Tuesday, September 22, 2009


“LOVE HAPPENS” (Aaron Eckhart & Jennifer Aniston)

The character Aaron Eckhart played in ‘Thank You for Smoking’ would have kicked ‘Love Happens’ Burke Ryan’s ass. Unfortunately, Burke (also played by Eckhart) doesn’t get his ass kicked though I kept hoping his Ex-Marine Father-In-Law (Martin Sheen) was going to show up & do just that – Instead, the one time Jarhead shows up & starts weeping like a 6 year old girl who just had her pigtails pulled by the class pigtail puller... That’s not to say this movie totally sucks – In fact, if promoted properly this film would be receiving a more favorable review, but I don’t see how anyone that bought tickets for this ‘Romantic Comedy’ on opening weekend could walk out of the theatre feeling anything but confused on how it was marketed. First, there’s the light & breezy title; which sounds like the theme song should be sung by Peter Cetera(or someone equally wimpy) Like the promos, it is misleading – the storyline has virtually nothing to do with ‘love’ or how it ‘happens’ - I thought of 2 more suitable titles; “Death Becomes Him” or “Sham Wow!” - because this film is about a man (Eckhart’s Burke Ryan) who uses his wife’s death to scam people that have recently lost a loved one due to tragic circumstances. Burke is one of the most unlikable people you’d ever want to meet, & yet those responsible for the writing & creation of this movie expect audiences to root for him to succeed in finding happiness with Seattle flower shop owner Eloise (Jennifer Aniston) I guess by promoting the film as a ‘romantic comedy’ & using the sappy title ‘Love Happens’ they figure they’d bring in the classic chick flick crowd & they would look past Burke’s obvious disgusting flaw & just go “Aww, the poor man lost his wife & Jennifer is just too adorable for words, I sure hope they end up together – that would be sooo sweet!”
If I reveal too much about the plot in this review, well, tough – if you’re thinking about seeing this tearjerking weeper, at least I’m giving you a realistic viewpoint on what to expect.
Now the older couple that sat in front of us, laughed & clapped their way thru this from start to finish, so they were ‘getting’ the jokes that apparently were escaping me. But this film is about as comedic as ‘7 Pounds’, ‘Atonement’ or ‘I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry’.
However, as J.K. Simmons made ‘Extract’ likable, John Carrol Lynch saves ‘Death Becomes Him’ with a marvelous performance as Walter from Billings, Montana.
I guess I’d better expand on the plot so you understand why Walter saves this from being a complete failure.
After losing his wife in an automobile accident(3 years prior) Burke writes a book called “A-Okay” about coping with the loss – it becomes a best seller & Burke’s sleazy agent (Dan Fogler) decides he should give seminars to cash in on the book’s popularity. Seattle is one of the stops booked for the scam, er, I mean seminar & it just so happens to be where Mrs. Ryan was killed. The dupes, er, I mean audience that pay for the seminar are mostly made up of senile old women & assorted dimwits eager to part with their money for a ‘get well quick’ scheme after losing someone tragically – with the exception of Walter who tells Burke he was coerced by his sister to attend. Walter has lost someone special as well, but he’s smart enough to realize that Burke is just out to make a buck & immediately asks for his money back – con artist Burke knows exactly how to play Walter & talks him into ‘hanging in there’. When Walter refuses to go along with a hokey confidence building routine, I found someone I could relate to. Early on, Burke takes the group of misfits to the roof of a Seattle skyscraper – I remember thinking, even in those early stages, that if these people were smart, they’d all jump off the side of the building & put themselves out of their collective miseries... (Spoiler Alert - they don’t)
I suppose you’re wondering where co-star Jennifer Aniston fits in? Well, that’s another problem with this film – she doesn’t – or I should say – she shouldn’t. This film should have been about redemption; Burke’s & Walter’s – it would have been an improvement.
& I’m not saying Jennifer is awful – she does well in this role & the material/dialogue she’s given. She doesn’t have great acting chops, but she’s just so darn cute & cuddly she’s hard not to like. When she feigns being deaf in order to reject Burke’s initial ‘come-on’, I thought that was clever. Until the a—hole discovers he was duped & confronts her for stooping so low as to pretend to be handicapped just to get out of having a conversation with a fellow human being. I hated to admit it, but the jerk was right; thus spoiling the first light-hearted moment of this dreary tale.
As much as I disliked Burke & this film in general – the damn thing did eventually win me over (But you weren’t expecting that line, were you?) & once again, I can’t tell you why I ended up liking the film because that would be an actual spoiler, giving you no reason to see it yourself. Let me just say that Walter’s story was the backbone & the fact that Eloise’s tight jeans kept my interest peaked (& Eloise wears those jeans throughout the entire movie) Although they lost me momentarily with a moronic, contrived attempt at comedy with the Rocky the cockatiel routine, even that stupid moment had a nice payoff in the end. So what can I tell you?
I hated ‘Love Happens’ for better than 3/4ths of the film & then it turned my disgruntled frown into a satisfied smirk proving yet again, it is better to have a welcomed ending than it is to get off to a great start & then fizzle out. Just know that ‘Death Becomes Him’ (AKA ‘Love Happens’) is NOT a romantic comedy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


“EXTRACT” (Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Ben Affleck J.K. Simmons &
Clifton Collins, Jr.)

Why would someone who hated ‘Beavis & Butthead’ & can’t stand ‘King Of The Hill’ go to a movie written & directed by Mike Judge? The answer is simple – the alternative was “All About Steve”.
My reason for choosing ‘Extract’ was simple – If I’m going to be insulted by dumbed-down comedy, I'd rather look at the exceptionally hot Mila Kunis instead of the over-the-hill Sandra Bullock.
When I saw Mila in ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ I was stunned at how attractive she was. I tuned into a ‘That 70’s Show’ rerun to see how I could have missed such a gorgeous female & didn’t find her overwhelmingly pulchritudinous. Was it the transference of her beautiful brown eyes to the big screen that did it – or did she simply grow up & blossom since the series ended? Either way, Mila has now become one of those actresses I will pay money to see in a film simply because she is so adorable she’s worth the price of admission alone. Plus, she shows a bit of range in her role here by playing the ‘bad girl’ that preys on the type of losers that appear in Mike Judge productions.

So how bad was ‘Extract’? Well, thanks to J.K. Simmons it earned an 18.5 on the laugh-o-meter, making it a mild surprise.

The plot revolves around Jason Bateman’s character, Joel, who runs a company that produces various ‘extract’ flavors. Ben Affleck plays his best friend Dean. J.K. Simmons is Brian (Co-owner of the company, I believe – or his manager) Clifton Collins, Jr. is ‘Step’ an employee. Kristen Wiig plays his frigid wife, Suzie, and David Koechner his annoying next door neighbor.
An accident at the factory leaves Step with only one testicle & that’s where con artist Cindy (Mila) comes in. Cindy seduces Step as he recovers, talking him into suing Joel & the plant. She then takes a job at the plant & comes on to Joel.
There’s your basic plot & character list; now, what made this film work was Brian. When J.K. Simmons gets the right role he can steal a movie with one scene (As he did at the end of ‘Burn After Reading”) Here he does it with his flawless delivery of calling every employee at the plant ‘Dinkus’ (Except when referring to ‘Boy Genius’)
I anticipated every scene involving Brian & that alone makes this a film worthy of viewing.
Because of the lack of attention he gets from his wife, Joel starts planning ways of seducing the new girl, Cindy; to make this acceptable to Joel, his friend Dean tells him to hire a male gigolo to seduce Suzie, so he can have an affair with Cindy as an act of revenge.
As you can see, ‘Extract’ isn’t your run of the mill comedy & for that, Judge is to be commended. The characters are both unique, yet mainstream (if that makes sense) In other words, they have quirks, but are relatable – You should recognize these Dinkus’s from your own life, be they co-workers, family or friends (Or that ‘Boy Genius’ friend of a friend you’re acquainted with)
There is one exception to the ‘pleasant surprise’ of this film & that is the unfortunate inclusion of Gene Simmons as shyster lawyer Joe Adler... I couldn’t really tell you which annoyed me more – the fact that ‘this’ Simmons simply can’t act – or the fact that he looks like he’s made of plastic. Stay in the realm of ‘reality TV’ Gene, you’re annoying enough just being yourself – Oh, & good luck selling all those Kiss coffins...

Thursday, September 10, 2009


“TAKING WOODSTOCK” (Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton & Henry Goodman)

“It’s getting to the point where I’m no fun anymore; I am sorry...”
Stephen Stills sang that line at Woodstock in 1969 & now, 40 years later, it perfectly describes the movies of 2009. Even though this film was ‘all right’, it wasn’t anything special – unlike the event which inspired its making. I liked most of it, up until the ‘festival’ got started & they then turned it into a long, boring acid trip (just to let everyone know that it was as much about drugs as it was about peace & music?)
Yet another ‘Daily Show’ contributor tries his hand at acting & although Demetri doesn’t ruin the film, he doesn’t add much to it either. I look at his contribution in two ways – One positive; his normal persona fits the character he’s playing – plus it’s the peripheral
characters that are meant to bring some spark to the table, not his – but he becomes a negative because he has to carry the entire film – the film is his story so the camera basically follows him around showing just what He went thru to help make Woodstock happen & what He did during the 3 days of peace, love & music (& DRUGS!) So if you’re expecting to see actors playing your favorite artists & see what sort of backstage shenanigans took place, you’ll be disappointed – there is NONE of that. & that’s why I used Stephen’s line – in the end, ‘Taking Woodstock’ wasn’t as much FUN as I hoped it would be.
Demetri plays Elliot Teichberg; living in Bethel, N.Y. with his aging parents (Staunton & Goodman) helping them run their dilapidated hotel & wishing he had the guts to leave home & get out on his own.
Probably due to the fact that no one else wanted to bother to do it, Elliot heads the city council & every year he helps put together the summer music festival which usually consists of a couple of high school bands. Still, Elliot needs a permit & approval from the council to set this miniscule shindig in motion, so when he learns that the people of Walkill drove the ‘Woodstock’ festival out of their town Elliot contacts Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) & suggests holding it in Bethel. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that Groff was ‘created’ as a clone of the late T. Rex frontman, Marc Bolan.
Eugene Levy plays Max Yasgur, the dairy farmer who initially rents his farm to the festival for $5,000 – until he learns how massive the event was becoming & suddenly his asking price skyrockets.
Liev Schreiber plays Vilma, the ‘person’ in charge of security at the hotel. Playing a transvestite isn’t easy to pull off & sometimes Schreiber hits & sometimes he misses, but I still looked forward to every scene in which he appeared just because Vilma was such an unusual character.
& I hate to say it, but once again, Paul Dano becomes the biggest bummer in a movie by playing a groovy, peace-loving stoner without much conviction. I liked the film up until Dano shows up – then it bogs down with a totally NON mind-blowing LSD trip. I guess Ang Lee wanted to give those in the audience the experience of taking a trip on acid with silly 60’s style artistic images that quite frankly bored me. I wanted Elliot to get to the festival & go behind the scenes – meet Pete Townshend who would abruptly turn around & say, “Get the (bleep) off my stage!” SOMETHING involving some of the acts that performed. Even a contrived meeting with Stephen Stills; Elliot could meet him just as he, David & Graham are about to go onstage & ask how he felt. “How do I feel?” Stills could reply incredulously, “I’m scared sh*tless!” To which Graham could remark, “Hey Stephen, you should use that to introduce us!”
But no, there’s nothing like that – the music is barely heard at all except in the distance. The artists take a back seat in this ‘Woodstock’ & that’s a total bummer, man.
Knowing this would have helped me enjoy the film more, because I did enjoy seeing how the event unfolded & came into being – I just wished they would have left Elliot & his first experiences with sex & drugs behind while we got to peek backstage & watch the professionals have sex & drugs instead of the novices...