Archive for March, 2008

A Comparison of Lists…

March 27, 2008

My friend Robert Mathison recently requested that I do a Top 5 Coen Brothers list, as well as a Top 10 Clooney Performances compilation. I took that offer, but under only one condition – that he do the same and I post both of them side by side, comparing our tastes with each. Here is how they stack up…

Robert’s 5 Favorite Coen Brothers Films

1.The Man Who Wasn’t There
2.No Country For Old Men
3.The Big Lebowski
4.Fargo
5.O Brother, Where Art Thou?

My 5 Favorite Coen Brothers Films

1.No Country For Old Men
2.Fargo
3.Blood Simple
4.The Man Who Wasn’t There
5.Miller’s Crossing

Robert’s 10 Favorite Clooney Performances

1.From Dusk Till Dawn
2.The Good German
3.O Brother, Where Art Thou?
4.Michael Clayton
5.Solaris
6.Syriana
7.Good Night, and Good Luck.
8.Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
9.Three Kings
10.The Perfect Storm

My 10 Favorite Clooney Performances

1.Michael Clayton
2.Out of Sight
3.Syriana
4.Solaris
5.Three Kings
6.One Fine Day
7.From Dusk Till Dawn
8.The Good German
9.O Brother, Where Art Thou?
10.The Thin Red Line

You have just witnessed another list posting, which can also be called a “getting by” post, simply to fill up space until I decide to write something useful again.

New Lists, Inspired by the “Charlie Bartlett” review…

March 12, 2008
My 3 Favorite Anton Yelchin Performances

1.Hearts in Atlantis
2.Charlie Bartlett
3.Alpha Dog

My 15 Favorite Robert Downey, Jr. Performances

1.The Singing Detective
2.Less Than Zero
3.Natural Born Killers
4.Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
5.Zodiac
6.Restoration
7.Wonder Boys
8.Chaplin
9.Two Girls and a Guy
10.Game 6
11.Short Cuts
12.A Scanner Darkly
13.Soap Dish
14.The Gingerbread Man
15.Air America

My 10 Favorite Hope Davis Performances

1.American Splendor
2.The Secret Lives of Dentists
3.Mumford
4.The Matador
5.The Weather Man
6.Final
7.About Schmidt
8.Duma
9.The Hoax
10. Proof

“Charlie Bartlett” prescribes familiarity, but is not without fun

March 11, 2008

R, 97 minutes, MGM Films

In this day and age of cinema, and particularly with genres like the teenage comedy, we moviegoers sometimes have to find it in our hearts to be as lenient as possible with our observations on the amount of pure originality that comes with each project. In certain cases, a film might not even be aiming at offering up anything innovative to a genre, recognizing that it is an already established and deep path that has been paved decades before, and it might want to simply exist inside of it as a passable piece of entertainment. Jon Poll’s directorial debut, Charlie Bartlett, is a movie that cannot be what it’s supposed to be (which is serviceable) without the viewer immediately tossing out the possibility of fresh ideas within the genre incorporated here. Films like Risky Business, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Election, and Juno simply do not come around frequently, so we cannot sit around each year waiting on miracles like those. Instead, we must take films like Charlie Bartlett for what they are meant to be and maybe we will learn to like more films in the high school comedy genre. This is a movie that takes from all of the previously mentioned films in some way, and maybe even a handful more that I can think of off the top of my head, yet it still manages to be 97 minutes of time that I had fun with, even if I won’t exactly be remembering it in front of others or even place it in the same breath as most in the genre. It is certainly worth seeing, though.

Anton Yelchin has been working his way up to this kind of inevitable role since his brilliant performance in the underrated film, Hearts of Atlantis, where he held his own with talents like Anthony Hopkins and Hope Davis, and at the ripe old age of eleven. Now, at 18, he gets his first major starring film role and takes it on well as the title character, Charlie Bartlett, who we are introduced to as he is being kicked out of something like the 400th private school he’s attended. A rich kid who has been without the presence of his father, who is in jail, for most of his life, Charlie is prone to more mischief than even the regular teenager and feels like he is almost obligated in some way to get expelled from everywhere he attends. His mother is so sedated by the numerous medications she has taken on since the departure of her husband, that she doesn’t take any type of parental obedient action when he commits these unruly acts. Hope Davis plays the mother in another effortless performance, giving the role just the right touch of goofiness without going over the top in a drastic way. When Charlie makes it to the point of having no other private schools in the area to choose from, he has no choice but to face the harsh reality of becoming a part of the public system where he will find that popularity is harder to come by. There is nothing new in this “movie” high school, which is flooded with assigned cliques, rampant bullies, etc., but should we see that as a drawback of this film? Certainly not. There is a reason the same things keep getting portrayed in the high school films – because they really do exist everywhere, no matter how big or how small a school is. Wearing portions of his preppy private school attire doesn’t help Charlie to make a good first impression in the battleground of the school hallways, so he must cook up some mischief and use his therapy-visit connections to find a way to be accepted, and in a big way.

When he finds that he can designate the boys restroom as sort of a “counseling” area, he begins to give advice to anyone wanting it. After one of the kids persuades Charlie to get him a prescription of ritalin, the rest of the school gets wind of this and he is sky-rocketed to stardom and has everyone listening to anything he has to say. He eventually draws attraction from the principal’s daughter, played by Kat Dennings, which can only lead to a battle for her love between the two men. Robert Downey, Jr. gives the movie huge credibility with each scene he is in as the principal, and Poll does a good job of giving a good amount of personal-life time to the character as well. Dennings plays off of both Yelchin and Downey extremely well, balancing out the mood to give some particular scenes some memorable qualities. There are moments in the movie that had me scared and thinking it could fall off a deep end, but for the most part, Charlie Bartlett consistently saves itself by just being flat-out fun, with no boundaries. For what it lacks in originality it definitely makes up for in go-for-broke homaging. Yelchin owes most everything to John Hughes and Matthew Broderick’s Bueller brainchild, among a few others, but he and Poll’s Bartlett is still a worthwhile creation.

7/10

Some Lists Inspired by the “Semi-Pro” Review…

March 9, 2008

I have recently started to feel like bringing back the random list-making that is inspired by each review I put out. Here are some favorites from things related to the last film I reviewed, Semi-Pro.

My 5 Favorite Will Ferrell Performances

1.Stranger Than Fiction
2.Winter Passing
3.Talladega Nights
4.Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back
5.Anchorman

My 10 Favorite Woody Harrelson Performances

1.The People vs. Larry Flynt
2.Natural Born Killers
3.Kingpin
4.White Men Can’t Jump
5.A Prairie Home Companion
6.The Hi-Lo Country
7.A Scanner Darkly
8.Wag the Dog
9.No Country For Old Men
10.The Thin Red Line

“Semi-Pro” is semi-awful

March 8, 2008

R, 90 minutes, New Line Cinema

Hey, has anyone heard? Funnyman Will Ferrell is tackling an entirely new thing he’s never done, with his new film – he’s portraying a cocky sports figure that is frequently animate and outrageous to frightening levels. Oh wait, he’s already done that at least three other times that I can think of. Yes it’s true, we’re going to have to wait until the summer when the Judd Apatow-produced Step Brothers is released to see if Ferrell is going to deliver any consistent humor in 2008. Apart from not breaking any new ground at all his new film, Semi-Pro, fails to even provide us with good ol’ raunchy entertainment. The film is certainly not without some laughs, there’s just never any kind of consistency established, which is mostly due to the terrible denial of supporting characters’ development and boring on-the-court sequences.

Set in the early 70’s, Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, the owner/promoter/starting forward of a fictional ABA basketball team called the Flint Tropics. Moon is such an arrogant and dumbfounding character that he would make anything the actor has played so far look like a puppy-like figure, including the insanely over-the-top prude he played last year in Blades of Glory. This is really not a bad thing, to push the limits and try to go extremely far with the craziness of Moon, but Ferrell doesn’t have the touch he can so often pull out of nowhere and charm us with. He’s got a severely mediocre script he’s working from, and it shows. This is the type of film that you can tell the actor’s are starving to bring their own improvisational quips just to do anything to bring the aura some extra amount of credibility. The Tropics are a horribly bad team, with none of them playing together and they couldn’t care less. Andre Benjamin plays a fast and talented player, who if he only had the strive to want to succeed could make himself attractive to NBA scouts. Benjamin is far more talented than the majority of musicians-turned-actors and he is a good choice to play this role, but his character is never dealt with in any kind of significant way. Instead, when we are taking a break from Jackie Moon we are introduced to sour characters like the unfunny announcers, played by Will Arnett and Andrew Daily, Moon’s boring business partner (Andy Richter), and the local love interest (Maura Tierney) of a washed-up player agreeing to play for the Tropics, played by Woody Harrelson. Harrelson plays this character and although he gives a fine performance, he cannot escape the blatant fact that the role is dying for a lengthy skim through and re-hash.

This is basically what Semi-Pro ultimately amounts to – semi-trash. Nearly everything about the movie either seems not fleshed out enough or just plain ordinary. There is certainly a funny movie somewhere in here that could have been dug up had the filmmakers and writers took a little more time to find it. Ferrell is very funny at times in this film, but the movie’s flaws gets the better of him this time. He cannot overcome everything to standout enough to make us disregard the glaring errors made throughout all aspects of the movie, and it definitely doesn’t help that the main supporting players either aren’t funny in the slightest (Arnett) or just don’t get substantial material to draw from (Harrelson). There are some key small roles that I wish would have gotten some more face time, like Tim Meadows, Jackie Earle Haley, and Kristen Wiig who provide nice laughs when they show up. Ferrell is at a point in his career where audiences come to each of his films expecting something extremely funny, for he has set a high standard, and this one is a major disappointment, without a doubt.

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