[Movie Review] Man of the Year

Man of the YearStarring: Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Laura Linney, Jeff Goldblum

Director: Barry Levinson

Genre: Drama

Cert: 12

Released: 2006


Sometimes things just don’t work.  Here in Ireland, for example, we bought and abandoned millions of Euros worth of electronic voting machines because they were found to be unreliable and could be interfered with so as to affect the outcome of an election.  And while that is fact, Barry Levinson (director of “Good Morning, Vietnam”, “Rain Man” and “Wag the Dog”) brings us “Man of the Year” – the story of a comedian wrongly elected President of the United States.

Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) is the Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert of this fictional tale.  Dobbs hosts a TV show where he pokes fun at the politicians he feels are letting down America.  An off-hand remark from an audience member prompts him to run for President as an independent candidate.  While seeming short on policies other than challenging the lobby group funding and affiliations of Democrats and Republicans, he charms America with his humour and calls for change (probably written before Obama trademarked the concept).  Incredibly, he wins the election.  

But, unknown to him, a computer glitch within a new electronic voting machine system by a company called Delacroy, has wrongly elected him.  Days prior to the election, computer programmer Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) accidentally discovers the problem and reports it to her boss James Hemmings (Rick Roberts).  Hemmings ignores the warning as he knows it is too late to make modifications without seriously damaging the company’s credibility.  He brings in Stewart (Jeff Goldblum) to help silence Eleanor but she is already worming her way in to the affections of President-Elect Dobbs.  Can she get the truth to Dobbs before Delacroy get to her? 

Maybe it’s the eternal question of whether or not someone finds Robin Williams funny.  I don’t.  And he’s not helped here by a very uneven script where his frequent digs at politicians range from mildly amusing to amateur.  He does fire the occasional solid one-liner (“I had sex with a prostitute when I was 21, I was so bad, she gave me a refund”) and makes well-delivered observations during a political debate where his retort to his opponent declaring his support for hydrogen cars is “that’s weird, because you’re backed by oil companies.” 

But this is basic stuff and as you watch this very average comedian become President of the United States you are hoping there is something a little meatier to get your teeth in to.  Unfortunately that won’t be found in the parallel plot line involving Eleanor and the computer bug that has devastated democracy.  I don’t think a film like this needs to be overbearing in its technical jargon but the specific glitch she discovers is eye-rolling in its simplicity.   

Christopher Walken goes through the motions as Dobbs’ agent and Jeff Goldblum (who doesn’t seem to age) is so much better than this minor role as a sort of corporate “fixer”.  

There’s little here to raise the pulse and if I were you I’d rent “Bulworth” instead.  As I said, sometimes things just don’t work.

1halfstar

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[Movie Review] In Bruges

In Bruges

Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes

Director: Martin McDonagh

Genre: Thriller

Cert: 18

Released: 2008

 

Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are two very different people.  They both kill people for a living – working for Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) – but have little else in common.  Ken is older, has been a killer for a long time but enjoys tranquillity and sight-seeing.  Ray is new to the game, is easily bored and has a habit of getting himself in to surreal scrapes.  

When a hit in a London church goes wrong they flee to Bruges in Belgium for a fortnight and are told to await a call from Harry.  While Ken enjoys the serenity of the city, Ray gets involved in ludicrous disagreements with American tourists and angsty midgets.  Things pick up for him when he meets Chloe (Clémence Poésy) on the set of a Dutch movie shoot.  With both men now happy to stay in Bruges, it seems their two weeks will pass satisfactorily.  But Harry has news for them and soon the peaceful city will become bullet-ridden and blood-stained.  

It takes a little while but when “In Bruges” finds its feet, it’s irrepressible.  The awkward opening – dominated by Farrell’s Irish brogue – soon gives way to some darkly comical scenes as Ray and Ken, along with the viewer, become acquainted with the city.  Much credit goes to writer-director Martin McDonagh who has created a gangster movie in the ilk of “Layer Cake” and “Sexy Beast” but yet one which feels fresh and original – his Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay (and similar awards from BAFTA, Phoenix and the British Independent Film Awards) underlining this.

Gleeson and Farrell were both deservedly nominated for Golden Globes (with the latter winning).  Farrell bounces around the screen early on with what seems to be adult ADHD but before long the script allows him to expand his performance, shedding the quirkiness and introducing haunted and emotional sides.  Gleeson is as masterful as ever, one of those actors who always seem effortlessly on the money.  

Ralph Fiennes plays the violent but principled gangster who is not impressed with the behaviour of his hitmen.  I haven’t seen much of Fiennes since his “Schindler’s List”, “Quiz Show” and “Strange Days” run about 15 years ago (less said about “Red Dragon” the better) and he is almost unrecognisable with his thick cockney accent and cropped hairstyle.  His supporting role is played to perfection, balancing his violent ethics alongside some delicious dark humour.  

While you can probably call a few of the major plot turns they don’t by any means damage what is an incredible 100 minutes or so.  “In Bruges” is one of those special movies that doesn’t come along too often and simply can’t be missed.

4halfstar

[Movie Review] The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons Movie Starring: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer
Director: David Silverman
Genre: Comedy
Cert: 12
Released: 2007

It must be hard writing a movie-length version of an iconic 22 minute satirical cartoon that has fired out 420 episodes over 19 years. But Matt Groening and his team, who long had a desire to do it, finally achieved it in 2007, six years after writing begun.

Homer is causing trouble again, polluting the Springfield Lake with a silo full of pig (well, Spider Pig) feces. Naturally the Environmental Protection Agency are none too impressed with the pollution and the EPA Director Russ Cargill decides to enclose Springfield in a glass dome to stop the pollution spreading.

When the residents find out that Homer is responsible, it looks like curtains for him and the family. However, they manage to escape the dome and make their way to Alaska to start a new life. Hooray!

But when they hear of Cargill’s plan to destroy their home town for good, Homer has a choice to make: stay in Alaska where he can terrorise husky dogs or return to reclaim the town and his reputation. I’m sure he’ll pick the easier one.

I didn’t have high hopes for “The Simpsons” – a cartoon that was surpassed by “Family Guy” in my affections a few years back – but thankfully the movie-length version is more than watchable. It does feel like overload at times, kind of like you expect things to end about 2-3 times before they do, but that’s what the 20-odd minute conditioning of the last two decades does to you.

I’m disappointed that there weren’t more celebrity cameos (Green Day and Tom Hanks are there) but apparently a lot of re-writes saw the likes of Edward Norton, Erin Brockovich and Minnie Driver end up on the cutting room floor.

But overall it’s a strong script, has some quality lines (Homer’s reaction to the lowering of the Dome over Springfield: “D’ohhhhhhhhhmmme”) and will make you laugh. That’s enough, right?

3star

[Movie Review] 29th Street

29th StreetStarring: Danny Aiello, Anthony LaPaglia, Lainie Kazan
Director: George Gallo
Genre: Comedy
Cert: 15
Released: 1991

“29th Street” is the semi-autobiographical account of the life of Frank Pesce (who stars in the role of his own brother in the movie), a directionless, young Italian-American who hits it lucky when he is entered in the first ever New York State lottery.

Everyone is convinced that Frank is going to win such has been the amazing luck he has experienced during his life. Compare this to his hard-working, blue collar father who has endured, rather than enjoyed, his.

While the screenplay is solid and deals well with the opposing issues of love and resentment, it’s the two central performances that primarily shine. Anthony LaPaglia (playing Frank) became my favourite actor once I saw this movie in 1992. His ability to play different shades, delivers goosepimples as he delivers his lines. It’s a masterful performance by a man as relatively inexperienced as he was then.

Screen veteran Danny Aiello (playing his father), is perfectly cast as an honest but occasionally maladroit man whose influence over his family visibly decreases by the day.

“29th Street” is an engaging sleeper hit.

4star

[Movie Review] Zoolander

ZoolanderStarring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Christine Taylor, Jerry Stiller, Milla Jovovich, Jon Voight, David Duchovny
Director: Ben Stiller
Genre: Comedy
Cert: 12
Released: 2001

Maybe watching “Zoolander” in 2005 is an exercise in futility. Ben Stiller had set the bar quite high with “Meet the Parents” and “There’s Something About Mary” in the years previous to the release of “Zoolander” and he further enhanced his reputation with “Starsky and Hutch”, “Meet the Fockers”, “Dodgeball” and “Duplex”. Hey, I enjoyed “Duplex”!

Anyways, the boy is entertaining to say the least and he (once again) teams up with bosom-buddy Owen Wilson in a Funny stuffmovie that’s not so much a satire of the fashion industy, but more an over-the-top look at any number of individual airhead male models that are floating around out there.

Stiller plays Derek Zoolander, Male Model of the Year for three years running, infamous for his famous ‘looks’ including ‘Blue Steel’, ‘Le Tigre’ and ‘Ferrari’. But things start to unravel for the catwalk veteran. His close friends and fellow male models (Todd, Brint, Meekus and Rufus) all perish in an avoidable fuel explosion, Time magazine journalist Matilda (Taylor – “Dodgeball”, “The Wedding Singer”, “The Craft”) has labeled him ‘a model idiot’ in the latest issue, and his throne is under threat from new kid on the block, Worzel Gummidge-haired Hansel (Wilson). Unknown to him he is also about to become an assassin, secretly brainwashed to assassinate the Malaysian Prime Minister who has infuriated the fashion industry by aiming to abolish child labour in his country.

So there’s your plot – utterly ridiculous. And of course that part of the deal doesn’t really matter as long as the jokes are good. And you know what? They’re not really that good. The Zoolander character is of course intentionally dumb, I mean really dumb. Derek decides to quit the fashion industry and dedicate his life to helping people. One of his ideas is to set up a ‘center for kids who can’t read good’. When famous fashion designer Mugatu (Ferrell – “Anchorman”, “Old School”) promises him that he’ll build ‘The center for kids who can’t read good and want to do other stuff good too’ and shows him a model of the future building, Zoolander smashes it to bits and asks how kids can be expected to learn how to read when they can’t even fit in to the building. A valid point, Mugatu agrees, exasperated.

There are more brain cells in ... um .... damn ... should have prepared a joke.There are numerous long-winded scenes that are not that amusing including a ‘walk off’ between Zoolander and Hansel – the presence of David Bowie the only thing that brings anything redeeming to those five minutes. The numerous cameos (an indicator of Stiller’s standing in Hollywood these days – he directs the movie), are mildly interesting. Billy Zane does a tough guy thing for a minute or two, Fred Durst gives a thumbs up, Christian Slater and Paris Hilton pay homage to Zoolander, and the likes of Donald Trump, Claudia Schiffer, Lenny Kravitz and Garry Shandling can be seen along the way too.

Stiller’s direction, since I mentioned it, his third attempt on the big screen (“The Cable Guy”, “Reality Bites” – neither well received), is really a little flat. I also suspect it distracted him from building a strong character in Zoolander as he really doesn’t convince. It feels a little bit too ‘by numbers’ for my liking, always going for the easy joke, which arguably Stiller can’t make pay off as well as, say, Leslie Nielsen can in “The Naked Gun” movies.

Wilson is ok but again the character is fairly flaccid. Christine Taylor plays the love interest and she’s subsequently made herself a near-constant in Stiller/Wilson movies since. She turns out to be quite important to the sanity of the viewer as she frequently points out to Zoolander just how idiotic male models are. Ben’s real life dad, Jerry (Frank Costanza in TVs “Seinfeld”), plays his manager Maury and has a few inspired moments where he gets to yell a lot. Star of the show is the OTT-character Mugatu played by Will Ferrell. In perhaps the best fashion pastiche in the movie, his look is part-Ming the Merciless, part-James Bond bad guy.

While Zoolander is watchable it also has to be termed a let-down. Maybe Stiller’s behind-the-camera duties preoccupied him – or maybe the film just isn’t that funny.

2star

[Movie Review] Bad Santa

Bad SantaStarring: Billy Bob Thornton, John Ritter, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Genre: Comedy
Cert: 15
Released: 2003

Willie (Thornton) is a pretty bad Santa. He swears, he drinks, he pisses himself and he hates Christmas and kids. But he’s not a mall Santa for the good of his health – he does it for his bank balance. Each year, along with elf sidekick Marcus (Cox) and vampy Asian Lois (Lauren Tom), Willie cracks the safe of the mall he happens to be working in and then lives off the proceeds until the next festive season.

Would you give these two a job?  Seriously? He’s a terminal loser, dogged by memories of his abusive childhood and unable to lift himself out of what seems to be a terminal rut. By the time they hit Phoenix for their latest scam, Willie has got even worse – more drunk and more abusive than usual. But things are a little better than usual. His womanising ways have been tempered by sweet but sexy bar-girl Sue (Graham) and he’s moved in to the house of an obsessive kid (Brett Kelly) and his senile grandmother. But mall manager Bob Chipeska (Ritter) is horrified by Willie’s behaviour and asks mall security man Gin (Mac – “Oceans Eleven”) to investigate.

Will Gin catch the gang out before Christmas Eve – and maybe more importantly will any of the seasonal goodwill rub off on Willie?

Although it’s something of a one-joke movie, “Bad Santa” is a viewing pleasure that’s frequently amusing, and You can't help but love this character.occasionally laugh-out loud, entertainment. Placing a fish out of water is a plot device that can fall on its face just as much as it succeeds. But thankfully director Terry Zwigoff pulls it off by building around Thornton’s expert portrayal and keeping sentimentality to a minimum. There’s very little that misses the mark. John Ritter stars here in his last role before his untimtely death in 2003 and does a great job playing a timid mall manager who tiptoes around like an ant stranded at an anteater’s social event might.

This isn’t a conventional Christmas movie and it’s certainly not for the family. Don’t let the title put you off – just go see “Bad Santa” and another fine performance from one of the most atypical A-list stars around.

3halfstar

[Movie Review] The Cooler

The CoolerStarring: William H Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello, Daniel J Nascarella, Ron Livingston
Director: Wayne Kramer
Genre: Drama
Cert: 18
Released: 2003

Did they ever exist? Is the concept of “coolers” a clever invention of Hollywood? Are coolers about as real as Godzilla, the Blair Witch or a good Kevin Costner movie? Well if so, suspend disbelief for just a while.

Wayne Kramer’s movie tells the story of a rather pathetic but decent man, Bernie Lootz (Macy). Lootz’s job at the Golden Shangri-La casino on the Las Vegas strip is to “cool” people who are on a winning streak. He simply stands at a table where a gambler has cleaned up and instantly their luck turns. Yes, he really is that unlucky.

Of course he’s a real earner for casino manager, Shelly (Baldwin). And right now he needs Bernie to be on top form as casino owner Nicky (Nascarella) wants the casino to modernise with new man, Larry (Livingston) at the helm. But Bernie’s luck is turning and that means that Shelly’s is too – in the opposite direction. When attractive young waitress Natalie (Bello) inexplicably moves in on Bernie, he gets a spring in his step and his sad life becomes a thing of the past.

But Shelly isn’t giving in that easily and he’ll do whatever he can to ruin Bernie’s happiness and ensure that his cooler remains in Vegas.

It’s hard not to love William H Macy with his depressed demeanour, hangdog look and weather-beaten features. His turn in “The Cooler” is without doubt the best thing on show. Making him miserable looking is not difficult – drooped shoulders, constantly down-turned mouth, ill-fitting suit and the fact that there’s never any cream left in the jug for his coffee. He pulls it off to a “T”.

But sadly he’s fighting a losing battle against a turgid script, poor direction and pacing, insipid and sometimes laughable dialogue (‘Look in my eyes, I am the only mirror you’re ever gonna need’ – Bernie to Natalie) and just about one of the worst judged endings I’ve seen in a movie. The plot on the surface sounds fine but the execution of it leaves much to be desired. The storytelling from Kramer at the end is poorly done and confusing and by that point I had been left feeling cold and totally detached from the characters anyway.

You want a villain? It’s not (Academy Award nominated) Alec Baldwin’s sometime-convincing bad guy that works for me. It’s Daniel Nascarella’s violent and vengeful portrayal of Nicky that’s locked down real good. A re-cast would have worked well here. Put the old-timer, casino-manager Nicky as the man being put under the thumb of the young entrepreneur owner, Shelly. Not that it makes any difference the movie would still be a train wreck, just might have been less of one if the roles were reversed.

Maria Bello plays Natalie, a woman who takes a shine to the older, down-trodden Bernie. Why? Who knows ? Maybe it’s the old ‘watch the quite ones’ mentality. But with plot turns and twists that don’t take long to figure out, you’ll know the real reason before you’re told it.

There are some other sub-plots going on along the way that are obvious as to the reason for their existence but do little to immerse you any more than has already been achieved. The last hour sees us go around in circles so many times you’re dizzy by the time the payoff comes.

It just didn’t work for me at all. And anyway don’t they know that “uncool” is the new cool?

1halfstar