Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Company Men

Ben Affleck appears to be on a nice little roll. He seems to be hitting his stride first as a director in Gone Baby Gone and the Town and as an actor in smaller fare like Hollywoodland. Honestly I've always liked the guy but it did appear for a while that it was getting to his head. It's nice to see him back in good character driven stories like Company Men. Director John Wells got some of the best character actors in the business to be in the film with solid actors like Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Maria Bello. I also really enjoyed Craig T. Nelson and Rosemarie DeWitt. Craig plays a great jerkwad boss who is completely unaware of the suffering of his employees, and worse he probably could care less. And Rosemarie De Witt isn't in as many scenes as she should be but her presence was felt always. The film was in some senses a less depressing version of Up In the Air, or to put it more bluntly it follows the poor saps that George Clooney was firing. I was skeptical of the film at first especially when I saw John Wells name attached. If you know anything about Wells and his TV background you'll know that he had a hand in two of my favorite shows West Wing and E.R. but he also had a bad habit of over the top melodrama; Think E.R. when the tank came to the hospital or a hostage crisis in the E.R. Now I'm not saying he masterminded these episodes himself but he was executive producer and both shows seemed to suffer from this problem from time to time especially during sweeps week. So given this dubious background I was concerned that this problem would carry over to his feature directorial debut. I can happily tell you that it doesn't happen and in fact it really captures the Corporate culture and all of it's terrible faults accurately without banging you over the head with it.
A low level Corporate salesman, for a shipbuilding firm is laid off and he struggles to put his life back together. Bobby Walker, (Ben Affleck) can't seem to adjust to not only losing his job but losing the perks that go with it, his Porsche and playing golf. It's almost sad watching him struggle in denial about what just happened and how he may have to adjust his lifestyle in order to pay the bills and support his family. The film also follows Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), a middle aged man who finds himself on the chopping block, and his story is even more heartbreaking as he is only a few years from retirement. Chris Cooper gives another great performance as a man who has his dignity stolen from him in the most humiliating way possible. His age becomes a hurdle for him in job placement as he isn't given quite the golden parachute his kindly boss, Gene McLary (Tommy Lee Jones) is given. Tommy Lee Jones' character is hard to pin down he's a corporate guy living high on the hog but he does seem to have a sense of honor and he truly cares about the people under him. Its interesting watching him navigate through the impending doom of his company and hoping and waiting for him to do the right thing. The story takes direct aim at the current financial crisis and the out of touch Corporate culture that still continues to dominate our world in the worst ways possible.
It's an honest examination of the White Collar world in the 21st Century and I have heard some complaints about the ending being too happy, which personally I think is ridiculous. I think for those of us who work in any industry would like to believe and at least hope that someone from the upper management cares about the welfare of their employees beyond just paying them. That being said every time I felt like the movie was getting sappy or over the top they balance it out nicely. I even enjoyed the scenes where Bobby has to work for his brother-in-law in construction just to pay the bills. Someone should honestly tell Kevin Costner never to attempt a Boston accent, he didn't get it right on Thirteen Days and he certainly didn't again here. But at least he toned it down. So if you are caught up on all of your Oscar nominated flicks then you should see this little film, it's a good drama with some great performances.
Grade: 3 Buckets

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Green Hornet

It looks like Hollywood is tossing out the Superhero stories even earlier than normal this year, you've got the Green Hornet to be followed by Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern, X-Men: First Class & possibly Red Sonja. It's going to be a big year for spandex clad heroes and another big test to see if comic book films still have true staying power. The Hornet has a slightly different feel then most of these costumed super heroes. The Green Hornet originally got its start on radio back in 1936. Then in film serials in the 40's and eventually the Hornet got his own TV show in the 60's. It was campy and silly much like it's more popular counterpart Batman. But it was really Bruce Lee, as Kato, that put the show on the map. It was his first on-screen gig and with the addition of the gorgeous 1966 Imperial Black Beauty it became a cult classic years later. (It only lasted on the air for a year.) Unfortunately the guy playing the Green Hornet was um, less famous. He was played by Van Williams who had the unfortunate task of looking like a bad ass next to Bruce Lee, I really didn't envy him in that position. So as it goes the premise is this newspaper man named Britt Reid takes on the alter ego of the vigilante Green Hornet with his bad ass sidekick Kato to fight crime by posing as criminals. Again, I was never a fan of this show, thought the name was cool and of course Kato was pretty awesome but it was never enough to keep my attention. Fast forward to today and the remake with Seth Rogan and Jay Chou as Kato. At first when I saw this happening I thought it sounded like a bad idea. It felt like they were just going to Animal House a superhero movie and it would still be just as stupid and silly as the 1960's version. Then two things happened, I saw Observe and Report and watched Seth Rogan convincingly beat the shit out of bad guys while still retaining the funny and I learned that Michel Gondry was taking over as director for Green Hornet. Admittedly Gondry can be hit or miss I really hated Be Kind Rewind... But I loved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But to put Rogan and Gondry together at once sounded insane or insanely brilliant. After seeing it I find it clearly falls more into the latter.
Britt Reid (Seth Rogan) is damaged rich guy who, when he was young, tried to help kids who were being bullied by getting into fights. His father (Tom Wilkinson) in disgust rips the head off of his favorite superhero toy and tells him to man up. Thus this kid becomes a male version of Paris Hilton, spoiled rotten, sheltered and completely clueless about the outside world. When his father is found dead by a bee sting, Britt is left with a multi-million dollar Newspaper and the responsibility to make up for his past laziness. One of the prime movers in getting him off his ass is his father's mechanic Kato (Jay Chou). After seeing Kato's smarts and his ability to kick ass Bruce Lee style he decides they should become vigilantes. And just like the show they try a bit of mis-direction by appearing as criminals to lure the bad guys into a false sense of security. This plan doesn't work out so well but it is damn funny watching them try. He dubs himself the Green Hornet and again just like in the TV show lets Kato do most of the muscle work if not all of it. It's particularly hilarious to watch as he Forest Gumps his way to some success and takes full credit for everything while constantly calling Kato just his sidekick. They get into some trouble when they cross paths with a dangerous psychopath named Chudnofsky (Chrisoph Waltz) with serious anger issues. Waltz puts in a really funny performance too. He definitely plays for more laughs then you would think.
I really got a kick out of this flick honest. If you liked Pineapple Express then there isn't any reason why you wouldn't like this one. Although Seth Rogan's Britt Reid is even more of a douche in the Green Hornet if that's even possible. It's hard to like the guy through most of the movie, but thankfully Jay Chou is really fun to watch especially when he's kicking ass. He actually is the main hero after all. The guy is also pretty funny and the chemistry between Rogan and Chou is pretty great. I especially loved the knock down drag out fight between the two of them it ranks up there with the Tony vs. Rhodey fight in Iron Man 2 for sure. They use every piece of furniture possible. The car chases were pretty fucking awesome and the action pieces were impressive. Not sure why this needed to be in 3D but it didn't take anything away from it. But it just didn't feel like a 3D type of film except for maybe the last action sequence. Also I don't understand why the hell Cameron Diaz was in this movie. Her soul purpose in the film felt completely forced and out of place except for one scene when Britt was questioning her for the job and was not so politely calling her old. It was a pretty damn funny scene, and I'll give her credit for taking the hit, but I couldn't shake the image of a boardroom meeting with Seth Rogan saying shit like,  "OK, picture this Cameron Diaz, hot, a little on the old side, maybe menopausal, the jokes will flow like wine. How awesome would that be?" Then they realize that she's only in the movie for ten minutes so they give her some bullshit talent to be a Mob profiler. Yeah, sorry Cameron, but that's what it felt like.
Anyway, if you get a chance to see the flick you should absolutely see it, whether in 3D or 2D it shouldn't matter it's got the laughs and the action to keep anyone satisfied. I also really dug the Kato perspective fighting technique they used. At first it's a little odd but it was a pretty cool format and it really allowed it to keep it's credentials in the awesome effects departments. I give Gondry all the props there. That car also was pretty kick ass.  So if you don't go for either Rogan or Chou then definitely go for that tricked out car. Very cool stuff.
Grade: 3 Buckets

Sunday, January 02, 2011

True Grit

Happy New Years everyone. It's that time of the season again to start endlessly speculating on the Oscar picks for this year. It's the second day of January and again I am behind on my Oscar Watch movies. The nominations are not in yet but I feel confident that I'm at least 5 or 6 movies behind. Thankfully over the Christmas break I was able to catch up a little bit. So far this year I've seen: The Social Network (It's a Relativity title so sorry guys no review), The Town, Toy Story 3 and Inception and of course now I've seen True Grit. Over the next month I'm going to try to see and review Black Swan, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, The Kids Are All Right, and I still haven't had the chance to see the Fighter (Also a Relativity title), but I have heard great things about the flick, so I'm really looking forward to seeing this one soon. The Globe nominations came out recently and has given us an inkling about the Oscars although these nominations seem to indicate even more that bribery is the best way to get a nod. Apparently True Grit has not campaigned hard enough so therefore it got completely snubbed for everything. I wanted to know what was wrong with the movie to warrant such a blatant snub. I've got one word for you---nothing.
I know what your thinking, especially if you are a classic western fan, why remake a movie with the great John Wayne who by the way won an Oscar for his performance in said movie. I thought it was crazy too, until I saw it and I was pretty damn impressed. I'll admit I've never been a big fan of the Duke, I've been more of a Clint Eastwood fan myself. The annoying pauses always took me out of it--felt like the guy was trying too damn hard. But he is iconic for sure and before you Wayne fanatics try to lynch me, understand that his Rooster Cogburn is pretty fantastic and unique. That being said Jeff Bridges, who plays Rooster in the new version, makes him even more of a drunk rascal as only Bridges can. He is also fantastic and a source of great enjoyment for me as I watched the film. But unlike the original he is not the main attraction it is actually Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) the 14 year old girl who is looking to get Justice for the senseless murder of her father by the outlaw Tom Cheney (Josh Brolin). She's got a sharp tongue and perplexes almost all of the men she encounters in the film. She's smart and she's got guts and she isn't going to be pushed around even in one of the most dangerous territories in the west. She hires Rooster Cogburn an honorable drunk Marshall who has the habit of killing the men he's instructed to bring in for Justice. They are joined by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who has been tracking Cheney for the past few months. They make an unlikely trio but they try to survive Indian territory and the harsh winter weather in order to track down the outlaw. It shows this western world to be a harsh and dangerous country but it is complimented greatly by excellent cinematography and an even greater cast. If this young Steinfeld is robbed of a nomination for the Oscars like she was for the Globes then it should be considered a mockery of the awards process(Eh, who am I kidding it's already pretty fucked up). She absolutely surprised me with her performance right out of the gate. Never saw the girl before but she impressed me greatly. The film kind of ends abruptly but I'm not sure how it could have ended any differently. Some may be disappointed in the lack of elaborate action and sparse gun battles but I thought that it laid out an even pace along with the performances to keep me pleasantly satisfied. I can say easily this is by far one of my favorite Coen brother films right up there with my favorite of them all the Big Lebowski.
Overall True Grit is not exploring anything that we haven't seen in Westerns before but it highlights the most important aspect of Western life, that in my mind which is what makes it so interesting. The vast loneliness and isolation that can cause a normal man to take even temporary leave of his senses. The lawless nature of men in a place where Justice and Law are difficult to find and are sometimes found in men who are perceived as cruel and without societal merit. Always interesting parallels. If you haven't seen this one do so as soon as possible you won't be disappointed.

Grade 4 Buckets