Sunday, June 28, 2009

Year One

Director Harold Ramis tries for a "Blazing Saddles" vibe in this new comedy but completely misses the mark. By combining contemporary language and references in an early historical setting, Mr. Ramis expects big laughs. It just doesn't work.

To begin with, the story is a mess. It's starts with what appears to be cavemen, played by Jack Black and Michael Cera banned from their tribe and turns into biblical skits that fall short of laughs and ends in Roman times in the city of Sodom (which I'm not sure is historically correct either). What really kills any hope of a coherent film is the terrible editing. Multiple scenes literally stop in their tracks leaving the viewer to wonder what happened next.

Mr. Black doesn't bother with acting and relies heavily on his frat boy shtick. If you're a fan of his style of humor, this film is for you. Mr. Cera fares somewhat better, actually eliciting laughs with his timing and deadpan humor. However, he deserves far better than having to urinate on his own face for laughs.

The film co-stars Oliver Platt (in the most embarrassing role of his career) as a gay high priest and David Cross as "Cain" who serves as a plot device to further the lame story.

If you want to laugh, watch the trailer and skip the movie.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 123

There is no mistaking a Tony Scott film. They are all built for speed and "Pelham" literally fits the bill. Not exactly a remake but based on the 1974 film of the same name, "Pelham" is about a hijacked subway train and the interplay between the criminal and the transit worker who answers his call.

The original starred Walter Matthau as the transit worker and Robert Shaw as the ringleader. It was a tense game of cat & mouse between the two that turned on a clever plot point. The new version stars Denzel Washington as the transit worker and John Travolta as the hijacker. The intelligent interplay of the original is lost here, replaced by 21st century secrets and motives.

The two actors are very effective in their roles. Mr. Washington, in particular, is quite believable as the dispatcher with a secret of his own. Mr. Travolta is menacing enough but takes his part over the top, at times chewing up all the scenery. The film also stars James Gandolfini as the "Mike Bloomberg" mayor of New York and John Turturro as a hostage negotiator.

Everything about the new film is ramped up for speed. Much of the early part of the film is dialog between the leads and even that is short snappy patter. The "beat the clock" race through the streets is exciting enough but dumb. As one character suggest in the film, "why not take a helicopter". Why indeed?
And as a native New York, it bothers me no end when chase scenes through the streets of New York make no sense geographically. If you look closely, the runaway train passes Shea Stadium which is nowhere near where the train is supposed to be (and that's just one visual gaffe).

The film is decent summer entertainment but for an intelligent and tense thriller, rent the original.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Away We Go

An indie charmer from director Sam Mendes. This is the story of an expectant couple, Burt & Verona, who set out on a road trip across America to define their life and put down roots for their new family.

Starring as the 30 something couple are Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski. They are wonderful together (although the character of Burt could easily be related to Jim, the character Mr. Krasinski plays on "The Office"). As they travel from state to state, they meet friends and family who provide different directions their life together may take.

The film co-stars many familiar actors such as Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janey, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Paul Schneider. Representing the people that Burt & Verona meet along their journey, their respective roles amount to cameos during various points in the film. Burt & Verona are the glue that holds the film together (exemplified by a pancake & syrup metaphor) and the one constant throughout.

The soundtrack is comprised of songs by Alexi Murdoch, a singer/songwriter in the Cat Stevens vein. His songs form a sweet backdrop as the couple follow their odyssey.

Written by Dave Eggers and Veldela Vida, this is a comic drama about a really nice couple that you will enjoy spending time with and will probably miss them when you leave the theater.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Hangover

The raunchy buddy comedy gets a welcome makeover in this very humorous film. The premise sounds familiar when four friends decide to take a road trip for a bachelor party in Las Vegas but writers Scott Moore and Jon Lucas take a fresh approach by adding a bit of mystery to the plot. Think "Memento" as an "R" rated comedy.

Rather than follow a linear storyline, "The Hangover" really starts the "morning after" in Las Vegas when three friends try to piece together what happened the night before and why the groom is missing. When they wake in their trashed suite, Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms have no memory of what transpired and spend the majority of the film piecing it all together. The three actors have wonderful chemistry and that makes the film's sum greater than it's parts. It's a very funny ensemble piece.

Director Todd Phillips keeps things moving at a brisk pace and never lingers too long on a joke. The film contains some great lines and even better visuals as we see Las Vegas in a familiar yet fresh way. Mike Tyson has a cameo that would have been funnier had it not been shown in the trailer but it's still pretty funny.

There is even more to laugh about during the credits so don't leave too early.

Monday, June 08, 2009


Pixar does it again. The track record for this studio is simply amazing. I never expected the emotional impact of "Wall-E" and I never would have believed an animated film starring and old man and a boy would be such a touching and emotional thrill ride.

Up is an original story with so many adult themes, you can't simply dismiss this as a kid's film. Realizing one's dreams, dealing with loss, reconnection, love, faith, friendship, and the importance of a strong garden hose all come together in one man's quest to fulfill a dream.

The opening montage that sets up the story is beautifully written and very emotional. It will, however, go way over the heads of small children like the thousands of colorful balloons that carry our hero, Carl Fredrickson off on his adventure. The emotional plot continues as a genuine and touching relationship develops between Carl and his accidental guest, Russell.

Besides the emotion, "Up" is filled with exciting chases and many funny moments (provided by in large by "Dug" the dog and "Kevin" the bird). The menacing dogs may frighten young kids but the lighter moments of the film more than make up for it.

And I can't say enough about the animation. I saw the film in 3-D and the effect is not used for cheap visual gags but rather to enhance the colors, depth and detail of this wonderful film.

"Up" will not let you down.