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Entries in leighton meester (3)

Friday
Oct102014

The Judge

With all the recent hoopla surrounding “The Avengers” and the “Iron Man” franchise, it might be easy to forget that Robert Downey Jr. is a damn fine actor even when outside of that iconic suit. Even when his films fail to live up to expectations (2009’s “The Soloist” being a perfect example), he shines. His latest, “The Judge,” may be his single best performance yet. Working opposite the always fantastic Robert Duvall, he gives the rawest, most emotional performance of his storied career. However, like “The Soloist,” the film he resides in is less than the sum of its parts. An occasionally sloppy script and baffling directorial decisions keep this from going very far, but if you enjoy seeing two great actors at the top of their game, you can’t go wrong here.

Downey Jr. plays Hank Palmer, a soon-to-be-divorced lawyer whose cases consist entirely of defending the guilty and getting them off for whatever crime they may have committed. Naturally, he’s not a courthouse favorite, nor has he made his father, the titular Judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall), particularly proud, despite his talents. One day, he gets a call that his mother has died, so he heads back to his hometown in Indiana. A cynical man, he has clearly outgrown the small minded nature of this otherwise friendly town, a place where everyone knows each other and drivers wave as they pass each other on the road.

He hasn’t been home in years and as soon as he arrives, the hostility that kept him away resurfaces. His brothers, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong), do their best to diffuse the situation, though the latter has a harder time dealing with it due to mental illness, but his father keeps pushing. Eventually, the judge heads out to the grocery store, for both practical reasons and to get away from his disappointing son, but arrives home with no memory of what happened. Unfortunately, there’s blood on his car and a body on a road he was spotted on, the victim a violent criminal he gave a second chance to many years ago. Did he purposely run this man down to make up for his past mistake or was this a simple accident? Regardless of the answer, Hank decides to stick around and defend his father.

“The Judge” suffers not from an uninteresting premise. Although it heads in obvious directions and the eventual answer to the above question is likely to be answered by the audience far before the characters onscreen, the foundation that the narrative is built upon is sturdy. Unfortunately, it’s the execution that cripples the film. Directed by David Dobkin, a man most known for his goofball comedies like “Wedding Crashers,” “The Change-Up” and “Fred Claus,” the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Does it want to be a lighthearted dramedy about family, a message movie about moving on and forgiving others or something else entirely? It’s never very clear, as the tone shifts from here to there and back around again.

Mixing tones is not an inherently bad thing, but Dobkin simply doesn’t have a clean grasp on any of them. As one critic friend whispered in my ear during our screening, “The Judge” occasionally plays like a Lifetime movie, complete with sappy music and cheesy dialogue, and he wasn’t wrong. The music, oddly, ramps up and down seemingly based entirely on those dialogue cues. The music doesn’t enhance what’s being said or depicted, but rather exists as a manipulative force to make it seem like what’s being said has some type of emotional impact. Its lyrical selections are heavy-handed and its other selections sound so similar to the drum heavy nature of those silly crime dramas on television that it’s laughable. Visually, “The Judge” is no better, also moving uncomfortably from tone to tone, but if there’s any consolation to be had, it’s that these moments as described above are infrequent.

The saving grace, again, are the fantastic performances from the stellar cast. Aside from some notable exceptions, like Leighton Meester in a small, inconsequential role—an actress that has starred primarily in nonsense teen dramas and B-movie quality thrillers and doesn't quite have the chops to keep up with her co-stars—everyone here is great and elevates the substandard material into something more than it would be otherwise. The dialogue isn’t great, but it’s delivered with such gusto that you buy into it. It’s easy to understand the motivations and emotions driving Hank and his father, from a basic level of conflicting morals to more serious, unresolved family issues from their pasts that are revealed as the film goes on, and it’s due almost entirely to the actors in the roles.

Stilll, at nearly two and half hours, it’s understandable if certain moviegoers decide to pass on “The Judge” given its many faults, including a wholly unnecessary and uncomfortable side story involving the mystery paternity of Meester’s character, but this is not a bad movie. It is merely an underwhelming one. What had the potential to be one of the best of the year instead ends up as a mildly entertaining diversion; inconsequential, but nevertheless memorable. There will be better movies in the coming months as the awards season ramps up, but you could do worse than “The Judge.”

The Judge receives 3/5

Friday
Jun152012

That's My Boy

Someone needs to put on an intervention for Adam Sandler. The man is so talented and has proven that talent through some amazing performances in dramas like Reign Over Me, Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People, yet he constantly relegates himself to insipid tripe like this week’s That’s My Boy. I suppose one could make the argument that it’s better than his last few movies, but he set the bar so low after Grown Ups and Jack and Jill that he had nowhere to go but up, so that’s hardly saying anything.

Back in the mid-80’s, Donny (played at this time by Justin Weaver) got involved with one of his teachers, the sexy Ms. McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino). Eventually, they were caught and Ms. McGarricle was thrown in jail while Donny became famous. Before their relationship ended, however, Donny got Ms. McGarricle pregnant and because she was about to serve 30 years in prison, Donny was tasked with bringing up the kid, whom he named Han Solo (Andy Samberg). When Han Solo was 18, however, he left and never looked back. Now years later and with the new name of Todd, he is about to be married to the beautiful Jamie (Leighton Meester). He has become hugely successful while Donny (now played by Adam Sandler) has squandered his fortune and is in danger of heading to jail if he can’t pay $43,000 in back taxes. In an effort to get that money, Donny shows up mere days before his kid’s wedding, which is certain to make an otherwise exciting time an anxiety filled nightmare.

As dreadful as That’s My Boy is, its opening isn’t bad. It’s silly, sexy and has one hilarious joke mocking the idea that a young boy who has sex with his insanely attractive teacher is somehow a “victim.” Turn the sexes around and that may be the case, but any male who has gotten through school will tell you of that one teacher they had the hots for, the one they fantasized about during class and would have done anything to mess around with. Parodying the scornful attitude such an event elicits in our society, the film treats Donny like a king, the one who lived out every boy’s dream. While the women condemn the action, the men high five each other over how great they perceive it to be. As a man who had a few attractive teachers in his day, I feel I have the authority to comment on these kids who are lucky enough to bed them. They’re not victims. They’re awesome.

Unfortunately, that bit is the only one that works in That’s My Boy. Other laughs are few and far between, maybe one for every half hour, so at an entirely too long running time of two hours, that’s about four laughs total. The film is full of scatological, masturbatory humor (including an embarrassing scene where Sandler uses Jamie’s grandmother’s picture as inspiration) and we once again have to listen to Sandler speak in a goofy, grating voice. When will he realize it’s not how you speak, but how you deliver the lines that makes what you’re doing funny? Ever since 1998’s The Waterboy (an undeserving hit if there ever was one), Sandler has insisted on crafting a silly voice for many of his roles. Rarely (if ever) has it been funny; this movie doesn’t change that.

Perhaps Sandler and the filmmakers simply forgot what year it was. Sandler tries to hearken back to his “silly voice” days (even predating The Waterboy with his work on Saturday Night Live), while writer David Caspe references pop culture phenomenon that died out over a decade ago, including the “Whassup?” Budweiser beer commercials and the Ricky Martin singles, “Livin’ la Vida Loca” and “She Bangs.” This movie is so outdated that its younger target audience probably won’t even get many of its references, like the one to the late 70’s/early 80’s sitcom, Diff’rent Strokes (yes, it has that line).

But as I’ve said before, even the least funny comedies can be good if they offer up a decent story with likable characters, but That’s My Boy doesn’t muster up much of anything, at least nothing that can be considered good. The characters are either despicable or annoying (usually both) and they give us no reason to care. Donny, for example, was such a terrible father that he forced Todd at a very young age to get a tattoo that encompassed his whole back (and is now distorted thanks to his growth) and he turned him into a diabetic by allowing him to eat candy and cake for breakfast every day. Todd should have been taken away by Child Protective Services at a very young age. Now that he’s older and can look back, Todd hates his father and we understand because we hate him too. Why would we want them to reconcile?

That’s My Boy fails on nearly every level, only conjuring up a few laughs here and there while Sandler pockets another huge paycheck for intellectually crippling our society. I’m sure he’s a great guy and I know he has talent, but the characters he chooses to play are terrible and don’t allow him to showcase it. Despite my frustration, his last few movies sadden me more than they anger. Sandler is capable of so much more and he either doesn’t know it or doesn’t care. Regardless, That’s My Boy is neither funny nor heartfelt and it’s absolutely not worth seeing.

That’s My Boy receives 1/5

Friday
Jul012011

Monte Carlo

I don’t see every new movie release. There are multiple screenings each week for a wide variety of films, some of which I am either unable to attend or not interested enough in to make the trip to the screening room. But for some strange reason, I decided to check out the new Selena Gomez film, Monte Carlo. What a mistake that turned out to be. Never have I been so uninterested in a movie to the point where I find it not even worth criticizing. Nothing would please me more than to just forget about it and move on with my life, but because I attended the screening, I am obligated to write a review. So with my apathy in consideration, read on.

Monte Carlo stars Gomez as Grace, a recent high school graduate who has been saving up for years to afford a trip to Paris. She is hoping her trip to the City of Love will take her mundane life and transform it into something magical. So she, along with stepsister Meg, played by Leighton Meester, and best friend Emma, played by Katie Cassidy, hop on a plane and head out. When they arrive, things don’t go as planned and they end up stumbling into a posh hotel where Grace is mistaken for British heiress, Cordelia, also played by Gomez. Although they know they shouldn’t, they put on a ruse and Grace begins to act like Cordelia. Supposedly funny things begin to happen.

It should be said right off the bat that Monte Carlo is a harmless movie. Sure, the three girls don’t face any repercussions for their outrageous actions, but they learn along the way and grow closer to each other as they wander about one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s not going to, in any way, corrupt its target audience, all of whom I suppose will find enjoyment in it, though it’s hard to say because I’m not, and never have been, a 12 year old girl.

What makes the film so lousy is its strict adherence to formula. Its ambitions go no further than crafting a dream world about love for the young ladies in the audience already looking forward to their wedding days. The entire movie, more or less, is about finding love in Paris (and you know all three will find it by the end), but Paris, Je t’aime this isn’t. It’s unrealistic and cheesy, setting up impossible expectations that will undoubtedly crush those young girls when they get older and realize that relationships are a lot more difficult than the movies make them out to be.

Of course, being harmless doesn’t mean it’s any less stupid, and it treats its viewers the same. It’s one of those films that shows us an instantly recognizable landmark, in this case the Eiffel Tower, and then unnecessarily follows it with huge letters in the middle of the screen: “PARIS” it informs us. It’s a movie that tries to wow us with pretty clothes and jewelry rather than through plot development and emotional power. It even attempts to stir up dramatic tension through hilarious overreactions, like early on when Emma’s boyfriend breaks up with her because he doesn’t want her going to Paris for a whole week. Why, you ask? Who cares.

This film is not meant for me, I know that, but I don’t watch movies for others. I watch them as they are, regardless of demographic. My philosophy is just because a movie is meant for a specific audience doesn’t mean other audiences won’t like it (take last year’s delightful Ramona and Beezus, for example), but Monte Carlo is just dreadful. It’s not funny, romantic, or even interesting to look at, despite the lush backdrops the characters find themselves in.

Monte Carlo receives 1/5