Tag Archives: Brian Dennehy

The Big Year

20 Nov

Title: The Big Year
Year: 2011
Director: David Frankel
Writer: Howard Franklin, based on the book by Mark Obmascik
Starring: Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Rashida Jones, Anjelica Huston, Jim Parsons, Rosamund Pike, JoBeth Williams, Brian Dennehy, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Anderson, Tim Blake Nelson, Joel McHale
MPAA Rating: PG, language and some sensuality
Runtime: 100 min
Major Awards: –
IMDb Rating: 5.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 39%


I had some really conflicting feelings going into The Big Year. On the one hand the posters and the trailers did nothing to reel me in, nor did the premise dealing with three friendly rival birdwatchers, each going through a crisis of sorts in their lives, competing to sport the rarest birds at a competition. And yet, I took a look at the talent involved here and I couldn’t help but hold out some hope for this film.

The director is David Frankel, the guy who had previously given us The Devil Wears Prada, which I’m a total sucker for, and Marley & Me which is quite good and one of the most effective tearjerkers in recent years. Then look at the actors, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black as the three leads, those are all great comedic actors, and supporting turns by the likes of Rashida Jones, Joel McHale, Jim Parsons and Dianne Weist added to the deep talent pool. I had to believe this one would make it on the strengths of its cast and crew alone.

And even though this is a film that I would actually go ahead and somewhat tepidly recommend, it just isn’t anything close to something great, which I thought was a real pity considering the folks that assembled themselves to make this film. I mean, you get the sense that Mr. Frankel and his talented group of actors really cared for this film, and their portrayal, along with Howard Franklin’s adaptation of the Mark Obmascik book, offers up a nice and careful exploration of these characters. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel as though this film just kind of dully dragged along and, most importantly, it never once got to be really funny, sure it got some giggles and chuckles, but considering the cast it had it should have been hilarious.

Yet even if it’s not super funny, there’s still stuff to like here. I mean, even though the fact that it’s a family comedy about birdwatchers sounds kind of iffy, and it many times is, it’s exactly that what lends The Big Year a kind of whimsical sense of humor that it uses quite well. Not to mention that in this day and age in which most of the comedies are R-rated and try to push the boundaries, I actually thought it was kind of nice to have a big PG-rated film that’s just a pleasant hour-and-a-half designed with all the fluff you would imagine and aimed just to make you have a good time.

Not to mention that you kind of learn about birdwatching while watching this film, which you may like or dislike, but at least you learn something new from watching this movie. You learn about their competitions, about their code of honor that trusts that they won’t lie about the number of birds they see, about what having a big year entails, and you will get a lot of jokes using terminology that only birdwatcher, or birders as you should preferably call them, will understand. Make of that what you may, but in this film we get thrown right into that level of competition with these birders trying to score a big year.

But those are kind of the only good things I can say about The Big Year, that it provides a rather earnest family comedy in our times that are filled with dirtier comedy and that it informs us about a rather peculiar hobby. But those feel kind of like excuses to make for stuff it lacks, actually. I mean, yes, it informs us about something we probably didn’t know about, but you would have been just as fine if you were left uninformed and the movie better if it had been about something else. And making this one so PG and family friendly means that you have a trio that would have excelled at giving us an edgier feature reduced to a more bland kind of comedy that, like I said, will make you giggle but not fight back laughter-induced tears from your eyes like it had the potential to do.

Mr. Wilson plays Kenny, the defending champion, while Mr. Black and Mr. Martin play Brad and Stu, respectively. And, in case you were wondering, they play their prototypical roles, Kenny is your typical Owen Wilson character which has a lot of charm, Brad is super-energetic and makes a fool of himself by falling down a lot like many other Jack Black creations, and Stu has that brand of earnestness that Mr. Martin has perfected over the past few decades. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that it’s not a new thing either, and it’s not played as well as we have seen it been done in the past.

Still, I would actually tell you that watching The Big Year would make for a decent escape from your daily routine at the movies. I mean, it’s not a comedic gem by any means, but there’s still a lot of harmless fun to be had while watching it, and the scenery is really gorgeous to take in. Not to mention that even in a just-okay film like this one, it’s always pretty fantastic to watch these people have fun together.

Grade: B-


The Next Three Days

23 Nov

Title: The Next Three Days
Paul Haggis
Paul Haggis, based on the original film written by Fred Cavayé and Guillaume Lemans
Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Brian Dennehy, Olivia Wilde, Jason Beghe, Liam Neeson
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements
122 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

The Next Three Days premiered on Friday, and after its first weekend at the box office it’s set to stand as a seriously low-grosser for the usually bankable Russell Crowe, as it seems on point to make less than $7 million for its first three days, the less of any of his films since the horrible A Good Year, however, don’t let that be a sign of anything, because this one’s better than that one. The pacing may be a pit too slow but, for me, Mr. Crowe and his co-star Elizabeth Banks, who I’m a huge fan of, totally sold this one for me.

The pacing problem is one I think may throw off a lot of people from this film, and it’s because Paul Haggis, who had otherwise made the Oscar-winning Crash and the seriously good In the Valley of Elah, directed this one in a way that just tried too much to make us understand every single step of it, always taking too long to explain stuff to us to the point in which I felt like screaming “Alright, we get it!”, and, to be honest, this is a film in which even though explanations are given by the dozens, the events of it seem too hard to believe for the most part, not because the steps are wrong, but because I didn’t buy the main character. And considering the cast this one had lined up, I was expecting much more than the end result we got, which was a very okay film, but nothing like the stuff Mr. Haggis had delivered before that.

Mr. Crowe’s character, John, is a school teacher who’s wife is convicted for a crime she says she didn’t commit, and which he deeply believes she couldn’t have, and he then does everything he can to get her free. That’s the basic gist of it, and while there are times in which this one works, mostly because Mr. Crowe is a seriously good actor, there are also a lot of times in which we don’t buy an English professor doing all of this and all of sudden looking as though he did it for a living.

But that’s not really Mr. Crowe’s fault, his performance is still seriously solid. As is Ms. Banks’ as Lara, his wife who all evidence points was the one who did the crime and must now do the time. And she apparently must start doing the time soon enough, as she is set to be transferred to a state prison in three days, time in which John must find out how to free her from the prison she’s currently being held in. But yeah, the fact that an English teacher can do that in three days seems kind of implausible. The steps of the plan, as I said, are carefully explained, too carefully at times, making it seem like an instruction manual for people who will actually go ahead and try this out in real life, but for the most part they’re all quite interesting and everything, that’s not the issue, the issue is that I just can’t believe John Brennan doing this because Mr. Crowe just doesn’t feel too much like John Brennan considering what we have seen him do in other roles.

So that’s my thing with this film I guess, the fact that even though Mr. Crowe’s performance was quite good, it felt like the kind of performance that oozes this sort of broodiness and that when it explodes the action scenes that will follow will seem believable. As such, I didn’t believe the parts in which John seemed unknowing of what to do and desperate about his circumstance, I always knew that he was capable of everything, and that’s because Mr. Crowe just seems like that guy.

I know I have been going on and on about this, but that’s just because that’s all I left with once I finished watching the film, and I felt that this would have been a much more competent affair had it granted some more credibility to its lead character. This will also feel a bit too much like a feature length instructional how-to video on jailbreaks, but I don’t have as much beef with that, even though at times it drags along too much, but at least it’s interesting. This was, however, a remake from a French film, and not a Haggis original, so the writer-director’s awesomeness streak is technically still intact, and I’ll still be waiting impatiently for his next project.

Grade: B-