DATE NIGHT: The Film Babble Blog Review

DATE NIGHT (Dir. Shawn Levy, 2010)

Steve Carrell and Tina Fey are 2 of the most likable and funny people currently on network television in their NBC sitcoms The Office and 30 Rock respectively. That reputation hasn’t changed in their transition to the big screen even if some of their previous choices of projects have faltered a bit. Pairing them up as a bored, and purposely boring, married couple from New Jersey who find themselves caught up in a wild and violent night from Hell in manic Manhattan isn’t the most inspired concept in the world, but on the strength of their comic charm alone it’s still very likable and funny.

After learning that a couple of their friends are splitting up (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig in an all too brief appearance), Carrell decides to try to re-ignite the spark of their marriage by abandoning their routine date night plans and heading into the city for a meal at a posh upscale restaurant that they don’t have reservations for. A dolled-up Fey is hesitant at first, but is soon game – same goes for when Carrell, not able to get a table, steals somebody else’s reservations which, of course, leads to a case of mistaken identity with gunshots and frantic chases galore.

The MacGuffin here is a flashdrive, or “computer sticky thingie” as Fey calls it, that 2 thugs (Jimmi Simpson and Common) insist Carrell and Fey possess. Our not quite heroic duo elude their pursuers, find out that the thugs are cops on the take, and call upon one of Fey’s real estate clients, a shirtless Mark Wahlberg, for help. It really doesn’t matter where the plot goes from here – it’s just an excuse for Carrell and Fey to run around and spout out one-liners, many of which are just funny enough to keep the enterprise rolling.

Cameos from James Franco and Mila Kunis as a trashy couple who amusingly share some of the same relationship issues as do our protagonists work better than they should, and Ray Liotta as an angry mobster (once again resurrecting Henry Hill from GOODFELLAS) also adds nicely to the mayhem, as contrived as it is. It’s as predictable as its fabricated THE OUT OF TOWNERS meets AFTER HOURS formula would suggest, but if you like Carrell and Fey (I can’t imagine somebody liking one and not liking the other) you’ll most likely like this.

More later…

OBSERVE AND REPORT: The Film Babble Blog Review

OBSERVE AND REPORT (Dir. Jody Hill, 2009)

Last weekend on Saturday Night Live, Kristen Wiig playing an audience member in a Q & A, said to host Seth Rogan: “You’re in a second mall cop movie? Good luck with that!” It was an obvious dig at his new movie, but once you get past the seemingly similar premise, Rogen’s deluded schlub of a character recalls such an alienated legend in their own mind like De Niro’s Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER more than it does Kevin James’s PAUL BLART: MALL COP. An old school trenchcoated flasher is terrorizing shoppers and employees alike at Forest Ridge Mall and Rogen as head of mall Security is determined to serve up justice. “Hot plates of justice” he specifies to the vein-popping annoyance of the hard nosed police detective (Ray Liotta) called in to investigate.

There is also vandalism and a robbery that Rogen also feels he can handle as he attempts to flirt with Anna Farris as a superficial make-up counter clerk. Rogen trades insults with a kiosk salesman (comedian Aziz Ansari) – one of his many mall adversaries resulting in one of the film’s funniest scenes. Between crude confrontations Rogen gulps free coffee served to him by Collette Wolfe, a sweet girl-next-door but with a leg in a cast, who we know immediately is a better love interest for him than Farris but following Rogen’s every misguided move is the name of the game here. Frustrated with Rogen’s wannabe Police state, Liotta drops him off in a bad neighborhood but it backfires making our would be hero go with gusto into the enlistment process to become a full fledged officer of the law.

Darker than the Judd Apatow produced playgrounds of Rogen’s former films, OBSERVE AND REPORT alternates between edgy and goofy with just the right tone. It’s the best acting I’ve witnessed from Rogen and he’s well matched with the crusty Liotta working his worry lines to great effect, Farris being all too convincing as a vapid vulgar slut, Michael Peña as fellow mall security, and Celia Weston as Rogen’s alcoholic, though supremely supportive mother (as incoherent as she is). Nice comic turns from Danny McBride and Patton Oswalt also fill out the funny.

A much more accomplished and layered film than Jody Hill’s previous piece (THE FOOT FIST WAY), OBSERVE AND REPORT may not be up to the manic comic levels of SUPERBAD or PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (even with the most gratuitous and grotesque display of flabby male nudity this side of BORAT) but it’s still a worthy, if crass, character study that will satisfy fans of lovingly lowbrow comedy such as BAD SANTA or Comedy Central’s Reno 911. Not too shabby a predicament for “a second mall cop movie”.

More later…

WILD HOGS #1 – America Has Spoken

“This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep!”
Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith) A FACE IN THE CROWD
(Dir. Elia Kazan, 1957)

WILD HOGS (Dir. Walt Becker, 2007) In the last few years there has been much op-ed piece and pundit speak about whether movie critics really matter any more. If we judge solely by the case of WILD HOGS the answer is a deafening “Hell NO!” This film, which was critically panned by practically everyone (it has a 15% approval rating = rotten on the Tomatometer), was the #1 movie for several weeks when it opened earlier this year even staying in the top ten 13 weeks after its release! It was the #1 DVD in sales upon release and rentals (now it’s #3) and the #1 download right now online according to iTunes. It’s like it’s giving the finger to every movie critic ever! So yeah, I had to see for myself – I couldn’t take anybody’s word for it. I put it in my Netflix queue and naturally it came up “Very Long Wait” which made me feel even more ashamed to giving in to what I knew was going to be an atrocious experience.

And boy was it! Another depressed yuppies take to the road in an attempt to re-boot their stale lives – see CITY SLICKERS get their GROOVE BACK by way of EASY RIDER and LOST IN AMERICA. Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, and the really slumming it William H. Macy are the motorcycle crew here – they face off with real bikers led by Ray Liotta while Macy falls for Marissa Tomei. That’s about all of what happens here unless you want to count the endless stopping to go to the bathroom jokes and all the homophobic humor especially embodied in a gay cop (Scrubs’ John C. McGinley) who may be the most offensive character in a movie comedy in a long time. I didn’t think one second of this film was funny – I didn’t even smile at the Peter Fonda cameo (especially as it is such a contrived walk-on). With its base, broad and just plain boring kind of comedy WILD HOGS is the movie equivalent of pig slop but I know, my opinion doesn’t matter – as Stephen Colbert says “the market has spoken”.

Post Note : There has been much speculation that a significant percentage of the gross of WILD HOGS was from teenagers who bought tickets to it and then attended 300 but that doesn’t explain the DVD and download numbers. Maybe it’s a Red States thing.

More later…

DVD Babble Blurb Bash-tacular!

I have seen a lot of recent DVDs over the last few months that I haven’t been blogged about so I thought it would be good to take a break from the summer sequel season and round up a handful and square them off. I tried to keep it in a brief blurb format but since this is film BABBLE the reviews of course wind on and on. Let’s start with –

New Release DVD Recommendations :

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (Dir. Clint Eastwood, 2006) Word was that this was vastly superior to FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS but this politically correct companion piece is roughly the same quality in my estimation. Told from the Japanese point of view entirely in their language with sub-titles LETTERS has the same sense of earnest honor and the same grey overcast tint. The standout characters are General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) the young Saigo (Kazunari Ninomira) who run into each other more than once in the tunnels between Mount Saribachi and the north side of the island as bombing and ground attacks by the American troops rage above. The melodrama involving the sympathy that emerges is handled deftly by Eastwood while the sentiment – such as the sunny Speilbergisms that sadly have defined the modern era war-film is kept in check. It may be too much to watch both FLAGS and LETTERS in one sitting or some double feature setting but both even with their glorified old-school faults (most likely from the screenplay written by CRASH * director Paul Hack-ish, oh – I mean Haggis) should not be missed.

* Incidentely my least favorite Best Picture Academy Award winning film ever!

49 UP (Dir. Michael Apted, 2005) The 7th in the excellent documentary series that began in 1964 with the bold statement – “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” and followed 14 British children catching up with them every (yep) 7 years. Since most people I know haven’t seen any of these movies I’d highly recommend the Up Series box-set which has the previous 6 films but honestly that’s not absolutely necessary to enjoy this movie. Plenty of clips from all the films inform and enhance the new material and don’t come off as redundant for those who have kept up. It would be too much for me to recount all the names, stories, and economic backgrounds so check out this Wikipedia entry if you are curious. Seeing this group of real people at the various stages of their lives through turmoil and peace makes for extremely satisfying viewing. Bring on 56 UP!

(Dir. Sylvester Stallone, 2006)

It’s hard for me to believe this is making my recommendations list. I mean as a kid I hated the ROCKY movies, ridiculed them with other snotty pimpled faced friends, and grew up to believe them to be populist Narcissistic America at its most lame brained epic-wannabes. At some point when I got older I caught the original Best Picture winning ROCKY and found myself liking it. It came from my favorite era of cinema (the 70’s dummy!) and it was grittily touching in its portrayal of the boxing underdog making a name for himself. Then sequel-itis set in and the character became a machine who could never lose in glitzy gimmicky match-ups with Mr. T (III) and that evil Russian powerhouse played by Dolph Lundgren (IV) – yes that’s right – Rocky was going to win the Cold War! I never even saw ROCKY V (1990) – so why do I like and recommend ROCKY BALBOA? Because we have Stallone at his most likable – an aging humble simpleton running a restaurant named after his deceased wife Adrian (Talia Shire – who is not deceased; she just didn’t return to the series), telling the same fight stories, and brushing off daily indignities. It seems oddly necessary for Stallone to return to his Rocky roots – this is his best and most definable character and even with the contrived ‘inspired by a video game simulation Rocky gets an exhibition match with the current troubled champ Mason ‘The Line Dixon’ (Antonio Tarver)’ scenario, I hate to admit it but it works. Bring on JOHN RAMBO! Okay, no wait – that’s a bit much.

And now :

New Release DVD Disses :

BOBBY (Dir. Emilio Estevez, 2006) I had heard the news upon its theatrical release that this was a NASHVILLE remake – relocated to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles with the RFK assassination the backdrop to a convoluted mishmash of over 20 cliched ’60s stereotypes. I held out ’til it came in that red Netflix envelope because of my love for political period pieces but damn was that description right on the money! The Altman derived framework doesn’t disguise the awful screenplay with ham-fisted base dialogue like Nick Cannon playing an insufferably idealistic Kennedy staffer emoting “now that Dr. King is gone – no one left but Bobby. No one.” Cannon joins an ace cast including Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence Fishborne, William H. Macy, Harry Belfonte, Christian Slater (one of the few non-idealist characters – he plays a base racist), and Estevez’s Daddy Martin Sheen. Not so ace actors here include Elijah Wood, Lindsay Lohan, Demi Moore and Estevez himself. The cringe inducing cliches pile up – Ashton Kutcher does his worst acting ever (can’t believe that was possible) as a hippy that would look phony on Dragnet 1967– during a horrifyingly stupid acid trip sequence actually sits staring at an orange in his hand saying “no, you shut up!”, every TV set has a perfect quality picture of carefully chosen clips of RFK speeches and there’s even a MAGNOLIA-esque montage going from strained close-up shots actor to actor. Can’t deny the heart that went into this movie but all we have here is an A-list cast, B-list production values, C-list cliches, D-list overused soundtrack standards, and an F-list script. Somebody revoke Estevez’s cinematic license! He should be exiled to the TV movie circuit after this film felony.

SMOKIN’ ACES (Dir. Joe Carnahan, 2007) Another better than average cast slumming it through derivative drivel. Flashy Vegas gangster caper in which every one in the cast is after sleazy magician soon to be snitch Buddy Aces (Jeremy Piven – pictured on the left). Some are trying to protect him – (lawyer Curtis Armstrong, FBI agents Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta under the supervision of chief Andy Garcia) but everybody else is trying to kill him including Alicia Keys, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, and rapper Common – okay yeah so it’s not A-list but most of them are still better than the material in this worn entry into the PULP FICTIONGET SHORTYLOCK STOCKGO sweepstakes that expired over a decade ago. Kind of like Shane Black’s also post-dated glib witless KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005) SMOKIN’ ACES is a lesson in how quick cutting and hip-hopisms don’t ensure a clever crafty meta-movie. Just say Tarenti-NO to this piece of pop-nonsense.

This post (especially the disses) is dedicated to Good Morning America critic Joel Siegel (1943-2007). He became a film babble hero when he walked out of a screening of CLERKS II last summer. Knowing his days were numbered he figured he didn’t want to waste his last hours on that crap. The fact that it pissed off Kevin Smith was the icing on the cake! Check out Roger Ebert’s heartfelt tribute.

More later…