Archive | December, 2010

Casino Jack

25 Dec

Title: Casino Jack
Year:
2010
Director:
George Hickenlooper
Writer:
Norman Snider
Starring:
Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Rachelle Lefevre, Maury Chaykin
MPAA Rating:
R, pervasive language, some violence and brief nudity
Runtime:
108 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
6.6
Rotten Tomatoes:
46%

Casino Jack tells the story of infamous Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist and businessman who was at the center of a huge corruption scandal. But it’s a fictionalized account in some parts, all to make this film that much funnier and that much more entertaining. And while I didn’t think Casino Jack was a knockout, I did find myself enjoying it quite a bit, especially because of Kevin Spacey, who plays Abramoff. Mr. Spacey, one of my five favorite living actors, has already been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance here, and it really is thanks to him that this film is a success.

However, as good as Mr. Spacey can be, it kinda felt at times as though the director wasn’t really able to keep up what he was pulling off as Abramoff. For all the one-liners Mr. Spacey nails, there are many other unsatisfying moments, and even though he gets down perfectly all of Abramoff’s character traits, we are never given a good explanation as to why the guy was like that, I mean, we do get a glimpse of his background, but nothing that substantial. I don’t know, a big part of me liked Casino Jack, but you really can’t help but feel that this one could have been a helluva lot better. And I hear there’s a documentary called Casino Jack and the United States of Money which was released this year which is a better and more factual look at the story.

I feel as though I’m criticizing Casino Jack here, when in reality I thought it was a very competent film, and had Mr. Spacey showing us just how good an actor he is, and if the film as a whole had been better, this one would surely have stood as one of his better performances. And I would actually recommend you to go see Casino Jack if only because of Mr. Spacey’s performance in it, I don’t care how fictionalized an account this may be, he’s still electrifying in his performance. And there’s also a really fun turn by Jon Lovitz here, who can be really entertaining to watch.

Plus, because George Hickenlooper, the film’s director who passed away two months ago, decides to focus so extensively on the comedic elements of Norman Snider’s script we do get this just very fun look at Abramoff’s eccentricities. This was never intended as a serious look at the morality behind it all, it just wanted to have fun in its exuberant outlook.

I saw Mr. Spacey’s apperance on Conan a few days before I saw the film, and in it we were shown a clip of the movie which has Mr. Spacey as Abramoff delivering a monologue to himself in front of a mirror, trying to psych himself up, which is one of the first scenes in the film. And I thought that scene would set the mood awesomely for the film, the speech was loud and funny and powerful and narcissistic. And while many parts of the film do have that mood, and those are the best parts of it, there are other parts in which the film seemingly doesn’t find its niche, and it stumbles trying to find the right tone.

And it’s really not the faults of the actors. Because the Abramoff story is full of colorful individuals, and the actors the film has on display do their best to bring them to life. Mr. Spacey is obviously incendiary. Mr. Lovitz is fun. There’s also Rachelle Lefevre, who I deeply enjoyed as Emily, the fiancée of Michael Scanlon, Abramoff’s partner who’s also played very well by Barry Pepper. So yes, the huge array of personalities are all handled very well by the actors chosen to play them out. But I thought Mr. Hickenlooper didn’t show as much finesse as a director because there are times in which it’s all a bit messy, and he can’t seem to balance all these characters in a cohesive manner.

Now, Mr. Hickenlooper is a man who has made Heart of Darkness, a documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, and that was a very riveting look at a real life story. And yet both in this one and in Factory Girl, a film he made four years ago about the life of Edie Sedgwick, he doesn’t achieve the same depth of exploration into his real-life subjects, and just offers a very superficial look that doesn’t work all that well. Factory Girl obviously had a very good performance by Sienna Miller, and in this one he has an extraordinary one by Mr. Spacey, so a killer turn from his stars has saved him both times.

And I’m throwing all this sort of negativity towards Casino Jack because I’m entirely convinced this one could have been so much better. It’s still good, but if it had been just a bit more coherent and less fictionalized it would have been golden, because Mr. Spacey’s performance, in all its aggressiveness and grandiosity, is a truly magnificent building block the director didn’t take that much advantage of.

Still, go see this one. It’s still fun, I’m just pissed off cause it could have been better. It’s just that for a film that’s based on such a rich real life story, this one tackles too many stuff for it to make it enlightening regarding that tale, and had the reigns been given to steadier hands the result would have mostly likely been more memorable. Instead what we get is an entertaining fictionalized portrayal of a man that existed and whose real story would have been a better watch, but at least the portrayal we get is acted by a man who’s one of the best in the business, and that’s why the film works.

Grade: B

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Tiny Furniture

25 Dec

Title: Tiny Furniture
Year:
2010
Director:
Lena Dunham
Writer:
Lena Dunham
Starring:
Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Alex Karpovsky, David Call, Merritt Wever, Amy Seimetz
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Runtime:
98 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
6.0
Rotten Tomatoes:
76%

 

Tiny Furniture was a really pleasant little surprise. A very small indie film that was just super lovely, and that has in Lena Dunham, it’s director, writer and lead actress, a very fresh talent that tells a story that seems very autobiographical, and that’s always amazing to watch unravel.

Seriously, this is a tiny film, one that feels like it was made for nothing and that is just full of that independent energy that so many people have been trying to cash in on lately, though few have managed to really acquire. It’s a witty film, a funny film, a sad film, it’s a lot of things, but most of all it’s just seriously well done. Which is surprising considering that Ms. Dunham, who’s only just twenty-four and this is only her second feature-length film, made this as a very small independent project, and yet it always feels like a really sharp and elegantly made film.

And I guess all the magic in display in Tiny Furniture comes exactly from that place. From Ms. Dunham doing it herself, and embedding such obvious passion in a project that, by having her direct and write a part for herself that’s actually a version of herself, not to mention that she had family and people she was close with act in it (her real mother and sister play her mother and sister here), made it all feel very real and pure. Seriously, this is all a very honest look at a very real topic, which is just, plain and simple, youth, and the confusions that come when facing the real world, and finding out that finding your way just as you leave college isn’t that easy, and that expectations many times need to be adjusted.

And I won’t stop praising Ms. Dunham. She has a very singular voice, and even though she’s so young she has an amazing sort of mature confidence in her talents, which is why it should come as no surprise that her next project has already found a home in HBO and has Judd Apatow as an executive producer. And even though the character she plays here in Tiny Furniture, and who is reportedly based on parts of her life, has a hard time figuring out what to do after college, you just know that Ms. Dunham always knew she was meant to write and direct films.

I’m currently in college, so I guess I really can’t relate to that time in your life when you leave school and are in that period of time between that and actually getting a job or something solid to do, not really knowing what to do with your life and just feeling restless. But if I can relate to it to some extent it really is all because of Tiny Furniture, which just takes a very real approach to it, as we see the character Ms. Dunham plays, Aura, at exactly that point of her life.

So here we have Aura, fresh off college and returning back home to Tribeca with a film degree, a recently canceled relationship and not really much of anything else. And it’s really funny to see the place Aura’s in, wanting a really cool job and then having to take one at a restaurant, wanting a place of her own but having to go back to living at home, wanting attention and love and getting really none from her mother and actually having to juggle two romantic prospects.

This is all done in the most amusing of ways by Ms. Dunham, because it at times really doesn’t look like a film in which things move from point A to point B, but rather it just lets things be, and feels like someone had just decided to film a girl’s everyday life, and it’s all the more compelling because of that. Plus the characters are all very cool. I especially loved Charlotte, Aura’s best friend who’s played by Jemima Kirke, an actress making her debut here, and one who I’ll keep an eye on because I thought she was just awesome.

This is a very simple film, yes, but it works so incredibly well. It’s all shot in a really straightforward way, the camera doesn’t move much, the performances all seem very genuine and the actors don’t feel like they’re acting. And it’s just, plain and simple, a starmaking vehicle for Ms. Dunham, who is so sure of herself and her abilities here that it’s amazing to see her display them in all their splendor, please make sure to see this if only to discover such a huge talent, and you’ll be like me, looking forward to anything you see next with her name on it.

This is a girl who managed to direct her family and friends, a task I can’t imagine to be that easy, and got this tremendous film as a result. A girl who didn’t concede and made her character a likable pretty girl, but instead grounded her in reality and made her a real confused one, at times a whiner, at times a bit frustrating, but always very much real. This is just a helluva statement from a beginner filmmaker, one that reads “Hey, this is me, Lena Dunham. I know what I’m capable of, and it’s time for you to do, too.”.

Grade: A-

Rabbit Hole

25 Dec

Title: Rabbit Hole
Year:
2010
Director:
John Cameron Mitchell
Writer:
David Lindsay-Abaire, adapting from his own play
Starring:
Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Diane Weist, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller, Sandra Oh
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, mature thematic material, some drug use and language
Runtime:
91 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
7.5
Rotten Tomatoes:
84%

 

I’m a sucker for the type of films that are just too powerful. The ones that sometimes are so strong in its exploration and depiction of its subject that you get rather uncomfortable watching at times, and yet you cant’ seem to look away, being absolutely enthralled by what you’re watching. Three films that look like they would fit that bill are set to be released in this last half of December: Rabbit Hole, Blue Valentine and Biutiful. And those are three of the films I’ve been looking forward to the most during the end of this year, and Rabbit Hole is the first of the trio I got to see, and boy was it worth the wait.

And there really are times in Rabbit Hole when the stuff shown is really hard to watch, and you hurt along with the characters. And that’s a testament to the power this film has, and what a very solid script can do in conjunction with some pretty unbelievable performances.

Nicole Kidman is especially terrific in this one. And she’s also a producer of the film, the one who lobbied like crazy for this one to get made after reading a review of the play it’s based on, the one who perfectly handpicked Aaron Eckhart to be her co-star, and the one who just got a most-deserved Golden Globe nomination for her role as a grieving mother in this one, the same role that won Cynthia Nixon a Tony Award. Ms. Kidman, an actress who has obviously been amazing in a number of films, is at the top of her game here, and it’s spectacular to watch her go at it.

Some people will surely have a tough time watching it, and I’m guessing some won’t like the film for that. But it’s a worthy experience watching Rabbit Hole, a film that approaches a sad theme straightforward and with relentless emotion and honesty, never looking the other way. A film like this is hard to find, and I don’t mean that this is my favorite film of the year, it probably will have a hard time cracking my Top 25, but I appreciated it like crazy all the same for the deeply emotional ride it provided.

What makes Rabbit Hole work so damn well is that it all feels devastatingly human, the script is so in tune with real harsh emotions, and the performers are so deeply connected to them that the end result is just beautiful to watch unfold, mostly because, just like the real process of mourning, it’s never easy and it takes its time.

Ms. Kidman is the best she’s been probably since her Oscar-winning turn in 2002’s The Hours. Mr. Eckhart is splendid as her husband, cementing the fact that he’s one very consistent actor. And there’s also Diane Weist here, playing the mother of Ms. Kidman’s character, and when she’s pitted against Ms. Kidman in her scenes we witness some pure acting dynamite.

The story of the film goes like this: Becca and Howie have a perfect marriage and a very happy life until their young son, Danny, is killed in a car accident. That has enormous repercussions on the couple, and Rabbit Hole focuses on observing how they are dealing with their lives and with their marriage after that horrific event.

And that’s why this film is so uncomfortable to watch at times, because it’s too intimate an affair and it never shies away from anything, fully letting us into the lives of Becca and Howie, who have had their lives turned around absolutely, and find themselves in separate world’s, they are not communicating or having sex, and they both in their own ways dealing with this huge loss, but they’re not dealing with it as a couple.

But it’s not all grief here. We aren’t stuck in those weeks just after the accident. We flashforward some months, when things have settled a bit more, and there are times in which the situations our characters are in, though painful, can be a bit amusing and funny. We see them attend group therapies for people who have gone through similar situations, Becca thinking it’s all a load of crap and shutting herself in, while Howie actually finds a woman who can listen him out, played by Sandra Oh.

And that’s one of the aspects that make Rabbit Hole such a tremendous film, the relationship between Becca and Howie, that has been strained to the point in which they can’t seem to talk to each other. He finds someone else to talk about his feelings to, and she finds her own different ways to cope. But they are still living together, a couple who can’t seem to have anything to say to each other, a couple who in the time they should be most together couldn’t be more apart.

And I like the dynamic between Ms. Kidman and Mr. Eckhart. He’s solid as a rock as Howie, because Howie’s the man who has hurt like crazy when he lost his son but that, in a way, has remained quite similar, not really undergoing that much of a personal transformation. And Howie actually wants to move on and do so remembering his son and the love he had for him. While Becca, on the other hand, has had her entire life, inside and out, completely altered, and seeing her go through her misery is captivating. She tries to keep herself busy so as to not think about her tragedy, and shutting the doors to that has her shut the doors to pretty much everything else, too.

And again, Ms. Kidman is just sensational here, and this will remind people the sort of actress she can be when she picks these sort of roles. I mean, sure, her performance in Moulin Rouge! was tremendous, but she’s best when she picks these darker and more complex characters like the ones she’s played in The Hours or Dogville, and now in this one, a film in which she allows herself to be unlikable and cold as hell. Welcome back, Ms. Kidman, I really did miss you.

I can’t recommend Rabbit Hole enough. Even if you think you’ll find yourself suffocated by its pain and sadness, you ought to check it out. Because even though this is a film about mourning and loss, it’s how it shows it that’s so impressive about it, there’s humor and love and hope here, too, and it’s all acted to perfection by some very capable people. And its director, John Cameron Mitchell, is very talented at showing this, at acknowledging that everyone deals with grief in their own way, and that there’s really no correct way to do so, and letting you watch every step of the way. Just go see this one, you won’t regret it.

Grade: A-

Yogi Bear

24 Dec

Title: Yogi Bear
Year:
2010
Director:
Eric Brevig
Writers:
Brad Copeland, Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia, based on the characters by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
Starring:
Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake, Tom Cavanagh, Anna Faris, T.J. Miller, Andrew Daly, Nate Corddry
MPAA Rating:
PG, some mild rude humor
Runtime:
80 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
3.9
Rotten Tomatoes:
14%

There has been a fan-made video making the viral rounds on YouTube that features an alternate ending to this film, and (spoiler alert) it’s basically a seriously well-done clip inspired by The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in which Boo Boo kills Yogi Bear. It’s a very very dark two-minute scene that’s also extremely captivating. And, for my money, a better investment of your time than this eighty-minute feature film about Yogi Bear, and Boo Boo and Ranger Smith. Just click here to watch that video and tell me if it’s not totally awesome in a very sick sort of way.

I mean, Yogi Bear is not a horrible movie, and I actually thought Justin Timberlake was a very good choice to voice one of our main animated characters, and I’ll always treasure a chance to see Tom Cavanagh on-screen, but I did think it was a quite unnecessary movie. And I don’t really know how to grade this film, I hated bits of it, and I appreciated some other parts (though to far lesser extents). But for the most part I guess a part of me felt it was nice for a film based on a Hanna-Barbera property to exist.

So yeah, I’m not gonna give Yogi Bear a failing grade right now. It was bad, but it was really harmless, it’s not the sort of bad film you leave the theater feeling pissed at yourself for having wasted your time. And, moreover, even if you do feel that way, then at least it’s not a bad film that wastes too much of your time, because with just an eighty-minute running time this one will, if anything, go by really fast.

And you know what, I will say one good thing about this film. Even though the new iteration of our beloved cartoon features 3D and CGI creations acting alongside live-action actors, the core remains true to its source. By this I mean that new adaptations of beloved material from these years are usually filled with more modern references and goofs and jokes that don’t make sense to the characters. While in Yogi Bear, even though the jokes aren’t that awesome, they are still quite loyal to the original cartoon, and we don’t end up getting another Chipmunks movie.

And that’s really the one good thing I can say about this film, that even though the plot is uninspired (it deals with Ranger Smith trying to save the park from an oil politician) at least whatever charm and laughs this film offers is still based on the timeless appeal of the original cartoon. And that’s really saying something considering that nowadays a kiddie film apparently cannot be made in Hollywood without containing half a dozen stupid jokes about farts and other crude-ish dumb situations. It really is refreshing to see some sweet and good-natured humor in these times.

As for the effects, well, Eric Brevig, the film’s director, is actually an Academy Award-nominated visual effects supervisor and has worked on films such as Pearl Harbor and Men in Black. And in here, much like he did in his only other directing effort, Journey to the Center of the Earth, he makes a few cool uses of the 3D technology. As for our two animated leads, well, as I said before, I thought Mr. Timberlake was quite terrific in channeling Boo Boo and made him a very charming sidekick to our title character. However, I didn’t forget to mention Dan Aykroyd when I gave praise to Mr. Timberlake, I just thought Mr. Aykroyd just didn’t embed in Yogi the effortless charm we’re used to seeing him posses.

Go see Yogi Bear if you have a kid under ten you want to entertain. They’ll most certainly get a kick or two out of it, and you as an adult supervisor could be doing much worse than this, especially when you consider this one’s short running time in comparison to some of your other options. But then again, your local theater is probably still running Tangled so you could just take your kid to see that one and you’ll be much better off.

Grade: C

Tron: Legacy

22 Dec

Title: Tron: Legacy
Year:
2010
Director:
Joseph Kosinski
Writers:
Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, based on the story by themselves and Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, and on the characters by Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird
Starring:
Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Bruce Boxleitner, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, James Frain
MPAA Rating:
PG, sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language
Runtime:
127 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
7.6
Rotten Tomatoes:
48%

 

I’m a big fan of the original Tron, I’ve been in love with its style and look and story since I started seeing films, and as a sci-fi geek it’s a film you really can’t ignore. And now in 2010, nearly thirty years since the release of that cult film, comes its more commercial sequel, Tron: Legacy. And, equipped with a huge $170 million budget, it manages to be every bit as visually orgasmic and stimulating as the first one. The story and the characters may not be as finely tuned as one would maybe like, but in the midst of all the visual awesomeness in display here, that really doesn’t matter all that much.

Garrett Hedlund takes the reigns here as the film’s lead character, Sam Flynn, the son of the original movie’s main character, Kevin Flynn. And in this one Sam Flynn must go into the digital world we all know and love in search for his dad. Mr. Hedlund is a promising talent, the guy is twenty-six and prior to this one I only knew him from his turns in 2004’s amazing Friday Night Lights and the unfortunate Eragon adaptation in 2006. And now here he is, making the most of his Disney mega-budget vehicle and already signed on to play Dean Moriarty in Walter Salles’ adaptation of On the Road, which has a seriously cool cast.

I know some people will take beef with the fact that there’s pretty much no substance in the story or the characters. Laremy Legel’s review for Film.com said “everything is eye candy, and absolutely nothing is brain candy”, which is actually an accurate assessment of what we get here in Tron: Legacy, but then again, such was the case with the original film, too. And honestly these are films that are meant to be all about the visual stuff. Tron: Legacy, much like its predecessor has humans in it, but it’s really all about how much the machines can dazzle us. And boy can they do just that, much like the original was nearly three decades ago, this is as state of the art as a film can be nowadays.

So I’m not gonna take any points away from this film from lacking in substance, because I knew that getting into it, and because it more than makes up for it with its visuals. I mean, this is a film set within a digital world, so that takes away any sort of logical ground from it right there, and considering that as soon as we arrive there we are bombard with grandiose scenes that are visually stimulating, as well as audibly stimulating thanks to a cool score by Daft Punk. So with so much stuff going for our eyes to feast in, we really don’t care about how little is stimulating our brains. Seriously, the sheer scope of the world and the special effects is tremendous, it’s an experience that truthfully engulfs you in its spectacle. And if you’re like me and love videogames, you’ll most definitely enjoy the style first-time director Joseph Kosinski has embedded into all the action sequences here, it all looks seriously nifty.

As I said, the film has young Sam Flynn, who has grown an orphan, going into the digital world that fascinated and ultimately kidnapped his father to get him back. But we also get to see Kevin Flynn, and the Dude himself is back to play him, as we get to see Jeff Bridges in three forms. First we get to see him in flashbacks in the real world, Mr. Bridges having been digitally made to look younger, with the same effects they used in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And then of course we see the two incarnations of Mr. Bridges inside the digital world, one is Clu, which you’ll remember from the past movie and is like the Mr. Bridges I just described, sounding exactly like Mr. Bridges but being CGI-ed to look younger. Clu is sort of the villain of the story, the digital doppelganger created by Kevin Flynn who now wants to take over. And then there’s the real Mr. Bridges as Kevin Flynn, trapped inside the creation he so adored. And Mr. Bridges is pretty damn amazing as the three of them, feeling convincing in each of his three roles, but then again this should come as no surprise considering the man we’re talking about.

Tron: Legacy is a film that feels loyal to its fanbase, and true to its predecessor. It stays true to the amazing world it created, and it still has the brilliant visuals, even if the plot is seriously messy it all still looks amazing, and the score is terrific. And it has in Jeff Bridges a great guy to base on, and in Garrett Hedlund a fresh face to build upon. Not to mention that the unbelievably sexy Olivia Wilde is here too, further helping me make my point that Tron: Legacy is, if nothing else, a feast for the eyes.

Grade: B+

Le Concert

21 Dec

Title: Le Concert
Year:
2010
Director:
Radu Mihaileanu
Writer:
Radu Mihaileanu, Matthew Robbins and Alain-Michel Blanc, based on a story by Héctor Cabello Reyes and Thierry Degrandi
Starring:
Mélanie Laurent, Aleksei Guskov, Miou-Miou, Dimitry Nazarov, Valerie Barinov, Francois Berléand, Lionel Abelanski, Guillaume Gallienne
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, brief strong language and some sexual content
Runtime:
119 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
7.5
Rotten Tomatoes:
58%

I think I liked Le Concert, which recently got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, more than I should have. And that was because it had Mélanie Laurent in a leading role. Ms. Laurent, you should no doubt remember, is the absolutely stunning Frenchwoman who stole scenes and hearts in last year’s Inglourious Basterds. And in this one she proves that she was no one-time fluke, as she continues to be charming in a film that evokes some very warm emotions from its audience.

The movie is indeed a bit too melodramatic at times, and it feels manipulative when it tries to get your tears, but it makes it all work, not in the least because of Ms. Laurent, who’s very skillful in her role, as are pretty much all of the actors here. For a film that starts with laughter and ends with emotional tears this one works. Plus I’ve always had a weakness for French films, and this one is really no exception.

The film deals with a conductor, Andrei Filipov, and we see him as a prominent conductor in Russia, and later we see how the administration ran by Leonid Brezhnev during communism in the 80’s tries to force him to fire any Jewish musicians serving under his orchestra. After refusing such an order we then see our conductor demoted to being a janitor in the same theater he used to command with his music, a job he continues three decades into the future, where we are now.

In the present he manages to intercept a letter to the director of the theater inviting the orchestra to play in Paris, a letter he doesn’t deliver and around which he begins to plan a comeback. He calls back former members of his orchestra, many of which are now drunks, to fly to that concert in Paris and finish the concerto the hay been on so many years ago, and there many fun shenanigans will ensue.

Once we’re in Paris is where in all the fun starts. The director has fun playing cultural stereotypes with the French and Russians and it is, of course, where we meet Anne-Marie Jacquet, Ms. Laurent’s character, a young talented French violinist who’s enlisted to join the orchestra, and who’s own past has its links to the Russian musicians. The film is obviously constructed to be a solid crowd-pleaser, and it is one, one with a helluva lot of emotions that will most certainly get to you.

Le Concert has laughs, and it has tears, and it’s just a very very good little film. The job done by Radu Mihaileanu, the director and one of the writers of this film, is tremendous. Even though he can’t avoid the melodramatic tone (let’s face it, that’s hard to do in a film in which you have so much Tchaikovsky), he can sure as hell construct a very fine story, one that shows Communism in Russia and that gets laughs from every single type of person involved. And, again, this is a film that has Mélanie Laurent speaking French and playing violin, that should more than enough to get anyone to see it.

Grade: B

How Do You Know

21 Dec

Title: How Do You Know
Year:
2010
Director:
James L. Brooks
Writer:
James L. Brooks
Starring:
Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson, Dean Norris, Andrew Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Tony Shalhoub
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, sexual content and some strong language
Runtime:
116 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
5.5
Rotten Tomatoes:
35%

 

James L. Brooks has created some classics over his illustrious career. Just look at some of the titles that appear on his filmography, Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment and As Good as It Gets, three films that definitely have made their imprint on modern American cinema. However, after that last one I named, which won Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt Oscars, his next writer-director credit came with Spanglish, a film that was so-so at best and that tanked at the box office, grossing only $55 million on an $80 million budget.

And now he tries to bounce back with How Do You Know, his latest romantic comedy with an all-star cast that sees him reuniting with Mr. Nicholson. However, the result isn’t nearly as timeless as some of his past films have been, and for all the talent of the cast, and the budget this was given, a reported $120 million, this should have been something much much better. And considering it made a measly $7.6 million on its opening weekend, I’m guessing Mr. Brooks and his studio are feeling pretty blue right now.

The movie really isn’t that horrible, but if you’re James L. Brooks, and by this I mean that you’re a proven director at making classic films, and you get such a huge budget, and manage to get Mr. Nicholson to come on board on a cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson, then the result should be nothing other than extraordinary. This is pretty much the most likable quartet one could have gotten for a film, Mr. Rudd is my personal mancrush, but for all the charm its castmembers have the film just feels stale.

What I love the most about Mr. Brooks’ great past films is that how he portrays the lives of his characters is always remarkably well done, and it all feels very human and real. Yet in How Do You Know the film doesn’t really achieve this, and at times feels manipulative. Yes, there are some very cool and funny moments but they’re not enough to make this one feel like a good movie, because there are also a bunch of moments that just don’t do it.

I will say one thing first though, and it’s that, even though How Do You Know wasn’t good, it’s still most definitely a James L. Brooks film. And that’s one of the best characteristics about the man’s body of work. His films always carry his vision, for good or bad, and I respect that quite a bit. In How Do You Know there are hints at first that this one could take off to be another one of his classics, on paper the characters all look pretty amazing. However, the magic of all of Mr. Brooks’ films always happens because of the chemistry of his characters, just look at Mr. Nicholson and Ms. Hunt in As Good as It Gets, and the characters in this one just don’t mold well together. He wrote the individual characters brilliantly, but he didn’t find an equally great way to get them together.

However, I am grateful for this film if only for one reason. The fact that it reunited audiences with Ms. Witherspoon, who we hadn’t seen onscreen since the quite bad Four Christmases two years ago, though we had heard her lovely voice in last year’s Monsters vs. Aliens. But yes, it had been two years since we had seen Reese Witherspoon, and I had really missed her. Not only is she gorgeous and insanely charming, but she has this wonderful comedic timing, and can balance the comedic and dramatic elements of a role perfectly. Thankfully we’ll see her in two films next year, This Means War and Water for Elephants, so we won’t have to settle for this and brace ourselves for another two-year wait.

In here Ms. Witherspoon plays Lisa, a player for the U.S. softball team who’s cut from the team as she’s deemed too old by the new coach. Lisa then we see embarks on a relationship with Mr. Wilson’s character, Matty, who’s a pitcher for the Washington Nationals and by far the funnest and most charming character of the movie. And that’s all thanks to Mr. Wilson, who knows how to play these characters to perfection, the men who still think as boys and just want to have fun, and who still come off as incredibly charismatic and lovable to audiences. Matty will, obviously, then realize that his unapologetic ways may be changed by Lisa, who’s awakening feelings in him he didn’t knew he could exhibit.

And then we have Mr. Rudd’s character, George, who’s the son of Mr. Nicholson’s character, and who also runs the company his father founded. And, much like with Mr. Wilson, we see Mr. Rudd playing the type of character he’s so damn good at playing, just a very likable and nice guy who won’t do harm to anyone. And yet here he is, at the center of a fraud investigation he had nothing to do with, and a likely indictment. His life just starts crumbling down, his father puts the company before his son in his list of priorities, his assistant doesn’t want to tell him all she knows because she fears she might be fired and, to cap it all off, his girlfriend leaves him.

That’s sort of when Lisa comes into play and the love triangle forms. At first he called Lisa to tell her he wasn’t going on a blind date with her like a mutual friend suggested, but then the two re-encounter and sparks seemingly start to fly, just as Lisa was starting to work things out again with Matty. And from what I have just told you, you would be correct in assuming this would be prime James L. Brooks material, and rightfully so because the above reads tremendously well.

However, something just doesn’t click here, as I said the chemistry of the characters just doesn’t ultimately work, and notice I say characters and not necessarily actors. And Mr. Nicholson’s character I just never thought was never really necessary, which is surprising considering I think Mr. Nicholson is guy who can be needed in any single movie ever. And moreover, even though we’re obviously supposed to root for George, I found myself sometimes wanting to cheer on Matty. And that’s not Mr. Rudd’s fault, as I said he’s my top mancrush, but it’s just that the character feels flat after a very promising start, and not even an actor’s charm can do much to salvage that.

How Do You Know is a film that on paper looks amazing, but the little things do it in, and there are so many little things off in this one that the endresult suffers. This is really far from being a bad film, there were, after all, a few winning moments, especially at the start of the film, but we all expected a knockout, and rightfully so considering the pedigree, and instead what we got was just an okay film. Yes, Mr. Wilson is golden in the movie’s best-written role, and yes, Mr. Rudd is still extremely likable even though his character ends up feeling bland, and yes, Ms. Witherspoon is charming and lovely as ever. But the sum of its parts just don’t feel good for some reason, and any film that has Jack Nicholson in a role that doesn’t let him do his usual magic just isn’t worth that much of my love.

Grade: B-