john lithgow

Movie Review: Interstellar

interstellar_posterI suppose it was only a matter of time Christopher Nolan would come out with a movie, I’d see that movie,  I’d not completely fall in love with it and not want to immediately see it again. I’m the guy who still loves THE DARK KNIGHT RISES in spite of the fact that it’s my least favorite of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I will still claim INCEPTION as one of my absolute favorite movies. I often won’t go to bat that Nolan’s movies are the best that have ever been made, but for my tastes specifically they fall perfectly into place. And then there’s INTERSTELLAR, a movie that should hit that proverbial sweet spot for me- Nolan, science fiction, drama and Anne Hathaway. So what went wrong? Well, before I get ahead of myself let me clarify that I did not hate this movie, but so far in the Nolan canon (granted it will take a few more viewings to say indefinitely), it’s very close to my least favorite.

The film begins in a non-disclosed future where the Earth and its inhabitants are in a real struggle. Farmer’s are Earth’s most valuable profession as the food supply is dangerously thin and the farmer’s struggle to keep crops alive. Violent dust storms roll in and eventually wreak havoc on people’s lungs. School curriculum trashes human exploration and only a certain percentage of kids are even allowed to go to college- the rest are designated farmer status. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is one of those farmers with a scientist’s brain who hates his profession. Cooper’s son is well on his way to taking over the family business while his daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), has her father’s curious nature. Murph clues her father in on a strange gravity anomaly in her room which leads them to coordinates to a facility in the middle of nowhere that turns out to be the defunct remains of NASA. The folks there have secretly been carrying out space explorations in search of a planet that can facilitate human life. Naturally Cooper has history with NASA and is then recruited to pilot a crew to the many planets other explorers have been staking out. (more…)

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Movie Review: This Is 40 (2012)

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Getting old really sucks and Judd Apatow has been aiming at showing you just how much it sucks. Not only by filming incredibly awkward personal situations, but by making movies that feel like they last forever to the point you feel like you could nap somewhere in the middle and not miss much. I don’t want it to sound like too much of a knock against Apatow in general, but his movies are just too damn long and the run times in turn harm the overall effect of the film. THIS IS 40 is an example of that and had it been significantly shorter it could have very well been one of the best comedies of the year.

As the “Sort of sequel to KNOCKED UP” the film follows Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters from that particular Judd Apatow film and their life struggles as they both are turning 40. Pete (Rudd) is struggling to turn his record company into a success because he only signs artists past their prime and ones he admires while also hiding their escalating financial troubles from his wife, Debbie (Mann), who just wants Pete to be attracted to her and wants the passion to return to their relationship. Debbie also is dealing with a problem within a store she has opened where an employee has been stolen a significant amount of the store’s money. Together they have two kids who fight constantly and their oldest is going through a stage where she is extremely mouthy and is dealing with life issues of her own.

To a certain extent the amount of issues Apatow is juggling is admirable and he juggles them very well for about the first hour and a half of the film- but once it hits the hour and a half mark I was ready for it to wind down and wrap up all the different arcs in some fashion. I wouldn’t have complained if any of the stories had just been left open for another film down the road, but pushing forward for an additional hour became a real chore and a lot of the jokes fell flat due to the fact that I was just ready to be done with the characters.

It’s not the fault of the characters or the actors that the run time becomes taxing because they all give the material everything it needs to at least make the last hour watchable. However, compared to the first half of the film the contrast of quality with my willingness to watch it diminished severely. I happen to love Leslie Mann in spite of the annoying aspects her character has, but her chemistry with Rudd’s character when things are going good is fantastic and fun to watch. When things are going bad, their performances and the conflicts are also interesting to watch and plausible- for the most part- if you are at all familiar with the dynamics of a lengthy committed relationship.

The film can be approached from two different perspectives- male and female- and it’s actually a lot of fun to be able to laugh at the relationship humor and nudge your significant other with your elbow when one hits home- something I did quite a bit sitting next to my wife. The other fun part of the humor is a lot of times I’m sure couples can reverse the roles that each other have compared to the characters on screen. There are plenty of laughs out loud jokes and gags many of which feel unscripted, but again the longer the film drags on the laughs become spread farther and farther apart.

THIS IS 40 while overlong and over packed hits on a lot of really interesting and funny real life situations lots of couples likely deal with on a day to day basis. The presentation isn’t quite as emotionally satisfying as it appears Apatow may be reaching for in the end, but works just enough to make it entertaining. The film is hilariously fun at times and yawn inducing towards the end making for an experience that’s more fun than it is frustrating, but frustrating nonetheless.

Rating: B

Movie Review: The Campaign (2012)

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Two of the most recognized comedic actors working right now might seem like a dream come true for fans of each- but what about for people that have grown cold to their shtick? I rarely ever enjoy Will Ferrell and when I do it’s usually in small doses where as I’ve enjoyed most of what Zach Galifianakis has done even though most of his characters fail to differentiate much from role to role. Having the two of them in one movie seem like a potential volatile mix if you are on the fence and yet even with my doubts I had a feeling it could at least be good for a chuckle or two. To my surprise THE CAMPAIGN is not just a throwaway summer comedy and instead is often an uproarious R rated political comedy that embraces its absurdity and repetition, often to a fault.

Will Ferrell plays the very definition of a dirty bad boy politician, Cam Brady, who constantly says inappropriate things either behind closed doors or on a religious family’s answering machine and has an annoying familiar trope of a wife that only stays latched to his wagon as long as he’s successful then bails at any sign of trouble (the exact same thing befalls his character in TALLADEGA NIGHTS). Galifianakis once again plays an ambiguously gay screw up, Marty Huggins, with unflinching optimism (same type of character as in DUE DATE), but this time he’s also actually a devoted family man as well. Huggins is chosen by two sneering big money executives played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd to oppose Brady as Congressman so that they can then convince Huggins to approve a deal they have made to bring cheap Chinese labor into the country to quadruple profits of their company by cutting down dramatically on shipping and any number of other clichéd bad guy scheming. Huggins and Brady for the most part are unaware of the behind the scenes dealing as they focus on making each other’s lives as miserable as possible with a series of increasingly despicable pranks and bodily harm. Its dirty politics at its funniest and at its most stripped down basics.

Right off the bat the most refreshing thing about THE CAMPAIGN that I initially took out was how great it was that the trailers were vastly different from the final product. So many times I find myself being incredibly let down by comedies that show all the funniest parts in the trailer which then end up consequently being less funny on screen now that you’ve already seen it- unless taking the entire scene into context actually adds to the comedy. Here though not only are some of these scenes from the trailer funnier, they are also completely different from what you see in the trailer- that is to say that the actual lines of dialogue and jokes are different takes that end up being dirtier and funnier than they were in the trailer and certain items used are traded out for something entirely different (I’m referring to a scene in the trailer where Huggins shoots Brady in the leg with a crossbow). It made the film a little less predictable at least when it came to the gags that the two leads inflict upon each other- the overall events of the plot and the ending are all pretty cut and dry, which if not for the nasty back and forth between Ferrell and Galifianakis plus a select few of the supporting actors, this would have been much more of a just standard affair comedy if not a mediocre one.

I really like Ferrell in this movie, more so than Galifianakis which is completely flip flopped from how I went into the film. Ferrell tends to get on my nerves at times, but I like him best when he is at his most vulgar and this is about as vulgar as I’ve ever seen him which cracked me up almost every time his mouth opens. Galifianakis plays his role as he’s become accustomed to by just being mostly aloof and saying odd things here and there, while selling most of his comedy with his awkward body language and facial expressions. One supporting character that stole every scene he was in was Dylan McDermott as Huggins campaign manager Tim Wattley (which kept sending me into Seinfeld flashbacks every time they said his name)- as goofy as Ferrell and Galifianakis are McDermott adds that hilarious grimacing mean guy that you can’t help but smile as soon as he makes his entrance on screen and says something crazy or just stares angrily at the screen in the background while something somewhat heartfelt might be happening in the foreground. Aykroyd and Lithgow are pretty generic bad guy stereotypes that could have been played by almost anyone as is Jason Sudeikis as Brady’s campaign manager, although he does get in a few good lines here and there.

I do think the film has a pretty great cast in spite of the fact some have very little to do to add much to the comedy. There’s a great deal of mean spirited jokes that don’t quite fit with some of the over-the-top goofs on display- I mean how serious can you take a film where someone brutally punches a baby and later show the baby with a massive black eye. There are plenty of ridiculously fun jokes and sequences here that are laugh out loud funny that are hinted at in the trailer and handful that came as a surprise. The problems I had with some of the jokes is that there are at three if not more that get repeated several times throughout- there’s Brady punching something adorable that happens more than once, news montages that follow something horrible a candidate did and the fact that Ferrell’s character just can’t stand pugs. The first time each of these things happen is very funny, the second is chuckle worthy but for some when we get into the third time the repetition seems much more transparent as time filler and that the filmmakers ran out of ideas.

Still, even with an excess of repetition and rehashed character types THE CAMPAIGN is a hysterical political satire. The comedy does at times lean a little too much on the shock of excessively vulgar language to hammer home its laughs, but more often than not the set ups lend favorably to the excessive amount of expletives. THE CAMPAIGN marches out a hefty amount of familiar faces that at times I found distracting and given how weak some the characters are even left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed and disappointed at how great it really could have been. In end though, it may not be the be all end all of perfectly structured comedies of 2012, but it’s still a hell of a good time.

Rating: B

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

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After the Tim Burton vision of the PLANET OF THE APES universe I was fairly convinced that would be it for anything else in this franchise. Admittedly, I was not all that excited when this film was announced but the trailers reeled me in. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (from here on out RISE OF THE APES) for me was a terrific example of filmmaking that encapsulates patient storytelling while being very kinetic and chaotic at the same time. The emotional connection I felt through the film can be attributed to the phenomenal performance capture from Andy Serkis and the methodical direction from Rupert Quart.

RISE OF THE APES follows the work of Will Rodman (James Franco), a brilliant scientist that is right on the heels of a cure for Alzheimer’s. When their star chimp test subject, Bright Eyes, goes bananas and destroys any chance Will has of greenlighting human trials the board demands all chimps to he put down. Will finds that Bright Eyes was protecting her newborn baby and he takes him home before he is put down as well. It becomes evident that the baby, Caesar, took on the advanced intelligence of his mother through the treatments of Will’s untested cure. After Caesar is sent to a new facility after a violent encounter in public he is subject to abuse from one of the employees and enlists his fellow primates to break out and earn their freedom.

When I say the film displays patient storytelling what I mean is for a new filmmaker tackling a prequel and essentially a reboot of a classic franchise there is a potential for disaster by just getting right in to the good stuff- it’s kind of like getting way too touchy feely on a first date with an extremely religious virgin. Wyatt puts us right on the forefront of what’s going down but then scales back a bit to let a few years of events pass before kicking things up again. There is always something interesting going on even if the only real action packed moments are in the finale. When it’s not full of action it’s very emotionally captivating friendship dynamics.

I am a huge animal lover so maybe I’m a bit biased in saying how effective the connection between Franco’s character and Caesar is. Enough cannot be said about Serkis performing as Caesar since for the most part Franco isn’t terrible, but he’s also not really doing the film any favors. As far as human characters that is one of the flaws- as none of them are spectacular and I would go so far as to say some of the acting is lazy. If the performance from Serkis wasn’t as profound as it was and the climactic action scene wasn’t as exciting this could have been pretty disappointing.

Human performances aside, the film works in spite of them and because it’s so immensely entertaining the time just flies by. Wyatt and the screenwriters set up, build and execute a story with great skill even if at times might seem inherently silly. There are aspects in the writing and logic of characters I found to be a stretch but the film is so well done, fun to watch and emotionally resonate that it would feel pointless to mention here since I love the film so much.

RISE OF THE APES presents an epic scope for the world and story on display in such a way that it never crosses cheesy or over-the-top territory. The film is a great achievement for Wyatt and company because it had the possibility to be far less satisfying than it is. RISE OF THE APES won me over with the emotional journey of Caesar as well as a thrilling tale of revolution through an impending global pandemic. As a standalone film outside of its name recognition the movie is a success, but even as an entry into the “OF THE APES” franchise it has potential to conquer.