May 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Elizabeth Moss
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau (“The Good Lie”)
Written by: Jeff Feuerzeig (debut) and Jerry Stahl (“Bad Boys II”)

Even though its prominence and national interest has waned in favor of MMA in recent years, there seems to be an everlasting connection to the cinematic world and boxing. Perhaps it is because boxing has seen so many of its prominent figures rise and fall, which makes for a good narrative. Or, more likely, perhaps it is that “Rocky” set the bar for sports films so high that boxing films will always be timeless comparisons. It is fitting, perhaps, that the latest entry into the genre is a biopic of Chuck Wepner, the man who, allegedly, inspired Sylvester Stallone to write “Rocky.”

In 1975, boxer Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber) gets the opportunity of a life time: to fight the heavyweight champion of the World, Muhammed Ali. As a huge underdog, Wepner goes 15 rounds with Ali and is seconds away from going the distance. This performance turns Wepner into a local folk hero, and Wepner must do all he can to keep his family intact while turning down a path of drugs and women.

Without question, “Chuck” serves as a showcase for Schreiber who gives a fantastic performance. Wepner is a character who absorbs and loves the fame, as small scale as it is, but also has an acute awareness of the façade and showmanship that goes into it. Schreiber captures this quite well, especially in scenes where he must work his way through shame and guilt over his behavior. While the supporting cast is mostly good, nobody is on screen long enough to make much of a difference one way or another. Elizabeth Moss is probably the best of the bunch, and far-underutilized.

One of the more interesting aspects of “Chuck” is that the most formative event of Wepner’s life is a stepping stone to more story, rather than a climax. Wepner’s famous fight with Ali takes place relatively early on in the film with very little build up. It’s an admirable decision from screenwriters Jeff Feuerzeig and Jerry Stahl to not center the movie around that one big fight, as it may have come off as a biopic version of “Rocky.” Instead, it shows what happened in the wake, and the darker, self-destructive patterns of a man with very little self-control and the need to be admired.

That said, the movie still has some pretty generic moments. Once the debauchery starts, it’s no different than any other film where a person of prominence spirals into drugs, lets the fame get the best of them and alienates family. There’s some pretty good writing sprinkled throughout the film and the early parts of the film feature some true greatness. But “Chuck” punches itself out and staggers to the finish. Despite that, “Chuck” is still worth the price of admission for Schreiber’s excellent performance.

While We’re Young

April 10, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver
Directed by: Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha”)
Written by: Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha”)

In American culture, there is perhaps no easier target than the modern day hipster. With their bowler hats, neatly groomed mustaches and vintage bikes, it’s easy to poke fun at their transparent sense of irony and mock them in pop culture. Apparently, writer and director Noah Baumbach figured this was enough to base an entire film off of. Unfortunately for him, every single bit of attempted comedy and satire feels way too obvious in “While We’re Young.”

As Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) meander through their dull, but satisfactory lives, they have a chance meeting with Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a young hipster couple. Josh and Cornelia become fascinated with their easy-going lifestyle and rejuvenated when they are able to spend time with them. But eventually, when Josh and Jamie team up for a mutual work project, things begin to appear different than they initially seemed.

Baumbach is no stranger to caustic, unlikeable characters. With all that kept in mind, nearly every single person in “While We’re Young” is completely annoying. Whether it’s in their complaints about their lives or the behavior they exhibit, there’s a level of obnoxiousness that courses through the veins of every element of “While We’re Young.” From the characterization, to the performances, to the script and beyond, there’s something about the film and the way it runs things into the ground that makes you want to say “We get it. You’re eccentric.”

As previously alluded to, hipster jokes are among the most simple to tell. The screenplay puts a reliance on mining the ironic and inherent weirdness of the culture, juxtaposing it with a generation that need their phones for information or communication every second. It’s a message that lacks any sort of nuance and most importantly, humor, as every joke falls staggeringly flat. Are we supposed to laugh simply because Stiller, a nearly 50-year-old man, has decided to copy his decades younger friend and wear a hat everywhere?

Beyond dialogue issues, there is also a problem with the narrative elements of the script. The turn here is unbelievably obvious, and one that any audience member who has been paying attention will be able to figure out in a heartbeat. There are also scenes that feel completely superfluous, such as a scene where the couples head to a weird ritual where they drink some sort of concoction that makes them vomit and hallucinate. It’s funny cause it’s “weird,” right?

It’s clear that Baumbach was trying to say something about the mid-life crisis. The problem is, there is absolutely no subtlety to anything seen in “While We’re Young.” From laughing at the expense of hipsters, to flipping the roles of the technology-reliant and the old fashioned, nearly every second, plotline or joke is way too on the nose to register as funny, biting, or profound.

Fair Game

November 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, David Andrews
Directed by: Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”)
Written by: Jez Butterworth (“The Last Legion”) and John-Henry Butterworth (debut)

Moviegoers on the more conservative side of the aisle might snicker when they hear others call “Fair Game” a fact-based political controversy about former CIA operative Valerie Plame, the internal leak ending her career in the agency, and the grand jury investigation that followed, but the film is compelling, thought-provoking cinema nonetheless.

For those who believe Plame’s memoir “Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House,” from which the screenplay is adapted (along with her husband Joe’s book “The Politics of Truth”), “Fair Game” just might a maddening experience when you piece the narrative together.

“Fair Game,” directed by Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”), tells the story of Plame, whose identity as a member of the CIA is printed in a 2003 article of the Washington Post. Added to this disclosure of top secret information is the supposed reason behind it. Plame’s husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), who was sent to Africa to investigate a possible nuclear weapons deal between Niger and Iraq but found no evidence of such, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times degrading the George W. Bush Administration for invading Iraq and using the intelligence he gathered (in this case proved false) on his trip as a component of the motive for the attack.

Again, “Fair Game” is from one point of view, so depending on your politics (and depending if you judge a film based on those politics) the film might feel as fictional as a fairytale. Leave the politics off the table, however, and you’ll find an intelligent, well-written and sometimes heavy-handed account of the events that may or may not have taken place.

Aside from what went on inside the White House, “Fair Game” also examines the personal life of Plame and Wilson as their marriage is tested and professional careers are dragged through the mud during the ordeal. These elements of the film give a nice balance between the ugliness of the political world and what a controversy like this can actually do to a family.

Mother and Child

June 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington
Directed by: Rodrigo Garcia (“Nine Lives”)
Written by: Rodrigo Garcia (“Nine Lives”)
It’s never been more evident how well director/writer Rodrigo Garcia knows his female characters than with his most recent work “Mother and Child.” The film tells the story of three women who have all been affected differently by the adoption process. Through an intelligent and multilayered narrative, Garcia, who is the son of Colombian novelist and Nobel Prize in Literature recipient Gabriel Garcia Marquez (“One Hundred Years of Solitude”), takes the often-sensitive subject and instills some realism into a series of poignant moments that will easily break your heart.
Forced to place her baby for adoption at the age of 14, Karen (Annette Bening), who is now a grown woman, has spent her entire life regretting the choice her mother made for her years ago. The decision has left a gaping hole inside Karen and shaped the bitter relationship she has always shared with her elderly mother. Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is a cynical, hard-working lawyer who was adopted as a child and knows little about the woman who gave her up. Filling the constant void in her life through empty sexual affairs, including one with her new boss (Samuel L. Jackson), Elizabeth reaches a crossing point where she decides she wants to know where she comes from. Finally, Lucy (Kerry Washington) is a hopeful mother currently seeking out a child to adopt with her husband after being unable to conceive on her own.

As the stories weave together, Garcia is able to avoid most of the melodramatic pitfalls until the final act. By then, these women have exposed their souls to the audience. Their unhappiness and resentment toward the fate that has been handed to them is a compelling look at the significance motherhood has in each of their lives. As the always-off-putting Karen, Bening (the first real Oscar-worthy performance of the year) is fantastic as is the rest of the cast, which includes Jimmy Smits as her soft-hearted love interest who can’t seem to find a way to break through Karen’s callous personality.

More than a story about adoption, “Mother and Child” is about loss and surviving those disappointing and life-altering moments that define who you are. Garcia may not be very subtle in exhibiting the pain these women are experiencing, but you have to respect the way he boldly confronts the issue with a unique blend of passion, empathy, and intimacy.

The International

February 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Directed by: Tom Tykwer(“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”)
Written by: Eric Singer (debut)

Part suspense-thriller, part front-page newspaper story, “The International” has all the pieces that made films like “Syriana” and “The Constant Gardener” so interesting, but debut screenwriter Eric Singer drags out the third act into so much convoluted dialogue and plot you wish he would have quit while he was ahead.

Directed with much enthusiasm by Tom Tykwer, who gave us the provocative film “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” in 2006, “The International” tells the story of Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), an Interpol agent looking for the link between a powerful financial institution and a ring of small arms dealers. The International Bank Business and Credit (IBBC) has some skeletons in their closet. When Louis finds out they have been purchasing missile guidance systems, people associated with the crimes and the bank start coming up dead.

As Eleanor Whitman, a New York City assistant district attorney, Naomi Watts seems wasted and idly tossed into the all-male cast, which includes Armin Mueller-Stahl (“Shine”) as the man behind the curtain. The plot, too, has its problems staying on track especially when the story switches from a talky, timely, and somewhat compelling political grudge match to a balls-out action flick with an clumsily placed shootout in the middle of the Guggenheim Museum.

Blame it on reshoots if you want (Columbia Pictures is bound to), but “The International” is in dire need of two good editors: one in the cutting room and the other hovering over Singer at his computer with a finger on the backspace button just in case he decided to go overboard.

Funny Games

March 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt
Directed by: Michael Haneke (“Cache”)
Written by: Michael Haneke (“Cache”)

There are so many reasons why someone would want to remake their own film shot-for-shot after the original premiered 11 years ago. For German director/writer Michael Haneke, one of those reasons could be that in 1997, “Funny Games” was seen by only a handful of art house aficionados looking for a horror picture they could see and still tell their elitist friends about.

There is no reason Haneke shouldn’t feel pleased with the warped story he conjured up back then. If this was the only way he thought he could earn a second chance to get it out to them masses and take advantage of the torture porn fare that is so popular today, by all means have at it.

Haneke’s film, however, is more multi-layered that the psychotic games Jigsaw plays with his victims in the “Saw” series and much more terrorizing from a humanistic perspective than any number of hillbilly mutant killers living in “The Hills Have Eyes.”

When you aim to terrify someone from a psychological point of view, you have to be spot on. With “Funny Games,” Haneke delivers an obvious statement about America’s love of violence all the while playing hypocrite to his own beliefs by adding to the genre in uninspiring fashion.

Still, it’s a chilling tale, which follows two affluent young men who take a family hostage in their vacation home and make them play sadistic games for their own amusement. Actors Michael Pitt (“The Village”) and Brady Corbet (“Mysterious Skin”) do make the perfect incarnates of evil as they mess with the minds of Ann (Watts), her husband George (Roth) and their son Georgie (Deavon Gearheart). Like Christian Bale in “American Psycho” or Matt Damon in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Peter (Pitt) and Paul (Corbet) are sharp and always one step ahead of those they make suffer.

Its pretentiousness, however, is too much to handle at times. Haneke is a talented filmmaker. If you’ve seen “Cache,” you will realize how well he can pace a story and twist a viewer’s imagination. But in “Funny Games,” it’s more of a long, well-planned out experimental project that is attention-grabbing but ultimately meaningless. If you want to see some recent mind-screwing at its most brutal see “Hard Candy” and skip out on these “Clockwork Orange” wannabes.