I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS: The Film Babble Blog Review

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS (Dirs. Glenn Ficcara & John Requa, 2010)

“This really happened. It really did.”

So says the lower case white block letters floating in the blue sky and clouds at the beginning of this quirky unconventional rom com.

Unconventional because it centers on slick conman Jim Carrey courting a demure Ewan McGregor from the first moment they meet in a Texas prison.

Carrey tells us early on in his pithy narration that he’s “gay, gay, gay, gay, gay” after introducing his wife (Leslie Mann) and baby girl and the film never lets us forget it mostly by way of countless blowjob jokes.

Doing time for insurance fraud, Carrey falls hard for McGregor (doing a fairly convincing Southern accent that echoes of BIG FISH) and does what he can to be with him including among various escapes faking his death from AIDs.

The first half of the film is relatively entertaining and breezy but the second half loses its already shaky focus. Carrey puts in a fairly typical performance exercising his facial expressions and smarm, but McGregor fairs better as he shows less self conscious effort.

Unfortunately the story, “based on certain facts”, isn’t really that compelling. It’s kind of amusing to see Carrey execute cons such as charmingly bluff his way into a corporate job but the film blurs into repetition as our protagonist keeps getting apprehended by police scheme after scheme.

Not sure what the film wants us to take away from this story. It feels almost homophobic in its humor but I truly don’t think directors and screenwriters Ficarra and Requa meant to craft a hate piece.

When Carrey’s ex-wife Leslie Mann asks with concern if stealing and being gay are connected – it’s meant as a joke about her naive character, but its a question that sadly lingers over this undercooked material.

If we’re supposed to laugh at Carrey as he lies his way through life we’re not given much to laugh at for I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS isn’t as clever and funny as it pretends to be.

It’s a forgettable little lark of a film – a frothy throwaway that has its moments but this season a movie-goer could do way better.

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THE GHOST WRITER: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Roman Polanski, 2010)

It’s not easy to bypass the tangle of legal matters surrounding legendary director Roman Polanski and view his work on its own merits, but THE GHOST WRITER is such a fine film that it is possible to do so. Most of the time. Every now and then I would remind myself that he edited it in confinement, but that only enhanced the tone of pure tension in which the film revels.

Ewan McGregor, whose character’s name is never revealed – he’s only credited as “The Ghost”, takes on the job of rewriting the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (a gruff very un-Bondian Pierce Brosnan), reportedly a thinly veiled characterization of Tony Blair. It’s a daunting task – he has a month to get the lengthy manuscript in shape, Brosnan is being accused of war crimes by his former Foreign Secretary (Robert Pugh), and there’s the troubling matter that the former ghost writer was found dead washed up on the beach of Brosnan’s lavish oceanfront compound in Massachusetts.

Goaded by his smarmy agent (beautifully played by Jon Bernthal), McGregor flies to that same compound and is greeted by one of Brosnan’s handlers (Sex And The City‘s Kim Catrall) and Brosnan’s frazzled wife (Olivia Williams). McGregor attempts to have a sense of humor about the situation, but is a bit unnerved when after drafting a statement for Brosnan to the press is told by a smug Catrall: “That makes you an accomplice.”

After obliviously tipping off an odd man at his hotel’s bar of Brosnan’s whereabouts, McGregor wakes up to a media circus. Brosnan’s conversations with his lawyers (including a demure Timothy Hutton) and handlers about where he should relocate in order to stay out of the hands of the law is undeniably a moment in which Polanski’s real life predicament pulsates through the screen.

In a masterfully shot sequence, McGregor drives his deceased predecessor’s car following the stored GPS directions and ends up at the house of Tom Wilkinson as a retired Harvard professor with possible CIA connections who denies any connection to Brosnan. McGregor has pictures that suggest otherwise, but Wilkinson insists. Wilkinson’s edgy presence evokes good memories of MICHAEL CLAYTON – another polished and pleasing thriller in the same class as THE GHOST WRITER.

Despite a few scenes that drag slightly, this is a powerful and intensely satisfying film. It’s the definition of a slow burner with an ending that is absolutely on fire. I was seriously blown away by the construction and impact of the final shots. That Polanski can still make such a vital piece of cinema – one that I believe will stand in his canon comfortably along ROSEMARY’S BABY, CHINATOWN, FRANTIC, and THE PIANIST – at this complicated point in his career is no less than exhilarating.

So whether or not you can separate the art from the artist, this is a must see. It’s a great story; it has great performances (even Jim Belushi as a publishing CEO puts in solid work!), a great gripping score by Alexandre Desplat, and, most importantly great direction. Just shy of a masterpiece, and I know it may be to early to say this, but it’s already one of the best films of the year.

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THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Grant Heslov, 2009)

“More of this is true than you would believe” so says a disclaimer of sorts at the beginning of this film. Also the film isn’t “based on” it’s “inspired by the book” which is another nifty indicator that this is as loosely based on real events as possible. So in their adaptation the film makers decided to follow John Ford’s advice and “print the legend” with this absurd exploration of a secret paranormal army program based on hippy New Age concepts that most likely didn’t exist. “Or did it?” they want us to ask as we leave the theater but it doesn’t dig deep enough to actually bring that question to mind for the project just skates on the surface of craziness, never cracking the ice.

Not to say it isn’t a worthwhile movie – it’s well crafted with good performances by Ewan McGregor as a down on his luck journalist who stumbles upon these psychic spies, George Clooney as one of the top men of the unique unit who considers himself a Jedi warrior (we get to see him kill a goat with his mind – hence the title), and, best of all, Jeff Bridges as a very Dude like intelligence officer who may have taken his training too far. As an adversary Kevin Spacey has a one-note role but it’s a necessary well played note that happily won’t bring smug crap like K-PAX (also with Bridges) back to mind – ‘cept that I just did because I’m sadistic like that.

McGregor forms an unlikely friendship with Clooney crossing the desert of Kuwait as frequent flashbacks fill in the convoluted back-story. There is a busy narrative but it’s not very strong as the film seems to go in circles in its second half. Regardless Clooney crony Heslov (he co-wrote GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK) gets a good visual vibe going with amusing Wes Anderson style montages and swift set pieces. With stronger material Heslov is sure to hit a home run on a future project.

Funny but not hilarious, THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS is a likable lark that won’t make my best of the year list but I can see stopping on it when clicking through cable channels sometime down the line. I bet I’ll think the same then – that Clooney and Co. were shooting for DR. STRANGELOVE and they got SPIES LIKE US. They should still rejoice though for there are far worse fates.

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Swank’s On A Plane

AMELIA (Dir. Mira Nair, 2009)

It’s apparent up front that 2 time Oscar winner Hillary Swank has the right stuff to step into the shoes of world famous American aviatrix Amelia Earhart. She’s got the tiny waif-like frame, the smiling eyes, and, yes, the big teeth. She infuses Earhart with the tom boy pluck of a young Katherine Hepburn; a fierce independently willed woman fighting to make a name for herself in a man’s world. Unfortunately the movie she anchors was assembled according to the rulebook for Conventional Biopic 101.

The basic obligatory biopic formula rules are as follows: You start near the end of your subject’s life and then flash back through the greatest hits. You show your subject as a child when the light of inspiration first flashed through their eyes. You have a montage showing when your subject first got famous – here it’s a sweep through ticker-tape parade spectacle, press quotes, and re-staging of well known photographs.

You then get the rough patches with the subject rising above marital discord and the doubts of peers before your ostensibly emotional finale. At the very end you show historic footage of the real person and folks leave the theater thinking they’ve seen a noble tribute to your subject. Then you sit back and wait for your Academy Award.

So there are no surprises in this by-the-book biopic but it’s fair to say that nobody was expecting any. Mira Nair makes competently crafted films and on the surface this is a good looking and well acted work. It’s just that the pure passion and sense of purpose to make this project fly (sorry) are sorely missing.

Swank reaches for passion and comes close at times, especially when she tells her promoter turned romantic pursuer George Putnam played by Richard Gere that she must be free – “a vagabond of the air.” But beyond that she’s got nothing but strained cock pit close-ups and there’s not enough to latch onto throughout the broad strokes.

Despite some fleeting charm, Earhart’s alleged affair with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) particularly has little effect. Gere is too wooden as the jilted husband to make us care so the infidelity comes off as an inconvenience not heartbreak. The flying sequences are beautifully shot though, with gusto and suspense hinting at a movie that could’ve been if the rest of it been given the same Oomph.

Because it so aesthetically fits the Academy mold, AMELIA may still come home with some gold. Swank is sure to be nominated but I’ll be shocked if this film gets anywhere close to a Best Picture nod. See? That’s what it all comes down to. Through all the hype and noble trappings, this is just formula biopic Oscar bait – nothing more.

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10 Sequels To Classic Movies That Really Should Not Happen

Okay, I know it’s the nature of the film business beast to repeat successful formulas ad nauseum with remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings galore; and I don’t want to be another one of those movie bloggers that complain that ‘Hollywood has officially run out of ideas’, but dammit these sequels are really bad ideas. A few are just talk, a few are in production, and the rest have nothing happening but an announcement with a corresponding IMDb page but they are all scary sobering possibilities on the horizon. So just to put my 2 cents in here’s 10 projected sequels of classic movies that I truly hope are axed:

1. BLADE RUNNER 2 (Dir. Ridley Scott? 20??)

Scott has batted around the idea of a sequel to the seminal 1982 cult sci fi movie for the last decade. The most recent news, in 2008, was that EAGLE EYE writers Travis Wright and John Glenn were tackling a screenplay for a sequel. More recently Scott and his brother Tony Scott announced that they were going to produce a prequel in the form of 5-10 short “webisodes” called PUREFOLD. Webisodes are fine, but the idea of a full length sequel is an awful one; BLADE RUNNER was a flawed yet contained story that created a convincing world pre CGI ‘n all. A sequel would be indistinguishable from the over 25 years of bleak neon-lit dystopian future imitators. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Scotts just leave it with the webisodes.

2. MONEY NEVER SLEEPS AKA WALL STREET 2 (Dir. Oliver Stone, 2010) The plot description on IMDb is: “As the global economy teeters on the brink of disaster, a young Wall Street trader partners with disgraced former Wall Street corporate raider Gordon Gekko on a two-tiered mission: To alert the financial community to the coming doom, and to find out who was responsible for the death of the young trader’s mentor.” Oh so it’s supposed to be all timely! What’s worse is that the young trader is set to be played by Shia LeBeouf (God, I hope it doesn’t turn out he’s Gekko’s son – see #3 below), which I guess makes him this generation’s Charlie Sheen. Michael Douglas is in place to reprise his Oscar winning role as Gordon Gekko who had the famous line: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Well, there is no better word and this time, greed is very bad.

3. INDIANA JONES 5 (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 2012) Now I was one of the few in the film geek blogosphere that actually liked INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM… (I didn’t like the title however) yet I strongly feel this would be one trip too many back to the well. The 4th film had the ring of one final trip through cliffhanger clichés for old times’ sake, but a 5th one would be really pushing it. All Harrison Ford franchises have to end sometime, how about now? Now sure works for me.

4. REPO CHICK (Dir. Alex Cox, 2010)

Cox has not been able to leave his beloved 1984 punk oddity alone – in the 90’s he wrote a “semi sequel” entitled “Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday” which was later adapted into a graphic novel and just recently he announced REPO CHICK, an actual proper sequel produced by David Lynch. Emilio Estevez opted out, telling the Austin Decider: “I remain proud of “Repo Man”, but my focus is on what’s ahead of me, not what’s in my rearview mirror.” This film is in the can so it can’t be axed but still some sensible soul could see fit to shelve it and save the reputation of a genuine cult classic. Here’s hoping.

5. FLETCH WON – This has also been in development hell for ages. Over a decade ago, Kevin Smith was tapped to write and direct what would be a prequel based faithfully on the Gregory McDonald novel, with either Jason Lee or Ben Affleck as the iconic character, but major disagreements (particularly about the level of Chevy Chase’s involvement) squashed the project. After that, in 2005, Scrubs writer/director/producer Bill Lawrence was on board with his Scrubs star Zach Braff, but neither is attached or listed (nor is anyone else) any more on the film’s IMDb page. Looks like the project has been certified dead…or extremely sleepy. Let’s hope it never wakes up.

6. NOBODY #*$%’S WITH THE JESUS (A THE BIG LEBOWSKI spin-off) Now, I just made up the title but, hey, it’s a much quoted line and it falls right in line with Adam Sandler’s YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN so I think it works. This is just talk, mainly John Turturo’s, about a spin-off film written by the Coen Brothers and directed by and starring Turturo. In a 10th anniversary article in Rolling Stone last year (“The Decade Of The Dude” Sept. 4th, 2008) Turturo relays that the story will deal with Jesus landing a job as a bus driver for a girls’ high school volleyball team. “It will be like a combination of ROCKY and the BAD NEWS BEARS. At the very least we’d have to have a Dude cameo.” Uh, no thanks – methinks this idea reeks as bad as Walter Sobchak’s “ringer” suitcase filled with his dirty underwear.

7. PORNO (The sequel to TRAINSPOTTING) This is another project that’s probably dead or just resting quietly at the moment. Director Danny Boyle has said he’d like to do this follow-up in the future when the original actors have aged appropriately because the book sequel takes place much later but it’s been a while since he said that now. Ewan Macgregor though has nixed the idea that he’d reprise Renton with these remarks about Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel “Porno”: “I didn’t think the book was very good. The novel of ‘Trainspotting’ was quite fantastic … and then I find that the sequel … it didn’t move me as much.” Like when Rodney Dangerfield bowed out of doing CADDYSHACK II because he hated the script, Macgregor just earned some major integrity points there.

8. BEVERLY HILLS COP IV (2012) This one is pretty likely to happen. Whatever your feelings on Murphy he is still huge bankable star (albeit in crappy family films these days) and it has been a lucrative franchise so I bet this one is in the cards. Maybe reprising Axel Foley will bring back some much needed edge to Murphy, but I doubt it. No matter how you slice it this is an unnecessary and uninspired attempt to cash in where there most likely will be insufficient funds. I mean, it’s not exactly BOURNE or even the DIE HARD series we’re talking about here, is it?

9. TRON 2.0 Working title: TR2N (Dir. Joseph Kosinski, 2011)

This is a sure thing too, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing it away. TRON wasn’t exactly a treasured part of my childhood, in fact I found it more than a little dull, but it had its charms as a dated ode to the world of video gaming before the rise of the internet. Now 29 years later with Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner returning, a sequel is poised to come win over the fan boys. That’s just the problem – who else but fan boys will be lining up for this? Unless I hear it’s a major re-imagining that smoothes over the shortcomings of the original, I surely won’t be in line.

10. GHOSTBUSTERS 3 (Dir. Ivan Reitman?, 2012) This has been a buzzing on the internets for a while now with all of the principals set to return (even Rick Moranis who, except for some cartoon voice work, hasn’t been onscreen since 1997) joined by fresh meat: Seth Rogen, Steve Carrell, Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, and every other Apatow player and crude comedy regular working today as Ghost Buster trainees. Actually that last bit is just rumored (as is Moranis being present) but it is true that Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (writers on the US The Office) are writing a 3rd film and most of the original cast is set to come back except Sigourney Weaver who recently said: “I don’t expect to have anything to do with it, although I wish them well.” Well, I wish them well too, but I have a sad feeling that G3 will be a sticky pile of ghost goo.

Okay! Ten sequels I’d rather not see come to fruition. Any others out there you’re dreading? HEATHERS 2? JURASSIC PARK 4, the UNTOUCHABLES prequel?!!?

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ANGELS AND DEMONS: The First Big Bad Movie Of The Summer

ANGELS AND DEMONS (Dir. Ron Howard, 2009)

Symbologist Robert Langdon, the hero of the critically condemned yet commercially successful 2006 film THE DA VINCI CODE, is back in this bloated blockbuster wannabe adaptation of Dan Brown’s inconsequentially controversial bestselling book. As played by a unusually stiff Tom Hanks, Langdon, who was described by Brown as “Harrison Ford in a Harris tweed”, is no franchise powering figure – obviously he’s no Indiana Jones but come on, he’s not even in the league of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan who Ford played in a few durable 90’s thrillers.

After the Pope dies and Cardinal candidates are kidnapped with the Vatican under terrorist threats, Hanks is called upon by Vatican police officials to do his deciphering clues thing. He suspects the Illuminati – the secret society considered to be the “power behind the throne” and with Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer as his obligatory dark haired female companion, he runs around Rome spouting exposition connecting the dubious dots. As the Pope’s shifty eyed assistant, Ewan McGregor seems eager to chew scenery but stalks the shadows instead, lacking a coherent character. So does Stellan Skarsgård as a police commander in charge of a bunch of black suits with ear pieces also running from location to location for reasons you’re likely to forget. “I need a map with all the churches in Rome!” Hanks yells in possibly one of the least gripping moments in recent movie history.

Like its predecessor, ANGELS AND DEMONS looks great (Salvatore Totino’s luxurious cinematography being one of the sole saving graces), but the emptiness is endless with the actors, director, and everyone involved grasping for a gravitas that simply isn’t there. Ron Howard has made many solid accessible films – FROST/NIXON was one of last year’s best movies – so with hope, he’ll leave Dan Brown’s mechanical formula history playtime theatrics behind from here on out. I was reminded in one of the many long boring stretches of this intensely tedious film that I saw Howard/Hanks’s first film together, the man meets mermaid rom com SPLASH, in the same theater almost exactly 25 years ago. Now, come to think of it, that was a fun movie with a more plausible take on mythology. Wish they’d make another like that next time around.

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