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

All About Love (再説一次我愛你)

all about love

I would have been satisfied with a Return to Me remake. The 2000 American romantic comedy is about a woman with a heart transplant who begins dating her donor’s husband. It’s a stretch but believable within its own narrative boundaries. All About Love has the slight beginnings of a similar story. Dr. Ko (Andy Lau) and Tze-Ching (Charlene Choi) are happily married, though he doesn’t spend as much time as he should with her owing to his work. She dies within the first five minutes of the film, and Sam (Charlie Yeung) receives Tze-Ching’s heart. After her husband abandons her, she begins seeing Dr. Ko.

Except it’s not so simple and not nearly as romantic. In fact, large chunks of the movie don’t make sense and are downright creepy. For one, you have to believe that Andy Lau and Charlene Choi are a loving couple, despite their Woody Allen-esque age gap. Everything stems from the fact that this doctor is mad for his barely out of uni wife who whines and can’t enunciate (see every Twins-era Choi film).

If you buy that, you still have to accept that six years later Dr. Ko, now a forlorn paramedic, happens to attend to Sam when she gets in a car accident and somehow senses that she is the recipient of his wife’s heart. How does he know this? Probably super-psychic powers; he performs magic tricks after all. He confirms this with her doctor (Anthony Wong), thereby breaking all sorts of patient confidentiality codes. Due to his connection with Sam/Tze-Ching/Tze-Ching’s heart, he essentially stalks her as a way of reconnecting with his wife. He even goes so far as to break into her house and thumb through her diary.

The most bizarre element of this story though is that Sam’s husband Derek is a dead ringer for Dr. Ko. In other words, two Andy Laus for the price of one. Like Dr. Ko, Derek is successful at his job in the modeling industry and also doesn’t have much time to spare for his wife. Unlike Dr. Ko, however, Derek has a temper and may not be a committed husband; he also sports sleazy facial hair. His actions quite literally cause Sam heartache. The good doctor sees a chance to atone for his past and passes himself off as Derek, a move that has fueled many a serial killer film.

I hesitate to laugh at or so roundly trounce a story that is this committed to loss and grief. Dr. Ko is punishing in his solitude, refusing to take any pleasure in life, even after Tze-Ching’s parents (Hui Siu-Hung and Gigi Wong) have moved on. But in addition to the improbabilities of the script, the direction is just too heavy handed to nurture any genuine feelings. Lau treats the movie like an extended music video and carries his character on the intensity of his sad, distant stares. Choi’s youthful effervescence adds some joy, but that is offset by Yeung, who limps around like a perpetually wronged and helpless woman.

The directors don’t give their characters much chance to open up and instead weigh them down with oppressive camerawork. They keep the lens moving with excessive pans, but images crawl numbingly across the screen, often accompanied by mawkish piano strains. The narrative is also interrupted by shots that don’t mean anything (mostly of water dripping in slow motion and Lau’s latest edition CYMA timepiece) except poor attempts to add visual flair. All About Love should be used as an example of how overwhelming and ineffective a film can be when every frame is seared with pain and regret. Sometimes a lighter touch can be far more profound.

“Say You Love Me Once More” (再説一次我愛你) by Andy Lau:

Released: 2005
Prod: Daniel Yu 余偉國; Yan Min-Jun 閻敏軍
Dir: Daniel Yu 余偉國; Lee Kung-Lok 李公樂
Writer: Daniel Yu 余偉國; Lee Kung-Lok 李公樂
Cast: Andy Lau 劉德華; Charlie Yeung 楊采妮; Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍; Allen Lin 林依輪; Anthony Wong 黃秋生; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Gigi Wong 黃淑儀; Lam Suet 林雪; Amber Xu 胥力文; Sasha Hou 侯莎莎
Time: 87 min
Lang: Cantonese, some Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

This Means War

this means war

This Means War doesn’t do much to hide its agenda. A romantic comedy with sharp punches of action, it’s a compromise picture hoping to lure women and their male significant others. Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, and Reese Witherspoon all play to their strengths as two best friends who find themselves falling for the same woman. The filmmakers give this formula a twist by casting the friends as top CIA spies, thus heightening the chaos and misunderstanding.

The movie is never as exciting, romantic, or humorous as it should be, however, and instead is like watching a hyperstylized ping pong match. FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) battle it out when they both begin dating Lauren (Witherspoon), a product tester who keeps running into her ex and his perfect new girlfriend. The spies pose as a cruise ship captain and travel agent respectively, but behind the scenes they employ covert tactics in order to one-up each other and win Lauren’s affection. What starts as petty attempts at sabotage soon escalates into a full-blown operation, complete with zip lines and tranquilizer darts. All this is done under the nose of their superior (Angela Bassett) and under the guise of capturing an international criminal (Til Schweiger) hellbent on revenge.

Director McG, who helmed the two Charlie’s Angels films, shows restraint in the action sequences, choosing to channel most of the firepower into two scenes. In some ways, it works better. Schweiger’s role has the dimensionality of a paper shooting target, and the entire subplot serves mostly to tidy up the ending. McG puts far more thought into the film’s glossy production design, which indulges in high-class spy fantasies. In this imagining, the CIA conducts its business in polished glass and steel cathedrals while its agents live in luxury flats with ceilings that double as glass-bottomed swimming pools.

Unfortunately, the slick packaging is wasted on the utter lack of imagination in both plot and character. There’s nothing original about FDR and Tuck’s capers or the way in which they are carried out. Nor do the two characters do much to stand out from the pedestrian storyline. After his star-making performance as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot, Pine seems an obvious choice to play the cocky, womanizing FDR, but as Lauren points out, FDR spends most of the movie showing that he has “the emotional intelligence of a fifteen year old boy.” Pine doesn’t have much to build on until almost the third act. Hardy is more interesting to watch, perhaps because he gets to play the romantic lead instead of the hard-boiled heavy. He still gets to punch and shoot his way through things, but he also displays a softer side that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. Not only does Tuck try to mend his relationship with his young son by his ex-wife, he’s anxious about seeing someone he’s just met off a dating site (www.ItsFate.net).

Witherspoon ends up being the wild card in the picture. She’s predictably sweet and charming (see every romantic comedy she’s starred in) despite stringing along two guys. For some, it’s a step forward for feminism, but the amount of deception Lauren and her suitors engage in generally dampens the lighthearted tone. Chelsea Handler as the screeching best friend with selfish relationship advice doesn’t help the cause. Though a movie about spies is bound to employ underhanded schemes, This Means War skews towards manipulation for its own sake, leaving behind too much romance and comedy.

Released: 2012
Prod: Simon Kinberg, James Lassiter, Robert Simonds, Will Smith
Dir: McG
Writer: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler, Angela Bassett, John Paul Ruttan, Abigail Spencer, Rosemary Harris, George Touliatos, Warren Christie
Time: 97 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015