Archive

2011

Co-written by Jay Baruchel (of Knocked Up and Tropic Thunder) and Evan Goldberg (writer of Superbad and Pineapple Express), this comedy has a Judd Apatow feel and a direct lineage to Slap Shot. Seann William Scott (Doug Glatt) plays a dim but lovable lunk in Canada who is recruited as a goon by the Halifax franchise after he dismantles an out-of-control hockey player who jumped into the stands. He soon finds his purpose, his love, and his destiny, in the form of the greatest enforcer of all, Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber).  In the process, he coalesces a fractured club.

This is a clever meld of sports schmaltz and sharp, crude comedy, unfairly overlooked. Scott is supremely disciplined in playing a sweet dolt. We get none of his smirk from the American Pie movies, which makes his elevation from the ranks of security guard and bouncer to hockey hero touching and sweet. When his love interest (Allison Pill) runs up to him crying after breaking up with her boyfriend, he asks “Did you just see Rudy?” and you believe the question is sincere. When Pill, a hockey player groupie, tells him, “You make me wanna stop sleeping with a bunch of guys,” he replies, “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me” and it seems so.

The hockey itself is not particularly realistic but, like Slap Shot, director Michael Dowse handles the speed, fluidity and violence of the game well and largely for comedic effect.  Goldberg and Baruchel even include their own version of the Hansen brothers, two Russian jokesters who plague the team’s insecure goalie.

Great fun.

 

The buzz was so strong I couldn’t resist, so I queued up the discs for Season 1 and me and the wife settled in. What was not to like? I’d been impressed by Damian Lewis ever since his turn as Captain Winters in Band of Brothers, and The Manchurian Candidate set-up was intriguing. Better, the series started off with a bang as Sgt. Nicolas Brodie (Lewis), a Marine held in captivity by al Qaeda for 7 years, calls his wife (Morena Baccarin) to tell her he’s been rescued just as she is dismounting her lover, Lewis’s Marine buddy.  The CIA operative who suspects his allegiance, Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes), is so committed that when her boss Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) threatens to expose her excess, she offers him her body.   So far, so good.

But boy does this show get ragged, if not in a hurry, eventually. There are many reasons.

1) Could an American be turned against his government ala’ Laurence Harvey? Sure. He could be a ticking time bomb. But could an American be turned into a ideologically driven, pray-to-Allah daily in his garage Muslim who has accepted in his marrow that he must strike the blow against his homeland? Perhaps, but with absolutely no backstory on Lewis’s character, and the thin gruel provided as his impetus, the leap is too far.

2) As Lewis’s Javert, Danes is a bi-polar freakout queen who regularly tests the limits of her family friends, coworkers and meds. She is singularly miscast, laughably over-the-top, made even more annoying by her love of jazz (which, we’re led to believe, is intricate and riffy like her mind), and is horribly written. My favorite line is when she directs the apprehension of a dangerous sniper, warning other agents over the radio that he is to be considered armed and extremely dangerous. When her mentor tells her to be careful, she responds, “this is not my first polka.”

I’ll concede.  Her signature move – the bug eyes and quivering trout mouth – is pretty awesome.

 

She is wonderfully lampooned here by Anne Hathaway in this SNL skit, but upon reflection, it’s not so much a goof as a faithful rendition.

3)  Danes is presented as a tough cookie, but she soon lapses into a simpering “I never got asked to the prom” victim and it becomes more and more difficult to take her seriously as a CIA pro.

4) Danes’ mentor, Mandy Patinkin, is as interesting as Carlton your Doorman but that doesn’t prevent a pretty involved, sleepy subplot about his wife leaving him.

5) There is actually a line where the al Qaeda man who has turned Lewis says, “And they call us the terrorists.”

6)  Apparently, if you are going to authorize a drone strike on a school, it is always best CIA practices to videotape the Vice President, the deputy CIA director and the Secretary of Defense making that decision.

On the upside, the sister of our good friend is in the show, and whenever she appears, we point and remark at how similar the two are in appearance and mannerism.  Every time.

Ah, the corruption of celebrity.

Okay, technically, this BBC production is not a film, but I have watched both seasons, the second of which is currently on demand on the BBC channel, and they merit a good recommendation.

The competition to theater releases from television series, mini-series and films is stiff.  My unscientific list, just from HBO, demonstrates that as a “studio” it is as prolific and successful as any —

SERIES OR MINI-SERIES
The Sopranos
Rome
John Adams
Deadwood
Angels in America
Game of Thrones
The Wire
Boardwalk Empire

FILMS
Taking Chance
Barbarians at the Gate
Too Big to Fail
Into the Storm
Path to War
61*
Wit

If I haven’t listed an HBO series, mini-series or film, it is not that I made an omission – it means that some of what HBO puts out, like Treme and Hung and Carnivale, isn’t all that great.  But the network’s hit-to-miss ratio is impressive.

BBC’s output is similarly strong and pre-dated HBO’s reign. The Hour is a lovingly detailed show depicting the creation of a BBC television news program in 1956.  In season 1, we were introduced to producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), anchor Hector Madden (Dominic West of The Wire) and reporter Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw, James Bond’s new Q) as they developed the program while investigating Cold war intrigue. Season 2 brings us police corruption intersecting with a high-level blackmail scheme. The look is very time-specific and classic, and because of that, The Hour has been favorably compared to Mad Men, but it is much more story-driven and deliberate.

I realize television viewing time is limited by so many strong options. Much to the consternation of many folks who have highly recommended certain shows, I haven’t been able to tackle Homeland, Breaking Bad, or Justified, having committed to Downton Abbey, Sherlock and, for a time, The Walking Dead. If you can fit The Hour into the schedule, you won’t regret it.

Image result for Carnage movie winslet

Roman Polanski’s film version of the Broadway play God of Carnage pits affluent parents Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly against Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz after their sons get into a fight at a Brooklyn park.  What starts as an awkward meeting at the apartment of Reilly and Foster (their son had two teeth knocked out in the fight), with Winslet and Waltz contrite and beleaguered, ends up a full-blown donnybrook as the couples engage in a long, silly serial judgment of each other.  When liquor is introduced, for a time, the men gang up on the women, and, inevitably, the fractured marriages are exposed.

As a stage play, this might have been better (the original cast included Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden and all four actors were nominated for a Tony).  But as a film, Polanski puts us right up close on the actors, and for the most part, they are not up to the task.  Reilly, as the slightly hip and groovy peacemaker, has suffered from his idiot roles in broad Will Ferrell comedies.  Gandolfini would have communicated the hidden rage of a man’s man living in the p.c. world created by his wife.  Reilly just seems goofy.

As an over-protective, liberal, Cry-for-Darfur, “your son must take some responsibility” mother, Foster gives a performance so brittle and unreal it’s Razzie-worthy, playing her character at an 11 (I was reminded of Annette Bening’s cartoonishly gruesome turn in American Beauty).   She contorts her face, has nears-convulsions, and so tightens and clenches her jaw, she appears to be in perpetual physical pain.  Her character is so one-dimensional and unyieldingly p.c., any good jabs taken at the archetype come off as cheap and unkind.

Foster is awful, but Winslet is not much better.  Her role requires she be drunk, and she is not a very convincing drunk.  She is, however, a very convincing vomitor (she pukes all over the coffee table, a contrivance that forces the couples to stay in proximity as she recuperates and they clean up).

Waltz comes off the strongest, but he plays a sarcastic, droll, high-powered NYC lawyer, so his contributions are less histrionic, making him more bearable.

The script has some sharp exchanges and points up certain base impulses bottled up by modern convention as well as the conceits of the urban affluent, but a few well-written rejoinders do not make up for the overall assault on your senses.

I’ve had the misfortune of watching this movie twice (I endured it because I remembered a better film).  Mel Gibson had his own cut, which was better than that of director Brian Helgeland (screenwriter for LA Confidential), though still pretty bad. The picture is a loose remake of John Boorman’s 1967 Lee Marvin vehicle Point Blank. The story is uncomplicated. A crook (Gibson) pulls of a heist, is double-crossed by his girlfriend and partner and left for dead. He does not die, but returns, to collect his share of the money. It turns out his partner used that share to buy his way back into “the Syndicate,” so Gibson works his way up the chain, killing folks up a higher level of authority until he gets to the top. The original was arty, tough and noir, and Marvin’s anger convincingly propelled the simplistic plot, which culminated in a cool shoot-out in then-abandoned Alcatraz.

Gibson’s version exchanges San Francisco for Chicago, tough for brutal, and noir for ostensibly hip (which, as defined by Gibson, is taking every opportunity to smack women and crunch bones). While Gibson throws in a touch of humor in the plot, his performance is leaden. He emulates Robocop and The Terminator, not Marvin.

Gibson’s version ends better (he uses a kidnap of the top Syndicate man’s son to get at him, while Helgeland settles for a lame shoot-out on a Chicago train platform), but it’s a pointless endeavor. The only redeeming qualities are some wry performances as criminal lowlifes by Gregg Henry, James Coburn, William Devane, John Glover, David Paymer and Lucy Liu.

 

It ain’t nearly enough.

In my house, we have a few Christmas rituals, including a slate of television shows and movies we must watch on or near the holiday.  The shows are sacrosanct; “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “The Grinch.”  The movies have always included such staples as A Christmas Carol (the George C. Scott version) and A Christmas StoryIt’s a Wonderful Life tends to be seen bi-annually, and it can be watched at Thanksgiving.  The most recent additions have been Elf and, of course, that holiday heartwarmer, Die Hard

My boy and I gave A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas its audition.  Harold and Kumar are much funnier than Cheech and Chong, and in this third installment of their stoner oeuvre, a baby gets stoned, does coke, and ecstacy; Neil Patrick Harris attempts to pleasure himself on an unsuspecting chorus girl who he is massaging (the joke? Doogie’s Howser’s homsexuality is really just a ruse to take advantage of vulnerable women); the 3D is used mostly for the shooting of bodily fluids at the screen; Harold gets his penis stuck to a cold pole ala’ A Christmas Story; and then he shoots Santa in the head.

Let’s just say it’s on the bubble.