Tag Archive: Steve Carell


Once again taking a brief break from theatergoing, I’ve watched some interesting DVD/on-demand choices recently. Here are three interesting flicks to check out when you have a chance.

 

lawless-banner-posterLawless

250px-WettestcountyfrontcoverBased on the historical novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, this 2012 film focuses on the early 1930s bootlegging business of Matt’s grandfather, Jack Bondurant, and his brothers, Forrest and Howard. It is a gritty, violent, and fascinating look at a time in American history from the perspective of one family subsisting outside the law of the times but with a code all its own.

Jack (Shia LeBoeuf) fancies himself a mobster in the making, while patriarch Forrest (Tom Hardy) is invested in the legend that he and his brothers are indestructible, and Howard (Jason Clarke) loyally serves as enforcer and protector. When we meet “The Bondurant Boys,” their role in their rural community is viewed with a kind of under-the-rug respect, and they are left alone and at times even supported by local law enforcement. shia-labeouf-dane-dehaan-lawless-600x421But when a vicious and peculiar federal agent (Guy Pearce) shows up, the boys get more flack than they had bargained for.

The movie is a mini-history lesson, depicting in vivid detail the dangerous and clandestine work of bootleggers in the ’30s. It’s also filled with exaggerations for movie-watching excitement, with chases, shootouts, and closed-door atrocities that no one possibly could know the truth behind. But that’s moviemaking. Most of the facts are presented, however, as pieced together by the author of the book from reports, articles, and the bullet-would scars of his grandfather and granduncles.

120830_MOV_Lawless.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeRegardless of how faithfully represented the “true story” is, this film is well written, beautifully shot, and skillfully acted by the principals and supporting actors including Jessica Chastain, Dane DeHaan, and Gary  Oldman. The film is directed by Australian John Hillcoat (The Proposition – 2007, The Road – 2009).

For an epic familial double feature, pair this movie with Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Legends of the Fall (1994), or the TV miniseries Hatfields & McCoys (2012).

A

920-HESHERHesher

In this 2010 film by writer/director Spencer Susser, Hesher (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, once of my favorite contemporary actors) is a grungy high school reprobate who muscles in on the dissolving family of freshman T.J. (fiercely played by Devin Brochu). Two months earlier, T.J. lost his mom in a car accident, and he is desolate as his inconsolable father loses himself in depression and self-medication (the father is played by Rainn Wilson in the best performance I have ever seen him turn in).

As Hesher threateningly worms his way into a place at Grandma’s house, where T.J. and his dad are staying, he seems nothing more than a dangerous blight on T.J.’s existence. Grandma (Piper Laurie) seems to be the only one to see anything more in Hesher. An unexpected ray of sunshine in T.J.’s life is meeting cashier Nicole (Natalie Portman), hesher-movie-review-TH48O3P-x-largethough Hesher ruins that for him too, along with nearly getting him arrested and otherwise making his life hell. But all is not what it seems, and when the taciturn Hesher does speak, his crude, elaborate analogies offer the true lessons in this narrative.

This movie begins coarsely, attesting to how first impressions can set our minds. It’s tough to watch as the scruffy, chain-smoking, bizarrely tattooed bully Hesher intimidates T.J. and his family.  But just as we get to know people in real life, we soon see there is something more to the freaky young man. To the film’s credit, we never find out much of Hesher’s backstory or why he lives in his van (when not invading the homes of freshmen). Heck, we don’t even learn his full name.Hesher_13047235035841

In the end, Hesher is a life-affirming and sanguine film. It is brilliantly written and works well in great part because everyone in the cast is absolutely superb. I’m hoping to see more from Susser, the only American member of the Australian filmmaking collective Blue-Tongue Films, who has thus far focused on short films.

A fine double-feature choice for this movie is the equally disquieting yet hopeful Sunshine Cleaning (2008).

A-

Seeking-a-FriendSeeking a Friend for the End of the World

Being a fan of Steve Carell and liking some of the past work of Keira Knightley, I had high hopes for this 2012 film. These were effectively shattered by this depressing, unfunny apocalyptic tale that wastes the talents of both actors, and everyone else in it.

Basically, the movie follows pathetic Dodge (Carell) as he awaits the end of the world. A meteor is hurtling toward Earth and the last hope for diverting it fails, so everyone knows it’s all over (don’t even get me started on the lack of science, but then the film is not meant to be realistic—I guess). Some people go on as if nothing has changed, while others try to fulfill their bucket lists, and still others simply go off the deep end. Dodge’s wife (who, we learn, was unhappy anyway) runs away—literally—and he is left to sullenly continue going to work (uh huh) and gathering with friends in the evenings. This role is yawningly dull for an actor of Carell’s comic chops.

Finally, Dodge meets downstairs neighbor Penny (Knightley), ameliorates her own existential meltdown, and then is party to cruelly abandoning her live-in boyfriend to rioting mobs so the two can advance their budding romance in the end-times. It’s just … not pretty.

SAF-Still2Dodge and Penny try to make each others’ fondest final wishes come true as the hours count down. Thrown in is a contrived meeting, after twenty years of estrangement, with Dodge’s father (Martin Sheen, more wasted talent), again run through in a hasty way to just get it overwith. In the end, the film tries to pull the heartstrings as Dodge and Penny make their final moments content, but it seems too little, too late.

Those who read my reviews know that I like quirky dark comedies, as well as films that don’t neatly fit into one genre, which is what this endeavor tried to be, I think. But like a number of other atypical projects, it misses the mark on many scores. When it tries to be funny, it’s often painfully awkward (like during the completely pointless appearance of otherwise hysterical Patton Oswalt; all he gets to do is say “Pussy” in a bunch of different ways), and when it tries to be serious, it comes off as cloying, stuffing preachy platitudes down our throats (as when Dodge and Penny find an improvised commune on the beach, happy to just spend their last hours with one another).seeking-a-friend-for-the-end-of-the-world-screenshot

Nevertheless, many people love this film, seeing something in that I do not. That rings true for me with films like About Schmidt (2002), Lost in Translation (2003), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004); along with this movie, they are all films that you either get (they resonate for you) or not.  I guess I just don’t get it.

The movie is written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (who wrote the screenplay for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and has only directed once besides, an episode of New Girl).

C-

Having seen many of my most-anticipated movies of summer that have been released so far, I’m now catching “other” flicks that are out there. It’s a great way to beat the heat, which is hanging around those triple digits here in Arizona.

I recently re-watched Despicable Me (2010), which is SO adorable and beautifully made, with plenty of adult jokes thrown in. One my favorites is the sign, “Bank of Evil (Formerly Lehman Brothers).” My mom watched with me and instantly fell in love with the minions.  So, we had to go see Despicable Me 2. The theater was filled with kids (well-behaved ones!) on a day-camp field trip, and it was precious to hear them laugh and mimic the minions.

Then a friend wanted to see White House Down, which I hadn’t planned to watch at all. You know, it’s kind of like reading whatever the book club chooses as the book of the month—you get to explore tomes you might not have picked up otherwise.

So here are some thoughts about these mid-July movies.

176.image.despicable-me-2-posterDespicable Me 2

Where do you go with a story once the villain’s heart has been transformed, Scrooge-like or Grinch-esque? Our antihero, Gru, went from venomous villain to doting daddy in the first film, and I wondered what the sequel could possibly contain to justify his still being called “despicable.”

despicable-me-2_17Well, Gru isn’t exactly despicable anymore—that would be a step backwards—but he does continue in his habit of thinking he can outsmart others, often failing. In this way, the writers hit the nail on the head to help make the character able to transform once more, without actually taking him back to attempting any dastardly deeds. And the character grows in other ways: he actually has a love interest, and he helps to foil the plotting of another arch-villain. Nice, and nowhere near despicable.

Despicable-Me-2-081The real achievement of the sequel, though, is exploiting moviegoers’ obsession with the minions, those lovable yet rough-around-the-edges little yellow pill people from another planet. They are the stars of this movie. I’d say I predict a spinoff, but it’s already a done deal: the movie Minions is in preproduction for release in 2014.

To me, the first film was better if simply for the facts that the characters were new for audiences and the initial premise of Gru going from despicable to lovable was achieved. I also found the original more effective at including some adult-aimed funnies, something I’ve always appreciated in my animation (Bugs Bunny cartoons perhaps did it best).

25070440Still, this sequel has the same wonderful voice cast (including Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Kristen Wiig, and Julie Andrews) with a few additions (like Benjamin Bratt), plus the increased involvement of those weird and wacky little minions. It’s fast-paced, good for laughs, and includes something for all ages. What more could you want from a summer flick?

B+

 

white-house-downWhite House Down

This is a typical Hollywood action movie, and there is not much more to say about it. It’s basically Die Hard (kick-ass dad saves the day) meets Independence Day (White House blows up), but with none of the heart or remarkable characters of those iconic films. The plot is predictable and regurgitated, the premise is much less shocking than today’s real-life headlines, and the fact that there is a black president in the white house—well, that’s been done already too.

215561-White-House-Down-Poster1As a vehicle for Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, and propelling young Joey King into the limelight, it does its job. The effects are grand, the action is fast, and everyone in it does a decent job of portraying their superficially sketched characters. But the problem is that everything is just tossed lightly together, like a summer salad, with the obvious intent of just getting it overwith and getting on with the action scenes. 1183878 - WHITE HOUSE DOWNOnly then is much more attention paid to the crashes, the explosions, and Tatum’s abs flying across the screen.  It might as well just be one long trailer for all the character development and story depth we get.

White-house-down-james-woodsCaught in vortex of what’s lacking are veteran actors like James Woods and Richard Jenkins.  Personally, I cringe when this happens—the misuse of genuine talent is a real crime in my book.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is either miscast or else she realized her role was lean and phoned it in, and Rachelle Lefevre is completely wasted in her miniscule role.

As often happens in not-so-awesome movies, one seemingly less-important character really stood: Nicholas Wright plays Donnie the tour guide with emotional honesty and humorous abandon. I expect we’ll see more of this young man who has, up until now, mainly appeared in TV movies and series.  white-house-down-cale-emily-donnie

As you might expect, with this “Summer Sizzlers” series being all about entertaining summer movies, this film gets somewhat of a pass simply for being an engaging action movie at a time when  many of us desire such mindless distraction. This one is almost good enough to meet that need. Luckily, there are much more substantial action films out there or coming soon that can satisfy our hunger after this fluffy but innutritious morsel.

C

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