Capsule Review: The A-Team, Liam Neeson and the state of Summer Movies

Apparently, Liam Neesan is the new “go-to” tough guy. The mantle that was long worn by the likes of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sylvestor Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Sean Connery is now being filled by Mr. Neeson.

In the sleeper hit from last year, “Taken” the word of mouth and buzz was generated by Neeson’s measured performance and quiet sense of violent energy. When Neeson was seen in an early film with Dennis Quaid and Cher,( “Suspect”), I remember thinking of this forgettable plot, “The only one really trying to ACT is the mute guy with no lines!” That was Liam Neeson and he has managed to convey the sense of urgent unrest in his greatest roles, such as “Schindler’s List”.

This type of action-pabulum is usually thrown out for audiences who don’t care about minor details like acting and plot points. But in this case, “The A Team” is simply a nice little piece of action-candy. It’s not high theater, but it’s not as low-brow as some might think.

The other actors, notably the Australian actor Sharlto Copley, who was most recently seen in “District 9,” are not always trying to aim for the trees with their acting chops but it makes for a nice relaxing two hours of mindless action theater for those who know the drill. There is nothing wrong with knowing what the basic elements of the plot will be. The audiences in Shakespeare’s day all knew the story line of his plays. The trick is in getting the audiences attention and keeping it.

I have taken solace in the fact that critics have been sitting up and taking notice of the fact that the summer movie season has really been loaded with a bunch of crap. There are bad movies and there are unfortunate re-makes and there are movies that should never have been made.
I am funny about things like this because, the older I get, the more it takes for me to actually GO to the movie to see something. Rarely will I get the urge to go and sit for two hours or more without a compelling urge to see a certain actor or to see some new plot twist or variation.

I guess the older I get, the more I see that there really is not much new under the sun. But it’s no secret that the summer movies have been loaded with nothing. The few exceptions are mentioned here, but it’s been an extraordinarily long summer for fans of GOOD movies.

Capsule Review: The Other Guys

“The Other Guys” is a typical Will Farrell movie in that he is in it to make ‘em laugh. The twist is that this time the movie has some really clever and original moments that will surprise those of us who have come to expect Will Farrell “boiler plate” comedies.

You know that he is going to “out-dumb” the rest of the cast with his quirky sayings. You know that he is going to irritate his partner in fighting crime, Mark Wahlberg, who is perfectly cast as the irritated foil to Farrell’s desk-bound persona.

There is a really funny cameo bit from “The Rock”, Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L Jackson but, as is the case in some great comedies, one of the “second bananas” ends up stealing the show. Cast as the captain presiding over the pair of misfits, Michael Keaton reminds us that he got his start in stand-up. Keaton at one point earnestly points out that his second job at “Bed, Bath & Beyond” is one of the reasons he’s trying so hard to ensure that his department doesn’t step over the line…This is just one of the many asides that are tossed out on the dartboard for the audience to absorb.

The twist in this film is the fact that Will Farrell loves his desk-jockey position in the police department and Wahlberg, as the volatile and trigger-happy partner, is not content to stay in the office. Mayhem ensues and the laughs pile up. This film is a happy follow-up to the quirky piece Farrell did with John C. Reilly, ‘Stepbrothers”, directed by Farrell “go-to” guy, Adam McKay (Mckay also directed the funniest of Farrell films, “Anchorman”.

Capsule Review: Dinner for Schmucks

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd are two immensely likeable actors working with at times, an annoying script. The premise is based on an earlier French film, which is problematic from the start. French comedy doesn’t always translate well, and, although I haven’t seen it, I suspect that the comedy was a subtle one whereas in America, we tend to use a sledgehammer to “Jerry Lewis” the comedy out of all situations (i.e…”milk it for all it’s worth!)

In this instance, less probably should be more, but the actors somehow turn in into a bittersweet sort of treatise on the corporate greed and insensitivity of big companies that is a popular mantra these days. The opening is one of the most interesting and creative elements that showcases the quirks and foibles of Carell’s obnoxious character.

There is just enough here to make it interesting to watch and nothing more. I would say that the like-ability factor goes a long way in this case to make the film watchable. But this piece of sugar candy will melt in your brain and fizz away before you leave the theatre.

Capsule Review: Date Night

Most of the reviews for this movie have focused on the pedestrian plot line and some of the predictable formulaic comedy (reminiscent of “The Out-of-Towners”) and not on the performance of the comics or the fact that this is a rare comedy NOT skewed for younger or thirty-something audiences. At one point, Ms. Fey states, “Don’t judge me…What is a flash drive?”
At this point, we realize why some audiences/reviewers will not “get” this movie. The old-fashioned idea of a “date night” is almost quaint by today’s standards. This is a comedy for baby boomers. It is made for those of us who are “of a certain age.”
For that reason alone, baby boomers should identify with this movie. The idea of a married couple wanting to make their marriage work and working at it by going out on the town on a “date” is a hilariously quaint notion in some quarters. That is what makes a lot of Steve Carrell’s films work. The fact that he starts from the point of view that he is “square” and not hip. He is everyman to a lot of people and that is something that is lacking in a lot of film stars today. It’s the same quality- the quality of connecting- that comes through in Tom Hanks movies. Date Night is a light comedy and it is not for everyone. But if you like this kind of comedy, it may tell you something about who you are. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

6 Degrees News: April 2010: Books about Film

Some of the 6 Degrees of Film ideas directly link the films of the present with films of the past. But other degrees link the ever-evolving IDEA of film with the future of media and movie-making. Two books about Hollywood are highly recommended for all 6 Degree followers: One book that speaks to this is a new book about the real “Hollywood numbers”. “The Hollywood Economist”, by Edward Jay Epstein chronicles the interesting fact that box-office profits are a marginal amount of the vast money-making machine of Hollywood. The REAL profits are found in deals for DVR’s and overseas distribution plus the marketing rights for blockbuster film products. It’s a dirty little secret about modern-moviemaking.

The other book is “Hellraisers” about the hard-drinking and sometimes darkly comic lives of four of Hollywood’s great actors of the latter part of the twentieth century.
Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, Richard Harris & Oliver Reed are chronicled in this book. Peter O’Toole is a particular favorite in 6 Degrees films so this is a must-read for all film buffs!

Nothing really jumps out in terms of New Releases this month other than “Date Night” with Tina Fey and Steve Carrell.
Movie fanatics (one step of obsessive-compulsive from movie BUFFS) take note: This month Turner Classic features Gene Kelly’s famous dance with the cartoon mouse in MGM Parade (set to TIVO as its shown sporadically throughout the month). One of the great character actors, Patrick McGoohan (star of the classic “The Prisoner” series), stars in “The Quare Fellow” on April 10th.
Those who love comedy will love the unforgettable scene where Cary Grant smash-faces Katherine Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story”.
Bad B Alert! Looks like “Reveille with Beverly” & Eve Knew Her Apples” rival “Hot Tub Time Machine” for the honor of best/worst film titles. (Followers of the blog can pick from the list of our favorite Bad-B’s of all time! On the last day of April, TCM will show “Beach Blanket Bingo” PLUS a William Shatner film from 1965 so the “deliciously awful” hits just keep on coming!

Grumpy Critics review:Kick ass cinema featuring pabulum and dribble

A friend of mine told me recently that her adult son liked to see movies where the fight scenes looked “real.” And for that reason, he would not see “Avatar.” This is a valid argument perhaps, however it is certainly not the only reason I would choose not to see “Avatar.”

If I believe that the world in which the aliens live is a viable and realistic depiction of an alien life-force, I would go see “Avatar.” If I believe that the dialogue between the main characters is witty and realistic and engaging, I would go see any movie.

If I believe that I will learn something or become engaged in an emotion and/or cathartic moment of cinematic magic, I will see a film. Movies are meant to be viewed and reviewed by all different types of people. Some movies are not “my cup of tea” but I know they are valid and have merit.

Other films I love and realize they are not viewed in the same light by many other people. The same is true for all art forms, including paintings and literature. But the criteria for movie-going cannot be narrowed to a bias that some of another generation can reduce to “kick-ass” cinema, as I call it. “Kick-ass cinema” can be defined as a type of film where the predominant emotion is one of elation when the hero “kicks-ass” against the protagonist and the entire film-making experience is cathartic only for those who view life through a very narrow window.

This is not really a new problem for film-makers and there are a number of films that have been made from the post-WWII generation through today catering to the “kick-ass” audience. However, the types of films that have lingered in the highest-grossing list and the ones that have earned sequels in the past ten to twenty years represent the “dumbing-down’ of a large portion of the movie-going audience.
To be fair, films like Titanic & Avatar don’t really figure in this category. But films like “Fast & Furious”, Transformers and other mindless high-speed car chase action films are fast becoming the sure-fire hits for Hollywood studios. These films are the counter-point to the small, independent pictures that have been made in the U.S. and abroad since the ‘60’s.

The breakdown of the old Hollywood studio system did spawn independent and foreign films that make us think. But the “kick-ass” brand of film-making makes money and that is why they are here to stay. At some point in our lives, as we age, we start to ask ourselves how much money we want to spend to be entertained by the same mindless pap that is being paraded on screen and masquerades for “entertainment?” Speaking for myself, this is a nasty apocalyptic thought. Even the notion of having to waste two or more hours sitting through this type of dribble has made the very thought of becoming a film critic akin to someone condemned to a torture chamber.

One of the most satisfying addendums I have seen in recent times comes in one of my least favorite movie guides, “Entertainment Weekly.” In the sidebar, there is a list where the highest-grossing films of all times are adjusted for inflation, and the list begins to look quite different. (“Gone with the Wind” comes out on top, I do believe!)

So the good news is that there are still great films being made, even in Hollywood. But the demand is high for pabulum and dribble being churned out of Hollywood simply to generate revenue, and that is all we may eventually get. Imagination and originality in plots and content are all that should be asked for in good film-making. It’s not too much to ask and we should all demand more of it in the days and decades to come.

Capsule Review: The Wolfman

I like “old school” movies such as these because if you go to see a movie about werewolves, you would expect blood and gore. And this picture delivers that. Anthony Hopkins and Benecio del Toro are good in their parts. Hopkins reminds me a bit of the old Boris Karloff who would behave in horror films the way he was expected to behave. He was there to deliver a “menacing persona” that would encompass a whole spectrum of horror we had come to expect from his presence in a movie.

In this case, Hopkins doesn’t even have to extend himself much to allow us to identify him with the menacing persona. He delivers it in his voice. The plot is pretty standard as wolfman plots go, but my one big complaint was the fact that the character del Toro played was supposed to be an actor. That footage must have ended up on the cutting room floor as we never see him, save for one brief flash, acting. But the idea would have been interesting enough to further the characters development and was instead, simply thrown out as an interesting aside to his character.

The movie is fairly forgettable, but there are worst wolfman movies out there. Unfortunately, I don’t have to guess because I have seen a few of them! The movie is a good popcorn movie for Friday night horror but not worth the trip to the cinema.