Friday, September 26, 2008

Enemy of the State: Shia LeBeouf Runs, Jumps and Grows a Beard in “Eagle Eye”

Watching the completely illogical and implausible film “Eagle Eye,” I was reminded of another techno-thriller called “Live Free or Die Hard.” Both have similar elements (technology is not only our enemy but is frigging everywhere). Both have illogical stories and lots of mindless action and things getting blown up and “normal” people getting caught up in ridiculous situations for the sake of the audience’s entertainment. "Live Free or Die Hard," however ridiculous it was, was still a movie that you bought into mostly because it didn’t take itself too seriously, and Bruce Willis really pulls off the whole action hero thing well. I wish I could say the same for Shia LeBeouf in "Eagle Eye." The film is so ludicrous and implausible that we spend more time slapping our foreheads than gripping the armrest.

If you want a thorough explanation of the plot then go to Wikipedia. I seriously had no idea what was really going most of the time watching this film. The film begins somewhere in the Middle East and has to do with an assassination of some sorts. Then we’re introduced to Jerry who is a twenty-something kid who just learns that his twin brother was killed. A short time later there is an exorbitant amount of money in his bank account and mysterious boxes are delivered to his apartment. He gets a call from an unknown voice telling him to leave his apartment because he’s about to be arrested. Before you can say “Holy crap, why is someone who sounds like Julianne Moore calling my cell” Jerry’s being arrested by the FBI. He’s questioned by Agent Billy Bob Thorton, who looks like he’s either been airbrushed or just has really, really smooth skin for a guy in his 50s.

Meanwhile divorced mother of one Rachael (Michelle Monaghan) gets a phone call from “the voice” who says that her son, who she just put on a train for a class trip to D.C., is going to be harmed unless she follows the directions she is given. Our hapless (and seriously confused) heroes meet up in a car and question each other about what the heck is going on. This is followed by chase after chase, action sequence after action sequence. And there are lots of quick edits. The film could basically be the illegitimate love child of Michael Bay and Tony Scott. I normally wouldn’t mind action sequence after action sequence if I actually cared enough (or actually had a clue) about what was going on. Monaghan and LeBeouf are likable actors in likeable roles, but I didn’t really care about them a whole bunch. In fact, they escaped so many implausible situations that I basically wanted to throw up my hands and just say “are they superhuman or something!?” (And don’t even get me started on the whole “secret floor of the Pentagon” sequences with Rosario Dawson and Michael Chiklis. You’ll laugh in spite of the fact that you paid money to witness all of this).

"Eagle Eye" is probably the most expenseive way to get the message across that if we continue to let technology control our lives then it will literally control our lives. If you’re a big fan of mind-numbing action (although the sequences were staged well by “Disturbia” director D.J. Caruso) then "Eagle Eye" is for you. I love me some action but here Eagle Eye just seems to be a conglomerate of parts of better movies. I was excited to see Caruso and LeBeouf’s second pairing and I have to say “Disturbia” was a much more plausible and enjoyable affair. I longed for the intimate and suspenseful atmosphere of that “Rear Window” rip-off rather than the broad action spectacle of this “North by Northwest” rip-off. GRADE: C

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Spirited Away: Ricky Gervais Sees Dead People in “Ghost Town”

Remember that movie “Ghost?” A non-dancing/non-singing Patrick Swayze dies and leaves poor girlfriend Demi Moore all alone. He becomes a wandering sprit and he uses funny lady Whoopi Goldberg to communicate with his true love from beyond the grave. All those funny scenes involving Goldberg and Swayze were actually pretty funny for a heavily dramatic film (after all its director is one of the co-directors of Airplane!) So imagine taking all the funny parts out of “Ghost” and spinning it in a new way and you have “Ghost Town.” Schlubby dentist/person hater Ricky Gervais goes under the knife for a medical procedure, “dies a little bit,” and then is able to see and communicate with dead people who are roaming New York City because they have “unfinished business.” Imagine BBC’s “The Office” meets “Casper” crossed with “The Sixth Sense” and you have “Ghost Town.”

“Ghost Town” has funny parts which are mostly due to Gervais gifted, and dry, comic timing. As Dr. Pincus he is a lonely guy who doesn’t like talking with other humans which is why he’s a dentist. Patients can’t really strike up conversations while their mouths are full of cotton. I think he likes inflicting harmless pain on people as well. After his surgeon Kristin Wiig tells him that he had died for a few minutes on the operating table during a colonoscopy, Pincus begins seeing people around the city who are ghosts. These ghosts follow him around because he’s the only one who can see them and like I said, they have unfinished business. What’s funnier than a man who hates people to be constantly followed around by dead people?

The main storyline involves Greg Kinner’s ghost who died when he was hit by a city bus. His wife Tea Leoni lives in Pincus’ building and she’s seeing a new guy and Kinnear needs Pincus to make sure his wife doesn’t fall in love with this other guy. Oh and it seems as though Kinnear was having an affair and he didn’t live long enough to tell his wife the truth. So basically the entire movie revolves around Kinnear following Gervais around trying to get him to become friends with this wife. And wouldn’t you know they may just have feelings for each other.

The movie does have some extremely solid funny moments, but on the whole I felt the experience to be wishy-washy at best. If you’re a die hard Ricky Gervais fan then you’ll probably be satisfied much in the same way you’d be satisfied with “The House Bunny” if you love Anna Faris. Director David Koepp isn’t a novice when it comes to stories about ghosts and spirits after all he wrote and directed “Stir of Echoes” and “Secret Window” but he turns the genre upside by turning it into a Frank Capra fantasy-comedy. There are moments that work and moments that don’t. (Gervais and Leoni don’t exactly make the most likely couple) but I admire everyone trying their hardest.

I can’t whole heartedly recommend “Ghost Town” to everyone but if you’re a fan of Gervais and his British sensibilities or fantasy-comedy romps then by all means take a trip to Ghost Town. GRADE: C+

Friday, September 19, 2008

Entertainment Weekly Cares About My Opinions PART 3D

In a recent poll, readers were asked to submit their favorite "election year themed" films. I suggested Recount, which was HBO's made-for-cable dramatization of the 2000 presidential election. If you haven't seen this, check it out. Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or Joe Lieberman you've got to agree that that fateful election made all of us a little embarrased to be "US American.",,20209564_20209584_20226904_10,00.html

Saturday, September 13, 2008

How to Succeed in Idiocy Without Really Trying: “Burn After Reading” is a Smart Movie Filled with Stupid People

It’s almost been a year since the Coen brothers released “No Country For Old Men” on the movie going crowd. Ten months and four Oscars later, they have a silly farce up their sleeves called “Burn After Reading” which follows several wacky and unimaginably dumb characters who think they’re involved some kind of spy caper. It’s not cinematically meaningful or psychologically rewarding or any other highbrow terms one uses to describe important film art. It is a silly farce with weird characters who look weird, sound weird, do weird things and have weird names. It’s all very…weird.

Basically the film starts with Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), who has just been fired as a CIA agent. Because he has so much time on his hands he decides to write a memoir. I’m sure he’s had a thrilling life, but “retirement” is never like this: A CD-rom containing his memoir was found by employees who work at a gym. Co-workers Chad Feldheimer (a skunk stripe-coiffed Brad Pitt) Linda Litzke (France McDormand), who seems like she could be a distant cousin of Marge Gundersun, think the disc contains super secret CIA information and decide to contact its owner and blackmail him for lots of cash. Even though Linda works in a gym, she feels she needs plastic surgery to fix those “problem areas.” After all, all the exercise in the world won’t get rid of crow’s feet. Osbourne’s life gets turned upside down by these weirdoes who aren’t very good at blackmail.

Meanwhile, Osborne’s wife (Tilda Swinton) is having an affair with an eccentric man named Harry Pfarrer (Coen alum George Clooney) who always has to go for a jog after having sex. And he has probably invented the weirdest sex toys in the history of weird sex toys. Harry becomes paranoid when it appears he’s being followed by a guy in a car. It’s interesting to see Clooney in this performance because while its not really bad acting, its certainly a far cry from his previous Oscar-nominated effort “Michael Clayton.”

Basically the whole point of all of this is that (Potential SPOILER) there really is no super secret CIA disc and all of these characters get involved in something they thing is top secret and life threatening, but its not. (It’s the Mother of all McGuffins) Of course that doesn’t stop life threatening things from happening. This is a spy caper written by the Joel & Ethan Coen after all, so it’s highly likely that someone isn’t going to make it to the end credits. One scene in particular is just too good to spoil here. And besides with Carter Burwell’s dark, thumping score, you really get the sense that something bad is coming anyways.

Remember I said the characters are really weird? Well they are; really, really weird. Pitt is having a blast playing the strangest character of his career, and that includes the weirdo he portrayed in “12 Monkeys.” He likes to rock out to his iPod while he works the treadmill and insists on riding his bike to the “trade off” even though he’s wearing a suit and tie. Pitt here is hilarious. And Linda is even stranger. After Osborne fails to pay them off, she goes directly to… the Russian embassy. To accomplish what exactly? I don’t know, but if you’re an idiot who thinks you’ve found a top secret CIA disc, that’s what you do.

In fact “Burn After Reading” could easily play as a training video on how to be a complete moron. You’ll laugh and find some twists and turns. Mostly sit back and enjoy the moronic shenanigans. And try to fit in a jog afterwards. GRADE: B

PS – Love that “Burbs-like” opening sequence that zooms into the globe and ends up at a CIA facility in Washington DC.