Friday, July 29, 2011


Rated: PG-13

Stars: Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Analeigh Tipton, Jonah Bobo , Kevin Bacon

Directors: Glen Ficarra, John Requa

Genre: Comedy/ Drama/ Romance

It takes a little getting used to, watching Steve Carell playing it straight, while those around him--Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Emma Stone, and others--steal the show in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Carell is Cal Weaver-- just a regular, unremarkable guy. He has a lovely wife and some great kids. One night he goes out to dinner with his spouse, Emily, (Julianne Moore). Suddenly, she blurts out that she's been unfaithful to him and wants a divorce. Thrown into a tailspin, Cal hits the bars, where he is befriended by the quintessential smooth operator, Jacob, (Ryan Gosling) who essentially snaps his fingers and the ladies are ready to go home with him. Learning that Cal has never had another woman but Emily, Jacob offers to take him under his wing and show him the ropes of womanizing. Feeling he has nothing to lose, Cal agrees to an "extreme makeover" of his style--not only in clothes, but the way he approaches women, with some cringe-worthy and humorous results.

Trial and error begins to yield results, and before you know it, the pupil is outshining the teacher. Here's where a wickedly funny turn from Marisa Tomei comes in, as a gal who is hot to jump Cal's bones. But throughout his resurrection, Cal never allows the torch he is carrying for his wife to flame out, while Emily starts to have second thoughts about whether she might have been too hasty in her decision. Sound familiar, anyone?

When their 13 year old son, Robbie, (Jonah Bobo) gets into some hot water at school for the overuse of a certain expletive, Cal and Emily are summoned to a parent-teacher conference, which will yield its own delicious surprise. Waiting out in the hall. Attempting small talk. Wanting to say more, but hesitant to say more. What is great about Crazy, Stupid, Love is that one moment you're busting out laughing, and the next you're furtively brushing a tear from your eye at the poignancy of it all. Finding that delicate balance isn't easy, but it all works here.

Up until now I've kept it simple, but suffice it to say that the plot of Crazy, Stupid, Love has more interchanges than a clover leaf highway--most involving someone who has the hots for someone else who has the hots for someone who isn't the one who has the hots for them. (Follow?)
Complications abound, building to a climactic scene that is truly as CRAZY (and funny) as anything you're likely to see, along with a major plot twist that had the audience reeling with UH-OH surprise.

Analeigh Tipton is an up-and-comer who plays Robbie and his younger sister's 17-year old babysitter. Robbie has a major league crush on her. What she does to help him deal with it at the end undoubtedly will have some straight-laced older folks shaking their heads...BUT I LOVED IT! Those who know me will say, "Yeah, HE would!"

In the film's major subplot, Emma Stone shines as Hannah, a young bar hopper who hooks up with Lothario Jacob, destined to be just another one of his easy conquests...or IS she?

Julianne Moore gives us her typically brilliant performance.

Kevin Bacon is here too, and why not, if you're familiar with the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game.

There's even a cameo from the ever maudlin Josh Groban, in a non-singing role.

Along with Horrible Bosses, Crazy, Stupid, Love now gives us two brightly gleaming summer comedy gems--a rarity in any year!

Grade: A

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: Ed Helms, Anne Heche, John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Alia
Shawkat, Sigourney Weaver, Kurtwood Smith, Stephen Root

Director: Miguel Arteta

Genre: Dark Comedy

Cedar Rapids, IOWA
--where I lived and worked for a time WAY back in the day. The folks there were--shall we say--not terribly hip. As a young dude, I sported longish hair, and the people would literally hang out their car windows, pointing and laughing at me as I crossed the street! (DUDE LOOK LIKE A LADY...HHAWW!)

Ironic that the same town of today (which appears to be all built up and grown up...I didn't recognize any of it) serves as a metaphor for sophistication in the ultimately sweet, and bittersweet comedy, Cedar Rapids. Sophisticated in comparison to Brown Valley, Wisconsin, anyway--where insurance agent Tim Lippe has come from to attend the big convention.

I had to wonder if Ed Helms, who plays Tim as the ultimate country rube, didn't watch Big with Tom Hanks as many times as I did. Hanks' character is literally a 13 year-old trapped inside an adult male's body. Tim Lippe has no such excuse to fall back on. He's a bona fide adult with the emotional maturity of a 13 year-old. Exactly why, we're not sure, because not everyone in Brown Valley is quite as naive. Take, for example, Tim's middle-aged bed buddy, Macy, (Sigourney Weaver) who has been around the block a time or three (she was once his 7th grade teacher!)

Tim's boss, Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root) sends him off to the insurance convention in hopes of capturing the coveted Two Diamonds Award, an honor previously bestowed upon the local agency for a few years running. When Tim lands in "the big town," the first person he meets is a hooker (Alia Shawkat) who is working the hotel circuit. More culture shock follows when he meets his African-American roommate, (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) and the third roomie--the wild, crazy, and profane Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly). And Tim will soon fall in with Joan, (Anne Heche) a jaded married chick who approaches these conventions as her one chance to taste some freedom, and a little bit of recklessness. And reckless the exploits of these four will become-- as wild parties, booze, drugs, and hanky-panky begin to transform the straight-laced insurance salesman into something he's not sure he ever wanted to be.

Good performances all around--though people like Tim Lippe exist only in a Norman Rockwell world, so in that respect, Helms' portrayal is over the top when compared to the other characters, each of whom COULD be real! And of all the quirky, colorful personalities in Cedar Rapids, I think I like Bree, the hooker, the best. (No reflection on my personal life--heh heh.) She may be the most pragmatic of the bunch, and she dispenses the film's ultimate nugget of wisdom, about the compromises we all make just to get by.

Cedar Rapids is a film that will linger with you like the faint trace of some intoxicating perfume.

And for a dose of reality, I just read that prostitution is a growing problem in the city. PIMPS AND HOOKERS...WOW! Guess I could walk those streets now with my pony tail and see people who look a lot weirder than me!

How times change.

Grade: B +

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: Matthew McOnaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy

Director: Brad Furman

Genre: Drama/Mystery-thriller

Recently out on DVD--The Lincoln Lawyer, from the Michael Connelly novel, is a step up in class for Matthew McOnaughey, most recently remembered in this reviewer's mind for lightweight comedies such as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. McOnaughey has some substantial acting chops, and he displays them as Mick Haller--a slick LA defense attorney who works out of the back of his Lincoln Continental, and is known for taking on the dregs of society as clients.

He's not overtly idealistic in the sense that he believes everyone--no matter how heinous the deed they may be accused of--deserves a competent defense. No, he's more of a SHOW ME THE MONEY guy, who is not above using bribes to get what he wants, or occasional sleight of hand subterfuge to pull in some extra bucks.

When a rich playboy named Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) is fingered for the rape and attempted murder of a prostitute, Haller sees visions of a big payday from the man's family. But what we're likely to believe about this defendant in the beginning gets thrown out of whack by some interesting twists and turns of the plot. Mick finds himself caught up in a web of intrigue involving a former client now doing time, a murder from the past with eerily similar overtones to the crime Roulet is charged with, and a looming threat to his own safety.

The existential dilemma posed by The Lincoln Lawyer revolves around one being sworn to a course of action that he already knows may have dire consequences if successful, but must stay the course for the sake of every principle our justice system was founded upon. A crisis of conscience. The beauty of these kinds of questions--and what contributes to the success of
The Lincoln Lawyer--is that they set us to contemplating what we would do in a similar situation. To Mick Haller's credit, he is one resourceful dude, and we root for him because we sense that beneath the obvious cynicism, there's more goodness within him than meets the eye.

Marisa Tomei, as Haller's fellow attorney ex-wife, is under utilized here--but no matter, because after her brazen in-your-face display of sexuality in The Wrestler, I will forever find myself thinking: HOW'S SHE GONNA TOP THAT?

A great hip-hop flavored soundtrack contributes to the neo-noir feel of this one. Yeah...that's LA, man.

Grade: B +

Monday, July 11, 2011

I AM (2011)


Stars: Tom Shadyac, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Coleman Barks

Director: Tom Shadyac

Genre: Documentary

Tom Shadyac was a successful director of mainstream films (The Nutty Professor, Bruce Almighty, Ace Ventura) who lived a successful person's typical lifestyle of having more than he needed: A mansion with more rooms than would ever be occupied, fancy cars, private jets, etc. Not so strangely enough, (to anyone rich or poor with a developed spiritual side) he came to the realization that he was no happier because of it. Then, after a bicycle accident that left his long- term health outlook in jeopardy, he had a shift in consciousness. The proverbial light bulb going off in his head. He stepped back and took an honest look at the futility of a consumerist society addicted to getting more, having more, and keeping up with and surpassing the Joneses--stoked by the planned obsolescence of accelerating advances in technology.

So he headed out with a camera crew of four --bent upon finding the answers to two questions:

What's wrong with our world?

What can we do about it?

The result is his film titled: I AM. In similar style to the 2004 documentary, What The Bleep Do We Know?, Shadyac's movie features interviews with scientists, philosophers, and spiritual leaders-- augmented by animation, and lots of clips of wild animals and wild people. But while both films have a metaphysical bent, I AM is ultimately more down to earth--looking at the practical side of life on our planet, espousing the ideology that human beings were designed to cooperate--for the resulting benefit of all--rather than be in constant competition with one another. We may live in the illusion that we are separate drops of salt spray crashing against the rocks for this briefest of moments, but it reality we belong to the ocean...we ARE the ocean. In other words, we are all connected at a fundamental level. Shadyac interviews the likes of Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and poet Coleman Barks to help illuminate his point.

Indigenous cultures view wanting and having more than we need as a sign of MENTAL ILLNESS. I can't disagree with that. Why would anyone want to have more than they NEED, unless they're planning to spread some of the wealth around? (Like Bill and Melinda Gates!) The answer is obvious. Those mansions on the hill are monuments to vanity and inflated ego.
I AM argues convincingly that if material gain is your primary motivation in life, you are heading down an ultimately disappointing dead end road.

If you resonate with a movie like I AM, then most of what is contained therein will come as no big revelation--so in that sense, Tom Shadyac is preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, this is a truly uplifting film. If you think of it as a steaming pile of woo-woo, you'll probably go right from the theater to purchase that latest Smart Phone on your already maxed-out credit card, honking and flipping off other drivers along the way.

Grade: B +

Friday, July 8, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: Kevin Spacey, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Anniston, Jamie Foxx

Director: Seth Gordon

Genre; Dark Comedy

Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis are pure devilment together in Horrible Bosses-- a brilliant, snappy, outrageous, sexy, dirty, laugh-out-loud tour de force of a dark comedy that may just be the funniest thing of its kind ever to hit the theater screens! (Okay, so now you wanna know how I REALLY feel about it!)

Nick, (Jason Bateman) Dale, (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) are three hapless wage slave buddies, each working for the boss from hell, and too dependent upon their jobs to quit, so they grin and bear it--just like most poor working schmucks in the real world. That is, until they hatch a plot to do away with all three of their nemeses.

Kevin Spacey is Dave Harken-- an anal, obnoxious, disingenuous authoritarian who jerks Nick around like a marionette. Across town, Kurt's boss bites the big one, and his cocaine addled son (Colin Farrel) is now calling the shots. And Dale is a dental assistant working for the sexually aggressive--okay, she's downright predatory--Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Anniston).

The fun begins when our three bumbling Musketeers start breaking into their boss's homes to gather incriminating information. A chain reaction of events is triggered, and somebody does end up dead, but it doesn't go down the way we're expecting.

The laughs in Horrible Bosses are rapid fire, and the other patrons at the showing I attended were cackling all the way through the un-politically correct hijinks--as most people will do in a darkened theatre where they can't be identified and pressured to make some silly public apology about something they said...or found amusing.

And while any sense of plausibility is thrown out the window early on, and you have to roll with that if you're going to get into the spirit of things--I did find it TOO RIDICULOUS to believe that Dale--as a red-blooded American male-- would staunchly resist the advances of a scantily clad, lewd and lascivious JENNIFER ANNISTON--even if he is engaged! The "dentist who wants to get drilled" represents a stunning departure for the former queen of PG-13 romantic comedy, but I think it's a good one for Anniston, who is finally showing us she's all grown up at age 41!

Kevin Spacey is utterly convincing as an over the top A-hole, and Jamie Foxx garners guffaws as a "hit man" named Motherfu**** Jones.

Everything came together for this one--the writing, the pacing, the acting--making Horrible Bosses one that will go down in the annals in the same class as The Hangover!

Grade: A

Sunday, July 3, 2011



Rated: R

Stars: William Holden, Kay Lenz, Roger C. Carmel
Director: Clint Eastwood
Genre: Romantic Drama


One of Clint Eastwood's largely forgotten directorial efforts, Breezy is a cultural time capsule--a sweet little May-December romance with undertones of Hollywood's dismissive attitude toward the hippie counterculture of the day.

Kay Lenz is the free-spirited "Breezy," and as the nickname would suggest, the opening scene finds her trying to tiptoe out the door on some dude she's just spent the night with, giving us the first of numerous T&A shots that she will benevolently bestow upon us throughout the film. (Reminding us poor silicone-bombarded lads of the twenty-first century how beautiful a woman's NATURAL breasts can be when they don't look like two identical over-inflated party balloons!)

While hitchhiking, Breezy gets picked up by this perv guy who broad brushes the whole counter culture movement of the sixties and early seventies as a bunch of "hippie-dippies,"
while simultaneously trying to put the moves on her. She has to bail on the guy, and ends up outside the Laurel Canyon digs of real estate agent Frank Harmon (William Holden). Frank is initially stand-offish to her--he's gone through a devastating divorce, and anyway, as he notes in one scene, he's twice her age. An understatement because Holden was 55 in 1973, (and actually looked over sixty) and Kay Lenz was 20, playing a character who is ostensibly 18 or 19.

Anyway, she keeps coming back, hanging around, and slipping in and out of her duds in front of him to take a shower and stuff-- in that cavalier manner that chicks had back then (oh, for the good old days) and before you know it--convention be damned-- they've got a thang goin' on.

But Breezy is not what she seems. What she really wants is romance, commitment... and hey, Frank's upscale lifestyle wouldn't hurt either. What Frank wants is to enjoy her favors for a time, and then remind himself of what a foolish old goat he is to think that this preposterous affair could last. And that, of course, leads to the bittersweet part of Breezy .

On the surface, Kay Lenz and William Holden may have been the oddest of Hollywood's odd-couple pairings, but there was a chemistry there that seemed to work, nonetheless--especially in their sweetly erotic candle-lit bedroom scene-- giving (false) hope to all the aging lechers who still maintained hopes they might snag a wayward young thing of easy virtue like Breezy, who would be just as arbitrary about her choice of rutting mates. (Not to be confused, amidst all the election talk, with running mates.)

The acting was nothing special--Kay Lenz was still honing her skills at this point--and Holden's performance is one-dimensional, but fitting in with the overall quality of what we were accustomed to in those days because most of the actors were "acting." No directors like Jim Jarmusch around at the time. (Remember how wooden the performances seemed in those movies from the forties and fifties? It got a little better in the sixties, but still pretty spotty until the likes of Dustin Hoffman came along.)

Breezy, which could best be described as an adult style fairy tale, gets the nod as a curiosity-- sort of an anti-Easy Rider of its era, where the free-spirited flower child stands out as an oddity because she's surrounded by some real squares. Nonetheless, it's an interesting film, if for nothing else than the jaundiced-eyed snapshot of an era it presents.

With some original music by Michele Legrand.