Month: May 2016

Simply Irresistible (1999)

simply irresistible

So there’s a magic crab. And that’s how things get started in the lightweight romantic comedy Simply Irresistible. It stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as Amanda Shelton, a young woman who inherits her mother’s longstanding restaurant but runs it into the ground with her lack of cooking abilities. During her last visit to the market before the restaurant closes, she encounters two strangers, one jolly and one handsome. The first insists she buy a basket of crabs, but one gets loose – the magic one – and bites the second in the ankle. He is Tom Bartlett (Sean Patrick Flanery), a manager at the upscale designer store Henri Bendel who is trying to break things off with his girlfriend, the latest in a string.

Thanks to the crab, Amanda instantly becomes a skilled chef, a transformation never explained in detail. That’s just as well because there are few ways in which exposition would improve the story. Unlike other romcoms, this one doesn’t try to mask its fantasy in a veneer of reality. But it aims higher and tries for the breezy grace of old school Hollywood romances. Unfortunately, the movie stays grounded, going through the motions of love at best. There’s a grand centerpiece set, a restaurant that curls around a dazzling dance floor. There are heavenly éclairs that send people into fits of ecstasy. Patricia Clarkson in particular has a lot of fun as Tom’s assistant, fluttering about his couch in a giggly trance. There’s also a customer at Amanda’s restaurant so enamored with his meal that he wants the experience again, backwards.

These things are fun because they are silly, but only if translated well onto the screen. Gellar, who my Buffy-loving friends constantly remind me is something of a hero, lacks the energy I imagine she brings to her role as a vampire slayer. As Amanda, she is content to go with the flow and is more befuddled by her good luck than anything. She doesn’t take charge of the story, defaulting to a sweet but hopeless grin or to her BBF (black best friend), played with much more charisma by Larry Gilliard, Jr. It would be better if he didn’t spout motivational basketball metaphors, but at least he does so with flair.

Flanery also helps where he can. He’s game for the euphoric convulsions the part requires, like when he’s stuffing his face and writhing about in a gold elevator, but there isn’t enough chemistry between the him and Gellar to make the magic feel, well, magical. The script falters too when Tom cools on Amanda, reasoning that he’s been bewitched and wants to maintain control. There’s not much consequence when there’s not much of a relationship though.

Released: 1999
Prod: Jon Amiel, Joseph M. Caracciolo Jr., John Fiedler
Dir: Mark Tarlov
Writer: Judith Roberts
Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean Patrick Flanery, Patricia Clarkson, Dylan Baker, Christopher Durang, Larry Gilliard Jr., Betty Buckley, Amanda Peet
Time: 96 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

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The Do-Over

the do over

It’s Friday night, I’m watching The Do-Over – on the day of its Netflix release, and eating leftover pizza. It’s not the ideal situation, in life, but it’s not dissimilar to the sad state of the two main characters in this Adam Sandler film, the second in a four picture deal between the actor and the streaming site. Sandler stars with frequent collaborator David Spade as two longtime friends who are dissatisfied with their current lot and who try to start anew by faking their deaths. A marked improvement on his previous effort, the mind-numbing westerns pastiche that is The Ridiculous 6, this isn’t exactly atonement for previous crimes against filmmaking, but it does achieve a surprisingly heartfelt ending.

That’s not to say The Do-Over goes light on the raunchiness that tends to punctuate Sandler’s movies. There’s plenty of lad humor, including a scene involving Luis Guzmán and schweddy balls that you’ll want to forget. The movie also does its best to fill its quota of homophobic boy’s club jokes (think dildos and jumper cables). Sandler’s not exactly pioneering or progressive when it comes to his comedic sensibilities, and a couple suggestive scenes involving a burly biker named Dakota and a limber German hitman do what they must to fulfill certain clichés.

Still, the movie aims beyond a strictly frat crowd. It begins at a 25th high school reunion where Charlie (Spade) and Max (Sandler) reconnect and use the opportunity to commiserate over their unrealized teenage dreams. Despite marrying the prom queen, who had twins with and then divorced their skeezy classmate (an unrecognizable Sean Astin), Charlie has not literally or figuratively gone anywhere. His greatest adventure remains the one time he saw his friend’s mother naked in the shower. Meanwhile, Max is an FBI agent, at least that’s how he introduces himself, in desperate need of a jolt in life. When a relaxing day out on a yacht ends with a giant bang, both guys decide to turn things around.

At first their new identities, stolen from a couple of unclaimed corpses, get them the kind of life middle aged men dream about. It’s all fast cars, fancy houses, and fine women, in Puerto Rico no less. But soon word gets around that Charlie and Max’s alter egos, Dr. Ronald Fishman and Butch Ryder, who had been testing a successful cancer drug, are back from the dead, and that upsets quite a few people. It’s a lot of speed racing and dodging bullets from there. As the two try to throw off assassins and unravel the mysteries behind their new identities, they also find themselves in the company of Dr. Fishman’s gorgeous young widow, Heather (Paula Patton).

It’s not that satisfying as far as the women’s roles go. In an unsettling case of white guy wish fulfillment, a cloyingly sweet Patton gets paired with Spade, or Ned Flanders in human form. Kathryn Hahn also makes an appearance as a wig-wearing psycho ex who stalks Max down every dark corridor. The ending pays off, however, in ways that shouldn’t have fooled me but did. Though the two actresses engage in a needlessly slow motion fight scene that serves men’s fantasies more than it does notions of female strength, both subvert expectations in ways that ease some frustrations about plot and character.

Released: 2016
Prod: Adam Sandler, Kevin Grady
Dir: Steven Brill
Writer: Kevin Barnett, Chris Pappas
Cast: Adam Sandler, David Spade, Paula Patton, Kathryn Hahn, Nick Swardson, Matt Walsh, Renee Taylor, Sean Astin, Natasha Leggero, Luis Guzmán, Catherine Bell, Jackie Sandler, Michael Chiklis, Torsten Voges, Stan Ellsworth
Time: 108 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

The Million Pound Note (1954)

million pound note

If you needed a reason to be charmed by Gregory Peck, The Million Pound Note does the trick. But then again, so does any number of the actor’s films. Notorious nice guy and paragon of the incorruptible everyman, Peck just can’t help himself when it comes to winning over his audience. Even when he isn’t the dashing bachelor reporter or the righteous Southern lawyer, he possesses an effortless allure that’s impossible to turn away from. As Henry Adams, a penniless American stranded in turn of the century England, Peck transforms from a scrubby seaman (inasmuch as the actor can be made scrubby) into a dapper millionaire, all on account of a playful bet by two wealthy brothers.

Adapted from a story by Mark Twain, the movie explores the artifice of wealth, elbowing society not so much for the way it worships real money, and power, but the mere suggestion of it. Oliver Montpelier (Ronald Squire) believes that a million pound note will convince anyone of the holder’s worth while his brother Roderick (Wilfrid Hyde-White) maintains the actual exchange of cash counts for something. Henry gets caught in this game that only the obscenely rich can initiate and immediately reaps the dividends. He sates his empty stomach on a hearty lunch and several tankards of ale and then tries to exchange his rags for more respectable attire.

The film adopts a very Twain-like tone in the way it laughs at the pretense of enormous wealth. At first, condescension oozes out of shopkeepers suspicious of Henry’s entitled manner. The smugness immediately dissipates when he presents his note, and upturned noses are pointed down. Word gets around that there’s an eccentric American millionaire about town, and the fear of offending someone in this moneyed class leads people to give into their assumptions. He’s allowed to acquire everything on credit, from a simple top hat to a stay in luxury hotel suite.

Casting an actor with Peck’s reputation emphasizes the absurdity, contrasting his sensible character with the frivolous and disingenuous nature money seems to inspire. He mines a lot of comedy out of these misunderstandings as Henry, in various states of bemusement, can’t quite believe his luck. Being the honest Gregory Peck-like man that he is though, Henry tries to juggle the fawning elites with a proper sense of self-restraint. He befriends a fellow pauper (Reginald Beckwith) and the two bond over the fact that they are trespassers to this paper world. Still, he can’t help but enjoy the pleasures that come to a man with one million pounds to spare even if he is also conflicted about the deception. The film begins to lag at the halfway point when the plot turns into variations on the same theme, and the writers belatedly introduce a love interest to energize the movie. Henry’s attachment to aristocrat Portia (Jane Griffiths) furthers his misgivings since he knows there’s an end date to this charade.

Alt Title: Man with a Million
Released: 1954
Prod: John Bryan, Ronald Neame
Dir: Ronald Neame
Writer: Jill Craigie
Cast: Gregory Peck, Ronald Squire, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Jane Griffiths, Joyce Grenfell, A. E. Matthews, Maurice Denham, Reginald Beckwith
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2016

Black Knight

BLACK KNIGHT INT'L HI RES KEYART ¥ Art Machine job#4621 ¥ 12/19/01

On my list of unlikely costars, Martin Lawrence and Tom Wilkinson are up there. If you’re going to put them in a movie, a time travel adventure about an amusement park worker from L.A. who finds himself in 14th century England is just about right, though a buddy cop movie would probably fit the bill too. The pairing isn’t awe-inspiring, but it is serviceable if your expectations are low enough.

Lawrence plays Jamal Walker, an employee at Medieval World, which is kind of like a dilapidated Medieval Times with rusty carnival rides. The opening of Castle World across the street threatens to put the park out of business, a prospect Jamal doesn’t find all that troubling. Showing little loyalty to the community-minded owner, he plans on jumping ship so that he can earn more money. His greed comes with some consequences though. He spies a golden medallion as he’s cleaning the moat and gets swallowed up by the murky water.

Jamal reemerges in 1328 England and makes his way to King Leo’s (Kevin Conway) castle. While he mistakes it for the new theme park, the court mistakes him for a French moor and emissary. Once he realizes that he’s not in L.A. anymore, he takes a few liberties, adopting the name “Skywalker” and exploiting the misunderstanding to earn the king’s trust. All is not well, however, and not only does Jamal make enemies of the king’s personal guard, Percival (Vincent Regan), he also learns that an exiled queen is the rightful monarch. Can he use his 21st century wiles to restore her to the throne?

Of course he can, but not without help from drunkard Sir Knolte (Wilkinson) and the fair maiden Victoria (a delightful Marsha Thomason). They act as sidekicks where they can, but in truth, Lawrence fills up so much of the screen with his manic energy that everyone else must give way. There’s little room for other actors to stand out lest they end up in his pyrotechnic cloud. If you can tolerate the actor’s histrionics, then you’ll make it out of this movie. But it’s an endurance, especially considering the unimaginative route this story takes. While it shows Jamal as a fish out of water time traveler, there’s nothing particular about this period that makes the story special. You could stick him anywhere in history and play everything for the exact same laughs. The filmmakers prove this much in the closing scene, which shows Jamal trapped in a Roman coliseum just as some lions are sprung from their cages. Thankfully the dismal performance of this movie ensured there wouldn’t be a second.

Released: 2001
Prod: Arnon Milchan, Darryl J. Quarles, Michael Green, Paul Schiff
Dir: Gil Junger
Writer: Darryl J. Quarles, Peter Gaulke, Gerry Swallow
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Marsha Thomason, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Conway, Vincent Regan, Darryl Mitchell, Jeannette Weegar
Time: 95 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Epic Movie

epic movie

Whether you’re cleaning your toilet with a toothbrush or discarding rat carcasses from your attic, anything is more worth your time than this sad excuse for a movie. An asinine mashup of popular films, most of the blockbuster variety, Epic Movie doesn’t have the right to exist. It’s not a smart satire of any of the films it parodies, and in fact, almost nothing in this trainwreck can be fairly called smart. The humor is possibly more lowbrow than what you’d find at a frat house on Friday night, and the writers can’t even be bothered to create some internal fantasy world logic, except to say there isn’t any. Characters simply appear and come back to life when needed, not so much to serve the story as to simply fill up space. My single praise is reserved for the casting; two out of the four leads are non-white, which at fifty percent I’m sure sets some record.

One of those leads is Kal Penn, and there’s something to be said that three years after heading up a game-changing Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, he’s top billed for swill like this. Penn plays orphan Edward, a very big one who still eats gruel with the children at a Mexican monastery. He gets chucked out a window, but not before snatching a golden ticket out of a chocolate bar. This leads to Willy’s candy factory where he meets three other golden-ticket-toting orphans – Lucy (Jayma Mays), who was raised by a museum curator who speaks in code; Susan (Faune Chambers), who gets stuck on a plane with lots of mothereffing snakes; and Peter (Adam Campbell), a chicken mutant who attends a special mutant school. By the time we are introduced to our main characters, the movie has referenced no less than seven films. It’s a drinking game gone amok.

The remainder of the film progresses in this haphazard fashion, ripping off the big and small screen whenever the writers see fit. The candy factory turns out to be a house of horrors, not dissimilar to Roald Dahl’s creation if we’re honest. Instead of rivers of chocolate, Edward discovers rivers of sewage. It’s not sophisticated humor, I should emphasize. Willy (Crispin Glover) turns out to be a madman, again not dissimilar to what Dahl had in mind, and while trying to hide from him, the four make their way to a wardrobe and stumble into Gnarnia.

At this point, you really have to ask yourself some hard questions. Do you want to see a parody of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or would you rather just watch the actual movie? Is the White Bitch (Jennifer Coolidge) a necessary character or are we fine with the plain old White Witch? Does seeing Mr. Tumnus (Hector Jimenez) make out with Harry Beaver really enhance anything, in life? Just like golden toilets, beer hats, and Donald Trump, Epic Movie is one of those things we can all live without.

Released: 2007
Prod: Paul Schiff
Dir: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Writer: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Cast: Kal Penn, Adam Campbell, Jayma Mays, Faune Chambers, Jennifer Coolidge, Tony Cox, Jack Cortes, Hector Jimenez, Crispin Glover, Jareb Dauplaise, Darrell Hammond, Carmen Electra, Kevin Hart, Fred Willard, David Carradine, Katt Williams
Time: 85 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016