Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Movie Reviews


I could've done without Evan Rachel Wood's line about always carrying around Viagra, or with Larry David's throwaway line about how he has learned to enjoy sex since his marriage. Without those two bits of dialogue, I could've persisted in the fantasy that the David/Wood marriage was merely just an advanced platonic friendship, since that's what the two actors played it as and didn't go for any kind of romantic chemistry. (Nor should there have been any such chemistry, since it's frickin' Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood.) So overall, this was actually perhaps the most tolerable of the old man/young woman relationships that always creepily pop up in Woody Allen movies. Larry David is about as close to asexual as a human being can get, so it's not you're constantly reminded of the image of his old balls (tm Adam Sandler) slapping up against ERW's backside or anything. It's just Larry David being Larry David with a pinch of being Woody Allen thrown in there, acting as a mentor/father figure to the cute-as-a-button ERW and working together just well enough to carry what is a pretty middling entry in the Woody Allen oeuvre. 'Whatever Works' is a nice enough flick with some quality laughs, but there's nothing in this movie that Woody hasn't brought to the table in a dozen other films. The always dependable Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr. are good in supporting roles and, it bears mentioning again, Wood is tremendous. Her character is a horrific cliche on paper, but she breathes life into it by sheer force of perky charm. Thank the lord that Woody cast her instead of his other young muse, Scarlett Johansson, since the sight of Scarlett trying to act perky (or, let's face it, just act) would've turned this movie into a parody.

Yikes, this sucked. No movie with a cast and creative team like this should be this unfunny. This was basically like if someone took this SNL skit and stretched it out over 90 minutes. Very much a homeless man's version of Life Of Brian.


I'm slotting these two together because I saw them on the same day, and because they both hold special places in this year's pantheon of summer movies. Hangover, of course, is the massive hit, the word-of-mouth phenomenon that has already made hundreds of millions of dollars and turned, of all people, Zach Galifianakis into a household name. LOTL, of course, is the huge bomb that seemed to confuse audiences that didn't know if it was a comedy or an action movie, and has led to whispers that Will Ferrell's days as a major box office draw are numbered, if not already over.

The weird thing is, I liked both movie about equally. LOTL is an intentionally goofy homage to what was apparently a pretty goofy show back in the 60's. Any flick that features Ferrell and Danny McBridge bantering for 90 minutes is good in my books; what's the over/under on how much of their dialogue was improvised? Sixty percent? Seventy? It's also fun to actually hear Anna Friel's British accent, which takes her sexiness to off-the-charts heights. Fun fact: the ape-man Chaka is played by Jorma Taccone, perhaps best known as the other 'Jizz In My Pants' guy along with Andy Samberg on SNL and in the Lonely Island comedy group.

As for Hangover, yeah, it's funny, but I dunno if I'd go ape over it like others have. I think it was the expectations game --- I went into LOTL expecting nothing, and was pleasantly surprised. I went into Hangover expecting a "first 45 minutes of Wedding Crashers" level of comedy and didn't get it. The film also suffered from a common affliction that besets summer movies; too many commercials. The tiger, Mike Tyson, Ed Helms marrying a stripper, the guys being tasered, stealing the cop car....by the time I saw these scenes in the film, I had already seen them a hundred times on TV. The only thing that the ads didn't reveal was the large dose of Galifianakis-style humor, which was great and definitely the highlight of the film. And the movie did have a tight script that explained everything in a clever way, capped off by the brilliant photo montage over the end credits. Enough care went into making this a dumb movie with a brain that I'm already intrigued to see what they'll do for the inevitable sequel. I'm presuming it'll be a bit more than, "Hey guys, Alan drugged our booze AGAIN and we can't remember what we did last night ONCE AGAIN! And this time we're in Miami!"

Meh part two. Tony Scott, the Diet Coke to his brother Ridley's Coke, makes another action movie that I'll completely forget about within a week or two. Denzel and Travolta must've figured that since their characters talk on the phone with each other for three-quarters of the movie, they could just go ahead and phone in their performances too. Again, not a bad movie, and more enjoyable overall than generic summer nonsense like Transformers 2, but nothing special. My biggest problem was that Travolta's crew's heist wasn't ingenious. If you're going to have a movie about a criminal mastermind carrying out a massive crime, there have to be a few more surprises within the mastermind's plan. Ocean's Eleven would've been a lot less interesting had George Clooney just rounded up 10 thugs and had them take Andy Garcia's wallet.

The movie isn't nearly as entertaining as the vitriol it has spawned in film reviews. A.O. Scott of the New York Times claimed that "this movie does not like you," in a review that seemed to be more about Scott's beefs with director Sam Mendes and, by extension, screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida than it did about the film itself. Roger Ebert, meanwhile, wrote a review that spent two paragraphs detailing Eggers and Vida's awesome hipster lives and concluded that, amusingly, maybe the characters seem 'smug' because they actually are better than you. Fellas, fellas, stop swinging the handbags. The movie itself seems to have been somewhat lost amidst all of this banter, which might be because 'Away We Go' is a good, but ultimately rather forgettable, little road movie. It's easy to focus on Eggers and Vida since John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are basically playing them within the film, and Mendes (who usually does big-ticket movies like Road To Perdition, American Beauty or Revolutionary Road) is an easy target since he is only a Philip Seymour Hoffman or Dylan Baker cameo away from a perfect score on his Make An Indie Movie Bingo card.

Krasinski and Rudolph go from place to place trying to find the perfect home for their impending child, and they meet a motley crew of friends and acquaintances along the way. Scott's big beef with this plot was that K&R are so tweely conceived that the whole point of the film seemed to be 'oh look at how much cooler these hipster parents are than the rest of America.' Um, doesn't every road movie feature the protagonists meeting a bunch of bizarre folks along the way? Maybe I should check some of other A.O. Scott reviews to see if he just has an issue with road movies in general. "The way that Harold and Kumar look down on Freakshow is just appalling! He can't help his bleeding pustules!" K&R are supposed to be the straight men to the likes of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan and other representations of parenthood and family life that they meet across the US and Canada. What hurt the movie for me was that I never quite got past the fact that it was Jim from the Office and on-SNL-too-long Maya Rudolph, rather than being fully absorbed by the characters. You can also see the ending coming from space, so there isn't exactly a lot of tension. But yeah, overall, not a bad movie.

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