Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The stumbling block of heart-meets-raunch conquered again by Apatow and Crew

Rated R for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and some sexuality.
146 minutes
Universal Pictures
**** out of 5

It’s abundantly clear now that Judd Apatow knows A LOT of funny people. An onslaught of cameos is pretty much the only way to clearly explain what most of Apatow’s third directorial effort “Funny People” consists of. Just to name “some” there are appearances by Andy Dick, Charles Fleischer, Paul Reiser, Norm MacDonald, Dave Attell, Sarah Silverman, Ray Romano, and Justin Long. He also knows some very surprisingly hilarious people such as RZA, Eminem (Marshall Mathers), Eric Bana, Torsten Voges (as a gigantic terrorist-accented doctor) and even James Taylor who serves not only as an uproariously hilarious inside joke on filmmaking but serves up his very own one-liner in a film chock full of real comedians about comedians.

Apatow also heavily uses a lot of his very own band of merry men such as Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann (Apatow’s real life wife), Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, and his two always hilarious daughters, Maude and Iris Apatow. Personally I knew that Eric Bana had some pretty funny bones in his body since I’ve seen a few skits from his early days in Australia on the sketch comedy show “Full Frontal.” Although he has mainly starred in dramas in the past I hope this sheds a new light on his career. But there was one scene towards the end that had me silently wishing someone would spit out the almighty “Hulk” line when his character gets really angry.

“Funny People” is definitely not only about the comedy, which is to be expected from an Apatow production. This guy is the only man who can have so much heart coexist in the same kinds of movies that have Steve Carrell walking around with a hard on in his boxers or give us not just one, but three shots of a baby crowning just for laughs. In this film Apatow shows way more tendencies of having grown as a director if not just in the films length. Having Steven Spielberg’s Director of Photography (Janusz Kaminski) working on set definitely gives the film a more polished look than usual even if his standard editors (Brent White and Craig Alpert) still let the movie go on just a tad too long and wind up shortchanging the big change of heart finale we all know is coming in the end.

George Simmons (Adam Sandler) has just been given the news that he has a form of leukemia and may die. He begins to contemplate what his life may have been only after an hour of the movie has passed and hiring Ira Wright (Rogen), a hopeful stand up comedian, whom he meets while threatening to run him over outside an improv comedy club after Ira spends his act trying to lighten the mood when George spends his first time on stage in five years being depressing and gloomy. This is pretty dark comedy in the first stretch which is a pretty nice change of pace from the anything goes attitude his first two ventures took full advantage of. George calls up Ira who has been working at a deli serving sandwiches and offers him a job being his assistant and to write material for him for some upcoming gigs. Ira accepts the job offer with no clue that he is going to become George’s servant and become the butt of pretty much every line of dialogue to come out of George’s mouth from there on out.

George eventually becomes a part of the 8% of patients who actually get better through the use of experimental drugs imported from Canada. This causes him to realize he has nothing in his life except for fame and money. He is the clich├ęd empty-souled entertainer. Through Ira, George manages to make his way up to northern California to try to see if he can fan a dead flame back into a relationship from 12 years ago with Laura (Mann), the woman he was going to marry. Why their relationship fell apart all those years ago and what they may think they want to do about things now provides one of many subplots to an already lengthy feature. This provides all of the heart Apatow has been known for but it almost turns into a case of too little too late.

Had Apatow focused more on the subplot with George, Laura, her husband, their two children and maybe gone for more of a romantic triangle between the three adults it would have made the last third of the movie gel more with what has already gone on for almost 2 hours. If Apatow & Co. had stuck to a better mix of the love story/stand-up aspects it would have been a better case of funny people being seriously entertaining. As it is, the stand up scenes are hilarious, Seth Rogen manages to prove that he still has those comedic chops we all loved from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” and Leslie Mann proves again that Apatow seems to be about the only director working who knows how to properly handle his wife’s many abilities. Clearly they were having a total blast digging into their past to provide an interesting glimpse into what it's like to be famous along with those trying to get there.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

All bets are off as the comedy hit of the year strikes early for summer

Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity, and some drug material.
100 minutes
Warner Bros.
**** out of 5

When a screenwriting duo’s previous efforts consist of 2005’s “Rebound” with Martin Lawrence as well as the recent “Four Christmases” and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” one’s hopes can’t be raised too high. However, when a movie also is tracking so well with advance screenings that a sequel has already been greenlit it makes one start to think that maybe it can be great after all. When you’re a fan of the director it also can help to go in with higher expectations. However, nothing can raise ones expectations to the levels of seeing it a month after release and after the film has already grossed $200+ million at the box office.

No matter what you may think of me for this, I have always been a fan of director Todd Phillips. “Road Trip” was juvenile fun that had its fair share of hilarity scattered throughout even if it was by no means great cinema and obviously aping the “American Pie” popularity of trying to squeeze heart into teen skin flicks. “Old School” was a big step up for Phillips as it showed his ability to bring big performers to another pretty juvenile script but let the talent shine through with the actor’s loveable personas. “Starsky & Hutch” is not a lot of people’s favorite movie and it’s definitely not one of mine. I don’t even own this on video. But I do love Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson and even more so when they’re on screen together. “School for Scoundrels” was honestly not seen by many people and really didn’t get much of a good rap as it happened to star someone by the name of Jon Heder. Yes, “Napoleon Dynamite” himself starring alongside Billy Bob Thornton in a watered down PG-13 remake that I honestly laughed throughout probably more due to the work behind the camera than in front.

“The Hangover” definitely brings Todd Phillips back to his “Old School” roots so-to-speak. He takes a pretty simple premise, hires (this time) not so well-known comedic actors and mines comedic gold scene after scene. Many people are saying it’s “this years ‘Wedding Crashers’” and that is true. But bare in mind that it is not a comparison of quality so much as that it has become another low budget high grossing sleeper hit. “Wedding Crashers” burst onto the scene in 2005 and managed to gross $209 million domestically which is quite a bit for a raunchy R-rated comedy with a heart of gold. That movie had way more “heart” than “The Hangover” but I can already tell which is going to be the higher grosser if it continues its winning streak at the box office as it is the perfect counter-programming Hollywood executives were truly hoping for.

Take a simple premise, a bachelor party in Vegas gone awry, throw in some familiar if not huge name stars (Bradley Cooper (“Wedding Crashers”), Ed Helms (TV’s “The Office”) and Zack Galifianakis (stand-up comic)) and let the hilarity ensue. It helps that the script is so jam packed with some very subtle jokes, broad humor and even some jokes that you don’t even know are jokes until the movie is almost over.

When the boys gather for a night out in Vegas for Doug’s (Justin Bartha) bachelor party they are all in the simple hopes of just having one night to remember forever. What they get instead, thanks to the bride’s brother Alan (Galifianikas), is a night they will never remember but need to in order to find the groom-to-be who has gone missing. Throw in stun guns, a tiger, a baby named Carlos, a gay Asian tycoon, a hooker with a heart of gold and a Genesis swooning Mike Tyson and you have no idea of the fun in store.

As mentioned earlier, advance screenings have already given light to a sequel being put on the fast track. This will either be a great thing or maybe they should just leave well enough alone. Director Todd Phillips also has a sequel to his other huge money maker “Old School” in production as well and maybe it is a sign that things should be as they are. Just because you happen to catch lightning in a bottle once does not mean you have the ability to pull it off again. As a great rule of thumb in Vegas, maybe everyone should quit while they’re ahead? "Do it!"

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Movie Review: 'Public Enemies'

**** out of 5
140 minutes
Rated R for gangster violence and some language.

Marion Cotillard first caught my attention as the pregnant wife of Billy Crudup in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” back in 2003. After seeing her in just a handful of scenes I could tell she was someone to watch. The same year she starred in a French romantic dark comedy called “Love Me If You Dare” and not only was she hilarious but she was also able to make you understand how a character could possibly want to embark in such dangerous extremes to prove your affection. Even just seeing her name listed in the credits for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement” piqued my interest even more than the film being from the director of “Amelie.” Now she steals a Hollywood summer movie right out from under the feet of two of the biggest stars working today.

“Public Enemies” may boast the names Johnny Depp and Christian Bale along with prominently featuring said actors on their very own posters, but the heart and soul of this film comes from the performance of Marion Cotillard. Whether she’s being swept off her feet by the suave and risky John Dillinger or being brutalized in a Q & A session with the Feds, she truly holds her own and proves that her Oscar win for her performance as Edith Piaf in “La vie en rose” was no fluke.

She also rejoins her “Big Fish” costar Billy Crudup who stars as J. Edgar Hoover trying to get a start to his soon-to-be FBI with his G-Men running cross country trying to capture Public Enemy No. 1, John Dillinger (Depp). At the helm of these newly appointed lawmen is Melvin Purvis (Bale) after he takes down one of the biggest names in crime, Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum, probably more enjoyable here in a single chase scene than in all of the upcoming “G.I. Joe”). With their new age tactics and scientific methods they plan to declare the first war on crime and get their men.

One night while out on the town, John Dillinger casts his eyes on the prettiest face on the dance floor, Billie Frechette (Cotillard) and decides that she is the woman for him. After a hot night together Dillinger is found out and caught by the Purvis' team. After Dillinger manages to escape and Purvis lets Baby Face Nelson slip through his fingers the race is on for Purvis to get his men and prove face to keep his position under Hoover’s rule.

The performances throughout are incredible and its very nice to sit back and enjoy a movie that takes some time with its characters instead of spending every cent of the budget on blowing anything they can find to smithereens. The only real problem with the movie are a few cases of bad pacing and a shoot out in the woods at a cabin that just seems to go on and on and on. Also, through the use of HD cameras used for filming some of the film has such a realistic look to it that it feels like you’re right in the middle of all the action. But after having seen the film projected digitally in a theater and watching promo spots on TV it appears to look different depending on which medium you’re viewing. There could be a chance for a fantastic Blu-ray release if they use the transfer from the television commercials, it looks way better.

So if you are in the mood for a character study and want to see a movie that demands you don’t just check your brain at the door then “Public Enemies” is the perfect movie for you. In the wake of a pretty dismal summer that’s only boasted possibly two great entertainments, “Star Trek” and “Up,” sitting through a film as interesting and put together so well “Public Enemies” is a real treat. Oh, and all you “Lost” fans out there keep an eye open for our favorite pregnant Aussie, Claire (Emilie de Ravin).