Friday, August 27, 2010

The Other Guys

The Other Guys is the second buddy cop comedy to come out in 2010, and despite the coolness of Bruce Willis in Cop Out, The Other Guys can claim victory. In this odd couple pairing, Terry Holtz is a detective taken off the streets of NY because while working security at a Yankee game he accidently shot Derek Jeter… His new partner Allen Gamble is a laced up former accountant for the force, who spurns all of Holtz’s attempts to get back on the street. As odd a pairing as Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell may seem on first glance, let me tell you they work together wonderfully as tough cop, wimp cop in this film.

Ever since The Big Hit I’ve loved Mark Wahlberg, and I would love for him to get more screen time. However, he does seem to play the same characters over and over again. The only thing that makes hardened cop Terry Holtz any different than the hardened cops he’s played before is the comedy in the film. Holtz is repressed not because of the pressure put on him by mob bosses and political figures but because of the absurdity of his partner, and the cases he’s willing to pursue – because of this he becomes prone to illogical outbursts and tantrums in the middle of the office.

This is also the first movie in a long while that Eva Mendes hasn’t driven my nuts. She was again cast as the “hot chick” but playing opposite Will Ferrell her exotic beauty becomes an interesting, odd foil to his quirkiness. Her character is funny and memorable as the last in a string of super-hot girlfriends that Alan Gamble became entwined with.

However, in my opinion what The Other Guys does best is a running gag. It’s a joke that evolves several times in the film, and with each step it becomes funnier – like comedy should! Without trying to spoil the joke, it involves Allen’s gun and Capt. Gene.

The only thing that really bothered me about The Other Guys was the needless politics tacked on to the end credits. Republican, democrat, or anarchist – I don’t care – I just don’t like to see my movies with needless political statements tacked onto the films. I dislike message movies, and I desperately dislike simply throwing a message in at the end. That’s what short films are for. Do it funny and quirky, like the latest Pixar short Night & Day about equality. That works. Financial and legal news animated to credits – not so much.

However, I think that The Other Guys is a movie worth seeing. The cast contains some of the best character actors working today, the jokes are well placed and run the gambit of style and the film will make you laugh and take your mind off things for awhile – until the end credits hit.

Director: Adam McKay
Writers: Adam McKay & Chris Henchy
P.K. Highsmith: Samuel L. Jackson
Christopher Danson: Dwayne Johnson
Capt. Gene: Michael Keaton
Terry Hoitz: Mark Wahlberg
Allen Gamble: Will Ferrell
David Ershon: Steve Coogan
Shelia Gamble: Eva Mendes

Allen Gamble: I was so drunk, I thought a tube of toothpaste was astronaut food.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

To Have and Have Not

If you at all have an affinity for screen writing or classic cinema you know the line “You know how to whistle don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.” Lauren Bacall uttered these words in To Have and Have Not and the popularity of this line is why I had to finally see the film.

To Have and Have Not is a World War II film, but it’s a peculiar one at that. The closest film to it would be another Bogart classic, Casablanca. On the French island of Martinique the Germans have arrived and there is the beginnings of tension between the French resistance and the foreign power. Harry Morgan is a small fishing boat captain that rents his boat and skills to tourists with extra spending money. The first thing that blows into his life is another American runaway in the form of Marie Browning, a young, attractive woman who happens to be a pick-pocket. However, what really turns the tables on Harry is his landlord, who gets Harry and Marie pulled into business with the resistance. When the Germans catch wind everyone is under suspicion and it’s only a matter of time before the two American’s have to choose sides.

As good as Bogart is in this film, the standout is Lauren Bacall. This is her first film role and she sizzles on screen as the sultry young American that isn’t as naive as she seems. It’s obvious from her first lines why and how this woman went on to be one of our industry’s biggest stars. However, what’s so formidable is how she could hold her own against Bogart – a man with whom she would share the screen many times, and eventually marry.

To Have and Have Not is another example of an incredibly well written film. There is a verve and zest in the dialogue that too many films do not have today and that makes the film come alive even when the style of shooting may not fit what a modern audience is used to. The pace never ceases, and to the very end you are left wondering where times that like have gone.

Director: Howard hawks
Writers: Jules Furthman & William Faulkner
Harry “Steve” Morgan: Humphrey Bogart
Eddie: Walter Brennan
Marie “Slim” Browning: Lauren Bacall

Slim: Who was the girl, Steve?
Steve: Who was what girl?
Slim: The one who left you with such a high opinion of women.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


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Originally uploaded by Skyle.com
Despite having never read the source material, I spent my Friday night seeing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and let me tell you, that is one strange head-trip of a movie. It’s enjoyable for sure, but I think my best friend put it best when she told me afterwards she thought that watching that movie might be the same as a mild acid trip.

The only real beef I have with Scott Pilgrim is that for the first act of the film, Scott is kind of an unlikable douche. He’s dating a minor, taking advantage of his friends, and soon cheats on his young girlfriend with his new “love” Ramona Flowers. It isn’t really until the oddness of the story starts that I could really get into Scott Pilgrim as a character – before he was just Scott Pilgrim, loser.

However, once the movie gets going it is a ride to be had. Ramona is a fiercely independent and reserved character, but Scott compliments her nicely as he matches her spontaneity with timidity. Scott is completely unprepared for the fact that out of nowhere he has to battle her seven, evil exes if he wants to continue seeing her and the audience is glad he has to get beat up because he was being such a douche earlier in the film. So it all equals out. The film itself is a trip, emulating a video game whenever possible, even redoing the Universal logo as though it were going to be for the original Nintendo system.

What makes the film are the evil exes, each one completely different from the last. My Superman obsession aside, I have to say that my favorite evil ex is Todd Ingram played by Brandon Routh. Todd is the new boyfriend of ex that broke Scott’s heart, and he has super vegan powers. You heard that right. Vegan powers. Their battle is epic and humorous, with a special appearance by the vegan police at the end.

I’m not sure I’d get long term enjoyment out of this film, but I did like it and I appreciate that it’s a film that didn’t try to be normal, or normalize the source material upon which it was based. This is a movie that’s meant to be wacky and a story that’s meant to be off beat. However, I like so many others am ready for Michael Cera to no longer be typecast as the lovelorn nerd.

Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright
Scott Pilgrim: Michael Cera
Kim Pine: Alison Pill
Stephen Stills: Mark Webber
Young Neil: Johnny Simmons
Knives Chau: Ellen Wong
Wallace Wells: Kieran Culkin
Stacey Pilgrim: Anna Kendrick
Ramona Flowers: Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Matthew Patel: Satya Bhabha
Lucas Lee: Chris Evans
Roxy Richter: Mae Whitman
Todd Ingram: Brandon Routh
Gideon: Jason Schwartzman
Kyle Katayanagi: Keita Saitou
Ken Katayanagi: Shota Saito

Friday, August 13, 2010

Out of the Past

I’m pretty sure that by the end of my life I will be a hard-boiled expert on noir. I can’t get enough of it. I love discovering it. I love pouring over it. I love being immersed in these films. With as many as I’ve already seen, I can identify some of the best pretty quickly. It is without a doubt that I would make anyone wanting to discover American film noir watch The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity and Out of the Past.

Now I’ve blogged about Out of the Past before, I believe I raved about it. Thank God my second viewing confirms what I thought the first time, Out of the Past is a prime example of the visceral and emotional story telling that can make noir such a powerful genre.

Watching Out of the Past is a riveting experience, partly because the dialogue in that film downright crackles. These are smart, dangerous, witty, sassy characters that won’t be duped and have been handled with finesse by an equally smart writer. Lines like “You can never help anything, can you? You're like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another” are thrown around with ease and make me wish that I could talk like that and have my peers actually follow the conversation.

This film is a cinematic marvel. I can’t believe I didn’t discover it until this year. I want to prevent others with a love of noir from suffering the same fate. So go. Rent it. Buy it. See it.

Kathie Moffat: Oh Jeff, you ought to have killed me for what I did a moment ago.
Jeff Bailey: There's time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Lookout

There’s a little movie I saw awhile back that impressed the heck out of me called The Lookout. I’d been in the mood to watch it again for a few months now and I’d wanted to buy it instead of Netflix it, and yet for some reason I couldn’t find a single store that carried it. This is a travesty. I ended up having to track it down at a specialty DVD store, the kind where if they don’t sell it then it doesn’t exist. Thank God they had it, but I think it’s a travesty that stores like Target & Best Buy don’t seem to carry it.

I digress. What impressed me the most about The Lookout is the fact that even though it’s a heist movie that’s centered around a man with a brain injury, the film is never cheap, clich├ęd and comes off 100% authentic. That is a beautiful thing.

The main character is Chris Pratt, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I found an interview while I was looking for the film where Gordon-Levitt stated that part of what he loved so much about The Lookout and playing Chris is that in the end Chris doesn’t suddenly get better because you know, somewhere along the line some exec had the brilliant idea that as part of a nice happy ending Chris sound be healthy again, and that Gordon-Levitt loved that the film doesn’t do that because that would have been disrespectful to anyone suffering from a brain injury. I have to say that I agree.

Part of what makes the film feel so authentic is that Chris struggles. One day it may be hard for him to pick up a beer bottle without shaking, or he may forget where the can opener is kept, or he has sudden mood swings – and that doesn’t go away, even when he has to become the hero of the piece. The entire film Chris has to struggle with his injury, his past and how it all affects his present and future. There is never a moment where everything just gels and Chris carries on a quasi-normal existence.

As fantastic as Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in the role of Chris, it would be a crime not to mention that he is perfectly matched by Jeff Daniels in the role of Lewis – his blind roommate who helps him cope with life. To say Lewis is the comic-relief in this film would be to cheapen his performance or character, but Lewis is the one that provides many grins and laughs for the audience through the film. Lewis is in the place with his disability that Chris can’t be in yet, and Lewis’s ability to carry on with the lightness of life next to the darkness is a perfect complement to the still fresh way Chris is dealing with his disability. Daniels plays the character as if being a blind hippy is a natural act for him and it makes me wish he got more roles like this.

The single reason I think I’ve fought so hard to find this film is not my obsession with the acting work of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but Scott Frank. Frank has written some of my most loved films of the past decade and his directorial debut is a perfect match to his body of work. It’s tense, funny, original, and complex yet for the first time I’ve gotten to see the world as Frank sees it instead of through the filter of another director.

Chris Pratt: I started skating again. I'm not as good as I used to be, but I'm okay. What happened that night along Route 24 is a part of me now. I just hope that one day Kelly will be ready to see me again and I can finally tell her what I've only been able to say in my dreams. Until then, all I can do is wake up, take a shower, with soap, and try to forgive myself. If I can do that, then maybe others will forgive me too. I don't know if that will happen, but I guess I'll just have to work backwards from there.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Thin Man

I really wanted to like The Thin Man; not only is it a basis for an entire series of films, but I just finished reading the novel and Dashiell Hammett wrote one heck of a novel. Yet, I couldn’t like The Thin Man. Typically, I have no problem at all with classic cinema being dated or different, but leaving the book out of this I just didn’t find W.S. Van Dyke’s version of The Thin Man interesting at all.

I think my main problem with The Thin Man, whether it be a result of the censorship board at the time, or the result of what the audiences wanted themselves, the film is just far to light and glib for the subject matter it’s trying to present. This is a story of a crazy family, murder, double crosses and all that goes with a modern Scorsese film but instead the film is 95% screwball comedy with some crime thrown in. Nothing really makes sense, and scene after scene just seems to lead into each other simply because that’s how it was written. There is no sense of an organic world existing beyond the locations the characters are inhabiting.

However, perhaps my greatest issue with The Thin Man is the leading couple. Not only do William Powell and Myrna Loy have less than no chemistry as Nick & Nora Charles, Nick does nothing but insult and badger Nora the entire film. Where the book has witty banter the film has downright chauvinist tendencies. At one point when Nora wants to accompany Nick somewhere he even goes so far as to hail a taxi, let her get in then shut the door behind her and tell the driver to take her to an entirely different local while she protests from the backseat.

I actually think the blatant chauvinism was my biggest issue with the film, I just can’t get past it. I think that might be a modern hang-up I’m bringing into a classic film, after all this film was made less than fifteen years after women gained the right to vote – it was a very different time than the one I live in now.

Next to the treatment of women in the film, my least favorite element in the film would probably be the dinner party at the end. Nick decides the single best way to catch the real killer to so have the BYPD round up all the suspect – and throw a dinner party for them where he logically works through each piece of the puzzle until he unnerves the killer into revealing himself. I’m sorry. This is far too over the top, even for the screwball gangster flick The Thin Man is trying to be.

Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Writers: Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich
Nick Charles: William Powell
Nora Charles: Myrna Loy
Dorothy Wynant: Maureen O’Sullivan
Lt. Guild: Nat Pendleton
Mimi Wynant: Minna Gombell
MacCaulay: Porter Hall
Chris Jorgenson: Cesar Romero
Julia Wolf: Natalie Moorhead

Monday, August 9, 2010

Alphaville

I don’t know why I didn’t realize Jean-Luc Godard had made a sci-fi while the French New Wave was going on, but somehow they skipped over Alphaville when I was in film school, and I’m very sad they did. I do believe that Alphaville is one of those films that I would have a much greater understanding of if I knew more about the cultural climate of the time, or could actually understand the language.

Alphaville is to French science fiction, what 1984 was to literature. It paints a bleak story of a society that has let itself be overrun by a dominating power. In the case of Alphaville that’s a professor who seized control when he was exiled from another land and a computer system he implemented called Alpha 60. In this tale secret agent Lemmy Caution has been sent into Alphaville to assess the situation and take out the professor. Even though this sounds like a pretty straight-forward science fiction tale to anyone with knowledge of the genre, you have to remember to put this through the filter of Jean-Luc Godard which very simply means, this is anything but straight-forward and part of the reason I feel like I am missing a lot of the relevance by not knowing or being a part of the culture.

The one thing I can say that translates no matter what culture or time you are a part of are the visuals. Perhaps I have a tendency to like stark & sparse black and white, but I found Alphaville to be visually stunning. Sure sometimes what the characters were doing was a little wonky, and staring into the camera would never fly in an American studio film, but Godard is a master of story, concept and movement and all of that translates into a beautiful tale unlike any American science fiction film you’re likely to see – especially anything from the 1960’s before Kubrick came into play.

Alphaville is a film that must be experienced through to the end, because until the third act you’re not quite sure what’s going on in this strange world. All I could think while watching is a former pastor of mine that while he was talking on difficult concepts would always tell us to just go with it because “relevance is coming” and that is quite true for Alphaville; by the end of the film relevance has come in a very beautiful conclusion and Godard proves again that he had an imagination like no one else.

Director & Writer: Jean-Luc Godard
Lemmy Caution: Eddie Constantine
Natacha von Braun: Anna Karina

Alpha 60: Once we know the number one, we believe that we know the number two, because one plus one equals two. We forget that first we must know the meaning of plus.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Inception

While I may never be a fan of 3D, let me just say that Christopher Nolan is making me a fan of IMAX. Inception was made for IMAX. By saying that I don’t just mean that Nolan shot it in IMAX, which he did, I mean that it is a film that is so rich visually and aurally that it screams to be witnessed on as large a screen as possible.

This film is simply stunning.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, I would LOVE to sit at the feet of Christopher Nolan. The sheer volume of things I could learn from that man would probably astound me. He makes movies on a filmmaking scope that is beyond definition – whether his films are big or small he makes them with an intelligence and commitment that emanates from the screen and Inception is no exception.