You are currently browsing the daily archive for April 9, 2010.

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It is amazing what a month can do to change one’s tastes. I’m a fan of Steve Carell, have been since his days on “The Daily Show”, but recently couldn’t get past how much I hated his role in “The Office”, not to mention having wrote off the show last season. And then there’s Tina Fey, a comedienne that I respect and thought did a wonderful job with Mean Girls, but whom I really had no opinion of—I stopped watching “SNL” when Farley died. So, when the marketing push for their film Date Night began, ambivalence was a word that came to mind. It looked like it might be funny and I was sure I’d laugh at least a little bit; I just couldn’t bring myself to get excited with Shawn Levy’s attachment doing nothing to improve that feeling. However, just a few short weeks ago, I finally took the plunge into “30 Rock” looking to see if its genius was overblown. After about five episodes I was ready to say goodbye and it was Fey’s lackluster performance that stuck out. But then something happened, Alec Baldwin took more of a central role and Fey seized her opportunity to shine opposite him, excelling to full capacity. Now I’m her biggest fan, talked myself up to see Date Night, and had a fantastic time with it.

If I were to fault the film for anything, it would be its somewhat sluggish pace at times. I mean we are dealing with the most boring couple on earth, slogging away at their jobs to come home, take care of the kids, and hope they can remember to turn off the stove before passing out in a coma on the kitchen floor, burning the house down. They love each other and their two hyper kids, but the mundane routine of married life has gotten them down. The one thing they have for themselves is a weekly date night where they hire a sitter, re-talk themselves into going once she arrives, and visit the local suburban restaurant where the waiter knows their name. If not for a fun few rounds of “Mystery Science Theater”-ing other couples eating with snide remarks and jealous pangs for the love some feel for one another, they’d probably be happy just sitting in silence to rejoice in the short moment of peace and quiet. Even book night has become a chore; one more façade to hide behind and pretend everything is all right. Then the inevitable happens, a couple they are friends with shares that they are getting divorced. So, Phil and Claire Foster decide to put the relationship in overdrive and hope a night downtown in NYC will spice things up.

Let’s just say they never expected what was to come. After taking the reservation of another couple that was MIA at the hottest seafood joint in the city, Claw—“Hello Claw, you’re welcome” is the phone answer of choice—their evening becomes mixed up in gangster blackmail and political larceny. Pretending to be the Triplehorns, they engage with a couple of heavies seeking a flashdrive their doppelgangers stole from the biggest kingpin in New York. Finding that ‘computer stick thingie’ becomes goal number one, leading the Fosters to physically assault their captors, engage in breaking and entering as well as auto theft, hold the real fake Triplehorns hostage at gunpoint, partake in a huge car chase I never saw coming, and even get busy with the stripper pole. This laundry list of crazy situations more than makes up for the few lulls in the action, allowing both Carell and Fey to epitomize the square middle-aged couple so out of their element that they actually seem to know what they are doing. Only a woman scared out of her mind can pull off the “I’m going to count to three” trick she uses on her kids to make a cartel of gun-toting murderers put down their weapons.

And with insane plot points comes the availability for numerous supporting roles that become filled with a stellar cast of familiar faces. Right from the start you get a solid performance from both Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig as the divorcing couple—Wigg shines while Ruffalo just does what he has to do; following is Jimmi Simpson and Common portraying the menacing hitmen on their tail; Taraji P. Henson effectively does the detective that knows something is up and is willing to follow it through; and William Fichtner appears towards the end as one messed up human being, doubling as the city’s new D.A. All that and I haven’t even mentioned the best cameos by James Franco and Mila Kunis as Taste and Whippit, the couple posing as the Triplehorns and in possession of the flashdrive. Franco shows once more, like in Pineapple Express, how great a comedic talent he is, and Kunis completes the duo to perfection. They are the mirrored opposites of Carell and Fey’s couple, leading to a wonderful exchange with the foursome partaking in an apartment room standoff. Oh, and don’t forget Mark Wahlberg as the shirtless secret government contractor helping the leads out. His role is priceless for Carell’s constant disgust and jealously, unable to look anywhere else but his pectorals.

Not to ruin the jokes or intricacies of both leads’ eccentric personalities, I won’t go into detail on where the night leads them. Let’s just say Fey’s Claire is a master at improvising her way out of sticky situations and Carell’s Phil is possibly the worst idea maker in the history of mankind. But those traits lead into some of the funniest bits of the film. I made mention of the numerous situations they soon find themselves in the middle of, but I didn’t say how much two of them made me laugh non-stop. In what could be the greatest comedic car chase ever put to film, I give writer Josh Klausner and whomever else helped him think about having a crash connect two cars by their front bumpers to still be used in a high speed pursuit. The simple fact of it actually happening may be hilarious, but the performance by J.B. Smoove only makes it funnier. And then there is the strip club scene at the end. You know putting Fey and Carell in proximity to a pole is ripe for comic wonders, but the entire sequence from start to finish—with a lot of help from Fichtner—rivals that car chase for biggest laughs of the year thus far. Thank you Steve and Tina and all your little friends because Date Night seriously was a great time at the movies. The real laugh, though, is on NBC/Universal, (home of both stars’ hit TV shows), for letting Fox make this gem.

Date Night 8/10

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[1] In the midst of the date night from hell, Claire (Tina Fey) and Phil (Steve Carell) make a frantic call for help. Photo credit: Myles Aronowitz
[2] The unconventional Whippit (Mila Kunis) and Taste (James Franco) are about to have a very strange encounter with a married couple on a date night. Photo credit: Suzanne Tenner


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Bravo Phillips for coming up with one of the best marketing maneuvers I’ve seen this side of BMW, (I still love The Hire and have the DVD). Not only did they commission five short films to comprise Parallel Lines, helping showcase their new Cinema 21:9 LCD TV, they put a very specific constraint on the project. The directors involved—commercial and music video auteurs—could create whatever their heart desired, in whatever medium from live action to animation, yet they had to use the same exact six lines of dialogue in sequence. And this conversation isn’t some banal ‘hello, how are you?” either, it’s got some meat to it, adding one more layer to help get those creative juices flowing.

“What is that?”
“It’s a unicorn.”
“Never seen one up close before.”
“Get away. Get away.”
“I’m sorry.”

One might think that the use of the word ‘unicorn’ would be somewhat limiting, but the talent involved brush any fears aside by creating five completely unique entities that bear no resemblance to each other. Only one actually has what could be a real mythical creature and only three go so far as to show their stand-in for the beast. The beauty of language is that you can weave any word or phrase to fit the meaning you desire; the beauty of cinema is that you can dream up visuals to make those words pop and grab hold. By visually representing the unicorn in five disparate worlds, our handle on the meaning of those lines becomes fresh and uninhibited by the short we saw previously. You truly can go from one to the other and appreciate them both as a series and as separate cinematic gems with the stamp of their creators.

The Hunt – by Jake Scott
You couldn’t get this endeavor going with producing help from the Scott brothers and not have someone in the family direct an installment. I’ve yet to see his debut feature, but have watched his short Tooth Fairy for and enjoyed it. It’s good to see the second generation starting to come into their own with sister Jordan’s debut Cracks being a stellar work and Jake’s own Welcome to the Rileys getting good press this year. As for the short at hand, The Hunt takes the most literal approach to the words and is a good starting point into the series. Two hunters are hot on the trail of something in the woods, only when we discover the prey is a unicorn does the action turn from majestic wilderness to glassy, first-person anger on behalf of the would-be victim. Scott’s tonal shift is earned and helps end the serene story on a great note of violence.

DarkroomJohnny Hardstaff
This may be my favorite entry as far as visuals go. Reminiscent of the computer-enhanced one-shots that comprise Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, Darkroom is a continuous zoom from a voyeur alone in his room in some Asian city full of large apartment complexes and neon lights. Starting behind the character we will soon inhabit, what he is looking at in his camera’s viewfinder becomes our vision inside the film. The lens is equipped with huge magnifiers and we are shortly soaring across the street and right into the room of a total stranger. This is the point where my one qualm comes in because the image soon rotates side to side—to me this is impossible since the camera itself isn’t in the room. Looking past that, however, you will see the otherwise meticulous attention to detail. The focus change when zooming is authentic, the electronic hash marks from the camera are superimposed, and the ability to clearly make out action from the reflection of a metal lamp is, for lack of a better phrase, very cool. The whole thing is cyclical, quite dark, and gorgeous in its seediness of the urban fringe.

The GiftCarl Erik Rinsch
Rinsch is the Scotts’ protégé and first choice—yet passed over—to direct the in production Alien prequel. Watching The Gift begs similarities to seeing the brilliantly conceived shorts Neil Blomkamp made before having the Halo movie slip through his fingers as he eventually made a splash with District 9. Taking place in Russia, the tale follows a messenger as he brings a mysterious box to what I can only assume is an important dignitary or at least a man of great wealth. Murder is soon involved and we are taken on a well-orchestrated chase sequence as a full squad of police cars pursues the recipient of the gift’s robotic servant. The animation is clean and the Orwellian world depicted is great in its sterility. Containing the most fleshed out story of the quintet, word on the street is that studios have already approached Rinsch to adapt it into a feature length.

El Secreto de MateoGreg Fay
This Spanish-language entry has the most heart out of the group. In El Secreto de Mateo we see two young children—a boy and a girl—walking through a rundown apartment building while light is utilized for interesting glares and contrast. The girl has a drooping eye that doesn’t see straight; her blindness inferred before us with close-ups as the two enter a room at the end of a hallway. The boy is protective of his companion, I would guess she is his sister, and leads her towards an animal he says is a unicorn. Her pure joy and warmth in petting it hits home; the girl creating whatever it is she is thinking in her head while her hands feel the soft coat of the creature before her.

Jun and the Hidden SkiesHi-Sim
The lone fully animated film included, Jun and the Hidden Skies, is attributed to Hi-Sim Studios. Dealing with a little boy and a cardboard vehicle created in his attic, we are soon transported to his fantastical adventures through space aboard it with a young girl and her pet bunny. Dangerous robotic spacecrafts appear, attempting to shoot him down and kidnap the girl, eventually leaving Jun to be saved by a fire-breathing dragon that takes him to the mothership to find her. The animation is a little rough, but the story is solid and a cute journey through the imagination of children. It’s definitely a nice lighthearted conclusion to the series and a good way to exit the Phillips world.

I hope that this is just the first of many intriguing projects from the electronics brand. Having its own website devoted to an online cinema makes me believe future work will be uploaded eventually; it is an ambitious attempt to stir up publicity while also giving some creative people an outlet to showcase their talents. I think it has done its job well, even going so far as to say that the next time I need a new TV, this ultra-widescreen machine could be tops on the list.

Parallel Lines 9/10

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