Friday, August 19, 2011

Penny Thoughts ’11: Aug. 12-18

You Again (2010) *½
Director: Andy Fickman
Writer: Moe Jelline
Starring: Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Odette Yustman, Victor Garber, Jimmy Wolk, Betty White, Kristin Chenoweth, Billy Unger, Kyle Bornheimer, Sean Wing

Now, this has nothing to do with any sort of crush I might have on Kristen Bell or anything, but it seems to me that Bell consistently outshines the movies she’s in. It’s funny how although she rose to fame on one of the most smartly written television shows of the aughts, she doesn’t seem to find herself in very many smartly written movies.

Example: At the beginning of the movie “You Again”, where she plays a PR woman who wants to break up her brother’s wedding because his fiancée was her arch nemesis in high school, she learns of this news while on a plane to attend the wedding. I’m willing to forgive that Hollywood seems to think that weddings are events that can actually happen in just a couple of days. No, I’m sorry. That’s a lie. I’m not willing to accept that. My point is, however, when you place the heroine on an airplane in a slapstick comedy, is it a necessity that she will have to be reprimanded by an air marshal? That happens here, as Hollywood feels it must, but screenwriter Moe Jelline can’t seem to come up with a good reason for it.

Bell learns the news that her brother is marrying her high school tormentor; and although she’s still on the phone, she can no longer fight the urge to stand up and yell into the phone. Really? She has to stand up with the phone cord still attached to the middle seat in the row. Bell, for any talent she might have, can’t make it look physically plausible that such an action is natural in any sense. That’s not her fault. It’s because it isn’t. The only reason she’s standing up is to make a scene and draw the air marshal’s ire. Heck, Jelline can’t even hide the fact that the only reason she learns the news at this point, rather than before she leaves Los Angeles, is so she can flirt with disaster. This is really bad stuff.

As for Bell outshining the material. That she does with a natural and fluctuating sunny disposition, something the rest of the cast, including comedy veterans Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver, fail at. It seems like everyone in this movie is smiling too much. I don’t mean at inappropriate times, but when they do it, the smiles seem to be too big, too happy, even in a comedy.

I didn’t expect “You Again” to be a great movie, but with such a trio of comedic actresses and Betty White offering some supporting help, this all should’ve been much funnier. I can’t blame these performers that have proven themselves over and over throughout the years. But, perhaps they all need to have a serious sit down with their respective agents.

Honeymoon for One (2011) **
Director: Kevin Connor
Writer: Rick Suvalle
Starring: Nicollette Sheridan, Greg Wise, Patrick Baladi, Katie Bannon

I’m really not used to watching made for TV movies. The pacing is different than theatrical releases. The new romantic comedy that premiered on Hallmark Channel Saturday, “Honeymoon For One”, seems a little slow when compared to theatrical movies of the same nature. I suppose this is a result of having to deal with commercials and a locked running time.

In terms of the romantic comedy formula, the movie hits all its marks. The story involves an L.A. ad executive who catches her fiancée cheating on her days before their wedding. She goes on their planned Ireland honeymoon anyway and meets a local man who doesn’t fit her big city lifestyle. Naturally, the two opposites fall in love. I liked the way screenwriter Rick Suvalle worked in a corporate subplot about a real estate deal between her fiancée and some investors interested in the property where they were supposed to honeymoon.

I wish, however, that director Kevin Connor had highlighted the comedy more. There are some good moments between the budding lovers and with the Irishman’s daughter that kind of get run over by the basic point and shoot direction. There are even more missed moments concerning the woman’s personal assistant. The film’s score, by Ray Harman, tries too hard to sell the romance and makes little attempt to lighten the mood for the comedic moments. The direction seems pitched at the same level throughout the movie. Some variant pacing could’ve pushed the stronger comedic moments and slowed down for the more dramatic scenes.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010) ***
Directors: Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg
Starring: Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Jocelyn Pickett, Billy Sammeth

Here’s what I like about Joan Rivers. In the still I’ve used from the movie above, she seems to be having one of those typical documentary exposé moments where we see the lonely artist in contemplation of everything that she’s become. The look on her face suggests a hard life that seems betrayed by the luxury car she’s in and the fur coat she’s wearing. Moments after this shot in the film Rivers leans over to the other passenger in the seat next to her and says, “Get out of my shot. This is supposed to be me alone, all by myself.”

She’s joking, because she knows just how pretentious the shot must look. She knows exactly what she’s doing. Her life hasn’t been hard. It’s exactly what she made it. That’s the very type of celebrity she is. She has no illusions of herself, no matter how many illusions the world has about her. She’s a workaholic at the age of 75 (now 78.)

In this documentary that looks at a year in the life of the comedienne, there are some clips from her stand up act. As an “old woman” (her words), her bits are filled with foul language, graphic talk about sex, and constant criticism of the people who are closest to her and provide her with love. This isn’t any grandmother I remember; yet after watching her here, I think she’s a good one. Her biggest problem is that she won’t stop. That’s also what makes her both fascinating and underappreciated by the public at large.

Unknown (2011) ***
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writers: Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell, Didier Van Caulwelert (novel “Out of My Head”)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch

Liam Neeson has a very unique set of skills. It’s just that this time, he doesn’t know it. It’s unknown to him. Huh? Get it? Did you see “Taken”?

Well, anyway, it doesn’t really matter. Here’s another movie with Liam Neeson kicking ass, and it actually makes you desire to see more movies of Liam Neeson kicking ass. In my full-length review of “Taken” I talked about what a great and unlikely action star Neeson is because he doesn’t seem like an action star. Here the filmmakers use that misconception to the story’s advantage with the secret I’ll try not to discuss anymore.

What would you do if you woke from a coma to be told that all of the things you remember about your life are wrong? I doubt I would behave as spectacularly as Liam Neeson does in this film, but I’d really like to imagine I would. Yeah! Kick ass! Mess ‘em up! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

My Dog Tulip (2010) ****
Directors: Paul Fierlinger, Sandra Fierlinger
Writers: Paul Fierlinger, Sandra Fierlinger, J. R. Akerley (book)
Starring: Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave, Isabella Rossellini, Brian Murray

Any dog lover knows that the animated memoir “My Dog Tulip” is going to be a down to earth approach to dogs because within the first fifteen minutes of its running time the narrator/author is discussing bowel movements. You see with a dog, the basic needs come first; and a true dog lover understands that before anything you much deal with the bodily waste.

Despite the frequent discussion of such bodily functions in “My Dog Tulip”, this is one of the truly endearing animations of the ages. The hand drawn art may seem primitive to some, but it perfectly displays the memoir nature of this story about an old man who, in his lifelong search for the perfect companion, finally finds true love with man’s best friend. Tulip is not your typical cute animated dog. She’s real. She misbehaves. She’s uncontrollable. She tries to dictate the old man’s life until he understands that a dog’s psyche is a subservient one, desiring to please, unlike most people.

You won’t find some grand adventure here. This is a memoir painted with love about nothing other than companionship. Despite the fact that just about every sentence of the script speaks of Tulip, it’s really more about the old man and how he found everything he needed in life in a place he never expected. This is the great discovery of just about every pet lover.

Western of the Week

Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982) *
Director: William Dear
Writers: William Dear, Michael Nesmith
Starring: Fred Ward, Belinda Bauer, Peter Coyote, Richard Mauser, Tracey Walter, Ed Lauter, L.Q. Jones, Chris Mulkey

So I’m scrolling through the westerns on Netflix Instant looking for this week’s Western of the Week and I see the 1982 sci-fi D-grade flick “Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann”. This brings so many questions too my head. First, a tune, “One of these things is not like the other…” Second, wasn’t Lynn Swann still playing football in 1982? Third, didn’t they call this one “Back to the Future III” later on in the decade?

My interest peaked. I decided, what the hell! Yes, sometimes that’s a statement, not a question. I actually remember “Timerider” from the early days of HBO, when they played it incessantly. It was a cheap property and it was rated PG. At that time, HBO could only play R-rated movies in primetime or late night. I recalled the first twelve minutes of the movie quite vividly. I also remembered the last couple of minutes very well. The middle of the film was all new to me. This tells me that even my 10-year-old mind could only handle watching the first twelve minutes of this crap. I’m guessing my memory of the last few minutes had to do with tuning in a couple minutes early to catch the following program.

The plot involves a motorcyclist competing in the Baja 1000 who is accidentally sent back through time to the old west. Hence, the Western label. The western characters here are broadly drawn, with a villain that is pretty poorly portrayed by Peter Coyote. There isn’t much point to this exercise of placing a motorcyclist in the old west, and the story of the outlaws trying to get their hands on that “machine he rides like a horse” is pretty flimsy. It is nice to see Coyote get propeller chopped right out of his boots at the end, however.

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