REVIEW: Dirty Grandpa

2 02 2016

Dirty GrandpaDirty Grandpa” plays out like a loosely-strung series of sketches for two characters. Picture a “Best of” special for someone like The Culps on “Saturday Night Live,” just not really all that great and tied together by something that loosely resembles a plot.

The film follows the escapades of the titular ribald senior, Robert DeNiro’s newly widowed Dick Kelly, as he ventures down to his retirement home in Florida. To do this, he enlists a slightly estranged grandson, Zac Efron’s neatly coiffed corporate lawyer Jason. Their dynamic stays essentially the same throughout. Dick curses and offends; Jason reacts somewhere on a register of annoyance to shock.

Our preexisting notions of each actor are key to the response their characters generate, too. Efron, now well-minted as a Hollywood matinee idol, swaggers about as if he walked out of a Vineyard Vines catalogue. Many a joke is made at the expense of his rigid adherence to country club attire, often times calling his masculinity into question. But unlike “Neighbors,” which used Efron’s looks as a springboard into questions of male homoeroticism, “Dirty Grandpa” mostly just piles on the homophobia.

As for how Robert DeNiro’s past iconography factors into the film … well, every ridiculous laugh he gets comes with a simultaneous pang of sadness knowing that this is the man who gave us generation-defining performances in films like “Raging Bull.” At least he commits to the role in all its ridiculousness, never phoning it in or hinting that he is somehow above the material. (Even though he is.) “Dirty Grandpa” would make for truly miserable viewing if DeNiro did not seem to enjoy it on some strange level.

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REVIEW: August: Osage County

22 01 2014

August OsageI’m a firm believer that there are some source texts that are absolutely impossible to botch, provided they keep the main narrative intact.  Tracy Letts’ play “August: Osage County” belongs in such a category.

Many in the theatrical community already assert that it will be in the American dramatic canon along with works by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Tony Kushner.  Letts provides some of the most gripping familial tensions I’ve ever read, and it’s chock full of meaty characters in an ensemble for the ages.

John Wells’ film adaptation of “August: Osage County” brings that story to a larger audience than likely could ever be reached on one stage.  Moreover, the cast he assembles is like the kind of “one night only” extravaganza that fans can only dream about.  I’ve never seen the show live, so I can’t really speak to its theatrical power.

Letts’ words did, however, jump off the page and paint such a vivid picture in my mind that I feel as if I did.  While the film does a decent job translating the action to the realm of cinema, there still feels like a bit of raw intensity evaporated in the transfer.

That’s not to say, though, that Wells doesn’t effectively harness the power of the screen to bring a different dimension to Letts’ opus of intergenerational discord.  On a stage, you can’t key off the subtleties in an actor’s facial movements, which is one of his most clever editing tricks in “August: Osage County.”  Some theorists have labeled film a fascist form because it has the power to direct your attention towards only what it considers relevant, but the way Wells chooses to organize these massive scenes is actually quite freeing.  It ensures we do not miss crucial reactions that serve to define the arcs of the characters.

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REVIEW: Jobs

15 08 2013

Joshua Michael Stern’s “Jobs” finds itself caught between “Lincoln” and “The Social Network.”  The film teeters uncertainly on the precipice of canonization in the Spielberg/Kushner model and humanization in the Fincher/Sorkin mold.  It ultimately settles on an unhappy median, providing a portrait of Apple founder Steve Jobs that feels like laughable corporate folklore.

Just because the film’s characterization is fickle does not mean that its message is muddled.  Stern is clearly pushing an agenda to persuade his audience that Steve Jobs is the American Einstein, a visionary misunderstood in his early years.  And just like Einstein, we will not fully comprehend his genius until years after his death.  But eventually, we will come to use his name as a synonym for innovation.

Ashton Kutcher does do a half-decent job of resurrecting the essence of Steve Jobs.  The 35-year-old actor takes the icon from his college years, a barefoot braniac that seems to have escaped from a Terrence Malick film, to his introduction of the iPod as a slower sage.  At times, though, it does feel like quite a studied portrayal.  His Jobs is often much robotic imitation, opting for parroting over true personality.

Even with such faults, he’s the only thing that “Jobs” really has going for it.  Stern’s script is an overlong mess where Steve Jobs, even from his days at Reed, speaks not in sentences but in maxims that seem to be adapted from Confucian teachings.  When it delves into emotions and not just events, the drama of “Jobs” becomes quite laughable.  All in all, though, the film just feels superfluous.  Why do I need to sit through a two hour “for your consideration” ad for Steve Jobs to inducted into the pantheon of great minds when practically every computer, cell phone, and music player in my house is an Apple product?  C2stars





F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 17, 2010)

17 12 2010

There’s no place like home for the holidays … unless its the home of your boyfriend’s overbearing family.

Such is Christmas for Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) in the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” Thomas Bezucha’s “The Family Stone,” a winter dramedy with a perfect balance between the two genres.  It’s enjoyable to watch at any time of the year, but it has a particularly warm and loving embrace around the holiday season.  With a fantastic ensemble and pitch-perfect writing, this movie has been a favorite of mine ever since it hit theaters five years ago today.  (And yes, I was there to see it on its first showtime that day.)

It’s always tough meeting the potential in-laws, and the uptight Meredith doesn’t leave the best first impression as she tries to simultaneously be herself and be charming.  The odds are against stacked against the potential new addition to the Stone family as Amy (Rachel McAdams) has it in for her after a dinner in New York didn’t exactly endear her to the incessantly blabbering throat-clearer Meredith.  The tension is only heightened by matriarch Sybill (Diane Keaton), determined not to give her mother’s wedding ring to Everett (Dermot Mulroney) for him to put on Meredith’s finger.

Yet not everyone is determined to see her demise: the fun-loving prodigal son Ben (Luke Wilson) does his best to bring out the welcome wagon, and the ever-reasonable father Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) is determined to give her a chance.  But after a day, Meredith mixes with the Stone family like oil mixes with water, and things go haywire as the holiday spirit combines with mean spirits.  The result is a hilariously potent comedy about the importance of family, both the ones we are born into and the ones we create.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention the heavier side of the movie.  Much of what happens in “The Family Stone” is due to an unpleasant truth about the future of a member of the Stone family, and it had been quietly kept secret until Meredith arrives.  The movie is not only a comedy but also a deeply touching and heartfelt look at our families and how much we value each member of them.  Around the holidays, there’s simply nothing better than a movie that can make you laugh and cry with the people you love the most.





LAMB Alert: “My Best Friend’s Wedding” Casting

29 06 2010

As you may recall in my post announcing my victory in the “LAMB Casting” contest for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” I had the option of choosing the next movie to be recast.  I have chosen. I decided to take “LAMB Casting” in an entirely different direction that I hope will be fun and enjoyable for all.  The movies that have been recast in the past have been very serious, Oscar-type movies like “Doubt” and “The Color Purple.”  My choice is in an entirely different genre: romantic comedy. “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” released in 1997, remains one of my favorite romantic comedies because it is charming, funny, and does not adhere to the formula.  It features Julia Roberts, who was achieving superstardom at the time, and Cameron Diaz, just beginning her own rise.  Dermot Mulroney, the romantic interest, used the movie as a catapault out of indies and into mainstream.  And then there’s Rupert Everett who is just an absolute laugh riot. I want to encourage every LAMB to participate in the event because it’s just too much fun to miss out on.  So as a kick-off of sorts to the challenge, Andrew from “Encore Entertainment,” did a little write-up of each of the roles to be recast.  Read it and submit your cast.

Julianne Potter, our heroine originally played by Roberts: assertive and outspoken, but still insecure it shall be tough to one up Julia
Michael O’Neal, our leading male but not the hero originally played by Dermot Mulroney: good looking and bland (as far as I could tell) really Mulroney was a bit of a bore, let’s see what you can do to improve
Kimberly Wallace, the ingenue originally played by Cameron Diaz: ostensibly naive but not an idiot, personable but just  a little annoying Diaz was golden here, but there are some good options out there
George Downes, the best friend originally played by Rupert Everett: smart, suave and a lot of fun this will be the tough one I think…

Let the games BEGIN!  I’ll say a little prayer for you.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (April 9, 2010)

9 04 2010

Those of you who read this blog in December and January know that I’m kind of obsessed with the work of director Jason Reitman.  While doing some research on him, I came across some of his cinematic influences.  One of the filmmakers he lists is Alexander Payne.  I had seen one of Payne’s movies, “Election,” but I decided that I needed to further explore.  “Sideways” was good, but it’s not something people my age are supposed to get.  The movie that really struck me was “About Schmidt,” so much in fact that I even decided to call it my “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  (And just for the sake of the occasional refresher, the acronym stands for First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie.)

The titular character, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), is at an end-of-life crisis.  After retiring, he enters the twilight years with cynicism and boredom.  His wife is aging quickly, and Schmidt often wonders where the woman that he married has gone.  His daughter (Hope Davis) is marrying a dimwitted guy who sports a mullet (Dermot Mulroney).  Despite his best attempts, he can’t get her to reconsider.  In all aspects of life, Schmidt feels useless.

But soon Schmidt is left alone, and he decides to recapture control of his life by driving a Winnebago to see sights from his childhood en route to the wedding.  Even after logging all these miles, he still can’t escape the feeling that his life is inconsequential.

“About Schmidt” is at its best whenever it shows Schmidt trying to make a difference in someone’s life.  After seeing an ad on TV, he decides to sponsor a child in Tanzania named Ndugu.  He can’t pronounce the name, but Schmidt earnestly wants to help this child.  He goes further beyond providing monetary support and makes contact with Ndugu, writing him many revealing letters about his own life.  It’s somewhat pathetic to think that Schmidt can only tell these things to Ndugu, but it further reveals how lost this man is.

It’s easy to see how movies like this have influenced Jason Reitman (for example, the wedding scenes in this and “Up in the Air”) and other directors, and “About Schmidt” is a movie that deserves to be imitated.  Jack Nicholson gives no doubt as to why he is one of the best – if not the best – actors of our time.  The supporting performances are great as well, particularly Kathy Bates as Schmidt’s overbearing future in-law.  The Golden Globes classify this as a drama, and in large part, that’s what it is.  But “About Schmidt” has enough laughs to satisfy any moviewatching mood you could possibly be in.