Director: Don Scardino
Writers: Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley
Cast: Steve Carell as Burt Wonderstone, Jim Carrey as Steve Gray, Steve Buscemi as Anton Marvelton, Olivia Wilde as Jane, Alan Arkin as Rance Holloway, James Gandolfini as Doug
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0790628/
Plot: When his longtime stage partner walks out, Vegas illusionist Burt Wonderstone tries to stage a solo comeback, despite competition from “extreme” magician Steve Gray.
Can my love for Steve Carell cancel out my dislike of any Jim Carrey movie that doesn’t have “Truman,” “Moon” or “Eternal” in the title? That’s the question I faced walking into Burt Wonderstone. I still haven’t seen Bruce Almighty because of this very dilemma.
Much to my pleasant surprise, Carrey isn’t in this movie much, and his character could honestly have been written out altogether. As Steve Gray, a sort of Criss Angel-esque stunt performer, Carrey pops in once in a while to say something weird and make a face. Then, the focus shifts back to Carell, Buscemi, Arkin and a surprisingly funny Wilde.
Director & Writer: Jonathan Levine; based on the book by Isaac Marion
Cast: Nicholas Hoult as R, Teresa Palmer as Julie, Analeigh Tipton as Nora, John Malkovich as Gen. Grigio, Rob Corddry as M, Dave Franco as Perry
Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1588173/
Plot: In the aftermath of the apocalypse, a young zombie called R falls in love with human survivor Julie, awakening his own humanity and that of his fellow “corpses”
If you randomly edited The Walking Dead, Twilight and (500) Days of Summer together, then squinted really hard, you might approximate the experience of watching Warm Bodies. Its singular weirdness makes it stand out among the usual generic offerings that crowd the multiplex this time of year (quick – who can tell the difference between the new Stallone movie and the new Schwarzenegger movie?).
Published at KCActive.com on December 7th, 2012
The marketing for Hope Springs makes it look like a comedy, but don’t be fooled. While it contains plenty of humorous moments, this is a serious film about the difficulty in reviving a stagnant relationship.
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play Kay and Arnold, whose long marriage has become a hell of routine and detachment. At least it’s hell for Kay – Arnold is completely unaware of any problem. In a last-ditch attempt to get her husband’s attention, Kay books a trip to the town of Hope Springs, where Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) runs a renowned counseling clinic. Arnold is a jerk through the early part of the sessions, but as he realizes he may actually lose his life partner, he begins to see that he and Kay really do need help.
Much has rightly been made of the performances in Hope Springs. It’s a given that Streep will be wonderful in any role she tackles, including that of an otherwise bland housewife, and she gives Kay touching emotional depth. Jones is playing a variation on his usual grouchy persona, but he also reveals more vulnerability than he’s shown onscreen in years, if ever. Anyone who has been in a long relationship, or knows someone who has (and let’s face it, that’s pretty much everyone), will recognize these characters and sympathize with even their most difficult qualities.
Carell is the real revelation here, playing it completely straight as the understanding therapist. Dr. Feld is never the script’s focus, but his presence is a comforting counterpoint to the many awkward moments between Arnold and Kay. Director David Frankel is known for light fare like The Big Year and The Devil Wears Prada, but he handles the drama in Vanessa Taylor’s script extremely well. Hope Springs may not be groundbreaking cinema, but it says important things about the nature of long-term relationships, and does so with warmth and wit.
Extras: Commentary by Frankel; several making-of features; alternate scenes; a gag reel. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 - LL
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is either brave, crazy, suicidal, or a combination of all three. In a country where dissent is a crime, Ai speaks boldly against the government’s treatment of its citizens, and has become world-famous for doing so.
Alison Klayman’s documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry offers both a biography and a fly-on-the-wall look at Ai’s provocative artistry. He doesn’t get overly emotional, but he does get passionate, especially when he sees harm done to everyday citizens.
Klayman zeroes in on Ai’s attempts to draw attention to the number of children killed in shoddily constructed schools during a 2008 earthquake. He literally flips off symbols of oppression (like Tiananmen Square) then sends the photos around the world, to the delight of his fans and the dismay of the government.
Ai has been doing this sort of thing throughout his career, earning constant harassment from Chinese authorities. His fame protects him somewhat, but his apparent fearlessness remains astonishing. When he’s beaten by police, he doesn’t stay quiet – he files aggressive, formal complaints, bringing cameras with him everywhere. He’s been criticized, in fact, for making himself the focus of his art, and there may be some truth to that. But when he literally risks his life exposing the misdeeds of a massive, powerful government, you can see that this self-aggrandizing eccentric is also a true patriot who loves his country, if not its leaders.
Extras: Commentary by Klayman; deleted scenes; filmmaker interviews. (R) Rating: 4 - LL
November 20, 2012
By LOEY LOCKERBY
Special to The Star
★ ★ ★
How fine is the line between a volatile temper and full-blown mental illness? That question is at the heart of Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell’s latest entertaining ode to lovable characters you should probably be afraid of.
Several people are, in fact, afraid of Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper), who has just been released from a psychiatric hospital after viciously attacking his wife’s lover. Armed with a bipolar diagnosis and a determinedly positive attitude, Pat moves in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) and tries to get his old life back.
Published at KCActive.com on August 3, 2012
The Best Man
The recent death of writer Gore Vidal has led many fans back to his books. For film buffs, however, one of the finest Vidal efforts is the 1964 adaptation of his play The Best Man. And in this election year, its portrayal of political dirty dealings is as relevant as ever.
Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Writers: Casper Christensen & Frank Hvam
Cast: Frank Hvam as Frank, Casper Christensen as Casper, Marcuz Jess Petersen as Bo, Mia Lyhne as Mia, Iben Hjejle as Iben
Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes
In Danish with English subtitles
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1680136/
Plot: To prove his fatherhood potential to his pregnant girlfriend, Frank takes his nephew, Bo, on a canoe trip. They are joined by Frank’s friend Casper, who refuses to let Bo’s presence interfere with his hard-partying plans.
Up until now, my knowledge of Danish filmmaking has been limited to Lars Von Trier’s acid trips and the neo-realist Dogme 95 movement. Who knew they had their own version of The Hangover?
Published at KCActive.com on July 6, 2012
When The Artist won the Best Picture Oscar, there were people who groused that it was a “conventional” choice. What’s conventional about a silent, black-and-white French film with no big stars? “Old-fashioned” is a better term, as director Michel Hazanavicius has composed an unabashed love letter to the glamour and romance of classic Hollywood.
Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a silent film star who resists the coming of sound, with disastrous consequences. Luckily, he has befriended an up-and-coming young actress, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who refuses to abandon him when the rest of the industry does. With her help, and that of his faithful butler (James Cromwell) and the coolest dog since Lassie, George learns to adapt or get out of the way.
The joy of The Artist is more than superficial — Hazanavicius not only knows how it should look, he understands how it should FEEL. In the one major scene where sound is used, it feels like something crude and clumsy has invaded this pristine world, which is exactly how George experiences it. Its final use is more hopeful, a representation of his evolution, as well as technology’s. It’s an incredibly clever technique, and shows how fully Hazanavicius has thought this through.
Dujardin is a charming, energetic cross between Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert, and Bejo could easily have stepped out of an early Ernst Lubitsch comedy. If you get those references, The Artist was practically made for you. If not, here’s your chance to enjoy a most unconventional “conventional” film.
Extras: A making-of doc; Q&A with the cast and director; blooper reel; features on the locations, set design, costumes, score and cinematography. (PG-13) Rating: 5 —LL
Act of Valor
Imagine Team America: World Police as a serious, live-action movie, and you have an idea of what Act of Valor is like. They may as well have put “America, Fuck Yeah!” on the soundtrack. On a continuous loop.
What makes Act of Valor stand out is its use of real Navy SEALs to portray the kinds of missions they undertake on a regular basis. There’s a connecting fictional storyline about drug dealers and terrorism, but the tactics — and the ammo — are very real.
Not surprisingly, the action scenes are the best things about the film. Directors Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy are former stuntmen, and they allow the audience to see what’s going on, without drawing attention to themselves with choppy editing or hyperactive camera work. They respect the guys they’re filming, and these sequences have a brutal, visceral power. You can practically hear the bullets whizzing past your head.
If this were a documentary, it would be uncluttered and powerful. Since Waugh and McCoy went the feature route, however, they felt it necessary to include lots of awkward drama that their non-actors simply can’t pull off. Some of them have real screen presence, and would have done fine just being themselves. When they’re called upon to emote, they suddenly get very uncomfortable.
As an action movie, Act of Valor is first-rate. As a tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of America’s elite forces, it’s a respectable hagiography. As a drama that could evoke genuine emotion, it’s a clichéd, manipulative mess.
Extras: Commentary by Waugh and McCoy; deleted scenes; the Blu-Ray also has features on the SEALs and their participation in the film; a making-of featurette; a Keith Urban video with its own production doc. (R) Rating: 2.5 —LL
These strippers are sexy and funny — too bad they can’t get serious.
By LOEY LOCKERBY
Special to The Star
* * 1/2 out of 4
Rated R | Time: 1:50
For the past month, every straight woman who knows I’m a critic has been asking if I’ve seen Magic Mike yet.
If that’s an indication of its box office prospects, we may soon see a wave of male-stripper movies to rival the sparkly vampire craze.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A bouquet of talent | 2½ stars
‘Marigold’s’ fine cast and exotic setting almost make up for a predictable story.
By LOEY LOCKERBY
Special to The Star
Watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket — as you careen down the street in an overcrowded bus.
By dropping a classic “Brits abroad” story into modern, urban India, Marigold brings chaotic energy to what would otherwise be merely cozy and predictable.
Beginners is a deeply personal project based on actual events in the life of its writer/director, Mike Mills.
It never quite achieves the emotional impact it aims for, but at least half of it is a great film.
Apparently, filmmakers thought a change of venue was all the novelty anyone needed for The Hangover Part II.
Otherwise, this is a faded copy of its predecessor, only raunchier (if you can imagine) and with better scenery.
Of course, his characters aren’t really losers, which is why they gain our sympathy so easily. The former Office star is the rare television actor whose persona makes a completely smooth transition to the big screen.