Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guest Blogger Returns: Thoughts on "The American"

As the eight or so of you remember, Papa Grice has had the mind to pass on to me some of his film reviews; they're better-written, have a better historical take on film v. society, considering he's old [Happy recent birthday, again, Pops!], and are typically more viewed than my own. So, he's sent me his take on "The American."

Having seen this film a few weeks ago with a buddy of mine -- the two of us hoping that we'd appreciate the slow, dawdling nature of the film we'd both heard or read about -- I can say I almost wholeheartedly agree with Dad Grice on this one. It near-put me to sleep, and I didn't like seeing Clooney's "chicken-wings" -- as Pops puts it below -- enough to counterbalance the lack of original story.

I should say that when editing Pops' piece, I took out a small rant about Clooney's politics -- in short, my dad thinks his (Clooney's) Leftist inclinations cloud his film choices (to put it nicely). He didn't like "Men Who Stare at Goats," and he thought "Up in the Air" was overrated (as did I) -- soooo, I think that about covers it. :-D There has to be something left to argue about over Christmas.

On to the soapbox!


In most of our pedantic pasts there exists a Big Book of Storytelling, planted over time. Be it by a series of English teachers or, simply, the intuit influence of common sense – likely a combination of both -- we learn from it what makes a good story.

It speaks to such things as "character development," "protagonists," "antagonists"; "plot development"; "conclusion." All things lead to caring about the characters, discerning a coherent plot and, wonder of wonders, having a scintilla of interest and desire to know how to goad attention.

The American” director Anton Corbijn must have missed those lessons.

"The American" starts nebulously with our hero and hit-man, Jack (George Clooney), engendering some real goodwill with us viewers as he shoots what appears to be, as we are later tangentially made aware (kind of), a love interest in the head in some snowy, Siberian-esque landscape. Such is his need for remaining surreptitious as a couple of faceless thugs lay waiting to ambush. This leads to his escape into the wilds of Olde Italy, as Jack's wary of a double cross, possibly, for wanting “out”?

This theme, that of putting together a box of parts with directions written by an English as-a-fourth-language writer, becomes clear early on. [Editor's note: Perhaps this is why the movie is so conspicuously devoid of dialogue?] Jack makes some attempt at hiding, though not really...again, it would appear? Huge amounts of slow, slow moving footage intertwines all and, adding insult to injury, it isn't even set in an attractive part of Italy, so our scenic cinematography is lost on one vacant-seeming village upon another.

In watching the unfolding of one half-baked subplot after another – say, the footsy played with Jack's compadre hitwoman Mathilde (Thekla Reuten); a tangential brush with spirituality (?) via the start of a never-shaken-out relationship with the town's Good Father (Paolo Bonadelli) and his illegitimate son; the pursuit of those from Jack's last job now resulting in a shift to Jack-as-target based on probably some good reason (that we're unaware of); Jack's noticing a “rare” butterfly, I guess, in shorthand to demonstrate his “sensitivity” -- we hope these ever-slow sideshows coalesce into the semblance of order and sense.

Alas, they do not.

One point that is finally made clear is that Jack wants out of his line of business.

This awakens our sensibilities like an alarm clock via the strangely, awkwardly juxtaposed red-hot love scene with local prostitute Clara (Violante Placido), with whom Jack has been dramatically smitten; he has found an urgency for his escape (this movie, clearly, could have used more Clara-facation). [Editor's note: “Zing!” And/or, “Gross,” if taken the wrong way.]

Without spoiling the end, Sensitive Jack, now with two feminine notches on his gun, and that rare, annoyingly symbolic butterfly, are faintly shown in the final scene to be sadly sympatico.

At least that is what I think I saw.

I was left with a couple of overriding observations.

George shows off his physique via push- and pull-ups, reminding me of the newly arrived football season – unfortunately not for muscley appearance, but because of the chicken wings. [Editor's “Zing!”] Body-double time approachin', Georgie.

George further cements his cinematic image as lady killer (though, also literally), seemingly to set him sail for James-Bond land. While this isn't all bad, I would hope he finds more introspective and/or eclectic roles where he can better utilize his gifts.

Finally, could the book upon which this is based possibly have been as bereft of essential story elements as was reflected here? Or, was the problem with the scriptwriting and direction?? It really should not have been difficult to spot the lack of coherence/dissonance. Next time, at the very least, Anton should send his scripts over to the local high school creative writing club for a second opinion before unfurling such a mess.


I received a text message from Dear Old Dad, saying that he "Wanted to add that it wasn't a total loss. It did spawn a saving system of sorts.

I would give it 2 "dry heaves": Wretched, but sans substance.


Editor's post-post-note, I should say that I doubt Papa G has seen Corbijn's awesome "Control," which is why I went into "The American" wanting more than I got. Know what to get Dad for Christmas, just to settle the Corbijn CV.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Breaking the Bloggle Hiatus and Remembering Paul Newman Two Years Later

When I awoke this morning, I had a most unusual feeling -- one I hadn't felt in months: I really want to write today.

Considering my short stories from the past few years have all but fallen by the wayside, as I sink ever quickly into the acknowledgment that I may never be a real writer, I figured that maybe I'd unlock the old bloggle and toss some words out into the Interwebs.

But, still, it was curious that I had such a hankering. I've been seeing more movies than ever lately; the past couple of movie weekends have included triple features. First, there was "Machete," "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World," and "The American." Then, "The Town," "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," and "Easy A" (couldn't help myself on the last one).

And, a couple weeks ago, I wrote a few film reviews for Bloomberg, my old favorite place of employment. Yet, while I had -- as always -- much to say about the films, I thought maybe I'd outgrown the little bloggle (several of my jerk friends would be relieved!).

As I sat down to tip-tap away about how amazing Danny Trejo is in "Machete" and how I relished director Robert Rodriguez's racist treatment of my people (The Mexicans) -- and treatment of my other people as trigger-happy racists (The Texans); or, how disappointed I was with George Clooney for making me want to stick toothpicks in my eyes to stay awake during "The American"; or, how overrated "The Town" is, just as "Gone Baby Gone" (Affleck's directorial debut) was three years ago -- my Favorite Food Critic signed on and reminded me what today is.

Today is the second anniversary of Paul Newman's death. Crestfallen.

I'd been thinking about this day all month, ever since I visited a friend in Westport, CT for a few days, where Paul Newman lived until his death. As we drove from the train station to my friend's home, he pointed out the window through the trees to the Westport Country Playhouse, where Newman's wife Joanne Woodward was artistic director and where Newman himself was part-owner of the restaurant next door.

It took a dozen swallows to loosen the knot in my throat.

But, somehow I'd forgotten the significance of today this morning, or how I felt two years ago when Brother G called to tell me the news. I was in such a sad place at the time, that the blow of my One True Idol dying made me more depressed than I'd have imagined.

Now. I’m wiping the sleep away from my beady eyes and jolt upright in shock. My lips start to quiver, my jaw starts trembling – and it happened. I cried thankless, shameless tears as I sat there on my little air mattress in my new room (which is finally coming together, by the way).

I’ve joked a thousand times about how I’d cry when PN died. I
wrote about it on this silly bloggle (and jinxed it? Believe you me, that was the first reaction I had … Hell hath a place for me now, I’m sure) but I didn’t think I actually would workout the old tear ducts, like some love-stricken fan who wanted to impale themselves after the loss of a Beatle.

It takes some pretty heavy things to make me cry; and it just made me realize how much I really did, and do, admire PN – everything from his early career and movie choices, to his lifestyle, and – perhaps most selfishly – how handsome and righteous his roles most often were. He will be an everlasting love.
Thankfully, I'm much happier than I was two years ago, but as my all-time favorite "Cool Hand Luke" plays in the background -- the beloved scene where Dragline beats poor Paul into a pulp, but he won't stay down ... because he's Luke -- I'm sure I'll cry a few quiet tears throughout the afternoon.

And, for anyone interested, Roger Ebert's article on Newman is amazing. Upon reflecting on his obituary, Ebert writes:

I never really thought of him as an actor. I regarded him more as an embodiment, an evocation, of something. And I think that something was himself. He seemed above all a deeply good man, who freed himself to live life fully and joyfully, and used his success as a way to follow his own path, and to help others.
And, of his third meeting with Newman, he writes:
Never mind what happened in 1969. I'll dig up the old magazine and put it on the web site. Let's move forward to 1995, and listen very carefully. When I walked into his room, he said, "Aw...it's you again." The point is not that he remembered me. The point is how he said "aw..." Imagine it in Paul Newman's voice. It evoked feelings hard to express in words. The "aw" wasn't "oh, no," as it sometimes can be. To me it translated as, "Aw, it's that scared kid, grown up." Whatever it meant, it put me right at home.
Oh, no, the tears. At least it gave me a reason to write. Silver-linings.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"You Don't Know Jack [Kevorkian]" ... HBO, You're Genius.

I thought I should put out a few words about "You Don't Know Jack," the new (well, April, "new") HBO-released movie about Dr. Kevorkian. It's got several actors we all know and love, playing out a debate that is near and dear to my heart.

It's a biopic about "Doctor Death," starring Al Pacino as Kevorkian, Susan Sarandon as real-life Janet Good, a trusted, integral participant in the aiding of right-to-die medical lawsuits back in the 1980s-90s, and John Goodman and Brenda Vaccaro as Kevorkian's right-hand men in the video-taping and documenting of assisting suicides to patients who had no will to live.

By many accounts, people have the right to be put out of their suffering, so long as they are cognizant and, actually, suffering; Kevorkian has always been played out in the media as a masked-murderer cloaked in doctor's garb.

At the end of the movie, and after endless chats with Mama G on the issue, jury's out? Which, for this type of film, is interesting and successful.

It's rare that I take movies actually seriously.

I mean, my favorites involve gunmen having showdowns, gangsters being awesome, spies stealing intel, vigilantes (the real favorite!) wreaking revenge on any and all who deserve it...or Tom Hanks falling in love with ladies I'd like to be (embarrassing, but true).

In short, I run the gamut, in terms of taste ... but I always just love tales, not the idea we should really think of the parables with regards to our own lives.

Sadly, in this life, I doubt I'll ever own a gun, be a gangster (sigh), be a spy (bigger sigh), go vigilante on someone (biggest sigh) and ... love's for the birds (no sigh needed, there).

But, this film really got to me. Got to me.

I grew up in a family of rational scientists, healthcare professionals, cynics, agnostics -- some crazier than others, sure -- but ... it was formative. No one liked that I graduated with a lib-arts degree, but everyone cheered when I started working at Popular Science, even as a grunt.

And, I grew up with a Mama G who has always told me: "Morgie, when I'm old and sick ... you just pull the plug. Pull it." -- she's seen too much in her 30-some-odd years of helping the sick and decrepit to imagine herself being kept alive for the sake of her kids not wanting to see her pass.

I always respond: "In yo' dreeeeeams! I couldn't do that ... you don't have enough dollars to leave me for me to let you go and not be able to gossip with you! Even if you're just laying there, I can still chat at you."

I kid, kind of. But the principle of believing that, in theory, you should relieve someone of their insufferable pain by telling them how to "go," painlessly -- which can be argued is part of a doctor's duties -- it's quite unthinkable to think about doing to a loved one unless you're in that situation.

The film really makes you think -- you watch how Kevorkian's ego, his pride, his honest-to-the-gods belief in progressing medical-history informs his logic; how he challenges current medical practices in the name of ushering in a transformative period of medical assistance against odds.

To me, it was pretty eye-opening.

Of course, when I discussed it, again, for two hours with Mama G, she said: "Well, now, sheesh, I'll have to watch it; don't go pulling the plug on me too soon!"

Never, and mission accomplished on the movie front!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cyrus: "I Will Knock You Out."

A couple weeks ago, I dragged an old Favorite Friend of mine from school out to Crooklyn to the New York premiere of "Cyrus," the new film starring Marisa Tomei, John C. Reilly, Catherine Keener and the ubiquitous Jonah Hill.

Tomei and Reilly, Brooklyn natives, were introducing the film at the opening of the BAMcinemaFest; post-viewing, they were to be mingling in the crowd with us plebes, where beer and scotch sponsors gave us all free drinks and hot dogs and sugar-coated peanuts.

There were so many hipsters there that I think my bud and I were the only two who had circulation to our feet.

It was awesome.

A PopSci colleague gave me the tickets after he heard me chewing the fat about how much I wanted to see the film, and how I'd likely die if I ever saw Marisa Tomei in person -- the tickets were very much appreciated.

I'm sure we've all seen the trailer for Cyrus by now, and the premise is pretty original. I'd been waiting months to see Hill play Tomei's son (not to be impolite, but ... such a spawning could never happen, I'd dare to say), and John C. has been a favorite for years.

Reilly plays the Loserville guy, John, who meets the woman of his dreams, Molly (Tomei). Suddenly, he's rapt by love, his life is going to go somewhere, he's head over heels.


There's Cyrus (Hill), and he's rather Hell-bent on his Oedipal Complex; he's not too keen on having the likes of some guy moving in on his mother.

Catherine Keener plays Reilly's ex-wife, Jamie, in a weirdly amicable divorced situation - she champions Reilly to plug on after Tomei, and if you can suspend reality enough (or just wish that it was always that peachy), they have an endearing relationship that helps you root along Reilly/Tomei.

Jonah Hill is hilarious, as always, in his weirdo persona as a 21-year-old son who's too protective of his hot mother; Tomei is just ... breathtakingly gorgeous as always, and endearing to boot; and, we always root for John C. because -- he's got a root-for face.

I really loved the movie -- kooky, weird, unbelievable, sure ... but, fun.

I leave you with a favorite Tomei scene from "My Cousin Vinny."

Friday, June 11, 2010

"Splice": Oh, What You Could Have Been.

Oh, "Splice," what you could have been.

I saw this sci-fi flick Opening Night, last Friday. Because I am an unabashed watcher of MTV, I'd seen the Splice trailer some 17,000 times while watching a "True Life" marathon the previous Saturday (some really sick phenomena take place on that wonder of a show -- kind of makes you feel better about your own dysfunctions, such as watching "True Life" for hours on end when the sun is out and shining.)

I was quite floored about the movie -- I figured it would be a schlock-filled horror/thriller film that'd make me cringe at puss and goo, while telling a good story about corporate n'er-do-wells, trying to stymie some important genetic research - a pet issue of mine.

Buddy, was I wrong.

Adrien Brody stars as Clive Nicoli, an egotistical geneticist who's been (somewhat) successful at breeding blobs of gooey flesh via multi-hybrid animal DNA. The blobs are supposed to be critical to solving livestock health issues, amongst sundry other vague health conditions of science-fiction lore.

Clive and love-interest partner Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley, notable in "Go" and for writing/directing "Away From Her"), who is also a NERD -- that's actually the acronym for the corporation they work for, and fitting for her geeked out character -- decide to take matters into their own hands when the higher-ups dictate that the two are not allowed to mix in a few human ova into their animal genetic mix.

This, after one of their blobs explodes on stage after a press conference, spurting out goo-junk onto all the Helen Thomas's in the science world. Perhaps the old NERD higher-ups considered liability or, oh, ethics, when they decided not to let these two make an animal-human hybrid.

What results is "Dren" (NERD spelled backwards) - a hilariously conceived part-human that has the legs of a horse, wings of a ... dragon? ... a pointy tongue, fish lungs, a weird crevice in the skin that runs down the symmetrical vertical of her face -- and some G.D. crazy incestuous plot lines that make you want to hug your knees to your chest, even though you're laughing at the ridiculousness of it all at the same time.

I will say that I was entertained; much like everyone in the audience, I was chuckling at each and every new horrible plot twist. When we find that Dren is aging like Benjamin Button, my only question was: Does this mean the movie ends sooner? One can only wish.

I ruin nothing in talking about the plot, because - the moment these guys get on screen, the stilted acting, the early twists, the ... everything ... spells the movie out before it even gets going. Director Natali does, however, drop in a couple last-minute twists that are hard-to-bear and not fit even for this genre.

I'll keep those to myself, though.

Next up, "Cyrus," (awesome) and "The Karate Kid" (mini-Fresh Prince is so great).

Friday, May 21, 2010

City Island and Misconceptions on North v. South

This week, one of my best Dude Friends from high school has been hanging his hat with me in Crooklyn. He's done with his fourth semester at grad school (a Syracuse poet, la-dee-da), so he ambled on down to my neck of the woods to keep me company and visit our other jerk high school friend who's just graduated law school.

"Other Jerk" High School Friend, Rusty, Me, Ashlee, Carmen, Jaclyn, Cheryl Crabb ;-)

(When I look in the mirror, all I see is: Underachiever.)

When we three buds are hanging out with our Northern friends, I think we feel remiss if we don't talk about the greatness of the South. Somehow, every conversation comes back to the wonders of Texas, even though we have no plans of living back there any time real soon.

Food? We speak of Southern specialties, and bask in our ability to tell the difference between good Tex-Mex and, well, pitiful Northern knock-offs. We've got a hold on all good music and writers, too.

As much as we three'll gossip til everyone in the room's ears are ringing, we've also got the sweetest Southern hearts (ahem); too bad you [Northerner] weren't lucky enough to grow up with the cows, spending every weekend trying to figure out how to have a guilt-free amount of fun.

So, it goes. And, I'm sure we're insufferable.

But I guess the Northern-folk do have some pride, as well. And, after I saw "City Island" a few weeks ago, I realized that while I've lived in New York for all-too-long now, when someone makes a movie about a fictional place nearabouts where you grew up, no matter if it's North or South, we all have loyalties. If you feel a movie slights you and your community, you might take umbrage.

Food Critic thought "City Island" encapsulated much too many stereotypes of Long Island culture to whet his palate.

I thought City Island was pretty great; after I saw it, I called Mama G/Brother G to tell them to get to the nearest theater because they'd surely appreciate the film. It was on limited release at the time, so there's the (one-and-only) knock against the South, but I gave them the gist of the movie.

Andy Garcia plays Vince Rizzo, a corrections officer (he reminds us of the titular distinction between "corrections officer" and "prison guard," or, I don't know, "clink manager" multiple times) during the day, an aspiring actor by night. Julianna Margulies plays Vince's suspicious wife, Joyce. And, for a former "ER" devotee (ca. 1994), it was nice to see her on the big screen.

Emily Mortimer plays Molly, a lady who's in Vince's acting class -- and, she's really sweet as can be and it was comforting that her friendship with Vince doesn't lapse into a typical philandering affair (because I don't like feelings). Rather, the joke falls more on the Vince/Joyce relationship--they have a tightly-knit family (dysfunctional, of course, but still close) yet Vince is too embarrassed to tell his wife that he's taking acting classes.

Their son, Ezra Miller (of TV's "Californication," "Royal Pains"), is endearing in his horrible awkwardness; his best line, with regards to his infatuation with obese young ladies, pertains to wanting to feed his next-door Love donuts.

Ezra, "Donuts," Miller

I don't normally chuckle at those scenes, but in this case, it was out-of-the-blue and the chuckles were certainly warranted.

The film really spins a good little tale about family dysfunction that dissuades you from being cynical, yet lets you sigh in relief about your own familial troubles.

While on the job in the jailhouse, Vince discovers a son whose whereabouts were a mystery; he brings him home, and that beauty of an actor (Steven Strait, or Tony Nardella in the film) is someone who'll--crossing my toes--be gracing my dreams in some fictional future.

I thought the movie was pithy, cute, dysfunctional (not in a "Greenberg" way) and overall "real."

That said, if I were from the NY-area, I might feel how I felt when "Varsity Blues" came out, years ago. That is, I might feel that they got the whole story wrong.

But, for me, [Northern family-dynamics] ignorance is bliss.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Guest Blogger, and Thoughts on the Utility of Bad Directors

Young James Cameron, trying to put a choke-hold on himself

Papa Grice e-mailed this morning. I sighed, readying myself for whatever political debate he was trying to trick me into (ahem). But, no! Pops G bloggled into my inbox, Slice of Grice-style. Having just recently seen "Avatar," he needed to get some things off his chest.

I was almost as appalled by the fact he was just seeing Avatar as I was by the movie itself. This, from a guy who sees almost as many movies a week as I do. But, I forgive, just won't forget.

He had some musings on Cameron, his oeuvre (cough), and the appreciation gained from suffering through bad directors. On to the soapbox!


That James Cameron. The man with the Midas Touch, his alchemy this time turning mere straw into wood—much as with Titantic, where an ordinary seashell was turned into granite. While I think he was aiming for gold, both resulted in something far less, far more forgettable and far more uninspiring.

Though, if the end desire is huge monetary largesse, the products were both diamonds.

Once you have arrived into the rareified climes that he has reached, I would think that you desire more—to leave a true imprint that will make you happy in your very old age. It should be that feeling that Hitchcock, Scorcese, William Wyler (Funny Girl, Ben Hur) must have—or, have had. But Cameron seems to either be bereft of the potential to stir up new ground or just satisfied with the tweaking, albeit with huge bells and whistles, of old, banal themes.

Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, William Wyler ... James "Unworthy" Cameron

I felt like I was back in the roaring 70's, where the big, bad, heartless, misanthropic corporation discarded all that represents real life in its scorched earth march towards a higher EPS (earnings per share) [Editor's note: "Yeah, I know, Dad."]. It seems futile to keep alive the delusion of a runaway, new industrial state that, unfortunately, does seem to dovetail with the Left's lean that has become pervasive--though rapidly unclothed. [Editor's note, "Boo."]

Be that as it may, the insipid, banal theme did provide an easily-understood and, hence, an oft-sold package that has satisfied the masses. With the inclusion of very special, special effects, it was a doozie that had the American Idol mentality all aglow. The formulaic love-hate-love pattern of the designated Love Situation was equally uninspired. The device of duality in time was a tweak on, and on loan from, Terminator et al, but did make for a slight bit of intrigue.

But overall, this movie was a yawner, one that made me so appreciate the Merchant-Ivory's and those who spin great stories that inspire. It is similar to the glitzy, easy-patterned top 40 songs of the past which just do not have the “stuff” that makes them “stick to the ribs.” Instead of shooting for "Dizzy"—though it makes you rich— why not aim higher?

Cameron has shown no real spark that would lead one to imagine such a thing, ala the Coen's or Tarantino, so I expect his bag’s to remain full, getting fuller, as he feeds the dumbed-down masses more of his forgettable fodder.

So as this uninspired trickery will serve as a good contrast and base to judge the more unforgettable directors, this too has its value.


Amen, Pops.

Mama G, Brother G, Papa G, Me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Iron Man 2 and the Power of Charm

Ever since I worked on a PopSci piece about the making of the new Iron Man 2 suit (that doesn't link to the article, but the linked article has such a dreamy headline), I'd been waiting anxiously for May 7 to arrive. When friends or strangers wondered aloud when the film was coming out, I'd snap "May 7th!" often without even looking up.

Then I'd sigh, audibly, and think to myself "God, what dolts!"

Sometimes I forget that people have other things to think about.

So, bright and early Saturday,
Food Critic and I skipped on over to the Kip's Bay theater for some awesome afternoon movie action, in the front row of the IMAX theater, no less.

Was all that
anticipation energy well spent? Correct, sir.

My love for Robert Downey Jr., as Tony Stark/Iron Man, marches on; Mickey Rourke, as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash -- who I was told is "one of The Ugliest Men" my friend has ever seen in person (ouch.) -- with his betattooed body, speaking in a scary-sounding Russian tongue while wielding electric whips, joins the long list of people I'd like to be
in my next life.

Scarlett Johansson, as sexy Natalie/Black Widow, had remarkably few lines, so I had little to cringe at (she also proved that she can pull off some really awesome martial arts, roundhouse-flipping-wall-climbing fight scenes); Gwyneth, returning as Pepper Potts and the new head of Stark Enterprises, was, well, annoying, but she always is, so what's director John Favreau supposed to do?

Oh, and Sam Rockwell. Rockwell was brilliant -- and briliantly cast -- as Justin Hammer, the wonderfully sleazy weapons maker who smells opportunity now that old Tony Stark (swoon) is off promoting peace and trying to survive his curious health condition caused by his suit. Honestly, Rockwell's ability to channel sleaze is rivaled only by Gary Oldman.

Oldman in "The Professional"

As the film opens, Stark walks out onto a stage in front of roaring fans; he's got sweet shades on, he walks with a strut and swagger only a superhero's alter ego can pull off, and, at that, I knew I was already a little in love with a movie that certainly packs in some unnecessary mini-plot points and lacks a bit of the last script's bite.

The gist: The U.S. government wants Tony to turnover his secret Suit's technology. A walking, talking specimen of Cool, we're treated to a delightful court scene where Tony tells the senator (Garry Shandling) demanding the tech to go jump in a lake, donning his ubiquitous sunglasses, and bowing out with a "But, I have successfully privatized world peace." Bam.

At that, Hammer (Rockwell) recruits Rourke to help develop new technology; conveniently, the Russian has old scores to settle with the Stark family.

Enter, more villains, several sequences that involve Whiplash working on a fleet of new robot suits, many, many close-ups of Johansson's ridiculously pouty lips that are pretty to look at, and, of course shots of Whiplash using those wonderful electric whips to slice cars in half.

I thought it was very, very fun, and rarely did my mind wander during the action scenes, something it's prone to doing.

There's a great little piece over at Entertainment Weekly that discusses the film's notably high appeal to starry-eyed ladies like myself and why they flocked to IM2 and walked out with a smile: The power of the film's characters' overwhelming charm. (And, having talked to many males about the subject, I don't think the seduction of the charm-laden film is limited to ladies.)

According to a studio distribution exec, EW quotes, You would expect such numbers from a film like Sex and the City 2." The author then puts into words better than I could've mustered what I, and most everyone I've talked to about it, seems to agree with:
Iron Man 2 succeeds on the charm of its characters rather than on the ka-chunk, ka-chunk of its warfare and impersonal CG action sequences. And chicks like charm. Heck, everyone likes charm, real charm. Which is why Robert Downey Jr. is currently the master of his domain. It also helps that in Iron Man 2, Gwyneth Paltrow is spunky-charming, Sam Rockwell is smarmy-charming, Mickey Rourke is psycho-charming, Scarlett Johansson is slinky-charming, and Samuel L. Jackson is eyepatch-charming.
For someone who claims RDJ as one of her first loves (Bueller may have come first, and Newman certainly later surpassed him -- but just like with all real loves, some part of it never dies.), it warms my Ice Cold Heart (let's be honest, the only "real loves" I have exist on-screen) to know that RDJ is once again "master of his [charm] domain."

As for the PopSci article on the IM2 suit, the top half of it was engineered by some very high-tech designers who told me in detail about the intricacies of his gloves, down to how many metal braces went around each of his digits; the bottom half of the suit was CGI.

Iron Man/RDJ was pants-less in the filming -- or, at least he wasn't wearing the Iron Man legs throughout. That also kind of warmed the Ice Heart, and made me giggle at the idea of him protecting world peace in his undies.

Movie Trivia: Sam Rockwell was the "Head Thug" in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, back in 1990 (ripe age of 22). Awesome.

TMNT trailer:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Date Night": That's a Kill Shot!

Now for a bit more optimism.

"Date Night" -- the two belles of the TV ball get together (Steve Carell, Tina Fey) to make a very Matthew McConaughey/Jennifer Aniston-type movie. You get what you pay for.

I'm a sucker for these types of movies, especially when put on by two of the wittiest sitcom folks of our age. To not like it would be like knocking a Belushi flick, or a Steve Martin movie, or a John Candy send-up. Sure, the material could've made their lights shine brighter, but those two are golden, and the movie was entertaining enough to warrant many second-viewings on cable.

Claire and Phil Foster are two average Joe-Americans, living in New Jersey and looking to spice up their married life a little. Claire (Fey), after hearing of her good friend's marriage's demise, decides she should wear a hot number on her date (with her husband, Carell). He notices, dresses up himself, and they venture into Manhattan for a nice date at "Claw."

"Claw" is the stand-in for any swank restaurant that anyone has ever tried to get a table at, at the last minute, only to be rebuffed by a well-groomed man who thinks his position at the podium gave him a nod to be a Jerk.

Carell decides to go for someone else's reservation (an enduring joke throughout the film), and while the couple is eating risotto and drinking wine, a couple of thugs roll on up and take them out to the alley for "a talk." The Fosters think they're being taken to task for being sneaks on the reservation; the thugs have a case of mistaken identity that they don't believe.

Yadda, yadda.

Hijinks ensue, laughs are had, and, who'd've thunk it, but we all end up safely in our beds.

Best line of the movie: "That's a Kill Shot!" -- when the Bad Guys turn their guns horizontal, Carell claims it the "kill shot," which was very on-point.

Nothing was ruined, but nothing was gained.

One thumb up, one sideways.

"Kick-Ass" ... I Wish.

"At some point in our lives, we all wanted to be superheroes."

So began what I thought was going to be a new favorite Stupid Movie: Kick-Ass.

I walk around the streets of New York, twiddling my thumbs, staring up at the sky, stepping over cracks, mostly pretending that I'm a spy. Might as well be a "superhero." I've never grown out of that sense of "What would it be like, if ...?" It's how I get through the day, when not seated in a theater or whatnot.

Well, "Kick-Ass" promised to be a spy-lover's dreamer like me's raison d'etre. I envisioned "Wanted" (fraternity of assassins) with a sprinkle of Zombieland, Eagle Eye (awful), Superbad, whatever.

I thought it would be good.

Let the record state: I hated this movie.

With an opener like "...we all wanted to be superheroes," I put down my popcorn, curled up my legs and was ready to let the movie take me wherever it wanted to go.

But, instead of taking me somewhere awesome, I got super flat jokes, the most obnoxious voiceover the ENTIRE TIME -- and, I'm amenable to some V.O. when it's Cera or Eisenberg eking out their measly awkward lines for the sake of humor -- and just wounded stunts over and over.

This New Guy, Aaron Johnson, really felt like a poor man's Michael Cera. He's not as cute/endearing, and when he voiceovers, it's like you can see him sitting in a studio reading out his lines. Not good. When he dons his "Kick-Ass" suit -- because he feels like there are no Samaritans left in this world, as people are just desensitized to all the cruelty and violence on the NY streets, these days -- he mugs for the camera a few bazillion times and then hits the pavement to take on villains.

The movie was the pits.

Clark Duke (of "Hot Tub Time Machine") is fine in it; Nic Cage is ... skinny, reminiscent of his "Raising Arizona" days, but the man's career choices should still -- as always -- be put into question.

The foul-mouthed 12-year old, "Hit Girl," Chloe Moretz, (and Cage's "daughter") is cringe-worthy; I'm biased there because I'm a Texan, and anyone speaking like that deserves a big old slap in the face -- but, more importantly, the only other mentionable thing this child has done thus far is "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" -- and that I cannot get behind.

Two big, old thumbs DOWN.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Movie Glut: "Hot Tub Time Machine," "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"

I've seen a few movies in the past couple weeks (Surprise!). Maybe I've seen seven, but two were repeats ("Shutter Island," and "How to Train Your Dragon") -- eh, who's counting, anyway?

Some high-lights/-lows:

"Hot Tub Time Machine"

The title was insidious. The trailer was awful. I saw it opening night.

I guess I was never one for transitive logic.

When John Cusack headlines something, and Steve Pink's behind it ("High Fidelity," "Grosse Pointe Blank"), there's no point in pretending I have free will -- even if the plot is: three near-middle aged men and an agoraphobic 20-year-old go to a ski resort for a doldrums-curing weekend reprieve, only to find themselves whisked away into the 80s after falling into some wormhole of a hot tub.

Even then, opening night.

We meet Adam (Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) in present day, the three of them just about as miserable as Kevin Spacey in "American Beauty."

Adam's long-time lady has just left him (we learn from an outraged answering-machine message, which, come to think of it, is more 80s than present-day, but, I digress.); Nick works at a pet store, where we find him having to reach into a dog's rear-end -- our first of many, many foul potty-humor jokes; and Lou's an alcoholic lunatic whose near-death is what brings the three old friends back together again.

They decide to take a jaunt up to an old ski resort to relive their youthful, glory days, bringing along Adam's basement-dwelling, unwilling nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke).

Of course, once we arrive at the ski resort, the romanticized place of parties, booze, and hot women is a dilapidated, depressing old lodge.

But, they charge forward; fueled by a lot of booze, they can still make it a fun night. And, hey, there's a hot tub fit for four grown men to squeeze into!

After passing out, the four fools awake to some startling realizations. One, their reflections look strikingly smooth-skinned and young; two, people downstairs and on the slopes are dressed really ... 1986.

"Dude is rocking a cassette player... Leg warmers!"

I typically balk at bad -- err, off-color -- humor. The first time I saw "Superbad," I felt myself blush throughout the entire penis-drawings scene -- ever since, I skip over it. I can't even really get through normal conversations that involve (what-I-consider) "grody" things -- and this movie had some of the most raunchy lines, and some otherwise, very off-putting stunts I've seen in a long while. Or, maybe it just had such a glut of them.

But, somehow, it worked.

Maybe it's because Cusack plays his normal-guy role, and most of the raunchy jokes are left for Corddry and Robinson, so I wasn't so grossly offended and old Cusack gets to remain a shining, do-no-wrong celeb Love in my eyes.


Or, maybe I'm just getting so desensitized to this type of humor that my knee-jerk blushing and embarrassment is becoming minimized?

Nah, I don't think that's it.

Really, what kept me so engaged in this completely manic movie was the deference and homage it paid to so many movies that came before it (I can't believe I'm using "deference and homage" with respect to HTTM, but ... it's somehow deserved.). The allusions and straight references to "Back to the Future" (down to Crispin Glover's role in the movie -- who was George McFly) kept me giggling throughout. The writers preempt the viewer from over-thinking the trouble with time-travel movies by addressing "concerns" (ha.) in dialogue and through referring to old movies ... all those questions you inevitably think of:

"Wait, what about ripples in time if you change something?"

"Wait, what if you see yourself, and your old self sees the new you, and then ..."

"Wait, what if I Biff buys an Almanac and ..."

For instance, Glover (or, G. McFly) plays a one-armed bellhop who greets the quad when they arrive at the lodge in present day. He's been there since they were younglings. When the group time warps back into 1986, he's got both his arms -- so, it's one of Corddry's missions to see just how he lost one; it makes room for plenty of jokes -- some side-splitting, some just stupid.

Overall, I really enjoyed it - despite many flaws.

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid"

I won't bore any of the five of you with a review on this movie. It was Awful. Awful. And, it's the last time Little Morgan gets to choose a movie when we have our Movie Dates.

Also, it's too nice out in New York to be sitting around bloggling.

The next few reviews: "Greenberg," "How to Train Your Dragon," "Date Night."

One of those is my favorite movie since Daniel Plainview drank our Milkshakes.

[Edited Addendum: A good buddy just reminded me that the Milkshake Scene is one of the best of the decade ... I responded that, yes, it is. The close second is "Call It" from NCFOM -- so, I figured I should gratuitously link it. YW.]