Film Reviews: February

01:00 January 27, 2011
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

The Green Hornet

No Stars

BY DAVID VICARI

The Green Hornet is a classic case of egomania. Actor Seth Rogen miscasts himself as a crime fighting hero in a film he co-wrote and co-produced. Don't get me wrong, I generally like Rogen. He's a good comedic actor, and it's fun to see someone stretch. Here, however, he's just playing up his slacker persona and is not at all believable as an action hero. The film itself comes off as the most idiotic, contemptuous, special effects laden action comedy since Eddie Murphy signed on to The Golden Child (1986).


The Green Hornet originated in the 1930s as a radio drama. Its incarnation as a television series in the 1960s is noteworthy for the presence of Bruce Lee as Kato. Now, Rogen has come and pissed on the whole mythology of The Green Hornet with this putrid action comedy. And it's all in crappy converted 3D!


Rogen plays lazy, bratty rich boy Britt Reid who decides to do something with his life after the death of his father (Tom Wilkinson), and that is to become a masked crime fighter. Along with his father's assistant, Kato (Jay Chou), and a heavily armed 1965 Chrysler Crown Imperial dubbed Black Beauty, Reid travels the city at night posing as a criminal to get closer to his enemies. He even hires a secretary (Cameron Diaz) with a background in criminology in an attempt to be one step ahead of the bad guys.


As written and acted, the character of Reid is a buffoon from beginning to end. There is no character arc. He doesn't grow into a descent human being, so why would I care about this complete idiot? And because nothing is taken seriously, I didn't feel anything was at stake. Come on, even an all out comedy like Ghostbusters (1984) created some scary tension.
It's also kind of offensive that Reid and Kato, you know—the good guys, have a total disregard for human life. At one point they crash the Black Beauty through a populated office building and don't seem to be too worried that they might kill or maim someone. Can you imagine the Green Hornet with blood on his hands? That would give the film a whole new dimension.


The three leads have zero chemistry together. Rogen is just goofing off, Diaz is just ornamental and Asian pop star Chou seems to be delivering his lines phonetically. Or maybe he's just a bad actor. Or both. Whatever the case, he has about as much charisma as a cardboard box.


The rest of the cast sucks as well. Wilkinson seems to be only interested in cashing a paycheck, and Christoph Waltz, as the scenery chewing lead villain, does such a flagrantly bad job that he should return his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Inglourious Basterds (2009).


Let's face it, director Michel Gondry is a hack. When he's given good material (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), he can shoot it, but left to his own devices (The Science of Sleep)...crap. Here, he desperately pulls out a lot of tired visual tricks. Those slo-mo "bullet time" fight sequences are getting stale at this point. And why the hell does Kato have RoboCop's targeting system?


If Rogen wants to play a super hero, then fine, but give it a real shot. Take it seriously. And actually write a competent script.

Country Strong

1 1/2 stars

BY FRITZ ESKER

In a severe miscalculation, Country Strong was given a limited release in December in hopes that it would qualify for multiple Oscars, a scenario about as likely as the Saints cutting Drew Brees. Gwyneth Paltrow plays a country music star with a substance abuse problem (and at no point does Paltrow seem convincingly "country"). She becomes professionally and romantically involved with a budding star (Garrett Hedlund), which naturally causes a conflict with her manager husband (Tim McGraw). The movie doesn't show the beginning of Paltrow and Hedlund's relationship, so the viewers feel no real attachment to the characters. The plotting is beneath even the most melodramatic Lifetime movie. And the film's music is bad, too. In last year's vastly superior Crazy Heart, the songs were good (and I'm not typically a country music fan) and both Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell made you believe that their characters had the charisma and talent to be stars. None of the film's stars are believable for a minute as a country star. And in the one truly amusing twist, the only member of Country Strong's cast who can actually sing (McGraw) is the only one who does not have a big song during the film's interminable final act. Do yourselves a favor, just rent Crazy Heart.

Somewhere

3 stars

BY DAVID VICARI

Even rich movie stars have problems. Writer/director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides) gets that point across in Somewhere, and even makes us care. Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a hard drinking, womanizing Hollywood actor who is bottoming out. He is emotionally numb. When he reconnects with his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), things seem to change. Somewhere is a quiet, observational and slow moving but engaging little drama in the vein of such films as Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas (1984), Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and even Vincent Gallo's underappreciated The Brown Bunny (2004). Being the daughter of famous movie director Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola writes what she knows and takes us into the showbiz scene with many minute observations. For instance, during a photo shoot, we see Marco standing on a wooden block so he will be taller than the actress he is being photographed with. At the heart of Somewhere, however, is a person we can empathize with, even if taking his kid to camp in a helicopter is normal to him. It's the performances of Dorff and Fanning that make us care, not to mention Coppola's skills behind the camera.

Another Year

3 stars

BY DAVID VICARI

I will admit that it took me some time to warm up to Mike Leigh's Another Year, but it was worth the effort. British director Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky, Naked) is a master at observing the human condition, but he also likes improvisation...lots of improvisation. So, like some of his past work, there are scenes here that feel like long winded acting workshops. Another Year does meander a bit, but then gets back on track to the story elements that really matter. The second half of this comedy-drama is perceptive and emotional. There are situations here we have been in ourselves. Throughout the course of a year we observe a happily married middle aged couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) and their unhappy friends and family that surround them. Lesley Manville plays their friend Mary, who likes to drink a little too much, is unmarried and not getting any younger. Mary is the core of this story. She is sad and pathetic but Manville's fine performance really makes you feel for the character. In fact, the character seems so real, that when she begins to embarrass herself, I wanted to walk out of the room so I wouldn't have to witness the rest of her descent. And boy, that final shot. It is a quiet moment, yet powerful and heartbreaking.

The Dilemma

2 stars

BY FRITZ ESKER

Oscar winning director Ron Howard returns to comedy with The Dilemma, a film with an interesting premise that it never fully capitalizes on. Vince Vaughn and Kevin James play best friends and business partners. James is happily married (to Winona Ryder) and Vaughn is considering popping the question to his longtime girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly). But one day, Vaughn sees Ryder cheating on James, so he's left to agonize over whether or not he should tell his friend (complicating things is the fact that the two friends are working on a project that could save or sink their business). The movie touches on some interesting issues, such as how friends relate to the spouses of friends, how some relationships may look idyllic from the outside but are actually toxic on the inside, and whether it's better to know an unpleasant truth or to live blissfully unaware of it. However, it never fully explores any of these issues, merely scratching the surface as it gets lost on tangents like an unnecessary supporting character (played by Queen Latifah) or grossout bits like the after-effects of Vaughn falling through poisonous plants. The Dilemma is not a bad film (especially by the extremely low standards of January fare), but it's a frustrating one, because it could have been so much better.

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