Month: February 2015

Did You Hear About the Morgans?

did you hear about the morgans

Did You Hear About the Morgans? would be a better movie without the contrivance of a murder. Paul and Meryl, the eponymous couple, are on their way home when they see a man tossed off his balcony. They momentarily lock eyes with the killer, and unless they agree to join the Witness Protection Program, it’s lights out.

It seems like an easy choice when one’s life is at stake, but Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a high maintenance New Yorker who holds fast to that concrete jungle where dreams are made of, where there’s nothing she can’t do, where those streets make her feel brand new. She balks at the idea of leaving her boutique real estate business and New York bagels while Paul (Hugh Grant), a lawyer, is a little more open to the idea of relocating, at least when it comes to avoiding premature death.

The pair ends up in Wyoming, and a classic fish out of water story. What follows is a revolving door of every joke and cliché imaginable about city slickers roughing it in the country. There are rodeos, guns, and breakfasts with enough bacon to induce a heart attack. Some of the jokes poke fun at the Morgans’ uneasy relationship with nature, which is odd since they probably restrict their diet to organic foods and free-range eggs. Meryl, for example, gasps for breath during a jog because the air’s too pure, and Paul finds himself face-to-face with a bear.

But a large portion of the humor depends on painting the citizens of Wyoming as redneck simpletons. The town doctor treats Paul like he’s a pediatric patient, and his nurse, who moonlights as a waitress and assistant fire chief, can’t seem to count past five. You don’t have to be from a rural area, though I am, to roll your eyes at the contempt the filmmakers have for residents of flyover territory. The only ones that have an air of erudition and sense of a world beyond honky-tonk and cowboy hats are Clay and Emma Wheeler (Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen), the seasoned sheriff and deputy who are used to taking in jittery witnesses from the big cities. The Morgans stay over on the pretense that Meryl is Clay’s cousin.

There’s no reason why this isn’t the actual motivation for their visit. It would cut out the superfluous cat-and-mouse game and leave more room for the couple to mend their broken relationship. Paul has been trying to win back his wife after cheating on her, but she hasn’t been as forgiving. Their pairing with the Clays is the best couples therapy they’ll ever get. It’s these scenes that Parker is the most earnest in her portrayal. She’s a lot more pleasant to watch as a woman who doesn’t know how to trust the man who truly hurt her than as a woman harping about the lack of Chinese takeout. It’s a bit harder for Grant to find his footing, though he’s all but patented the contrite, bumbling Englishman act. He shares at least one heartfelt scene with Steenburgen, and it would be nice to see more interactions between the two couples that didn’t solely involve horses and hunting.

Released: 2009
Prod: Martin Shafer, Liz Glotzer
Dir: Marc Lawrence
Writer: Marc Lawrence
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Hugh Grant, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Elisabeth Moss, Jessie Liebman, Michael Kelly, Kim Shaw, Wilford Brimley, Gracie Bea Lawrence, David Call, Seth Gilliam
Time: 103 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015

All About Steve

all about steve

I don’t know that I would vote All About Steve the worst movie of 2009, but it rightly deserves some Razzie love for an ill-conceived story about an awkward woman who’s not doing a great job of fitting into society. Those who manage to watch until the end will be awarded with some tender moments when the film seems to find its moral core, but damn, it’s a long, uncomfortable ride there.

Sandra Bullock plays Mary Horowitz, a crossword puzzle writer for the local paper and the type of person who would assert that “crosswording is the most fun a person can have without passing out.” As it is, she also lives with her parents, is single, and wears her cherry red latex boots everywhere. After some teasing from a group of middle schoolers, she decides to go ahead with a blind date arranged by her parents. He turns out to be Steve (Bradley Cooper), a cameraman for a news network, and man, is he gorgeous.

Mary is immediately smitten, but her infatuation soon morphs into something bordering on obsession. First, she writes a puzzle all about Steve, which gets her fired, and then she takes this as a sign that she should pursue him across the country. Steve’s colleague and on-air reporter, Hartman (Thomas Haden Church), essentially invites her along, hoping that her encyclopedic knowledge will give him the edge he needs to be bumped up to the anchor desk.

There are plenty of Marys to be found in movies and television, and it isn’t her lack of social grace that makes the film hard to watch. She’s an oddball, she knows it, and she tries in her own way to fit in, even if that means standing with her back pressed firmly against the outer edges of society. Instead, it’s the way everyone else treats her that makes you question the movie’s intent.

As a comedy, All About Steve is interested in laughs foremost, and those come solely at the expense of Mary. But what is supposed to be funny comes across as cruel, whether it’s Hartman giving her false hopes that Steve is mad about her or that she is bullied off a bus and left to her own devices. There’s a nagging feeling that everyone’s eyeing each other, trying to make a getaway, but not before needling her just because she’s an easy target. It isn’t until well into the movie that Angus (Ken Jeong), Steve and Hartman’s producer, tries to put a stop to the snickering. He reprimands them like a pair of ill-mannered school children, declaring that Mary is “just a really smart girl with weird boots.”

The actors do their best to extract some compassion out of the script. Cooper avoids playing Steve as a jerk and is more invested in the character as a decent guy who finds himself in a situation he doesn’t know how to get out of. Sometimes this causes him to act in less than admirable ways. As Mary, Bullock puts on her bubbly personality and ends up making her character even more pathetic, like the woman who’s laughing at her own jokes to the sound of crickets. But there’s also a hopefulness to her that gives the film a lift. Maybe she just hasn’t found the right lunch table yet.

Released: 2009
Prod: Sandra Bullock, Mary McLaglen
Dir: Phil Traill
Writer: Kim Barker
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Katy Mixon, Keith David, Holmes Osborne, M.C. Gainey, Howard Hesseman, Beth Grant, Jason Jones
Time: 99 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015

Death at a Funeral

death at a funeral

Imagine the worst funeral ever and then multiply it by a factor of ten. That’s pretty much what you get in Death at a Funeral, a sprawling mess of a film that trades humor and wit for cheap scatological jokes, laughs about gay dwarf sex, and naked hallucinogenic trips. Thankfully the film moves at a brisk pace, and the dead are buried without further incident. But there are a lot of shenanigans before it gets to that point.

You almost want to forgive the actors for taking part, and there’s a moment of unearned redemption in the end. Was it the appeal of working with other talented stars or filming under the direction of Frank Oz? It’s harder to believe that the script was the main draw, though the inanity might not come across so clearly on paper.

Relatives and family gather at a country home for the funeral of a family patriarch. His older son Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) is in charge of the arrangements while his younger son (Rupert Graves), a famous writer living in New York, jets in at the last minute. Their cousins also scramble to arrive on time. Martha (Daisy Donovan) tries to calm her fiancé (Alan Tudyk) because they plan on announcing their engagement to her disapproving father (Peter Egan), and she accidentally gives her partner a hallucinogenic made by her pharmacy student brother (Kris Marshall). All the while, Daniel’s wife (Keeley Hawes) is pestering her husband about the down payment for a new home. With a family like this, you can bet that someone’s hiding a secret, and it with Peter (Peter Dinklage), a mysterious guest whom no one knows. Things go further south when the brothers find out his identity.

That this is all supposed to be rip-roaring black humor, some in bad taste, is not the movie’s worst offense. Simply, very little of this farce is worth the effort that goes into it. Each character is a one-note punchline, and the jokes are carried on for far too long. It’s funny when Tudyk’s character starts to see things but not when he’s still freaking out, just with fewer clothes, in the third act. For a comedy that involves a funeral, I’ll take Four Weddings any day.

Released: 2007
Prod: Sidney Kimmel, Laurence Malkin, Diana Phillips, Share Stallings
Dir: Frank Oz
Writer: Dean Craig
Cast: Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Graves, Keeley Hawes, Andy Nyman, Kris Marshall, Peter Dinklage, Daisy Donovan, Alan Tudyk, Ewan Bremner, Peter Vaughan, Thomas Wheatley, Jane Asher, Peter Egan
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2015