Monthly Archives: July 2013

Review: The Heat

the-heat-5Recipe for Hollywood buddy cop movie:

– Add one uptight, know-it-all FBI agent (Sandra Bullock.)

-Dump in a brash, rough cop (Melissa McCarthy.)

-Mix, but do not expect ingredients to blend well.

-Pour in alcohol, and they become best friends. They start kicking ass and taking names, literally.

-Sprinkle in a fight to add some spice to their new friendship.

-Crack in an injury to remind them how much they love and respect each other.

-Pepper with a some great one-liners.

-Add a dash of slapstick comedy.

-Bake for 2 hours and get a tasty but predictable comedy.

This didn’t ruin the plot of “The Heat” for you because you’ve seen this movie before. Whether the agents in question are Tom Hanks and a large dog or two Beverly Hills cops and Eddie Murphy, this movie is about as original as the butter on your movie theater popcorn.

But you’ve never seen this film before with two female leads. Yes, it’s sad but true that it took Hollywood until 2013 to realize that women can helm an action comedy not about dating or weddings, and that they can do it just as well, if not better, than men.

“The Heat” works because McCarthy is willing to push not just genre limitations but crass humor to the point where you might choke on your popcorn. It’s evident she got her start in improv because her rule seems to be “go all out and wait for someone else to rein me in,” and fortunately, director Paul Feig (also behind “Bridesmaids,” let’s have him direct everything) has a very loose grip. Whether its sexual innuendo or chasing perps down with her junker, she adds a spontaneity and edge to an otherwise hackneyed genre. Unfortunately, she also frequently overshadows Bullock, who is a decent comedian in her own right but not nearly as wild as McCarthy. However, without Bullock to balance her craziness, McCarthy might be overbearing.

“The Heat” seems to mark a golden age for McCarthy, and though she does deserve all of the praise she gets, future directors need to be prudent. McCarthy, who has made her reputation by playing over-the-top characters, is dangerously close to becoming just another a celebrity comedian who always plays some version of herself. Shannon, her character in this film, has a back story and specific quirks, but she mostly feels like McCarthy doing her schtick. If you like McCarthy’s signature belligerent delivery, this is good news and makes a generic comedy worth watching, but McCarthy needs to make sure she doesn’t get caught up in the over hype.

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Review: White House Down

channing-tatum-jamie-foxx-white-house-downThe White House is on fire, but it’s not as hot as Channing Tatum’s abs. This appears to be the selling point for the latest big budget disaster movie, “White House Down.” And it’s understandable that you’d assume the resulting movie is as dense as Tatum’s muscles. Except it’s actually smarter than that and one of the most entertaining films out right now.

It’s hard to be Channing Tatum sometimes — his character, John Cale, is divorced, his annoyingly precocious daughter doesn’t even call him dad and the Secret Service won’t hire him. In a fortuitous twist of fate, though, he happens to be on a White House tour with his daughter when a paramilitary attacks aka the perfect opportunity for Tatum to rip his dress shirt off and save the president.

It sounds ridiculous, but director Roland Emmerich knows it, and everyone is in on the joke. Tatum and Jamie Foxx (as President Sawyer) have a great buddy chemistry, which helps playfully reverse the power balance. Foxx is essentially an Air Jordan-wearing caricature of Obama but one who doesn’t mind packing a little heat, so the out of character presidential depiction is hilarious as a result. This is the perfect movie for Tatum because it shows off both his action and comedic chops and demonstrates why he is one of the most talented and deserving stars in Hollywood right now.

Sure, you’ve seen this movie before. It’s basically Emmerich’s “Independence Day” without aliens and with a sense of humor, and he knows that enough to poke fun at it when a White House tour guide notes, “This is the part that the aliens blew up in ‘Independence Day.'” Emmerich’s self-awareness and his actors’ tongue-in-cheek attitude makes up for how predictable the movie is and makes it a fun ride instead.

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

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If any modern director was born to make a Shakespeare adaptation, it’s Joss Whedon. When you take away the vampires, spaceships, horror parodies and superheroes, Whedon’s work is really about people. His characters talk about their feelings more than most romantic comedy lovers, but it’s all veiled by a clever layer of sarcasm. Just like Benedick and Beatrice are the perfect match, Whedon is the right fit for “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Whedon brings the bard to modern day Santa Monica. Shakespeare’s classic lines and wit are totally intact (Whedon’s version is abridged but otherwise just as faithful as most traditional takes) but accompanied by characters who drink Cosmos, use iPhones, eat Sprinkles cupcakes and carry guns not swords. Instead of seeming anachronistic, these playful modern updates show just how relevant Shakespeare can still be after 400+ years.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is hard to do badly as long as the director has a sharp Beatrice and Benedick, and Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof have a true spark. There is a tinge of snark to every line Acker utters. She conveys Beatrice’s facade of flippancy well, but there is a deeper hurt behind each eye roll. Denisof plays the arrogant, overly charming Benedick well, but his strong chin occasionally wobbles with just the right amount of vulnerability to make him likable. There is indeed a “skirmish of wits” between the two actors and a real chemistry that makes some of the other absurdities of the play easier to swallow.

That’s not to knock the rest of the supporting cast, who might play space cowboys in one film but can do Shakespeare just as well as they do at the Globe. Nathan Fillion makes a particularly hilarious Dogberry; no one has ever been such an ass. It’s not all highbrow theater, though, Whedon perfectly complements the dialogue with great physical humor. Acker is a hero for expertly falling down a flight of stairs.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is fun, fresh and utterly entertaining. The seasoned theater buff will appreciate the original but true version, and even the person who hasn’t cracked Shakespeare since freshman English will laugh along. In short, we should let Joss Whedon direct every Shakespeare adaptation.

Review: Before Midnight

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“I assure you that guy you vaguely remember, the sweet, romantic one you met on a train, that is me,” Jesse (Ethan Hawke) attempts to reassure Celine (Julie Deply) in the third and final installment of the “Before [some solar cycle]” series. But “Before Midnight” isn’t the same movie that made us fall in love with the two charming conversationalists-turned-lovers in “Before Sunrise” 19 years ago — it’s better.

“Before Midnight” works because it puts Celine and Jesse’s relationship into context. They can no longer be up all night musing over half-baked philosophy, politics and art in a European city and act like it never happened the next morning. This time they are on a Grecian island with all of their problems in full light of day and with other couples to witness them. It’s been nine years since Jesse missed his flight out of Paris to stay with Celine, and a lot has happened: he’s with Celine and their twin daughters but with the consequence of barely seeing his son and the couple’s constant bickering over it.

Celine and Jesse aren’t allowed to exist in their own world anymore; they are part of the world and all its calamities. Consequently, the thought-provoking conversations that made these films so intriguing are even more on point and poignant: What’s a modern woman’s role in a marriage? Can life and art intersect without causing offense? Can love change as people do?

Director Richard Linklater isn’t turning one of the best modern romances into an “I told you so” moment, and his actors wouldn’t let him. Deply is passionate and vulnerable enough to make Celine’s mercurial nature sympathetic. Watching her raw chemistry with Hawke is a delight because this is a truly well-matched battle of wits. By contrast, Hawke wisely underplays his role as the snarky Jesse who would rather crack a joke than an emotion but is secretly a romantic. The spontaneity of their youthful love might be gone, but the performances are rich in vivacity, tenderness and authenticity. As much as the relationship might make us cringe, get angry, cry or laugh, we want them to stay together.

Linklater has dared to make a truly romantic movie — one that doesn’t dismiss the complexities and problems of reality but also allows real love to fight its way past those barriers. He has made a movie with characters so well realized that it can stand alone, but for those who have known Celine and Jesse almost as long as they’ve known each other, it’s a satisfying, honest ending like meeting two old friends and realizing they’re stronger and better off than before.