Thursday, September 16, 2010


Stars: Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Christina Applegate, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jim Gaffigan

Director: Nanette Burnstein

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Going the distance means doing whatever it takes in order to accomplish your goal--such as when you're in your car and you urgently need to find a restroom--sometimes going miles out of your way as a result of this desperate need. Going The Distance is a romantic comedy about the desperate need of long-distance lovers to be together.

Erin (Drew Barrymore) is an intern with a New York city newspaper. Garrett (Justin Long) works in the record industry. They meet at a bar and subsequently develop a love relationship. (Because everybody knows that a bar is the kind of place where you'll meet that quality person you'll want to spend the rest of your life with!) But Erin is moving back to San Francisco to go to college, leaving Garrett to pine away for her in New York.

The long-distance relationship begins, and when Garrett flies out to the west coast, he meets Erin's sister, Corrine, (Christina Applegate) and her dimwit hubby, Phil, (Jim Gaffigan) neither of whom are especially enamored with him. But love survives, and Erin finds herself back in New York, trying to get it on in Garret's bedroom while his whacked-out roommate is orchestrating the couple's tryst by playing what he considers appropriate theme music through the wall.

But distance eventually puts a strain on any relationship, and things begin to sour when the lovers face the reality that one of them will have to give up his or her life as it is and move to where the other resides.

Going The Distance has lots going for it--including a great supporting cast. Garrett's buddies (Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) are creatively foul-mouthed and goofy, and a good share of the laughs in this film come as a result of their antics. On the distaff side, Christina Applegate is refreshingly lewd in her sisterly banter with Erin ( always nice to see an actress you've originally noticed in some inane TV sitcom completely shedding that image and just letting the gutter talk fly). In fact, once or twice I found myself thinking WHOA--did they REALLY say that? The dialogue (crisp, but seldom clean) hits new heights for an R-rated film on the potty-mouth meter.

The pacing of Going The Distance is euphoria inducing, buoyed by a lilting soundtrack that features one of my all-time favorite songs: "Don't Get Me Wrong" by the Pretenders--and, perhaps, the best editing job I've seen. It moves seamlessly from scene to scene with a homogeneous momentum. (Eat, Pray, Love film editor, take note!)

A bit where Garrett goes to one of those spray-on tan places in preparation for his trip to the west coast--fumbling about inside the cubicle, holding onto his privates, (for some odd reason...why shouldn't they be tan too?) and getting sprayed in the eye, induces a laugh-and shake-your-head-at-the-same-time reaction. An awkward attempt at long-distance phone sex is silly-- but funny/silly--compounding the sense of frustration the lovers feel about their predicament.

Romantic comedy equals formulaic plot, but I was enjoying this movie to the point of where I didn't think much about making any big deductions for that.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Now playing at home: HARRY BROWN (Rated R)

Stars: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed-Miles, Ben Drew

Director: Daniel Barber

Genre: Action/Thriller

Not far back I wrote that Michael Caine was one of a select group of actors that I would go to watch, even if his movie sucked. I've followed up on that statement by viewing Harry Brown, a film as violent, cynical, and mean as they come.

Caine plays Harry Brown, an elderly widower and ex-marine. When his old compadre Leonard (David Bradley) is slain by young London street thugs, he turns into a British version of Clint Eastwood's vengeful character of Walt in Gran Torino, with a little Dirty Harry mixed in. Harry goes on a vigilante rampage --trying to find the punk who did the deed--blowing away anyone who gets in his way. The once mild-mannered pensioner becomes as cold-blooded as his adversaries, and that's the tragedy of the eye-for-an-eye ethos--it brings everyone down to a sub-human level.

Caine is superb in his portrayal of a man who slowly (and chillingly) morphs from average, look-the-other-way citizen into a calculating and relentless force to be reckoned with, despite his advanced age. The drug-addicted low lifes he's dealing with put the sadistic delinquents from A Clockwork Orange to shame. They rule the streets, as the police are portrayed as lamebrained, wimpy, and ineffective-- the one exception being the talented Emily Mortimer in an understated performance as the police detective who begins to sniff Harry out when the bodies start piling up.

Harry Brown will appeal to the vigilante justice crowd--feeding into the frustration ordinary folks feel about a world seemingly out of control (an erroneous perception fueled by the media).

Technically, the film is well done, but there is no subtlety in its uncompromising message. Dirty Harry did it with more panache, and the old spaghetti westerns did it with more style and imagination.


Friday, September 3, 2010


Stars: George Clooney, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido, Johan Leysen

Director: Anton Corbijn

Genre: Thriller

Not your normal Hollywood fare, The American grabs hold of you with one of the most startling opening scenes you're ever likely to see. And then the movie becomes brooding and introspective, but we've been put on notice of the kind of thing that can--and will be expected--to happen again. We're just waiting to see who, how, what, when and where.

George Clooney is Jack, a hired assassin. We don't know who he's working for, other than the weathered dude (Johan Leysen) who gives him instructions over the phone. Other assassins are after him, trying to knock him off before he can knock them off--kinda like the old Mad Magazine's Spy Vs Spy. We don't know who they're working for either...CIA? KGB? Or just some murderous SOB? This uncertainty has the effect of bringing all events into the immediacy of the NOW--which is where, ideally, life should be lived anyway. Every small thing that happens is magnified in significance, and with all those shadowy folks out gunning for him, Jack is naturally a little paranoid. So just sitting down for a cup of coffee with someone has him second guessing himself--as well as the person he's with--his finger constantly poised upon the trigger.

After the opening incident, which occurs in the snowy white Swedish countryside, Jack is instructed to hole up in a small Italian village. There, he is to deliver a custom made weapon to a mysterious female hit woman named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). We don't know who she'll be targeting, but it's going to make a big splash in the newspapers.

Jack is befriended by a local priest, Father Benedetto, (Paolo Bonacelli) who senses that the American is up to something, and talks to him about sin. But the hired gunman is a cold, hard customer...until he gets involved with a beautiful prostitute named Clara, (Violante Placido) who wants to have more than a business relationship with him. (After all--it IS George Clooney!) Jack discovers that his conscience--deeply buried--is still alive in there somewhere, and decides he wants to get out of the killing game and start a normal life with Clara. BUT--with the kind of karma he has incurred for himself, will it be too late?

The American has a traditional plot, but refreshingly so. You don't need a scorecard to follow it, like a lot of thrillers these days (Inception, for example) that leave you scratching your head, wondering if they made it so complicated because they wanted you to come back and pony up your money a second or third time, just to try to figure it out.

The scenery is pleasant to the eye--not the least of which is the oft-naked Violante Placido as Jack's love interest.

If you're the type of moviegoer who needs to have everything spelled out at the end with a neat little bow on top, you'll be displeased. But if you can take the larger view and grasp that The American is about "sin" on a universal scale--and that all those tidy little details would be superfluous, I think you'll come away satisfied.

And if you're the ruthless sort yourself--not an assassin, but a business person, let's say--who tries to screw your customers by running TV commercials with a lot of unreadable fine print at the bottom of the screen that contradicts everything that's coming out of your mouth--you may find yourself reassessing your skulduggery, and developing perhaps a tiny speck of conscience, after viewing this film.