Due Date


Due Date

Apparently these guys got no further than "speak no evil."

(2010) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Juliet Lewis, RZA, Danny McBride, Matt Walsh, Brody Stevens, Marco Rodriguez, Paul Renteria, Mimi Kennedy, Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer. Directed by Todd Phillips

The best part of any trip is coming home. There comes a point when the weary traveler just wants to get back to their own bed, by any means necessary. Sometimes fate intervenes in this worthy endeavor however.

Peter Highman (Downey) has more reason than most to want to get back. His wife Sarah (Monaghan) is due to give birth and a date has been set to give her a Caesarian. He is leaving Atlanta in plenty of time…until he meets Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis).

Actually he pretty much literally runs into him, Ethan does and in the confusion, Ethan and Peter pick up each other’s similar-looking bags. It turns out that Ethan is sitting behind Peter in first class. It turns out Ethan gets Peter shot by an Air Marshal. Both men are tossed off the plane, with Peter leaving his wallet on board. Worse, he’s on a no-fly list now because of the incident.

Without a wallet, Peter has no way of renting a car but Ethan does and reluctantly Peter agrees to accompany Ethan on his way to Los Angeles; Ethan is an aspiring actor, bringing along with him on his journey his dog and his father’s ashes in a coffee can. Does that man know how to travel or what?

Of course, the eccentric Ethan gets the uptight Peter into all sorts of trouble, from getting them into an accident when he falls asleep at the wheel to abandoning Peter to get arrested for possession of marijuana at a border crossing. With the clock ticking and Sarah’s due date nearing, can Peter and Ethan manage to make it across the country in time or will Peter miss the birth of his first child?

If you thought “Wasn’t there a movie a lot like that?” you’d probably agree with the critics who dissed this movie for being too similar to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the 1987 John Hughes film with Steve Martin and John Candy in a more or less similar plot. They aren’t exactly alike and there are no trains in this movie but the spirit is pretty much the same.

Peter is ramrod straight here and that’s supposed to be the joke, but that becomes a double edged sword because the movie then isn’t able to make use of Downey’s comic skills which are considerable. He becomes a glorified straight man to Galifianakis’ antics and quite frankly, the movie would have been better served to allow Peter to be not quite so uptight.

Galifianakis is one of the most popular comic actors today but this seems to be more or less a parody of his role in the two Hangover movies. He was far better in those, as well as his more serious role in It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Here, he is eccentric for its own sake. The real trick to making a role of this sort funny is that it kind of has to be believable. There’s nothing believable about Ethan. He does things no rational human being would ever do. And as for Peter, there’s no way anybody sticks around Ethan after he causes Peter multiple injuries.

There are some good gags here and a enough laughs that I can at least promise a certain amount of entertainment if you choose to rent this. However, while it did good box office, it isn’t really the kind of movie you’re going to remember with a great deal of fondness, nor is it one you’re going to want to watch over and over again. It’s just diversion enough to make you smile and maybe laugh a little bit for an hour and a half, which is a pretty noble result in and of itself.

WHY RENT THIS: There are enough funny moments to make this worth your while.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There are not enough funny moments to make this a classic.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of foul language, a teensy bit of drug use and some comic violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Alan Arkin filmed some scenes as Peter’s father but these were left on the cutting room floor.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and the full scene shown at the end of the movie of “Two and a Half Men.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $211.8M on a $65M production budget; the movie was a genuine hit.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Martha Marcy May Marlene

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The Next Three Days


The Next Three Days

Elizabeth Banks and Russell Crowe discover that this is anything but the Great Escape.

(2010) Crime Thriller (Lionsgate) Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Brian Dennehy, RZA, Olivia Wilde, Daniel Stern, Ty Simpkins, Jason Beghe, Aisha Hinds, Lennie James, Trudie Styler, Allan Steele, Helen Carey. Directed by Paul Haggis

Desperate men will do desperate things, all in the name of love. When we are backed up against the wall with nowhere left to turn, we can become capable of things both amazing and terrifying.

John Brennan (Crowe) and his wife Lara (Banks) live a decent life. John is an English teacher at a community college, and Lara has a more upscale job with a boss she detests. The two go out with John’s brother and his wife and have a spirited conversation about female bosses (which Lara’s boss is) and their ability to work with female employees.

The two go home and the next day share breakfast. All seems to be normal – until the police arrive to arrest Lara. It seems she’s been fingered as a suspect in the brutal murder of her boss, bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. The evidence is highly circumstantial at best; Lara was observed driving away from the scene of the crime (the parking lot at the office where she works), her fingerprints were on the murder weapon, she and her boss argued rather loudly earlier in the day and to seal the deal, some of the victim’s blood made its way to the back of her overcoat.

Lara claims that she didn’t see the body, and that she had bumped into another woman who was leaving the parking lot on foot, although nobody else saw her but Lara. Despite her protestations of innocence, she is convicted and sentenced to prison. Three years pass; appeal after appeal is denied and their lawyer (Stern) informs John that basically her options have been exhausted – she’ll have to do the time. Lara, who has grown increasingly more depressed, her relationship with their son Luke (Simpkins) deteriorating to the point of non-existence, attempts suicide.

John knows she’ll never last the full length of her sentence. He also is completely sure she is incapable of murdering another human being, no matter how angry she was at them or what the provocation. With no further legal recourse, he determines that the only other option is to break her out of prison.

Of course, he knows nothing of prison breaks other than watching them on TV. He meets with an ex-con (Neeson in what is essentially an extended cameo) who achieved notoriety by breaking out of seven different prisons and lived to write a book about it. The author informs him that he needs a plan and a timetable. Being that she’s languishing in Allegheny County Prison in central Pittsburgh, he needs to know that 15 minutes after the escape is detected the police will have the center of the city locked down, the bridges closed and all of the subway and train stations as well as the airports manned with officers. 35 minutes after the escape is detected, the city will be on lockdown with toll booths manned by police officers and roadblocks on every major road out of the city.

John begins to spend a heck of a lot of time studying the prison and trying to figure out a foolproof plan. He is also going to need a weapon and a whole lot of money. Then he gets even more devastating news – his wife is going to be transferred to a prison far away from where they live in three days. If he doesn’t break her out in three days, their window of opportunity will be gone.

Haggis is one of the most honored writers in the business and he based this motion picture on a French film called Pour Elle (Anything for Her) which I haven’t seen yet. Haggis is a meticulous screenwriter and tends to fill his stories with an amazing amount of detail and research. Much of the first two thirds of the movie is kind of a how-to, setting up the story in the first 15 minutes of the two hour plus movie, then spending the next hour or so showing John doing research for the break-out. Fortunately, it doesn’t involve tunneling under the fence, putting mannequins in the beds to fool the guards or masquerading as day workers.

Few actors can resonate as an everyman as Russell Crowe can. He is quiet and strong, a perfect husband and father. Yet there is a core of steel to him, one which glimmers from time to time through the sweaters and the tweed jackets. Several critics have complained that they never quite catch the transformation from bookish teacher to efficient criminal, but I disagree. He is driven by desperation; desperate people have lifted automobiles off of other people. You never know what you’re capable of until you’re put into an untenable situation with no other options available to you but to achieve the impossible.

Banks has become one of Hollywood’s more reliable leading ladies. She doesn’t get the due of a Katherine Heigl or a Cameron Diaz but she is nonetheless just as competent and in many ways a better actress. We literally watch her fall apart before our very eyes and it is a compelling and believable performance in every way.

The movie really picks up during the final third when the actual escape is taking place. That is handled with edge-of-the-seat thrills and more than its share of gotchas. If the movie had been able to sustain that pace throughout, this would have been one of the year’s best.

Instead, we get kind of a how-to of prison breaks for the first two thirds that often stops dead in its tracks, particularly as we watch John stumble around Pittsburgh’s underbelly looking for falsified documents. The movie might still have gotten a decent audience, but stacked up against Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 it was essentially doomed to underperforming at the box office. This is a pretty solid movie that may not necessarily fit into your holiday movie plans, but is certainly worth a look on DVD/Blu-Ray if you can’t make it out to the multiplex.

REASONS TO GO: The last third of the movie when the escape takes place is tense, fun and energetic. Crowe is one of the best in the business.

REASONS TO STAY: The first two thirds of the movie about the planning stages drags a bit.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence as well as some drug references and a bit of foul language. There is also some implied sexuality; basically this is fine for any teen and/or mature older children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Haggis remains the only screenwriter to date to win the Best Screenplay Oscar in back-to-back years (for Million Dollar Baby in 2004 and Crash in 2005).

HOME OR THEATER: With all the holiday offerings coming out thick and fast, chances are you won’t be able to fit this into your movie going schedule which is okay – it will work just as well at home.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Painted Veil

Life is Hot in Cracktown


Life is Hot in Cracktown

When in doubt, glower.

(Lightning Media) Kerry Washington, Evan Ross, Brandon Routh, RZA, Illeana Douglas, Shannyn Sossamon, Lara Flynn Boyle, Desmond Harrington, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tony Plana, Victor Razuk, Ridge Canipe, Vondie Curtis-Hall. Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo

There are those who will argue that crack cocaine is the most devastating thing to happen to the projects ever. There is certainly some merit to the argument; crack destroys lives and encourages crime. This insanely addictive drug can turn even good people into monsters.

Sometimes in the movies, you’ll see the heroes walking down an inner city alley and encounter criminals and junkies in various stages of decay. The heroes will interact briefly with them, conclude their business, and then move along. This movie is quite frankly about the people in that alley in the first place.

In a nameless inner city neighborhood lives Marybeth (Washington), a pre-op transsexual who works as a prostitute to help save the money for her operation. She lives with her boyfriend Benny (Harrington), a small-time burglar who is developing issues with his own sexuality. Manny (Razuk) is a devoted husband and father who works two jobs to support his stay-at-home wife (Sossamon) and their colicky baby. Willie (Canipe) is a wise-beyond-his-years young boy who lives in the welfare hotel where Manny is a security guard, his mom (Douglas) a crack addict who chooses drugs over her children. Willie is in love with a heartbreakingly young hooker, and looks after his sister when his mother is too high to care for anybody.

The specter of Romeo (Ross, who is the son of Diana Ross) looms over this neighborhood. He’s a vicious and ambitious thug who wants to move up the ladder in his gang. He is completely amoral and without conscience, but doesn’t have a gun yet. When he finally acquires one, all hell literally breaks loose.

Giovinazzo wrote this based on his own novel, and like those who adapt their own material he had a very difficult time in cutting judiciously. Because this is written as an ensemble piece, the movie shifts gears every time it shifts focus to another character. The overall effect is that of a car with a broken transmission, jarring the driver every time it shifts.

Giovinazzo would have been better served to focus on only a few characters and let the rest fade into the background of the story, but I can see where he might have had difficulty in doing that because there are compelling elements to each story, and compelling performances throughout. Razuk and Canipe are the most memorable of the characters and quite frankly I wouldn’t have minded devoting more time to their stories; however, Washington delivers a spectacular performance and her character’s story shouldn’t be ignored. Ross is a smoldering presence who fills the screen up with absolute dread every time he’s onscreen; you wonder what horrible thing he’s going to do.

The movie opens with an extended gang rape by Romeo and his thugs of his own girlfriend. It’s not a pretty scene and it definitely sets the tone of the movie. Giovinazzo certainly pulls no punches nor shies away from any inner city horror, no matter how cruel or vicious. This may be too intense for some, while others will enjoy wallowing in the grittiness. For me, it’s a slice of inner city life, a particularly rotten and putrid slice with maggots crawling about the carcass. I can’t say I was entertained, but then again I couldn’t tear my eyes away either.

WHY RENT THIS: This redefines gritty. You’ll want to take a shower to wash off the slime when you’re done watching.  Canipe and Razuk are the characters you’ll remember.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There are too many storylines to follow to reasonably get much of a feel for many of the characters.

FAMILY VALUES: Drug use is at a premium here; there is also a good deal of foul language, violence and a fairly graphic depiction of rape. In addition there’s plenty of sex and nudity. Fun for the whole family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Giovinazzo took a ten year break from directing to teach filmmaking at the New York School of Visual Arts and NYU.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Nanny McPhee Returns

Funny People


Funny People

Jason Schwartzmann, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill are all funny people.

(Universal) Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Eric Bana, Leslie Mann, Jason Schwartzmann, RZA, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari. Directed by Judd Apatow

We love to laugh. Those who can make us laugh with amazing regularity own a special place in our hearts. However, the cost of that laughter can often be unbearable.

George Simmons (Sandler) is one of the planet’s top comedians. His movies have grossed hundreds of millions, and his stand-up act is legendary. He is also undeniably alone; his ex-girlfriend Laura (Mann) left him because George cheated on her. Now, George has just received some devastating news – he has a rare and fatal blood disease. His doctors want to try an experimental treatment, but the prognosis is grim.

Ira Wright (Rogen) is an aspiring stand-up who, as his co-worker Chuck (RZA) at the deli he works at opines, isn’t very funny. Ira sleeps on the couch in an apartment shared by Ira’s friend Leo (Hill) who is also a stand-up comedian (only much better and more successful) and Mark (Schwartzmann) who has hit the jackpot – he’s the lead on an NBC sitcom that, while not very good, at least pays Mark exceedingly well.

George decides to excise his demons through standup and goes to an open-mike competition at his old stomping grounds where Ira and Leo are also performing, along with Randy (Ansari), a rival comic with a biting sense of humor. George is somewhat impressed with Ira and Leo and offers them jobs as writers but Ira, in an uncharacteristic move, cuts Leo out of the equation.

The two form an odd relationship as George hires Ira to be his assistant but there’s definitely a bond between them. Ira is one of the few people…okay the only person…that George can confide in. Otherwise, George is somewhat insufferable, often treating Ira like dirt, so isolated by his own celebrity that he can’t reach out in his hour of need.

Despite the title, this isn’t a movie about comedy or even really about comedians, and despite the plot it’s not a movie about dealing with mortality either. That’s more or less a side issue. What the movie is about is isolation and what it does to us. This is a movie about human beings who happen to work as comedians, but it isn’t about being a comedian.

If this all sounds confusing, don’t be. It works as a matter of fact, particularly the first two-thirds of the movie. Where it falls flat is in the last third wherein George tries to win Laura back from her obnoxiously macho Aussie husband (Bana). Even though Mann gives a thoroughly satisfying performance in her role as George’s muse, the sad fact of the matter is that the situation here is painful in many ways and when Ira pleads “Can’t we just go now” I can empathize.

On the plus side, Sandler and Rogen both give their best performances ever. Sandler shows the kind of depth he displayed in Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me and takes it to new levels. This is far from the lovable kinds of characters he’s played in movies like Happy Gilmore or Bedtime Stories; in fact, George Simmons is a bit of a prick. It takes some courage to go as far out of his comfort zone as Sandler appears to here.

Rogen has mostly played lovable stoners throughout his career. Here, he is a bit more driven, a bit more ambitious and a little less lovable. He’s basically a decent guy and yet he screws over a friend. He is kind of sweet on fellow comedian Daisy (Plaza) but can’t bring himself to ask her out on a date and gets furious with her when she sleeps with Mark. Yes, he’s a bit of a loser but one senses he isn’t going to remain that way for long.

I liked the movie enough to overlook that final reel which doesn’t work as well. The crux of the movie seems to belong more in the relationship between George and Ira than it does to George and Laura; certainly that whole sequence could and should have been cut down significantly.

What works here works really well. The standup sequences are incredible in places, and I did laugh a lot throughout. While there is a good deal of emphasis on penis humor, it isn’t enough to be off-putting. Sadly, the movie was mis-marketed by Universal who portrayed the movie as a straight comedy and it really isn’t that, so the film didn’t do the box office it probably deserved. However, it is worth taking a peek, particularly if you like your movies to run the gamut of emotions.

WHY RENT THIS: Some genuinely funny moments as well as some genuine pathos. Sandler and Rogen are at the top of their games.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The whole winning back of his wife thing is often awkward and uncomfortable.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a tremendous amount of blue language and some crude sexual references; it’s R-rated stand-up comedy for sure.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: George and Ira are named after the brothers George and Ira Gershwin, the famous composer and lyricist who among other things, composed Rhapsody in Blue.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a lot going on, both on the 2-disc Collectors DVD edition and the Blu-Ray.  There is a video diary from Apatow that gives extensive insight into the making of the movie. Archival footage shows Sandler and Apatow appearances on Letterman, Dennis Miller’s talk show and “The Midnight Hour with Bill Maher.” There’s also a faux documentary on Randy, the Ansari character who will be getting a feature film of his own shortly and a “highlight reel” of George’s film career. There are also the full versions of the songs James Taylor performs at the MySpace Party, as well as full jams between Sandler and Jon Brion, and some rapping by RZA. The Blu-Ray version also contains an appearance on the Charlie Rose Show by Sandler and Apatow promoting the film. All in all one of the more impressive packages for any recent release.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Eat, Pray, Love

Repo Men


Repo Men

Jude Law is knocked for a loop.

(Universal) Jude Law, Forrest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Alice Braga, Carice van Houten, Chandler Canterbury, RZA, Joe Pingue, Liza Lapira, Tiffany Espensen, Yvette Nicole Brown, Wayne Ward, Tanya Clarke, Max Turnbull. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik

In the modern capitalist society, if you fail to pay for a purchase it gets repossessed, whether it is a car, a computer or a home. In the future, that also might extend to artificial organs that are keeping you alive.

Remy (Law) is a repo man working for The Union, the worlds largest broker of artificial organs. Prohibitively expensive, generous credit plans are available so that people can purchase a chance at an extended life – at an exorbitant interest rate of course. When people start missing their payments, people like Remy and his best friend Jake (Whitaker) will find you, stun you into unconsciousness with a tazer and remove the artificial organ (which are called “artiforgs”) quickly and efficiently via home surgery. The patient usually doesn’t survive the procedure.

Business is pretty good and Remy is the best there is, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by his boss Frank (Schreiber). However, it is taking a toll on his marriage to Carol (van Houten) who wants him to get a job that involves regular hours so that he might spend more time with their son Peter (Canterbury). A sales job pays much less than repo and as Jake points out, Remy is far more suited to the repo life than to sales which they both regard as weak.

However, after Jake executes a repo in their front yard during a barbecue, she gives Remy an ultimatum; make a change or get out. Remy decides to do one last job, to take the artificial heart from T-Bone (RZA), a producer of soul music that Remy admires. Remy allows him to complete mixing one last song, but when he goes to stop the artificial heart with a faulty defibrillator, the resulting shock about kills him.

He wakes up with a top-of-the-line artificial heart inside of him and is absolutely terrified. There is no way he can continue making payments on the expensive piece of equipment, especially now that the experience of being a client himself has led him to lose his nerve as a repo man, now seeing the clients as human beings with names…and wives. While his own wife has left him, furious that he went on that last job, Remy prepares to go on the run with Beth (Braga), a lounge singer he’s taken under his wing and a girl with more artificial parts than a Chevy. However, in a society where it is impossible to hide from barcode scanners and bioscan devices, how can they possibly beat a system that is so stacked against them?

This is director Sapochnik’s first feature, and as first efforts go, it’s not too bad. The action sequences are nicely directed with a nod towards the Matrix school of stunts and the overall look of the film is gritty and believable. Whitaker and Law have good chemistry in the leads and while Braga is a bit colorless as the romantic interest, she fulfills her function pretty nicely.

There is a lot of blood here. A whole lot of it. You’re gonna feel like you need a shower after jumping elbow deep into this mutha. Those who get squeamish at surgical films are going to be making a bee-line to the bathroom watching this, so my advice to those with weak stomachs is to go in forewarned.

One of the big problems of the movie is the transformation of Remy from repo man to rebel. He goes from being derisive of clients, sneering throughout “a job’s a job” in a thick cockney accent to being heroic. I understand he went through a life-changing trauma (and to be fair, it seems to me that the period in which the change takes place is probably a period of several months to a year, although it seems very quick onscreen) but there’s no transition. One moment he’s vicious and uncaring and the next he’s a saint. That lack of evolution is the biggest drawback to the movie. I think that they could have used an additional ten minutes or so of illustrating the character’s changeover. If you don’t believe his change of heart, you can’t believe the movie.

In all honesty, this is another movie in which the concept is better than the execution. There’s an interesting parable to be had here about public health care I think, and that may have been what the filmmakers were going for all along. Unfortunately, because they made the decision to accentuate the action over the character development, I think the movie ultimately misses the mark. It’s worth seeing, but just barely so.

REASONS TO GO: Decent action, decently photographed, decently acted. An interesting parable for the health care debate.

REASONS TO STAY: Law’s changeover from violent and amoral to caring and concerned is a bit abrupt and unbelievable.

FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of violence and plenty of gore, lots of foul language and a little bit of sexuality – put it all together and it adds up to not for kids!!!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jake teases Remy about the title of the book that he writes as being weak, but it’s the actual title of the novel the movie is based on.

HOME OR THEATER: A very mild nod towards the big screen for some of the effects shots, but you could go either way with this one.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Stranger Than Fiction