Friday, June 30, 2006

I’m a Slave For You…Meryl Streep is Superbly Sadistic as the Boss From Hell in “The Devil Wears Prada”

Everyone has someone they don’t like. And most of those people have had a boss they didn’t like. Just an annoying, pushy and selfish boss who never thinks of your needs, only their own. Of course perhaps this is only people who work in the entertainment industry. And if the situation in the film The Devil Wears Prada, directed by David Frankel, is any indication, it’s that every magazine editor-in-chief is an evil bitch. Having said that, seasoned actress Meryl Streep has never been better than she is here as: an evil bitch. She’s the kind of devilish woman that you love to hate because she’s a fully realized character. And you simply get so much pleasure in watching others squirm around in her presence. What a sadist if there ever was one. The one we get to see squirm the most is Anne Hathaway as Andy who takes a job as an assistant to Miranda Priestly (Streep). She’s the editor-in-chief of the fictitious splashy fashion magazine Runway (think Vogue). Oh what a sadistically entertaining time to be had here!

Streep is marvelous in her role as the epitome of pure evil and yet we love her even though she’s such a demanding and self-centered woman. As her new assistant we like Andy simply because we like seeing her sweat around Miranda’s extremely high demands. When one of her orders is to have Andy get a copy of J.K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter manuscript for her kids, the film could have easily been titled Mission: Impossible IV. So it’s demand after demand after demand. Andy walks Miranda’s dog, picks up her dry cleaning, gets famous designers on the phone at the touch of button, gets piping hot lattes, takes notes and certainly a lot of lip; yet we only want to see her succeed in this ridiculously anxiety-ridden atmosphere.

So why doesn’t Andy just quit this job, which we learn right from the beginning, that she doesn’t really want in the first place. (It’s also a job, we learn, a million other girls would kill for) Well Andy is recently graduated and unbelievably living in Manhattan with her boyfriend Nate (Entourage’s Adrian Grenier). She wants to be a journalist when she grows up and a year as Miranda’s assistant would open many doors for a successful future. She figures any torture now would be well worth it for the dream job of her choice.

So frumpy Andy takes the job in which she must share with Miranda’s OTHER assistant Emily (a splendid Emily Blunt, who I’ve never heard of). Andy is the “2nd” assistant, while Emily is Miranda’s right hand gal. Although wouldn’t you know Andy begins dressing in designer digs and becomes the best assistant ever. This journey is truly fun and enjoyable to witness. Andy’s quips with Emily are fantastic as are her altercations with Miranda’s ludicrous requests. Every demand ends with a rude brush-off and a simple “that’s all.” And during all of this the witty script (penned by Aline Brosh McKenna) is simultaneously ripping the fashion industry a new one. I know next to nothing about fashion or modeling, but when jokes are made about Emily’s “diet” of eating nothing for a week, it’s devilishly satisfying.

If there’s anything wrong here it’s the introduction of Christian Thomas (Simon Baker), a book editor who Andy meets and helps her out with one of Miranda’s impossible missions. They obviously have some kind of spark (or at least the screenplay thinks so) and since Andy’s job strain has also been straining her relationship with Nate (and her friends), you can guess where’s this is going. It doesn’t play out too typically, and it doesn’t ruin the film by any means, but it was an unwanted, clichéd obstacle.

The Devil Wears Prada is sadism at it’s best. Streep is simply smashing here. She appropriately steals every scene with her brutish attitude. Every look and nuance is perfect. She delivers her lines with such bravado; it should be studied in acting classes around the world. Andy’s journey is entertaining; her altercations with her co-workers are satisfyingly enjoyable. Although the new romance’s introduction was slightly tiresome it didn’t really sink the film. The Devil Wears Prada is a delightfully wicked time, now that’s all. GRADE: B+

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Holdin’ Out For a Hero: “Superman Returns” to the Big Screen Triumphantly

I promise not to make spandex jokes or puns revolving around “It’s a bird” or “It’s a plane.” Of course that didn’t stop the makers of the newest Superman film. Set up as more of a sequel than a remake, Superman Returns’ story is supposed to take place 5 years after 1980’s Superman II. However, Metropolis residents are strikingly un-80s and there’s nary a flock of seagulls in sight. Writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris and director Bryan Singer have wisely chosen to forgo the rest of the Superman episodes, much like Halloween H20 decided to pick up after Halloween II. (Why the strange reference? Well like Lois’ new flame Richard White, I too enjoy horror films)

So how does a Superman film hold up in this world where Spiderman rules the box office records, X-Men can stand in for homosexuals, and Batman’s psychological journey began just last summer? Pretty darn well if you ask me. Even though some could argue he’s the best and most iconic superhero, Superman himself isn’t exactly all that interesting, but he sure makes one heck of a fun movie.

The first X-Men film really got me into the whole superhero craze that has been going on for the past 6 years. Although it really started for me with Batman way back in 1989. But let’s face it, that movie was more about the villain (a campy, yet classic Jack Nicholson as Joker) than about the hero. Then you’ve got Spiderman. What a fun, thrilling and exciting movie! And that sequel! It was better than the first! I wanted to BE Spiderman and I was 19 at the time. But I’m getting off of the main topic here: Superman. This new film is exciting and fun, and although slightly slow to start, is more and more engaging as it chugs merrily along. The one awkward part is that once Superman and his alter ego, the bumbling, nerdy Clark Kent are introduced that’s pretty much it to his character. He has some backstory about falling in love with Lois Lane who’s now romantically involved with fellow reporter and pilot Richard White (James Marsden).

So who is this new Man of Steel? That would be newcomer Brandon Routh, who just may make blue tights the latest fashion trend. He has a strong sense of mystique and wonder that is perfect for the role. His fresh face purposely makes us believe his is Superman. Otherwise we’d be like oh look it’s Paul Walker (one of the former supposed candidates) as Superman! Kate Bosworth who I found charming in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! is also just as charming here as Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Lois Lane. She’s accompanied by her 5-year-old son. And wouldn’t you know that Superman had been gone for 5 years as well. Oh what gossipy possibilities! Kevin Spacey plays the role of arch nemesis Lex Luthor. His performance like that of Nicholson as Joker is campy and over the top. Although it’s difficult to see his true reason for despising Superman even though he put him away in prison for a long time. Parker Posey is a standout (as usual) as Luther’s fellow alliterate-named companion Kitty Kowalski who’s constantly clutching her cute little dog. Luckily another familiar character shows up: John William’s iconic Superman theme.

The film as a whole is epic in scale, has good effects, is charming, entertaining and appropriately silly yet serious. However, one can feel that for some reason an extra push would have seemed beneficial overall. Everyone does a great job with what they’re supposed to do, but you can’t help but feel that there’s just something missing. The supposed backstory seems missing since this is supposedly a sequel. Yet this seems more like a "reimagining" more than anything. Singer seems to be missing part of the social and psychological depth he brought to the X-Men films. There really isn’t as much depth involving what it’s really like to go from Superman to Clark Kent about fifty times a day. If you want conflicted heroes watch Spiderman. If you want social commentary with your CGI thrills see X-Men. If you want superhero costumes with nipples watch Batman & Robin. Superman Returns, however, remains an appealing, entertaining blockbuster that just may really make you think that a man can fly. GRADE: A-

Saturday, June 17, 2006

What Do You Call a Libre That Isn’t Yours? “Nacho Libre”

If my headline joke makes sense to you then you might enjoy the latest film from the makers of Napoleon Dynamite. Nacho Libre stars Jack Black as a half Mexican, half Scandinavian monk (he’s white like a ghost, but talks like Cheech & Chong) who works at an orphanage and spends his evening in wrestling matches so his poor kids can have decent meals. If this sounds odd, that’s because it is, in a Napoleon Dynamite sort of way. However, those who were overjoyed by the beloved characters of Napoleon, Kip, Pedro, Uncle Rico and Deb are less likely to be thrilled by Nacho, his sidekick Esqueleto (Héctor Jiménez) and the holier than thou Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera). While the movie is definitely in the tackily bizarre sense that make Dynamite such a weird success, director Jared Hess can’t get too much oomph from his actors this time around. However, overall this is a mild successor to that liger lovin’ Napoleon.

It seems as though I’ve summed up an entire review of the film in one paragraph, and I think that’s true. Having said that, there’s really not much to Nacho Libre. The idea is original and altogether way out there, which I most definitely appreciate. However, there seem to be far too many lulls in the story. As Nacho, Jack Black’s shtick can’t last the entire run of the movie and the character of Esqueleto is no substitute for Pedro. My favorite character is perhaps Sister Encarnación who seems to slip into her role very nicely. Her Penelope Cruz accent is spot on and she’s a loving and caring nun who cares just as much for our hero Nacho. But do we as an audience care about him? He’s such a nice guy that of course we do. We enjoy that he “sins” by disguising himself as a masked wrestler so that he can win money to feed the orphans.

Laughs are certainly present throughout the film. Why is it that I burst out laughing both in the opening of this film and at the start of Napoleon Dynamite as well? Here we get a shot of a nun laying back in a rocking chair. Silly? Not really. Random? Of course. There’s something about her position (and it’s not even sexual) that elicits a smirk. And is there anyone who didn’t crack up when you first see actor John Heder dressed as the Dynamite character? There he is in all his jeans-tucked-in-boots-while-holding-a-Trapper-Keeper glory. Silly silly stuff. Credit director Jared Hess and writer/wife Jerusha Hess. (School of Rock writer Mike White helped out too) They have a knack of taking strange people in a strange place and making strange situations.

Nacho Libre is an original piece of fluff. It has some fun wrestling scenes for those who enjoy the sport. There are ridiculous characters and their silly obsessions (tots have been replaced here with corn-on-the-cob-on-a-stick) for those who found Napoleon and his gang irresistible. Since they’re always eating corn, it could easily be turned into a drinking game. If you’re one that enjoyed Hess’ other movie, you’re likely to enjoy this follow up. For those who found Napoleon Dynamite not your cup of tea, perhaps it’d be best to stay away from Nacho Libre. GRADE: C+

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Broadcast Muse: Robert Altman’s Cast Sings From the Heart and Funnybone in “A Prairie Home Companion”

Director Robert Altman manages to make a talky movie about a folk radio show extremely interesting. Perhaps he should win an Oscar just for that feat. As usual, Altman brings together a winning cast of popular actors in his latest cinematic tryst, A Prairie Home Companion. We get actors in top form such as Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Virginia Madsen, Tommy Lee Jones and Saturday Night Live’s Maya Rudolph. The stage is set for a local radio show’s last night on the air. It’s amazing that the show has stayed on for as long as it has. All the performers are talented, but who would really stay home on a Saturday night and listen to them? This film makes them all extremely engaging and even has a few mystical tricks up its sleeve.

For those not in the know when it comes to Robert Altman flicks, he’s what you need to know. His films tend to be artsy, you have to think, he uses camera movement and editing carefully, and his films are comprised of many, many characters most of whom hold different conversations at once. In that case it’s your job to figure out whom you should be listening to. If you’re willing to not be just “entertained” (although Altman loves to do that) and perhaps think a little, you might enjoy “Companion.” He’s always seemed to me like a non neurotic Woody Allen.

To top it off, not only is this an Altman movie, but also it’s about folk singers, who perform on a weekly live radio show. So not only does one have to deal with all the Altmanesque techniques going on, but also we have to listen to country music as well. If you haven’t stopped reading, I advise you might actually enjoy the movie, if not flat out love it. All the performers are outstanding. I really enjoy Streep and Tomlin and paired together as singing sisters Yolanda and Rhonda respectively, they are definitely the standouts here. Lohan plays Streep’s suicide obsessed daughter Lola. Kevin Kline visits his classic slightly screwball, dimwit character he played so well in A Fish Called Wanda (except without the sleaze and the whole criminal thing). We get two humorous singing cowboys in Dusty and Lefty (Harrelson and Reilly). Virginia Madsen plays a mysterious woman in white. Her character seems wildly off at first, until you realize her purpose. It was actually pretty interesting and seemed to artistically raise the level of the film as a whole.

Garrison Keillor plays a version of himself in the film and he also wrote the screenplay. It is through him that all the characters are connected, as he’s the spokesman of the show. He has crafted a witty (Streep and Tomlin’s dialogue with their Minnesota accents is to die for) script in which all the actors contribute 100 percent. Altman’s direction is nearly flawless, with wonderful tracking shots and fluid camera movements. While some may say this film isn’t necessarily up to par with his most beloved films (you’ve got your MASH, Nashville, and Gosford Park) this is probably one of his most enjoyable. It’s simple, light and warmhearted.

While the film doesn’t actually skewer the folk industry the way The Player skewered the film industry, anyone wanting an enjoyable worthwhile cinematic experience would be doing himself or herself a favor by checking out A Prairie Home Companion. It’s music to the ears. GRADE: B+

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Disney & Pixar’s “Cars,” It’s a Gas!

The worst thing about Disney and Pixar’s latest collaboration is its title! I think it would win runner up to August’s already cult thriller “Snakes on a Plane” for Most Obvious Title of the Year. I mean come on! Oh what did you go see? Cars. Oh wow, what’s that about? Cars. Ohhh…wow… It's more exciting than you'd think. I guess “Cars That Talk” would just have been lamer. If you can get past the evident title, this wonderful animated adventure is the one of the BEST films ever to be branded with the Pixar seal of approval. (Finding Nemo is still my personal fave) Forgive me for saying I enjoyed this film much more than The Incredibles. The writing is witty, the animation is simply astonishing, the characters are warm and fuzzy, and the story is simply fun. You can’t get a better comedic family adventure so far this year. Ok ok, enough praise, why is this flick so amazingly good?

Since it’s a cartoon, let’s discuss the visual feast that is Cars. This is the best-looking CG animated film to date. It just has to be. The colors and vibrancy of Finding Nemo is certainly remarkable as well but the realistic, yet cartoon-like animation used here is just stunning. Remember when I said I wanted to reach out and squeeze that turtle’s head in Over the Hedge? I wanted to do the same thing here. The surfaces and textures in Cars were just sensational. The mirror-like reflections on the vehicles were marvelous. There aren’t enough adjectives in the world to give the film’s look justice. The visuals are balanced with an appropriately vibrant soundtrack with Randy Newman’s whimsical score and singers Sheryl Crow, John Mayer, James Taylor and more lending their talented voices with memorable songs.

The film stars the voice of Owen Wilson as a cocky and famous rookie racecar Lightning McQueen. This brash racecar lives his life in the fast lane, literally. He has just come in a three-way tie with two other just as cocky racecars (Michael Keaton and real-life racer Richard Petty). And in one week’s time the three will duke it out to see who will win the Piston Cup. (NASCAR fans take note) These opening scenes are filled with zooms and quick zips that are sure to give the FOX network's camermen a run for their money. Those not into the whole NASCAR thing will be glad to note that the film takes a long pit stop away from the racing scene. On his trek to California where the race is going to be held, complications arise and McQueen is accidentally left behind in a desert town called Radiator Springs in the middle of nowhere. Here he gets into some trouble and has to do some community service (perhaps a slight PSA to the preteen juvey crowd?) This little down-on-its-luck Pleasantville is home to a gaggle of animated automobiles ranging from cutesy Porsche Sally (Bonnie Hunt) to a hillbilly hick truck named Mater way too well voiced by none other than hillbilly hick Larry the Cable Guy.

I love that all the characters in Cars had their moments to shine. They were all charming, funny and loveable. It was as if there were ten Dorys from Finding Nemo in this movie. What I also enjoyed about these fun-loving supporting cars is that they take on the personality of the people who typically drive them. It’s no surprise that the VW van (voiced appropriately by George Carlin) is a tye-dye colored hippie or that Cheech Marin voices a bouncy Impala low-rider and Sarge is a commanding Army Jeep voiced by Paul Dooley. Tony Shalhoub voices a Ferrari obsessed Fiat who owns the local tire shop. And guess who shows up as the classic Hudson Hornet Doc Hudson: none other than classic Paul Newman, blue eyes and all. These characters are fully realized by both the actors and actresses giving their voices and the animators who superbly succeed in personifying these mechanical vehicles into fully realized lifelike characters. The cars' windshields become expressive eyes, their grills being wacky lips and mouths, teeth, tongues and all.

The story is entertaining and while it takes a slight sentimental turn towards the end as these films tend to do, it didn’t bother me. It is telling an enjoyable, funny story (written by LOTS of Pixar writers) with engaging characters. And it’s surprisingly moving when McQueen learns to slow down and take a look at the big picture. And who knew two cars falling for each other could be so poignant? There’s stuff for kids and adults and I’d be lying if I said the film, as a whole didn’t move me. I’ll certainly never look at cars the same way again. I never knew cars could have such spectacularly realized personalities.

You’d be doing yourself a favor by getting in the nearest vehicle and getting to the theater to see Cars. It's worth the high gas prices. Forgive the studio for it’s plain name because this vibrant adventure is exciting and hardly in need of a tune-up. GRADE: A

Shock Treatment: Al Gore Proves We Need To Heal the World in “An Inconvenient Truth”

Perhaps it was a good thing that Al Gore lost the 2000 election to George W. Bush. Don’t look at me like I’m nuts or anything, but after you see the terrific documentary An Inconvenient Truth it seems that Gore’s loss is actually his win. He had dedicated a good portion of his life to showing as many people a slideshow about an issue that affects everyone: global warming.

This thought-provoking and moving film, part lecture by Al Gore (it sounds more thrilling than it is) and part insight into what makes a man who cares about the environment tick, “Truth” refuses to be a one sided argument about the inevitable future of our planet. If it actually were just an argument, he would win by a landside, unlike his unfortunate loss in 2000. Gore refuses to use his political status to convince us our future is going to be filled with doom and gloom and if we don’t elect him our leader, we’re all gonna die. He has moved past the fact that he’ll probably never be our president. He cares more about showing what could happen if we all continue to live our lives the way we do.

Those ready to write off the film as some liberal, environmental nonsense is in for a surprise. Gore refuses to take a manipulative stand that many see in filmmaker Michael Moore. Moore’s films, while expertly made, continue to divide people in terms of the controversial issues he presents. However, we never get to see what makes Moore tick. Why does he feel the way he does? He refuses to let people who think he’s nuts in on his point of view. In Gore’s film (which was directed by Davis Guggenheim) he preaches to everyone. For instance, he calls this important, needed environmental change more of a moral issue rather than just a political issue. Hmmm, a moral issue? That seems like something a conservative would say. And if one conservative could see this problem as a moral one, that would be one step in the right direction. Many who believe global warming doesn’t exist or that “we get what we paid for” or we can solve the problem when we get there, will undoubtedly be slightly convinced that we have to AT LEAST begin to all agree that we’re not headed in a very good direction.

There are two stories here: that of Mr. Gore merrily giving his infamous global warming slideshow to a packed audience and interspersed insights into the politician’s life. We see Gore as a normal guy, experiencing human tragedy (the near death of his son and his sister dying of lung cancer). We get the idea that he’s simply a man who cares. We can see that he’s a passionate man who enjoys life. So why would we want to continue to live the way we do (I’ll get to that in a minute) and see our planet just waste away beneath our feet? Gore’s slideshow is filled with scientific fact that would be hard to argue against. His graphs and charts and timelines are frightening.

So what exactly is causing global warming in the first place? Two words: carbon dioxide. Everyone breathes out CO2. But within the past century it’s the emissions of CO2 from our cars and other heavy machineries that are polluting our atmosphere. This over abundance of CO2 acts like an insulator, causing the global temperature to rise. This causes icecaps to melt, letting fresh, cold water into the oceans, which in turn causes ocean currents to change, which can cause more violent weather patterns or even an ice age! (maybe The Day After Tomorrow wasn’t far off) Gore’s facts are meant to inform rather than cause a panic, although his facts are pretty scary. His images make you wonder whether there’s something you can do personally to at least halt such catastrophic events from taking place.

There’s so much more to this film, that a review can’t do it justice. Gore presents a straightforward, entertaining look at our planet’s past, present and future. Man has come such a long way and it seems so silly that we’d spend our future just killing our home. We’re obviously on a dangerous track and we need to look at things in a different way. We don’t need to give up everything we have and throw out our cars and walk everywhere, but it’s just the little things, that we can do everyday that will add up to a huge whole. An Inconvenient Truth is a convenient way to showcase a moral and global issue in an entertaining film staring a guy nobody ever thought could actually be entertaining. GRADE: A

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Devil Wears OshKosh B’Gosh: “The Omen” Remake Neither a Disaster Nor a Revelation

I went into the remake of The Omen with one thought in mind: don’t screw up the beheading scene. In the original 1976 religious shocker, a supporting character meets an extremely unfortunate end with a lone plane of glass. It is one of the best decapitations in all of cinema. There’s a lot at stake in a remake, but remaking The Omen certainly takes the cake. The original film is certainly not an outstanding piece of cinema; parts seem just as hokey when played today, but it is in the top of its class for its genre.

Many people know its story, yet many don’t. A couple (Mr. Thorn is an American ambassador in England and Mrs. Thorn is a housewife) gives birth to a child, but the child dies. Mr. Thorn, without telling his wife, decides to substitute another newborn and raise it as their own. Everything’s fine right? The only problem is that the child is the son of the Devil! D’oh! If it sounds ridiculous that’s because it is. The new film doesn’t necessarily improve on the original (in some aspects it does slightly) and is really no worse than the original. I give most credit to original screenwriter David Seltzer who revisits his own screenplay and adds some modern twists. New director John Moore manages a modicum of suspenseful creepiness and at least one jump scare that nearly caused me to wet myself.

Let’s discuss what was good about this new vision. First of all, in this day and age everything is CGI, CGI, CGI. Did this film use CGI? Yes. Did it gorge itself in supposedly scary CGI creations such as ghosts, spirits and monsters? No. Thank God for that one. See the new Amityville Horror or The Fog if you want to overdose on unscary CGI effects. Thankfully whatever scary apparitions do appear, they come in dreams, where that stuff is ok. Remember I said I almost wet myself? Kudos for that one. Any film that startles me that much I have to commend greatly. I liked how the film was extremely similar to the original, but it was never in a copycat sort of way. I felt it was more a homage to the first film rather than flat out copyright infringement. In the original film, one scene has a goldfish bowl topple over a balcony. We get a long shot as it takes its time falling to the ground. In that one shot we sense how far that fall really is, and what could happen if a person were to tumble over the side. (hint hint) We get a similar image here with a flower vase and I enjoyed it. The beheading I mentioned earlier is also a standout if not completely better than the original. I hate to always compare to the original, but this film’s beheading is certainly a gross and enjoyable decapitation. Aren’t they always?

Probably the best aspect of the new film is Mia Farrow’s triumphant return to horror as the seemingly nice nanny Mrs. Baylock. In the original film the nanny is sweet, but obviously has other motives. Like protecting the spawn of Satan! Here Farrow is way too nice and only a glimpse of evil makes her all the more disturbing. Here it’s as if she’s resurrected her Rosemary’s Baby character for a sequel. If this film were REALLY good, this could be an Oscar worthy performance. A scary scene later involving her and Mrs. Thorn is disturbing and Farrow really sells it.

So what’s so bad about this new Omen? First of all the leads didn’t really do it for me. Julia Stiles, as Mrs. Thorn, seems way too young to be the mother and wife to an ambassador. Her acting isn’t really terrible, but it’s not very good. Liev Schreiber is better, but not altogether convincing as well. This is a pivotal role. We have to seem him grieve for his dead child, get it together, and pretend like this new baby is his own. He has to go through many stages of grief and horrible situations and I’m not so sure he was completely successful in emoting everything. Also, in the third act of the film, as he and his photographer friend go looking for Damien’s origins, it gets rather silly and better left to something like The Da Vinci Code. The original was like that as well, so the apple obviously didn’t fall far from the tree. Also, as the young son Damien, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick isn’t all that creepy. He seems to be TRYING to act creepy, the boy from the original film was much more subtle. Also, Jerry Goldsmith’s similarly creepy and beautiful Oscar-winning score has been replaced by more mundane music by Marco Beltrami.

Lastly, at the film’s start a priest gives a slideshow presenting real life tragedies as omens of evil. To quote that guy from the movie Clue, “The Armageddon is at hand!” We get glimpses of the Twin Towers burning, hurricanes, the tsunami etc. What could seem like exploitation is actually handled well. These images don’t really seem out of place. I commend the filmmakers for using these images freely as artistic expression to show that there is a lot of tragedy in the world and that lately we’ve all been overdosing on horrific events. This was an interesting addition to say the least, which set up a foreboding atmosphere that worked well for the film as a whole.

The Omen is an entertaining and creepy movie that does justice to the original. It really doesn’t seem like a cash grab (they released it on 6/6/06 if that’s any indication) and anyone who sees it, whether a fan of the original or not, is bound to enjoy something about it. GRADE: B

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Fight Club: If Watching a Bickering Couple is Your Idea of a Good Time, Then See “The Break-Up”

The Break-Up is a relationship movie without the relationship. Brooke (a likable Jennifer Aniston) and Gary (an unlikable Vince Vaughn) were supposedly an in-love couple according to the opening credit sequence. We see a montage of their happiness. And then the film begins and they’re on the verge of breaking up. Instead of wittily skewering modern relationships, that have been done in more successful films such as Annie Hall or When Harry Met Sally…, director Peyton Reed shows this annoyingly mismatched couple duking it out the whole time. However, it never gets dark or twisted like War of the Roses for instance. The only things the film was missing were a boxing ring and the title Million Dollar Baby.

Astonishingly, Aniston’s portrayal of Brooke is charming, natural and enjoyable. She must be the good guy. However, Vaughn’s portrayal of Gary is uncharming, natural (I believe there are pricks out there just like him) and unenjoyable. He must be the bad guy. With a movie with a plot about a couple’s split, we’re going to have to root for one of them. It’s sad to think there are men out there that actually sit there playing video games while their girlfriend just wants a little help cleaning up. Gary isn’t just an immature 30 year old; he’s an immature 10 year old. His character is so vicious, dimwitted and foolish that Brooke seems just as dimwitted for wanting their relationship to continue. Of course she wants him to change, and he’s unaware that he even needs to change.

The film is mostly made up of bickering fight scenes, most of which end on an extremely sour note, especially for a film that’s supposed to be a comedy, and interspersed scenes with supporting characters giving advice. There’s a subplot about Brooke’s brother’s questioned sexuality that ends with him kicking the crap out of Gary. The only delight in this is seeing how happy Brooke is to see Gary suffer at the hands of such a supposed sissy. Gary’s family isn’t all that normal either. One brother is a sex fiend who seems more related to Stifler from American Pie than to Gary. And Gary’s older brother played by Vincent D’Onofrio is tender yet needless. The three brothers own a sightseeing business in Chicago. The most amusing scenes involve the female driver who makes funny faces as she peels away in her double-decker bus.

Brooke’s friends include her strange, effeminate co-worker played by Justin Long whose character is borderline offensively cliché, but he seems to be having an enjoyable time. Brooke’s high maintenance, whacked out boss played by a stiff yet loose Judy Davis is probably the best character in the film. Perhaps a sequel would feature her instead of Brooke and Gary. Brooke confides in her friends played by A Christmas Story’s Peter Billingsley (who also co-produced) and Joey Lauren Adams. Unfortunately the usually reliable Jason Bateman isn’t given much to do here as a supportive friend and their realtor. They all bowl together and play Pictionary. We get to see what Brooke and Gary’s lives used to be like. But we don’t really care enough about them to even want them to get back together. Which is why the ending is actually pretty satisfying.

The Break-Up has some enjoyable moments and a laugh here and there. But Vince Vaughn’s character is just so unpleasant that I couldn’t wait for Aniston to either get the hell out of there or shoot him in the head. Had the film been a little darker perhaps that would have been an option. I enjoyed a nod to I’m-mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore singer Alanis Morissette. Brooke appropriately blasts You Oughta Know as she throws Gary’s clothes all over the place. Overall, the film isn’t very smart, has nothing really new to say and is very run of the mill. I was sort of waiting for Ann-Margaret (who makes an appearance as Aniston’s mother) to liven things up and roll around in baked beans, but alas it didn’t happen. GRADE: C-