Dirty Grandpa

January 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch
Directed by: Dan Mazer (“I Give It a Year”)
Written by: John Phillips (debut)

Although comedy is not the first thing one would think of as a cornerstone of Robert De Niro’s illustrious career, the two-time Oscar winner has had a few moments of levity with performances in films like “Meet the Parents” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” De Niro’s comedic chops, however, are usually wasted on subpar scripts where his characters turn out to be one-dimensional and bland (“Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle,” “Showtime,” the “Meet the Parents” sequels, “The Family,” just to name a few). The same can be said of his recent foray into the comedy genre with “Dirty Grandpa,” an embarrassingly unfunny and mean-spirited project that could only be described as the cinematic equivalent of a kick to the groin.

In “Dirty Grandpa,” Zac Efron (“Neighbors”) stars as Jason Kelly, a young and uptight lawyer who is tricked into driving his grandfather Dick (De Niro) to Florida right after burying his wife, Jason’s grandmother. While Dick unconvincingly reminds audiences he loved her, he is ready to move on soon after she is put in the ground. The reason Dick is so adamant about going to Florida is because after 15 years of life without having sex, he wants to get laid. A lot.

That’s the basic premise of “Dirty Grandpa.” It’s a movie featuring a grandson unwillingly driving his grandfather around so he can find a Spring Break-ing college chick to ride him back to 1963. Of course, raunchy things happen along the way that might have been considered darkly humorous if there was some sort of direction to all the cruelty (date raping jokes, pedophilia jokes, swastika jokes, homophobic jokes, and about a thousand penis puns), but these one-off attempts to shock audiences are nothing more than lazy and superficial gags that hang out there like disgusting little dingleberries.

Aside from grandpa being horny, director Dan Mazer (“I Give It a Year”) and first-time screenwriter John Phillips try to add some unearned emotion into the film with a side story about Jason rethinking his marriage to an overbearing fiancée and falling in love with a girl from the past. There’s also a badly executed storyline about fathers and sons and how making amends with one another is important. Mazer and Phillips want it both ways. Sadly, “Dirty Grandpa” refuses to understand that with a comedy like this it’s impossible to wear your heart on your sleeve if it’s already covered in semen.

Joy

January 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro
Directed by: David O. Russell (“American Hustle”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)

After the success of the half-great “Silver Linings Playbook” and the terribly overrated “American Hustle,” filmmaker David O. Russell again calls on his reliable acting twosome, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, for the least accessible of their films together. Based on the true-life story of entrepreneur Joy Mangano (Lawrence), the single mother who invented such products as the Miracle Mop, Russell’s film is dragged down by a confusing tone, but makes up for it with a satisfying look at the way Mangano built her business empire from the ground up. Although it’s obvious Russell would like Lawrence’s Mangano to emerge as the female version of Michael Corleone, there’s simply not enough unforced conflict to create a true sense of struggle. Where the film is most convincing is during the QVC portions of the story. Who knew ordering a set of Huggable Hangers on TV could be so exciting?

The Family

September 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones
Directed by: Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”)
Written by: Luc Besson (“Taken”) and Michael Caleo (“The Last Time”)

When the critically acclaimed “Silver Linings Playbook” came out last year, many film fans were enthused about the performance and presence of Robert De Niro. It wasn’t just that De Niro turned in his best performance in years, but it was that he did such in a great project. For the better part of the past decade, De Niro has been a perpetual enemy of positive critical consensus, turning in performances in poorly received “Meet the Parents” sequels and various action films. Though De Niro has already had one of the most poorly received films of the year thus far with “The Big Wedding,” his next starring vehicle, “The Family,” is another test to see if his Oscar-nominated performance in “Playbook” was an aberration or a sign of things to come for an actor in desperate need of a career resurgence.

As part of the witness protection program, mafia boss Fred Manzoni (De Niro), his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their kids Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo) are forced to move to a quiet, low-key town in France. While there, the family can’t seem to avoid attracting attention and are eventually tracked down by a mob boss looking to settle a score.

As far as performances go, everyone in the cast does a fine job. De Niro slips back into a mobster role well enough, and the supporting cast like Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones (as a federal agent) and kids turn in effortful performances. The problem, however, lies in the way the characters are written and their complete lack of depth. De Niro’s character in particular seems to be going through an identity crisis with the adjustment of being out of the mob, but the idea of him writing his memoirs goes absolutely nowhere other than the serve as a narrative device for the film and to inform a bit on the past.

But the poor writing and lack of character depth is more complex than that. The children, who are now used to being bounced around from country to country, are shown at school doing various aggressive things, but without reason or explanation other than their ties of having a mafia leader as a father. There’s really no purpose Warren, for example, tries control the school through various forms of intimidation. An even bigger disservice is done to the character played by Agron. She is presented as a strong, tough, badass girl who in early scenes beats an aggressive fellow student with a tennis racquet. But later in the film, she is given a typical female storyline where her emotions are put in check when she falls head over heels in love with a guy. This of course completely undoes most of the strong and independent characteristics established at the beginning of the film.

For what it’s worth, the film sticks to a consistent tone balancing violence (mostly implied rather than graphic) with black comedy. The problem is that the comedy is not funny in the slightest. The jokes – mostly centered on De Niro’s aggressive imagination – never quite click. There’s also an abundance of typical Italian mobster stereotypes, which, while never offensive, are extremely obnoxious.

When all is said and done, “The Family” is a film that accomplishes none of its goals. The humor falls short, the violence is ineffective, and the characters are stripped of their memorability by a hackneyed script. For the time being, it appears that De Niro’s full-time career comeback is on hold.

Silver Linings Playbook

November 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Directed by: David O. Russell (“The Fighter”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“I (heart) Huckabees”)

In another light, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) might be thought of as a quirky, but excessively optimistic guy. Searching every situation for a “silver lining,” Pat thinks positively, works hard, and is dedicated to reaching his goals. But things aren’t that black and white. Pat has bipolar disorder, which means that his optimism is more like mania and his goals are delusional. Serious mental illness might not seem like a topic that is ripe for comedy, but thanks to a razor sharp script and career defining performances from its leads, “Silver Linings Playbook” nails the perfect tone dealing with a serious subject.

After spending time in a mental institution following a violent incident, Pat returns home to try to win back his estranged wife. In the process, Pat runs into Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) who is herself trying to overcome the death of her husband. As they get together and find out all the ways they are screwed up, it becomes clear that if they are going to get what they want, they’ll need to help each other along the way. Meanwhile, Pat’s superstitious Philadelphia Eagles obsessed father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) tries to keep their relationship close by spending time watching football games together.

Cooper is nothing short of amazing in a role that is simply in another league from anything he’s done in his career thus far.  Not only is Cooper very funny as the unfiltered Pat, but he is also able to capture the darker parts of mental illness with precision. It would be a crime if Cooper didn’t walk away with at least a Best Actor Oscar Nomination. Part of what makes the film so successful is the flawless chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence, who is also on top of her acting game. Fresh-faced enough to play a teenager in “The Hunger Games,” Lawrence also shows that she can play older and mature in a role that calls for a strong presence and strong sexuality, while matching Cooper laugh for laugh.  Not to be outdone by the young talent of the two leads, De Niro delivers his best performance in ages as Pat’s father.  With all of his superstitions and the inability to communicate outside the realm of football, De Niro’s performance is honest and a welcomed return.

Other than superb acting across the board, the greatest success of “Silver Linings” is David O. Russell’s script. It’s fast, sharp, funny, touching, essentially everything one could ask for in a screenplay. Though Cooper’s personality is greatly enhanced by his outstanding performance, his character is enriched by great dialogue, especially in arguments with Lawrence. Russell is also able to capture Pat’s mental illness pitch perfectly in moments of total meltdowns.  Though the film’s ending is telegraphed and a bit predictable, it is completely fitting and the reaction of the characters is well worth any sort of contrivance. “Silver Linings Playbook” isn’t particularly flashy in its visual direction, but Russell certainly makes up for it with an Oscar caliber screenplay.

While the film has the tendency to get a little messy at times, it is never bothersome. In fact, in many ways it mirrors the neurotic personality of its leads, which ultimately becomes part of its charm. Don’t be fooled by the confusing ad campaign that markets the movie as some sort of sports romantic comedy. While the film does feature a fair amount about football, (in highly rewarding ways, by the way) at its core, “Silver Linings Playbook” is not only about mental illness, but two wounded people trying to help each other out. With top-notch acting, especially from Cooper and an offbeat screenplay, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a smash hit in the making and appropriately enough, providing its own silver lining to a disappointing year at the movies.

New Year’s Eve

December 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Biel, Ashton Kutcher
Directed by: Gary Marshall (“Valentine’s Day”)
Written by: Katherine Fugate (“Valentine’s Day”)

Forget about eating healthier or going to the gym more often. Don’t worry about watching less TV or cutting back on coffee in the morning. If you really want to make a New Year’s resolution that will benefit your well-being, promise yourself not to feed the holiday cinematic beast called “New Year’s Eve,” the second purposeless celebrity mishmash rom-com brought to you by Hollywood nice-guy director Gary Marshall (“Pretty Woman”).

It’s been quite a while since Marshall has given audiences anything with substance. Unless you liked the torturously unfunny “Valentine’s Day” of last year, there’s no need to subject yourself to the same humdrum narrative pattern screenwriter Katherine Fugate has tried once again to pass off as something resembling a logical script. As if “Valentine’s Day” never happened, Fugate fails to realize that squeezing a sizeable series of storylines into one movie is like force feeding a full person. There is literally no room to expand on anything and – more than likely – things are bound to get messy.

Even more curious than the shameful script is the fact that so many high-profile stars decided to add their name to the swelling cast. Sure, money (and what was probably a short production schedule) talks, but actors like Robert De Niro, Halle Berry and Hilary Swank can’t be that hard up for work to take on a project as thinly-written as this. They should’ve known something was wrong when the New York City they inhabit in this movie is one where comedian Seth Meyers has a chance to make babies with Jessica Biel.

Limitless

March 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish
Directed by: Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”)
Written by: Leslie Dixon (“The Heartbreak Kid”)

Busting at the seams with its spunky, offbeat vibe, the thriller “Limitless” is like the super-drug it peddles. With its miraculous promises, the film is too intriguing not to bite. When it hits your bloodstream, the high is exhilarating. But once that buzz starts to wear thin, things become exhausting. It’s the type of movie filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (the duo behind the “Crank” series) could’ve possibly written if they hadn’t hit the 8-ball so hard.

Based on Alan Glynn’s 2001 “techno-thriller” novel “The Dark Fields” – which expands on the oft-repeated myth that humans use only 10 percent of their brains at a time – “Limitless” tosses logic out the window, but does so with some entertainment value during the first hour of this pharmaceutical sci-fi starring the occasionally likeable Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover,” “The A-Team”).

Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a failed writer who can’t finish his book or keep a girlfriend and looks like he’s been sleeping under a highway for the past year. All his problems are solved when he is introduced to a tiny, clear pill known as NZT that activates the brain’s complex circuitry and allows him to use 100 percent of it 100 percent of the time.

With his sudden surge of brilliance, the “enhanced Eddie” is able to access infinite amounts of knowledge, learn new languages in minutes, and cash in at the poker table. Add a little hair gel and some designer duds and the fast-talking and now extremely charming Eddie is primped to take on the world and bag every hottie he can impress with his massive mind.

While Eddie’s smarts are never in question (in one scene he seems to be channeling a lecturing Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting”), it’s the script by Leslie Dixon (“Hairspray,” “The Heartbreak Kid”) that needs some sharpening. Approaching the narrative from a very conventional angle, Dixon delivers an innocuous screenplay to director Neil Burger (“The Lucky Ones,” “The Illusionist”) set in the cutthroat financial sector. When Eddie starts crunching numbers for stock-market tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), he becomes a character plucked straight out of “Wall Street.”

Stylized without being obnoxious, “Limitless” makes some unique choices in cinematography and art direction, but comes up short on substance. Skimping on the most interesting facets of the story (questions about addiction and damaged psyches), “Limitless” shies away from thought-provoking elements and spirals into its own mental breakdown.

Machete

September 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert De Niro
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) and Ethan Maniquis (debut)
Written by: Robert Rodriguez (“Planet Terror”) and Alvaro Rodriguez (“Shorts”)

Continuing where he left off after teasing audiences with a faux trailer in 2007’s “Grindhouse,” filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) serves up a dish of entertaining mayhem and timely political satire in the form of “Machete.” It’s a contemporary exploitation flick with all the aesthetics of the hardcore vigilante films of the 70s, but with one discernable difference: This time a Mexican’s in charge.

In “Machete,” veteran actor Danny Trejo (“Con Air”) stars as the title character, a former Mexican Federale out for revenge against the men who set him up during an assassination attempt against racist politician Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). The senator, who spends his free time playing border enforcer and shooting Mexicans who cross into the U.S., is betting that his idea to eradicate all illegal immigrants and erect an electrified border fence will garner enough support to win the upcoming election.

Tied to the senator is Torrez (Steven Segal, who was smart to take this role instead of embarrassing himself in “The Expendables”), a drug cartel kingpin who just happens to be the same man carrying the sword that beheaded Machete’s wife.

On the run, Machete is reeled into “Operation Network,” an underground group of activists fighting for the rights of Mexican immigrants everywhere. Led by a revolutionist known as Shé (an obvious homage to Ché Guevara), “The Network” is a complex system of justice-seekers watching out for their fellow hombres.

Michelle Rodriguez (“Avatar”) plays Luz, a taco-truck owner who may or may not be a major part of “The Network,” but takes care of her own nonetheless. Jessica Alba (“Sin City”) is Sartana, an official with the U.S. Immigration Department who is forced to choose between the law and her empathy for the cause. Precious time is wasted on a topless Lindsay Lohan (“Georgia Rule”) as April, Booth’s meth-head daughter who is on screen long enough for her to flash her breasts and dress like a nun for the final shootout.

Already labeled as a “Mexploitation” film, “Machete” doesn’t disappoint in delivering incredibly campy violence by way of swords, surgical tools, and even a customized weed whacker with a little extra cutting power. No matter what, if any, political stance the film takes, Machete himself is simply a fun character to cheer for despite his lack of real personality.

Nevermind how much disarray immigration reform is across the country, Machete has actually taught us something that can’t be learned from watching Fox News or CNN. He’s taught us about survival. He’s taught us that a man can only be pushed so far before he starts pushing (slicing in this case) back. Most importantly, he’s taught us that whoever coined the first rule of modern warfare – “never bring a knife to a gunfight” – didn’t consider what a vengeful Mexican could actually do with a bad attitude and a blade.

Everybody’s Fine

December 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert De Niro, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore
Directed by: Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee”)
Written by: Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee”)

If you don’t pick up the phone and call your mother and father and tell them how much you love them immediately after watching “Everybody’s Fine,” you just might be like that rotten ol’ Grinch with a heart three sizes too small. While there are moments in the Christmas dramedy that might feel familiar, the film’s sweet-natured doctrine – along with Robert De Niro’s reserved performance – is cozier than a pair of warm cotton socks.

In “Everybody’s Fine,” De Niro plays Frank Goode, a retired widower, who we learn has supported his family his entire life working in a factory where his job was to coat telephone wire to protect it from the harsh elements. In essence, Frank is one of the small cogs that make telephone communication possible across the country.

But while Frank has spent his life connecting families with each other, he can’t seem to break through to his own grown kids. All four of them – who live in different cities – have called at the last minute to cancel their trip to see him for Christmas. Instead of waiting around for the next holiday visit, Frank decides – against his doctor’s orders – to drop in an surprise each of them. Frank wants to know that everyone is fine. It’s going to take more than a phone call to convince him. He wants to see it for himself.

But as he make his one-man adventure, much like Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt” but without the dark humor, Frank realizes there is something wrong although he can’t quite put his finger on what it is. His first visit to his son David in New York City comes up empty when he never finds him at his apartment. The rough start doesn’t let up as Frank continues his journey to visit his two daughters – Amy (Kate Beckinsale) in Chicago and Rosie (Drew Barrymore) in Las Vegas – and his other son Robert (Sam Rockwell) in Denver.

Each city brings with it its own letdowns. Amy’s home life isn’t perfect, Rosie’s dream to be a dancer has fallen short, and David isn’t the conductor of an orchestra like his father thought he was. They’re all revelations that had been kept from Frank since it was always his late wife his kids opened up to. Frank wonders what else his own children haven’t told him. “I tell you the good news and spare you the bad,” Amy tells her father during one scene.

Adapted from the 1990 Italian film “Stanno tutti bene,” which stars three-time Oscar nominee Marcello Mastroianni, “Everybody’s Fine” is a subtle drama that’s glossed over a bit too much by director Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee”) but manages to pluck enough heartstrings without becoming cloying.

There’s plenty of tonal indecision by Jones especially on a metaphorical level, but there is still a nice message that gets through all the excess baggage the script carries: No matter how hard you support and love your children, sometimes things don’t work out quite the way you anticipated. The central theme to “Everybody’s Fine” is a great one for the holiday season when families should always reevaluate their priorities for the New Year.

What Just Happened?

October 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci
Directed by: Barry Levinson (“Man of the Year”)
Written by: Art Linson (debut)

When actors play themselves in movies, it can either go very well (John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich”) or seem too gimmicky (Julia Roberts as someone who looks like Julia Roberts in “Ocean’s 12”). It really depends on how the screenwriter decides to weave them into the story.

While most of these occurrences are edited down to quick and witty cameos (Tom Cruise playing himself playing Austin Powers in “The Spy Who Shagged Me” or Billy Idol playing himself in “The Wedding Singer”), “What Just Happens” decides to make it one of the cornerstones of its script, which falls flat after your realize screenwriter Art Linson is going to milk it as much as possible.

In all honesty, “What Just Happened” is a movie about a grizzly beard. The man behind the beard: Bruce Willis (played by Bruce Willis), who refuses to shave it before the production of his newest film much to the chagrin of Ben (Robert De Niro), the film’s producer.

Willis’ facial hair is only one of the many problems Ben has on his plate as a hard-working Hollywood producer. He also has his studio chief Lou (Catherine Keener) breathing down his neck after a test audience reacts negatively to Sean Penn’s new film, “Fiercely,” which needs to be re-edited for the Cannes Film Festival. Apparently, people don’t like when movies end with a beloved animal being gunned down point blank and left to twitch and die.

While “What Just Happened” plays on the absurdity of Hollywood and the cutthroats who live and work there, De Niro’s Ben never really expands any of these ideas to more than a few shouting matches and sessions with his shrink. Everyone is supposed to represent professionals in the industry, but Linson and director Barry Levinson deliver some surprisingly amateurish scenes. What’s happened to Levinson anyway? Since winning an Oscar for “Rain Man” and giving us gems like “The Natural” and “Good Morning Vietnam” in the 80s, he’s hit rock bottom with shockingly bad movies like “Envy,” “Bandits,” and “Man of the Year.” His last memorable film was “Wag the Dog” and that was 11 years ago.

There might be no business like show business, but in “What Just Happened” there’s nothing really interesting about what goes on behind the scenes of Hollywood’s most powerful players. It’s a cynical little piece that’s all talk and no action.

Righteous Kill

September 3, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Carla Gugino
Directed by: Jon Avnet (“88 Minutes”)
Written by: Russell Gewirtz (“Inside Man”)

One of my favorite Robert De Niro-with-a-badge movie moments comes courtesy of the 1997 crime drama “Cop Land.” A pudgy Sylvester Stallone interrupts a moustach’ed De Niro in his NYPD investigator’s office during his lunch break wanting to help expose a unit of crooked cops despite previous uncertainties. In a most hardhearted way, De Niro stands up and shouts three simple words to let him know his opportunity has been squandered: “You blew it!”

That’s the exact same message someone needs to convey to director Jon Avnet (88 Minutes) and screenwriter Russell Gewirtz (Inside Man) for their new film “Righteous Kill.” With Robert De Niro and Al Pacino at their disposal (their first film together since sharing the screen for a few brief minutes in 1995’s “Heat”), you could presume that Avnet and Gewirtz lost focus thinking about the 14 Academy Award nominations and three wins between their two stars or how 100 hundred years from now, history will undoubtedly look back and consider them the preeminent actors of their generation, but that would be letting them off too easy. Instead, the filmmakers simply choked.

In “Righteous Kill,” veteran NYPD detectives Turk (De Niro) and Rooster (Pacino) are on the trail of a serial killer who shoots criminals that have slipped through the judicial system. From physically abusive pimps to predatory Catholic priests, no one with a shady past is safe from the killer’s wrath.

But when the murders start linking back to Turk, officers from another precinct (Leguizamo and Wahlberg) begin thinking that the 30-year veteran of the force could actually be responsible for the point-blank murders. While Pacino plays the role of the more seemily professional officer, Gewirtz writes De Niro’s character as a short-tempered “pitbull on cocaine” who spends his free time coaching little league softball with an iron fist and participating in the masochist fantasies of a lovely forensics investigator (Gugino).

The strong bond between Turk and Rooster is evident, which makes “Kill” bearable enough when De Niro and Pacino aren’t sounding so much like cops. Of course, we’ve seen them in these roles before, but here they are merely going through the motions and what is expected of them. Plus, the mystery behind the murders is so obvious and carelessly written, it almost emerges as a joke. Imagine hearing a gun shot, walking into a room, and seeing two guys standing over a dead body. One guy has a smoking gun in his hand and is covered in the victim’s blood. Then, other guy admits to the murder. That is literally the depth of Gewirtz’s script.

The bottom line is that “Righteous Kill” has high expectations riding solely on the much-anticipated reunion of De Niro and Pacino. But with a paper-thin who-done-it storyline and underdeveloped characters, their second cinematic encounter becomes more of a second thought. While the bullets hit their marks, not much else makes a memorable statement and we’re left longing for the days when Frank Serpicio and Jake La Motta once commanded the big screen.