Sunday, December 28, 2014

THE INTERVIEW (2014)



Rated: R

STARS: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Randall Park, Lizzy Caplan

DIRECTOR: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
GENRE: Action-Comedy


It's ten minutes past the scheduled show time, and the screen is still dark. A theater employee walks down the aisle to make an announcement. Sorry, folks...we're having a little problem...we have to restart the projector...I DON'T THINK IT'S A HACK...thanks for your patience.  Such is the movie going experience in the days of free speech in America under attack from piss-ant dictatorships across the sea. (Just when we had our hands full with home-grown assaults under the guise of political correctness.) 


The film started shortly thereafter, with Seth Rogen and co-director Evan Goldberg--in a tacked on segment at the beginning--saying "If you are watching this, then you're a g-damned phucking American hero!" 


I can't remember when I've felt so patriotic.


I'd heard that The Interview had opened to mixed reviews on Christmas day, but I gotta tell ya I was pleasantly surprised at how good and wickedly funny this movie is! 


Dave Skylark (Franco) and Aaron Rapoport (Rogen) host a cable TV show called Skylark Tonight . It happens that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, whose job title is Supreme Leader Who Doesn't Pee Or Poo, is a fan of the show. (We know that the real Kim is an avid film buff and consumer of American movies, so thus far the plot isn't too far-fetched).  Dave and Aaron get invited to Pyongyang to conduct and interview with Kim, which is supposed to be a soft ball affair where he gets a chance to plead his case to the west. (Dennis Rodman set the precedent here, so again, not terribly far-fetched.) Kim's not a bad guy at all (despite the labor camps, malnourished citizenry, and total suppression of human rights.) 


When a sexy CiA agent (Lizzy Caplan) learns of the upcoming trip, she sees an opportunity to get rid of one of the world's most ruthless strongmen. She convinces the boys that it's their duty to take him out, which is to be accomplished by way of a poison to be administered through a handshake.  


From here on, everything in The Interview IS far-fetched, and so raunchy and over-the-top hilarious that I suddenly envisioned the president and Michelle viewing it (which they're bound to do, just so they really know what all the fuss is about), and hoping they didn't make the mistake of allowing the girls to see it!


Randall Park can't quite nail down the physical presence of Kim--he doesn't have that baby-faced manchild look of the real guy--but beyond that he gives a winning performance as a Jekyll and Hyde manipulator who charms the pants off our heroes initially, then reveals his true nature when crunch time arrives.


And there's this hot Korean army chick whose real name is Diana Bang. How perfect is that?


Grade:  B +




JILL'S TAKE
I went, grousing and grumbling, to see The Inteview – assuming it would be utter fluff and one dumb movie per year is my quota. I was wrong. As silly as the premise is, it made me giggle from start to finish. As Tim was imagining the Obama Family watching this fart-friendly film, I kept imagining the real Kim Jong Un watching it. Not known for his self-deprecating sense of humor, North Korea's Chief of State would be highly insulted. (He might even nuke us for such insolence.) 
Be that as it may, I must say I was seriously impressed by James Franco's portrayal of Dave Skylark, a seemingly superficial TV talk show host. Having seen Franco in 127 Hours (for which he received a Best Actor nomination in 2011), I knew he had acting chops. What I didn't know was how funny he could be. And believably funny, too. Not all leading men types can make that switch. So Bravo, Signor Franco! 
As for Seth Rogen? He directed, wrote and produced this opus. And that's nothing to sneeze at. Of course, I have a special affinity for the lad since he grew up in a city that I lived in (and loved) for over 17 years: Vancouver, BC. The Interview is not going to appeal to everyone but I heard on the news that on its first weekend playing in theaters, it was the highest grossing film in China's history. 

Grade: B







  


           





Friday, December 26, 2014

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)



Rated: R


Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Director: Dan Gilroy
Genre: Thriller

It's clear from the get-go that Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a seriously creepy individual. The kind of person who looks right through you when you're speaking to him--the one-track brain focused on whatever grisly obsession is occupying it at the time.  


Bloom is a petty thief, and right off we observe him punching out a security guard who has happened upon him stealing chain-link fencing. But he's not satisfied with his lowly station in life. He has ambition, and he's an opportunist, searching for that spark of an idea that will catapult him into the big time. He finds it when he begins stumbling across accident scenes, observing the "nightcrawlers," or free-lance videographers doing their work. He gets himself a camera and a police radio and he's in business. 


Lucky for him there's a TV station in L.A. that will run the gory footage he obtains on their nightly news. (Here's where I thought the script was a mite over the top, as most stations still show at least some discretion about such things, but maybe we're not far away from that.)   


Nina (Rene Russo) is the news director of said media outlet. A little paranoid about hanging onto her job at a station whose ratings are in the toilet. In Lou she sees the perfect collaborator. By scooping the other stations in la la land with the bloody or sensational footage Lou provides, she envisions the pathway to her own salvation. He pressures her to include sex in their working relationship and she accedes, an indicator of how far she is willing to compromise to obtain her own objectives. 


At one point we realize that they are total kindred spirits, and that's where Nightcrawler makes its cynical statement. Yes, it's a character study about sociopaths, but it's also saying something about the public that eats this kind of stuff up. The law of supply and demand. 


Gyllenhaal has a Golden Globe nomination for his work here, and deservedly so. It's a multi-layered performance with elements of dark comedy, as all the while Lou is revealing himself as an entity without a whit of empathy or human compassion, he's lecturing his assistant in a moralistic fashion about the importance of good business practices.       


Grade:  B +



JILL'S TAKE

Tim has pretty well covered the salient points but I'd like to give a special kudo to the cinematographer whose darkly sinister shots of Los Angeles helped creep out the viewer before any of Lou Bloom's antics did. And, believe me, this is one creepy character on a level with Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men (minus the pageboy haircut). According to Hollywood gossip, Jake G. Lost 35 pounds for this role. That weight loss definitely added authenticity to his soulless, deep-socketed eyes. And persona.

The film scolds us all for being such gore-hungry humans, ever curious to gawk at auto accidents. Violence is a money-making commodity, for sure. My quarrel with Nightcrawler? I felt the sex angle between the two main characters was unnecessary. We already knew how driven and desperate they both were. Other than that, it's an intense movie that keeps you gripping your arm rests throughout.

Grade: B




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

DUMB AND DUMBER TO (2014)



Rated: PG-13


Stars: Jim Carrey,  Jeff Daniels,  Kathleen Turner

Director: Bobby Farrelly, J. B. Rogers
Genre: Comedy



I'm going to say up front that Jill talked me into seeing this movie. As a lark. Like gassing up at Texaco and peeing in the park. Just to see how stupid one movie could actually be. And with a title like Dumb And Dumber To, the Farrelly Brothers were giving themselves carte blanche to go there in spades. 


I'll put it this way. If the characters of Lloyd and Harry that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are playing were real people, they would be confined to an institution. Which, ironically, is where we find them at the beginning of the flick. Lloyd has been in a catatonic state for the last twenty years (the time that has elapsed since the original Dumb & Dumber). Harry visits to change his diaper and wipe his butt.  And, of course, we get to watch. (Changing a grown person's diaper may be funny only if you're not the one doing it!)


There is a plot. Harry needs a kidney transplant, and he needs to find a relative who would make a donor match. So they go in search of the daughter he never knew. It goes on from there, but it doesn't bear mentioning because the plot exists to serve the slapstick nature of the film, which is aimed at 12 to 15 year-old boys who are still fascinated with fart jokes. (And certain rather twisted adults...not mentioning any names!)


There were about three gags in the whole movie that made me laugh out loud. Jill, on the other hand, was spewing her drink all over the place. (Just kidding--we're too cheap to pay those inflated concession prices.)  


Kathleen Turner, a bombshell in films like Body Heat back in the 80s is...well...let's be kind and say matronly looking at this stage of the game. Give her credit for saying, in essence, time flies and this is me....so suck it! Don't look back. Which I'm trying not to do because I'm thinking that for the price of admission to this film, I could have gotten myself a couple bean burritos and started cracking my own fart jokes. 


Grade: C -



JILL'S TAKE

Had I not suggested this super silly cinematic experience, Tim wouldn't have been able to pen such a witty review. (So there!) As I entered the totally empty theater, something told me I was in for 'beyond stupid.' Then two more people sauntered in, looking embarrassed to be seen. Okay. It was a ridiculous film but you could tell that the actors were having a blast. My advice? If you are knowingly going to a movie with a title like this one, forget about plot, character development and nuance. Leave all that at the door.

Yes, I laughed out loud. And, yes, I'll admit I enjoyed Jim Carrey's antics and Jeff Daniels idiotic facial expressions. (A far cry from the role he plays in the HBO series "The Newsroom" for which he won an Emmy.) But it takes a very special person—a very brainless one—to get into the spirit of Dumb And Dumber To. It's hard for me to imagine anyone who reads this blog going to see this particular flick But I'm not sorry I did....

Grade: C


Saturday, December 6, 2014

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014)



Rated: PG-13

Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones

Director: James Marsh
Genre: Biopic/Drama

If you've hesitated to see the Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory Of Everything, because you thought you'd be staring at a blackboard full of mathematical equations for two hours, have no fear. This film is a love story, plain and simple, and the only thing about it that may be difficult to understand is how the relationship between Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Jane (Felicity Jones) endured through difficulties of cosmic proportions.


Hawking, as you know, is the brilliant astrophysicist who developed ALS--or Lou Gehrig's Disease--while still a young man. But as his motor skills declined, eventually confining him to a wheelchair, Jane's determination to make their life together as normal as possible in every other way, grew. 


He was a student at Cambridge when he met the comely Jane Wilde at a dance. There's a glance...at a dance...you know how that goes. And while the bespectacled Hawking wasn't much to look at, perhaps she already knew she was going to be attracted to him for his mind--and so she never asks why he doesn't love her for hers, as under the circumstances, that would be just too ironic!


Felicity Jones brings to her role such a fierce determination to love this man in spite of everything, (and even the theory of everything) through thick and thin--raising a family of three children together and all the rest--that her performance must be singled out as Oscar nomination worthy. The same goes for Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn) who deserves kudos just for mastering all the facial contortions and such that were required to nail down this role.  


We do learn a bit about black holes and the like along the way, but The Theory Of Everything is, above all, a film about the most powerful and enduring force in the universe...and that is Love.


Grade:  A



JILL'S TAKE

What can I say that Tim hasn't already said?  Plenty. To begin with, I was sure I'd be put off by watching the physical deterioration of Hawking – imitated to painfully realistic perfection by Eddie Redmayne. But the actor's smile was so winning, his spirit so ebullient, that I got totally wrapped up in Hawking's life, i.e. the relationships he had -- with his wife, his parents, his classmates, and his mega-intellectual colleagues. Still, as a woman, I found it inconceivable that their marriage was as "normal" as it appeared to be  under the circumstances.

Caretakers often lose their identities and, in this case, when Hawking's mother-in-law (played way too briefly by Emily Watson –The Book ThiefWar Horse,Hilary and Jackie, etc. ) suggests to her daughter that she should join the local church choir, it is a life and soul-saving move. I wouldn't want to give away too much more but the actor (Harry Lloyd) who plays the choir director was appropriately sensitive and highly believable in the part. Because The Theory Of Everything is a star vehicle for Redmayne, who will definitely win an Oscar this year, Mr. Lloyd's performance will undoubtedly get swept under the red carpet.

Despite the inherent sadness Hawking's situation evokes, I left the theatre feeling uplifted and hopeful. It's a wonderful film that I can find nothing to criticize.

Grade:: A+