Monthly Archives: July 2012

Jeff Who Lives At Home

“Everyone and everything is interconnected in this universe.
Stay pure of heart and you will see the signs.
Follow the signs, and you will uncover your destiny.”
– Jeff

Who can develop a simple story about the meaning of life in just under an hour-and-a-half? The Duplass brothers, that’s who. Maybe you haven’t ended up on a soul-searching mission after going out shopping for wood glue, but I think there is an emotion and experience anyone can relate to in Jeff Who Lives at Home.
Jason Segel is Jeff, who lives in his mother’s basement and has the responsibility on her birthday to fix a wood shutter on the kitchen cabinet. The project is the start of a long and complicated journey for Jeff to discover his calling in life, but it all comes full circle in the end.
The story itself isn’t funny, but the Duplass brothers use humor to tell it and provide a silver lining to the plight of their characters.
It’s also interesting how they connect the main characters in the movie, who are all family, through the problems they’re experiencing in one day.
The mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) is at work worrying about Jeff and wishing she was anywhere but there when a secret admirer starts sending her instant messages. Pat, her other son played by Ed Helms, is in a marriage rut he thought would be solved by buying a Porsche.
Pat and Jeff eventually connect during their individual quests that day and I think their closeness as brothers is renewed. For Pat a test to his marriage, not just the Porsche, is a wake up call as is realizing his brother is not just a loser who sits on the couch all day getting high.
All the characters have to search to find their destiny, it just turns out to be closer than they thought.
On the surface it may seem like Jeff Who Lives at Home is a film that follows the overused premise of connecting characters on different paths in their lives through some common bond or event. I’ve seen it anywhere from blockbusters to independent films and maybe there is a small part of that in Jeff Who Lives at Home.
But, the Duplass brothers are always reinventing the wheel and any film they do is a just the right mix of reality and imagination. That’s hard to find in Hollywood.

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The Dark Knight Rises

The amount of information about The Dark Knight Rises on the Internet right now is, well, overwhelming. The shootings in Colorado have certainly, and understandably, drawn a lot of media attention and created a tragic cloud over something that is supposed to be a joy in life.
I won’t get much into it, but what happened saddens and scares me. It seems in the world we live in now, the shootings could have happened anywhere and as David Carr so poignantly writes we’ll always be wondering why.

That said … I do want to talk about The Dark Knight Rises in all its heroic glory. I am going to have to write around certain plot points, which is going to be very difficult given the surprise role Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays in the film and well, you know, because I adore him so much.
First things first, to summarize Christopher Nolan’s trilogy conclusion overall, it does provide closure in all the right places and yet could stand on its own if someone who has not seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight decided to jump on board now.
But for true fans hooked since the beginning, the film does pick up about where The Dark Knight ends. I had just watched that one before going to the theater Sunday, actually, and finished a refresher on Batman Begins recently as well. 
Compared to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the special effects, stunts and fight scenes are bigger, better, and more catastrophic for Gotham City in Rises.
Acting-wise I think Michael Caine’s performance topped them all for his character, Alfred, who was also very pivotal in the plot this time around. (Softies, like me, may shed a tear or two in some of his scenes).
Unlike the heroes, villains are hard to rank in the Batman trilogy. While Tom Hardy as Bane may have nothing on Heath Ledger’s the Joker, he was terrifying, even just by the look in his eyes.
Christian Bale continued to master the fallen hero with anger issues/fearless crusader with his mind set on saving Gotham City. And that voice, I am starting to wonder if it’s computerized.
And now, ladies and gentleman, the award for standout performance goes too … JGL!!!! Sure, Gary Oldman reprises his role as the top cop in Gotham City very well, but there always has to be a rookie looking to rise out of the shadows.
Nolan draws some comparisons between Batman and Blake (Gordon-Levitt’s cop character), especially with how they translate anger they’ve developed from their past into the will to help others.
Gotham City does need its heroes.
With all the anticipation for The Dark Knight Rises, I am sad its over. I do believe Christopher Nolan has walked away from his franchise, even though there is always the small glimmer of hope he would continue it forever. He’s just that good.
Since his brother Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer have been along for the Batmobile ride (and attached to many other of his projects) there is always the possibility they would be next in line to continue the comic book saga. 
I’ll be honest, here’s where it gets tricky. I clearly can’t say what happened at the end of the film, but it is not at all what I expected.
One article I read, I can’t find the link anymore but I think it was on HitFix, posed the question of “What does “The Dark Knight Rises” mean?

Is it related to Batman’s return to Gotham City in the aftermath of Harvey Dent’s death to face his inner struggles and fight Bane or a sign of what’s to come when his dust settles?
The answer is subjective. Nolan really leaves it up to the viewer to interpret his ending and what’s to come from it. Based on what I saw I want more, but if it has to end when the cute little boy sings the National Anthem, then it has to end.

Magic Mike

Well, if I could ONLY say two words about Magic Mike they would be … yamma hamma!
It’s not actually possible for me to do that, so here are my full thoughts on the movie and one of my new favorite actors.
I don’t like to read reviews before I see movies, so I only knew going into Magic Mike that it is about the male stripper lifestyle and Steven Soderbergh directed it.
For both those reasons, and oh yeah Channing Tatum, I was intrigued.
Tatum is the face to Magic Mike and as silly as that name is, he pulled off the character quite well.
The story, apparently based on Tatum’s own brief foray into stripping while living in Florida, is simple.
Mike was spotted on the street by the Xquisite strip club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) and six years later was the main act that made women line up around the corner of the building for a show.
Mike saw it as a money-making venture to support his true dream of opening his own furniture company and embraced his job while trying not to get too involved in the drama.
I know the trailer makes Magic Mike look extremely cheesy and superficial, but it’s not. If that’s what it takes to get people to the theater then so be it; but between Soderbergh’s smart directing skills and his golden boy Tatum’s acting props, the project is a success. On top of some of the obvious visual entertainment in Magic Mike, there is actually some strong cinematography to note in the film as well.
I think the main flaw of the movie is Cody Horn cast as Mike’s maybe-maybe not girlfriend Brooke. Horn, unfortunately, did not pull of the same acting profile as her co-stars. Olivia Munn, whose character Mike has a fling with now and then and maybe did really want to be with, should have been cast in Brooke’s role. 
I also didn’t care much for McConaughey, while he did a solid performance, I am just not a fan.
He fit the part and if the man is willing to wear a belly shirt and do a scene teaching a young stripper hopeful how to dance, then more power to him.
The young stripper hopeful is Adam (Alex Pettyfer) whose character I think really makes Mike decide if he wants to continue to pursue his dream by making easy money or if he just wants to take the chance and do it.
I’ll leave that for you to find out when, not if, you see this movie.
The best thing overall about Magic Mike is that Soderbergh and Tatum made good on actually developing a believable story and out of something that could have been totally trivial.
My expectations for the film were not that low, again because of the names attached to it, but I think most viewers will get more than they bargained for if they can look beyond the oodles of scenes with hot men doing their thang on stage.
I have no complaints about that, believe me, but I do feel better knowing I saw a good movie as well.
And, there might be a sequel.
In the meantime I am glad Tatum is working with Soderbergh again after Magic Mike. He was a fresh face in Haywire and now is attached to The Bitter Pill alongside Rooney Mara and Jude Law.
If that’s not enough, he’s got movies coming out with Dustin Hoffman, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
I say that man Magic Mike, he’s going places.

Batman Returns

Max Shreck: “Bruce Wayne, why are you dressed up like Batman?”
Catwoman/Selina Kyle: “Because he is Batman you moron!”
I FINALLY watched Batman Returns as a follow up to Tim Burton’s first take on the comic book franchise. While I am early on in my revue of caped crusader movies in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises (this week!), I will say it’s tough to beat Michael Keaton’s approach to playing Batman.
Tim Burton’s fantastical influence over the story of bad and good powers at war in Gotham City and police calling on Batman to save the day fits well with Keaton’s humble hero performance.
With music reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands throughout Batman Returns, Burton stresses the faux reality of the risks in Gotham City being a sewer penguin and a crazy-haired Christopher Walken as greedy businessman Max Shreck.
And, it shows through the fact that the hero of Batman has weaknesses even when wearing his armor, mask and cape.
Nobody is perfect in Gotham City and sometimes it’s hard for even Batman to help.
Especially when he has a vigilante nemesis trying to seek her own revenge getting in the way.
Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman) is introduced in the film as a defenseless woman being attacked by a circus freak and Batman saves her.
But that doesn’t last long. After falling victim to the wrath of Shreck, her boss, Kyle comes back with her claws out.
It will be interesting to see the rendition of Catwoman (played by Anne Hathaway) in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy cap this weekend. But I have to say the campy character by Michelle Pfeiffer and her chemistry with Wayne/Batman probably can’t be replicated. And, as Wayne/Batman says himself in the film, “Selena, don’t you see? We’re the same.”
I wonder if Nolan will interject a similar line by Christian Bale in his husky voice to Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. If he does develop a relationship between modern Catwoman and Batman, I don’t think it will be quite as strong as Burton’s character duo.
Nolan and Burton have done their own thing with Batman, as they should, but in the The Dark Knight Rises I see Catwoman as more of a one-track character.
It’s not to say Nolan doesn’t mix in the human side to his heroes and villains, but from what I remember those traits seem to be less of a focus.
I’ll pay attention to that as I re-watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight this week.
Before I sign off I must say in addition to Keaton and Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito’s penguin character brought to life by Burton’s imagination was one of my favorite parts of Batman Returns.
Even with the penguin, Burton delves into his back story of being abandoned as a baby as the source of his revenge on Gotham City. But it makes sense to explain his motives and then let the viewer enjoy the penguin waddling around and traveling in a duck-shaped carnival ride car.
I am sure someone will take on Batman again now that Nolan is done. I wouldn’t mind if Keaton stepped into the bat suit one last time and if Burton brought back some of his other characters. And, based on Burton’s long working relationship with him, Johnny Depp would and should be cast in it.
Let the next countdown begin!

Seems Like Old Times

I’ve got To Rome With Love on the brain, so maybe that’s why watching Neil Simon’s Seems Like Old Times reminded me of a Woody Allen film. After thinking about it a bit, Woody Allen would not have made the same movie as Simon and director Jay Sandrich but I do think he could have conceived the same characters and story as a starting point.

Seems Like Old Times stars Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase (pre-Fletch) as a divorced couple who reunite under some unique circumstances that turn both their worlds upside down. 
As Nick Gardenia (Chase) is one minute writing at his secluded cabin in California and the next is kidnapped to help two drifters rob a bank; his ex-wife Glenda Parks (Hawn) is working as an attorney and living in a mansion with her new husband Ira (Charles Grodin), their six dogs and multiple staff. 
That being the case, who else is Nick going to turn to when he escapes his kidnappers but still becomes the prime suspect in the bank robbery? Glenda. At that point in the story Glenda and Ira are hosting a swanky party to celebrate his bid for district attorney. 
It’s Ira’s character who makes the story representative of Allen and the roles he often plays in his own films.
Ira is in line for a promotion and supposedly has his life in order, all the while a fugitive and his beautiful wife’s ex whose capture could lock in the district attorney job is hiding in the guest quarters.
Glenda is out of Ira’s league and Nick’s presence brings that to light. Would Ira have the confidence to show up at his ex’s house during an important party and cause an uproar? Would he serve chicken pepperoni in the passed-out butler’s tuxedo (which actually belongs to his wife’s new husband) at a dinner for the governor? If he did, Ira wouldn’t pull it off like Mr. Nick Gardenia. 
Nor would any of the Alvy Singer-types Allen portrays or casts in his projects. Yet those bumbling goofs always have a beautiful woman on their arms as Glenda is to Ira. 
I think the comparison between Allen and Sandrich’s take on Neil Simon’s Seems Like Old Times ends there, but not my appreciation of the film. It’s a smart and simple film and while it’s nice to associate the 1980s only with such projects, I wish more like it would come up today. Oh yeah, To Rome With Love is in theaters now.