Tea Party politics, Citizens United condemnation, politicians for hire, under-qualified candidates, corporate espionage, election fraud, voter ignorance – what is missing from this list? How about Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis? That’s right, The Campaign is surprisingly topical given its genre and cast. Director Jay Roach has seemingly left behind Austin Powers and the Fockers for political aspirations. His previous political endeavors found success on the small screen with HBO’s Recount in 2008 and Game Change earlier this year. Now Jay Roach brings his satirically bitter sass to the big screen and he does it with surprising poise and fun. Will Ferrel plays Cam Brady, a comfortable, hypocritical, and unopposed representative of a small North Carolina district. However due to a thinly veiled conspiracy headed by the billionaire, ahem, Motch brothers, played with Duke brothers-Trading Places vitriol by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, Galifinakis’s Marty Huggins is entered into the race as a clueless pawn. With this premise set, the film then begins to parade through a string of mostly successful gags as the two warring candidates continue to attempt to one-up each other, consequently losing sight of their obligations to the public. The film is fast and fierce; the 82-minute running time and the R rating are indicative of this. It is also very funny. Ferrell plays a sleeker, slimier, variation of his classic Geroge W. character while Galifinakis plays his foil. Together, the two of them tap dance around many of the imperfections of modern day democracy.
Yes, this film is incredibly critical of the American political system, and no it does not offer any real solution. The public is often depicted as absurdly unaware and, well just plain stupid; frequent references are made to buzzwords like “America,” “Jesus,” and “Freedom” as ways to garner a political following without even making a statement or discussing a platform. In this regard, I think this movie bites off a bit more than it can chew, and I’m not sure this film will hold up over the years. However, there is no doubt that this film is much smarter and ingenious than the trailer would have you believe. For this reason, along with its decent track record of laughs, I give The Campaign my vote. B+
Director: Tony Gilroy
Screenwriter: Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, and Corey Stoll
The key question for this film is “Can Jeremy Renner cut it?” The answer is a sensational “Yes!” Tony Gilroy takes the reins from Paul Greengrass who directed the previous two films. Ironically, Gilroy’s film seems to be inspired more by Doug Liman’s film, The Bourne Identity than either of the two recent entries in the series. Unlike Greengrass’s kinetically charged pair of films, Gilroy slows things down a little bit and gets back basics with an in depth expose on all of these CIA programs that have been plaguing Jason Bourne since he was dragged out of the water in 2002. That is not to say this movie lacks action. The chase scene through the streets of Manila is nothing short of breathtaking. In addition to a change in director is a change in protagonist. Aaron Cross (Renner) is being victimized this time as we are given a little more transparency on how these genetically altered agents are trained, conditioned, and dropped in various places throughout the world. For example, we see that these agents are tethered to the CIA through rationed medical provisions where green pills are dispatched to agents to supplement their increased strength and blue pills are given to enhance cognitive ability. Consequently, Legacy does not make it its intention to try and match the expert stunts of Greengrass’s Bourne movies. Instead, Gilroy puts down the green pill and gives us a dose of the blue one, which may disappoint some fans.
The plot is complicated, as expected, and it is not really to any benefit for me to lay it all out here lest I give something away. Simply understand that the CIA is still on damage control from the events surrounding Jason Bourne. Many of the events, operations, and characters from previous films are shown and referenced often, at times at a lightening quick rate. I stumbled upon this Bourne Legacy Primer, which I fully recommend if you are interested in seeing Legacy without refreshing yourself on the previous films. Renner does display the chops for this role. Moreover, there’s room here for depth and a furthering of this story. This film does tread dangerously in Bond territory by having Cross swoop in multiple times at the right moment to save the damsel in distress as well as introduce a rare human villain to the story, an expertly trained assassin named LARX. These elements can seem out of place or desperate, but I feel they worked. The Bourne Legacy succeeds at providing some truly terrifying moments in a story about a guy who should have all of the advantages. This along with some interesting locations and a great cast make me feel confident that we’re not done with Bourne yet. B
The Bourne Legacy is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Hope Springs is an interesting film. Its content will have you believe it is aimed at an older audience, although the film’s trailer would have you believe Hope Springs is a comedy in order to broaden its base. Surprisingly, after seeing this film, I can tell you that Hope Springs is neither specifically for an older audience or a comedy. It is in fact a remarkably effective cautionary tale for all ages who seek to enter a life-long romantic relationship. Hope Springs refers to the tiny berg in coastal Maine, Great Hope Springs. Here, renowned couples counselor Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) has set up shop for troubled couples to save their marriages in week long intensive therapy sessions. One such couple that needs saving is Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones). The film uses its exposition to illustrate the degradation of romance between Kay and Arnold, including separate bedrooms. However, the film’s true impact comes from the brief counseling sessions with Dr. Feld. These sessions turn a casually effective romantic drama into a full-blown interactive experience. Deep, probing, personal questions are asked of Kay and and Arnold, causing the audience to squirm, not with a sympathy for the characters, but with the awkward discomfort of personal relevance. Venessa Taylor’s screenplay hits more often than it misses. It orchestrates tension and importance over many elements of our lives that can be easily taken for granted. In fact, the film would be even more powerful if not for its overbearing introduction of loud, thematically obvious pop songs over scenes that would be much stronger without any music at all.
It seems trivial to say the acting is great, but when discussing a movie that warns against taking anything for granted, I will say that Jones and Streep are both great in this movie. Streep goes beyond the frustrated housewife into a character that resonates with both desperation and determination at the same time. Jones has it easy in the first act, simply playing up the droning curmudgeon, but this makes his evolution that much more admirable as the film goes on. Steve Carell is easy to overlook as the third wheel to this acting team, but thanks to Taylor’s screenplay his moments on screen are authentic, necessary, and gripping.
Hope Springs does not break new ground, but it strives to make us remember and value our time with the people we love, and it is fairly successful at it. Just remember, if you see it on a date night, be prepared. B+
By popular demand from my followers, or should I say follower, I have decided to review the avant garde Pop bio-pic Marie-Antoinette, directed by Sofia Coppola. I missed this movie during its original run (by “missed” I mean “skipped” because I find Kirsten Dunst to be a half-step above Kristen Stewart in terms of acting ability). However, due to a recent trip to Paris and Versailles, the film suddenly had more of a draw to me. The film loosely follows the story of how monarch-to-be, Louis XVI (played by Jason Schwartzman) is matched up with Austrian-born Marie-Antoinette (Dunst) by his father for political reasons. Soon the teenage pair are ruling France from the decadent and hypnotizing palace of Versailles with little knowledge about or regard for the country’s well-being. This film has a unique style and tone. This is not your run-of-the-mill straight factual bio-pic. Coppola uses bright colors, modern music, and even out of place modern props like a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers in the background of one shot to play up the youth and inexperience of her heroine. Coppola looks to explain, albeit not excuse, the doomed couple’s flawed reign.
Even more important is the film’s setting. Marie-Antoinette is filmed entirely at the Palace of Versailles. This is a special privilege, not often permitted by the French government and it is crucial for the film’s full vision. Coppola not only saturates the film with youthful imagery, but she also utilizes the spellbinding mystique of Versailles itself in order to illustrate the tremendous disconnect young Louis and Marie-Antoinette must have felt from their constituency. The lavish luxury is palpable and, at times, even disgustingly over-the-top. Even with such a mouth-wateringly lush location, the film is often flat from the acting to the rather uneventful plot, purposeful as this may be. I am not clamoring for a fully historically accurate portrayal, but the film needs more than just two hours of moodiness. There is an obviously looming sense of doom throughout this film, and this feeling mixed with the childish depiction of the protagonists does foster a note of sympathy for the child rulers, which is a credit to the director. Overall, the film benefits from a unique vision and a setting that is one of a kind. These characteristics certainly help the film overcome some of its shortcomings. B-
Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love is the latest in his series of cinematic love letters to his favorite European cities. Allen’s latter portion of his career has seen a renaissance in terms of inspiration and fresh takes on familiar, yet intriguing, themes (Whatever Works excluded). This film comes on the heels of his greatest box office success of his career, Midnight in Paris. Consequently, To Rome with Love becomes a sort of paradox. On one hand, it’s nice to see Woody Allen enjoying some major attention again, but like so many of Allen’s characters, it would be terrible to see that attention affect his outlook or disposition since this film will no doubt be compared to Midnight in Paris. After ‘Midnight’s‘ success, the anticipation level for Allen’s next film was higher than average since it charmed so many people, many of which were not typical Woody Allen fans. This film meets that anticipation with bizarre unease, as it may not satisfy many of Allen’s recent converts, which is exactly what it needs to do.
Allen has blended his new Euro-flare with a picaresque film that feels very much like that of his satirical style of earlier days rather than the more playful mood of recent. To me, this is great. I enjoy Woody Allen’s skewed and informed views on love, celebrity, and fate; it’s a gift to fans. The film is composed of four unrelated stories that do not really intersect or even exist in the same time frame, yet the viewer is challenged to deconstruct them down to their thematic commonalities. When all is said and done, each story presents a separate character study and morality play, each seamlessly jumping back and forth without losing the viewer. Some stories are stronger than others, but all have something to say worth saying, and they all offer at least one good solid laugh. I think Ellen Page’s character Monica stands out as the most intriguing. Monica’s sexually charged wildly independent character is talked about before she appears, and the set up does not lead one to think “Ellen Page.” She is very well written and Page is great delivering Allen’s characteristically faux-intellectual free spirit female artist dialogue. Ironically, over-analysis is not what To Rome With Love deserves, although analysis is a major theme. It should not be compared to Midnight in Paris, but rather it should rest on its own merits which are substantial. B+
Clearly, Dark Shadows will not make any box office records. Iron Man does not make an appearance, so it’s hopeless. However, what Dark Shadows does do is add another solid entry in the impressive Burton/Depp collaborative series. The movie strikes a vibe that is much more serious than the tongue-in-cheek trailer would have you believe. Depp’s turn as Barnibus Collins may feel familiar to Depp fans. He has the appearance of Edward Scissorhands, the mannerisms of Captain Jack Sparrow, and the vocal pattern of Hunter S. Thompson. This is a fun combination, but the story surrounding Collins is one of betrayal and vengeance. Not that the movie doesn’t have its humorous moments, it does. But it should be mentioned that the film firmly belongs in the company of Burron’s films like Sleepy Hollow instead of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In addition, there’s an excellent soundtrack of classic rock, which is rare for Burton who usually relies on Danny Elfman only. The supporting characters do feel a bit under developed and, at times, seemingly unnecessary, and the film does begin to wander as the final 30 minutes roll around, but that does not spoil it as a classic Tim Burton movie in the least. B
Sometimes objectivity is impossible. That will nearly always be the case when looking at a Pixar Studios release. The track record Pixar has achieved is astounding. This reputation comes from an ideal combination of dazzling visuals, memorable characters, and a beautifully written story. These characteristics have come to be expected. Brave, Pixar’s thirteenth release, simply does not raise the bar. While it is a “good” movie-given it’s predecessors, I can’t help but feel disappointed in Brave. Like I said, Brave is good. It has some laughs, it has some touching moments, and the one spectacular element is its visual effects. Overall, however, Brave feels more contrived than anything else. It is Pixar’s first effort with a female lead, but nothing feels natural about the conflict between Merida and her mother Elinor (and I understand that part of this unnaturalness comes from a very odd curse). The film bets heavily on this mother-daughter conflict, but its just not strong enough or relevant enough to sustain the work by itself, making Brave feel simple. The thematic idea of fate being a choice is crow barred in there as well, but it is drastically underdeveloped. Of course, from a child’s point of view, this is unnecessary criticism. Brave will be a wonderful experience for kids, especially mothers and young daughters, but once again, subjectively speaking, Pixar films have historically not pandered to only this specific audience level. Brave isn’t bad, but there’s just not as much to love. B-