Archive | February, 2014

About Last Night (2014)

24 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“About Last Night” is a modern update of the 1986 romantic comedy of the same name, which in itself was an adaptation of the play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by David Mamet. And while you can hardly hear Mamet’s dialogue for a majority of this remake, I’d have to say this new film is just as good as the original. It’s good for the reasons the play and the 1986 movie are good. It’s still an effective, sometimes funny story that examines the sex lives of two men and two women. The play looked at it from the 1970s; the movie from the 1980s; and now this one looks at it from the 2010s.

There are notable differences here. For one, this film takes place in Los Angeles instead of Chicago (though one of the characters goes to Chicago for a work trip at some point). For another, the cast is mostly comprised of African-American actors, including comedian Kevin Hart and comedienne Regina Hall. And another notable difference is the tone that the film is going for, particularly in the ending. Mamet in his play didn’t see any hope for his characters, as the men and women just weren’t meant to be because they had so much trouble relating to each other no matter how hard they may have tried. Here, there are troubles among the characters and they are presented well, but it ends on a note that is much more hopeful than sorrowful, to say the least.

The film stars Michael Ealy and Kevin Hart as Danny and Bernie, best friends living in L.A. Bernie is a loudmouth horndog who is always looking for action, while Danny is looking for something more. When Bernie brings his date, Joan (Regina Hall), who in turn brings her roommate, Debbie (Joy Bryant), for a double-date, Danny and Debbie hit it off really well and become friends-with-benefits. But soon enough, they accept who they are as a couple, she moves in with him, and the rest of the film is about how everything they like about each other will grow tiresome and lead to romantic weariness.

The story is interwoven with the comedic subplot involving the relationship between Bernie and Joan. After a few nights together, Joan can’t stand him anymore and mostly tries to make sure she never sees him again. But when they do see each other, she goes out of her way to make sure he’s as uncomfortable as she is.

The strangest and yet most intriguing about the film’s writing, dialogue-wise, is that the lines are technically still recalling Mamet, but most of the dialogue is updated and melded with new dialogue by writer Leslye Headland. It’s funny listening to Kevin Hart seamlessly blend Mamet with Headland as he spews the film’s best lines with the comedian’s usual trademark quickness.

“About Last Night” makes a statement about how relationships are even harder to understand than love itself. With love, there’s the belief from one or both of the characters that they will live a very happy life together with no complications in the future. But once the Honeymoon Phase is complete, there’s the challenging world of working to stay together and trying to find compromise. This is where the film really works, when Danny and Debbie reach the point where they wonder if they deserve each other anymore. Can they make it work? Will they make it work? It’s not as easy as it may seem in most romantic comedies.

Now, granted, this film isn’t much of a downer and it offers more happy hopes than it should. But it is more accurate than most romantic-comedies because it doesn’t give contrived misunderstandings or other sorts of clichés that cause rough patches to happen. Even in a scene in which Danny’s ex-wife (Paula Patton), when you’re praying that it won’t go in the direction it should go, it manages to answer that prayer by giving a low-key, true-to-life payoff.

Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant make an engaging couple and they each share convincing chemistry with Kevin Hart and Regina Hall, as well as with each other. Hart is very good here as Bernie who is the romcom-sidekick who spews bad advice to the main character sometimes, but learns a thing or two about love and relationships himself. He also has the funniest lines in the movie. And then there’s Regina Hall as Joan. This was the actress and character I never got into. First of all, Hall overdoes it, even in the less comedic moments. Sometimes I found her funny but other times I found her annoying. And also, I never got into the plight of her character, because she’s a conniving bitch. Now, I know that could be because she’s secretly jealous, but she’s too much of a mess for me to care about her, and I think that might be because of the way Hall plays it as well.

Aside from my problems with Hall and some unevenness with the film’s tone, “About Last Night” is a worthy remake that keeps true to the original’s theme while changing details to make it modern while no less satisfying.

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The World’s End (2013)

10 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The World’s End” is the supposed final entry in the “Cornetto” (or “Blood and Ice Cream”) trilogy, and I seriously hope that doesn’t mean writer-director Edgar Wright and co-writer Simon Pegg aren’t going to make any movies together, because with “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” and now this, they make some of the most intriguing, entertaining, ambitious, wonderful films (not just comedies; that’s too easy) to give us the pleasure of seeing. I don’t know what it is; maybe they bring out the best in each other through each other. But I love all three of these movies. I would be first in line to the next Wright-Pegg collaboration.

The review has barely started and I must sound like a fanboy right about now. Let’s get right to it.

“The World’s End” stars Pegg as Gary King, a middle-aged man stuck in a stage of arrested development and always lives in the past. He recalls a time 20 years ago when he and his four best friends, when they were teenagers, embarked on a journey known as the Golden Mile, which is mainly a series of 12 pubs, with the World’s End tavern being the final stop. Gary looks back with fondness but also with regret since he and his friends didn’t make it to the World’s End. But he still likes to see himself as a king of cool, as back in his teenage days, he was a charismatic, daring teenager who felt like he could take on the world as opposed to actually dealing with real-life issues.

Nowadays, 20 years later, he’s a pathetic middle-aged man who still thinks things can return to the way they were, still drinks, and still sees himself as king-of-cool. He hasn’t aged mentally and doesn’t care how pathetic he looks to everyone else. His friends, meanwhile, have drifted away from him. They live their lives with jobs, marriage, families, etc. They get surprise visits from Gary, whose plan is to rally his group together to relive the old days and do it right this time. He manages to talk his friends (Andy, played by Nick Frost; Steven, played by Paddy Considine; Peter, played by Eddie Marsan; and Oliver, played by Martin Freeman) into returning to their hometown of Newton Haven and finish the Golden Mile.

The only reason the friends, one of which (Andy) holds a grudge against Gary, go along with Gary’s plan is because they feel worried about his way of living and because he said his mother died (which isn’t true). Gary becomes a little too much for them to handle at times, and the friends have to try and talk sense into him and bring up that what he’s doing isn’t healthy or welcoming, and he needs to grow up and face reality.

Oddly enough, this first part of “The World’s End,” which runs for about 35 minutes, proves that it would be a great, funny and effective movie about a reunion of old friends thinking about the old days and when their lives are like now. They notice what’s changed and what hasn’t changed, and that includes their first few pub-stops in Newton Haven, which have been cleaned up and “Starbucked.” Gary even finds that his old flame, Sam (Rosamund Pike), isn’t interested in Gary anymore.

Think Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups” done right. There’s great writing (the dialogue and one-liners are absolutely wonderful and very funny) and great acting and it seems like the story is going somewhere mature with what it has already. And it kind of does, but…not quite in the way those who haven’t seen the trailers or read the plot synopses would have expected. Those who have are waiting for me to bring up the “blanks,” the nicknames the main characters give to the robot-alien-things that have invaded the town.

Yep. Gary and friends discover that Newton Haven has been invaded by an alien intelligence, and most of the townspeople have been replaced by blue-ink-filled, life-size action-figure like, robotic replicates. Rather than get the hell out of that town, Gary figures the best solution is to continue on the Golden Mile so as they don’t raise suspicion and thus don’t fall victim.

Makes sense to me.

Bottom line is that Gary came here to complete a pub crawl and he’s going to do it, no matter how many times his friends try to convince him otherwise or how many other messy situations they get into with the robots. Gary pours himself a pint everywhere they go and rarely lets anything stop him. No matter what other changes he’ll come across, Gary will not back down. Through all this madness, there is still time to keep true to the reunion story by taking time to bring up new issues about past, present, and future. It all manages to oddly fit together, mixing comedy, drama, and sci-fi to give us a spot-on satire and a gripping story at the same time. Also, this is probably the most personal story Wright and Pegg have put together, since the focus is mainly on Gary’s character and how he’ll grow despite not wanting to and not expecting to.

But of course, I cannot forget to talk about the action sequences. They’re very entertaining to watch, as we get some of the funniest fight choreography I’ve ever seen in a comedy. Great stunts and the right moves help make these scenes gripping action and fast-paced comedy. And in these scenes, be sure to rewatch them a couple more times on DVD because there’s a chance you’ll miss a couple things, it’s so fast. It’s edited energetically, much like the other films (as well as “Attack the Block,” a Wright production). The special effects are pretty damn good too.

Simon Pegg delivers what is arguably his best performance here. He’s been good in movies before; this is his most accomplished work. I could also say the same for Nick Frost, who has co-starred opposite Pegg in the other “Cornetto” movies. As Andy, the uptight businessman who constantly tries to talk some sense into his friend, Frost is very effective. That comes as a surprise, as Pegg is usually the straight-man and Frost is usually the jokester. Here, it’s the other way around, and Frost is wonderful here. The rest of the cast, which includes David Bradley as a crazy old man who knows the score and Pierce Brosnan in an uncredited cameo, perform well and make for an appealing supporting cast. I don’t know why, but seeing Martin Freeman with an earpiece and a suit trying to fight is a joy to watch.

Everything builds to a climax in which Gary faces off against the leader (who’s just a voice of reason, so to speak) of the aliens. I won’t give away the ultimate resolution, but let’s just say it’s very clever and leads to one hell of an epilogue that you don’t see coming and are nevertheless fascinated by (or at least, I was). Mainly though, “The World’s End” is a joyous experience. A ton of fun. A funny, slick, well-made film. There’s more I could say about this film that express how much I love it, but I’ll do you a favor and leave you to enjoy it for yourself. What else can I say but it’s time to look into the future. And in my future, there’s more viewings of this film.

Wait, doesn’t that go against the “don’t cling to the past” message?

Ah well, I’ll figure it out later.

The Monuments Men (2014)

10 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Monuments Men” is a war film that is never dull, features an all-star cast, has great cinematography, has a fascinating story to be told (a WWII tale that most people forget about), and has its share of effective moments, both lighthearted-comedic and sorrowful-dramatic. That’s why it disappointed me when there wasn’t much else to it. A few things seem to be missing from what could have been a great film. That it’s merely “okay” is more disappointing.

Based on a true story, the Monuments Men in the title refer to a unit of eight men who, near the end of World War II, are there to track down and save as much of Adolf Hitler’s art as they can. They are led by George Clooney (who also directed and co-wrote the film) and consist mostly of historians and professors played by Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, and Dimitri Leonidas.

Why did I use the actors’ names as opposed to their character-names? Because it’s Clooney, Damon, Murray, Goodman, Balaban, Dujardin, Bonneville, and Leonidas. One of the major problems with this film is that there’s a distracting lack of characterization. I know these actors are playing characters based on real people, but the film doesn’t give them a lot to do. By the end, I never remembered any of the characters’ names, let alone knew who they were. I just saw recognizable actors doing their thing. They get big moments, but not much else.

There’s a saying that music can make or break a movie. In this case, there are moments when the music score in this film really cripples the film. The “lighthearted” music for the humorous moments is too much, the “sorrowful” music for the dramatic moments is too much, and even in a tense moment, such as when Matt Damon’s character accidentally steps on a land mine and the others have to help him out, the music ruins things. The problem is that the music is too reassuring—everything seems to be OK.

I can’t help but wonder if either the film was made very quickly or there was more material that had to be cut out of the final version before release or what, because at a nearly-two-hour running time, “The Monuments Men” feels strangely too short. There are moments that seem to be going somewhere, but they’re forgotten about quickly. And that’s a shame, because those moments make the film for a while. I have to wonder how much better this film might have been if it had more to deliver with each of the characters and the journeys they face. There’s a French spy played by Cate Blanchett who strikes up somewhat of a relationship with Matt Damon’s character. That’s interesting, and her character is interesting at first. But like everything else, there’s a distracting lack of development here.

With such talent involved, “The Monuments Men” is at least watchable. And there are a few good moments that I’m glad I saw. But it’s either the script or the editing that has to be faulted here. In the end, I saw an “okay” film and I’m forced to write a mixed review for a film that I could have liked.

That Awkward Moment (2014)

3 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“That Awkward Moment” is a romantic comedy (“romcom”) told from the male perspective. For most moviegoing males, this would be interesting, since they generally hate romcoms. They’re tired of the usual clichés that romcoms share and push them aside as “chick flicks.” Well, now we have three main characters in “That Awkward Moment” who are guys, but this doesn’t fix the problem of the romcom clichés. That’s because the clichés are still present here. It doesn’t matter from whose perspective you center a romcom on; it doesn’t change much in the story. You still have the relationships with The Lie, The Bad Advice, The Misunderstanding, The Final Emotional Speech In Front Of A Large Crowd, etc.

Oops, I gave away the ending, didn’t I?

“That Awkward Moment” isn’t as clever or smart as a Judd Apatow romantic comedy, which I sometimes see as an exception to the rule, mainly because Apatow knows how to keep the romance and comedy consistent and original for the most part. But to the credit of “That Awkward Moment,” the film has its moments of both romance and comedy that do work, mainly when it focuses AWAY from its running gags (most of which include a neverending series of cracks about genitalia).

It also deserves credit for its casting. The actors playing the three main characters (Zac Efron as arrogant, selfish Jason; Miles Teller as wisecracking barfly Daniel; and Michael B. Jordan as Mikey, the most mature one of the trio) are spot-on and play their roles well. They share good chemistry together and you really buy them as good friends. Unfortunately, you don’t care enough about them to spend more time with them. That’s because they each put themselves in situations where you just want to smack them in the face for thinking this. (And I know it’s part of the joke, because they refer to each other as “idiots” for their deeds, but that still doesn’t excuse the acts already executed.) That’s one of the major problems with this movie.

“That Awkward Moment” is about how these three young men make a pact to stay single after Mikey has just gotten out of a relationship with his wife (played by Jessica Lucas) who was cheating on him. His friends, Jason and Daniel, try to cheer him up by going out to a bar. Jason meets a beautiful blonde named Ellie (played by an astonishing Imogen Poots) and goes home with her, but when he sees signs that point to her as a hooker, he bails, only to discover (big shock) that she isn’t a hooker at all.

Tell me something, ladies. If a guy says he bailed on you because he thought you were a hooker right to your face, would you give him another chance?

Well, Ellie does. And she and Jason go out on many dates, which Jason isn’t so sure about, since has been through the “so” moment just recently with his previous girlfriend (“so” as in the question “so are we officially dating”). Meanwhile, Daniel starts a fling with his female buddy, Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), and decides he wants to be more than “friends with benefits.” She agrees, as long as Jason and Mikey are cool with it. So of course, Daniel lies about telling them. Oops.

And get this—Mikey’s soon-to-be ex-wife wants to start something again with him, even though all logic points to a trap. Anyone can see this. Anyone except for Mikey, that is.

Mikey’s story gets the least development as Mikey is always sidelined by that of Jason and Daniel. That’s a shame too, because Mikey seems like the guy you’d like to pal around with and talk random stuff with. And it’s also unfortunate, seeing as how he makes as many dumb mistakes as the other guys.

Jason and Ellie have nice moments together, as Efron and Poots exhibit convincing chemistry. But the problem falls with Jason, who is too much of an arrogant jerk to care for. Even when the inevitable happens and he learns his lessons after making dumb mistakes, it’s hard to feel for him, though another problem with that may be the way it’s written. It doesn’t seem convincing enough.

I was actually wishing the relationship with Daniel and Chelsea was its own movie. Of the three central relationships, this one was my favorite. It was both sweet and funny at the same time, keeping that right balance. I enjoyed watching both actors play off each other. I was hoping they wouldn’t go through the usual clichés (but alas, the Misunderstanding had to happen).

Now for the comedy. I’ll admit to having laughed a few times, sometimes despite myself. But you also have to question most of the setups. For example, what about when Jason confuses Ellie’s “dress-up” party for something so different he wears an embarrassing outfit to? Why would he wear it anyway if he knew Ellie’s friends and family were going to be there? There’s also a gag involving Viagra that questions what these guys consider a pickup at a bar, but to be fair, it does lead to a funny sight gag.

Also, I couldn’t help but feel that “That Awkward Moment” is a PG-13 story in an R-rated movie, meaning the filmmakers must have thought the relationships were too sweet for a male romcom, so they needed more F-bombs and a lot (and I mean A LOT) of genitalia jokes. It’s a good thing I didn’t bring a date to this movie, because we would have had our own awkward moment.