Mickey Blue Eyes


Mickey Blue Eyes

Til death do them part.

(1999) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Hugh Grant, James Caan, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Burt Young, James Fox, Joe Viterelli, Gerry Becker, Maddie Corman, Tony Darrow, Paul Lazar, Vincent Pastore, Frank Pellegrino, Scott Thompson, John Ventimiglia. Directed by Kelly Malkin

 

Hugh Grant was on a bit of a winning streak in 1999. First, the captivatingly charming (and box-office smash) Notting Hill which was followed by this low-key underrated romantic comedy.

Grant plays Michael Felgate, a dapper, suave man who auctions fine art in New York City. He’s got a successful business, and he’s about to propose to his gorgeous girlfriend Gina (Tripplehorn), with whom he is madly in love. It’s a sweet moment and of course that’s when things begin to go horribly wrong.

Gina turns down his proposal, initially, and runs off in tears. Mystified, a despondent Michael seeks out her restaurant-owning dad (Caan), whom he hadn’t met before, to see if he can locate the distraught Gina. The two hit it off immediately and Dad is eager as all get out to make Michael one of the family. Trouble is, what Caan and his Uncle Vito (Young) really have in mind is to make Michael one of The Family. Gina warns Michael about this, but Michael wins her over with a promise not to get sucked into their criminal activities.

Naturally, he immediately gets sucked into their criminal activities, and things go rapidly downhill from there. In order to cover up his broken promise, Michael is forced to lie to his fiancée, which leads to further complications. Eventually, Michael runs afoul of the wrong people and his family is chosen to whack their new son-in-law. At the wedding. This is not what you would consider For Better. For worse maybe…but taking til death us do part a little too seriously.

The movie is surprisingly funny as the ever-stammering Grant tries to take on the persona of a made man, trying not to sound like the sophisticated Brit he is. Grant is at his most endearing in these sorts of roles; he’s a bit stiff and a bit awkward but at his core is a good man caught up in a bad situation. The fish-out-of-water element is played up nicely as Grant stumbles over things as simple as keeping his gun in his belt. One of the running jokes here is that many of the mobsters have neuroses, in a sly jab at the HBO series “The Sopranos.” Finally, the ending is a swerve you can see a thousand miles off, but which is approached creatively and is appreciated all the more for it.

Mickey Blue Eyes is a bit of a satire of Scorsese’s mob movies, but never loses sight of its romantic agenda. Grant is a very appealing lead at the top of his game here, coming shortly after his apology tour, as Letterman put it. His charm was growing with every movie he made. This movie didn’t get a lot of acclaim at its release not did it get a whole lot of box office love; it deserved more.

These days the movie shows up on cable and broadcast regularly. It straddles the line between romantic comedy and caper comedy and doing it nicely. It remains one of Grant’s career disappointments in many ways which is sad because the movie is so much better than critics and the audience gave it credit for.

WHY RENT THIS: Grant at the top of his game. Straddles romantic and caper comedy lines nicely. Sweet and funny.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Predictable. Cliche. Too Hollywood.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s some bad language, a little bit of violence and some sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Several members of “The Sopranos” cast are here; in addition to Pastore, Aida Turturro, Tony Sirico, John Ventimiglia and Burt Young all had roles in the award-winning HBO series.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $54.3M on a $75M production budget; the movie was a box office bomb.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Married to the Mob

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Wreck-It Ralph

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The Maiden Heist (The Lonely Maiden)


The Maiden Heist

It's Hell to grow old - you get a lot more of your pictures going straight to DVD!

(2009) Caper Comedy (Yari Film Group) Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, William H. Macy, Marcia Gay Harden, Breckin Meyer, Bhavesh R. Patel, Stephen Stapinski, Philip Dorn Hebert, Anthony M. Cascio, Bart A. Piscitello Jr., Joseph McKenna, Todd Weeks. Directed by Peter Hewitt

 

Art is a very personal thing. There’s no telling what will inspire us, capture our imagination, create an obsession. That isn’t limited to the wealthy and educated – anyone can find themselves captivated by a work of art.

That’s what happened to Roger Barlow (Walken). He’s a security guard for the Boston Art Museum and one of the paintings under his charge, The Lonely Maiden has gotten under his skin. The forlorn look of the maiden standing on the beach has him scouring the internet for information on the artwork and its artist to the point he knows more about it than the docents do.

He’s not alone in this regard. Fellow security guards Charles Peterson (Freeman) and George McLendon (Macy) have a similar problem, albeit with different works of art. In George’s case, he has a statue that’s a particular favorite; it inspires him to get naked and imitate the statue’s pose – alongside the statue itself. To each their own.

Charles has a thing about a picture of a woman with cats on a different floor of the museum. All of the men are friendly with one another until they get yet another thing in common – their pieces of art have been sold by the Curator (Weeks) to a Danish Art Museum. Suddenly, it appears their obsessions will be taken from them. All three agree that this can’t stand.

They decide that their obsessions must be stolen and replaced by fakes. Not being particularly adept artists themselves, they enlist a starving artist (Meyer) to recreate the artwork to the standards of the men. This isn’t easy as the men are very particular and they need to be – the artwork has to be good enough to fool the experts.

They have a pretty foolproof plan but there are a few snags – one of them being Roger’s wife Rose (Harden) who dreams of Florida and is amassing the funds for a vacation there. In order to pay the starving artist to do the work they need (and get other supplies needed for the switchola) Roger has to raid his wife’s vacation fund without her knowing. The fact of the matter is that these are far from being professionals – will they be able to pull this off?

I think with a cast like this one, a lot of people might be surprised they’ve never heard of this film. It was due to be released back in May 2009 but the bankruptcy of the distributor left it dangling in the wind. The movie was eventually picked up by Sony and sent straight to DVD – do not pass Go, do not collect, well anything.

And quite frankly there’s a reason Sony didn’t put this into theaters. Despite the cast full of Oscar winners and nominees, the movie is pretty scattered. The plot goes careening all over the map like an out of control radio controlled plane before crashing in a neighbor’s yard. The caper aspects kind of don’t make sense a lot of time and stretch credibility.

At least with a cast of actors this distinguished you know you’re not going to get amateurish performances. Walken and Freeman acquit themselves well, although Macy looks decidedly uncomfortable as a guy who is something of a pervert – and not in a good way. Harden winds up being shrill and unlikable for the most part, until the very last reel. She was certainly misused here.

I generally like caper movies but they have to be smart and they have to be clever (which sounds like the same thing but it isn’t). This one is neither and despite the stellar cast misfires most of the time. There are a few moments here and there that work (particularly near the end) but too much of the movie relies on stupid people doing stupid things – which is just lazy writing.

WHY RENT THIS: The actors give it a good college try and there are some poignant moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Kind of a mess with the caper aspect being the worst offender. Too many clichés spoil the plot.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few curse words scattered throughout, some brief nudity and a bit of fantasy violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The art museum scenes were primarily filmed at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, MA.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a blooper reel…and not much else.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Zookeeper

Tower Heist


Tower Heist

Ben Stiller brings up the Nutty Professor movies even though it's in Eddie Murphy's contract that nobody mentions them.

(2011) Caper Comedy (Universal) Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Tea Leoni, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Gabourey Sidibe, Judd Hirsch, Michael Pena, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Juan Carlos Hernandez, Zeljko Ivanek, Peter Van Wagner. Directed by Brett Ratner

It goes without saying that the new villains in the movies, reflecting our perilous economic times, are financiers. Most of us hold them responsible to a large degree for the woes we find ourselves in. Wall street is the new mad scientist.

Josh Kovacs (Stiller) works as the building manager for one of the most exclusive residences in Manhattan and thus one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world. It is the home of the hoi polloi, the high and mighty – the movers and shakers of New York. He heads a staff that is renowned for their attentiveness and attention to detail.

Among the residents in the building one of the most famous is Arthur Shaw (Alda), a man who has managed the portfolios of nations. He is one of the world’s most respected financial minds, someone who understands the markets better than anyone alive. When doorman Lester (Henderson) opens the door for him, there’s just a little bit more deferential treatment for Mr. Shaw who is as down to earth as they come – playing online chess with Josh, who went to the same public school in Astoria that Shaw did.

A sharp-eyed Josh notices, while in security chief Manuel’s (Hernandez) office what appears to be a kidnap attempt on Mr. Shaw. He makes a heroic effort to rescue him only to be clotheslined by an attractive woman, who turns out to be FBI agent Claire Denham (Leoni). It also turns out that the kidnapping is actually Shaw trying to escape arrest. It turns out that Shaw has swindled all of his clients out of the money they gave him to invest and that money is all gone. It turns out that Josh had given the employees of the Tower’s pension fund over to Shaw to manage and that money is all gone too.

This is devastating for some. Charlie (Affleck) the concierge is about to have a baby. Miss Iovenko (Arianda) is studying to pass the bar. Enrique (Pena) just started working there. But it is most devastating for Lester, who was about ready to retire and also had given his life savings – about $70K – to Mr. Shaw to invest and was left with nothing, meaning retirement wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Disconsolate, he attempts to walk out in front of a train and is saved by off-duty police officers.

Josh doesn’t want to believe that his friend Mr. Shaw is a crook, but when he visits him to tell the house-arrested Shaw what has befallen Lester, it becomes clear that Shaw’s friendly man-of-the-people front was a facade. It also becomes just as clear that the money that the employees of the Tower have all been counting on is gone forever. However, Agent Denham lets slip that guys like Shaw always have a cash safety net available for emergencies and that they haven’t found Shaw’s yet. Maybe Josh can steal back what was stolen from he and his associates.

However, Josh isn’t a thief, as Charlie correctly points out. However, Josh knows someone who is – streetwise Slide (Murphy), a career criminal who lives down the street from Josh. Add the recently evicted Mr. Fitzhugh (Broderick) and Jamaican maid (and daughter of a safecracker) Odessa (Sidibe) and you’ve got yourself a gang. However can these amateurs make their way past the most sophisticated security system in New York and the ever-watchful eye of the FBI to get themselves a little payback?

It will probably not surprise anyone who sees this movie to know that it shares a writer with the Oceans 11 series. It has that element of camaraderie among thieves, the same kind of snappy dialogue. It does have some star power but after Stiller and Murphy it falls off somewhat, although there are some pretty good performances here.

The main one is Murphy, who after decades of doing forgettable family comedies finally goes back to the kind of role that made him a star, one that channels Axel Foley, Billy Ray Valentine and Reggie Hammond. This is not quite up to those standards, but it is his best role in years. He nails it as well, giving it that fast-talking con-artist veneer as well as that kind of bad boy ladies man that Murphy perfected 20 years ago and that comedians like Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock and Chris Tucker have all been channeling since then.

Alda, who was playing Hawkeye Pierce in “MASH” at about the same time plays maybe the nastiest villain of his career. Shaw is an arrogant, smug bastard who while obviously modeled on Bernie Madoff has a little bit of Leona Helmsley thrown in for good measure. It’s a delicious role and should go down as one of the most memorable movie villains of 2011.

Stiller is a bit of a cipher. He is likable enough but I think that the part would have been better with someone for whom larcenous behavior might have been more easily acceptable. Stiller seems better suited for characters who need less charisma.

Ratner excels in making mindless entertainment pieces and he does so here. There’s nothing much to think about and veteran moviegoers are for sure going to be able to figure out important plot twists (such as where Shaw’s money is actually hidden) well before the reveals. However, the cast is enormously appealing (the sight of Broderick reaching out of an open window to pull in their loot but afraid to move is one of the better moments in the movie) and the plot easy enough to follow. Don’t try to think too much about some of the plot holes and you’ll find this a pleasant enough movie, not a game changer by any means but a solidly entertaining diversion. Some critics will make it seem like that’s a failure but for my money that’s a big win for the audience.

REASONS TO GO: Fine entertainment. Eddie Murphy returns to form and Alda is a fine villain.

REASONS TO STAY: A little too predictable in the plot points. Nothing really new here.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of foul language and a smidge of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Trump Tower in Manhattan was used as the stand-in for the Tower in the film.

HOME OR THEATER: The New York City vistas and the parade segment should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Due Date

The Brothers Bloom


The Brothers Bloom

Now that's a fine how-da-ya-do!

(2009) Offbeat Caper Comedy (Summit) Adrian Brody, Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximillian Schell, Ricky Jay (voice), Zachary Gordon, Max Records, Andy Nyman. Directed by Rian Johnson

When you’re a con man, there is no real life. There is no trust, there is nothing that isn’t scripted down to the finest detail, there isn’t anything really exciting. That’s the way it’s done, at least, by this brother team.

Brothers Stephen (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) are con artists, and they would tell you there is considerable art in what they do. For Stephen, the ultimate con is where everyone gets what they want; for Bloom, he just wants a life that is unscripted, one he can call his own – one that isn’t quite so predictable. Obviously, he hasn’t lived the life the rest of us lead.

We see them as youngsters in foster care, having been thrown out of every reputable foster home in the state of New Jersey – that’s about 38 of them back in the day (Sha-zing!) when young Stephen (Records) organized the first con starring his brother (Gordon) in an effort to get him to socialize. Twenty years later and Stephen is still trying to get his brother to be less socially awkward.

Now they are accompanied by Bang Bang (Kikuchi), a mostly silent Japanese demolitions expert who excels in making things blow up real good. For Bloom, however, the rose has lost its shine. He is tired of the game, tired of the life, tired of not knowing who he is. He wants out. As is de rigueur for con films, this is to be their last job, even though Stephen still delights and revels in the life.

The mark is Penelope Stamp (Weisz), an agoraphobic heiress who is bored bored bored with her life, so much so that she collects hobbies like juggling chainsaws on a unicycle, skateboarding, break dancing and performing unnecessary breast enlargements on alcoholic women. Okay, the last one wasn’t in the movie but she may well have done it. After a carefully orchestrated encounter with Bloom turns into a near-death experience, she gets roped into his world hook line and sinker.

And what a world it is, replete with vaguely threatening sorts (Coltrane as the Curator) and out-and-out threatening sorts (Schell as Diamond Dog, the mentor to the Brothers and now a rival) and, of course, exotic Eastern European locations. The issue becomes that Bloom begins to fall in love with the mark, and how can you con someone when you care about them?

Director Johnson debuted in 2005 with Brick, a kind of film noir hardboiled detective movie set in a modern California high school. Although Da Queen didn’t like it much, I respected it for its cadences, the obvious love of the source material and the imaginative genre-bending that was done. There are some of those elements here as well.

Brody is making a career out of the sad sack romantic, and nobody does it better. He’s not really the sweetest person on earth nor is he the handsomest, but he always seems endearing enough to charm the pants off (literally) nurturing young women. Ruffalo gets to play a very meaty part that doesn’t look like it so much on the surface, but he imbues Stephen with enough quirks and just enough compassion to make him really compelling by film’s end.

Think of Johnson stylistically as a cross between Wes Anderson and David Mamet; I’d say overall the tone of the movie combines Mamet’s House of Games with Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Anyone who knows these movies will either be straining at the leash to go see The Brothers Bloom based on that description or will be running for the nearest exit.

I get it; the movie is quirky and offbeat which can be a turn-off for mainstream moviegoers who like their movies pre-packaged with predictable storylines, well-known actors and Hollywood endings. This ain’t for you, folks; this is for those who love to be surprised and pulled every which way at the movies. This doesn’t have the wallop of The Sting but it does keep you guessing throughout the movie until you don’t know which way is up, which way is down or which way to the popcorn stand. If you’re headed that way, pick me up a bag with extra butter. If I’m going to chow down on The Brothers Bloom, I might as well go all the way.

WHY RENT THIS: Johnson is a phenomenal talent behind the camera and the movie may be quirky but it is ultimately endearing.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The tone of the movie is offbeat and American audiences don’t do offbeat.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a touch of foul language, some brief violence and a bit of implied sensuality but overall nothing most kids haven’t already seen before. 

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The various hobbies “collected”  by Penelope in the montage, actress Rachel Weisz learned to do every single one of them.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.5M on an unreported production budget; although this is an indie as it gets, chances are it didn’t make any money.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Righteous Kill