Archive | April, 2011

Insidious

29 Apr

Title: Insidious
Year: 
2011
Director: 
James Wan
Writer: Leigh Wannell
Starring:
Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Andrew Astor, Leigh Wannell
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language
Runtime: 
100 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 
65%

I’m very picky about my horror flicks. I’m not necessarily a huge horror fanboy, but, when they’re done right, I think horror films can provide one of the greatest emotions you can get from watching a movie. You think about films like The Exorcist, The Shining or, my personal favorite, Rosemary’s Baby, and you’ll see how great these films are at making you feel scared and uneasy, staying with you long after you’re done watching them. I love that feeling, which sucks because I genuinely have a hard time getting scared when watching a movie, and I’m always extremely judgmental of horror flicks because of this, so I get picky when watching one.

And we get plagued with horror films now, and, let’s face it, we only get one or maybe two really solid ones a year, two films that can really creep under your skin. Not to say that the past decade in horror flicks was bad, we did after all get some truly terrific additions to the genre thanks to films such as The Orphanage, The Descent, The Hills Have Eyes, The Ring and, especially, Let the Right One In. So yes, I’m not saying the past decade sucked, I’m just saying that the amount of bad ones we got was depressing, for further proof about that horrible fact just look at I Know Who Killed Me, When a Stranger Calls and, most notoriously, House of the Dead.

But anyways, let’s talk about Insidious here. Because, not matter how picky I can be with my scary flicks, this one’s truly awesome. It’s about this haunted house, so it’s not as though it’s particularly original, but it’s just so well executed in the sense that it can get honestly scary and in the sense that scares aside, it’s huge fun to watch unravel, even if the final part isn’t particularly on par with the rest of the film.

This is the sort of film that knows that an audience is infinitely more scared by images and things that we only get a glimpse of or that are merely hinted at instead of just shitloads of blood spilling from a severed corpse. And that’s really what makes Insidious so great, that it decides to haunt us without showing any blood or anything, which in today’s horror film landscape is a luxury, and instead it just plants ideas and scenarios that not only will proof to be deeply unsettling during the film, but also way after it’s over and we’re in the darkness of our homes at night.

By the way, this one comes from the people who also created the Saw franchise, and even though that film overstayed its welcome by quite a few films the first one was actually a pretty good new refreshing film when it came out, and this one is pretty damn awesome itself, and the only Saw film that James Wan directed himself was that first one. So yeah, we get the director and Leigh Wannell, his long-time writing partner, now positioning themselves to tackle the haunted-house/haunted-kid territory. And even though it so obviously draws from films like Poltergeist and a number of other films the film still works on its own, because Mr. Wan is very clever at how he shows certain things, and because the soundtrack here is as manipulative as you’ll find in a horror film, which sometimes is something I hate but in this one I thought it worked seriously great to scare the hell out of the audience.

We get a family who moves into this old house which is like the one we’ve seen in many films of the type, and in there the eldest son bumps his head while exploring the attic, in a scene which is really well crafted by Mr. Wan, and the next morning won’t wake up. He’s not in a comma, doctors inform us, it’s just as though he’s really deeply asleep. And he’s asleep for quite some time in the hospital, but his parents decide it’s time to care for him back home, which you know really isn’t a good idea.

All sorts of weird crap start going on from there, weird sounds begin coming up and strange stuff happens like crazy. And everything is seriously well done by Mr. Wan, who knows exactly when to cut the camera away and how long to take a peep at something that really is nothing but that will scare the living hell out of you nonetheless. I loved how everything here felt. I even liked the part when Josh and Renai bring in ghost hunters because it was some good comedic relief.

There is a point, though, when Mr. Wan does take his time to explain some things. Which is when he lets a psychic into his story to explain where their son is, in a realm beyond dreams that is called “the further”, she explains, and that’s okay that he lets us know what this is because we’re gonna spend some time exploring it. And even though it all does start feeling a bit shaky during the end, which was a pity, it never really goes way off because Mr. Wan is too good at not letting faults in the script derail his film. This one is a throwback to the good old haunted-house horror films, one that bases its scares not in blood or other cheap gimmicks, but in smartly filmed and edited scenes that will go a long way into scaring the living hell out of everybody. I said we get a couple of really solid horror flicks every year, we just found our first truly great one, and we have eight months to hopefully find another one.

Grade: B+

Hop

28 Apr

Title: Hop
Year:
2011
Director:
Tim Hill
Writers: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch, based on a story by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio
Starring:
James Marsden, Russell Brand, Kaley Cuoco, Hank Azaria, Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, Hugh Laurie, Chelsea Handler
MPAA Rating:
PG, some mild rude humor
Runtime:
95 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
5.1
Rotten Tomatoes:
24%

I liked the little bunnies in Hop. How they were done, I mean. I thought the animation behind them was pretty cool and they looked quite nifty, which is logical once you learn they were designed by the same guy that did the characters in Finding Nemo and many other great films. But I didn’t like them in any other way, I mean, they were okay but they weren’t really all that charming because the script didn’t provide as many “aww” moments as it could have nor much of anything else really. And the human performers in this film fare just the same way, they all give it their all, just look at James Marsden out there being game for any number of silly situations, but in the end the material they have to work with it too uninspired for them to do all that much with it.

Now, I didn’t hate Hop, but it was kind of like director Tim Hill’s other effort at merging animated little furry animals with live-action humans, Alvin and the Chipmunks, the sort of film that you won’t hate because it’s harmless and it’s only trying to have a good time, but also the sort of film you really won’t recommend to people. By the way, Russell Brand is the guy voicing our main little Bunny, who’s called E.B. and who’s the heir to the title of Easter Bunny currently owned by his father, who’s voiced by Hugh Laurie, who’s ready to give the reigns of the empire to his son. The problem is that E.B. doesn’t really want all that responsibility, and would much rather just spend his time playing the drums.

And the premise is actually all right really, I mean, we get E.B. leaving bunny-land in hopes of becoming a great drummer in Hollywood, but he nearly becomes roadkill as a car comes close to crashing into him and so the unexpected friendship between him and the car’s owner, which would be Mr. Marsden’s character, then becomes the plot of the film. And even though, like I said, Mr. Marsden is totally game for anything this film requires of him to do, it all feels flat and bored for some reason. Same goes for Mr. Brand as the voice of E.B., you’d think someone with his personna would be great fun as the voice of a rebel little rocker Bunny, but here he only shines in a few moments, and much less than I initially thought he would.

So if you’ve been amongst those lamenting the lack of a film about and/or starring the Easter Bunny, here’s what you get, an uninspired CGI/Live-action mash-up that feels tacky at parts and just plain boring the rest of the time. The bunnies were really well done, like I said, and I do think that’s something to compliment because considering the quality of the rest of the film I wouldn’t have been shocked if the bunnies themselves looked horrible, but you can tell the people behind the animation of them really carefully went into making them, and they look really charming and sweet, even though they aren’t given all that many real charming or sweet scenes.

We get a lot of silly situations between E.B. and Fred, Mr. Marsden’s character, which comes from both of them being total slackers. E.B. not wanting to follow his father’s command to become the new Easter Bunny and Fred pressured by his parents to get a real job. Said situations include encounters with David Hasselhoff as a judge of a talent show (and we know the Hoff is awesome at making fun of himself) and a horrible job interview with a woman played by Chelsea Handler, who I usually love.

Hop may be better than Alvin and the Chipmunks, but that’s not saying much. This one is, at the end of it all, an Easter rip-off of The Santa Clause, and that’s also not saying much. So, you see, this one really never seemed as thought it would be any thing like a roaring success, Mr. Brand gives a couple of good moments because he can sound cheeky and naughty and make it fun, but that’s just about it. There’s a subplot about the going-ons at the Easter island about a group of chickens, who have its leader voiced by Hank Azaria, trying to stage a coup against the bunnies to take over Easter, which does have a couple of funny sight gags, but nothing worth noting.

You see me being tepid about Hop because I didn’t like it, but I didn’t dislike it either, and I know what to expect about these films that mesh up digitally rendered animals with live-action stuff so it’s not as though I left Hop feeling disappointed. I knew this one wasn’t meant to be good, but I wanted it to be better if only because a few cool people are in it, but I guess I wasn’t the target audience and maybe kids will actually love the bunnies and the situations presented in Hop. But maybe they’ll just leave the theater not wanting to eat another jelly bean in their lives, because if there’s one thing we learn in Hop is that those are actually easter bunny poo.

Grade: C+

Sucker Punch

27 Apr

Title: Sucker Punch
Year:
2011
Director:
Zack Snyder
Writers: Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya, based on a story by Zack Snyder
Starring:
Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language
Runtime:
110 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
6.6
Rotten Tomatoes:
22%

Zack Snyder is one of the most polarizing directors in the business. People seem to either hate or love his movies, and the man has certainly made his name a brand in the way that people will know what to expect from him, and they will buy a ticket to the movies based on his name alone being on the marquee.  However, doing just that is a double-edged sword because, yeah, if your movie’s awesome then you’ll get all the credit because your particular vision was the reason it was such a masterpiece, but then once you release something that doesn’t please your audience, you’ll be the first person to be thrown under the bus. Just look at M. Night Shyamalan for further proof.

Let’s just rewind and take a look at the guy’s filmography. He came out in 2004 with a remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which was really really good, though not as amazing as the originaly obviously, but still, it was a debut that showed this was a guy with a vision and flare, and with a worldwide gross of over $100 million on a $28 million budget the guy was quickly booked as the director of a very ambitious project that was close to his heart.

That project of course was 2007’s 300, the film that got Mr. Snyder and his stylized action introduced to audiences worldwide. And no matter what critics say about 300, I think it’s a pretty universal fact that audiences loved it, and it has over $450 million in worldwide receipts to show for it, and I thought it was a stunning adaptation of Frank Miller’s epic graphic novel and  one of the most visually arresting films I have seen.

Which of course got me all giddy inside when it was announced that the next project Mr. Snyder would be tackling was to be the adaptation of my favorite graphic novel, Alan Moore and David Gibbon’s Watchmen. I was excited because I thought that Watchmen just couldn’t be successfully translated to the screen, but I thought that if anyone would be able to pull it off it would definitely be Mr. Snyder, armed with a $130 million budget.

And so Watchmen came out, and it really divided critics and fanboys alike. I won’t really delve on why the division came, and how much credit there is to the claims effected by both sides. I’ll only say that I personally thought the film was pretty stunning, it wasn’t the perfect Watchmen adaptation, because I think there really can be no perfect Watchmen adaptation, but trust me when I say that what we got courtesy of Mr. Snyder is the best one we’ll ever get, it’s one insanely ambitious R-rated superhero film that has it’s uneven bits, that’s for sure, but also has quite a few moments of sheer magnificence, and when you watch the director’s cut that’s nearly a half hour longer that only becomes more evident.

And then, to conclude our revision of Mr. Snyder’s filmography, we must talk about last year’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, his first foray into animation. And it was a very mature piece of animation, feeling every bit as epic as his past films, and carrying his usual trademark visuals. There were many things that were off with the movie, but it was still very entertaining to see Mr. Snyder in charge of a PG-rated film.

And now he gives us Sucker Punch, a movie he directed, co-wrote and also co-produced with his wife. A film that’s being thrashed by critics and audiences alike, and being called the worst in his canon by a mile. Now, it may be the worst film he’s done, may be, but I actually thought Sucker Punch had its merits.

The first one of which is the fact that this is Mr. Snyder’s first live-action film not to carry an R-rating, and it’s also the first one he’s done that wasn’t based on an already existing property, but instead one he wrote based on a story of his own. So at least it’s him tackling new territory, and I do concede that the characters and the plot in Sucker Punch are quite flat and dull, but I mean, when there’s so much havoc going on around them, and when said havoc is presented in such a visually orgasmic way you really can actually look the other way and focus on the visual insanity of it all.

And I guess that’s really not saying much. I mean, a film that’s visually stunning but that once it has a character open her mouth feels kind of dumb really isn’t worth all that much, but it’s really not as though this one ever pretended it was going to be much more than that. I mean, just look at the posters or the trailers, there’s no indication that this one was going to be more than a group of scantily-clad females with huge guns just raising hell on everyone, Mr. Snyder himself stepping up to describe it as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”.

People are talking about the morality of the film, it’s representation of women and a whole lot of other stuff that I personally think is way beyond the point. This film is ridiculous any way you look at it, and if you want to point that out and then immediately proceed to discuss its gender representation then you’re way off target. This is just Mr. Snyder being both brilliant and idiotic, he had a huge amount of themes and ideas he wanted to mesh together, and he did so into an over-stylized action fest with hot chicks, and I actually think that it he had only subtracted one theme or one idea the result would have been far more enjoyable.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t give this film a rating on the A-range, I will probably grade it somewhere along the lines of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, which would indeed make the lesser film he’s done so far to me. But I just want to recognize what’s good about this film, instead of only focusing on how it’s crazy hyperactive and how it represents what’s wrong with film-going audiences nowadays.

I want to acknowledge Mr. Snyder, and how he’s one of the very few working directors who are willing to embed a very distinctive auteur vision into a commercial film, this is the subversive film aimed to just do its own thing no matter what audiences or critics were expecting, and even though it didn’t work as a film all that much, it kind of worked as that.

I don’t know how much I should talk about the plot. We have Emily Browning as Baby Doll who was framed by her evil stepdad for the death of her sister and then checked into a very strange mental hospital with a hot shrink and even hotter inmates that also have handy codenames like Sweat Pea, Blondie and Rocket. And after that is when the movie gets seriously crazy, and as I said its craziness is both it’s main asset and also what does this movie in so I really won’t spoil any of the fun for you here, just rest assured that the craziness includes a small appearance by Jon Hamm himself.

The plot’s meaningless though, Sucker Punch really is just a film about hot chicks with tiny clothes and huge guns in worlds made up in geek-heaven with weirdly cool and ridiculous names in which they get to fight both robots and dragons. Even typing that felt ridiculous and cool at the same time.

There is little substance to these characters, that much is true, but who cares really, this film is still executed to technical perfection and the scenes are awesome and everything looks genius. And if you really want to talk about gender representation like so many apparently do, I’ll only say one thing, the girls here are both seen as exploitation material and as super empowering feminists, so even in that regard this film makes no sense. And I’m more than okay with that.

Grade: B

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

26 Apr

Title: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
Year:
2011
Director:
David Bowers
Writers: Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, based on the book by Jeff Kinney
Starring:
Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Robert Capron, Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn, Connor Fielding, Owen Fielding, Peyton R. List
MPAA Rating:
PG, some mild rude humor and mischief
Runtime:
99 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
5.3
Rotten Tomatoes:
39%

Last year’s Diary of Wimpy Kid, the first adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s hugehly popular series of books, was just okay, I gave it a B- grade, but it made a nice $75 million at the box office on a slim $15 million budget, so a sequel, based on the next book of the series, was pretty much a given. And as such we get Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules this year, and even though this one came with a bigger budget of $21 million it’s already made over $50 million in the month since it’s been released, so you can count on a third one already being in the works for a 2012 release.

As for the quality of this sequel it’s probably just a tiny bit less than its predecessor, if not just as competent. Which I guess is good enough really, these are films that are aimed at kids and they’re totally harmless, and are actually quite well acted for the sort of films they are. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re a parent trying to take your kids to the film, you could do much worse than this one because this one at least has a few witty and funny situations that you can enjoy.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s good PG-rated entertainment for your kids and considering you might get a laugh yourself out of the physical comedy then that’s even better. I mean, think of it this way, just how many kid-oriented franchises these days dare to make do without wizards or vampires or some sort of superhuman ability? That’s right, very very few of them, which makes this one all that more special, it’s refreshing to see a kid-oriented film do it’s thing with only that, its kid protagonists.

In this second installment in the series we move on to check out the relationship of our protagonist, little Greg Heffley, with his older brother, Rodrick, who thinks he’s so much more awesome than his little brother he loves to torture. And that’s really what this is all about, the kids, and the stuff Greg puts into his diary is ordinary stuff we can all connect with in one way or another, they are life lessons but they’re not forced down on you nor are they particularly deep or meaningful, and they’re shown with plenty of kiddie gross humor and slapstick that will help it go down easy for the young ones in the audience.

The books in this case are better than the films because they have the charming stick-figure illustrations that go along by real nicely with the narrations, and the films really have a bit of an issue at translating the charm of those illustrations, the gross-out gags are amusing at times, but they’re not really special at all.

As for the relationship of Greg and Rodrick, their typical brother fights and discovery of fondness of each other made during some very predictable bonding moments, it’s nothing new either. And as we see poor little Gordon go through nightmareish episodes we can all sort of relate to we don’t get anything new either.

But, as a I said, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is perfectly harmless, and a very solid alternative for fathers who are sick of accompanying their kids to films about wizards and shiny vampires. These films at least have real people as protagonists, and the people in it actually do a good job, Zachary Gordon as Greg always knows what funny face to pull in front of his dire circumstances, Devon Bostick as Rodrick is perfect at portraying the devilish older brother, and we also get Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris as the grown-ups in this tale, and they’re both totally game for this, so this one really could have been way worse, and considering it doesn’t have any special effects you can count on it as a very rare sort of kid entertainment.

Grade: B-

Win Win

26 Apr

Title: Win Win
Year:
2011
Director:
Thomas McCarthy
Writer: Thomas McCarthy, based on a story by himself and Joe Tiboni
Starring:
Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey
MPAA Rating:
R, language
Runtime:
106 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
7.9
Rotten Tomatoes:
95%

Boy am I on a streak of watching some awesome films. After experiencing the terrible Red Riding Hood I have had the good fortune of stumbling upon some real quality films, after that came Jane Eyre, which is to date my favorite film of the year, then Limitless which was quite good, then The Lincoln Lawyer which was all sorts of fun, then Paul which was superb, and now Win Win, which is honestly terrific, and not just because there’s a song by The National in it, it actually comes only below Jane Eyre as far as movies I’ve seen this year.

I love this film. I honestly felt love towards it, I was just so immensely enthralled by it that it was a terrific sensation, and it’s because Thomas McCarthy is just proving that he’s one of the better directors to come out in the last decade or so in terms of portraying real people and real emotions.

This is the guy that started out acting since the nineties, and continues to do so, and then kicked off his directing career with The Station Agent in 2003, a film that was beautiful in its quietness and that had some truly gorgeous performances in it. He waited five years before releasing his next film, The Visitor, which came in 2008 and which got the wonderful Richard Jenkins an Oscar nomination, that too was a beautifully understated film, one that was entirely graceful and full of extraordinary moments. So trust me when I tell you I was really looking forward to check out his third directorial effort, especially when in between The Visitor and this one he had used his talents for capturing great human emotions in helping with the story for Up, and you know how perfect that one turned out.

Win Win is yet another powerful film from Mr. McCarthy, one very much grounded on human emotion and with performances that can’t be labeled as anything less than masterful. And the masterful quality of the performances starts with its star, the wonderful Paul Giamatti.

This is an actor that’s probably one of the best working today, and also one of the most consistent in the high quality of his work, not to mention that he’s a very different sort of actor. Paul Giamatti is a guy that excels at playing characters who sort of feel like losers, it’s everything about him that just works for that kind of role, his body and the way he uses it, his raspy voice, the great way that only he can portray exasperation, the way that only he can look disappointed. And that’s something rare.

You look at some of the roles he’s totally owned, whether it’s the mediocre wine aficionado Miles in the splendid Sideways, a role I still can’t fathom how didn’t manage to earn him an Oscar nomination, or the very peculiar comic book writer Harvey Pekar in the terrific American Splendor, or his Oscar-nominated turn as James J. Braddock’s manager Joe Gould in Cinderella Man, and you can quickly see that this is a man that just brings something very unique to every single role he tackles, and plays them in a way that only he could have.

You can now go ahead and add Mike Flaherty to that list of great characters Mr. Giamatti embeds with his incomparable set of skills. He’s a struggling lawyer who also happens to moonlight as the coach of a high-school wrestling team. Mike leads a pretty ordinary life really, he’s a much more modest character than those I listed above and is challenged by many of the common everyday worries and anxieties most American men like him are, his business isn’t going all that great, the guys on his team aren’t performing like he would want them to, these many little things that are just a bit off but that get to Mike are the things that make you so thankful for the fact that it’s Mr. Giamatti playing him.

Things get interesting when Mike meets Leo, a senile man who goes to him for legal counsel as he has no family to care for him and is nearing the final stages of his life. The win-win situation the title refers to is when Mike decides that it would be easy to name himself the guardian, get Leo to a nursing home and collect the bit of money allotted to his care.

The real interesting bit doesn’t come from Leo, though, but rather from Kyle, Leo’s young grandson who comes to New Jersey after he got fed up with life Ohio because he had problems with his troubled mom. He too at first seems like trouble, like any teenage boy who just decided to leave his hometown probably would to a guy like Mike, but then he takes him into his home, and we find out that Kyle is actually a pretty good guy and not only that, but he’s actually a pretty fantastic wrestler as well.

Hopefully you can tell where Win Win will go on from that point, because everything that happens next, the good times, the eventual bad times and the redemptive conclusion of it all is incredibly easy to read. And that’s just as fine, because Win Win is not a film that would benefit all that much from having its next step be surprising, and instead having it all be so predictable makes it easier for us to notice the more nuanced aspects of this film.

And that’s where this film has its heart and soul, and it’s also why it’s so damn spectacular. Mr. McCarthy as an actor is used to portraying these second-rate supporting characters, and he’s actually pretty damn great himself at doing it, never really in charge of portraying the heavier emotions of a leading role, but instead left to evoke more subtle performances to go alongside that one, and that’s clear in the way he directs, always paying attention to the little things, he knows how to set things up, he has a truly fantastic wit, and a knack for understated comedy that’s all sorts of awesome to watch.

I love these sort of films that are patient, the story it tells is a perfectly ordinary one, and it has its director relying on its performers to make it extraordinary by having them explore with each other the emotions that can lie behind the situations. And when you consider the people here, it’s easy to then understand why this one is as good as it is. Tom McCarthy is a director perfectly adept at conveying these pure emotions, Mr. Giamatti I have already told you is a master at making the ordinary feel genius.

And the rest of the cast is also full of seriously great people. Amy Ryan is there as Mike’s wife, and if you’ve been following me for a while you’ll know how much love I have for her, she’s amazing in everything she does and this one’s no exception. Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale also show up here as Mike’s coaching assistant and best friend, respectively, and trust me that any scene that has any combination of these three together is just genius to watch, three people who know their craft like it’s nobody’s business and who are incredibly funny together. Not to mention that Alex Shaffer, the debut actor that plays Kyle, is a real find and could definitely give us something to talk about in the future.

I can’t recommend this one enough, it’s incredibly funny, and warm-hearted, and lowkey and honest. And those qualities together, combined with a director that’s great at creating these really nuanced moments, and a cast full of people who really know how to make the most of such precious moments for actors, are what create such a wondrous little film I’m sure I’ll remember for quite some time.

Grade: A-

Paul

25 Apr

Title: Paul
Year:
2011
Director:
Greg Mottola
Writers: Nick Frost and Simon Pegg
Starring:
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver
MPAA Rating:
R, language including sexual references, and some drug use
Runtime:
104 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
7.4
Rotten Tomatoes:
72%

It’s hard for me to describe the sense of anticipation that I had before I saw Paul. This was easily for me one of the films from the first half of 2011 that I wanted to see the most, and I’ll take a minute here to tell you exactly why that was.

First and foremost, it’s because of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I first came upon these two on Spaced, that masterpiece of a short-lived cult British TV series that starred both of them and was written by Mr. Pegg and directed by Edgar Wright, who I’m also a huge fan of and who’s the third component of this trifecta of British awesomeness. It’s hard to really describe how amazing Spaced is, and if you haven’t yet watched it I suggest you stop reading and go do that right now, it’s only 14 episodes full of witty pop-culture references and surrealist bits and just insanely great dialogue that you can watch in one unforgettable seating.

After Spaced the awesome trio took their talents to the big screen, and started their Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy with Shaun of the Dead, a romcom film that also had zombies and that was a true success and that had you thinking these three should stick together forever. And, well, they sort of had us thinking that they just might, as 2007 saw the second installment of that trilogy come to life as Hot Fuzz arrived in theaters and showed everyone that these three weren’t one-trick ponies.

Both of those films are probably amongst my ten favorite films of their respective years, and so I was saddened to see that the guys weren’t immediately releasing the final chapter in their trilogy, which is reportedly going to be called The World’s End. Instead, they went on to do their own separate things. Mr. Frost had a role in The Boat That Rocked and a smaller one in Penelope. Mr. Pegg exploded real nicely onto the scene with significant roles in Mission: Impossible III and Star Trek among many others. And Mr. Wright went on to direct last year’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which I have ranked as my 8th favorite film of all last year.

So yeah, they have been doing all right since the last time they all worked together. And even though there will be a mini-reunion of sorts to get us going until they decide to finally make The World’s End, which is happening late this year when Steven Spielberg’s motion capture 3D The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (which was co-written by Mr. Wright and stars Mr. Pegg and Mr. Frost as Thomson and Thompson), this was the film that would see us see at least Mr. Pegg and Mr. Frost reunited in front of the camera.

So yes, I was excited about Paul, very excited actually. Two of the funniest people that excel the most when they’re together back on-screen as the two leading men of a film that they had written together. And then there’s the fact that this was to be directed by Greg Mottola, who has a pretty stellar record himself, this is the guy that started out in the mid-nineties with the very good Daytrippers, then went on to work on three TV series that not only are unequivocally great but have garnered a considerable cult following: Arrested Development, Undeclared and The Comeback. And then the guy went back to feature films in 2007 with Superbad, following that up with 2009’s Adventureland, both films I gave an A grade to. So, again, expectations were running high on Paul.

But that’s been me going on for way too long about why I was looking forward to Paul so damn much, and not a word on exactly how I thought it finally was. Well, here’s the thing, it’s not as great as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz were, nor as great as Superbad or Adventureland, but it’s still seriously good. I mean, it’s tough to match the heights the former films of the people attached to it did, but this one honestly doesn’t fall that far from it. It has its uneven moments, but it also has quite a few of those magical moments we know these people can deliver, and with Seth Rogen voicing the titular foul-mouthed alien the two encounter, then you can count one at least being a pretty unique roadtrip movie.

I mean, this is a very warm-hearted film in the end (and the actual ending is pretty awesome), one that’s full of a lot of giggles, and that’s pure great entertainment. It’s just fun to see people having fun on-screen together, and Mr. Pegg and Mr. Frost, along the many familiar and funny faces they bring along for the ride like Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader and Sigourney Weaver (Ripley!), definitely look as though they were having a ball just riffing off each other.

My expectations were ridiculously high and I still found myself loving every last second of Paul, loving how sweet it was behind it all, which was a refreshing change from most R-rated comedies of late who think they have to be dirty all the time.

Mr. Pegg and Mr. Frost are geek heroes by now, their work alongside Edgar Wright (who’s an even bigger geek hero of mine) has cemented their statuses as such because of how lovingly they homage many genres in the movies they do together. And here, even though their usual partner-in-crime is away, they continue at it quite brilliantly, spoofing the sci-fi genre in a way that you know only true sci-fi geeks can, doing some references to films like Star Trek, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a cool and extra-geeky one to the lesser known Mac and Me.

Paul is an awesome film, it’s not Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz because it really wasn’t trying to be, it was trying to be something more silly while still retaining the heart and wit of those two, which it honestly did. This is a film with a cast full of great people, headlined by two guys that have so much love for each other it’s infectious to watch on screen, and by a third guy who does wonders voicing a stoner alien. It’s pure honest fun, and that’s all you can ask for until we get The World’s End.

Grade: A-

The Lincoln Lawyer

25 Apr

Title: The Lincoln Lawyer
Year:
2011
Director:
Brad Furman
Writer: John Romano, based on the novel by Michael Connelly
Starring:
Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Michael Peña, Bob Gunton, Bryan Cranston, William H. Macy
MPAA Rating:
R, some violence, sexual content and language
Runtime:
118 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
7.5
Rotten Tomatoes:
83%

My dad gave me The Lincoln Lawyer to read in early 2007 if I remember correctly. He was a fan of Michael Connelly’s novels and even though he knew I wasn’t a particular fan of best-selling crime genre thought I might like this one. And he was right, the novel went by really fast and I thought it was quite entertaining, and after that I got into some of his other books and found that they, especially those with Connelly’s mainstay Harry Bosch as a protagonist, were pretty okay as well.

So four years later after I read the novel, and six after it was originally published, we get the film adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer. And I was originally worried because Matthew McConaughey had landed the lead role of Mickey Haller, and even though I thought Mr. McConaughey was a pretty slick guy who had been dependable on rom-coms like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days I didn’t necessarily consider him a good actor.

But then I saw the film, and found out that this was a role that needed Mr. McConaughey to turn up the charm quite a bit, which is something he’s really good at, so he was actually pretty superb in the role, which is probably the best performance he’s given in his career. And that’s not to say that this is a film that goes by just on the charm of its star, because the people that are lined up to star alongside Mr. McConaughey are all seriously great actors, from Marisa Tomei to Bryan Cranston to William H. Macy, the supporting cast here is stacked up with some really awesome names that elevate this one considerably.

And that’s really what The Lincoln Lawyer has going for it that makes it so damn entertaining, a charming star to carry it along and a rock solid cast of supporting players. Because, other than that, it’s not like this one deviates all that much from the courtroom-thiller formula we are all so familiar with by now, but because the cast is so good it doesn’t feel formulaic at all, but instead behaves much like the novels it’s based on did when I read it, it goes by really fast and is real good entertainment from beginning to end.

This is what I talk about when I say a Hollywood commercial film is good, a true surprise that while coming with a studio budget and a string of recognizable faces still managed to be stylish, entertaining and quite clever as well, which is something that in today’s mainstream film world is easier said than done.

I mean, as I said, this is still pretty formulaic, your typical who-did-it courtroom drama that plays out at least once a night in a network TV show. The thing is that this one abandons all the cheap gimmicks and is just a really solid film that doesn’t assume it’s great, but rather approaches its audience much like the sort of novel its source material was, one that you’ll buy at the airport and devour on the plane, the sort of entertainment that doesn’t have ambitions of grandeur, that won’t have you overthinking it, but rather one that you’ll have no trouble keeping up with, I really wouldn’t mind if this became a franchise and we got to hear Mr. McConaughey’s southern drawl as Mickey Haller once every couple of years.

Because Mickey Haller is actually the sort of role Mr. McConaughey should have been playing since he started out, not the charming muscular dude some blonde will fall over in a yearly romantic comedy, but instead a stylish and smooth-talking  wise guy that actually has something interesting to do, think of him here as a cheaper-but-still-effective version of George Clooney. Mickey Haller is a criminal defense attorney who works out of a Lincoln Continental armed with a loyal chauffeur and that usually doesn’t mind getting innocent guys to go to jail so long as a paying customer can walk off innocent.

Yet we see him get a new case from Louis Roulet, a young rich playboy played by Ryan Phillippe who’s been accused of murdering a call-girl, which isn’t as easy as the ones he usually gets, and that starts to get messy real fast, with Mickey and the people he loves getting involved themselves. And while the many plot twists this one throws at you aren’t entirely unexpected nor unpredictable, they make do for fun viewing, not to mention the characters here are all pretty cool, and Los Angeles is portrayed quite nicely by cinematographer Lukas Ettlin, who also shot L.A. in this year’s inferior Battle: Los Angeles, and director Brad Furman who makes his sophomore directorial effort with this one after 2007’s The Take.

I really recommend watching this one, I mean, we see films with smart wise-ass guys quite a bit, and a few of those also include courtroom scenes, but the vast majority of those only focus on the main guy, and don’t pay any mind to the people around him.

And I really can’t stress enough how important that is here, I mean, Mr. McConaughey does indeed give probably the best performance of his career here, one that keeps his macho looks and southern charm alive but that injects him this new-found vulnerability which hopefully is only the beginning of a new stage of his career.

But the people he’s surrounded with here are awesome, Josh Lucas as his opposing attorney, the great Bryan Cranston as a cop, the incomparable William H. Macy as his P.I. of choice. And then there’s Marisa Tomei, who I’ve a had huge crush on since I can remember, and who’s incredibly beautiful and who possess probably the best smile in the world. She plays Mickey’s ex-wife who’s still his friend, and she’s as awesome as ever, and you’ll probably go to jail if you think any different.

Go watch this one if you can, I honestly doubt you’ll be disappointed. I enjoyed it from beginning to end, it was far from amazing, but it was appropriately acted and for all its predictable moves and unnecessary plot lines it never once felt dull. This is what every courtroom thriller made for popular consumption should aspire to be, a film that’s doesn’t really aim for greatness but that doesn’t assume you’re dumb either, and that has charm and talent to spare, just a job well done by everyone involved.

Grade: B+