp up the hurt that they neglect the part about forgiveness.

Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline:

It also contains numerous moments of unrepentant absurdity that work in spite of themselves, as comedy so often does. When Sean Combs, as Aaron’s crazed, demanding boss (he has the great, ridiculously unlikely name Sergio Roma), coaches him in the management of unruly rock stars, he stresses the importance of that time-honored intimidation technique so beloved by upper-management types, the mind-f***. “I’m mind f***-ing you right now,” he tells Aaron, staring him down with the faux-nutso intensity of David Byrne performing “Psycho Killer” circa 1977. Aaron patiently endures this act of imaginary penetration before going for the kicker: “I hope you’re wearing a condom, because you’ve got a dirty mind.”

Get Him to the Greek is filled with gags like that, jokes so lame and ludicrous they somehow circle ‘round back to being funny. It doesn’t hurt that the movie is dotted with an assortment of lively second- and third bananas, Combs among them. (He has the megalomaniacal record-industry exec thing down cold.) Rose Byrne, as Snow’s ditzy, kittenish ex, Jackie Q., also has a few deliciously zonked-out scenes, including a faux rock video that shows her romping around in a tiny, flouncy French milkmaid costume. Byrne, in addition to being a good sport, has marvelous comic timing: At one point she blinks out at us from behind a set of enormous feather eyelashes, fluttering her lids as if it were the most normal thing in the world to have Cleopatra’s fans affixed to your lashline.

Even Hill is, for once, reasonably funny here, possibly because he’s used sparingly and carefully. The character he’s playing is painfully realistic: He’s a wholly believable rendering of every obsessive LP-collecting schmoe who thought it would be cool to turn his love of music into a full-time job in what used to be known as the recording industry, only to find that working said job for more than a year or two is enough to kill off your love of music altogether. Hill is perfectly happy to play the foil here, settling down to play the stereotypical down-trodden schlub who dips a cautious toe into the fabled rock-and-roll lifestyle and finds it overrated.

Rob Hunter at Film School Rejects:

Brand and Hill both prove they can carry a comedy by constantly and consistently bringing the funny. Brand’s range is obviously limited to, well, playing himself, but he does so brilliantly. Dryly sarcastic and giddily triumphant, he is pure leather-clad, booze-soaked id strutting across the screen. From the opening music video for the song that sinks his career (“African Child”) to convincing Green to smoke, snort, and snog with pure abandon, Brand has enthusiasm and energy to spare. Between this and Cyrus Hill is showing a bit more acting talent here than just the surly comedic dick he’s contributed to flicks like Funny People and Superbad. He doesn’t always hit the mark on the more serious bits, but he manages the straight man pushed to be snarky with definite comedic skill.

The two surprises here though are P. Diddy Combs and Byrne. Combs’ take on the boss from hell begins fairly straight-forward but each subsequent appearance finds him more animated, unpredictable, and gut-busting to watch. Whether espousing the benefits of smoking a “Jeffrey” or dancing a tribute to Carlton from The Fresh Prince he threatens to steal scenes from his more established co-stars and proves himself a worthy comedian. Byrne comes out of left-field too, as nothing on her resume prepares you for the bawdy, raunchy, and hilarious British tart she brings to life onscreen as Snow’s ex, Jackie Q. Like Brand, she gets to sing some witty and dirty little pop numbers including one cheeky little number about her bum hole. Toss in brief but funny cameos from the likes of Kristen Bell, Rick Schroder, Aziz Ansari, and Paul Freaking Krugman, and you have a steady stream of giggles.

The movie’s only real weakness is in an area that it’s predecessor got so effortlessly right. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is equally humorous throughout, but it’s also filled with a fair amount of heart and emotion. You come to love some of the characters, you feel their pain, and you care what happens to them beyond simply the next punchline. That heart isn’t beating nearly as strong here… although it’s not for lack of trying. Stoller and his cast work really hard to make you see the heartbreak, loneliness, and internal struggles facing these characters, but seeing it and believing it are two different things. It looks like a lot of work when it should feel natural and organic, and because of that it isn’t fully believable. The two leads are both fantastically funny guys but neither are experienced enough actors to pull it off completely. Brand comes surprisingly close though at times as he reveals the degree of love he feels for his son and Jackie Q, but it fades quickly with the next vomit scene.

Foster Kamer at The Village Voice:

Nobel prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has recently enjoyed his time in the sun for being (A) a 2008 Nobel prize-winner, (B) correct about a bunch of things, (C) smacking down flashy upstart Andrew Ross Sorkin. All of which are beside those times Loudon Wainwright wrote a song about him and a moderator during a discussion at the London School of Economics once introduced him a “rock star”. But this thing might have gone too far, now.

From Roger Ebert’s review of the new Judd Apatow comedy – Get Him to the Greek, starring funny fat Jewish kid Jonah Hill and funny Limey sex-addict Russell Brand, about a lackee who has to get a rock star to LA’s Greek Theater – this is your New York Times-related “WTF” parenthetical aside of the day:

In a movie jammed with celebrity cameos (New York Times columnist Paul Krugman?), we see…

P. Krugman is in a movie with P. Diddy? At this rate, dude’s about to get pelted with a bunch of economist groupie-panties next time he walks in the Times building. Somewhere, Ross Douthat is on the phone, screaming at his agent while Charles Isherwood stews somewhere, feeling upstaged.

UPDATE: Huffington Post

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Return To The Land Of Wayne’s World

Alex Eichler at The Atlantic

Dana Stevens at Slate:

My Slate colleague Jonah Weiner published an article in the New York Times‘ Arts & Leisure section last weekend on MacGruber (Universal Pictures), an action comedy based on the ongoing Saturday Night Live skit of that name, in which the creators speak with sincerity and passion of their desire to break the SNL-inspired movie formula—to do something really different. “The first thing we thought was the first thing everyone must think: How can we possibly pull this off?” asks Jorma Taccone, the film’s director and an SNL writer who originated the MacGruber character. John Solomon, another SNL writer who co-wrote the movie with Taccone and its star Will Forte, adds, “I think this movie is going to surprise a lot of people.”

Having now seen MacGruber, I find these comments both funnier and more touching than anything that happens in the movie. In fact, the MacGruber team’s firm belief that their movie is going to be awesome recalls nothing so much as the unshakable and completely unfounded self-confidence of MacGruber himself. The character, as embodied on big screen and small by Forte, is a blustering but incompetent action hero whose supposed expertise in bomb defusing inevitably ends in a giant (stock footage) fireball. Like Wile E. Coyote, he’s blown up in every episode, only to reappear in the next with his self-esteem undented. It’s a concept that appeals by virtue of its slightness and absurdity. The likelihood of this one-joke goof surviving the jump to feature-film format is as slim as the chance of MacGruber successfully disabling a bomb.

Eric D. Snider at Cinematical:

There isn’t much competition in this category, admittedly, but MacGruber is the funniest Saturday Night Live-based film since Wayne’s World. We’d have breathed a sigh of relief if it were merely not awful. The fact that it’s actually pretty good, a gleefully silly action parody that doesn’t run out of steam before it’s over, is just icing on the cake.

The recurring SNL sketch it’s based on is a spoof of the 1980s TV series MacGyver, famous for its resourceful, duct-tape-wielding protagonist. MacGruber, played by Will Forte, is ostensibly just like MacGyver, with the joke being that he’s actually dangerously inept. (Each sketch ends with him and his crew being blown up.) The movie version, written by Forte and SNL writers John Solomon and Jorma Taccone (Taccone also directed), expands MacGruber’s character to include several more traits: cowardly, petty, vain, homophobic, delusional, immature, and maybe sociopathic. Like many characters played by another SNL-bred Will — that’d be Mr. Ferrell — what’s so funny about MacGruber is that, despite being the hero, he’s an awful person who’s terrible at his job. I mean, people die because of him. Regularly.

Forte and company have logically put MacGruber into an ’80s action-movie scenario. A former Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Green Beret, MacGruber is retired now, Rambo-style, when his old Pentagon friend, Gen. Faith (Powers Boothe), recruits him for an important mission. It seems a nuclear warhead has been stolen and must be found before it is deployed. And who is the thief? None other than the same dastardly villain responsible for the death of MacGruber’s wife. The bad guy, played by Val Kilmer, is named Dieter Von Cunth, primarily so the movie can make its characters say “cunth” over and over again.

Through a series of events that’s both comical and completely predictable given what you know about the MacGruber SNL sketches, MacGruber winds up working with an old partner named Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and a rookie military officer named Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) in his efforts to stop Von Cunth. MacGruber’s methods of surveillance and espionage are unorthodox — one involves celery being misused in a manner that you will not soon forget — but not in the way that gets results, even accidentally, like Agent 86 in Get Smart. MacGruber gets results only rarely, and most of those are technically someone else’s doing. In that way, the film’s central joke is self-referential: This is a movie about a completely useless character who should not be the main character in a movie.

Jenni Miller at Cinematical:

“People, I think, automatically assume that it’s just going to be the sketch over and over again for 90 minutes, and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised,” star and co-writer Will Forte told reporters gathered in NYC. Director and co-writer Jorma Taccone said, “We were desperately trying to avoid that at all costs.” “We didn’t want to write that, and we wouldn’t want to see that,” said Forte.

“It was such a different experience than writing for the show,” said Forte. “Every step of the way, we really came up with the most wild ideas possible and we kept thinking, ‘Somebody at some point will come in and put a stop to this and say, “You cannot do this. That’s weird, that’s disgusting,'” and it never, ever happened… We were so exhausted that we kept thinking of weirder and weirder ideas.”

Co-writer John Solomon was also on the panel with Taccone and Forte, who all write for Saturday Night Live, but was fairly silent in comparison to his caffeinated cohorts. Later, costars Kristen Wiig and Ryan Philippe also joined the party, offering insights about MacGruber, being sweated upon, and Val Kilmer’s email habits.

Kurt Loder at MTV:

One walks in to any movie based on a “Saturday Night Live” skit with basement-level expectations. Still, the new “MacGruber” manages to disappoint. The most interesting thing about the picture is that, with a little tweaking, it might actually have been turned into an enjoyable parody of an ’80s-style action flick: Bullets fly, stuff blows up, doorway-size heavies lend menace, and it’s all been rendered with a knowing fondness for the form by cinematographer Brandon Trost (who also shot “Crank: High Voltage”). But too early on, comedy begins cropping up, and it’s all sub-basement from there on out.

“SNL” enthusiasts will know that the skits this picture seeks to inflate are riffs on the ’80s TV show “MacGyver,” the hero of which was a gun-shy secret agent capable of combining the unlikeliest oddments — a cufflink, a crayon and a cantaloupe, say — into useful tools in stressful situations. The skits mine laughs from the manic incompetence of their special agent, MacGruber (played both there and here by Will Forte), and from the explosions he inevitably fails to abort. The movie attempts to do the same, but after maybe 20 minutes of Forte’s frantic, one-note mugging, it’s left with nowhere else to go — and there’s still more than an hour of this thing to sit through.

Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline:

Once in a while a funny line or absurd sight gag will amble into the foreground, only to recede immediately in the rear-view mirror of memory. Forte is handsome enough — he’s ruggedly chiseled and all that. But watching at him strut about, in his quilted vest and plaid-shirt getup, wearing a retro hairdo that’s simultaneously too-pouffy and too-matted, becomes exhausting after a while. The movie is also conspicuously lacking in gadgety ridiculousness: At one point MacGruber drags out a box full of rubber bands, Q-tips and the like and proceeds to fiddle around with them — sticking a penny into his belly-button, for example, presumably on the assumption that it will come in handy later. Later, when faced with the task of disarming an explosive in 1.2 seconds or something like that, he panics at the riotous array of colors found in the tangle of wires before him. Here and there, he improvises: A leafy celery stick stuck pertly into a certain orifice momentarily distracts and astounds some evil-doers. But it doesn’t do much to distract or astound us.

Kitsch abounds in MacGruber, particularly on the soundtrack: You’ll hear enough Toto, Gerry Rafferty and Eddie Money to last the rest of your lifetime. But the only actor here who breathes any life into the movie’s misguided nostalgia is Wiig. Although Wiig has been marvelous in many smaller parts — among them Greg Mottola’s coming-of-age comedy Adventureland and David Koepp’s wonderful modern romance Ghost Town — the scope of her cockeyed genius hasn’t yet been tapped in a big movie role. In MacGruber, Wiig at least gets to rock her look: She’s the kind of girl who’s genuinely flattered by Farrah Fawcett wings and even, bizarrely enough, by twinkly blue eye shadow. Wiig’s timing is, as usual, perfect in its wiggly-waggly way, even though the gags that have been written for her don’t do it justice. Still, in those Landlubber flares, she’s something to look at. In a movie with all the wrong moves, she marches to her own Tiger Beat.

Brian Salisbury at Film School Rejects:

Part of the problem is that there are modern comedy cliches attached to a source that never utilized them in the first place. The completely inept man-child archetype that was the crux of nearly all of Will Ferrell’s films is stapled haphazardly to MacGruber when it really doesn’t need to be. The shtick of the sketch is that the guy constructs makeshift bomb defusing devices that ultimately fail; the look and feel of MacGuyver with the impersonator’s actions being the antithesis of the parodied character. We don’t need him to also be completely moronic and all-too-willing to perform oral sex on other guys to pad out the character. To me, that is lazy screen-writing that apes already pedestrian conventions.

I will say that Kristen Wiig can’t help but be funny no matter what film she’s doing. The woman has a natural comedic presence that seems effortless but is always indicative of her dedication. Ryan Phillippe spends most of the film out of his element, but it’s also clear he’s really trying so I can’t fault him for a phoned-in performance. Val Kilmer prompts a few chuckles, but shows nowhere near comedic competence as he did in, say, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Beyond that, I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about MacGruber, it’s exactly as juvenile and brainless as it looks.  But the startling lack of hatred I have toward it is more than I could have hoped for – moments of actual hilarity cropping up intermittently.  I won’t bore you with details but sufficed to say a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances coincided with my entering this theater, and I still didn’t think it was awful.  That’s not exactly high praise, but it’s far more than I expected.

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But Bryan Adams Is In No Way Involved With This, Right?

Dana Stevens in Slate:

The legend of the forest-dwelling thief and his merry band has been committed to film scores of times, most definitively in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), one of those magical movies in which everything—the casting of then-newcomer Errol Flynn, the crisp vividness of early Technicolor, the jaunty score by Erich Korngold—somehow coalesced into a perfect artifact. Seventy-two years later, the Errol Flynn Robin Hood is still the version to beat, and its shadow—or rather, its lack of shadow, for never has a movie been sunnier—looms over any cinematic return to Sherwood Forest. Scott’s remake is unremittingly dour in the modern style: That’s how we reboot old legends, right? By making sure no one in them smiles?

The movie’s long windup has Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) returning from the Crusades, where he fought in the service of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). When Richard is killed while laying siege to a French castle (in a gory and hyper-realistic battle scene that illustrates the barbarism of medieval warfare), Robin and a few of his men desert the army and flee for England. On the way back, he stops off at an estate near Nottingham Castle to return the sword of a slain knight, Sir Robert Loxley. There, Robin learns that the dead knight’s father, Walter (Max von Sydow) and widow, Marion (Cate Blanchett) are about to have their land seized by the greedy Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew McFadyen.) So Robin agrees to pass himself off as the returned Loxley to save the estate. The fiercely independent Lady Marion is furious at this plan and forces the newcomer to sleep on the floor of her bedchamber with no blanket and only a log for a pillow.

Meanwhile, Richard the Lionheart’s brother, the treacherous King John (Oscar Isaac), assumes the throne and immediately begins scheming with his adviser, Godfrey (Mark Strong), to collude with the invading French army in breaking the backs of the English populace with exorbitant taxes. There’s a lot of throne-room intrigue, much of which hews fairly closely to the actual facts of political turmoil of 13th-century England. But the movie has to perform some convoluted narrative footwork to connect the Robin Hood story to these larger historical events. In one far-fetched scene, Robin presents the king with a scroll of populist demands that reads like a first draft of the Magna Carta.

The screenwriter, Brian Helgeland, seems to be working from a memo forbidding the use of any recognizable tropes from the Robin Hood legend. Not a soul wears green (even though there’s some literary and historical precedent for associating the color with the region where the story takes place). Little John (Kevin Durand) isn’t particularly large, Friar John (Mark Addy) never carries Robin Hood on his back across a river, and no one mounts a horse by leaping down onto its back from a tree. Nor, until the movie’s last few minutes, is there any of the charitably motivated highway robbery that was the Merry Men’s stock in trade. This adaptation seems either not to understand the appeal of its source material or to reject it deliberately. The movie eschews every value we’ve come to think of as quintessentially Robin Hood-ish: derring-do, mischief, laughter, joy.

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon:

Crowe has never possessed much dramatic range, but he can be — and sometimes is here — a tremendously charismatic screen presence who imparts an air of naturalness even to stupid roles in stupid movies. There’s something off about this performance, though. It’s got a calculated movie-star-ness about it, as if Scott had assured him that every character issue and every plot point could be resolved by striking a gloomy non-expression at the perfect angle and holding it for five seconds. Hey, don’t worry about any of that acting-school bullshit, Rusty. They loved you in “Gladiator”! (Which is, at the risk of being obvious, the career-topping, Oscar-sweeping formula Scott and Crowe long to recapture here.)

What I’m working my way around to saying (talk about damning with faint praise!) is that despite its abundant flaws and historical howlers and generally dimwitted tone, “Robin Hood” is a surprisingly enjoyable work of popcorn cinema, if you’re willing to take it on its own terms. As ever, Scott hires the best production-design teams in the business, and his muddy vision of late medieval Britain — where even London is little more than a collection of wood-and-wattle huts built around the royal castle — is richly detailed and totally convincing. Much more important, this is a knockout love story built around two adult characters who’ve learned some of life’s toughest lessons and faced real responsibilities.

I don’t know how much money Cate Blanchett got paid to play Marian Loxley, the aristocratic widow who will become — in the story’s future tense — Robin’s Maid Marian. It was probably more than you and I combined will make in 10 years, but in terms of redeeming this film as a viewing experience, it might not have been enough. For my money, Blanchett’s beauty only grows more luminiscent as she gets older (she celebrates her 41st birthday this week, if you haven’t sent a gift), and in this role as a rural woman forced to run her absent husband’s estate she commands the screen with supernal grace and a fiery sense of purpose.

Moreover, when paired with Blanchett, Crowe’s gloomy demeanor and noncommittal expression — he looks like a man unsure whether what he just ate was chocolate or cat shit — seems directed at a worthy object. In this before-the-man-became-a-legend prequel, Crowe’s Robin Longstride is an archer who skips out on the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) as it pillages its way homeward from the Crusades, perhaps because he’s developed a conscience about all that wanton killing of Muslims. (Ascribing a 21st-century sense of morality and cultural sophistication — not to mention literacy — to the uneducated son of a 13th-century stonemason is nice and all. But, you know, not that plausible.)

E.D. Kain at The League:

Roger Ebert’s review of Robin Hood is not the one I wanted to read. I wanted a thumbs up, four stars, 99% fresh – and instead I learn that this is in fact a prequel to the actual Robin Hood story – much like Alice in Wonderland turned out to be a really boring sequel to that much better tale.

[…]

I enjoy Ebert’s curmudgeonly side. His film-buff conservatism comes out in reviews like this one and I find myself nodding in agreement – though, to be fair, I haven’t seen the film myself so I can only speculate. Still – not the real Robin Hood story? Massive battle scenes? Have we lost the art of telling a good story – even when that story is all there written out for us beforehand?

I love the Robin Hood legend for its banditry and its lack of grandiosity. The rebels ambushing caravans in the woods; the archery and daring escapes. I’ve enjoyed every single Robin Hood film I’ve ever seen, and I’d really hate to be disappointed by this one. I fear I will be – since this doesn’t sound anything like Robin Hood at all.

John Gholson at Cinematical:

I’m fine with the formula, even if I’m come to expect more from a director like Scott. It’s a comfort food dish of medieval action; a bowl of extra-lumpy mashed potatoes that’s satisfyingly familiar, if a little bland. I’m not a Robin Hood purist, and I don’t mind the Batman Begins-ification of the character, watching him grow into the legendary outlaw of Sherwood Forest that everyone’s familiar with. I can’t fault them for trying to find a new way to bring a very old character to life, especially one that’s been done over and over again on film.

I can fault them, however, for the slow-motion black and white flashbacks of Robin Hood’s repressed childhood memories, the predictable plotting, and the general mis-casting of everyone aboard. Crowe and Blanchett both seem too old for their roles, but hey, they’re movie stars, meaning they’re completely watchable in just about anything, no matter how mis-cast. Crowe’s sad sack voice percolates at a low rumble that swallows most of his own dialogue, while Blanchett tries to pick up the slack by being an extra-sassy Marion. Max Von Sydow and the actors playing Robin’s eventual merry men (Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle, Mark Addy) make the most of their roles, but the bad guys, Mark Strong as the traitorous Godfrey and Oscar Isaac as the cowardly Prince John, come across like thinly-motivated comic book villains.

Godfrey is out to help the French (to what end?) and Prince John wants power without granting his people liberty (good luck with that). Standing in the middle of both men is Robin Longstride (aka Robin Hood, but not just yet), disgraced archer for Richard the Lionhearted, who fakes his way back into England after Richard’s death by posing as the Nottingham soldier Robin Loxley. Robin’s crusade isn’t about killing Muslims in the name of England; it’s fair taxation. Or something. I’m not sure what Robin’s primary motivation is, besides being heroic. He rallies a broken England against French invaders, royally pissing off Prince John, and our story ends where most Robin Hood movies begin — right at the good part.

The truth is, I’m not any more in love with the character than I was when the movie started. Robin Hood, to me, is still a vanilla crusader who’s only good for a couple of hours of arrow-shooting and swashbuckling, and that’s what Robin Hood, the film, delivers. Ridley Scott brings his usual keen cinematic eye and pain-staking attention to period detail to Robin Hood, bringing an uninspired script to life without a grander purpose than to just exist as a typical Summer movie. In another decade, I’m sure someone will attempt to bring the character back to the movies with an all-new spin. Let’s hope they find a new formula.

Marshall Fine at Hollywood and Fine:

Ultimately, the big conflict in this film isn’t Robin Hood standing up for what’s right – it’s England, perched on the brink of civil war, trying to resolve its internal differences to take on the French. But the battle scenes seem perfunctory, almost rote, as though Scott was choosing from a lot of left-over second-unit footage.

Those sequences still have a certain kinetic power but seem like an afterthought. It’s as if what Scott really wanted to do was make a movie about the signing of the Magna Carta, then got cold feet and put in the action set-pieces.

Crowe is still a fascinating actor to watch, someone whose thoughts are always visible. Which is good because Robin doesn’t have much to say here. He and Blanchett have a pleasing friction that eventually turns from antipathy to romance. But, again, that doesn’t seem to be what was uppermost in Scott’s mind.

In the past, I’ve frequently felt that Scott’s films were a triumph of style over substance. But “Robin Hood” is so overburdened with substance that the style is muted, almost invisible at times. And no one wants a summer blockbuster that feels like a history lesson.

Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline:

The loveliest, most gloriously pagan Robin Hood may be John Irvin’s 1991 version, starring Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman, worth seeking out on DVD; it was never released in theaters, thanks to the dunderheaded egotism of Kevin Costner, who didn’t want it to compete with his own inane Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (directed by Kevin Reynolds). Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood may be even worse than Costner’s version, though comparing the two makes for a pretty pittling contest. At least Costner’s version feigned some love for its landscape; Scott’s is just a moneygrubbing extravaganza, ugly to look at and interminable to sit through. No movie about the evils of excessive taxation should be this taxing.

UPDATE: A.O. Scott in NYT

Ezra Klein

Jonathan Chait at TNR

Alex Massie

E.D. Kain at The League

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