Wednesday, August 31, 2011
After getting his heart broken 20 years ago on his wedding day, Danny Maccabee (Adam Sandler) lures women by pretending to be in an unhappy marriage. Danny suddenly finds himself in a bind when he meets and falls for Palmer (Brooklyn Decker). Palmer, a grade school teacher, is unwilling to move their relationship forward until she meets Danny’s ex-wife. Afraid of losing Palmer, Danny convinces his office manager Katherine (Jennifer Aniston), to play the role of his ex-wife for a few hours. Unfortunately for Danny, he soon finds himself on vacation in Hawaii with both Palmer and Katherine and a lie that continues to spiral out of control with each passing day.
Adam Sandler has made a career out of taking simple premises and turning them into outlandish comedies, Just Go with It is no exception. The title seems to perfectly sum up his expectations of the audience with each passing comedy. However, instead of hoping for the audience to “buy in”, maybe Sandler should start living up to his part of the bargain rather than resting on his past successes, which he seems to have been doing for close to a decade now. The problem with Just Go with It is that most of the elaborate situations are rather avoidable. The film takes a roundabout way of getting to a conclusion which was obvious from the very beginning. Worst of all, the film is just not that funny. Even with comedic talents of Sander and Jennifer Aniston it rarely hits the comedic beats it should. The most amusing moment in the film revolves around the brief subplot involving Nicole Kidman and musician Dave Matthews, who play husband and wife in the film.
The scenes are silly but they do highlight one of the glaring problems with the film and that is the casting. I am all for eye candy like any other red blooded male, and Decker and Aniston deliver this in spades, but there needs to be more to a character than “she looks hot in a bikini”. There is nothing about Decker’s performance as Palmer that would make you believe any man would go to the lengths that Sandler’s character does. I would have rather seen Kidman in the Palmer role and vice versa. Decker simply does not have the acting chops yet to develop her character into something more memorable. Just Go with It wants to be both a romantic comedy and an over-the-top Sandler knee slapper. Unfortunately the film fails on both counts as it cares more about trying to force comedic situations out of its silly concept than it does about telling a genuinely funny story.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
After she is dumped by her fiancée due to her gold digging ways, Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is forced to go back to her job as a middle school teacher. Halsey is anything but an ideal teacher. She spends her time showing her class movies, drinking in class, smoking pot in the parking lot, and sleeps on the job. When Halsey discovers that the new substitute teacher, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timerblake), comes from a wealth family she sees him as her ticket out. Believing that getting breast implants will help her woo Delacorte, Halsey is willing to lie, cheat, and steal her way to collecting the $10, 000 needed for the surgery. Standing in the way of her goal are the romantic advances of the school gym teacher, Russell Gettis (Jason Segel), and a colleague, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), who is wise to Halsey’s schemes..
There is a fair bit to like about Bad Teacher as the humour often flirts with the boundaries. Diaz does a good job of making Halsey as dislikable as possible and she also gets some great one-liners sprinkled throughout. However, her strong performance is tempered by Jake Kasdan’s uneven direction. Being a fan of Kasdan’s previous films I was expecting him to provide a little more bite to the film. Unfortunately Kasdan never lets the characters run wild like they should. He struggles to keep a certain wholesome aspect flowing throughout the film.
This is most evident in the subplot where one of Halsey’s students tries win over the girl of his affections. Moments like these allow Kasdan to show that Halsey is not necessarily a bad person, just a selfish one. It is as if Kasdan does not have faith in the audience to connect with Halsey if she was completely bad. The problem is all the best moments in the film come when Halsey is being bad. If Kasdan wanted to inject the film with a softer angle, he should have utilized Segel’s character more.
Speaking of Segel, he is sorely underused in the film. He is not only the conscious voice in the film, but he is far more inspired than Timberlake’s Delacorte. While Timberlake usually gives entertaining performances, his character runs out of steam by the halfway mark and becomes rather annoying. Segel’s comedic timing is really wasted in the film as he disappears for long segments. This also does not help the love story to develop smoothly. Fortunately Diaz provides enough laughs to at least keep Bad Teacher moving. While enjoyable at times it would have been nice if the film was as crude as it hints at being.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Although I passed on the film at the festival, The Human Centipede is a film that I knew I would get to eventually. I just had to work my way up to a little slower than other horror films. The premise of the film is essentially summed up in the film’s title. The story centers around two American tourist in Germany, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), whose car breaks down one night in the middle of woods. Seeking help the women come across the home of Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a mad surgeon with a knack for stitching things together. Unbeknownst to Lindsay and Jenny, they are about to become part of Dr. Heiter’s most ambitious experiment to date, the first ever living human centipede.
After finally viewing the film, I can honestly say that the most startling aspect of The Human Centipede is that it is not as graphic as you would expect. This is not to say that the film does not feature some disturbing moments, it does, but it is not as gory as you think it would be. Hearing Dr. Heiter proclaiming “I know definitely you are the middle piece!” is scarier than actually seeing the centipede in action. In many ways the most chilling aspect about the film is idea itself of a human centipede. Just thinking about the logistics of it still makes me squirm.
The performances in the film tend to fall into two groups, extremely over-the-top or adequate enough for the confines of the film. In the first group is Dieter Laser who completely reveals in the absurdity of the premise. Laser plays Dr. Heiter very large and gives the film an almost comedic tone. At the other end of the spectrum, the rest of the cast. Yennie and Williams do everything required to maintain the unsettling tone of the film. Granted their characters are rather one dimensional and, due to how events unfold, their performances rely more on the physical rather than the verbal.
The actor who best transcended the two different performance styles was Akihiro Kitamura. Although his character, Katsuro, does not speak any English in the film, Kitamura gives a performance that makes you actually care about what happens to his character more than the others. The Human Centipede is not the type of film that asks for the viewer’s to care about the characters all. It is more concerned with making the viewer as uncomfortable as possible. To which the film succeeds to a certain extent.
Director Tom Six does have some solid ideas, but do not always come together smoothly. The Human Centipede would have benefitted more had Six played up the cerebral chills. Also, a toned down performance by Laser would have helped in making the film scarier. In the end, The Human Centipede is a film whose premise is far more chilling than what actually appears on screen. I must admit though, after viewing the film, I am very curious to see how the sequel will unfold?
The Human Centipede is part of our "The Must See List" series.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Born August 28, 1969
He’s been compared to Jim Carrey and Robin Williams because of his hyperactivity, quirkiness and penchant for comedic roles. An interesting factoid that I just learned while conducting research for this post is that he often competes for the same roles (and loses them to) Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s none other than Jack Black.
It’s hard to imagine Jack Black playing Father Flynn in Doubt or Truman Capote in Capote. I think he could have held his own as rock journalist, Lester Bangs, in Almost Famous, though, since the big successes in Black’s career have been in comedies with some musical element.
Black was perfect in his breakthrough role as Barry, a pretentious record-store employee in High Fidelity. Throughout the film, Barry brags about his musical talent and about his band Sonic Death Monkey (which is renamed twice over in the film), yet neither his friends nor his co-workers believe he’s got any real musical chops. At the end of the film, Black delivers a scene stealing rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” Barry’s friends and co-workers believe he’ll crash and burn, just as I thought Black would in that scene, but he pulled it off and then some by delivering a truly fine, inspired and enthusiastic rendition of Gaye’s classic tune. The film industry took notice of Jack Black after High Fidelity and he was tapped as a headliner for other comedies.
In their customary vein of off-colour, crude comedies, the Farrelly brothers wrote and directed Shallow Hal, a film about a shallow man who only dates young, beautiful women until he’s hypnotized by self-help guru Tony Robbins to only see the inner beauty of women. While heartwarming and touching in its message about the strength of inner beauty, Shallow Hal isn’t as funny as other Farrelly brothers’ films and is surprisingly conventional. Black as Hal, however, is good in his first starring role and it’s he who creates comedy in the one-joke movie.
Black reached new heights with his starring role in School of Rock. The film is Black’s biggest success, beloved by both critics and audiences alike. It was a role well suited for Black, once again merging comedy and music together. In the movie, Black plays Dewey Finn, a failed rocker just ousted from the band he founded. He fakes his way into a job as a substitute fifth-grade teacher, ignores the lesson plans and turns his class of students into a rock band. Jack Black, perhaps because he’s one half of the rock comedy duo Tenacious D and possesses a true passion for rock himself, breathes believability and personality into the role and his connection and chemistry with the young actors who play Finn’s students make the film a real pleasure to watch.
Two of Black’s other standout roles were as the voice of Po in the animated mega hit Kung Fu Panda and as drug addicted actor, Jeff Portnoy in the ensemble comedy smash Tropic Thunder. If Black shows a little more discernment in his film choices and picks more gems like the films mentioned here and fewer duds like Nacho Libre and Year One, he’ll give audiences a reason to go out and see his films and hopefully experience a few laughs.
What are your favourite Jack Black performances and/or films? Let us know in the comments section.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?
Here is Your Reading and Listening Schedule for Today:
10 am: Episode 39 of The Matineecast podcast discusses the film 30 Minutes or Less and top 5 movies that take place during summer.
11 am: In the latest episode of Lee and Dan’s Midnight Movie Club podcast, the guys get their dancing shoes on for Footloose. Also, I lend my vocal talents to the show opener!
12 pm: Jandy lists Eleven Great Tracking Shots in Film.
1 pm: Brian sits through Nicolas Cage’s Season of the Witch.
2 pm: Ryan list the Ten Worst Hollywood Trends.
3 pm: Bonjour Tristesse takes a look at David Cronenberg’s The Brood.
4 pm: Sam has a great recurring feature called The Best is Yet to Come, that runs every Sunday, where he asks bloggers to submit a brief review (150 words or less) on a film they watched that week. Be sure to send Sam your reviews so he can keep this excellent feature going.
5 pm: Chip Lary explores Movies Where People Pretend to Play Themselves.
6 pm: Lime(tte) shares her thoughts on Shabri and four other Bollywood trailers that caught her eye this week.
Friday, August 26, 2011
Set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis, X-Men: First Class highlights the events that first brought Charles “Professor X” Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik “Magneto” Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) together. Shortly after receiving his doctorate, Charles Xavier and his companion Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) are recruited by CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) to assist in tracking down Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Leader of a group of mutants known has the Hellfire Club, Shaw plans to bring the United States and Russia to war for his own personal gain. While pursuing Shaw, Xavier meets Lensherr who is hunting Shaw to settle an old score. Joining force the two men, along with a team of young mutants, attempt to stop Shaw before he starts another World War.
In many ways X-Men: First Class is best viewed as its own separate entity. The film tries too hard to align itself with the narratives of the X-men films that came before it. This however is a mistake as the continuity errors become apparent the more they reference the other films. However X-Men: First Class is a film that does not need to acknowledge its legacy as it has its own unique voice. Director Matthew Vaughn creates a film that is smartly reinvents the mythology of the X-men while keeping the lighter tone found in the comics.
What makes this film work so well is the strong performances by both Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. Although the X-men have always been team based, the story would have still worked if the film featured only Xavier and Lensherr. These two characters are the most interesting aspect of the film. McAvoy may not carry the same commanding presence that Patrick Stewart did in the other films, but he does manage to make the character of Xavier exciting again. The way he conveys Xavier’s struggle between his ideology that mutants and humans can co-exist and his desire to fight side by side with Lensherr comes across well in the film. Fassbender in particular does a fantastic job of providing his own unique take on Lensherr. Bringing a mixture of compassion and coldblooded rage to the role, Fassbender walks the thin line between good and evil displays why Magneto is one of the more compelling villains in the Marvel universe.
The rest of the cast is hit or miss at the best of times. Kevin Bacon continues to have fun in the villain roles he has been taking of late and Jennifer Lawrence does the best she can with the limited script given to Raven. Although the Raven/Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) subplot was interesting, the triangle between Xavier/Raven/Lensherr did not carry the punch it should have. Similar to the comics, the problem with most X-men films is that there are more characters than there is enough time to truly develop them. January Jones’ Emma Frost is not given much to do besides look pretty, and henchmen like Riptide and Azazel join the long list of quickly forgotten characters.
Still, as far as comic book inspired films go, X-Men: First Class manages to make the X-men entertaining and relevant again. Vaughn offers up several exciting action sequences that are designed to highlight each character’s mutant ability. Plus, the overall story works well and actually generates interest in seeing these characters again in a sequel. Is X-Men: First Class better than X2? Not quite. However this is a film that soars when the previous films are ignored.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
The New World
I Heart Huckabees
The Big Hit
The Other Guys
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” This line is so wonderful in its cavalier utterance. The scene in which the don’s caporegime, Clemenza, utters it is one of the best in The Godfather. He’s on the road with the don’s ex-driver and he’s under orders that the driver is not supposed to make the ride back alive. When Clemenza asks the driver to pull over so that he can take a leak, you just know something’s about to happen.
As Clemenza does his business on the side of the highway, the other man sitting in the backseat shoots the driver three times in the back of the head. The murder is all in a day’s work for Clemenza, and along with a strict devotion to his don is an equal sense of responsibility to his family. Clemenza takes a moment out of his routine to remember that he promised his wife that he would bring home dessert and has cannoli in the car.
When Clemenza tells the shooter to leave the gun and take the cannoli, it illustrates that the murder is not an act on which he dwells. The deed is done and Clemenza is ready to take dessert back home to his wife. Amidst the crime and the violence is a strong devotion to both the Godfather and to family, and this scene shows fierce loyalty to the don and love and consideration of family, and how the two exist side by side.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
There are many great movies about family. Below are a few notable mentions:
Largely viewed as the one of the best films ever made, The Godfather is a crime saga about the head of a Mafia family and his sons, the youngest of whom reluctantly assumes his father’s role as Don, leads the family into a new era of organized crime, and seeks revenge upon those who tried to eliminate them.
The Kids Are All Right
A smart, heartwarming story about the kids of a same-sex couple conceived by artificial insemination and about how their family is affected when they search for and find their biological father.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s patchwork of a film with a series of different characters whose stories are interconnected and laden with serious family issues like abuse, estrangement, alienation, infidelity, remorse and terminal illness.
National Lampoon’s Vacation Series
I couldn’t help but think of the Griswolds when writing about families in film. They’re the quirky, yet close-knit, loving family whose luck goes sour when they attempt to make plans for family holidays and vacations. No Christmas season is complete without at least one viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Father of the Bride
It’s the sweet story of George and Nina Banks, two parents who go above and beyond to give their daughter the perfect wedding, and how hard it is for them to face the fact that their little girl is all grown up and leaving home.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
This is a movie near and dear to my heart because my mother is Greek and I’ve been to a few big, fat Greek weddings in my lifetime. This film is about Toula, a young Greek woman who falls in love with Ian, a non-Greek man, and the obstacles they face before walking down the aisle like gaining the acceptance of Toula’s father who always hoped Toula would marry a nice Greek boy, Ian’s struggle to be embraced by Toula’s large family and how he deals with being thrust into the Greek culture.
What are your favourite movies about family? Let us know in the comments section.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind. I was a little apprehensive when I discovered that it was a film about Cuba with a Russian director, Mikhail Kalatozov. I was not sure what slant the movie would take. However, I trust Bob’s taste in films, and considering that he has not lead me astray so far, I tried to go in with an open mind and I am glad I did.
Originally released in 1964, but largely ignored until the likes of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola sang its praises in the 90’s, I Am Cuba is a film that explores life in Cuba prior to the Castro-led revolution. Told through four distinct vignettes, and guided by a female voice-over representing the land itself, the film mixes the dreamy allure of Cuba with a stark realism of life under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. One story focus on Maria (Luz María Collazo), a woman from a shanty town who works as a dancer at a posh American friendly casino, whose morals are tested when a wealthy American offers her money for a one-night fling. The second story centres around a farmer, Pedro (José Gallardo), whose farm land has been sold to a major corporation. The third, and most compelling story, follows a pro-revolution student, Enrique (Raúl García), who is selected to assassinate a prominent figure. And the last story involves a farmer, Alberto (Sergio Corrieri), who ends up joining the rebel army after his house is bombed by the government in error.
What immediately strikes the viewer about I Am Cuba is how stunningly beautiful the film is. Even when documenting some of Cuba’s less than desirable moments, the film finds a way to make the land seem appealing. Kalatozov uses many smart camera techniques to give the film a grand scale feel despite its modest budget. Whether he is mimicking what feels like to fall from great height, pretending the camera is a pack of army dogs chasing after a rebel solider, or staging an elaborate bombing sequence where you never actually see the planes, Kalatozov’s film is really a treat to watch. There is a fantastic tracking shot where the camera follows a funeral procession from street level, then rises up four or five stories, goes through a window of a factory, and proceeds through the factory until it gets to the next window. The audience cannot help but ponder how such a shot was achieved back then.
The film is stunning to look at, but there is also a poetic charm to it as well. While many cinephiles tend to argue the poetic appeal of films such as Tree of Life, this film actually finds a way to incorporate poetry into the overall narrative without it being a distraction. Cuba’s voice-overs are especially effective as they really hit home the message that outsiders turn a blind eye to the oppression of the people. It also must be said that the music in the film plays just as an important role as the poetry. In many ways the music is an additional character prominently featured in each of the vignettes.
I Am Cuba does have a very strong pro-Castro slant, but that should not deter audiences from seeing the film. If anything it makes the film even more intriguing as it provides a point of view rarely seen on screen. Even if they do not agree with the politics, the four vignettes and the overall technical marvel of the film will be enough to keep audiences intrigued over multiple viewings.
I Am Cuba is part of our "The Must See List" series. The film was recommended by Bob
Sunday, August 21, 2011
5. Out of Sight
George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez display great chemistry while respectively portraying a career bank robber who’s on the run and a U.S. Marshal working the case to find him. The dialogue is sharp and slick, and the way the plot weaves and twists through timelines is executed brilliantly by director, Steven Soderbergh, while never detracting from the funny and delightful cast of characters rounded out by Ving Rhames, Steve Zaun, Don Cheadle, Dennis Farina and Albert Brooks. It’s a smart, must-see heist film.
4. The Thomas Crown Affair
In this well-crafted, stylish remake of the popular 1968 caper film, Pierce Brosnan is well cast as Thomas Crown, a sly billionaire businessman and part-time thief. Bored with being able to buy everything he desires, he steals priceless art for sport and adventure. When a priceless Monet painting is stolen from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, investigator Catherine Banning (played strongly and seductively by Rene Russo) is brought in to track down the thief. Banning suspects Crown is the culprit, penetrates his inner circle to get close to him, and winds up falling for him.
Inception is one of those rare films that is smart, original, and brilliantly put together with eye-popping special effects and a visionary original script. It’s the most unique heist film on this list since it also belongs to the sci-fi genre and because its plot about a thief who steals ideas; not objects, differs from classic heist film archetypes. One archetype the film does execute exceptionally well is the “one last big job” element with psychic espionage as the ultimate objective.
2. Ocean’s Eleven
The 2001 remake of the 1960 Rat Pat caper bears some resemblance to its predecessor in lead con man, Danny Ocean, his desire for a new challenge, and the eleven conmen he conspires with to rob casinos in Vegas. But the Hollywood remake is better than the original with a star-studded ensemble cast, impeccably written script, and the heist to end all heists. It’s a witty, clever, entertaining and cool tale with superb dialogue delivery, suave and smooth acting performances and an understated ending that works better than the conventional loud and splashy shootout. The remake effectively maintains the original film’s classy edge while delivering all kinds of entertainment.
It’s a Michael Mann film starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Need we say more? Though DeNiro and Pacino only share but a few minutes onscreen together, there is no denying that their very presence together in Heat is one reason why the film is so compelling. With a running time of nearly three hours, one might expect the movie to lag and drag at the two-hour mark, but it doesn’t. The action builds solidly for the first two hours and ends with a final bank robbery that features a fantastically vivid shootout scene. It’s not just an action picture. It’s a deconstruction of two men – one a cop; one a robber – and the intense devotion they have for their work and the way they need each other in order to maintain a sense of purpose in doing what they love to do.
What are your most memorable heist films? Let us know the comments section.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
The best heist movies build pressure and suspense and the execution of the “perfect crime” is most effective when the audience gets caught up in it. There is the danger of getting caught in mid-heist and the possibility that one crew member will turn on the others, along with rooting for the crew to get the booty and to get away.
The heist movie is a formulaic, yet popular and beloved genre and it’s alive and well. Moviegoers have been treated to several great heist films in the last decade. Because it’s a genre with a long history and with such a large canon of films, coming up with only ten was a tough enterprise, so we aimed for variety and included what are for us, ten of the most memorable heist films.
Here are our first five films:
10. Point Break
A crew who call themselves the “Ex-presidents” split their time between surfing and robbing banks, and get pegged when an FBI agent goes undercover as a novice surfer, befriends the crew and plays a game of cat and mouse with the leader of the gang. The film is a campy one, but it’s action-packed, employs solid heist conventions and takes you on a bloody fun thrill ride.
9. The Italian Job
This remake features a stellar cast which includes Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Mos Def, Jason Statham, Seth Green, Edward Norton and Donald Sutherland. Add to that some stellar special effects including armored trucks falling into sewers, superb chase sequences involving a troupe of Mini Coopers, and an over-the-top, completely implausible, yet brilliantly executed final heist, and you’ve got one heck of an entertaining film.
8. Quick Change
Quick Change is memorable because it doesn’t conform to standard heist film conventions. Rather than concern itself with how the crew is going to get out of the bank after the heist, it employs a clever plot twist to set up the crew’s escape from the bank and then busies itself with how the crew is going to get out of the city. Quick Change is well-executed, well-acted and comical. Bill Murray, Geena Davis and Randy Quaid combine to make a unique and wacky crew and their escape from the city is rife with bad luck and obstructions.
7. Reservoir Dogs
Reservoir Dogs is the film that put Quentin Tarantino on the map as a director. What’s different about this heist film is that the audience isn’t privy to the heist itself, but only sees the events that take place before and after the robbery. The cast of characters and the actors who portray them are indelibly good and the way the story unfolds with random spots of arbitrary discussion in between is so quintessentially Tarantino and so damn good. This film is a great adventure in sniffing out the rat.
6. The Usual Suspects
Who is Keyser Söze? That is the mystery superbly spun that we, the audience, must solve along with five conmen tasked with carrying out a payback job for a criminal mastermind they’ve wronged at some point and must pay back now, but whose identity the men don’t actually know. The film is a slick and layered gem and a classic whodunit where nothing is as it seems and only the narrator knows what’s up until the very end. The film drops hints along the way, but preserves the mystery until the film’s final scene.
Stay tuned for our final five memorable heist films to be posted tomorrow.