You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2008.

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The most I can ask for when sitting down to watch a romantic comedy as obvious and clichéd as Made of Honor is to be entertained. Going in I knew there was no way it could wow me, but I did see a glimmer of potential. After the credits rolled, I must admit, I thought to myself that I wouldn’t mind checking it out again in the future if the opportunity presented itself. That said, don’t go thinking I’m going to go buy the dvd or rent it and invite some friends over, but if I’m ever out and whomever I am with suggests watching this movie they just got that they’ve been dying to see, I’d be more than happy to oblige. The leads are very likeable, the quirky side roles are a lot of fun, and the antics, while sometimes dry, deliver the goods, creating a tale of love that ends up being a quite sweet. Has cute become a pejorative of late—more belittling than complimentary? I don’t know. However, if I were asked to describe this story of best friends caught in a love triangle when the one waiting finds another just as the second discovers his true feelings for her, I’d say it was cute.

The story is so generic that one must shudder at the possibility for utter failure, boredom, and want of your hard earned cash back from the person who dragged you out to see this drivel. If anyone thinks that maybe these two won’t get together at the end, you are living in one freaky world or off your medication. No one goes to see a romance of this ilk to be intellectually stimulated or surprised by some profound insight on love and heartbreak. We as an audience go to lap up the sentimentality to feel warm and fuzzy as true love works out before our eyes, hoping that we may too find that glorious state of bliss. Just the character of Colin McMurray shows this fact to full capacity. This Scottish gentleman is the epitome of a dream: handsome, strong, sensitive, loving, royalty, and a European accent…who could resist? As our lead female says, he is the perfect man, and that is exactly what we need pitted against our hero, Tom, a lothario with no scruples when it comes to women except for the one he doesn’t let become intimate with him. If we are going to see someone overcome the odds to be with the one he truly loves, it is only right to have Mount Everest stand between them.

I will admit that the preposterous idea of a man being someone’s maid of honor is just crazy enough to work. The situations that it allows are perfectly suited to the filmmakers’ needs. By being thrust into a feminine role, our lead must accept his feelings and become a better man all while those on the periphery absolutely think he must be gay. It is ripe for comedy and brings some nice laughs to carry us through to the wedding at the end. The idea of that wedding also allows for two groups of friends to exist in creating both hijinks and moments of clarity. With the wedding party on one hand—consisting of three women who wish they were the maid of honor—and the boys on the other—supplementing their weekly pick-up basketball games with putting together party favors for the wedding shower—we are given the viewpoints of those jealous of the bride’s luck at finding a rich man overseas and the men trying to help their friend “steal the bride.” All the jabs by Tom’s friends are funny because the whole ordeal is just absurd. They do gather around him, though, to help his cause and all use their experiences with women to add insight into his. It was nice to see Kadeem Hardison make a return to the industry after a hiatus into obscurity following “A Different World.”

Adding to Hardison, the rest of the cast is very good. The role of the Scot is wonderfully played by Kevin McKidd; great as the new guy to America, his ability to be cool without trying is a great foil to Tom’s trying so hard to be cooler. McKidd’s sheer glee at finding out he can dunk the basketball without recourse of being a cheater is fantastic as he goes from chump to champ. He does everything so easily and unassumingly, one can’t help but love the guy while also being so jealous you wish he were dead. Rounding out the supporting cast are two stalwarts of the industry, Sydney Pollack and Kathleen Quinlan. At first glimpse I shook my head that they would accept such thankless roles in a somewhat thankless film, however, they both come out nicely. As parents, they serve as a mirror to their respective child, whether it shedding light on where they should be or where they should not, both do their job well.

It is all about the stars in the end, though. The chemistry between Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan is noticeable, especially in an early scene at his father’s wedding. The moment of full emotion while dancing is so real that it is made more tragic by his flippant disregard of her once the woman he was avoiding had left. Besides the opening sequence, (10 years previous to the bulk of the film), where it’s just kind of funny looking at them as college students, they never make a misstep, nor should they since the script won’t necessarily allow them to as it has a mission and they are unable to stray. You can tell in many instances that the two are having fun, (the juggling scene comes to mind), and you really do pull for them to finally come together. Dempsey is slowly becoming the go-to-guy for romantic leads on the uphill climb for their true love, and after this and Enchanted, I have to say that he may deserve the opportunity to resurrect his film career, because thus far he is pulling it off.

Made of Honor 5/10

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photography:
[1] Patrick Dempsey as Tom and Michelle Monaghan as Hannah in Columbia Pictures’ Made of Honor (2008). Photo credit: Peter Iovino. Copyright © Columbia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Patrick Dempsey as Tom, Michelle Monaghan as Hannah and Kevin McKidd as Colin in Columbia Pictures’ Made of Honor (2008). Photo credit: Peter Iovino. Copyright © Columbia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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There was a big question mark looming over the theatrical adaptation of Marvel’s Iron Man property. It was in the guise of director Jon Favreau. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the Favs, but when I heard he was helming a big budget comic book flick…let’s just say I was a little worried. Once his cast was set and the fanboys started humming across the internet I started to ease into the decision with high anticipation. Thankfully, after finally seeing the finished product, I was not disappointed in the least. With a great mix of the professionalism and stakes seen in both Spider-Man and X-Men and the comic wit and sheer fun of Fantastic Four, Iron Man shows how a comic can be brought to the screen successfully without all the added drama and weight. We finally have a film with the essence of what makes these picture books so popular, the action and mythology along with a sense of adventure and humor. Favreau never bogs us down with overwrought emotions nor speaks down to us with gags and poorly written jokes. Instead he delivers on his promises and gives us a solid initiation into what could be a great trilogy or more.

Favreau seems to have had an idea to get an origin story out while not boring us with long drawn out backstory. His ability to give us dual information at once is nicely orchestrated, showing Tony Stark in his basement creating while the tv in the background explains what is happening in the outside world of the Middle East and inside his own company. We as an audience are allowed to put the pieces together amidst the witty banter of Stark and the wonderful special effects. By the end of the film it is quite amazing how much information you will realize you now know, all culminating in a decent final battle, but more importantly a segue into the inevitable sequel. We are allowed entrance into the character evolution of Stark as he goes from war profiteer to man of action and cause, all while seeing the technology improve and advance before our eyes. Much like Batman, we have a hero here that needs help in fighting crime. He has no superhuman abilities besides his brain and being able to see his thoughts go from paper to reality is a feat of magic. Every stage is shown, every failure and success. It’s quite the ride in and of itself, but when you add onto it the threat of global war and destruction, it can only get better.

The real success here is in the bold move of casting an actor over-40 to be a superhero. This takes guts, because no matter how appropriate it is, most studios would have said, “no, change the story and make him younger so we can churn out as many of these babies as we can.” I don’t know how he did it, but Favreau got Marvel to get Robert Downey Jr. to play Stark, a sarcastic lothario with the brain capacity of Einstein. I truly can’t think of anyone better suited to the role and he proves it by nailing every single scene. I’m sure there was some ad-libbing, but even if not, his comic delivery and ability to switch on a dime to a sincere seriousness at will shows his masterful craft.

As for the rest of the cast, they all do well. Jeff Bridges plays the bombastic creature of villainy over-the-top, but appropriately so; Terrence Howard is nice as the friend and military liason, not given much to do, but definitely sowing seeds for the future; and Gwyneth Paltrow is good as the sweet assistant Pepper Potts who at times seems a little underwritten and more female prop than anything else, but comes through with some nice moments in a very comic sort of way. I also really liked Shaun Toub as Yinsen, Stark’s savior, and Clark Gregg as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Good to see Favreau giving another actor turned director props, (Gregg’s directorial debut comes out later this year in the form of Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke). I just wish he would have shied away from putting himself in the film. It’s one thing to be seen split-second, (like Stan Lee), but its another to give yourself a thankless role with multiple scenes, just adding fuel to the fire on people’s opinions of egotism stemming from the drinking game created off of the tv show “Dinner for Five” and how many references to Swingers was made each episode. I’ll forgive, though, because, once again, I’m a big fan.

One can’t forget that this is an action film above all else, so we can’t just praise the actors; every effect is also quite brilliant. Those scenes of Iron Man flying amongst fighter jets in the trailer seemed really lame, but when in context they deliver. The suit itself is amazing as well, through every mach stage right to the end. My main highlight, however, was with the computer systems that Stark utilizes. The multiple screens, instant holographic reproductions, and ability to actually interact with those 3D representations is stunning. We can create them in fantasy, but it’s just too bad we can’t yet in real life.

Now Iron Man is not a perfect film, nor even a perfect comic book adaptation. What it is, though, is a fun, comic actioner that should light up the box office. The final showdown is a bit of a whimper in comparison to the backstory and machine creation; a crucial element is saved from destruction in the one contrived bit of screenwriting, (not quite utilized in the way I thought, although still for the same means); and some moments seem a tad campy rather than witty, but otherwise this is some topnotch cinema that should definitely be seen on the big screen. I can’t wait to see how the story progresses in a couple years.

Iron Man 8/10

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If you enjoyed Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and have any reservations about the sequel, fear not. Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay may not be quite the same as its predecessor, but it brings enough of the story mechanics back and the stoner humor that made it a cult success. Writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, also serving as directors this time around, have upped the ante like the sequel cliché goes. There is more nudity, (with a bottomless party, how could there not?), a lot more swearing, and just plain old vulgarities every single second. As for the premise’s blatant sending up of racial stereotypes and epithets, even those get a shot of adrenaline going from the city streets of Alabama, a KKK kegger, and the bigoted government officials unable to decipher the weird Chinese dialect, called English, spoken by Harold’s parents. It definitely isn’t pretty, bodily fluids flow freely, but the laughs never cease. When your goal is to bring the funny and there are times in the theatre when one can’t hear the next line because of uproarious laughter, you know success is yours.

The beauty of this film is the amount of fun you know these guys are having. To get all the principals back for a second go round of a film that did no bank at the box office is quite the feat. Sure DVD sales and internet buzz was huge for the original, but did anyone ever think the boys would actually get to Amsterdam on the big screen? I know I didn’t have that much faith. People could badmouth this effort very easily for many reasons. Maybe the sex and just plain offensive nature can be seen as unoriginal and tired, maybe the fact that it is practically the same film rehashed, (besides numerous callbacks to the first—AIDS monkey, cheetah, Christopher Meloni playing another “freakshow,” and the backwoods encounter with a stereotypical crazy man with an attractive wife—the plot is very similar with only the reversal of Kumar now looking for the girl being different), could be harped on, or even that the structure being a series of gags sequenced together into a whole is old; either way if it works, who cares? There were very few instances where I wasn’t laughing let alone smiling at the proceedings. When else can you see a nod to the classics like The Goonies done so well?

My biggest concern going in was with the war on terrorism satire that the trailers tried so hard to get across. When you put in an actor to play someone like George W. Bush, it can backfire and go completely awry. Surprisingly, though, that scene, amongst others, is actually pretty well done. The ineptitude of the American government is portrayed often—and actor Rob Corddry is the worst part of the film spearheading that aspect; I just don’t like his schtick—yet there is always someone there to play the other side (Roger Bart) and show that while they know there are mistakes, they aren’t a bunch of buffoons going around willy-nilly. If nothing else this film should be credited for finally having the guts to poke fun at the tragedy of 9-11. It’s been so long and I think that humor is necessary for any sort of healing process. To have the fortitude to do the airplane scene with Kumar laughing in his Taliban garb motioning a crashing airport is not something to tread with lightly. Hurwitz and Schlossberg decided to go pedal to the metal with this film and they never make a compromise, kudos to them for that.

The film begins right where the first left off and everyone is still in the same frame of mind. To add a little spice to the mix, we do get introduced to a new character, Vanessa, an old flame of Kumar’s. Being that she is about to marry an aspiring politician, the inclusion not only plays into the need of a love interest, (Maria is still in Amsterdam, and of course we all know the boys don’t make it off the plane to see her), but also into the ability to bring the government in through his connections. Being on the cusp of even having the President attend his wedding, who better to go to for help in absolving their terrorist accusations? Vanessa is well played by the attractive Danneel Harris in a role that doesn’t get much screentime. She is, however, involved in probably my favorite scene of the film—a flashback on how she meets Kumar and shows him the world of narcotics. It is a fantastic sequence helping to align his brains with the lifestyle he has begun to live in…and there is a brilliant cameo by Harold that brought the house down.

Of course the movie would be nothing without John Cho and Kal Penn, the titular characters respectively. Their rapport is fully intact and the shenanigans they get into are the impetus of the story. It’s a shame that Cho is in practically nothing and Penn has been relegated to roles without lines (Superman Returns) and television (“24” and “House”) because they could do so much better (as evidenced with The Namesake). This is their film and they do not disappoint, right until the end credits. There are a lot of cameos here as well, mostly from people that we saw in the original. Playing themselves in either stereotypical ways or as the butt of a racial joke, it’s good to see them have a sense of humor. If only everyone in real life could have that attitude they wouldn’t be cultivating racism by the sheer fact they accuse everyone of it. While that is probably another discussion for another time, at least this broad comedy has enough cultural value to realize it and put it into the minds of college kids for whom the film targets.

Oh, and did I mention Neil Patrick Harris? No? Well that must be because he is so brilliant words can’t even describe. What a conclusion to his arc, just fantastic.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay 8/10
As comparison: Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle 8/10

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Just Buffalo Literary Center ended their inaugural Babel series with a wonderful speech from Indian novelist Kiran Desai about her work “The Inheritance of Loss.” After a good two years speaking in front of auditoriums, relaying her manifesto to bore those in attendance to sleep, she decided to just come in and “talk in every which way” from the seat of her pants, anecdotally. Beginning with tales of her grandparents and their influence on her novel, Desai tells of how we are now all being “brought up to leave” our homes straight from birth. While her country saw Britain as an oppressor, it was their involvement that allowed her grandfather to leave and become a judge, to take it upon himself to “learn the dictionary by heart under a streetlamp” and educate himself. England gave her family a means to become better than those around them and in turn made them manifest a sort of inferiority to the rest of the Western world. Raised to feel shame for her heritage, the family eventually decided to leave India and head for America, the place where Desai would begin her writing career.

It was her bookshelf of “Huckleberry Finn,” Truman Capote, and “Death of a Salesman” that exposed her to the reality that she was not alone in the world. People everywhere feel ashamed of their past and the places they come from, it is not a terrible thing to want to get out and become someone to be proud of. This instilled a discovery of the world’s contradictions hiding everywhere. Her gift is the ability to meld and weave American culture with that of India. Desai admits that she could never be successful with narratives from one world or the other; she is not fully comfortable in either. However, when using both, she is allowed to grasp the concepts put to paper into fully formed ideas.

Desai is a very entertaining and affable young woman, infusing humor whenever possible. The speech as a whole was a good mixture of what Babel has offered this year. Between the anecdotes and ideological inferences into her work, she not only read passages from her novel, but also excerpts from some writers that she respects. Listening to her read aloud her own words, breathing life into the characters that I had myself just become acquainted with, was a wonderful experience. She would speed up her words and laugh along, hitting each moment with the right rhythm to show us that it all was meant to be funny despite the political strife happening around Sai and her family in Kalimpong—a place she now will not go back to after their protests of her handling of the region and subsequent calls for book burnings.

Very comfortable and informative, Kiran Desai entertained for a little over an hour, bringing a bit more to the table than our previous speaker. Unafraid to delve into her past and speak of her grandparents, her love of her mother’s own writing, the undisciplined process she utilizes to write without a clear plot for 8 years, and how her first draft of 1800 pages was said to be the worst piece of literature that a well-known editor had ever read, she really allowed herself to become highly accessible to the audience. Her joy was contagious and it didn’t hurt that she showed her pleasure for a local Indian duo on the sitar and thabla during the preshow, her excitement at finally seeing Niagara Falls, and a genuine interest in seeing the collection of “Huck Finn” drafts at the Buffalo library. This was a great way to end Babel’s first year and only helps show what could be an even better effort in 08/09.

Visit www.justbuffalo.org for next year’s lineup, ticket information, and—just learned tonight—mp3 access for all of this year’s author’s talks, (although I can’t find where this is on the site, please help). Oh, and it was nice having a bit of a Buffalo Spree fan club cheer upon our sponsorship mention. Could it have been spearheaded by our own editor in attendance? Maybe.

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I was very worried about how I would take Lars and the Real Girl. Despite an Oscar nominated script, a cast of some of my favorites, and a quirky enough plot to pique my interest, I still had many people in whom I trust their judgment telling me that it was horrible. That right there tells you how different each and everyone of us are and how tastes are fickle and unique. I really liked this film more than I ever could have imagined. Despite the start being very awkward to watch—Ryan Gosling is fantastic in this role showing how sheltered and introverted he is—that introduction into the Lindstrom family is absolutely necessary for the rest to make sense. When the doll Bianca is finally added to the mix, the unexpected occurs. This small community may laugh and may make faces, but they also band together and fully support one of their own. The most heartwarming tale that I have seen in a long time, Craig Gillespie and Nancy Oliver have crafted a real gem; a study of the human heart and how love can really conquer even that which seems permanently broken.

Every step of the way is absolutely genuine and believable. The plot is never utilized for laughs, although the laughs do come out. However, rather than events playing to the big joke, the story lends itself to subtle giggling and uncomfortable laughter. You will truly feel bad for Gosling’s Lars as he is a very troubled young man. At so many instances I couldn’t help but say to myself, “oh my god, don’t do it.” When Lars takes Bianca to the party being thrown by his co-worker, I cringed at what could be coming as soon as he rang that doorbell. Instead, screenwriter Oliver really surprised me by allowing all his friends and those from the community to totally support his delusion and the fact that he is crying out for help. They all answer the call and it really is a beautiful thing to behold.

Credit all involved for also allowing the story to slowly unravel, explaining how Lars could have gotten to this point. At the start you just think he is an awkward man that can’t deal with society or physical contact. He wears layers and backs off when someone attempts to touch his shoulder or give him a hug. There is an entire backstory as to why he shudders at the touch of another human, though, why he actually experiences pain as if that part of his body had been badly burned. Each slice of the story is unraveled as we delve deeper and deeper into his psyche during his “sessions” in therapy and his eye opening experiences seeing how much those around him care. His fear of losing those he loves is so strong that he would rather never feel the joy of it to make sure he wouldn’t have to feel the loss. Watching his father live in sadness for so long after his mother died in childbirth had a lasting effect on him in that regard. Only when his sister-in-law, the always-radiant Emily Mortimer, finally snaps in a big fight about who cares for whom does Lars start to see what has been in front of him all these years. It is my favorite scene of the film and both actors are superb in it.

Each character is sincere and completely real. Patricia Clarkson is great as the doctor with a psychologist degree, playing with Lars’ head by having him bring Bianca in for tests in order to evaluate him while she “rests.” Clarkson is the crucial piece to the puzzle, letting him talk through his issues and vocalize them to himself so that he can see where he is going wrong. Kelli Garner is perfect as the girl pining over Lars. Her Margo is desperately in love with him despite all his attempts to ignore her. You see the pain mixed with love in her face and eyes, never letting anyone make fun of him, but instead being there no matter what outcome results. And last but not least is the wonderful Paul Schneider as Lars’ brother. He has to be one of the most overlooked actors in the business despite being at the top of his game in everything. The evolution he goes through is by far the most noticeable as he begins to cope and understand his part in his brother’s degeneration.

I can’t end the review without mention of Bianca, the doll. This prop could have easily become a joke and reason for people to just stop caring for anything that was going on. Instead it becomes a catalyst for those onscreen to really step up. Bianca is just an extension of Lar’s psyche, manifested for all to see. Her life span is handled with great care and compassion as it concludes in the only realistic way possible. While the synopsis of Lars and the Real Girl may seem trite and implausible, once you experience it, you will see that it isn’t that far from reality at all. Some people just lose themselves and turn for help in strange ways. Lars is just like any of us, a man trying to find something special and worthwhile in life, something to keep on living for.

Lars and the Real Girl 8/10

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photography:
“Ryan Gosling stars as Lars Lindstrom in the heartfelt comedy LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, starring Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner and directed by Craig Gillespie, opening this fall.” Photo Credit: George Kraychyk

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Say what you will about the marketing machine, but I truly think the people behind promoting Baby Mama did a bang up job…even if I believe they did so without trying. They make expectations so low in the trailer that you almost have to enjoy the film. Was it a great comedy? No. However, it was much better than I ever could have hoped as Michael McCullers takes us places you never would expect going in. I thought that it would be a water-downed, overlong SNL skit with one woman asking another to carry her baby, leading to a generic odd couple pairing with hijinks and gags piling on top of each other, collapsing under its own weight. Instead we are treated to a pretty sentimental and touching portrait of two women learning to grow and evolve with help from the other, a person, in both regards, that they never would have thought could teach them anything. Even the pregnancy aspect takes a ton of twists and turns never becoming the straight shot gimmick just bringing everyone together. The surrogate mother here must make some tough decisions as she continues along on her journey, lending a side to the tale that actually brings it to a level of intrigue that no Lorne Michaels film has done in recent memory.

I don’t want to ruin the plot points of Angie Ostrowiski’s pregnancy, but let’s just say it isn’t cut and dry. Her motives aren’t genuine, something that is obvious from the start, just not quite in the way you anticipate. There are surprises for her and secrets hidden from the other characters as she wrestles within herself. A “white-trash” loser, attached to a man that believes waiting on the phone to be the 132.7 caller is a job, Angie learns a lot while with mom-to-be Kate Holbrook. Kate, being the professional VP of an organic food market, is a very detail orientated woman who is by the books and unafraid to tell others what they should do. It is an oil and water connection, but—like all good relationships of this kind—breeds some real funny and touching moments. Who thought watching karaoke on the Playstation could be so much fun? Sure many instances feel like skits written separately and plugged in later, (the clubbing while pregnant, the press conference ambush, and the surrogate therapy session—probably the funniest scene without question), but they are surprisingly strung together to make a pretty coherent whole.

The other thing that the trailer hides is the inclusion of two great male roles. Did anyone know that Greg Kinnear and Steve Martin were in this thing? I for one was completely surprised by both, almost chuckling that they would have a small cameo until I realized that both were key roles to the whole. In the best turn of the film, Martin is crazy, hippie genius. His earthy style of living, complete with long ponytail and soft speech, even when angered, is classic, as is everything uttered from his mouth. He is so good that I would be thrilled to have him offer me 5 uninterrupted minutes of staring into his eyes as a reward for a job well done. For Kinnear’s part, he plays the usual love interest that is commonplace in films of this ilk. It’s not flashy and it’s not very original, but Greg is a stalwart and pulls off the good guy persona, even including a little bit of physical humor at the end.

Overall, though, this film is pretty standard fare. It goes into very broad comedy at times and very sappy/overly-sentimental drivel at others. There are some good jokes sprinkled throughout and for the most part keep it fun for the duration. Definitely feeling longer than it is, I never quite felt bored and I did begin to get invested in the story to see how it all would turn out. A lot of that can be credited to the chemistry between Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as Kate and Angie respectively. Both these women do a great job with their roles, fleshing out the psychotic relationship to perfection. One of the successful dynamics is how Fey becomes a mother figure to her surrogate. Even going so far as having temper tantrums and rubber-faced reactions, Poehler is a child.

It’s also nice to see some fun moments from the supporting cast, but again nothing really sticks out to vault anything into must see territory. Sigourney Weaver is actually kinda scary in a very weird role; Romany Malco has plenty of great one-liners and facial expressions; and John Hodgeman is a bit odd in a small bit, with laughs coming more from the recognition of his Mac commercials than anything he does in the film. In the end, while nothing over-achieves, it all adds up to a pretty solid comedy worth a view. Is it necessary to see on the big screen? Probably not, but if you were worried that it might be a train-wreck, just know that it never takes any chances to risk derailing, and that’s not a bad thing.

Baby Mama 6/10

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photography:
[1] Mother to be Kate Holbrook (TINA FEY) and surrogate Angie (AMY POEHLER) trash an ex boyfriends car in Universal Pictures’ Baby Mama (2008). Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Working girl Angie (AMY POEHLER) confides in doorman Oscar (ROMANY MALCO) in Universal Pictures’ Baby Mama (2008). Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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It is very interesting how it seems that every film about the Holocaust becomes a modern classic. The Counterfeiters is the latest attempt to breathe life into the subject by showing a true tale of how the Nazis bankrolled the end of the war with fake currency. The story itself is very intriguing and worth a history lesson, but as far as a film, what we really are given is one more concentration camp experience. There are the Nazis inflicting brutality on the Jewish prisoners, the token general assuaging his guilt by helping those he can for personal gain, the prisoners wanting to create a revolt, and those that just want to survive. While the pretense of why everyone has been brought together is new and refreshing, the total package is what we have seen over and over again. Both The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days were more original and enjoyable to experience than this one (well that’s relative since I don’t know how much one could say 4,3,2 is enjoyable) and they weren’t even nominated for the Oscar. Was this deserving? Maybe. Well-crafted and beautifully acted, I just wish there was more for me to sink my teeth into.

Even the gimmick of showing us our lead post-war at the start in order for him to remember the hardships that came before is a bit tired. Would him taking the fake money he made to Monte Carlo after the war scenes have been any different than him going there first, us seeing him make it, and then cutting back? Not really. What is intriguing is the comparison between Sally Sorowitsch pre-incarceration and him in the camp. A scoundrel, as one character says, in his bar before the war, Sally is a cocky criminal and womanizer doing what he can to stay in affluence while also honing his craft to crack the American dollar. Once he is captured and able to con his way into a somewhat safe status among the Jewish prisoners, we see his survival instincts take over. A selfish man before, a selfish man he stays, doing all he can to survive the war, painting and creating portraiture for the Nazis and their cause. The first sign of life we see is his compassion for a fellow captive on his final transfer. A Russian art student like he once was, they shared the same school and professor there, Sally gives up his soup and finally shows the solidarity we would expect in that situation. You see, amongst criminals, it seems, there is a code of honor to not give up one’s mates. Every jail is the same, he says, you just have to know the angles and the plays…Sally is a professional at both.

The relationship between this “artist” and his captor Herzog is a very interesting one. Being the man who arrested Sally before the war, Herzog not only got promoted for it, but also decides to enlist him to help his cause in the camp that he has started to control. They need each other to survive and that is one of the things that I love about WWII. These Germans are just as trapped in Hitler’s regime as the Jews are, (figuratively, yes I know the Jew’s had it much worst). Everyone is expendable and must do their job to survive as a high official can even be shot by nothing more than a whim by his superior. I believe one of the best scenes here is Sally at Herzog’s house, meeting his wife and children and their utter inability to comprehend what is happening around them outside their mansion’s bubble.

Along with those two, the rapport with Sally and Adolf Burger is fantastic as well. These two are kindred souls yet with one main difference. While Sorowitsch looks for his survival and that of those he can see, Burger wants life for his people and the country being persecuted whether he is alive to see it or not. Their moral fortitude is the same, however, and while they may disagree they will never risk the other in order to do what they believe is right. Either way, both men are key components in the fall of Germany, doing exactly what’s needed to be done at the exact right time, even though they could have never known it. Sally’s ability to get the forgeries made gave them the time for Burger to stall the manufacturing of American currency just long enough for the army to go bankrupt. It’s good to see that Burger, the man who’s book the film is based on, decided to not center the tale on himself, only allowing one instance at the end to give himself the credit of being a hero. Instead he allows Sorowitsch to take the stage, showing his leadership and unflappable calmness when confronted with the most dangerous consequences.

When a movie like this relies mostly on the reactions of men at the deaths of their friends, you can’t usually say much because it’s either believable or not. What makes this stand out, in that regard, is the fact that these men are so far gone that their emotions have been dulled. August Diehl, as Burger, is the best example of this, showing the devastation of finding out what happened to his wife without the capacity to cry. Devid Striesow is great too as Herzog, always being the good businessman, using tough love while also utilizing a reward system to keep morale as high as possible. The way he plays those around him is effective. As our lead Sally, Karl Markovics is perfect. Stoic and always thinking, he portrays the man orchestrating everyone’s survival with little movement. His blank stare is as emotive as anything else in the film, especially when he flinches at gunshots that he knows have hit their targets. By not showing emotion, he exudes his feelings even more. Mention should also be made for Sebastian Urzendowsky as Kolya, the young art student that Sally takes under his wing. A broken man, he is the most fragile and animated, infusing some much-needed life into an otherwise retold version of the same story we’ve seen before.

The Counterfeiters 7/10

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photography:
[1] Left: Karl Markovics as Salomon Sorowitsch. Right: Dolores Chaplin as Die Rothaarige. Photo by Jat Jurgen Olczyk © Beta Film GmbH, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Left: Karl Markovics as Salomon Sorowitsch. Right: Devid Striesow as Friedrich Herzog. Photo by Jat Jurgen Olczyk © Beta Film GmbH, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.

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Finally I have seen a David Gordon Green film. After all the praise I’ve heard based on his previous efforts, it almost came to the point where my first experience might have been his forthcoming Seth Rogen stoner comedy Pineapple Express rather than the indie dramas he is acclaimed for. Luckily Buffalo was able to secure his latest work, Snow Angels, for limited release so that I could see him in his element. This film is quite fantastic; a character study of a small town and the everyday craziness that can happen in it. From the trailer, one will understand that this will be a very deep story, culminating into some dark event that will serve as a catalyst for either growth or degeneration for those involved. Green, however, never takes the easy road to show us a conventional lead-up to said occurrence. Instead he commences our journey into the town with a lengthy portion of the comedic mundanity of life. We begin to understand these characters and their relationships with one another; we are thrust into their lives while they have all reached a crossroads of faith and find themselves on the cusp of either taking a step forward or a giant leap back. The familiarity greatly increases the emotional impact of the climatic tragedy that serves to push them all to their breaking point. It’s a slow boil to utter devastation and it is handled to perfection.

A lot is going on character-wise and it all is intertwined together. Unlike most pieces of this nature lately, Snow Angels allows each role to exist individually while also having a cursory connection to the rest. They don’t walk into each other’s lives in contrived ways for the sake of the script. These are real people, in close proximity, that inquire about and interact with others in their hometown much like you do in real life. A high school trombone player named Arthur is our central entry point into the tale as he touches the most people along the journey. He works at a restaurant with Annie, who was also his babysitter and an early crush many years previously (leading to a nice scene of the two reminiscing in the backroom now that they are both older), as well as her friend Barb. Glenn becomes involved through his marriage with Annie and their daughter Tara while the new girl in school Lila begins a relationship with Arthur to enter herself into the tale. Everyone’s parents ask about the others in more of a polite manner than anything else. They all know each other and try to stay on top of things despite any real caring. I think at least three people ask how Annie’s mother is doing, not because they want to know, but because it is what neighbors do. You have a stake in the lives of those around you because you are all involved in a community. It may be a tenuous bond, but it is a bond nonetheless; one that may connect you moreso than you might have thought.

Green really allows his audience to find their own bond with the people on screen. We begin to feel for Glenn as he tries to pick the pieces of his life back up off the ground. A man chased by the demons of alcohol, he has all but lost his wife and keeps only a thin hold on his daughter after attempting to kill himself, before finding God. He is a man that means well, but might not have the capacity to endure what is happening around him as his wife is seeing someone else and still holds a small fear of him and his actions. You hope that Glenn can stay on the right path, but as you watch him continue on through everything you begin to wonder if he can. Credit Sam Rockwell with this because he is absolutely amazing. Always relegated to be the funny guy, Rockwell shows the range he had starring in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind with a devastating role. One can’t praise him enough.

We connect to the others as well through their strong performances. Michael Angarano is great as Arthur, growing into an adult and experiencing things that he may not be ready for. Finding his first girlfriend in Lila, (a nice turn from Olivia Thirlby), he must also confront the past; a selfish father leaving and returning what he sees fit into his wife and son’s lives, (Griffin Dunne in a well portrayed bit); and the death that has gotten strong in the air. Kate Beckinsale, as Annie, shows that she can act when not wearing tight leather in vampire films, going through the biggest changes of everyone with her mother to care for, the return of her husband, an affair with Nicky Katt’s Nate, and the responsibilities of being a mother. And Amy Sedaris is probably the biggest surprise as her friend Barb. I’ve not seen her in anything but “Strangers With Candy,” a show I did not enjoy, but she is wonderful as the sarcastic wit and pillar of strength for Annie when she needs it most.

True the actors are the real shining grace here, but Green deserves praise for their work and that of the aesthetic look on display. The final act tends to drag in parts as it leads to the inevitable conclusion, but that is the only blemish from the whole. His compositions are stunning with many scenes standing out. When Dunne and Angarano are walking and talking at the father’s campus, Green chooses to continue panning left even as they have stopped, not lingering on their final words but instead the void left empty in front of them as they are stalled figuratively and metaphorically in their relationship with one another. Along with instances like that, we are treated to multiple close-ups of people and objects throughout, whether it be the marching band conductor’s speech or the camera that Lila takes around with her. Green has deft control on the proceedings, infusing the right amount of light humor to diffuse the darkness deep within the town. Tragedy affects everyone differently, showing some the futility of life and others the preciousness of it. It is a tough thing to lose a child, either through divorce, death, or complacency and Green puts it all on display to see whether his characters can continue on or fall forever from grace.

Snow Angels 9/10

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Forgetting Sarah Marshall had all the potential to fall into one of two camps: unbridled raunchy fun a la 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad or sentimentality masked as comedy like Knocked Up. I had all the fear that it would hit the latter taking the sensitive guy with the broken heart too far into romance territory, letting the laughs fall by the wayside once the conclusion comes along. Thankfully, though, while the train took some turns down that path, writer/star Jason Segel knew what he was doing and threw in a curveball joke to right the ship at each instance. Rather than attempt to be two kinds of films at once, I believe this was a true hybrid of the two sides of the Apatow machine. You will not be free from laughter for long stretches here as the balance between big laughs and sappy melodrama is always tempered by subtle jabs, fantastic one-liners, and a crew of really likeable actors having fun.

This film also shows society a lesson on human anatomy. It is quite interesting how different reactions nudity can elicit depending on the sex of the person exposed. If the audience sees breasts on screen they get quiet as they are watching what is probably a love scene. However, once you get male genitalia in frame, everyone—and I mean everyone—cannot stop themselves from laughing. Let’s just say there are a lot of laughs of this fashion, so if that may detract you from seeing the film, be warned, but really it is only used to add one more layer of absurdity to seemingly tired situations and in my opinion works brilliantly. One has to respect this clan of artists under Apatow’s wing for pushing boundaries and being willing to go for the joke without a second thought. It’s one thing to be sexual and explicit just to say you are, it’s another to use it in order to enhance the plot and the scene, sticking to your vision and not straying unnecessarily.

What really becomes apparent is how these guys have found a way to understand today’s comedy and their ability to turn a common, simple plot structure into something fresh and entertaining. Guy loses girl, guy tries to get away only to find that his safe haven is also where she is with her new boyfriend (wow haven’t seen that before), guy falls for new girl while old girl realizes how stupid she was, and the end is the end (not to spoil anything directly, but I’m sure you can figure it out). It is all in the details and the gaps between the lines where the true genius manifests itself. Segel has joined Apatow and Seth Rogen in their ability to make a laugh-a-minute riot with a complete story and not simply a string of gags loosely jumbled together. Don’t get me wrong, there are many gags and I’m sure many moments that were thought of previously and added to the script where they fit, but that is the thing, they all fit like a glove. It can’t be easy to weave together a Dracula rock opera, complete with huge payoff at the end; a pig roast, (“Don’t make me do this…I’m sorry!”); a sexually inexperienced newly wed couple; the wonderful features on new Mac computers; and the secret to good surfing technique, (“No, too much movement, do nothing…now stand”), but Segel deftly does the job.

As for the players, I will admit to knowing little to nothing about all the principals. Segel is great in this role, but that should be no surprise since he wrote the part for himself based on real-life experiences, (if it’s true that the breakup scene while naked actually happened to him, kudos for letting a situation like that be permanently etched onto celluloid). As for the women, both Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis do well attempting to break free from their TV show pasts. I’m not a big fan of Bell at all, but she is perfect in this role as the somewhat bitchy celebrity unaware of how vain she is. Maybe my somewhat undeserved hostility towards her made it feel that much more real. As for Kunis, I was completely surprised by how likeable she was. Even when she snaps at one point into a curse-laced tirade, she is still the cutest thing in the world. Also, her chemistry with Segel is completely believable—the attraction through minds and sensibilities as the two are kindred souls finding exactly what they need from each other. The real surprise, though, is Brit Russell Brand. This guy owns each of his scenes with a self-effacing role of utter rockstar stupidity, played absolutely straight. He portrays the cool guy swagger to perfection and mixes in the awkward doltish sensibilities most stereotype his kind with. Segel’s interaction with him on the ocean is the best example of how out there this guy is, yet when it comes to music he really does know what he is doing (regardless of his laughable songs).

It is not going to be a comedy classic like Virgin, but it also won’t be thrown aside as a failed attempt to give a rom-com broad comedic appeal like Knocked Up is with me. Instead it walks the line with a few missteps crossing other both ways. Each time it goes astray, in either direction, it finds it’s footing quickly to right the scale. With the help of cameos from Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, and Davon McDonald, one can’t languish in the sentimentality for too long because those crazy characters won’t let you. Forgetting Sarah Marshall delivers on the Apatow name and shows that Jason Segel shouldn’t be relegated to only standing in Seth Rogen’s shadow; he may be able to cast his own soon enough.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall 7/10

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photography:
[1] Mila Kunis as Racheal and Jason Segel as Peter Bretter in Universal Pictures’ Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Russell Brand as Aldous Snow in Universal Pictures’ Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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I think the fact that The Bank Job is based on a true story makes it more intriguing then it possibly should. As a whole, the film is pretty standard fare for the genre, a bunch of amateurs attempting a huge heist, government conspiracies behind it all, secrets at every turn, and of course the romantic angle of two lovers who can never be together. Really the fact that it is true shouldn’t make a difference, but for some reason it does. Honestly, the plot of a bank heist to get compromising photos of a Royal might be the only thing true onscreen, the rest might be pure Hollywood. Either way, it’s a fun ride and worth watching if you enjoy a nice caper and can look past the usual problems that most filmmakers today ask you to.

As an audience member, we are privy to three sides: the British end trying to keep all ties broken yet setting up an illegal operation to rob a safety deposit box; Michael X’s end with other nefarious characters using blackmail to stay out of jail and corrupt cops to run the city of London; and the hapless crew of small-time criminals attempting a big score without knowing how big it actually is. I believe that Saffron Burrows is the true star of the film, playing all sides to make sure everything goes as planned. Her role has the biggest stake. She is blackmailed with freedom from drug charges to get a gang together, she is thrust back into the life of an unavailable childhood crush, and she must come to grips with the trouble she is hiding from those she cares about while the ones playing her watch it all happen from afar. Burrows handles it all very well and uses her looks to get what she wants from all parties involved.

The most intriguing part of the film has to be the British intelligence scenes. Watching the deception and debauchery on display and the running around to hide it all because they thought it was safe is interesting. One would hope people in their positions would take precautions or maybe not partake in those activities at all, but then we are talking about politicians. While that portion caught my attention on a more intellectual level, seeing how the plans unfolded, the gang of robbers was what made me want to continue watching. This ragtag bunch is funny, endearing, and well performed by all the actors. They are good friends and have fun doing this seemingly safe job.

Jason Statham is solid as always, leader of the crew, never allowing himself to be backed into a corner. He anticipates the fact that Burrows coming back after so long could be trouble and he makes sure to keep an eye on her activities. Even with that, though, he stays on task and plays the good family man—well as much as one can when you are in debt to larger criminals then yourself and partake in illegal activities whenever they present themselves. Also, no one does the cold stare of disgust like Statham when one of his friends does something stupid…it is his trademark expression. The others add some nice flair too. Daniel Mays, who I enjoyed in a very small role last year with Atonement, is great comic relief and his interactions with the third of the friends, Stephen Campbell Moore, is always entertaining. James Faulkner is also a lot of fun as the con man front of the crime. Being so much older than the others, yet having the same sensibilities as them, hidden behind his play’s exterior of a cultured gentleman, is great.

My one real gripe overall is with the ending. Not the way it ends necessarily, but how all the characters go about their activities. You know what is coming from the get-go; there is no way it will all go without a hitch, where would the intrigue be with that? I like how it all played out, I liked all the double-crossings and deal makings, however, when the crap hits the proverbial fan, all involved seem to take it in stride way too easily. I mean people are dying, getting tortured, and risking arrest, yet all our “heroes” just act calm and collected as they plan a way to outsmart MI-6. Honestly, these guys should be shaking in their boots. But it is a film, and that attitude allows it to end nicely and quickly once the heist is complete, so I don’t put too much stock into the misstep. The film still ends up being entertaining and, as a bit of historical escapism, succeeds.

The Bank Job 7/10

ps. the poster is kickass vintage style

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