REVIEW: Pain & Gain

20 06 2017

Michael Bay’s “Pain & Gain” features characters who misinterpret “The Godfather,” “Scarface” … and “Pretty Woman.” So is it any surprise that the film on the whole has no idea what it’s talking about when it comes to the American Dream? The concept gets so much lip service throughout that it becomes bludgeoning. Most high school juniors could write something more insightful from their American history classes alone.

Its idea of upward mobility is really just commodity fetishism and capitalistic greed masking itself as aspiration. With their synthetic, steroid-enhanced hardbodies, the would-be Robin Hoods of South Beach feel like Reaganite heroes washed up in the wrong era. Some elements of stealing from an undeserving, coddled elite have resonance in a post-Occupy world; as one gym rat puts it, “I don’t just want everything you have, I want you not to have it.” But the political considerations feel ancillary at best.

“Pain & Gain” is at its best when Bay just embraces the physical comedy of his bulky Goliaths. Some decent humor arises from their ignorance and impotence – as “swoll” as Mark Wahlberg’s Daniel Lugo and Dwayne Johnson’s Paul Doyle may be, their common sense as men is almost entirely absent. It’s too bad that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, rather than standing outside and sizing them, choose to drop to their level and assume their intelligence level. C+

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (July 15, 2011)

15 07 2011

With the final installment of “Harry Potter” now in theaters, millions of Americans will see Snape’s finest hour, which wouldn’t be nearly as compelling without the incredible talent of Alan Rickman behind Rowling’s well-crafted character.  His creepiness and eeriness for the past decade in the role has introduced him to a whole new audience, few of whom know him as the nefarious Hans Gruber for “Die Hard.”  However, the role that even fewer recognize him for – and everyone should – is his hilarious turn in “Galaxy Quest,” a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek satire on the “Star Trek” show and fan base.  It’s been a favorite of mine since I was seven, and now is the perfect time to feature it as my “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Rickman plays Alexander Dane, a peeved British supporting actor in the “Galaxy Quest” television series whose character happens to have some unfortunate gills on his skull.  He and the rest of the cast, which includes the hilarious Sigourney Weaver as the show’s sex appeal, are at the mercy of their drunk leading man, Tim Allen’s Jason Nesmith, when it comes to maintaining their show’s cult appeal.  Doing a great Shatner rip-off, Allen so nails the fame-crazed has-been that we so love to lampoon – and thankfully, Rickman and Weaver are there every step of the way to give him a light slap when necessary.

But one fateful day, the cast of “Galaxy Quest” gets drawn into the universe that they only knew on studio lots.  The actors find themselves totally hopeless in the face of actual peril but must exude some aura of control to keep the Thermian aliens under the impression that they know what they’re doing.  Their quest through strange worlds in space gives a new meaning to science-fiction and acting for all aboard.

It doesn’t matter if you are a Trekkie or not, whether you are a crazily obsessed fan of something or just know someone who is, you will totally be able to laugh along with “Galaxy Quest.”  It sends up obsession and taking anything too seriously to hilarious effect.  Not to mention it holds up exceptionally well on repeat viewings!





F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 10, 2011)

10 06 2011

With “True Grit” now available to watch at home, I figure the celebration shouldn’t be just of the Western genre but of the Coen Brothers in general!  I haven’t made it through their entire filmography – don’t shoot me when I say I haven’t seen “Blood Simple” or “Barton Fink” – but I have found a gem among their movies that deserves more attention and laud.  I present “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” a quintessential example of the film noir style but still a flawless example of the Coens’ own unique filmmaking conventions.  (And for the record, I think it’s much more deserving of a Best Picture nomination than “A Serious Man.”)

Billy Bob Thornton, complete with his low and thick Southern drawl, plays the solemn and stern Californian barber Ed Crane, completely unremarkable in just about every way.  He feels emasculated and numb to the world around him, somewhat because he couldn’t serve in World War II due to his flat feet and also because he senses his wife Doris (Frances McDormand) is having an affair with her boss Dave (James Gandolfini).  Yet the game changes a shady salesman shows up with a proposition that could make Ed a very rich man.  What ensues is a crazy, unforeseeable chain of events that pushes Ed to the brink … and he still manages to stay stolid.

“The Man Who Wasn’t There” could easily be labeled a textbook for the conventions of neo-noir, just as “Double Indemnity” could be the textbook for the original school of noir filmmaking.  The lighting and the sets really shift our moods to darkness, and the crisp, clean cinematography of Roger Deakins makes the film’s look simply irresistible.  But any fan of the Coens know that they can’t just stick to outlines or formulas, usually blending in elements of dark comedy and nihilism with any genre they tackle.  Their take on film noir is just sublime, and any fan of the directors will certainly love watching a movie that feels straight out of the 1950s but has their signature spin.