Tag Archives: Owen Wilson

Best of 2011: 20 Lead Actors

9 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. For the seventh and final entry in the series of posts we have my Top 20 Performances by Leading Actors of 2011:

20. OWEN WILSON as Gil Pender in Midnight in Paris

The lead male character in Woody Allen movies is typically a kind of alter-ego of Woody himself. Such is the case with Gil in his latest film, a rather wealthy screenwriter who can’t quite come to terms with the artistic sell-out he’s become and would much rather live a life just making pure art, being a novelist, and one living on the 1920’s, if possible. Now, Owen Wilson is obviously different than Woody, a West Coast personality and not an East Coast one like the director himself said, so the role was slight re-written to fit him better, and the stuff he does with the role is splendid, he makes Gil his own character and not just a Woody Allen impersonation like many before him have unfortunately done, keeping the Woody sensibilities but putting them into an Owen Wilson character. Midnight appeared in 6 of my 7 rankings: #14 Film, #8 Director, #6 Supporting Actor for Corey Stoll, #9 Supporting Actress for Marion Cotillard, #1 Screenplay and here.

19. PAUL GIAMATTI as Mike Flaherty in Win Win

Paul Giamatti has to be one of our finer actors working today. He’s the man that’s just perfect at playing those characters that kind of feel like losers in one way or another, the stuff he does with his body and his raspy voice adding a lot to the overall effect of his performance, how he expresses exasperation and disappointment, he’s genius. Mike Flaherty is a struggling lawyer who moonlights as the coach of a high-school wrestling team that’s not doing so well. He has worries and anxieties that are faced by many American men, things that are slightly off but that affect Mike in really poignant ways. Mr. Giammati, as always makes the ordinary feel exceptional. Win Win appeared in one other ranking of mine, a #10 mention for its screenplay.

18. MICHAEL FASSBENDER as Rochester in Jane Eyre

2011 was an exceptional year for Michael Fassbender, with spectacular turns in X-Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method, Shame and this film right here. He’s fantastic as the iconic Mr. Rochester, a role played by giants before him, and embeds him with that dangerous kind of charm the Irish actor is so good at showing. He’s one of my five favorite working actors, someone who I put in the same league as the Day-Lewis’ of the world, just a beast of a performer who does so many good things while he’s on screen. Jane Eyre appeared in one other ranking of mine, a #15 mention for Mia Wasikowska’s lead performance.

17. DEMIÁN BICHIR as Carlos Galindo in A Better Life

Yes, Demián Bichir got an Oscar nomination over some better actors and better performances, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve it. He’s a stand-up guy who’s been working his way up the (racially-difficult) ladder, and the performance he gives in A Better Life is indeed really good. As Carlos Galindo he plays a Mexican immigrant, living in Los Angeles for the past six years, tending to the lawns of wealthy people only to be able to provide for his family, with a teenage son that seems about to join a local gang. It’s a really human story that’s so well acted by Mr. Bichir and that will certainly get to you.

16. DOMINIC COOPER as Uday Hussein / Latif Yahia in The Devil’s Double

Had this film been better, then we might just be calling Dominic Cooper an Oscar nominee. This film is one big coming out party for his talent, taking on the double role of both Uday Hussein, the crazy son of Saddam, and of Latif Yahia, the ordinary man forced under threat to his family to step into his shoe’s and become the double of a man wanted dead by many. The film may not be that great (I gave it a B) but the performance alone is worth checking it out for, it’s hugely entertaining, reminiscent of Pacino’s in Scarface, and how well he acts opposite himself (thanks to visual effects) is mesmerizing to watch, you won’t be blamed if you think it’s two different actors. But it’s not two guys, it’s just the one, Dominic Cooper, a name you’ll certainly be hearing more about in the future.

15. TOM HARDY as Tommy Conlon in Warrior

Speaking about actors who are poised to hit the big leagues, Tom Hardy is certainly in that discussion, and 2012 should be the year in which he achieves that status thanks to a certain third film he’s playing the villain in. It’s a riveting performance as a man who in some ways is still a child, a child who was marked by the devastating ways and habits his father exhibited as he grew up, and who’s now trapped inside the body of a huge muscular man. His performance has more to do with physical scenes and with looks than it does with dialogue, and it’s just stunning. Warrior appeared in one other ranking of mine, a #9 mention for Nick Nolte’s supporting performance.

14. ANTON YELCHIN as Jacob in Like Crazy

Like Crazy is a brilliant film, and the stuff done by its lead actors is stunning, how much evolution Anton Yelchin takes Jacob through in just an hour and a half is incredible. Improvising a lot of the dialogue alongside the gorgeous Felicity Jones, and delivering a performance that’s quiet quiet, communicating just with some looks that carry in them an exceptionally touching sincerity. Like Crazy had mentions in 4 of my rankings: #11 Film, #18 Director, #9 Actress for Felicity Jones, and here.

13. LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as J. Edgar Hoover in J. Edgar

Leonardo DiCaprio was denied his fourth Oscar nomination for his portrayal as the legendary J. Edgar Hoover in a film that divided its audience quite a bit (I gave it a low A-, but expected something better). However the film turned out, though, the performance by Mr. DiCaprio is undeniable, one that, I think, may actually be the best he’s given so far in his career (though the greatness of the films elevate the quality of some of his other ones). This performance is just so deep, subtle, so fully realized, displaying across his face all the mannerisms of a really complex man. Yes, the make-up may be distracting, that’s a huge obstacle for this whole film, but this performance just works like gangbusters and is what keeps your attention for over two hours.

12. JEAN DUJARDIN as George Valentin in The Artist

The one that’s supposed to barely edge out George Clooney in a couple of weeks to score himself an Oscar, the very French actor in a very silent movie that’s been charming the pants off of Hollywood for the past couple of months. He is impeccable as he plays George Valentin, a movie star of the 1920’s, everything about him adding to the character; the sleek hair, the classy mustache, the winning smile. It takes really charming and physical performers to hold a silent film together and make it as masterful as The Artist is, and Mr. Dujardin is more than up to the task, embodying both the personna of a movie star in the golden era of Hollywood, and the narcissism of man that lives for his crowd’s adoration and who may just lose that. The Artist had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #8 Film, #7 Director, #13 Leading Actress for Bérénice Bejo (yes, she’s a lead no matter what Oscar tells you), #12 Screenplay, and here.

11. RYAN GOSLING as Stephen Meyers in The Ides of March

Alongside Michael Fassbender it was probably Ryan Gosling who had the biggest 2011 for male actors. In this film he plays a really good press secretary in charge of the campaign mounted by George Clooney’s Governor Mike Morris. He’s brilliant in this role, a film that was just made for really great actors to showcase their talents, going at it with some of the best in the game, including Mr. Clooney himself, whose charm, wit and good looks Mr. Gosling seems to be a worthy successor to. The Ides of March had mentions in 6 of my 7 rankings: #18 Film, #13 Director, twice in my Supporting Actor rankings (#20 for George Clooney and #17 for Philip Seymour Hoffman), #13 Supporting Actress for Evan Rachel Wood, #18 Screenplay, and here.

10. WOODY HARRELSON as David Douglas Brown in Rampart

This is an incredibly fearless performance on display by the awesome Woody Harrelson, one of a highly unlikable character, a monster really, a guy that can get away with the horrible stuff he does solely because of his charm and intelligence, which is why Mr. Harrelson was such a smart choice to play him. This may just be a career-best performance from him, just so raw and intense in front of the camera, and even though he doesn’t get us to like Dave, because that’s impossible with a man like this, he does manage to make him human and get us interested in the stuff going on around him and the stuff he’s beginning to realize albeit too late in life.

9. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT as Adam in 50/50

The performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, of a young man recently diagnosed with cancer, was central to making 50/50 succeed. The whole film walks the really fine tightrope of hilarity and really emotional stuff, and how Mr. Gordon-Levitt manages to marry the two qualities is exceptional, delivering what may be one of the two or three best performances of his career, and showing, in his scenes with Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston, that he has really great chemistry with his co-stars. 50/50 had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #19 Film, #15 Supporting Actor for Seth Rogen, #10 Supporting Actress for Anna Kendrick, #6 Screenplay, and here.

8. ASA BUTTERFIELD as Hugo Cabret in Hugo

I realize putting the fourteen year-old Asa Butterfield ahead of names like Harrelson and DiCaprio may seem too much, but such was the power Hugo had on me. And considering his is the performance at the center of it, of course I would love him as the young boy on a quest to unlock a secret of his father’s. The performance by the young Mr. Butterfield is just so incredibly soulful, he makes you invest in Hugo’s quest, and its his interactions with the rest of the talented cast that really get this movie going. Hugo had mentions in 6 of my 7 rankings: #1 Film, #1 Director, #5 Supporting Actor for Ben Kingsley, #11 Supporting Actress for Chloë Grace Moretz, and here.

7. BRAD PITT as Mr. O’Brien in The Tree of Life

Another person for whom 2011 was a remarkable year was Brad Pitt, and taking part in this new masterpiece by Terrence Malick is a big reason why. The film pretty much has no plot, it’s just an impressionistic viewpoint of an American family as well as a history of the Earth as seen through the evolution of said family. The Tree of Life wasn’t for everyone, that much is certainly true, but I personally really connected with it, and the emotional stuff in it was just as stunning and the visual parts, and you can thank Brad Pitt for a lot of that. The Tree of Life had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #6 Film, #3 Director, #2 Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain, #19 Screenplay, and here.

6. MICHAEL SHANNON as Curtis LaForche in Take Shelter

Few people have better screen presence than Michael Shannon, I think. He just commands your attention, and in Take Shelter, in which he stars as a man having apocalyptic hallucinations, he gives a truly spellbinding performance that’s just so, so powerful. He’s been cast as the creepy character before, and while in Take Shelter he plays a blue-collar family man, a loving father and husband, as he starts having these visions that leave him disturbed those qualities that made him a creepy character lend themselves for him to masterfully convey those heavy emotions, his eyes showing the underlying sense of unease within him. The energy, the tension, the intensity of his performance, this is just a masterclass in acting. Take Shelter had mentions in 4 of my 7 rankings: #17 Director, #8 Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain, #20 Screenplay, and here.

5. BRAD PITT as Billy Beane in Moneyball

That’s right, Brad Pitt gets a double mention in this ranking. And the performance he gives as the Oakland A’s GM, Billy Beane, is one of the two or three best he’s ever given. This is the perfect Brad Pitt performance in a way, as he embraces both his movie star charisma and good looks, charming us like crazy when he has to, but also showing us the thespian Brad Pitt, delivering a deep and finely nuanced performance in which he says a lot with just his eyes. This guy is entering the prime of his career, trust me on that, we’ve not seen the best of Brad Pitt yet, as amazing as his two performances of 2011 already were. Moneyball had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #7 Film, #9 Director, #4 Supporting Actor for Jonah Hill, #4 Screenplay, and here.

4. GARY OLDMAN as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The performance that finally (fiiiinally) got Gary Oldman his well overdue Oscar nomination. And boy was it deserved, Mr. Oldman puts on a clinic in acting on display in this film, showing us why he’s a master of his craft. He gives a very silent performance, his character, the lead in the film, doesn’t actually utter a single word until we’re about twenty minutes into it. But that’s part of the greatness of his portrayal of George Smiley, it’s just so brilliantly nuanced, and he does so, so much with just his eyes and his face, this is sheer perfection. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy got mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #9 Film, #10 Director, #19 Supporting Actor for Benedict Cumberbatch, #8 Screenplay, and here.

3. RYAN GOSLING as Driver in Drive

Another double-mention in this ranking. This is just such a sublime performance, delivered by an actor who clearly had so much trust in his director. And much like Mr. Oldman’s performance cited above, this is such a masterful portrayal because of the silence in the performance Mr. Gosling gives of the unnamed Driver, he takes some pauses here that seem to last forever and that you just want to last longer. And when he does speak, boy do you linger on every word, not to mention that when he isn’t speaking he’s either delivering a killing stare, or actually exacting some (really brutal) violence. Drive got mentions in 6 of my 7 rankings: #4 Film, #2 Director, #1 Supporting Actor for Albert Brooks, #6 Supporting Actress for Carey Mulligan, #16 Screenplay, and here.

2. GEORGE CLOONEY as Matt King in The Descendants

George Clooney, an Oscar-winner already for Syriana, should get his second Academy Award this year even though it seems the #12-ranked Frenchman will prevent him from doing so. This man, at 50 years-old, just keeps getting better and better, I thought he couldn’t possibly be better than he was in 2009’s Up in the Air, and then look at what he does here in The Descendants, this is his show and he makes the most of it. He just exposes himself, emotionally naked to the camera, getting some really touching moments that will certainly get to you. He’s just a smart actor that brings a lot to his characters, and we believe Matt King when he shares his thoughts and worries, we believe him because Mr. Clooney, alongside with director Alexander Payne, makes him a tremendously human character, who just happens to have Mr. Clooney’s looks. The Descendants got mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #5 Film, #6 Director, twice in my Supporting Actress rankings (#12 for Judy Greer and #3 for Shailene Woodley), #7 Screenplay, and here.

1. MICHAEL FASSBENDER as Brandon Sullivan in Shame

The performance of the year; male or female, lead or supporting, no one came close to doing what Michael Fassbender, who also got two mentions in this ranking, did in Shame. This is also, the single most egregious Oscar snub in recent years, but my dismay upon that has been documented in other posts. The stuff Mr. Fassbender brings to this role is just insanely stunning to watch, baring it all, both literally and figuratively, to play the sex addict Brandon, a man who’s life is a living hell as he can’t seem to get the connection he wants from people, trying to hide his inner demons through an external quest for physical satisfaction. He plays a man in a downward spiral of addiction, and you feel his internal fears as you watch him go through his life, it’s such a bold and brave performance by one of the best actors we have working today. Shame got mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #2 Film, #4 Director, #1 Supporting Actress for Carey Mulligan, #14 Screenplay, and here.

Those are my Top 20 performances by actors in leading roles. All 5 of the Oscar nominees were included in my ranking, though if I ran the Oscars only Clooney, Oldman and Pitt would remain nominees. The actual race, however, is a battle between Dujardin and Clooney, the French against the American. And even though Dujardin seems poised to win right now, let’s hope the Academy backs up its homegrown product and rewards Clooney with his second Oscar.

Advertisements

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-

Cars 2

5 Jul

Title: Cars 2
Year: 
2011
Director: 
John Lasseter, co-directed by Brad Lewis
Writer: Ben Queen, based on a story by John Lasseter, Brad Lewis and Dan Fogelman
Starring: 
Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs, Thomas Kretschmann, Eddie Izzard, Joe Mantegna, Tony Shalhoub, John Ratzenberger, John Turturro, Jeff Gordon, Lewis Hamilton, Vanessa Redgrave, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Jeff Garlin
MPAA Rating: 
G
Runtime: 
106 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
35%

Yes, it’s true, it happened. Pixar finally produced a film that’s just fine and not spectacular. And that really is saying something, by the way. We’re talking about the one studio with a perfect streak, 11 films ranging from 1995 to 2010 that range from masterpieces to incredibly good. Allow me to recap the history of those eleven films. The first was the one people know the most, obviously, Toy Story in 1995, the film that started the wonders of digital animation, the film every animated film since owes a lot to. 1998 saw A Bug’s Life, a far more ambitious project as far as scope for the company. 1999 was the year of Toy Story 2, to this date one of the most perfect sequels ever made, animated or not. Their first film of the new millennium was 2001’s Monsters, Inc. which was awesome but meant Pixar lost it’s first stab at the Best Animated Feature Oscar, a category it pretty much helped create. In 2003 they got that trophy though, as Finding Nemo enchanted audiences worldwide. They repeated the feat in 2004, as The Incredibles won it, marking another landmark in the history of the company as their first PG-13 rated outing.

In 2006 came the film this one is the sequel to, Cars, and that one didn’t win the Best Animated Feature Oscar, and was the first Pixar film I didn’t downright love, even though I still liked it a fair bit. After that little stumble (even though Cars would be considered a success for any other animation house) Pixar went back to its masterful streak, upping up its own ante every single time, with Ratatouille in 2007, Wall-E in 2008, Up in 2009 and Toy Story 3 last year. Those four films are insanely good, and all won those Best Animated Feature Oscars. A four-year streak, I’m afraid to guess, will end with this one, Cars 2. It’s not that this one was a horrible film, because it’s not that bad, it’s just that it doesn’t feel like a Pixar film at all to me. Let me just go ahead and name those eleven prior films I just recapped and next to them insert the grade I gave to them upon watching them: Toy Story (A+), A Bug’s Life (A-), Toy Story 2 (A+), Monsters Inc. (A), Finding Nemo (A), The Incredibles (A+), Cars (B+), Ratatouille (A), Wall-E (A+), Up (A+) and Toy Story 3 (A+).

So, you see, out of the eleven films Pixar has released I have awarded 6 of those, more than half, a perfect A+ grade, which means I consider them masterpieces, and only one of them, the original Cars, has a grade in the B-range, and even that was a strong B+. The fact that I love Pixar films as much as I do isn’t just because of their insane animation skills, because their films are the most visually dazzling always, but it’s actually moreso because of their even better skills as the best storytellers in the industry. You look at the stories the Pixar films tell and they’re all extremely great, every film has one genuinely emotional moment, true emotions and indelible characters. And that’s why I didn’t like Cars 2 as much, because even though the animation is still undeniable outstanding, the story it tells is generic at best, and maybe people are being too harsh on this film because they expect so much from Pixar, but hey, that’s the price you pay when you have a decade and a half of sheer perfection under your belt.

I won’t be as critical of the film as some others have been, and I’ll probably end up giving it a weak B or a strong B-, because I recognize that as an animated film it’s decent enough, even though as a Pixar one it sucks. But, in reality, Pixar or not, there are just too many things that are just plain wrong about this film, and I’ll jump on the most popular bandwagon amongst those who disliked the films to point out its biggest error: Mater. That’s the sidekick of Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, a dimwitted truck that in this sequel gets what every sidekick dreams of, their very own chance to own the spotlight. And what we find out here is the reason why sidekicks are never the center of focus in a movie, and why their adventures are relegated to straight-to-video entries, this is a character that just doesn’t work as a main one at all.

And it’s not as though Lightning McQueen isn’t around any more, and we do see quite a bit of his racing successes, but Mater has a fallout with him, followed by the immediate and necessary identity and crisis and after that he’s the main part of this film, as the film evolves into an unlikely spy caper flick with a dimwitted redneck truck as the protagonist next to cars voiced by the very cool Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer. There is a lot of gunfire in this one in the midst of some horrible accents and attempts at jokes (though some of those really do work), and I just didn’t get the film. I didn’t get the story Pixar was trying to tell with it, there’s an ecological side to it I guess with Eddie Izzard’s character but you just can’t connect with anything in it, and in a Pixar film you expect some seriously deep emotional connection.

I’m guessing that part of that lack of emotional connection is because these are talking cars in a world in which humans don’t exist. Yes, Toy Story had toys and Wall-E had robots and Finding Nemo had fish, but they were all definitely embedded into a very human reality and it meant we could connect. That’s just not the case in Cars 2, and even though the original Cars wasn’t different in that way it at least focussed on a much better character and not in Mater, a character which A.O. Scott of The New York Times has given the dubious and yet accurate distinction of naming as the Jar Jar Binks of the Pixar world.

I know why Pixar chose Cars to make their first sequel outside of the Toy Story series. And even though you hate to think Pixar does anything other than for purely genius and creative reasons, you gotta know they did it for money. The original movie has made nearly $10 billion in merchandise sales since its release over five years ago, which puts it right up there with Star Wars, Harry Potter and Pixar’s own Toy Story as a film that can sell anything with its name on it because kids will want the toy cars, the t-shirts, the backpacks, you name it. So of course from that point of view expanding the franchise with Cars 2 made sense, I just hope that now they have made that money-making move they will move on to their usual business of making animated masterpieces, and if the teaser for next summer’s Brave is any indication, they seem to be doing just that.

Grade: B

Midnight in Paris

6 Jun

Title: Midnight in Paris
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: 
Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Corey Stoll, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Léa Seydoux
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, some sexual references and smoking
Runtime: 
100 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 
92%

The first five months of 2011 have already passed as I write this review on June 5th, and I still haven’t watched a single perfect film with a 2011 release date, not one worthy of an A+. However, I’m an unapologetic fanboy of Woody Allen, I’ve watched every single one of his films and his is one of the most unique voices in modern cinema, and one that really resonates with me, so I had high hopes going into his latest, Midnight in Paris, which was the opening selection for this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

People haven’t been exactly kind towards the films Mr. Allen has made in the past decade, or at least certainly not as embracing as they have been with his past efforts.. And I can definitely see why, even though I have personally loved quite a few of those. I mean, the decade started off with 2000’s Small Time Crooks, which was actually pretty good. Then came 2001’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, which was okay at best. 2002 saw Hollywood Ending, which was just as mildly decent. In 2003 he did Anything Else, which I actually sort of loved and was listed by Quentin Tarantino as one of his 20 favorites films since 1992, but that most critics didn’t really embraced. 2004 was Melinda and Melinda which was totally forgettable. So, you see, his first five films of the decade were all just okay, nothing spectacular, and people started wondering if the master had lost his touch.

But then came 2005’s Match Point. This would be the first in his string of collaborations with Scarlett Johansson, and would be his best received film in years, both critically and commercially. I absolutely adored that film, it was actually my fourth favorite film of 2005 (behind Sin City, The Squid and the Whale and V for Vendetta) and it seemed to me as though that film reinvigorated Mr. Allen, and as though changing his beloved New York City for London was a great move for him. It also seemed as though he was of the same opinion, going on record to say that Match Point could arguably be the best film he’s ever made (which it isn’t, but it definitely is pretty perfect) and choosing to venture outside of New York for the most part of his career since.

He stayed in London and with Ms. Johansson for 2006’s Scoop. Now, that film is actually one of the few of his I just don’t seem to get, and I felt it was a huge step down from Match Point. 2007 saw him release Cassandra’s Dream, yet again staying in London and now employing actors mostly from the UK like his leading men, Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell, and even though most critics were lukewarm towards it I actually thought it was excellent, and since I saw it in 2008, when it was released in the U.S., I ranked it in that year-end best-of list and it came in at #47.

But on that very same 2008 list there was another effort by Mr. Allen, his terrific Vicky Cristina Barcelona which was my 12th favorite film of that year and saw Mr. Allen now choosing to go to Barcelona, reteam with Ms. Johansson and add Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz to the mix. The result was superb, I gave it one a perfect A+ and loved absolutely everything about it, as did most of the world, with the film grossing a very respectable $96 million on a $15 million budget, the film getting great reviews, and Ms. Cruz winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as the volatile María Elena. After that was 2009’s Whatever Works, which saw him going back to New York to team up with Larry David and which was unimpressive. And last year saw him release You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, which saw him going back to London and to which I gave a B to.

The above was an exhaustive review of the last decade of Woody Allen films, and if you’re still reading this then thank you for bearing with me on that, it’s just that I wanted to illustrate two things. One is that even if some people have been critical of his last decade, I still think that the guy has turned in two perfect films in that ten year span (Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and another seriously good one (Cassandra’s Dream). And two is that, more importantly, for the last ten years the guy has released a movie a year (and that streak actually goes all the way back to 1982), no matter what, and even if they haven’t been entirely consistent in quality there’s not one in there that’s an all-out disaster. All of this coming from a guy that started directing films in the mid-sixties and that turned 70 during the last decade, it’s just tremendous stuff.

I’ve spent pretty much the usual length of one of my reviews just talking about the past decade or so of Mr. Allen’s films and not saying one word about Midnight in Paris. I started out this reviews saying that I was still looking for my first perfect film of 2011, and saying that I had hopes for Midnight in Paris to become just that. Now, it wasn’t, but it came seriously close. Honestly, if you had been clamoring for another extremely good Woody Allen film, this is the one for you. Even if for some reason you weren’t as huge on Match Point or Vicky Cristina Barcelona as I was, you can count on this one to really win you back. Midnight in Paris is just Woody Allen being Woody Allen and working his usual magic in the best of ways, delivering a film that’s funny and charming and everything you’d want it to be.

And really, what else do you want? Woody Allen is not one of those writer-directors you want going and experimenting new ways, they guy doesn’t have to reinvent himself because he’s still the very best at what he does, and he’s being doing that for over four decades now and if Midnight in Paris shows one thing is that he’s not even close to slowing down. Yes, the font he always uses for his title cards is still there, jazz music is still there, and the main character is still ultimately some sort of version of Mr. Allen himself, but it feels fresher than it has in quite some time.

Owen Wilson plays the Woody Allen role of Gil here, a wealthy screenwriter who actually doesn’t like writing the superficial stuff he does and would much rather be a novelist. He visits Paris with his fiancée, played by the stunning Rachel McAdams, and while she’s totally just all about the shopping and superficial stuff, he falls in love with the city, like anyone would, and wonders about the artistic greats that once walked its streets. What Mr. Wilson does incredibly well is making Gil his own character to play, and not playing him like some sort of Woody Allen imitation like so many have unfortunately done before him, he instead makes Gil a very Owen Wilson character with the Woody sensibilities that were written for him, and it seriously works.

The title of the film comes from the most magical moments in it, when Gil discovers that at midnight he can somehow unexplainably go back to the 1920’s Paris he has loved so much for all of his life. Shot by Darius Khondji (an Oscar-nominee for his brilliant work on Evita) Midnight in Paris feels like a terrific homage to the city of lights, and when you see Mr. Allen go back all those decades you find him producing some of the exquisitely funny and pensive scenes that he’s produced in a while. And when you look at the cast he has lined up for Bop Decameron, his next, you can’t help but smile and think that the master’s back firing on all cylinders.

Grade: A

Hall Pass

10 Apr

Title: Hall Pass
Year:
2011
Directors:
Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly
Writers: Pete Jones, Peter Farrelly, Kevin Barnett and Bobby Farrelly, based on a story by Pete Jones
Starring:
Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Stephen Merchant, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Joy Behar, J.B. Smoove, Richard Jenkins, Alyssa Milano
MPAA Rating:
R, crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity and drug use
Runtime:
105 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
6.1
Rotten Tomatoes:
34%

I really wanted to like Hall Pass. That’s mostly because I really wanted to go back to liking the Farrelly brothers. These are the guys that started out their career in the 90s, giving us both Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, their best film to date, during that decade. In the last decade the quality of their work decreased: Me, Myself & Irene was only so-so, Osmosis Jones was quite cool but still nothing amazing, Shallow Hal had good leading performances but not much else, Stuck on You was actually pretty good but still wasn’t as great as their 90’s efforts, and Fever Pitch had its charm but was ultimate quite mediocre, and their last one, The Heartbreak Kid, was the worst one they have done in their careers.

So yes, I really wanted the Farrelly Brothers to get back to the quality of their earliest work with this one, their first effort in the new decade. But we didn’t even get a film as solid as Fever Pitch, as this proved one was closer to the level of accomplishment of The Heartbreak Kid, though not as horrible. This one is a different sort of film for the brothers, one that has less offensive gags and is more on the moral side of it all, and the cast they have lined up here is pretty cool, but the script just didn’t warrant an adequate amount of laughs for this to be considered a success.

And the reason why the laughs were so few and far between is that the film as a whole feels terribly forced, like they want you to laugh too much, and that’s the surest of ways for a director to kill any chance of laughter happening. Hit YouTube and look for the trailer for this movie and I doubt you’ll think it looks any good, and yet, trust me, the trailer makes it look as though the film would be better than it actually is.

I know the Farrelly’s were trying to make Hall Pass be the film in which they announced to the world that they had grown up. And it’s an honorable intention, and the film really does try to stand by the good values of life while still embedding it with their trademark gross humor, but the balance between the two always seem to be off, and as a result there are pretty much no laughs to go around here.

Anyways, just so you get the basic idea of what this is all about if you haven’t seen the trailer. We have two guys, played by Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, that get a hall pass from their wives, played by Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate who were easily the best parts of this film, to do whatever they want with those young ladies they’re always looking at and fantasizing about, so that they finally get it all out of their systems.

And what happens next is that the men really don’t know what to do once they are liberated from their marital leash, continuing to hang out with their buddies and not really knowing how to approach the single females out there on the prowl. That could have made for a good comedy film had the script then went ahead and granted it with good scenes, however everything here just feels horribly uninspired, the situations really badly scripted and the characters just absolutely flat, no matter how much effort the actors, especially the aforementioned Ms. Fischer and Ms. Applegate, as well as the always-terrific Richard Jenkins, put into it.

The thing that bugs me is that the Farrelly brothers have proved in the past that they can balance their brand of humor with a good dosage of heart, There’s Something About Mary is a prime example of that, and even Stuck on You did it quite convincingly. So we know these two can hit it out of the park when the script is great, but even though they had a bunch of actors that would have potentially been amazing at delivering raunchy comedy, the script just wasn’t there, and as such Hall Pass just falls flat on its face.

Grade: C

Little Fockers

5 Jan

Title: Little Fockers
Year:
2010
Director:
Paul Weitz
Writers:
John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey, based on the characters by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke
Starring:
Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Jessica Alba, Laura Dern, Harvey Keitel, Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisand
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, mature sexual humor throughout, language and some drug content
Runtime:
98 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
5.4
Rotten Tomatoes:
10%

 

When Meet the Parents came out in 2000 I fell absolutely in love with the film. I thought it was one of the funniest things I saw in all that year, and showed why Ben Stiller was just so damn good at uncomfortable comedy. And audiences responded alike, the film was a critical success that also did great at the box office, making over $330 million on a $55 million budget.

A sequel was then a given, and so we got Meet the Fockers in 2004, with Jay Roach still directing and the main cast members being joined by newcomers Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand, who played the parents of Mr. Stiller’s character and were simply golden. That film wasn’t nearly as great as Meet the Parents was, but I thought still had a bunch of amusing moments that were worth the price of admission, and at least it still was a commercial success, making over $515 million on an $80 million budget.

So with that sort of commercial success with the franchise I guess a third installment was a given for Universal. And so here we are, six years laters and getting Little Fockers, with Paul Weitz taking over the director’s chair. And if Meet the Fockers was a decline from the first one, then this one’s an even larger decline from the second one. Seriously, this is by far the worst installment in the saga, but then again, it will surely still prove profitable at the box office, it already has made over $130 million with under two weeks in release.

But still, commercial success or not, Little Fockers is a film that, through its entirety, feels horribly unnecessary. All the main players come back, Mr. Hoffman who had initially turned down an offer was even coerced to come back and shoot six scenes to make it funnier (though to little or no avail), and there are a few new faces even, with Jessica Alba, Laura Dern and Harvey Keitel all joining the party. But still, not even this all-star cast could do anything with such uninspired material. A real pity.

I won’t fail Little Fockers, if anything because I thought Meet the Parents was such a masterful comedic work, but this one just degrades the fond memories I have with these characters, and if they go ahead and make a fourth entry in the franchise, then that will seriously be the end of it as far as I’m concerned. This is a film in which the real plot takes a really long time to fully engage us, and the funny bits are few and far between, if ever there.

Here’s the thing, Meet the Parents was far an out a seriously fantastic comedy, probably one of the twenty best released in all of the past decade, and Meet the Fockers still had some really funny moments. And that’s because Ben Stiller is the man in these sort of comedies, in which we get to laugh at his expense, and because Robert De Niro proved to be a very good actor for him to play along with. However, the fact is that now in Little Fockers, instead of the writers thinking some equally good stuff for them to riff off, they got lazy and decided to give the titular kiddies of the film do some of the funny stuff. And funny, it wasn’t.

I guess I’m just a bit bummed that after a sensationally good New Year’s holiday, I come back home and decide to kick off my movie 2011 with this film and the result was so disappointing. We get Jack, Mr. De Niro’s character, coming to terms with the fact that he’s getting older and older, and considering bestowing upon Greg, Mr. Stiller’s character, the honor of becoming the new family patriarch. And that’s really the story, and the funny bits in it suck, because before it was awesome to laugh at the situations Greg was put in, and at how Jack saw him while they happened, now the material they’re given to work with is so much worse, and they’re not even putting that much energy into making anything more out of it.

If you can avoid Little Fockers, I’d advice you to do it. But then again, if you’ve seen the first two, and thought they were quite good, you’ll probably want to see this one, and I understand that because I really did too, no matter how bad anyone said it was. But really, this just feels unnecessary, especially the introduction of Ms. Alba’s character who was the worst part of the film by far (though to be fair Ms. Dern, another newcomer, was also one of the best parts). So yes, go see it if you feel you must, but I doubt you’ll come out thinking that was a well spent hour and a half.

Grade: C-

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-