X2


Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is feeling blue.

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is feeling blue.

(2003) Superhero (20th Century Fox) Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Bruce Davison, James Marsden, Famke Janssen, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Kelly Hu, Katie Stuart, Kea Wong, Cotter Smith, Chiara Zanni, Daniel Cudmore, Peter Wingfield, Shauna Cain. Directed by Bryan Singer

As I write, moonlight shines down blue as sapphires through my open window. I can see a four-leaf clover clearly in the grass of my front lawn. If a haystack were at hand, I could unerringly find the needle hidden therein. Actually, none of those things are happening, but it feels as if they could. After all, I’ve just witnessed the extremely improbable: a sequel better than the original. Hard to believe, but true.

When last we left the X-Men (in 2000), their greatest foe, Magneto (McKellan) was confined to a plastic prison, unable to use his powers to escape. Rogue (Paquin) was back among the students at Xavier School, sporting a cool white streak in her hair after her ordeal on Liberty Island. Wolverine (Jackman) was leaving for Alkali Lake, a facility in Canada where some clues to his past might be found. To get there, he liberated a motorcycle belonging to Cyclops (Marsden). And Senator Kelly (Davison) had come out against the mutant registration bill he had sponsored. Of course, we know that the good senator was really Mystique (Romijn-Stamos), but that’s just our little secret.

As this sequel opens, the White House is under attack from a single mutant; a blue-skinned, acrobatic guy with a long tail and the ability to teleport. He takes on the Secret Service and dispatches agents with nearly no trouble, threatens the President (Smith) with a knife before teleporting out of the Oval Office, leaving the commander-in-chief more susceptible to his Mutant Affairs advisor, Colonel. Styker’s (Cox) suggestion that he raid the Xavier School, which he described as a training facility for mutants. Of course, it sounded much more sinister when he said it.

About this time, Wolverine returned home to Xavier’s School, having found nothing but rubble and deserted buildings at Alkali Lake. The attack on the president, obviously carried out by a mutant, troubles Professor Xavier (Stewart). He decides to send two of his most capable X-Men, Storm (Berry) and Jean Grey (Janssen) to retrieve the President’s attacker. Professor X uses his neato-keeno computer Cerebro, through which he is able to connect with every living person on the planet, to find the blue teleporter. Professor X also decides to pay his old pal Magneto a visit, taking Cyclops with him.

While visiting Magneto, Professor X finds out something horrible; the secret of his school has been compromised by Magneto. Not willingly; Magneto would never betray his own kind to humans. Using an acid-like substance applied to the back of the mutant’s neck, Col. Stryker was able to control the powerful Magneto just enough to get him to reveal the information Stryker wanted; the exact location of Cerebro. Too late, Professor Xavier realizes he is caught in a trap and both he and Cyclops are gassed into unconsciousness.

At the same time, Storm and Jean Grey have found the mutant responsible for the attack on the White House, a pious German named Kurt Wagner, or as he was known in the Berlin Circus, Night Crawler (Cumming). Rather than being a dangerous villain, he’s actually rather sweet and endearing. Puzzled, Storm and Jean arrange to transport the German back to the Xavier School. It’s about here they lose contact with everybody.

Of course, things are not going too well at the School. Under attack from deadly commandos who menace shrieking children with what looks like Tasers, the soldiers find the mutant children to be a little harder to capture than they may have thought. Some, like Kitty Pryde (Stuart) are able to literally walk through walls to escape. Some, like Colossus (Cudmore) grow an impenetrable metal armor on their skin. Others, like Bobby Drake (Ashmore) can create walls of ice. And Wolverine? Well, he just kicks ass.

Wolverine escapes with Rogue, Bobby Drake, and a kid with attitude named Pyro (Stanford) who can manipulate fire. They go to Boston, where Storm and Jean Grey are and where Bobby Drake’s family lives. It leads to an awkward confrontation with Bobby’s parents, leading to one of the best lines of the movie; “Have you tried NOT being a mutant?” whines Bobby’s rather dense mother. Unfortunately, before any kind of understanding is reached, Bobby’s brother calls the police, which leads to a great deal of destruction and injury, most caused by Pyro. Things threaten to get WAY out of hand before Storm and Jean Grey arrive to whisk Wolverine and the kids away.

Now we find out what the reason for all this is. Col. Stryker doesn’t just fear mutants. He doesn’t just hate mutants. He wants to kill all of them. Permanently. And, using a second generation of Cerebro based on the components he’s stolen from the school, he has the means to do it in Professor Charles Xavier. Of course, the X-Men have no choice but to rescue their mentor, stop the genocide and save the day. And they have acquired a most unlikely ally: Magneto, who has escaped from prison in a rather clever (but gruesome) way. And, Mystique.

This uneasy alliance leaves you wondering about Magneto’s own agenda, which manifests itself in a spectacular way. The inevitable rescue attempt will lead to a surprise outcome in which one of the X-Men will defect to Magneto, and another will face the ultimate challenge. And when did this start sounding like a comic book?

The special effects are far more extensive here than in the first movie, and utilized more effectively. The fight scenes between Nightcrawler and the Secret Service, Wolferine and Lady Deathstrike (Hu) and Pyro and the Boston Police are done well, marrying expert fight choreography with special effects that bring to life the powers of the comic book heroes. Visually, the movie never lets up.

The X-Universe that Marvel Comics has created has a rich tapestry of characters from which to draw; many standbys, such as Gambit, Beast and Angel, have only been glimpsed so far in the movies.

What really sets X2 apart from its predecessor is the depth that is given to the characters. Jean Grey faces, in one of the movie’s better subplots, the increase of her own powers beyond her own abilities to handle them. Stryker is evil, but not in a cartoon-like manner. His hate is the man’s driving force, his fear the engine that powers his hate. His fear of mutants has hit his home in an impactful way, and drives him to exploit even those closest to him to meet his genocidal objectives.

Storm has always been one of the more enigmatic figures in the comic; she is aloof, distant and cold, but also loyal and fiercely determined. Berry plays her with all her vulnerabilities intact, quite a juxtaposition for a character able to create dozens of tornadoes with a thought.

That is, perhaps, why we relate to the X-Men so well; they are powerful, yet completely human, with all the vulnerability and frailty that implies. Even Magneto, the arrogant master of magnetism, is not all-powerful. Hugh Jackman captures Wolverine’s essence: feral and utterly devoid of conscience when fighting, but tormented by a past he cannot remember, held hostage to questions he can’t answer. Some of his questions are answered during the course of X2 but of course not all of them and several new ones arise in the process.

Wolverine’s defense of the Xavier School is one of the most vicious fight scenes ever filmed in a superhero movie and while it got cheers from the audience, it also left me a bit unsettled. There is something about stabbing a soldier with diamond-hard, razor-sharp claws that is more violent than beating him into unconsciousness with closed fists, or shooting him with a rifle. It made me wonder how far one can stretch the concept of “good guy” when the good guy is stabbing people. It’s all psychology; stabbing is a far more personal act than shooting someone. Dead is dead either way, but in our culture, heroes don’t stab.

Cumming portrays Nightcrawler as a tormented, but gentle soul whose faith is the rock that he clings to, even when his faith is sorely tested. He’s almost puppy dog eager to please his new friends so when the rubber hits the road he is there for them at great personal risk to himself. Cumming makes excellent use of his screen time, making his character one that you want to see more of.

Keep an eye out for Colossus, as well. The audience really reacted to his limited onscreen time; you can bet the filmmakers are taking notice of this for a future movie in the series although to this point that hasn’t happened yet.

The true test of a movie can be broken down to a single old saw: did the audience leave wanting more? X2 has got it all; eye candy, subtle undercurrents to which most of us can relate, characters who are not cartoons (another irony, given that this is based on comic books), big explosions, terrific fight scenes, everything for the summer movie Neanderthal in all of us. X2 is a perfect popcorn escape.

WHY RENT THIS: All the action you an ask for. Character depth and sophisticated story. Perfect summer popcorn movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Still gives short shrift to some of the characters.

FAMILY MATTERS: Plenty of comic book violence, a bit of sensuality and brief rough language.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Entered the Guinness Book of World Records on its opening day by getting the most number of screens for a single movie on its opening day ever.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The special edition DVD release included a feature on Nightcrawler and rehearsal footage of the fight sequence between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike as well as a web-based Q&A session from the film’s release date. The Blu-Ray adds a history of the comic book X-Men as well.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $407.7M on a $110M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Marvel’s The Avengers

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: The Wind Rises

The Good Heart


If it looks like a duck...

If it looks like a duck…

(2009) Drama (Magnolia) Brian Cox, Paul Dano, Isild Le Besco, Bill Buell, Booi, Susan Blommaert, Alice Olivia Clarke, Kim Songwon Brown, Stephen Henderson, Seth Sharp, David Moss, Dale A. Smith, Michelle Nelson, Henry Yuk Lui, Ed Wheeler, Clark Middleton, Stephanie Szostak, Edmund Lyndeck, Nicolas Bro, Daniel Raymont, Damian Young, Elissa Middleton. Directed by Dagur Kari

There is something inherently noble in a dive bar. It is the refuge of the lost, the lonely and the abandoned. It is a place for those who have given up on life as well as those who life has given up upon. It is a gin-soaked, beer-drenched haven of dignity for those who have none.

Crotchety old Jacques (Cox) owns just such an establishment in the center of New York City. Slovenly, suspicious, mean-spirited and set in his ways, Jacques limits his customers to 13 regulars and frowns on outsiders whom he contemptuously refers to as “walk-ins,” chasing them out with a bottle of vodka with a stream of ketchup in it in response for a request for a Bloody Mary with organic tomato sauce.

After his fifth heart attack, he finds himself sharing a room with homeless young Lucas (Dano) who is as kindly as Jacques is curmudgeonly. Jacques having a brush with mortality knows that his body will not sustain his lifestyle for much longer, and has begun giving thoughts to his legacy. He realizes that one thing he wants to remain after he shuffles off this mortal coil is his bar and determines to take in Lucas, who has nowhere else to go, as the heir apparent to his grandly named but less impressive on the inside House of Oysters.

Lucas, who was in the hospital after attempting suicide, is amiable enough to the idea although much of Jacques’ worldview is puzzling to him. “Never be nice,” he growls after Lucas treats one of the regulars with kindness. The world according to Jacques is a harsh place full of people who will take advantage of every fracture of weakness that your facade displays and to Jacques kindness equals weakness.

Lucas for his part is learning the niceties of bartending as well. “A good bartender always knows what his customer wants before he even knows it,” says the old school Jacques and Lucas very much takes this to heart. For his part, Lucas teaches Jacques that the way to make it through life isn’t necessarily through uncompromising adherence to one’s principles.

Into this mix one rainy night comes April (Le Besco), a stewardess afraid of flying. This is an egregious violation of Jacques’  longstanding “no women allowed” rule for the bar. This is enough to get his erstwhile protégé banished from the bar along with April, a fellow lost soul Lucas has fallen in love with. But what will become of Jacques’ legacy?

Icelandic director Kari, best known for his indie film Noi the Albino is shooting for a grimy look. The movie looks like it was filmed through a lens that hadn’t been cleaned in years. This is meant (I think) to be more of an allegory or a fable than something realistic and true to life despite the gritty feel. For one thing, I can’t imagine any hospital letting a kid who’d just attempted suicide just walk out of a hospital without at least some sort of plan for him to stay in a safe environment, not in a dingy old bar with an old man who just might be psychotic.

Cox is one of those character actors who almost never turns in a bad performance even when handed a turkey of a script. This one has quite a few flaws in it and inhabits the bar with eccentrics right out of the Lovable Movie Drunks for Dummies book. Cox interacts with all of them as if they were written by Shakespeare.

I tend to blow hot and cold with Dano. He has turned in some fantastic performances but also a few groaners as well. Here he is on the good side; his character has clearly been wounded deeply by some unnamed trauma in the past and while he doles out random (and sometimes not-so-random) acts of kindness, he sees himself as unworthy of life. Some of the kindest people I’ve ever known are the hardest on themselves.

There aren’t really any big laughs here and that might well be by design. One of the faults I have with this movie is I don’t think they are set on whether this needs to be a comedy or a drama and so tries for something in between. Not that combining the two can’t be done well, but I think the movie would have been better-served at picking a path and sticking with it.

I can recommend just about any movie with Brian Cox in it and a lot of them with Pau Dano in them. This one I think has just enough depth to it to be worth a look-see for those who haven’t caught it yet but I wouldn’t recommend putting too much effort into it; there isn’t enough here to make it worth digging to find.

WHY RENT THIS: Good performances from Cox and Dano. Gritty where it needs to be.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Ceaselessly drab. Quirky more than funny.

FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of cursing and a disturbing image.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Kari, born in Paris to Icelandic parents who moved him back to their home country at the age of three, is also a member of the band Slowblow.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: As with most Magnolia home releases, there is an HD-Net making-of special.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $343,818 on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Extra Man

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: X-Men

Her


A selfie of a happy schlub.

A selfie of a happy schlub.

(2013) Science Fiction Romance (Warner Brothers) Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson (voice), Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Kristen Wiig (voice), Bill Hader (voice), Matt Letscher, David Azar, Portia Doubleday, Brian Cox (voice), Laura Kai Chen, Gracie Prewitt, Robert Benard, Lisa Cohen, Claudia Choi. Directed by Spike Jonze

There has been a revolution in personal communication. We now have more ways than ever to communicate with one another. Why then are we becoming less connected?

In the near future, a man named Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) – a name a screenwriter might have given a comic character in, say, 1926 – lives in a downtown high-rise. He once wrote for the L.A. Weekly but now works for a dot-com that offers the service of writing handwritten letters for those who don’t have the time or the gift to do it themselves. Theo’s letters are beautiful and emotionally expressive but for some reason he has trouble expressing his own emotions to those around him. His wife Catherine (Mara) has finally given up on Theo, and the two are divorcing for the most part acrimoniously although clearly Theo is still hung up on Catherine.

Smart phones have gotten smarter in the future and do more for us. Now there’s a new Operating System for our computers – one which is a true artificial intelligence, learning and growing as it becomes used to you and your needs. The voice of Theo’s calls herself Samantha (Johansson). At first, she’s a super-efficient personal assistant, making sure he makes his meetings and appointments, checking his e-mail and text messages for him and so forth. However, she has a curiosity about things and Theo is more than happy to help her out. Soon he feels a kind of connection to this disembodied voice and why shouldn’t he? She’s programmed to serve his needs.

However that connection grows and deepens as she becomes the perfect woman for him. They even engage in a kind of cybersex that is at once erotic and disturbing. He’s fallen in love and that’s not even considered weird – his good friend Amy (Adams) who is undergoing the break-up of her own marriage of eight years has also developed a deep friendship with her own personalized operating system.

But there are drawbacks to this new kind of love. There’s no physical body, no physical connection. Sure there’s cybersex but no touching. Surrogates (Doubleday) are tried but for Theo it doesn’t really work well. The relationship is largely inside his head and the physical presence is almost an intrusion. When he goes on a blind date with a particularly needy girl (Wilde) that doesn’t work either.

What kind of future do these relationships have, particularly when one party is growing – or perhaps more accurately evolving – at a significantly faster rate than the other? For the moment Theo doesn’t care – he is just learning to enjoy the moment thanks to Samantha.

The movie asks some really deep questions – what is love, and what does it mean to be human? Both of them are intrinsically tied up with one another. For those who might think it far-fetched to fall in love with a voice, consider this; many people have fallen in love with people they’ve only texted and chatted with on the Internet. Are their feelings any less valid because they haven’t had physical intimacy? Of course, the difference is that there’s a potential for physical intimacy whereas in Theo’s case there simply isn’t.

Phoenix is given maybe the toughest job an actor can get – take what is essentially an uninteresting guy and make him relatable to the audience. In that sense, his performance may not be getting any Oscar buzz but it may be as great a performance as those that are receiving it. Theo is the kind of guy we’d never spare a second glance at with his throwback mustache and excuse-me air.

Adams shows more vulnerability than I can recall in any of her performances. It’s a far cry from her role in American Hustle where she is outwardly tough and smart but inwardly has issues. Here her character has been sapped of strength and vitality by life; she is working on a documentary film that will serve as her dissertation but there’s no life to the project; it’s inert and boring and she knows it. She hasn’t given up exactly – she’s still a good friend to Theo – but this Amy has lost her way.

Jonze who has mostly made quirky pictures from the scripts of other people wrote this one himself and he throws all sorts of fine little details – for example, the future fashion isn’t having your pants down around your ass but instead up high and there are a lot of earth tones. There are no flying cars but there are high speed trains that take you just about anywhere. Even L.A.’s skyline resembles that of Shanghai (which is a bit of an inside joke since the Shanghai skyline was used in place of L.A.’s).

The question is here not just what humans are but what we are becoming. There is a bit of parable to the proceedings here. We have become obsessed with being connected but make no connections. How many times have you gone to a restaurant and seen everyone at the table texting away on their smart phones? Even when we’re together we aren’t present. Is that unhealthy or is it simply adapting to our new technology? I suspect that it’s a little bit of both.

Some movies tells us their views on the human condition and that alone gives us something to think about. Her is more about pointing out the direction we’re heading in and allowing you to draw your own conclusions. This is the kind of movie you’ll be turning over in your head and discussing with your friends for weeks after you leave the theater. I can’t think of higher praise than that.

REASONS TO GO: Examines what it is to be human. Thought-provoking. Believable future.

REASONS TO STAY: The emotional resonance may be too much for some.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few instances of rough language, some sexuality and brief graphic nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Following the filming of some of the rougher emotional scenes, Amy Adams would sing songs from Broadway musicals to cheer herself back up. Phoenix soon began joining her but both stopped when they noticed Jonze filming their impromptu duets.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/14/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 91/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wall-E

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Answers to Nothing

Red 2


Helen Mirren takes aim.

Helen Mirren takes aim.

(2013) Spy Comedy (Summit) Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Byung Hun Lee, Neal McDonough, Catherine Zeta-Jones, David Thewlis, Brian Cox, Tim Pigott-Smith, Garrick Hagon, Jong Kun Lee, Steven Berkoff, Philip Arditti, Mitchell Mullen, Martin Sims, Tristan D. Lalla, Nathalie Buscombe. Directed by Dean Parisot

That pesky Internet. Just when you think you’ve found peace and quiet in a suburban retirement far from the stresses of your job, WikiLeaks goes and publishes a document that links you to a CIA plot back in ’79 to smuggle a WMD into Moscow. Now you can’t even shop at Costco without having wackos taking a shot at you.

That’s just what happens to Frank Moses (Willis), once the CIA’s most skilled assassin but now enjoying his golden years with his new lady Sarah (Parker). In fact, he is shopping at Costco with his somewhat bored Sarah when they are accosted by Marvin (Malkovich), Frank’s twitchy partner (you’d be twitchy too if you were fed LSD every day for several years) in the power tools aisle.

He lets Frank know that the two of them have been linked to some operation called Nightshade that neither one of them can remember and now it looks like there’s a big nasty storm headed in their direction. Turns out he’s right.

It also turns out going on the run with assassins – including Han (Lee), the world’s best – after them is just the kick in the pants Frank and Sarah’s relationship needs. Of course having homicidal Victoria (Mirren), one of the finest killers-for-hire there is – on your side doesn’t hurt. Frank and his crew will need to break Dr. Bailey (Hopkins) out of jail, never mind that he’s supposed to be dead. Oh, and the CIA has sent Jack Horton (McDonough) to see that Frank is captured and interrogated none to gently and it turns out Han has a personal grudge against Han and all Frank wanted to do was get a new barbecue grill.

Movies like this need to be lighthearted and Parisot uses an undeniably light touch. Maybe too light – the movie is almost devoid of weight like it was filmed on the International Space Station using elaborate sets to make the audience think it was completely earthbound. There’s no substance here – and there isn’t required to be – but the lack of it might turn those who want a little meat with their mousse off.

Willis excels at these kind of roles these days, the weary hero. If you’ve seen his last three Die Hard movies you’ll know what I mean. He is a bit grumpy and a bit smart alecky but when the rubber hits the road the man is still one of the best action stars in Hollywood. Some might sniff that he’s playing the same part he has for 30 years but then again that’s true for most of the actors in Hollywood in one way or another.

Mirren steals the show though. She’s got that patrician look and accent and when she pulls out a big effin’ gun, she looks so gleeful it’s hard not to feel a surge of the same emotion yourself. She has some interesting byplay with Parker, who is a lot better here than she was in the first movie where she was a bit overwrought. She goes more subtle here and it works better.

Lee is impressive; I’m hoping that we see more of him in similar roles. With most of the great martial arts action stars aging, it’s nice to know that there are some guys ready to step in and fill the void. Malkovich, of course, is Malkovich. He does what he does

The first Red was fun, unusual and unexpected. While its sequel retains much of the first quality, it lacks the second two. Still, there’s enough of that one quality to allow the audience to have a pretty good time at the movies. It may be disposable, but sometimes that’s just what you need.  

REASONS TO GO: Mind-numbing fun. The cast is a hoot.

REASONS TO STAY: Exceedingly lightweight. Has lost its novelty.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action of the gunplay variety, some car chase property destruction, a little crude language and some drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Hopkins and Cox have played Hannibal Lecter in the movies.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/2/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 41% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100; the critics weren’t so enamored of this one but at least they didn’t hate it.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Losers

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Back to the Future Part III

The Campaign


 

The Campaign

Zach Galifianakis isn’t sure he’s going to get the top billing Will Ferrell promised him.

(2012) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox, P.J. Byrne, Sarah Baker, Karen Maruyama, Grant Goodman, Kya Haywood, Randall Cunningham. Directed by Jay Roach

 

In an American presidential election year, politics tend to move towards the shameless side. Outrageous lies and half-truths are spoken; candidates are smeared, rumors are mongered and dirty tricks are perpetrated.

In a North Carolina congressional district, Cam Brady (Ferrell) prepares to run unopposed for his fourth term in office. He’s always been more interested in being called “Congressman Brady” rather than in doing anything with the office but his popularity takes a huge hit after accidentally sending a racy voice message on the answering machine of a devout Christian family who didn’t appreciate it so much.

This brings a bit of unease to the Motch brothers (Lithgow, Aykroyd), a pair of billionaire industrialist siblings who have outsourced millions of jobs to China. However, they’ve come up with a brilliant scheme to save millions on shipping their products back to the U.S. – it’s called “insourcing” and involves having the Chinese buy huge….tracts of land…and putting up factories, then staffing them with Chinese workers who continue to make pennies an hour. To make it happen, they need a Congressman who can insure they get exemptions on the minimum wage and it doesn’t look like Brady, whose district the Motches have designs on, will have enough political capital after this latest escapade, to help them much.

The Motch brothers need a new pliable candidate, one they can control and they think they’ve found one in Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) who is a somewhat simple and somewhat effeminate tour guide operator in the county whose father (Cox) is the oily, rattlesnake-mean former campaign manager for Jesse Helms. Marty, who’s always wanted to run for office, wants to make his daddy proud. Daddy wants Marty not to embarrass him. And Marty’s brother Clay (Goodman) just wants to tickle Marty because Marty’s bowels tend to void when tickled.

Marty’s kind of a shlub but that all changes with the arrival of Tim Wattley (McDermott), a snake oil-slick campaign manager who proceeds to do a life makeover on the new candidate, much to the chagrin of Mitzi (Baker), Marty’s timid BBW of a wife.

Thus the campaign ensues, with each candidate smearing the other through attack ads, debates and innuendo. Things start to get messy; Cam’s hot but ambitious wife (LaNasa) moves out when it looks like Marty might win; Cam accidentally slugs a baby in the jaw with a closed fist.

However, when Marty finds out what the Motch Brothers, in collusion with his father, are up to, he grows himself a pair and stands up to them. This leads to Tim moving over to Cam’s moribund campaign…and resurrecting it. But which one of these two knuckleheads will win out in the end?

This is meant to be political satire which I suppose circa century 21 makes some sense. Still, when I think of political satire I think of classics like, for example, Dr. Strangelove. This doesn’t measure up to that nor should you go in expecting that it would.

This is more or less an Apatow-esque comedy masquerading as political satire. While the identity of the Motch brothers isn’t fooling anyone (Koch brothers anyone?) and Cam Baker shares some DNA with John Edwards, the movie studiously tries to avoid party mudslinging on the surface by making the Democrat (Brady) as objectionable as the Republican (Huggins). The reality though is that they’re both essentially Republicans – and the joke is that there really isn’t much of a difference between them, even to them both finding out they are good-hearted in the end (not that it’s much of a spoiler).

Ferrell has played this character dozens of times, a combination of Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby and George Bush. For Galifianakis, this is a character not unlike the one he played in Due Date. It’s not a bad mix, the two of them – but it ends up with a kind of Frank Capra-esque ending that belies the cynical tone most of the rest of the movie takes.

I could have used a bit more laugh-out-loud sequences, although there are a few moments which got me chortling but to me the movie seemed on the bland side and never really had the courage of its own convictions. Trying not to alienate the electorate? Don’t make a political satire then.

REASONS TO GO: Satirizes the current American political process without getting too party-specific.

REASONS TO STAY: Not nearly as funny as it should be. A bit more cynical than some might like.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of crude sexual content, a bit of nudity, some semi-foul language and a bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Aykroyd plays a wealthy brother like the type he bested in Trading Places. Life imitating art?

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/14/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100. The reviews are mixed but trending towards the positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Primary Colors

EASTBOUND AND DOWN LOVERS: Shawn Harwell, one of the co-writers of the movie, also is a writer for the quirky cable series.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Jack and Jill

New Releases for the Week of April 6, 2012


April 6, 2012

AMERICAN REUNION

(Universal) Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Tara Reid, Thomas Ian Nichols, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Jennifer Coolidge, Eugene Levy, Shannon Elizabeth. Directed by John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg

The kids of East Great Falls High have graduated and scattered to the four winds. Of all the couples that had come together ten years ago, only Jim and Michelle remain together, now married with a baby. That’s a far cry from band camp brother. In any case the whole gang is coming back home for the ten year reunion. It may be ten years gone from high school but these are friendships that endure a lifetime. The latest in the American Pie franchise.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sex Comedy

Rating: R (for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, language, brief drug use and teen drinking)

Coriolanus

(Weinstein) Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox.  A revered general of Rome is pushed into seeking the position of Consul. When he refuses to kiss tush with the masses, they refuse to support him. His anger prompts a riot which results in his expulsion. He winds up allying with his sworn enemy to take revenge on the city. This is the latest Shakespeare adaptation, updated into a modern setting and the directorial debut of Fiennes

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for some bloody violence)

Housefull 2

(Eros) Akshay Kumar, Asin, John Abraham, Jaqueline Fernandes. Four con men pose as rich prospective husbands for four brides. They all wind up living together under the same roof, causing much mistaken identity, much paternal hair-pulling and many spontaneous musical numbers.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Intruders

(Millennium) Clive Owen, Carice van Houten, Pilar Lopez de Ayala, Daniel Bruhl.  The latest from visionary Spanish horror director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo follows two children in two different countries who are haunted by a being known only as Hollow Face. Nobody believes the children when they tell adults about what’s happening to them but as events begin to pile up there is no denying something beyond our understanding is going on.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for terror, horror violence, some sexuality/nudity and language)

Titanic 3D

(Paramount/Fox) Leonardo di Caprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, David Warner. The all-time box office champ and the winner of more Oscars than any other film in history gets the 3-D treatment. The ship still sinks.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for disaster-related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief language)

We Need to Talk About Kevin

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Ashley Gerasimovich. A mother must deal with the fall-out of her son’s heinous actions, as well as the ire of her community. Her relationship with her son is called into question as is her culpability in the acts that he committed. Swinton received a Golden Globe nomination for her role as the mother.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Rating: R (for disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality and language)

As Good As Dead


As Good As Dead

Cary Elwes tries not to make a crack to Andie MacDowell about using a stronger brand of sun lotion.

(2010) Thriller (First Look) Cary Elwes, Andie MacDowell, Frank Whaley, Matt Dallas, Jess Weixler, Nicole Ansari, Brian Cox, Clark Middleton, Emma Kantor, Juliette Bennett, Nasry Malak, Crispian Belfrage, Claudine Oriol, Mario D’Leon, Elissa Middleton. Directed by Jonathan Mossek

 

Vengeance is a dish best served cold or so they say. Ten years after is plenty of time for the dish to cool down I’d say.

Ethan Belfrage (Elwes) is a left-leaning photojournalist in New York  who has a family, a nice loft in midtown and a fairly successful career. He walks the dog, is friendly with the neighbors and is in general an upstanding citizen.

When a pair of thugs break into his apartment and tie him up to a chair, he is at first alarmed but not too surprised – apartment break-ins are not entirely unknown in the Big Apple. When a hideously scared woman calling herself Helen Kalahan (MacDowell) strides in, Ethan becomes a little bit concerned. When it turns out that one of the thugs, Jake (Dallas) is her son, Ethan begins to get a bit suspicious. When he notices that the other one, Aaron (Whaley) has an SS tattoo on his neck and seems more than a little bit bloodthirsty and unhinged, Ethan begins to sweat.

It turns out that Helen believes that Ethan had something to do with the murder of her husband (Cox), the hate-spewing preacher of a kind of skinhead survivalist fundamentalist Christian cult. She means to extract a confession from him, even though Ethan denies it. In fact, he denies it under torture, which doesn’t seem to impress Aaron all that much. When Ethan denies it after Aaron intentionally injects an overdose into a neighbor woman, well, one begins to wonder if maybe he is innocent after all. Still, you get the nagging feeling that Ethan knows a hell of a lot more than he’s telling.

This has a Hitchcockian element to it that’s quite pleasant; there are bad men involved and you’re not sure if the lead character might not be worse than the lot of them – and you have the nagging suspicion that he’s getting his just deserts. Then again the murdered pastor is so heinous that you can’t help feeling that justice was served on that end as well.

MacDowell, long one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, spends the entire movie in make-up depicting terrible scars, walking with a limp and generally spewing hateful things. One of the true Southern belles in the business, it’s kind of shocking to see the twisted reverse of that institution – it’s frightening and fascinating at the same time. This is truly one of her best roles in the last few years.

The movie is for the most part well-scripted although it bogs down occasionally. There is a sense that there is cruelty and violence mostly for its own sake; it loses its shock value early on and I think the film might have benefitted with more psychological aspects – as when the neighbor is slowly dying and Ethan is helpless (or is he?) to save her.

I think if they’d tightened up the writing a bit and cut some of the filler this might have been quite a taut little thriller. A little more flashback showing off the “good” pastor might have added a bit to some of the backstory, particularly to Jake who seems a tad conflicted here. There are enough elements to give this a slight recommendation, but not really enough that I feel motivated to urge anyone to go out of their way to find it either.

WHY RENT THIS: Tense when it needs to be and rather than revealing the twist all at once, does it in stages which is in itself a nice twist. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Turgid and muddled in places. Uses violence more gratuitously than necessary.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence (some of it brutal), a bit of drug content and a fair amount of cursing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: MacDowell is originally from Gaffney, South Carolina and rose to fame as a model, with Yves St. Laurent, The Gap, Vogue and Calvin Klein.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $55,618 on an unreported production budget; I wouldn’t bet on profitability here.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Hulk