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Entries in Comedy (104)

Friday
Jun252010

Cyrus

Film is ever changing. There’s no doubt about that. If it’s not Avatar leading the 3D movement, it’s something else shaping how we make and view movies. Cyrus is the latest example of what some would call a “mumblecore” film, a relatively new genre that employs a low budget, no name actors and improvised scripts. Other examples include Baghead and last year’s overrated Humpday, both of which, coincidentally, the director of this film was involved in. Starring in the latter and directing the former, Mark Duplass has once again stepped behind the camera with his brother Jay Duplass and churned out another awkward, misguided, unfunny movie.

John C. Reilly plays John, a lonely, desperate man who has been divorced from his wife Jamie, played by Catherine Keener, for seven years. Despite this, they remain friends and she acts as his confidante. One night, she pressures him into heading out to a party with her where he meets a host of women, none of whom seem very interested. That is until he meets Molly, played by Marisa Tomei. He instantly falls for her, but soon finds out that she has a 21 year old son still living with her. His name is Cyrus, played by Jonah Hill, and although he acts courteous, John suspects Cyrus may not want him in their home.

The pairing of John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei is the most unbelievable hookup since Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, and I say that not only because their physical appearances are on two different plains, but because I can’t see any woman finding a shred of affection for Reilly’s character. They first bump into each other as he’s urinating in the bushes outside, stumbling over his words in a drunken stupor and instead of taking interest in her, he rushes inside when he hears his favorite song playing and makes an idiot of himself. Next thing you know, they’re in bed together post-sex. Nothing about the set-up came close to resembling any type of reality because if women were attracted to drunken men acting like morons, I’d have prospects lining up around the block.

So it’s a stretch. I suppose that’s ok. The bulk of the movie is spent with Cyrus and as long as that worked, it would be easy to look past the weak opening. But it doesn’t. The reason is that the titular character is handled so haphazardly you never truly get a feel for what he’s thinking. He clearly resents John for infiltrating his household and threatening to tear his mother away from him and he uses humiliation tactics to prove his point, but there’s an odd sexual tension bubbling underneath. Is he upset because he’s losing his mother or because he can’t, as he puts it, love her the way John can?

It’s worrisome to say the least, but his quirks don’t end there. At times, Cyrus is voyeuristic and watches John and his mother as they walk through the door and make their way to the couch about to partake in some sexual activity. At others, he seems to have homicidal tendencies, appearing behind John at night with a knife and a cold blank stare. There’s something unsettling about Cyrus, deliberate or not, that keeps this movie from leaving the ground.

But then out of nowhere it reverses tones and concludes on an upbeat, happy-go-lucky sequence where the previous tension and hatred dissolves faster than an antacid in water, which didn't fit the sometimes dark and uncomfortable hour and 20 minutes preceding it.

Cyrus simply isn’t very good narratively, but it fails from a technical standpoint as well. It's shot like an amateur home video, full of camera zooms and intentional poor framing, which worked against its intended purpose. Instead of drawing me in through what the directors hoped was a more realistic documentary-esque feel, it became a distraction and pushed me away.

That those are only the beginning of my criticisms shows how hackneyed this poor excuse for a film is. Although categorized by some as “mumblecore,” I would argue it contradicts too many of that genre’s defining features to be considered such. But you can call it what you want. Cyrus is a mess either way.

Cyrus receives 1.5/5

Wednesday
Jun232010

Knight and Day

Last week, Toy Story 3 was presented to the world to almost complete adulation, sans a not too surprising negative review from the critic everyone loves to hate, Armond White. In front of that marvelous film was a short from Pixar called Day and Night, which has more thought and ingenuity put into it than this week’s film reversely titled Knight and Day. That in no way makes it a bad movie, however. On the contrary, it’s a blast, a summer popcorn flick that asks you to check your brain at the door. Like the recent Prince of Persia, I was happy to oblige.

The film stars Cameron Diaz as June, a woman on her way home to attend her sister’s wedding. As a gift to her soon-to-be-wed sis, she has been restoring her father’s old GTO hoping that her sister will love it as much as he did. When she arrives at the airport, she bumps into Roy, played by Tom Cruise, a rogue agent on the run from the FBI after being set up by his former partner. June doesn’t yet know this, however, and steps foot onto the plane, unaware of what is about to happen. In the bathroom, she musters up the courage to make a move on Roy only to walk out and find everybody dead, including the two pilots. After safely crash landing in a field, June is drugged and wakes up in her apartment the next day. She thinks she has seen the last of Roy, but he keeps showing up and eventually drags her into his predicament.

There’s more story, something having to do with a battery that can light up entire cities, code named “zephyr,” but what really matters is what I’ve detailed above. Where the two go and why seems unimportant compared to what they do there. The wild action and witty vocal jabs they take at each other are more than enough to please, even if the story seems a bit redundant of other similar pseudo spy comedies like Mr. & Mrs. Smith or Get Smart.

Say what you want about Tom Cruise and his personal life, but the man is a fine actor. Outside of a few select performances, namely the recent Valkyrie, he has always found a way to impress the guys and woo the ladies. He emits vigor and likability at every turn and it’s never been as apparent as it is here. He isn’t merely a side character as he has been in other comedies, such as Tropic Thunder or his brief cameo appearance in Austin Powers in Goldmember. He’s allowed to do his own thing for nearly two hours and he’s great. He’s the kind of actor that can make us forget that what we’re seeing is mindless and surprise us with his versatile mix of humor and physical stunts.

It was the late film critic Pauline Kael who once wrote, “The movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we shouldn’t go at all.” Knight and Day perfectly encapsulates that sentiment. This is the type of movie where the hero stands in wide open spaces surrounded by FBI agents, yet never gets shot. It’s the type of movie where the characters continually make bad decisions. It’s the type of movie whose plot twists are contrived and predictable. It’s stupid, but it’s the right kind of stupid.

When I walked out of Knight and Day, I felt like I had just watched the big screen version of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Action Movies.” It’s not a poorly produced film—on the contrary, it’s quite good—but it’s hard to take this stuff seriously. This is fluff through and through, an entertaining time waster that will drift from my mind as the summer moves along. But rather than look towards the future, I’m reveling in the present and I’m finding that Knight and Day is easy to recommend.

Knight and Day receives 3.5/5

Friday
Jun112010

Solitary Man

There are few actors as versatile as Michael Douglas. He can be scary, he can be timid and he can even be funny, as evidenced by his excellent turn in the otherwise awful Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. He can also be dramatic and deep, however, and his new movie, Solitary Man, shows him at his best. A character study of the highest caliber, this is a movie that deserves to be seen and has proven itself as one of the year’s best.

Douglas plays Ben Kalmen, a former captain of the car industry. In his heyday, he was known as the “honest” car dealer and couldn’t keep cars in his lot if he tried. His name was widely known, but now years later, that name is tarnished. People still know it, but they think of it in a more negative manner due to some illegitimate business decisions that threatened him with jail time and stripped him of his money, pride and family. He spends most nights now on the prowl at the local bars looking for younger girls willing to have some fun despite being in a relationship with Jordan, played by Mary-Louise Parker.

After coming down with the flu, Jordan asks Ben to take her daughter Allyson, played by Imogen Poots, to his old alma mater and show her the ropes. He’s just getting back on his feet business-wise and is close to getting the approval to open up a new dealership, but after making a huge mistake on campus, he loses the opportunity and his already decaying world starts to fall apart even faster. His daughter Susan, played by Jenna Fischer, is getting tired of his inconsistent inclusion in her child’s life and his ex-wife, played by Susan Sarandon, is one of his only means of comfort, though she takes potshots at him as well given his destructive tendencies.

I try to keep my plot synopses relatively short in my reviews, but it’s important to know all of this to understand the character and why this movie is as good as it is, though even then you’ll have to see it to fully appreciate his complexities. He’s not a simple character to decipher. The feelings he holds on the inside don’t match the thick skin on the outside. His pain and his fear are hidden underneath his debauchery and nonchalant attitude.

All of this derives from the opening scene where he is told by a doctor that his EKG looks worrisome due to an irregularity with his heart, but instead of finding out the problem, he leaves and never looks back. He’d rather not live with the knowledge of his impending death and won’t accept that he has grown old in a world that seems increasingly younger. As he says, instead of walking in a room and being the center of attention, the only people who notice him now are the old ones. He has a problem with that and to compensate, he parties like he’s in college and acts like a kid, which distances him from his family.

When he goes out with his daughter and grandson, he orders them not to call him “dad” or “granddad” because he wants to carry the illusion of youthfulness. Instead of showing up for his grandson’s birthday party, he spends a night with a woman and sleeps through it. It isn’t until Susan threatens to take away his right to see his grandson that he begins to wise up.

Of course, a myriad of other factors contribute to his enlightenment as well. He has no income and has been kicked out of his home, forcing him to work as a waiter in a small restaurant owned by an old friend he hasn’t seen in 30 years, and after winding up in a hospital from a cracked rib he realizes he can’t cheat death and that his womanizing and partying has only been a temporary solution to his troubles.

This is where the brilliance of the movie lies. You do get the sense that Ben is starting to see things straight, realizing that the rest of his time on Earth is better spent with his family than with random women he picks up at night, but at the same time that habit is hard for him to break. Ending on a note that offers no definitive conclusion, Solitary Man is a fascinating character study in its own right and shows that just because you’re around people, it doesn’t mean you’re not alone.

Solitary Man receives 4.5/5

Friday
Jun042010

Get Him to the Greek

It’s not everyday you see a comedy that’s truly funny, one that’s smart, well written and delivers laughs to the point of breathlessness. Sure, some are stupidly enjoyable (MacGruber), but those lack soul. The best comedies aim for something higher than simply producing laughter. The best comedies give you an interesting story and characters you can relate to. Get Him to the Greek is one of those comedies. I know it’s been said already by numerous other critics, but it’s true so I’ll reiterate: Get Him to the Greek is the funniest movie since The Hangover.

Jonah Hill plays Aaron Green, a young intern at Pinnacle Records who comes up with a great idea: get rock star Aldous Snow, played by Russell Brand, to do a tenth anniversary performance at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. The rocker has been on a downfall ever since he released a single called “African Child” that was claimed by critics to be “the worst thing to happen to Africa since apartheid,” and this performance may be his opportunity for a comeback, so he agrees. The executive of the record company, played by Sean “Diddy” Combs tasks Aaron with getting Aldous from London to LA, with a stop at “The Today Show” in between. He has three days and with an out of control rocker like Aldous, it’s not going to be easy.

If the name Aldous Snow seems familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve already seen him in action elsewhere. Remember the sleazy rocker having sex with Jason Segel’s girlfriend in Forgetting Sarah Marshall? Yeah, that’s him and he has been given his own spin-off here. Spin-offs always come with risks because a character that worked in small bits in another movie may not be able to fully sustain another and if you asked me beforehand, I would have argued Aldous doesn’t have it in him, but I’m happy to report he does.

From the wild opening to the rocking conclusion, this film provides constant laughs due to the excellent writing and, more importantly, the terrific comedic chemistry between Brand and Hill. It seems like an odd pairing, and it is, but it works. Brand's careless rocker persona is the perfect counterpart to Hill’s seriousness and dedication. Whereas he sees the crazy events unfolding around him and thinks of them merely as another day in the life, the young intern can’t handle it and begins to freak out, most notably in a hysterical late scene where he thinks he’s having a heart attack after taking a puff from a Jeffrey, a joint with all different kinds of ridiculous drugs packed in it.

What will come as a surprise as the credits begin to roll, however, is that you will actually feel for these characters. As I watched, I couldn’t help but compare this to other notable comedies, but I kept thinking, “Sure, this is funny, but I don’t really care what happens.” For instance, in The Hangover, I wanted to know what happened to Doug. Here it didn’t matter to me whether or not they made the concert. But that’s where the film tricks you. It’s not really about that. It’s about the development of Aaron and Aldous. Both learn things along the way, grow as people and when they each break down late in the movie and spill their guts, I was there with them. The emotion took me by surprise and further solidified this picture as quality material.

It’s not perfect, of course, and leaves a few loose ends, like an unfinished story with Snow’s father who shows up, gets his head smashed into a television and then disappears, but it’s nothing that’s going to negatively impact the film too hugely because this thing is funny. Only a handful of jokes don’t work at all and fall flat. The rest are at their worst amusing and at their best uproarious. You need to get yourself to Get Him to the Greek.

Get Him to the Greek receives 4/5

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