REVIEW: The Counselor

25 10 2015

Ever wondered what it would look and sound like if Aaron Sorkin took a pass at adapting “No Country for Old Men?” It might resemble Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor,” a film taken from a script by great novelist Cormac McCarthy himself. For someone so sparse and minimalistic in prose, his first screenplay sure feels bombastic.

It’s hard to fathom that someone so widely lauded as one of the most significant writers of our time could turn in a work full of fortune-cookie dialogue and overwrought, self-serious drama. (Wait, maybe this was the blueprint for season 2 of “True Detective.”) At times, it even feels like McCarthy has to be pulling some kind of elaborate prank on his audience. How else could anyone possibly explain why “The Counselor” goes on a bizarre tangent to depict Cameron Diaz’s Malkina sexually pleasuring herself on the windshield of a Ferrari?

Or perhaps McCarthy needs a strong authorial buffer like the Coen Brothers to translate into the medium of cinema. (John Hillcoat really just didn’t cut it on “The Road.”) Ridley Scott assembled quite the cast to bring the writer’s vision to life, but none of these talented thespians can transcend the schlock of the script. It even renders Michael Fassbender almost ineffective, and that’s really saying something.

In somewhat of a change of pace, McCarthy goes heavy on conversation and light on characterization. His saga of greed, money and jealousy set along the U.S.-Mexico border plays as little more than a collection of connected events since the various personalities involved never get explored in much depth. There’s at once too much and not enough happening in “The Counselor.” Rather than trying to resolve these contradictions, I’d rather just forget that all involved even spent their time on this.  C2stars

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REVIEW: Sex Tape

15 07 2014

Sex Tape” plays (pun fully intended) like a filmed first table read of the script in many ways.

All the plot holes, inconsistencies, and just plain implausibilities have yet to be ironed out of the story.  You can see the promise of the premise, but it just hasn’t been realized yet.  Not to mention, someone needs to sit down and bang out another draft or three of the screenplay.

Some of the good jokes are there, too.  “Sex Tape” features a quite entertaining supporting cast, topped by Rob Lowe as a ridiculously eccentric and bizarre corporate exec, that carries the film.  It lifts gags liberally from other films (stealing rather egregiously from “Father of the Bride”), some of which work when grafted into the storyline.  Others feel rather tired and could have been replaced with fresher, more memorable laughs.

Perhaps the biggest indicator, though, that the film is stuck at table read status is the energy level.  “Sex Tape” is an hour and a half of unbridled energy, particularly from leads Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel.  Normally, that would be a compliment, but it’s a critique here as director Jake Kasdan mistakes yelling and exaggeration as a substitute for humor and humanity.

Hypothetically, if I had a sex tape of myself in the hands of friends’ iPads, I’d probably be ending all my sentences with five exclamation points like Segel and Diaz’s characters Jay and Annie.  But they are so over-the-top that it’s hard to connect to them in any way.  They don’t feel like real people, so it limits how much we actually care about whether or not they can keep friends and family from seeing their three-hour sexual odyssey.

In fact, if I had to guess, Segel and Diaz spoke all their lines in excitement after seeing the bonus check they were getting from Apple for all the blatant product promotion.  It would certainly explain why “iPad” is every other word in the movie; even reality TV writers can hide their corporate sponsors more subtly.  C2stars





Oscar Moment: 2013 Pre-Fall Festival Predictions

27 08 2013

Well, folks, the time is here to talk about Oscar season.  The Venice Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, and suddenly it won’t be taboo to talk about what might be competing for the Academy Awards.

Just to show you how much things change over the course of the fall, last year I predicted “The Master” to win Best Picture at this time – and it wound up not being nominated.  I was close for Best Director and Best Actor, though, ranking Ang Lee and Daniel Day-Lewis my #2 pick in their respective categories.  Jennifer Lawrence was not remotely on my radar, but my projected winner Quvenzhané Wallis did manage to get a nomination!  I got the movie right for Best Supporting Actor, but picked Leonardo DiCaprio instead of Christoph Waltz as the “Django Unchained” cast member to hoist the Oscar.  And I, like everyone else, saw Anne Hathaway’s win coming from the moment the first “Les Misérables” trailer hit the web.

So what will surprise us this year?  And what will disappoint?  Here’s my first draft at a year in Oscar forecasting.

Best Picture

  1. American Hustle (trailer)
  2. 12 Years a Slave (trailer)
  3. Foxcatcher
  4. August: Osage County (trailer)
  5. Gravity (trailer)
  6. The Monuments Men (trailer)
  7. Her (trailer)
  8. Inside Llewyn Davis (trailer)
  9. Labor Day
  10. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (trailer)

American HustleThere seems to be no clear frontrunner a la “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or “War Horse” for 2013.  So I’m just going to gander it’s a dues-paying year.  It seems like David O. Russell, after two straight Best Picture-Best Director nominations for “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” is now on the fast track to win someday.  So why not 2013 with “American Hustle?”  A glitzy period drama that looks to provide action, comedy, and drama looks pretty good on paper to me.

Another film I could see making a charge at the prize is Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave.”  Despite all the talent involved in this film, I think it might still be an underdog given that McQueen’s previous two films have not received a single Oscar nomination.  Then again, Tom Hooper was a relative novice when he directed “The King’s Speech,” and we know how that story ends.

Previous Best Director nominees Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”), George Clooney (“The Monuments Men”), Spike Jonze (“Her”), the Coen Brothers (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), and Jason Reitman (“Labor Day”) all look to get in the Best Picture race.  Based on their pedigree alone, I’m predicting nominations for these five films.  All are sight unseen, save “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which I have seen and can attest is the kind of well-made film that will score with the Academy.

I guess I could include Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” in this clump, since the film’s director is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and editor.  But that film gets a Best Picture nomination, in my mind, because it belongs in a class with “Avatar,” “Hugo,” and “Life of Pi” – technical masterpieces directed by renowned talents.

As for “August: Osage County,” that play is so well-written that it would take a first-class hack job for it not to be a Best Picture nominee.  We’re talking a play that will go next to Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams in the American dramatic literature canon, people.

And to round out the top 10, I picked Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” I’m not entirely sold on it, but it could make a surprise run for Best Picture.  It could also fizzle with awards voters.  Who knows?  Clearly not I.

Best Director

  1. David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
  2. Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
  3. Steve McQueen, “12 Years A Slave”
  4. Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
  5. Spike Jonze, “Her”

FoxcatcherAs I said, I’m projecting Russell to go all the way in 2013.

Past nominee Bennett Miller could give him a run for his money, although he was overlooked for his work on 2011 Best Picture nominee “Moneyball.”  Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuaron should score their first Best Director nominations (which is a shame).

And since Spike Jonze scored a lone Best Director nomination for “Being John Malkovich” back in 1999, I don’t think it’s out of the question to see him score a second nomination for his work on “Her.”  It certainly appears to be daring … and the director’s branch showed they were willing to go out on a limb last year with nominees Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke.

Best Actor

  1. Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
  2. Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”
  3. Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years A Slave”
  4. Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
  5. Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”

McConaugheyBig, baity performances have won out here for the past decade, essentially.  So I’d say the frontrunner has to be Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club.”  His comeback narrative is appealing, and the fact that he lost a ton of weight helps.

That being said, I wouldn’t count out Joaquin Phoenix for “Her.”  If he could get nominated for a polarizing film like “The Master,” perhaps there’s more respect for Phoenix in the Academy than most people recognize.  He’s been nominated three times now, and I think it’s only a matter of time before he wins.

Chiwetel Ejiofor could easily supplant McConaughey as the bait performance to beat here.  A frontrunner will be cemented by the time both films debut at Toronto.

Breakout performer Oscar Isaac ought to score a nod here for “Inside Llewyn Davis.”  I don’t see how he can be overlooked if the movie is a hit with the Academy.

And keep an eye out for Robert Redford here.  He gives an incredible, virtually wordless performance in “All Is Lost” that will not be forgotten.  The Hollywood legend hasn’t been nominated for his acting in over 40 years, and the one Oscar sitting on his mantle is for directing.  Might it be his time in the sun?

Best Actress

  1. Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
  2. Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
  3. Naomi Watts, “Diana”
  4. Kate Winslet, “Labor Day”
  5. Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks”

Amy AdamsPlease, Academy, make this Amy Adams’ year!  She’s been nominated four times already in Best Supporting Actress.  Now that she’s playing with the big girls in Best Actress, maybe it’s just time to give her the darned trophy already.

Woody Allen hasn’t directed a woman to a leading actress win since Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” – perhaps Cate Blanchett’s turn in “Blue Jasmine” can break the dry spell?  I think she’s a sure bet for a nomination, but another win is unlikely since Blanchett has won in the past decade.

Or maybe it’s Naomi Watts’ turn after coming up short for last year’s “The Impossible.”  If the Academy loves this two-time nominee, an uncanny performance as Princess Diana would be a good time to give it to her.

Kate Winslet has been nominated for six Oscars and has won one.  So why would the love stop now?  In her first notable screen performance since winning for 2008’s “The Reader,” she could rack up nomination number 7 and be well on her way to becoming the Meryl Streep of her generation.

Speaking of Meryl Streep, I could be making a mistake by not including her here.  She would definitely crack my top 5, but I’m hearing that she’ll be campaigned in supporting.  So for now, that fifth slot goes to Emma Thompson for the breezy “Saving Mr. Banks.”

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Michael Fassbender, “12 Years A Slave”
  2. Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
  3. Daniel Bruhl, “Rush”
  4. Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
  5. Tom Hanks, “Saving Mr. Banks”

FassbenderGo big or go home.  After being snubbed for his incredible work in “Shame,” I predict the Academy will right its wrongs and reward Michael Fassbender with an Oscar for “12 Years A Slave.”  I really hope I’m right.

Bradley Cooper, given the villain role in “American Hustle,” could capitalize on a year of goodwill after a nomination from “Silver Linings Playbook.”  He’s probably a safer pick, but I’m not interested in safe at this point.

After last year’s category was dominated by previous winners, I’m going to predict two more first-time nominees in this category: Daniel Bruhl for “Rush,” whose performance has been touted since Cannes, and Steve Carell for “Foxcatcher,” a darker role for the comedic actor.

And then I’ll predict Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks” because that proposition just sounds too good to pass up for Academy voters.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Oprah Winfrey, “The Butler”
  2. Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
  3. Octavia Spencer, “Fruitvale Station”
  4. Cameron Diaz, “The Counselor”
  5. Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

OprahHonestly, this category is such a toss-up at this point, so I’m forced to pick the only person with buzz at the moment: Oprah Winfrey for “The Butler.”  Beyond her, my confidence ends.  If the Weinstein Company had announced what Meryl Streep will be campaigned in, I’d feel confident picking her in whatever category they chose.  Right now, I’m going with supporting.

I thought Octavia Spencer was the best part of “Fruitvale Station,” but her part may be too small or too soon after her win for “The Help.”

Cameron Diaz looks like an intriguing femme fatale in “The Counselor,” but that movie could flop so hardcore that she’s rendered a non-factor this season.  With no festival appearances slated, the film does not appear to be a serious threat for anything.  Diaz has been pretty quiet lately, but let’s not forget she had a string of acclaimed roles from 1998 to 2002 that gave her 4 Golden Globe nominations and 3 SAG Award nominations.

And as for that last slot, I figured I might as well throw in Jennifer Lawrence for “American Hustle.”  Everyone loves J.Law, and I think enough people will like “American Hustle” to give her a victory lap after last year’s win.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. American Hustle
  2. Inside Llewyn Davis
  3. Blue Jasmine
  4. Her
  5. Gravity

Inside Llewyn DavisDavid O. Russell is a two-time writing nominee?  Check for “American Hustle.”

The Coen Brothers are five-time writing nominees with two wins?  Check for “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

Woody Allen has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay a whopping 15 times, and “Blue Jasmine” does not suck.  Check.

Spike Jonze is an acclaimed original figure in Hollywood?  Check for “Her,” but with some reluctance as “The Master” was snubbed last year for the clichéd “Flight.”

Alfonso Cuaron is a two-time writing nominee, but his latest film “Gravity” might be a lot more impressive on the screen than it is on the page.  Perhaps he will wow us once again and make us regret ever doubting him … so I’ll predict “Gravity” to take the final slot here.  But “Black Swan” missed here, so originality isn’t everything in the Best Original Screenplay category.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. 12 Years A Slave
  2. Foxcatcher
  3. The Monuments Men
  4. August: Osage County
  5. Before Midnight

It would be foolish of me not to predict a lot of Best Picture nominees here, which traditionally dominate the Best Adapted Screenplay category.  But don’t count out “Before Midnight,” whose predecessor scored a nomination back in 2004 in this category.  The series, and this installment in particular, has gotten a lot of positive press.  I don’t think the writers will forget about this one.

What do you think?  Who is the one to beat in 2013?  Sound off!





REVIEW: Bad Teacher

10 07 2011

High concept comedies like “The Hangover” and “Horrible Bosses” work because they maintain a level of implausibility and ridiculousness throughout.  In the end, no one is going to get so drunk that they forget marrying a stripper or pulling out a tooth, just like no one is going to get so worked up at work that they execute a plan to murder their boss. Because their humor borders on fantasy, we can laugh despite the incorrectness of it all.

Bad Teacher,” on the other hand, walks on some dangerous ground by presenting its central character with an unflinching realism.  Cameron Diaz’s teacher is a pot-smoking, whiskey-gulping, foul-mouthed, shallow mess that could care less about the kids that she’s getting paid to educate.  Instead, she would rather focus on getting a nice new pair of breasts and a rich man to fondle them.  When she needs money, rather than work hard like a respectable person, she embezzles, cheats, steals, and bribes.

Sadly, this actually happens in the real world; it’s not some cock-and-bull story concocted by some bored screenwriters.  In just the past five years going through private secondary school, I have seen two teachers lose their jobs from accusations of sexual impropriety with a minor and possession of child pornography.  These people are very much real.  Same goes for negligent teachers, which are very prevalent in poorer school districts.  My cousin works in junior high public education (not unlike Diaz’s character) in one of the most at-risk neighborhoods in the country, and I’ve heard too many horror stories from her about the people who work there that don’t even deserve to be called an educator.

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REVIEW: The Green Hornet

15 01 2011

The Green Hornet” is half-heartedly “Iron Man,” half-heartedly “Kick-Ass,” but wholeheartedly a moronic waste.  It’s already begun to fade into the white noise that is the superhero movie genre, which seems to churn out a new entry with every passing minute, thanks to its reliance on the recently popularized “not-so-super” hero.  With a director fully capable of creating something of great artistic merit, writers fully capable of spinning familiar formula into fresh comedy, and stars fully capable of entertaining, the movie is a letdown simply for settling.

The typical stoner/slacker combo that is Seth Rogen remains unflinchingly true to form as Britt Reid, the heir of a media empire thanks to being the son of an incredibly successful newspaper man (Tom Wilkinson).  When his father’s death leaves him a twenty-something orphan, he’s more than a little confused as to how he can reconcile the party and the business.  Britt discovers the incredible hidden talents of Kato (Jay Chou), who can do quite a bit more than make coffee.

Together, they become a crime-fighting team with Britt known as the Green Hornet but Kato doing all the actual fighting.  They masquerade as villains but act as heroes, and their clueless escapades only get attention because Britt uses the newspaper to overhype them.  Otherwise, they would be about as legitimate as the movie’s script, which in its eagerness to take the classic heroes to a new level winds up as a cheap imitation of them.

Christoph Waltz, so frightening as the treacherous Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds,” abandons what won him the Oscar for a Snidley Whiplash, cartoonish approach to villainy.  His Chudnofsky fits in well with the ridiculous background of the movie, but it sure leaves one heck of a stain on his filmography.  And while most people would not say this is the first strike against Rogen, it’s the first time that I’ve found his routine getting old.  The same old schtick might be refreshing in a superhero movie had it not been so overdone in his raunchy comedies first or if “The Green Hornet” were released a few years earlier before real actors transformed stock characters into complex ones.

The movie is also a waste of Michel Gondry, who brings his auteurist vision and impressionistic flair to the table.  He does craft some really cool scenes that popcorn-munching multiplexers aren’t accustomed to seeing.  The movie’s visual panache is striking, yet it needed to be overwhelming to atone for all the movie’s jokes that fell flat.  Without a decent script to back up Gondry’s artistic sensibilities, “The Green Hornet” becomes about as worthwhile to watch as a Stanley Kubrick directed episode of “Jersey Shore.”  C





FEATURE: From Rom-Com to Oscar Gold, Part 1

23 11 2010

Before I begin, let me give credit to Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly for inspiring this post after her blog entry on Jennifer Aniston got my creative juices flowing.  It’s a great post, and it’s worth a read.

After Sandra Bullock becomes the latest comedic actress to put on a serious face and win an Oscar (in the tradition of Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon), Schwarzbaum wonders if Jennifer Aniston could ever join the list.

Since she’s taken Aniston, I figured I would take eight other actresses who have a similar track record as Bullock on the comedy side of things.  In part one of the “From Rom-Com to Oscar Gold” series, I will analyze four actresses who many people could actually envision with an Oscar in their hand.

These actresses are …
Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Garner, and Kate Hudson.

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REVIEW: Knight And Day

5 07 2010

What’s silly, somewhat corny and contrived, and stuffed to the gills with action?

That would be “Knight And Day.” But my real question is this – so what? It provides that shot of summer adrenaline that we all crave without the eye-rolling and moaning on the side. As a sort of hybrid action-romantic comedy, the movie favors the former (which is probably for the better), but the blend really does allow it to be entertaining for more than just the guys who light up inside watching something blow up.

We’re never really meant to take the movie seriously – well, at least Tom Cruise doesn’t, so I sure as heck didn’t. His rogue CIA agent Roy Miller is part insane, part parody of all the outrageous characters Cruise has played in nearly three decades on screen. And he’s as willing to make fun of himself and his career choices as he is to don a fat suit and bloated makeup. There’s plenty of Cruise being mysterious in the corner, playing with the sunglasses, delivering ridiculous lines, making corny romantic gestures, and running to the point where it looks painful. It’s his boundless playful energy that lifts “Knight And Day” off the ground.

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