Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Limitless contains the best, most cinematically confounding shot that I’ve seen so far this year.  It’s so groovy, in fact, that director Neil Burger implores it a handful of times in order to keep the audience intrigued (which is helpful, because there ain’t a whole hell of a lot to keep one interested in a flick like this).

I don’t even know how to explain it.  The cameras appears to zoom down the streets of Manhattan at an exceedingly heightened pace.  It goes faster and faster, coasting down what appear to be dozens and dozens of blocks, without ever cutting away.  It isn’t a time lapse (filming for 10 minutes then speeding the shot up in editing so it only lasts 10 seconds), and it isn’t being done with just one camera, but it is simply incredible to watch.

The shot is, undoubtedly, achieved with the use of special effects, but not to the point of distraction.  The third time the shot occurred, I kept thinking, “Jesus, how are they doing that?” And then it hit me: HOW it is done isn’t important, that fact that it IS done is all that matters.

Moving past that, there isn’t much more to positively draw from this film.  Bradley Cooper stars as a fumbling, worthless writer struggling along in a shitty apartment buried in Chinatown.  Cooper’s Eddie Mora is plagued with crippling writer’s block, a God-awful mop of hair, a depressed attitude and a demeanor that's a slight step up from that of a homeless man.

That is until he runs into his former brother-in-law on the street, a high level dealer who supplies Eddie with a nifty new drug that opens up his brain to full capacity.  Eddie pops the pill and it’s off to the races.  He finishes his book in four days, reworks his look to GQ status, gets laid effortlessly, cracks the stock market, and vacations in tropical locales, all in the course of a week.

Before long,  Eddie is being chased by a slew of bad guys who all want at his drug stash (yawn) while he juggles the biggest Wall Street merger of all time with his new boss, played to campy mediocrity by Robert De Niro (double yawn).

Look, Limitless has its moments.  In addition to the shot I mentioned, Cooper does moderately well flexing his charm through a muddled script, and De Niro proves (if only in one scene) that he may still have a hint of the burrowing intensity that made him who he is.  But the flick is wholly predictable and filled with roll-your-eyes moments of mania (a scene involving a little girl and an ice skate is particularly absurd).  In short, limitless may accurately describe some of the characters’ means of acquiring knowledge, but as far as your attention span goes, the title couldn’t be further from the truth. D+

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau is what Inception would be in less capable hands than Christopher Nolan, or what The Truman Show could’ve turned into if not directed by a visionary like Peter Weir.

It’s an interesting concept: that there are a group of people designed specifically to carry out the master plan set by God (or whoever), human emotion or desire be damned. Ever wonder why you can’t find your car keys that one morning? Or why you missed that bus by seconds?  Some of it is chance, sure, but most of the time, the film tells us, it’s the work of the Adjustment Bureau.

If this all sounds corny and tired, well, that’s because it is.

With this unique sci-fi scenario, the plot could be structured around basically anything, which is why it’s kind of a letdown that we’re stuck with the aimless familiarity of lovers in distress.

David Norris, a young politician vying to be New York’s next Governor (Matt Damon), meets Elise (Emily Blunt) by chance, but after their flirty, fleeting moment together, they are split apart indefinitely.  Years later, David runs into Elisa (again, by chance) and their romance takes off.  Enter the Adjustment Bureau, a slew of suited dudes in Mad Men fedoras who inform David that if he continues to see Elisa, their relationship will eventually ruin both of their lives.

This being a love story, David fights to stay with Elise.  He screams, he runs, he convinces; all in the name of love.

The Adjustment Bureau is based on a story by Philip K. Dick, the same mind that spawned stories that later became Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report.  Once you step into Dick’s world, you have to accept it, or you’ll never enjoy yourself.  So to say I dug the concept behind The Adjustment Bureau really isn’t saying enough, because as it turns out, this is a unique gimmick stuck in a nearly lifeless film. 

Despite the chemistry of the two leads, the dialogue is stuffy and forced.  More than once I laughed out loud at what I thought was latent sarcasm, but was actually the remnants of a lacking screenplay.

We are, however, privy to a few cool effects: a character opens a door in an alley and steps onto Yankee field, walk through the back door of a restaurant and you’re magically standing next to the Statue of Liberty, and so on.

But two talented leads and a few groovy special effects aren’t enough to make you care. In the end, we’re left with a series of unremarkable, wasted scenes that add up to a movie you may enjoy in the moment, but forget as soon as you leave. D+

Friday, March 11, 2011

Take Me Home Tonight

Friendly note of caution, if a movie is completed then shelved for four years, it’s usually because it:
a.) Sucks
b.) Can’t find a distributor
c.) too controversial, thereby making it unmarketable
d.) Sucks big time
e.) All of the above

Choice ‘e’ was the case with Take Me Home Tonight, Topher Grace’s ‘80s-set “passion project” that he developed with director Michael Dowse for years before finishing production in 2007.  Once the film was completed, it was buried in movie purgatory before recently getting resurrected for a limited release.

The studio is marketing the film as “a John Hughes-type movie with cocaine, lots and lots of cocaine.”  This isn’t true for a number of reasons.  First off, if you’re trying to label your film as controversial for its frank depiction of casual drug use, then you should probably have more, you know, drug use in it.  By my count, two characters each do one line of coke in the entire film, off screen.  So… what’s all the fuss about?

Secondly, Take Me Home Tonight ain’t no John Hughes flick.  If it were, then it’d be funny (nope), charming (not a chance), daring (ha), and memorable (no way).

In short, there’s a reason why Take Me Home Tonight took four years to be released: it’s lame.  Unless he’s being directed by Steven Soderbergh, Topher Grace can’t act for shit. (Okay, to be fair, I really enjoyed the indie flick P.S., but not necessarily Grace’s contribution to it.)

In Take Me Home Tonight, he plays a squeaky-voiced fumbler who, despite having recently graduated from MIT, has no ambition to do anything with his life.  That is, of course, until he runs into his high school crush who invites him to a bitchin’ Labor Day party.  You’ve seen it all before: the geek tries to, and undoubtedly will, get the girl, but not before a few cute shenanigans ensue.

There is one small thing about Take Me Home Tonight that I actually enjoyed (well, other than the rockin’ soundtrack), and that would be Teresa Palmer, who plays the interest of Grace’s affection.  I’ve never seen Palmer in anything before, but I can tell you that she has some serious comedic timing resting gently on top of some dramatic acting chops just waiting to be tested.  I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s got. 

One last thing: Take Me Home Tonight is set during one night in September, 1988, and there are a couple of references to the film Rain Man, which was released in December, 1988.  That whole continuity thing… who needs it? Just sayin’.  D

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oscar Winners Who Went On To Do Nothing

There’s a famous vexation thrown around Hollywood known as the Supporting Actress Curse. There was a time, mostly in the ‘90s, when many Best Supporting Actress winners saw a serious decrease in their career prestige post-Oscar.  A few of them are listed below, along with other underachievers who sold out or went off the map after nabbing Hollywood’s favorite golden boy.

“Nothing” may be moderately inaccurate.  A lot of these Oscar winners did indeed continue to advance their film careers as they sought fit. However, none of them lived up the hype that voting members of the Academy once granted with an Oscar.

Note of distinction: Because the Oscars are for film, I’m concerned only with the movie careers of the people listed below.  Whether they went on to find success as musicians or painters or desperate housewives is not of issue to me.

1987 – Cher, Best Actress for Moonstruck
With the throw of a merciless slap followed by the delivery of one of cinema’s most recognizable lines, Cher graced the Oscar podium to accept the award she so thought she deserved.  Think of Moonstruck what you will, but no one can make a solid argument that Cher deserved this more than Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.  Oh well.  As predicted, Cher got her Oscar then basically faded away from the silver screen spotlight.

Minor redemption: If you enjoyed Burlesque, then I can do nothing for you.

1991 – Mercedes Ruehl, Best Supporting Actress for The Fisher King
Mercedes Ruehl is great as Jeff Bridges’ faithful yet frustrated love interest in The Fisher King, flexing her sultry, brazen charm all the way to the Oscar stage.  But then what?  The mom in Last Action Hero (which, for the record, is a fantastically absurd guilty pleasure)?  Two episodes as Vince Chase’s mom in Entourage?

Minor redemption: Other than the roles mentioned above?  I got nothing. 

1995 – Christopher McQuarrie, Best Original Screenplay for The Usual Suspects
This is a bit of an admitted stretch as I thoroughly enjoyed The Way of the Gun, which McQuarrie wrote and directed five years after winning an Oscar for penning The Usual SuspectsThe Way of the Gun is twisty and clever, but it ain’t no Usual Suspects, one of the most twisty, clever films… ever.  Since his first and only directional effort, McQuarrie hasn’t done much.  Oh, he did write Valkyrie.  And The Tourist, which contained one of the worst, most obvious “twist” endings of recent memory. Probably not something to brag about.

Minor redemption: As I’ve said, The Way of the Gun is a solid flick.

1996 – Cuba Gooding, Jr., Best Supporting Actor for Jerry Maguire
Before getting crazy lucky by being cast as the egotistical Rod Tidwell, Gooding had a few key roles in Boyz in the Hood, A Few Good Men, Judgment Night, and Outbreak.  Since his Oscar win?  Well, we’ve certainly seen him, but not in anything worth mentioning.  Chill FactorInstinct?  Rat RacePearl Harbor? Boat Trip? His post-Oscar resume reads like a flop list from hell.

Minor redemption: His small but volatile role as Nicky Barnes in American Gangster.  He stood toe to toe with Denzel, and nailed it.

1997 – Helen Hunt, Best Actress for As Good as It Gets
Only the second person to win a Golden Globe, Oscar and Emmy in the same year (damn you Liza Minnelli), Hunt was destined for Oscar gold after delivering in emotionally fierce and comically blissful performance opposite ol’ Jack in As Good as It Gets.  And then? What Women Want made shitload of money, but it’s a throwaway role.  Woody Allen has called The Curse of the Jade Scorpion his worst film for a reason, and Pay It Forward is nothing better than a glorified Lifetime movie (which may indeed be an insult to Lifetime movies).

Minor redemption: Her “you-said-you’d-be-right-back” love interest of Tom Hanks in Cast Away.  I’m one of the few people who actually enjoys the final 20 minutes of that film, but the whole movie could’ve been exponentially better if a different actress was cast in Hunt’s role.

1997 – Kim Basinger, Best Supporting Actress for L.A. Confidential
People forget this now, but there was a time when Curtis Hanson’s masterful film rested almost solely on the shoulders of an ‘80s sexpot.  L.A. Confidential was pre-Gladiator Russell Crowe and pre-Memento Guy Pierce.  To be fair, the film was post-The Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey, but it was Basinger’s face who was plastered all over the marketing material for this film.  The effort paid off.  The movie was a hit, thanks in part to Basinger’s restrained, taunt performance. After she won the Oscar, she more or less vanished from Hollywood’s radar.  Hanson was generous enough to cast her as Eminem’s mother in 8 Mile, and The Door in the Floor had its moments, but Basinger’s never lived up to the sultry, wide eyed Lynn Bracken.

Minor redemption: I love 8 Mile, but most people forget she’s even in it.

1998 – Roberto Benigni, Best Actor for Life is Beautiful
What a waste.  He deserved Best Foreign Film, but Best Actor?  Over Tom Hanks’ compassion (Saving Private Ryan), Nick Nolte’s desperation (Affliction) and Edward Norton’s fury (American History X)? I’ve never understood the appeal.  And what since?  Nothing.  Unless you count his “rethinking” of Pinocchio, which I doubt, considering no one saw it.

Minor redeemer: None.

2006 – Jennifer Hudson, Best Supporting Actress for Dreamgirls
She was Hollywood’s Homecoming queen, using American Idol as a “stepping stone” to land the meaty role of Effie in the heavily anticipated film adaptation of the wildly popular Broadway show.  She sang, she screamed, she cried, she won.  And…? Look, I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty blown away by Hudson’s performance the first time I saw Dreamgirls.  But look at her competition: Rinko Kikichi gave the best performance of 2006 in Babel, with her co-star Adriana Barraza right behind her.  Then there’s Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal, who would’ve been a shoo-in had she not won two years earlier for The Aviator.  Hudson’s win is just another example of Oscar voters being temporarily buzzed by the sugar high of a flashy performance.

Minor redeemer: Uhh.  The Sex and the City movie?  Anyone?

Future Predictions
I doubt that Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo vanish anytime soon.  But how about Sandra Bullock?  Or, hell, Mo’Nique for that matter?  I haven’t seen much of Forest Whitaker lately, either.  Time will tell. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hall Pass

I firmly believe that praise due is praise deserved.  So let’s get this out of the way first.  There’s a scene in Hall Pass that takes place in a hotel bathroom that is, in no uncertain terms, one of the funniest scenes I have ever witnessed in film.  When I saw Hall Pass, there were five other guys in the large theatre with me.  But after that scene, there could’ve been 500.

I rarely laugh out loud in movies.  If something is really funny, I’ll sit there and think, “Yeah… that’s funny,” and I’ll probably laugh about it later.  After the bathroom scene, I was laughing so hard that I was struggling to catch my breath for several minutes. 

That scene is worth the price of admission alone, and I’m honestly considering seeing the movie again with a packed house, just to listen to the reaction.

Now, you may guess where I’m going: that scene is pretty much the only good thing about Hall Pass, the new comedy from gross-out kings Peter and Bobby Farrelly.  The Brothers Farrelly struck gold with their first film, Dumb and Dumber, by and large one of the stupidest, most hilarious movies of recent memory.  They found critical and commercial success with There’s Something About Mary, but what since?  Me, Myself & Irene had a few solid gags.  But Shallow Hal?  Stuck on You?  The Heartbreak Kid?  Lame.

Hall Pass is about two married middle aged dudes (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) whose wives, fed up with their husbands' constant horniness, give them a week off from marriage to flex their inner frat boy.  

The resulting message is, of course, didactic and boring: the guys are no longer the studs they were in college; getting laid ain’t too easy when you’ve been out of the game for so long.

The antics the two men get into throughout the week – consuming impossibly potent pot brownies, skimming the talent at Applebee’s, getting wasted and trying lame pickup lines – all fall flat because they’re all old gimmicks. 

In short, Hall Pass is just another run-of-the-mill, I'm-a-bored-married-man farce.  But if you’re in the mood for a good laugh (even if it’s just one) I promise that scene I mentioned earlier will in no way let you down.  The hotel bathroom scene: A+, the rest of the film: D+.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Drive Angry

Well here’s one for the books.

In Drive Angry, a movie that no one in their right, conscious mind would get any semblance of pleasure or enjoyment out of, Nicolas Cage, yet again, shows us how much fun he has at destroying whatever creditability may be left of his career.

As the movie rambles on, the characters talk using indecipherable dialogue wrapped aimlessly around not even the slightest shred of anything coming close to resembling a coherent plot.

From what I remember: Cage roams the Midwest in search of his granddaughter who has been kidnapped by devil worshippers. At some point, the devil’s “Accountant” shows up and tries to stop Cage, who is, I think, from Hell as well.

Oh yeah, and it’s in 3D, which means you can feel like more of an asshole for dishing out the extra dough.

Drive Angry is directed by Patrick Lussier, who made a name for himself as the editor of such modern masterpieces as D3: The Mighty Ducks and My Boss’s Daughter, before moving on to direct newly discovered classics like My Bloody Valentine and White Noise 2: The Light.  (Okay, to be fair, Lussier did edit all of the Scream films, and Red Eye, which I offer as a compliment.)

But after sitting through every painstaking minute of Drive Angry, it’s clear that Lussier hasn’t the faintest idea what the hell he is doing ; and, for once, movie going audiences seem to comprehend that. (Drive Angry only netted $5.1 million its opening weekend, making it nearly impossible to earn back its staggering $50 million budget.)

In a few short years, Nicolas Cage has phoned in more than a dozen roles, each one (somehow) worse than the one before. You have talent, dude, why don’t you challenge yourself?  It’s kind of like what Rashida Jones tells Jesse Eisenberg at the end of The Social Network: you’re not a bad actor, Nic.  You’re just trying so hard to be. F (but seriously, you already knew that).