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Entries in Anthony Mackie (3)

Friday
Sep302011

What's Your Number?

If there’s one thing that can be said about Anna Faris, it’s that she has no problem putting herself out there. She will make herself look like the biggest idiot in the world if it means she’ll get a laugh. Sometimes, her effort isn’t worthy of the movie she’s in (which is often the case given her less than impressive filmography), but one can’t help but applaud her. Her willingness to be stupid only shows how smart she is. Her latest, What’s Your Number?, subdues her a bit—the crazy antics she pulled in the Scary Movie films are nowhere to be found—but it allows her to stretch. She actually has to act this time and she pulls it off with her excellent comedic timing intact, even if, yet again, her movie is a lousy one.

Ally (Faris) is kind of a slut, but she doesn’t know it yet. She has slept with 19 guys, a number she thinks is normal, despite her girly magazine stating the average for women is 10.5. Later, at her sister’s bachelorette party, she discovers she has had by far the most sexual experiences of any girl in the group. She is then told, without any evidence to back it up, that women who have had over 20 sexual partners are significantly less likely to marry. Scared, she vows to not have sex with another guy until she knows he’s the one, which she promptly breaks that night after getting drunk. As a last ditch effort, she enlists the hunky Colin (Chris Evans), who lives across the hall from her and has a knack for tracking people down, to find her old sexual partners in the hope that sparks will fly and she will end up with one of them, keeping her number at 20.

What’s Your Number? hits its target. It sets out to do something and it does it. The problem is it’s aiming low and relies on every single romantic comedy cliché to push it forward. It’s overlong, closer to 2 hours than an hour and a half, and boy, do you feel every single minute. Did it really need all that time to reach its obvious and inevitable conclusion? The ending in question, to be fair, is uncouth and zany in all the right ways—it keeps the comedy flowing—but it doesn’t change the fact that what it’s doing is unoriginal.

It’s an ending everyone will be able to see coming from the moment Ally and Colin meet, so what the film needs to do is make the journey there worthwhile, but it lacks an interesting story to tell and the humor is spotty at best. Per usual, there’s a break-up between the two lovebirds to make their eventual reconciliation all the sweeter, but the writing neglected to give them a solid reason to do so. The break-up stems from a man named Jake, who, up to that point, hadn’t even been introduced into the film. It’s forced, contrived and the scene is so badly acted by the two leads, it actually ends up providing the movie’s biggest laughs, unintentional though they may be.

But you won’t care. Chances are you’ll be happy Ally has dropped Colin because, frankly, he’s not a good person. He’s the type of guy most self-respecting guys hate. He sleeps with a new girl every night, wakes up the next morning, lies about having an appointment to get to and then sneaks over to Ally’s apartment until they leave. Those poor girls are lucky if he even remembers their name.

The main characters may not be the best in the world, but there are some great cameos by a number of notable actors to keep your interest from totally waning, including Andy Samberg, Aziz Ansari, Thomas Lennon and Anthony Mackie, but the moments spent with them are few and far between. What little effective humor this film has isn’t nearly enough to make up for the fact that it’s yet another tired, formulaic rom-com. I couldn’t even remember the title going in, but its derivativeness promises I’ll soon forget having ever watched What’s Your Number?

What’s Your Number? receives 1.5/5

Friday
Mar042011

The Adjustment Bureau

I’m noticing a trend in Hollywood, and it’s not 3D. While most of each week’s new releases run the gamut of stupidity, every so often there’s a movie that offers up intelligent thought on complicated themes and issues. The trend, however, is that those smart movies go off the deep end by their conclusion and lose what made them so good. January’s The Rite is only one exemplification of that trend, but, thankfully, Matt Damon’s new thriller, The Adjustment Bureau is here to break it.

Damon plays David Norris, who is vying to become the next Senator of New York. Although young, he is popular among his constituents and it looks like he is going to win the race, but after a video of him pranking an old college buddy gets leaked to the public, his numbers go down and he ends up losing. (Such a harmless prank seems like small potatoes when compared to the usual New York politician scandal.) What Norris doesn’t know, however, is that he was predetermined to lose by a mysterious bureau that operates under the public eye and causes things to happen, which adjust the course of time. Harry, played by Anthony Mackie, is assigned to Norris and has set him up for big things in the future, but when he accidentally neglects his duties, Norris comes into contact with Elise, played by Emily Blunt, whom he met once years ago, fell in love with and was never supposed to see again. This oversight also allows Norris to see behind the curtain and learn of the bureau. Rather than dispose of him, he is told to keep their existence a secret and also to stay away from Elise, but his feelings are too strong and he pursues her anyway.

Matt Damon thrillers always have a sense of urgency to them and they’re grounded so steep in drama that lighthearted tones usually pass by the wayside. That isn’t the case with The Adjustment Bureau. While by no means a comedy, the film has a little fun with its subject matter and gives viewers a chance to smile and enjoy themselves. From the opening few minutes, where everybody from Wolf Blitzer to Jon Stewart joins in on the fun, to the zingy one-liners, there’s some real charm here and it instantly pulls you in its grasp.

Though pleasant, that beginning is also deceiving because it sets itself up for a goofy romp, but when it gets into the meat of the story, it brings forth a surprising amount of intelligence. Early allusions to who the bureau actually is open up questions that form the intrigue (and although it’s fairly obvious what they’re hinting at, it could be considered spoilers, so consider yourself warned). The bureau, as answered by Harry early in the film, has been called many things, including angels. They are the overseers who look out for us, but in a different way than most people who believe in angels think. They are not of this world and they operate under “the chairman,” or as earthbound humans call him, God. In this way, the film ponders over the idea of free will. It wonders what would happen if there were indeed a heavenly being watching over us, but didn’t trust us enough to make our own decisions. As one bureau member tells Norris, we are bad at living. We cause too much destruction. It is told that the chairman gave us multiple chances to run our own lives, but we repeatedly squandered the opportunity, so he decided to control us. Another interesting thought is raised here. What if God changed his mind? A discussion like that is probably better left to theologians, but there’s no denying that the argument would ruffle feathers among those who believe in a steadfast, omnipotent God that, due to knowing everything, would never need to change his mind. But it is precisely that questioning of such complicated issues that makes the movie so interesting.

It doesn’t necessarily answer what it questions, but it doesn't have to because it is questioning religion and religion itself is inherently mysterious. In its story construction, however, The Adjustment Bureau comes off as much too vague. When Norris is told he can’t see Elise again, he asks why it matters. They respond with, “because it matters,” which isn’t exactly the most sufficient narrative explanation. With no detailed reason to keep them apart, and the bulk of the movie consisting of him trying to get to her, the question of why keeps lingering in the back of the brain.

It’s not the tightest thriller in that regard, but its abidance by its own set rules shows the care put into its production. Its mythology set by the opening scenes is never disregarded in favor of more action. Instead, it weaves the action around the mythology, which keeps it at a certain level of style and finesse. At its core, however, amidst the sci-fi mystery thrills, The Adjustment Bureau is a romance. Its message that nothing, even divine intervention, can stop two people in love could have come off as sickly sweet, but meaningful performances from Damon and Blunt make it work. It’s the best wide release movie of the year so far and, though it probably won’t reach my end of the year list, you owe it to yourself to check it out. And don’t forget your thinking cap.

The Adjustment Bureau receives 4/5

Friday
Dec172010

Night Catches Us

It can sometimes be difficult to sit through a movie from an amateur, a person who, despite giving a valiant effort, lacks the precision and skill to pull off a major motion picture. Night Catches Us, the debut writing and directorial effort from first time filmmaker Tanya Hamilton, has little amateur about it. While by no means perfect, this is a confident picture that is audacious in its scope and pulled off with carefulness to ensure that its little stumbles don’t do enough to derail it.

The story takes place in Philadelphia in 1976. Marcus (Anthony Mackie) has just returned to his hometown neighborhood after an absence of four years. Upon arrival, he finds himself immediately harassed by members of the soon-to-be-extinct Black Panther party who claim he snitched on a friend of theirs, which led to his death by gunfire from the police. While in town, he shacks up with old friend and current love interest, Patricia (the wonderful Kerry Washington), whose cousin, Jimmy (Amari Cheatom), is causing her more trouble than she can handle as he violently carries out the Black Panthers cry to kill cops.

The Black Panther movement is considered one of the most significant in American history, yet their name holds a negative connotation. While they set out to do good, setting up programs to help those in need of food and healthcare, including what is arguably their most successful program, “Free Breakfast for Children,” their hatred and violent aggression towards authority counteracted any type of political or social statement they may have made otherwise. Night Catches Us passes on the best aspects of the Black Panthers and focuses solely on the worst. They are not shown doing any good in this movie and any positive thing they may have done in the past goes unspoken. For the purpose of the film, they are cop killers.

Why Hamilton did this is a question that remains unanswered, but my theory is that she desired to isolate the bad so those who stand behind the Black Panthers as righteous figures could see what type of harm they were causing. There’s a passion behind this work and you get the feeling that she is saddened by the way certain things were carried out by the movement, knowing in her heart that their messages would have had greater clarity had they not been drowned out by the bangs of gunfire.

In fact, there’s a passion to every facet of Night Catches Us that isn’t limited solely to the writer/director. The actors give downright superb performances, embracing these characters and crafting each one to fit snugly into the context of the story. Some are portrayed as good people who have done wrong while others are shown as collateral damage to the destruction that has been circling around them.

Night Catches Us authentically captures the racial and social divide of the time, never shying away from the harsh realizations of what went down between opposing factions, but with a length of less than an hour and a half, the story feels condensed. Just as it was truly beginning to explore its core themes, it began to wrap up. Perhaps this is where Tanya Hamilton’s lack of experience comes into play. She came onto something that, if expanded and handled a bit more delicately, could have been a tour de force for the fledgling filmmaker. She may not have found her masterpiece, but if she keeps putting out movies like this, she will soon enough.

Night Catches Us receives 4/5