Monthly Archives: September 2012

FILM REVIEW: The Words

There’s more than one way to make a boring movie poster.

From the two-man writer-director team of Brian Klugman and Lee Sterntha, The Words has Bradley Cooper returning to the role of the young, flawed, struggling writer he played so well in Limitless – a writer who is desperate to succeed and who will do anything to achieve his goal. In Limitless he of course turns to the powerful performance-enhancing drug that is the centerpiece of the film’s story, and in The Words, Cooper’s character, Rory Jansen, comes across an old, unpublished manuscript and passes it off as his own. The book goes on to achieve unanimous critical acclaim and massive commercial success and all is well and good until its true author seeks out Jansen and confronts him about his theft.

“Unanimous critical acclaim” sound a little far-fetched for a novel by a no-name writer? Well, keep in mind that Jansen is actually a character within a book written by Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), an apparently well-known writer who starts The Words with a public reading of his latest work. Jansen’s book, by the way, is a story about a struggling writer set in post-WII France.

Yes, The Words is a three-tiered assault of writers writing about writers in an attempt to screw with your head and impress you with its detailed level of complexity.

Except the film isn’t all that complex, and the precise lack of detail is what makes the plot feel so cheap. For example, if we’re supposed to believe the Jansen is a struggling writer in the modern age, where is the modern technology and business practices that now drive the publishing industry? Cooper’s character has written books, and publishers like them. They just don’t know how to sell them. This once was a huge obstacle for aspiring novelists. That was before e-readers, the Amazon.com bookstore, and the ability to self-publish anything you write. Yes, we can assume that the story is set in the past and that Jansen doesn’t have that option, but there’s nothing that hints that The Words is a look back at simpler times, and it’s that lack of attention to detail that makes the film feel like a pseudo-cerebral half-baked potato at most points.

It’s not all bad though. Cooper does put on a great performance, and Jeremy Irons steals the show for the brief time he’s in the movie (he could likely net a Grammy by narrating the back of a Doritos bag if he wanted). The core plot of the film – Jansen’s moral struggle of knowing his success is all due to stolen work, coupled with the anguish of knowing that he could likely never match it’s quality with his own writing – is really an interesting story, but it gets lost among all that forced complexity and is ultimately overshadowed by Hammond’s far less interesting tale which involves Olivia Wilde playing a sexy book-loving femme fatale for no reason whatsoever.

It’s really a shame. Part of the film really does hit a kind of tragic beauty, but it’s only one tier of the three-pronged story and can’t hold the whole movie up on its own. Especially when Dennis Quaid is narrating it (waterboarding, eat your heart out).

It seems The Words wants you to leave the theater with the question “What is real? What is fiction? What is the difference?” echoing through your simplistic mind, but the only thing you’ll be asking yourself is why the you just spent two hours of your life watching it and if there’s anyway to get that time back.

Spoiler: there isn’t.

VERDICT:

2.5/5

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FILM REVIEW: Trouble with the Curve

I had the same thought everyone else did when I first saw the trailer for the Robert Lorenz-directed, Trouble with the Curve: “oh boy, Gran Torino with baseball”. And to some degree, that’s still true, but Curve brings the charm, laughs, and performance that Torino lacked with a stellar cast, great story, and tons of heart.

Eastwood’s character in Curve is noticeably similar to his role in Torino: an emotionally detached old man who pushes those closest to him away while battling the pangs of old age. Only this time instead of a war veteran, he’s a veteran baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves, Gus Lobel, and happens to be losing his sight. Gus’s daughter, Micky (Amy Adams) is an associate at a prominent law firm in Atlanta and although she sees her father often, the two don’t really connect as a family and it’s apparent from the beginning that the mending of this relationship is going to take center stage in the film.

Things get started quickly when Gus’s long-time friend and business partner Pete Klein (John Goodman) informs him that his job is in jeopardy. Computers have become a big part of the business and the ball club is considering getting rid of old-fashioned guys like Gus in favor of picking players strictly by statistics and numbers. The top prospect this year is Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), a cocky, stocky jerk with a hell of a swing who plays for a North Carolina minor league team, and the scout assignment is Gus’s last shot to prove his usefulness to the Braves’ management. He couldn’t be less interested. Gus just loves baseball and loves what he does. If the Braves decide they’d rather trust a bunch of numbers on the confound interwebs, screw ’em.

But Klein is more concerned about Gus’s well-being. Without his work to keep him busy and happy, he worries that Gus’s health will deteriorate rapidly. He enlists Micky to go along with Gus on the assignment to keep an eye on him. She declines at first, worried that she’ll lose her chance at a partner position at her firm and not convinced that her father even wants her around, but eventually concedes after learning about his deteriorating sight.

Thankfully between all that plot set-up we do get a chance to appreciate the characters as well. Goodman and Adams are great in their supporting roles, Justin Timberlake brings the laughs and the romance as a scout for the Boston Red Sox named Flannigan (just so you know he’s from Boston), but none even come close to stealing Eastwood’s ample supply of thunder.

Watching him growl, mutter, and insult his way through Curve is the best part of it, keeping the audience laughing whether they’re supposed to or not. Sometimes its as subtle as nonchalantly grabbing a beer out of the fridge for a 9AM pizza breakfast, sometimes it’s at the expense of a would-be touching moment – whoever thought letting Eastwood sing melancholy to a gravestone without a hint of humor is out of their mind. There are also plenty of great one-liners to rival the classic “Get off my lawn!” (“Someone give me the goddamn check!”), and each one of them sounds like it came straight off the top of Eastwood’s head, unscripted as his infamous RNC “speech”.

The story is sometimes slow, sometimes predictable, but always touching and peppered throughout with humor brewed from great chemistry between the core cast, and if you like baseball, there’s that too.

The film does have a bit of a problem shifting gears when it comes to tone. The main antagonists hit a bit too close to “cartoon villainy” in a few scenes. There’s a complicated, dark backstory involving Gus, his daughter, and a horse that is revealed little by little, but never is anything but ridiculous. And then there’s the aforementioned gravestone scene, but these moments are few and far between and don’t detract much from the overall quality of the movie.

Trouble with the Curve is better than the sappy dramedy it sounds like on paper, and a successful directorial debut for Lorenz. With a great cast, it manages to tell a heartwarming story about love, family, and America’s greatest pastime without ever feeling cheesy or contrived. The laughs outweigh the cries, and although towards the end the plausibility of certain events seems to head close to “no effing way that would happen” status, it also manages to stay grounded most of the time and truly is an enjoyable film. If you’re a fan of Eastwood, his costars, or baseball, you’ll probably love it. If you don’t like any of those things, Curve won’t make you a fan and, well, what do you like exactly?

VERDICT:

3.5/5

Trouble with the Curve hits theaters September 21st.

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GREEN DAY MAKE MUSICAL STATEMENT ABOUT NOTHING IN PARTICULAR WITH “KILL THE DJ” VIDEO

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Uno!, the first of Green Day’s new trilogy of albums is coming out later this month and the video for its second single, “Kill The DJ” (not to be confused with Nicki Minaj’s “Kill da DJ”) was just released today.

With twangy guitar tones light on the overdrive, and falsetto-seasoned vocals, The song sounds more like a Foxboro Hot Tubs tune than a Green Day single. It’s a little bit rock n roll and a pinch of disco, but is wholly boring and thoroughly uninspired.

It’s hard to tell whether the pseudo-anthemic chorus line “Someone kill the DJ, shoot the fucking DJ” is supposed to funny and ironic, or an actual call for the end of EDM as we know it through the kind of violence the band condemned in their 2009 hit, “21 Guns”.

Whatever the intent is behind the lyrics (if any), it doesn’t change the fact that “Kill the DJ” is a pretty bland song with a bland video and that plenty of EDM groups with a fraction of Green Day’s resources are producing far more interesting music than this.

But maybe that’s the joke? Hell if I know.

The single isn’t a complete waste. It’s light, catchy, and is the kind of thing I could hear echoing through every mall across America if it weren’t for that naughty F-word that pops up four times per chorus (delivered by Armstrong with a complete absence of emotion). Lackluster though it may be, “Kill the DJ” at least hints at a (sort of) new musical direction for the band, and while the three albums worth of material they’ve prepared likely has plenty of filler and fluff, there’s bound to be a few gems in there somewhere. And hey, at least it’s not American Idiot Part III. 

Now I’ll anxiously await the even more ironic flood of remixes that this song is about to spawn.

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“HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS” INT’L TRAILER

I scoffed at the ludicrousness of this movie when I first heard about it, but this trailer is too good to not share with everyone I know.

It admittedly is coming on the (hopefully) tail end of the fairy tale craze, and looks very familiar to anyone who’s seen Van Helsing, but that doesn’t make the concept of the grown-up duo rampaging across the German countryside with steampunk shotguns and crossbows any less exciting.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is coming to you from the writer-director of Dead Snow, stars Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, and is being produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrel.

That’s one hell of an odd team-up and is something I will likely throw down dollars to see when it hits theaters next January in all three dimensions.

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Michael Clarke Duncan has died

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Michael Clarke Duncan has died at the age of 54.

Known best for his Oscar-nominated performance in 1999’s The Green Mile, Duncan starred in many films, TV shows, and video games after abandoning his profession as a bodyguard, often for celebrities, in his 30s.

His IMDB page lists him lending body and voice to over 90 productions including Armageddon, Sin City, Daredevil, Planet of the Apes, and The Whole Nine Yards.

Duncan died in an LA hospital where he was admitted after suffering a heart attack in July.

Needless to say, this is extremely sad news.

Duncan was a fantastic actor in drama, comedy, animation…you name it. He’ll be sorely missed.

Sources:

LA Times

NY Daily News

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