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Entries in Josh Brolin (5)

Friday
Jan312014

Labor Day

Jason Reitman has always excelled as a director by finding the extraordinary in the mundane. “Juno,” for example, was a simple story about a young, pregnant girl who use sarcasm to hide her insecurities and was forced to grow up before she was ready. “Up in the Air” was about a businessman who flew all over the world trying to hit the elusive 10 million mile mark only to discover that he has been chasing a meaningless dream. Eventually, he realized that, despite being surrounded by hundreds of people every day, he was just as lonely around them as he was back home by himself. However, in his latest film, “Labor Day,” Reitman attempts the opposite: to find the mundane in an extraordinary situation. As talented as he and his cast are, they can’t make this approach work. Its story is slow, hard-to-swallow, heavy handed and more worthy of eye rolls than tears.

“Labor Day” takes place in 1987. Young Henry (Gattlin Griffith) lives with his mother, Adele (Kate Winslet). She has been depressed and lonely ever since her husband, Gerald (Clark Gregg), left her. One day while out shopping, she and Henry are abducted by Frank (Josh Brolin), a recently escaped convict who was serving an 18 year sentence for murder. While at the hospital to get his appendix taken out, he jumped out of the second floor window while the cops were out for a smoke, resulting in a damaged leg. Since he has nowhere to go and can’t move well, he demands Adele drive him to her home where he shacks up for a few days. While there, he cleans, cooks and even fixes broken appliances, which slowly causes Adele to fall in love with him.

The way these moments are handled actually downplays the kidnapping. Never mind the fact that prior to these moments, he was gripping her son’s neck in a violent and threatening way. Or that he tied her up while Henry sat helplessly. Or that he used Henry as his guinea pig to shoo visitors away while he kept Adele from squealing nearby. Sure, Frank killed someone and could potentially kill her and Henry, but boy, can that man make a pie!

And there is its fundamental problem. “Labor Day” tries to negate the evildoings by showing that, hey, Frank is kind of a nice guy. Things may not be as clear cut as they seem, as evidenced by numerous flashbacks that are edited in so randomly as to be initially confusing, but the characers don’t know that. The film tries to make Adele a sympathetic character and, to an extent, she is—she’s clearly heartbroken and longs for some type of affection from someone other than her son—but as Henry puts it, it wasn’t losing his father that broke her heart, but the idea of losing love itself. She’s so desperate for that affection that she quickly looks past the threatening nature of Frank, which could potentially put her own son in harm’s way, for a quick emotional fix. If Frank had explained his indiscretions instead of giving vague assurances like “I’ve never intentionally hurt anyone,” then perhaps her decisions would have held more validity. Such is not the case, however, so they instead come with a lack of reasoning and a type of selfishness that makes her character extremely off-putting.

Thematically, Jason Reitman has never been too subtle. As good as the aforementioned “Juno” and “Up in the Air” are, you’d have to be pretty clueless to not see what they’re going for, but the events surrounding those themes were at least a bit more downplayed, particularly in “Up in the Air.” This makes me wonder what he was thinking while directing this. While some of the in-your-face pervasiveness can be attributed to others (the none-too-subtle score and sound editing quickly come to mind), others are clearly his own doing. The tone of the film is a complete mess, as is the dialogue that works as its foundation. Despite a score that makes it pretty clear upon his onscreen arrival that Frank is not necessarily who he seems to be, the film still tries to throw us off the trail with conflicting dialogue and character mood swings. Frank’s initial hostility quickly turns to a feeling of gratitude right before he once again starts issuing threats; a clumsy arc in an all-around clumsy movie.

To make matters worse, Brolin, in an uncharacteristically mediocre performance does everything he can to manufacture suspense, perhaps at the request of Reitman. He stays inside and away from prying eyes for the majority of the movie, but when he actually does come face-to-face with another person, he couldn’t be more suspicious if he tried. Every event that plays out in “Labor Day,” from the opening sequence to the final shot, is so preposterous that it’s far too difficult to take seriously, a request the film so desperately doles out to its viewers.

Adapted from the 2009 novel of the same name, “Labor Day” is awkwardly paced, tonally inconsistent and narratively absurd. One could joke that the movie came either too late or really early in relation to the actual day the title alludes to, but I’ll say in all seriousness that I wish it had never come at all.

Labor Day receives 1/5

Friday
May252012

Men in Black 3

Men in Black 3 is an oddity. Nobody was really asking for it, but at the same time, it’s easy to understand why it’s here. It comes from a popular franchise with a likable, funny star that has always churned out impressive box office numbers and this new installment is likely to do the same. Still, Men in Black 3 shows its age and while it’s not the funniest movie in the world (especially when compared to the previous installments), it makes up for it with a surprisingly affecting story and an ending that makes you completely reevaluate the relationship between the two main characters.

The film begins with a sultry vixen who is about to break the last Boglodite in the universe, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), out from a top secret prison located on the moon. He has been locked up for over 40 years thanks to Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), who shot off his arm in the apprehension, and his first order of business is to take him out before that fateful day. He succeeds in doing so, but only after going back in time, all the way back to 1969. K’s partner, Agent J (Will Smith) is the only person who isn’t affected by the altered history (for nebulous reasons), so he also heads back in time to save the young K (Josh Brolin) from an untimely demise.

The first thing one notices when watching Men in Black 3 is how much its stars have aged. In the other films, Jones played the hardened older man who had to put up with the uncouth style of a young Will Smith. Now, Jones isn’t playing the hardened older man. He has actually become one and his lack of caring shows. He coasts by in this role, almost as if he’s wondering why he’s there dressed up once again in a black suit, shooting CGI creations with silly looking plastic guns. The filmmakers try to recreate the magic from the other films, but the original film came out 15 years ago and Smith doesn’t fit the young, quick witted role anymore. He’s old enough where he could play the hardened older K from the original film and a younger face could play him.

In their attempt to recapture the olden days, the humor comes off as outdated as well. This futuristic, science fiction, alien invasion movie, which should be able to come up with better jokes than the typical “look how old this stuff is” material so many time travel movies rely on, succumbs to just that. The neuralyzer, the spiffy device used to wipe the memories of those who witness the actions of the Men in Black, takes time to charge and is attached to a battery pack, for example. It’s this type of laziness that keeps the movie from matching its predecessors in laughs. If you’re going for the comedy, you might as well not go at all.

However, what Men in Black 3 misses in that area, it makes up for with its solid story and emotional ending. It may have an uninteresting and barely menacing villain played by a miscast actor who isn’t all that compelling to begin with, but viewers aren’t going for him. They’re going for the connection between K and J, to watch their relationship grow, and boy does it ever. The final scene, a twist that is satisfying without being obvious, works incredibly well and makes you appreciate their characters that much more. It adds a new, more personal, layer to their relationship that works in the moment, even if it may not necessarily work in conjunction with previous films.

Only repeat viewings of the other two movies will be able to tell if it does or not, sans for a few unmissable plot holes like the supposedly long history Agent K has with Agent O (played in the present day by Emma Thompson and in the past by Alice Eve), despite her exclusion in the series up until this point. The character is connected very loosely to what’s going on, serving only as an expositional narrative device, and fails on multiple levels of poor screenwriting because of it. But the movie as a whole, as cliché as it is to say, is greater than the sum of its parts. Men in Black 3 isn’t a reinvigoration of the franchise or particularly interesting as a standalone film, but as the emotional bookend to two memorable and lovable characters, it works.

Men in Black 3 receives 3/5

Wednesday
Dec222010

True Grit

Many claimed years ago that the Western genre was dead. It’s an easy argument to make and a tough one to refute because the sheer number of films has decreased substantially (and I’m talking about true Westerns, not simply films with Western elements like Serenity or Jonah Hex). But I would argue they aren’t dead; they’re just dormant. Along with 2007’s terrific 3:10 to Yuma and the Coen brothers’ newest, hotly anticipated film, True Grit, proof is offered up that there is still some life breathing in those old Western lungs.

True Grit, adapted from the 1968 novel by Charles Portis (which was previously adapted to film in 1969 by John Wayne), tells the story of little Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who is seeking out revenge against the man who murdered her father, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Despite her strong personality, she is too little and weak to get the job done herself, so she hires bounty hunter and ex-US marshal, Reuben Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help. However, a Texas lawman named La Boeuf (Matt Damon) is also on Chaney’s trail, hoping to bring him in for a separate crime he committed in his home state. Although they initially agree to work together, a disagreement sets La Boeuf off on his own and a race for Chaney’s head begins.

With the exception of Burn After Reading, the Coen brothers are yet to make a movie I dislike. With No Country for Old Men, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and the oft forgotten, but all the same terrific, Blood Simple (all of which they wrote the screenplays for as well), the two siblings are one of the strongest forces in Hollywood. True Grit only reaffirms that statement. It’s a rough, tough, mean and entertaining romp through the wastelands of the old West, a vision we rarely see in our modern cinematic society that is too busy looking forward to remember where it's been.

This is how movies used to be made. Unlike 3:10 to Yuma, which more or less caved into the pressures of a modern audience that calls for action packed extravaganzas, True Grit takes its time. It’s about the characters and story, not how high the body count can reach. The Coen brothers may not always seem to know what movies audiences will flock to, but they know what makes a movie good and that is all that matters.

And part of making a good movie, of course, is assembling a talented cast. Jeff Bridges, collaborating with the dynamic duo for the first time since 1998’s The Big Lebowski, gives an award worthy performance as Reuben Cogburn. What with this and the much anticipated Tron: Legacy, he’s having quite a week. Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Berry Pepper all show up to lend their considerable talents as well, the latter of whom is so good it almost makes me want to forgive his annoying performance in one of this week’s other (not nearly as good) releases, Casino Jack.

The weak standout is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who sometimes recites her lines as if she’s standing on a stage. While not a bad actress, she has a tough time working opposite Bridges and Damon. Whereas their dialogue flows naturally, hers is a bit stilted at times. She speaks with a matter-of-fact attitude, which suits her quick talking character, but there is a refusal to speak in contractions that brings the dialogue to a halt. Regardless of whether or not it was for authenticity’s sake, it didn’t work and became a major distraction.

That predicament isn’t limited only to Steinfeld, however; it’s a mass problem among every character. Contractions are used liberally, seemingly only when a line wouldn’t have been funny otherwise. This inconsistent approach is what bugged me the most about True Grit, but the wonderful direction, otherwise great performances and beautiful cinematography make it easy to forgive. This is the Coen brothers' best movie since No Country for Old Men. It's a must see.

True Grit receives 4/5

Friday
Sep242010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Being a movie critic sometimes means having to go back and watch older films to prepare for new ones. If something is being remade, it’s my duty to watch the original first. The same rule applies to sequels. In some cases, it doesn’t really matter, but in others, it is absolutely crucial to be up to date on the story. Such is the case with Wall Street. Having just watched it only 24 hours before the sequel entitled Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, I believe I appreciate it more than I would have had I not. Although outdated, that 1987 drama was solid and entertaining. The modern sequel is pretty much the same.

The movie begins with Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) getting out of jail after serving eight years in a federal prison. He has lost everything: his money, his family and his friends. Flash forward seven years and we meet Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a “Wall Street guy” that is in a relationship with Gekko’s daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), despite her hatred brought on by her father for anything associated with Wall Street. After the death of Jake’s mentor and friend, he meets and begins a casual relationship with Gekko, much to Winnie's disapproval, vowing to take revenge on Bretton James (Josh Brolin), his hedge fund manager that he suspects led his mentor to suicide.

I’m not a business man and I don’t pretend to be. The workings of Wall Street are confusing to me. When to buy, when to sell, what the repercussions are if you’ve invested stock in a company that goes under; all of that boggles my mind. Throw in equity loans, leverage, bailouts, insider training and a scheme to somehow take a multi-billionaire down by making him more money, and my brain begins to hurt.

Fortunately, this movie, nor its predecessor, is too concerned with all of that. The nature of the movie says those things must exist, but the story and messages are easy to decipher. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is about greed and how it corrupts individuals into partaking in illegal activities, even if that means hurting those close to them. Within the film, that simple, prevalent theme works.

The problem is that the movie doesn’t go further by relating it to our country now. When asked if their company was going under, Jake’s mentor casually says, “Who isn’t?” At one point, the movie mentions how those laid off by a failing company eventually end up with “no income, no job and no assets.” But those are merely passing statements. It never truly makes a point on how jobs and our economy have been affected by, among other things, corruption on Wall Street.

Given Oliver Stone’s political slant, it comes as surprising that those areas weren’t explored to give the movie a bit more intellectualism, but no matter. The actors, specifically Michael Douglas, do a fine job of keeping our attention. As mentioned, watching Wall Street prior to the sequel boosted my enjoyment, and here’s how. As Roger Ebert pointed out in his review, Gordon Gekko went from being the villain in the original to the hero here. He is shown in a much more sympathetic light and, try as you might, you will come to like and understand the old guy. His life experiences, which include his time in jail, have made him more aware of what really matters in life, telling Jake at one point, “Money is not the prime asset in life. Time is.” He still does some bad things—after all, old habits are hard to break—but he’s a human being this time and, more than anything else in the world, wants to be there for his daughter, though she has rejected him ever since he has been in jail. Walking out of the gates for the first time in eight years, he expects Winnie to be there waiting for him. When she isn’t, sadness sweeps over his face. Watching the evolution of character from one movie to the next was fascinating and Douglas gives a wonderful performance.

Nevertheless, this is still a messy movie. Stone goes overboard with distracting visual excess, including the use of wipes and split screen, and there’s a subplot involving Jake’s mother that fits no logical place in the story and should have been cut. In another 23 years, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps may be just as outdated as its predecessor—besides, business changes and Wall Street does along with it—but good drama is good no matter what time period and, despite some shortcomings, this movie works.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps receives 3/5

Friday
Jun182010

Jonah Hex

Comic book movies are all the rage these days. With Iron Man, The Dark Knight and the X-Men flicks tearing up the box office, it should be expected. Coming soon are Thor, Captain America and The Green Lantern, but for now we have to contend with Jonah Hex, a cataclysmic disaster that was dead in the water from frame one.

The film stars Josh Brolin as Hex, a former soldier in the Civil War who had everyone and everything he ever loved taken away from him at the hands of the evil Quentin Turnbull, played by John Malkovich. On top of the emotional torture from watching his family burn to death, Turnbull brings him some physical pain by branding his initials on his cheek, though Hex quickly does away with it later by burning off the side of his face, leaving a giant whole in his cheek and a cleft lip on his right side. Now he lives only to seek vengeance and kill Turnbull, finding himself closer than he's ever been after gathering information on his whereabouts by talking to a dead guy (did I mention he could do that?). Oh, and there’s also a prostitute named Lilah, played by Megan Fox, who has some sort of history with Hex and loves him despite his monstrous looks.

I guess. Take away the credits and Jonah Hex is one hour and 15 minutes. There’s so little time spent on story that there practically isn’t one. Why does Lilah love Hex? How the hell did he get that power? And what is Turnbull’s motivation? After killing Hex’s family, we find out that he has a plan to destroy the soon-to-be-one-hundred-years-old America with a previously unused weapon, a bunch of shiny yellow balls that can apparently wipe out whole continents. His hatred for America is never explained. Nothing is. This thing putters along exhaustingly and still barely reaches the finish line despite its short runtime.

I suppose that’s okay, though, because the little bit of story that is here is unappealing and nonsensical. Stretching it out would have been unbearable. It’s a lose-lose situation no matter how it’s looked at. It hides behind the veil of a comic book and throws in some mysticism for good measure, but Jonah Hex is little more than a revenge picture, not unlike the hundreds of others we’ve already seen, and it’s a terrible one at that.

Its main drawback is that Hex simply isn’t an engaging character. He lost his family in a devastating fire at the hands of a madman, but he cracks jokes as often as possible. He pretends to be doing good deeds, but he’s a ruthless killer and will take you down if you step in his way. There’s no reason to root for him. The usually reliable Brolin gives a lackadaisical performance, as if he knew he was working his way through dreck and couldn’t wait to be done.

It feels that way for the rest of the actors as well. Most are miscast, including Malkovich and funnyman Will Arnett as Lieutenant Grass whose usage in the film is nebulous at best, but Fox trumps them all. Outside of one moderately passable creepy turn in Jennifer’s Body, she has churned out one bad performance after another, proving herself to be little more than eye candy.

The only thing left when you take away the nonexistent story, bad performances and uninteresting characters is the action, but the director Jimmy Hayward, whose only other directorial effort is the animated Horton Hears a Who!, doesn’t know how to stage them. Not since National Treasure have I been so bored watching what ultimately amounts to inconsistent, dull, phony action.

Writing credits on this train wreck go to Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the minds behind Gamer and the two Crank pictures, and when they saw the potentially disastrous route this thing was heading down, they gave up their spots as directors and abandoned it completely. Consider this if you will: their previous films are dumb fun at best and just dumb at worst. Jonah Hex couldn't even meet those standards. And that's saying something.

Jonah Hex receives 0.5/5