Thursday, April 30, 2009


“STATE OF PLAY” (Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams & Helen Mirren)

I have been writing movie reviews for a couple of years now & I’ve found the better the movie, the less entertaining the review – This is going to be one of those bland reviews because ‘State Of Play’ is a very good film. One of those that I really can’t find anything wrong with - Even with Ben Affleck & Jason Bateman in the cast! It is a film in which you have to pay more than a minimal amount of attention in order to follow the plot, but it doesn’t get so overwrought in plot twists & character additions that you lose track even if you’ve been diligent with your focus.
Russell Crowe plays veteran newspaper reporter Cal McAffrey; he is matched with a young ‘blogging’ reporter (Rachel McAdams) when they are both assigned to cover the apparent suicide of a Congressman’s aide. The Congressman, Stephen Collins (Affleck) is Cal’s old college roommate, so it is hoped that Cal can get the inside scoop. One little snag in that plan in that Cal had an affair with the Congressman’s wife (Robin Wright Penn)
By bribing cops with coffee (& I’m sure a donut or two had to be thrown in off-screen) Cal comes into incriminating photos proving that Congressman Collins was having an affair with the deceased aide. There are several impressive bit roles in ‘SOP’; in fact, everyone is at the top of their game here so credit has to be given to director Kevin Macdonald (Who also made the great ‘Last King Of Scotland’)
Affleck actually shines when questioning a sleazy businessman during a congressional hearing, & Jason Bateman, also playing a sleazy character, delivers his best acting performance ever. Jeff Daniels has evolved into a 'bit part' specialist & has become very adept at adding a nice touch to each role.
For a great deal of the film I wondered why Helen Mirren agreed to play the part of McAffrey’s boss, since she had very little to do other than utter the stock line “I’ve got a newspaper to run!” They could have simply inserted scenes of Perry White from the old ‘Superman’ TV series (Complete with ‘Great Caesar’s ghost!’) but it all became clear as to why they needed Helen in that role with her ‘wanker’ line. In a film full of snappy, witty lines, this was by far the most humorous.
And I also wondered what older actor had to drop out at the last minute leading to Affleck being cast in the role of Collins since he looks a little too young to have been Crowe’s college chum & Robin Wright Penn’s husband. But as the clues unravel & twist & turn, it is Crowe that keeps everything glued together. Like my favorite actor, Sean Penn, Crowe may be a bit of a jerk in real life, but there’s no denying the fact that the man is one hell of a good actor. In the hands of someone less talented this film could have easily become bogged down.
Other than a little too long non-chase scene in a parking garage, “State Of Play” moves along at a nice clip & actually takes the time to explain to the viewer what is going on & they don’t pull any surprise endings that don’t make sense, just for the sake of making people say “Well, I never saw THAT coming!”
Should this film & it's actors be remembered at Oscar time? Probably not. But for a late April release, it is VERY high quality.


“OBSERVE & REPORT” (Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta & Anna Faris)

We drove to a theatre & decided we’d make our decision based upon what was playing next – since ‘Adventureland’ wasn’t going to start for 5 hours, ‘Observe & Report’ won out over ’17 Again’.
I can’t say that I liked ‘O & R’, but neither did I dislike it – It was a unique film in that it couldn’t make up its mind as to what it wanted to be – A dark, disturbing black comedy, or a silly, Adam Sandler-ish style dumb comedy without laughs. & there were no lines blurred between the two – it was either one or the other from scene to scene, which in the end made it a piece of crap, really – but like I said, a ‘unique’ piece of crap. I wished they had gone with the dark comedy because that was clearly the most interesting aspect of the film, whereas the dumbed down (Or as the film itself would call them ‘retarded’) scenes just didn’t work at all.
Rogen plays Paul Blart:Mall Cop, who dreams of becoming a ‘real life’ cop. So when Ray Liotta’s detective comes to the mall to investigate the appearance of a perverted flasher that has been molesting women in the parking lot, Blart is literally looking over his shoulder ‘observing’ how an actually police detective conducts an investigation. &, being the egomaniac that he is, Paul constantly questions the detective’s techniques. A potentially interesting plot is created between the two ‘protectors’ of the citizenry, but instead of keeping it taut & edgy, the climactic scene culminates in a stupid mall cop vrs. the entire police force fight scene that is just plain idiotic.
Anna Faris is the ‘pretty & she knows it’ girl that works the cosmetics counter that Blart is infatuated with... I used to like Anna, but last being seen in ‘House Bunny’ & now this; she’s quickly losing her appeal. There’s some nice scenes involving Paul & the shy religious girl that works at the coffee shop, but that possibly interesting angle deteriorates into a bland, predictable finale.
Michael Pena (excellent in ‘Crash’) shows some range playing Blart’s 2nd in command, but just as his character steps into the spotlight, he disappears.
The relationship between Paul & his alcoholic mother showed promise - & if they’d stuck with the ‘feel’ of those scenes throughout the entire movie, they would have had a much better film on their hands – but there isn’t enough of ‘mom’ & way too many scenes of Blart moving in slow motion with his three chins flopping up and down in ripples in some lame attempt to make the chubby mall cop look ‘macho’. Again, this film didn’t have a clue as to what it wanted to be so it was all over the place. Okay, so maybe the several scenes of fat guys (one nude) running endlessly through a mall was ‘supposed’ to be a parody of the genre, but Simon Pegg already wrung all the comedic moments out of that dishrag in “Hot Fuzz”.
But this Paul Blart, unlike the Kevin James’ version, isn’t very likeable – In fact he’s a complete jerk. One wonders of the screenwriter actually ‘wrote’ the dialogue between Blart & an Eastern Indian mall employee, or if the two actors decided to ‘improvise’ saying the words ‘F- You’ to one another a dozen or so times & the director thought that made ‘celluloid magic’ & he kept it in... He couldn’t have been more wrong. It took a long time for me to come around & start finding things to like about ‘O & R’ because that scene (Which I’m sure many 4-6 year olds found hilarious) was so off-putting.
There was a potential good movie here, but it fails due to misguided direction. They should have kept it ‘dark’ throughout & discarded all of the slapstick & ‘look how tough the tubby mall cop is’ scenes. But they didn’t, so it’s a mess.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


“SUNSHINE CLEANING” (Amy Adams, Emily Blunt & Alan Arkin)

This is a marvelous little film about slightly broken people – the fact that they’re not completely broken makes them worthy of caring about. I could relate to the 2 main characters despite their being female. One reason is timing – they both were struggling to find their place in the world from an occupation standpoint & the other reason I won’t reveal here, other than to say they both were haunted by a tragic moment from their past.
Amy & Emily play sisters, Rose & Norah. Rose works as a maid for a housekeeping service & Norah’s temper keeps her from holding a job for any length of time.
Alan Arkin plays their father, who bounces from one money-making scheme to the next. The one drawback I had with the script is the fact that how the tragedy from the past affected ‘Dad’ is never mentioned.
Steve Zahn, proving he can do more than just provide some mild comic relief, plays a smarmy cop who is cheating on his wife with Rose. It is Zahn’s character that suggests to Rose she get into the ‘cleaning up crime scenes’ business. It’s messy, but lucrative...
So Rose & Norah start ‘Sunshine Cleaning’ which leads them from one disgusting crime scene aftermath after another. Along the way they encounter Winston (Clifton Collins, Jr.) who guides them along on the proper way to proceed with their new business. Collins is splendid in the role as his character is required to relate his thoughts through his facial expressions. Without saying a word, we know that Winston thinks Rose is hot & her son is a brat. Besides an obvious shyness, Winston's setback is that he only has one arm & you know that's why he thinks he doesn't stand a chance with Rose.
Rose’s son, Oscar (Jason Spevak) is also slightly ‘off’ center – he’s been expelled from school, so mom starts Sunshine Cleaning in order to earn enough to send him to a private school. There is a very funny scene in which Aunt Norah tells the boy he should proudly wear the badge of ‘bastard’.
Mary Lynn Rajskub, despite playing her normal frowning frumpy dour character, fits into this story perfectly. Norah befriends her after finding her photo among the belongings of a woman that had recently committed suicide.
So often I come out of the theatre telling my wife how I would have altered the film to improve the story – Not so with ‘Sunshine Cleaning’ – Everything is included in the box, including the batteries. In the end, I was alright with the fact that Dad’s background wasn’t explored more – the film centered on the 2 sisters & that’s how it should have been.
I appreciated how the story unfolded as well, Rose makes a very unwise choice to leave her son with Winston, a man she definitely doesn’t know well enough - & yet, it is the seemingly innocent decision to send Norah on a job without her that causes grief.
When Rose shuns her responsibilities to attend an ex-high school friend’s baby shower, she takes the opportunity to brag about her recent accomplishments & then makes an early exit with a beaming smile on her face. Then, like the rest of her life, the joy is short-lived. Maybe it’s due to the fact that the story often reminded me of one that I wrote & that’s why I enjoyed it as much as I did. The acting didn’t hurt either – Amy Adams is fast becoming my favorite actress – to go from ‘Enchanted’ to ‘Doubt’ to this, she is showing the ability to tackle any role & make it believable.
It may take a long time before I stop saying ‘My favorite movie of 2009 is Sunshine Cleaning’. Go see it & I believe you will be very pleasantly surprised that a film about cleaning up after bloody suicide victims could be so entertaining...


“I LOVE YOU, MAN” (Paul Rudd, Jason Segel & Rashida Jones)

For a movie that’s supposed to be about straight males, this film is more than a little gay. It’s almost like a ‘chick flick’, except that it does have a few comedic moments. Thanks to the likeable Paul Rudd, he overcomes the not-so-likeable Jason Segel. The best part about Segel’s performance is that he kept his pants on this time!
But scenes involving farting in a museum & ‘dudes’ that sit around talking about masturbating... well, let me just say that men from my era didn’t look at other guys’ butts, so we couldn’t tell if they were withholding gas & I have never cared what any of my male buddies whacking techniques are.
The premise as well is very chick flickie – Peter (Rudd) proposes to his girlfriend, Zooey (Rashida Jones) which sets off a discussion among Zooey’s girlfriends as to who Peter might ask to be his best man. They giggle over the fact that his best friend seems to be his mother. Peter’s younger brother is a gay man(Andy Samberg as Robbie) so naturally Peter asks him to set him up with prospective best man material. Adding to the 'eeww!' factor is when Reno 911’s Thomas Lennon ends his man date with Peter by sticking his tongue down Peter’s throat. This would have been slightly humorous if Peter had immediately backed away & let Frenchie know that he didn’t swing that way – Instead – in chick flick fashion - Peter takes all that Frenchie has to give & the tongue lingers inside Peter’s oral cavity for several seconds. To quote an old National Lampoon LP, “That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick!”
With Rudd in the starring role, it’s natural to compare this to “Role Models” & “I Love You, Man” just comes up short in almost every category. The only thing ‘ILY,M’ has in its favor is a delightful send up of a—holes with Jon Favreau’s total d-ckhead character, Barry. I have to admit the only scene that made me laugh out loud was when Peter has an unfortunate projectile vomiting incident. It’s a disgusting, yet funny sight gag that works because it’s unexpected & Barry is such a humungous jerk. Jamie Pressley as Barry’s wife, Denise doesn’t seem to like Barry either. She’s very pretty, but Jamie is either stuck being type-cast, or, she doesn’t have the talent to play any other role than the bitchy wife.
I was hopeful with the casting of J.K. Simmons & Jane Curtin as Dad & Mom, but they really aren’t given any funny lines.
If I had to put my finger on the main reason Segel’s Sydney didn’t work for me, it would have to be that he doesn’t pick up his puppies poop & actually thinks it’s funny when others step in the crap. It seemed he purposely walked the dog on a main walkway, just so the pup wouldn’t have the choice of finding a discreet area to eliminate... I hate those people. Although this movie’s infatuation band is an improvement over Role Model’s Kiss tribute, it just doesn’t work at all. Hearing Rush’s ‘Tom Sawyer” & “Limelight” – probably my 2 favorite songs by them – butchered by Rudd & Segel isn’t my idea of entertainment – If I wanted to hear amateurs sing karaoke, I’d start watching American Idol... & that’s NOT going to happen.
But there is something about Paul Rudd that makes his projects seem better than they look on paper & despite all my little rants here, I didn’t totally dislike this film. It was an ‘okay’ fluff piece for an early Spring release...