Wednesday, August 24, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIES REVIEWS: EDITION #6: "THE COMPANY MEN," PLUS OLDER MOVIES, INCLUDING THE ORIGINAL "FRIGHT NIGHT"

It's been another slower-than-usual week of movies, and I only saw one movie that was from a film released within the last couple years. Actually, I've been spending much of my time catching up on TV these last few weeks, watching the latest season of "Breaking Bad," on DVD, as well TV movies like "Tin Man," and "The Special Relationship," and I'm currently in the middle of "Shakespeare Retold," which is a collection of 4 films from the BBC, that are all modern twists on Shakespeare classics. And, I also rewatched season 8 of "Project Runway," on DVD. My mom hadn't seen it, so I had to keep it on my netflix for her-, ah, whom, I'm kidding, I wanted to watch it again. I mean, that season had everything, and just when you thought it was over, there's a fight with the judges! They never-

Alright, I'm gonna stop myself there, that could go on for awhile, and I already wrote my blog on the show, which is the Older Posts section if you want to read it. Besides, this is a blog for critical analysis and not excessive fandom (Not this week anyway). So, yeah, I've been behind, and hopefully that'll change soon. I've been a little behind on this blog too. After this, I'm gonna post another Canon of Film blog tomorrow to try to catch up, so for the loyal, all four of you, that's what you got to look forward to. And by the way, I know I tell people to check out my blog on my facebook, and that's fine, I've gotten somes "likes," and I even got some nice comments, but can more of you "Join," the blog, if you can? I know it's a little tricky for some, but I only got 6 followers, and I'm occasionally getting more readers than that, it'd be nice if some of you joined the blog as well, and to members of my family, that includes you too! I didn't think I needed to tell you guys, but apparently....

Alright, on to this week's reviews:

The Company Men (2010) Director: John Wells
3 1/2 STARS
“The Company Men,” is the first feature film by famed TV producer John Wells (“ER”, “The West Wing,”) and at times, the movies feels like this was an abandoned pilot script that kinda got expanded. That’s not a bad thing, by the way, I kind of enjoyed that, had the movie not had such good acting, I would’ve thought, maybe this could be a really good show, to see what happens with these characters. Of course, that could also just be the lack of real character development to begin with. For a TV show, that’s okay, characters have time to develop, in a movie, that’s a little trickier. The movie is a fairly straightforward story about the way the recent recession affects people, and while they do add some news clips of the collapsing stock prices and bailouts, the film’s based around a fictional company called GTX, where the CEO (Craig T. Nelson) is more interested in keeping the company’s stock price up than he is in keeping jobs for the company, that originally started by building ships. The first casualty is Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) the company’s top salesman, who’s one of many that’s downsized because of redundancy. He’s bought into the yuppie lifestyle that he used to afford, and is angered when his qualifications don’t get him another job right away. Gene McClary, whose been with the company from the beginning, and is Salinger’s (Nelson) right-hand man, is starting to voice disgust with the constant firings. About the only people who’s job seems secure is Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello) who’s the HR rep in charge of downsizing, essentially, and is sleeping with Gene. There’s nothing unpredictable in this film, but that’s okay, it’s done and acted incredibly well. On top of the performers mention, there’s great performances by Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, and I especially want to mention Rosemarie Dewitt as Affleck’s wife, that takes a second job among other household cutbacks, some might know her from her word on “Mad Men,” and/or “The United States of Tara,” and she’s quite good here, as is everybody in parts that are strangely general and non-descript. The acting is the star of this movie, and it elevates the material, which actually looks at this recession through a more eh, what’s-the-word, basic viewpoint. There isn’t a deep analysis here or nothing new, and that’s been an easy criticism of the movie, but I didn’t exactly want to sit through “Wall Street,” again anyway.
Fright Night (1985) Director: Tom Holland
2 1/2 STARS
Admittedly, I hadn’t even heard of the original “Fright Night,” movie until some friends were bragging about going to see the remake. So, when I happened to run into on TV Saturday Night, I thought, maybe I should take a look at it, to see exactly what I’m missing. A teenager (William Ragsdale) suspects correctly that his neighbor might be a vampire. This annoys his girlfriend that’s held out on sex with him for a year. The girlfriend, btw, is played by Amanda Bearse, who played Marcy on “Married with Children,” and that’s one of the funniest things about the movie, to me. The movie, I think was played for camp, (at least I hope it was) and on some level it succeed at that. Roddy MacDowell has the most interesting part as a former B-movie horror star, named Peter Vincent, who now hosts one of those local late-night movies shows, that usually either has someone dressed like a vampire or some other weird monster, if they can't get Elvira. MacDowell is certainly the most interesting part of the film, having a lot of fun with this, really strange role that’s part complete ham, and part Van Heflin-type pseudo-expert on the subject.  Other than that though, I didn’t find any particularly reason to watch this film other than as either preparation for the recent remake, or just as a typical late-night bad movie to watch, and frankly as a bad movie, it had some camp, but not enough to really be funny, except for some of the bad acting, and it wasn’t particularly scary. The joke of coming up with classic ways to kill vampires from old movies not working, well, the joke stopped working pretty quickly. It’s a close call, but it just missed for me.  
Smokin’ Aces (2006) Director: Joe Carnahan
2 STARS
To the cute, goth, red-haired girl on the bus with the cool back tattoo, I think you’re name was Tiffany, who told me to go and see “Smokin’ Aces,” about four years ago, and I promised it was on my Netflix, it was, and I finally got through all the movies I had ahead of it (apx. 200+).  So, this review is for you. As for “Smokin’ Aces,” this movie has inspired a sequel, which I found strange considering the fates of most of the people in the film. The movie is one of those Guy Ritchie-inspired films where you get a bunch of different kinds of bad guys together in a very slick, overly-shot, overly-produced way. I’m not a fan of his, generally. In fact, if pressed, of the films of his I’ve seen, the one I like the most was his remake of  “Swept Away,” which starred his then-wife, Madonna, and that’s mostly ‘cause I like the original so much. I’m kinda stumped by this genre in general, and this film in particular. There’s a hit on a Las Vegas Magician, (Jeremy Piven) who has close connections with the last of the Las Vegas Mafia, and they’ve put a hit on him, of a million dollars, and this leads all hitmen and FBI to Reno, where the target, is protected in a penthouse suite at a Reno hotel. I wrote on facebook, that the movie kinda reminded me of a farce, except when you open a door, instead of finding somebody naked, you find somebody trying to kill ya. It had a few interesting moments in the beginning, where we’re introduced to all these characters, but it just devolves, into a mess of bloody violence as all these hitmen try to kill the same man at the same time, or maybe not. There’s a lot of confusion. Thankfully, there’s some recognizable actors to distinguish between these hitmen and cops, but it just became too mind-numbing, and frankly, you couldn’t understand what was happening anyway. There’s an explanation at the end of the movie, of exactly what happened, what went wrong, and why, but by that time, I didn’t care about any of these characters enough to even bother. It just felt like they’re were trying to put a bunch of meaningless violence into a context of a story, when if anything, at that point, I would’ve preferred the violence to just be meaningless.
Infamous (2006) Director: Douglas McGrath
3 STARS
At the same time Bennett Miller was making “Capote,” Douglas McGrath was making the film, “Infamous,” both of which are about Truman Capote heading off to Kansas to do research for the book, “In Cold Blood.” “Capote,” was released first, and was hailed as a masterpiece, and won an Oscar for it's star, Philip Seymour Hoffman. “Infamous,” came out later the next year. It does pail in comparison to “Capote,” although it is kind of unfortunate that these two films are forever linked. It’s not that unusual for an incident like that to occur, where two different movies with similar stories are made at the same time. Recently, both “No Strings Attched,” and “Friends with Benefits,” came out months apart, and both are romantic-comedies about friends have occasionally have sex with each other. (I'd explained the relationship further, but the two titles of the movies do that for me.) The most famous of these incidents involved “Dr. Strangelove…”, the Stanley Kubrick satire about Cold War annihilation fears, which got released before the Sidney Lumet film, “Fail-Safe,” which took the same material deadly seriously. “Strangelove” was a hit, and “Fail-Safe,” wasn’t, although both are considered classics now.  “Infamous,” is simply okay  and interesting. It’s well acted and Toby Jones, is good as Capote, although he does come off a little too much like the Capote that we’re all familiar with from his appearances on things like Match Game and TV interviews and such. There doesn’t seem to be much added substance to him, and it borders on simple impression at times, but I think that's more the material than the performance. The movie kinds feels, partly like a documentary, where many of his fellow New York socialites are seen in interview segments, played by people like Peter Bogdanovich and Hope Davis, and a strangely casted Sandra Bullock in the Harper Lee role, and many of the other scenes seem like throwaway genre exercises where they got the scene, and then got “like a Woody Allen movie,” out of the hat. (Allen is an advisor to the film.) Daniel Craig as the convicted murderer Perry Smith, is very good, but this movie just isn't as fulfilling and intimate a story as it could be, and we know it can be. It’s an interesting examination of the auteur theory, but alone, it's a little bit of a mixed bag, mild recommendation.
Ordet (1955) Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
3 1/2 STARS
There’s must be some religious fervor in Denmark, ‘cause most, if not all of the movies I’ve seen from there, at least the ones not directed by Susanne Bier, all have to do in some way with a local culture of excessive devotion to God. “Ordet,”  (Which translates to “The Word,” as in, “of God”.) was one of only four feature films directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. He directed a lot of short films mostly. The only other film of his I’ve seen is “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” which is considered one of the best silent movies ever made. (Similar to Terrance Malick, he only made a feature film every ten years or so. It involves two families, in the 1920s rural Denmark, where there’s a lot of monologues about God. The conflict arises when neither family wants their children to be together, because they don’t belong to the same, practically similar Christian religion as the other. The movie is very slow-moving in the beginning; this is not a film for everyone. It’s not really a film for me, either. I like religious conflict and symbolism, but I like to stay with Bergman, he can at least be humorous at times. Dreyer is somewhat way more serious about these conflicts of dogma he analyzes. His movies are certainly distinctive and memorable, and despite the very slow beginning, we get to learn these characters, and then think about what happens to them, and the part religion plays in their lives. I like the movie, but it’s not for those who are looking for a film that they don’t have to think about when they watch. It’s good, but Dreyer is for the advanced filmgoer.
Stolen Summer (2002) Director: Pete Jones
4 STARS
“Stolen Summer,” became famous for having been the film selected by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon during the contest for the TV show, “Project Greenlight,” during it’s first season, where the making of the movie was then documented on HBO. Damon and Affleck caught a break when their screenplay “Good Will Hunting,” was sold and they became famous and subsequently won an Oscar for the screenplay, and they wanted to give another unknown screenwriter/filmmaker a chance, they did, and while they didn’t make a movie as great as “Good Will Hunting,” they did make a good one. “Stolen Summer,” takes place in Chicago, and young Pete (Adi Stein) is out of Catholic school for the Summer, and he’s deeply concerned he’s going to hell. His family is devoted Irish-Catholic, led by his mother and father (Bonnie Hunt and Aiden Quinn, both very good as usual), and they have a lot of kids. After learning that Jews don’t go to heaven, Pete decides to hang out by the synagogue, where he sells free lemonade and Jesus, with the permission of the Rabbi (Kevin Pollak). The rabbi’s son Danny (Mike Weinberg) becomes interested in Pete’s goal to help Jews get into heaven, and he volunteers to help Pete on his quest. It’s a good first film by writer/director Pete Jones; both families and their trials and tribulations, seemed realistic and accurate. He’s still getting work in Hollywood too, he just wrote the film “Hall Pass,” that came out earlier this year. Just proves once again, a good screenplay, is the first step to a good movie, and that being a good writer, can get you good work as a writer.  
Half-Life (2008) Director: Jennifer Pheng
3 STARS
DISCLOSURE: I met one of the producers of this film during a film class once, when he was a guest speaker. It's the only time I've met him, and have had no contact with him outside of that discussion, and it doesn’t affect my opinion of the film.
“Half-Life,” is the kind of independent film that really is a mood piece. Either you’re gonna like the mood or your not. It involves some sci-fi elements, but it’s really about a family where the father has suddenly disappeared literally into the night sky. The plane he piloted never landed. There’s lot of news reports that are played through-out the film about events happening throughout the world, and beyond. One of them involves an astronaut on a spaceship that suddenly decided without warning, to steer the spaceship towards the sun. These strange events escalate all over the world, but in the Wu family, the tensions is more based in the everyday. The mother, Saura (Julia Nickson), has brought a new boyfriend home, and her two kids, Pam and Tim (Sanoe Lake, Alexander Agate) aren’t as smitten with him as the mother. Sometime, they go into their imagination, and there are some wonderful animation sequences in the film. A lot of the ability that apparently the son has isn’t explained fully, I’m not even 100% sure if it’s in his mind or if it’s real. There are a lot of side-characters that seem to have their own narratives at times, and I’m not always sure these things piece together. I’m not quite sure they’re supposed to either. There’s enough that I liked, just enough to recommend though, especially for the more banal sequences, for instance a great scene with the mother and son where she’s brought him along to work with her, and she actually washes airplanes at the tiny airport her husband took off from. Despite all the film’s other flaws, I did get the feeling that this was a family that was legitimately torn apart, and was struggling to adapt to the new norm. It was written and directed by Jennifer Phang, she’s mostly done short films up to this point, and I think she’s got a lot of interesting ideas, visually and story-wise, and there might been too many, but just enough for me with this film, barely.
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