Tuesday, August 23, 2011
This romantic comedy written by Dan Fogelman (CARS) and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the writers responsible for the gleefully offensive BAD SANTA) lurches uneasily between bittersweet and quirky before settling, tragically, for emotional uplift. Jacob (a charismatic Ryan Gosling) avoids commitment but knows how to seduce women. Meanwhile Cal (Steve Carell) adjusts to single life after Emily (a wonderful Julianne Moore), his wife of 25 years, admits she’s been having an affair with co-worker David (Kevin Bacon). After spotting the sad sack at his local pick up spot, Jacob tutors Cal in the fine art of fashion and facileness, which leads to improved confidence and a spirited one-night stand with Kate (Marisa Tomei). However, Jacob meets his match when spunky law student Hannah (a charming Emma Stone) tells him no. Amidst all these romantic machinations, Cal’s 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) nurses a crush on his 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) who in turn pines for Cal. Fogelman’s superficial, uneven screenplay meanders, introducing a promising storyline or engaging character only to abandon it. The marvelous Tomei captivates every time she’s on screen, but the filmmakers hang her out to dry. The scenes with Gosling and Stone crackle, thanks primarily to the performers’ chemistry. But Fogelman’s script cheats the audience out of significant information to facilitate a surprise twist near the film’s end. And, despite a fearless performance by Tipton, the babysitter story turns queasily unfunny, with characters responding to mortifying situations as if they were appearing on the Disney Channel. Ficarra and Requa elicit strong performances from their cast but alternate between pedestrian camera shots and self-conscious visual flourishes that undermine coherent storytelling. The filmmakers back away from any meaningful portrait of modern romance and settle, literally, for the insipid platitudes of an 8th grade graduation speech in which dishonesty masquerades as profundity.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Forget the clunky Tim Burton “reimagining” if you can. In this entertaining prequel to the PLANET OF THE APES film series, scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) has developed a brain-enhancing drug for Gen-Sys, a San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company. After successful results on chimpanzee Bright Eyes, Will pitches the idea of human tests to the corporate board. But his prize subject runs amok, and the project is shut down. Too late Will discovers that Bright Eyes had been protecting her newborn child and that her rampage was not a drug side effect. He adopts the orphaned baby chimp (whom he names Caesar) and raises him in the house he shares with his father Charles (John Lithgow), a concert pianist gradually succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease. Will soon discovers that Caesar (played by a motion-captured Andy Serkis) has inherited his mother’s enhanced cognitive capabilities, and they begin communicating through sign language. But after Caesar violently defends ailing Charles against an antagonistic neighbor, the courts order the grown chimp moved to an animal shelter. There Caesar engages with his simian peers and foments revolt against the oppressive jailers. Unlike prequels of yesteryear (and I’m looking at you STAR WARS: EPISODES 1-3) this film keeps the exposition brisk and the tone surprisingly upbeat. Though we know where the story will lead, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver’s screenplay (suggested by Pierre Boulle’s novel La Planete des Singes) surprises just enough while making clever (and mostly subtle) references to earlier APES movies. And while director Rupert Wyatt displays a canny visual flair, he never lets the CG effects or the action overwhelm the story, deftly balancing scenes both large and small. Franco anchors the film with his steady, irony-free performance, and Lithgow proves that less is more in his welcome return to the big screen. But the movie belongs to the remarkable Serkis, who creates a full-blooded simian character that we believe in as much as, if not more than, its human counterparts.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
In this stellar adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team”, Matt Damon stars as David Norris, an up-and-coming New York congressman running for senate. While practicing his concession speech in a hotel bathroom, David discovers dancer Elise (Emily Blunt) hiding from security after crashing a wedding reception. Sparks fly, but they are separated before exchanging digits. This seemingly chance meeting alters David’s speech and changes the trajectory of his career. Three years later on a bus to an important meeting he runs into Elise again. But David was never supposed to catch that bus or ever see Elise after their first encounter, as he soon learns when shadowy men in fedoras waylay him. These men are adjusters, controllers of fate. They reside in a parallel universe and step in when the human race goes “off plan”. But adjusters Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) and Thompson (Terence Stamp) underestimate the lengths David will go to forge his own future. A little science fiction, some thriller thrown in, and (at its best) a generous helping of romance, this crazy recipe of genres shouldn’t work. But director George Nolfi (who also wrote the script) seamlessly blends his two stars’ screen personas with their characters, and Damon and Blunt’s potent chemistry electrifies the film. From their first meeting we want David and Elise to be together, whatever the odds, and silly concerns like plot contrivances and murky rules for adjuster travel between worlds become inconsequential each time Damon and Blunt appear on screen. Over the years Damon has grown into a favorite actor, whose appeal (if not his range) continues to impress. And after her supporting splash in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA Blunt has finally found a movie and role that fulfills her promise of five years ago. Though a sequel seems superfluous, I can only hope that fate (or the adjusters) will grant us another Damon/Blunt movie pairing in the near future.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
When last we saw Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) in Part 1 of this final installment, he, Hermione (the marvelous Emma Watson) and Ron (the likable Rupert Grint) had barely escaped the clutches of Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter); and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) had defiled Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon) grave to retrieve the all-powerful Elder Wand (one of the titular Deathly Hallows). The three young wizards had abandoned Hogwarts to find and destroy horcruxes (significant items that contain a piece of Voldemort’s soul) which will make the Dark Lord vulnerable to death. Harry’s quest now requires him and his friends to break into the vaults of Gringotts with the help of devious goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis), and eventually leads them back to Hogwarts where nemesis and former teacher Snape (Alan Rickman) runs the school as a prison. Screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates have streamlined the second half of J.K. Rowling’s problematic final novel into a swiftly moving package, leading inexorably to the devastating confrontation between Voldemort and Harry. The filmmakers smartly hit their paces but sideline many beloved characters in the process. Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), to name a few, make little more than cameo appearances. And even Ron and Hermione have scant screen time. This is Harry’s film; however, and Radcliffe gives an affecting, if at times labored, performance. Fiennes plays his villainous one note to perfection, and Rickman presents a master class in acting as the film gives Snape his full due. Fans of the book series (and I’m one) can breathe a sigh of relief. The film delivers an emotional, satisfying finale (though I could do without the cloying epilogue – a flaw found in the book). The first two leaden adaptations notwithstanding, the Harry Potter film series has been remarkably consistent in remaining faithful to its source while finding its cinematic voice. No small feat, for which the filmmakers deserve our thanks.