ALL ABOUT NINA (2018)

September 27, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. There are dark comedies and then there is the first feature film from director Eva Vives (although she wrote the screenplay for RAISING VICTOR VARGAS). It’s really a dark drama with both feet in the stand-up comedy world, so we find ourselves laughing at the (profane) jokes, despite a lead character that is in desperate need of emotional salvation.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is dynamite as Nina Geld. And dynamite is meant to have two definitions here. She is terrific in the role, and she (her character) explodes with little notice. Nina Geld is definitely provocative. She is definitely a feminist. She is definitely funny, and she is most definitely messed up. We learn all of this in the first 5 minutes, and spend the rest of the movie waiting to see whether she self-destructs or is somehow saved.

We first see Nina as she delivers a set on stage at a comedy club. Her act is mostly about sex and the misery of relationships. We soon learn why she seems to have little happiness in life. The abusive married cop (Chace Crawford, Tony Romo’s brother-in-law) she has been seeing interrupts the one-night stand she was looking forward to. It’s quite unsettling to watch this unfold, and it seems to be the final straw needed to push Nina to relocate from New York City to Los Angeles. It’s southern California where her agent (Angelique Cabral) has arranged for to audition for “Comedy Prime” – a one hour comedy special produced by Larry Michaels (played by Beau Bridges).

In L.A., Nina rooms with a stereotypical southern California “New Age” type (Cate del Castillo) who senses energy fields and remains quite civil in her arguments with her partner (played by Clea DuVall). Mostly we see what a damaged soul that Nina is, and bearing an unfair brunt are her mother (Camryn Manheim), her mom’s friend (Mindy Sterling, AUSTIN POWERS), and a fellow comic (Jay Mohr).

When Nina meets Rafe (Common, in a rare leading man role), she begins to show her first signs of actual human connection. And of course she is confused by this, and her self-destructive being rears up. The big reveal as to the cause of Nina’s constantly confused state (I don’t believe the therapy sessions are working) is held back until late in the final act … and it’s a doozy that leads to a painfully honest on stage meltdown.

Ms. Winstead is really terrific here, and she is absolutely believable in her stand-up bits. In fact, the montage of impressions and her constant fine-tuning of the act are almost as good as the heavy drama pieces she excels at. The film itself is kind of a mash-up of stories, but it’s her performance that keeps us onboard … even as we question her character’s stability (and incessant hair tussling).

watch the trailer:

 


THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE (2013)

March 18, 2013

Incredible Burt2 Greetings again from the darkness. As I sat in a theatre with approximately 80 others, it took me awhile to realize that the only audible laughs were coming from a couple of teenagers near the back. Until that point, I had just assumed that my grumpy old man syndrome had reared its head as I managed only a couple of chuckles.

The best comparison I have for this “comedy” from director Don Scardino (“30 Rock”) are the Will Ferrell sports-themed spoofs Blades of Glory and Semi-Pro. If you found those to be hilarious, then this one might provide you some laughs. Rather than picking on a sport, the movie focuses on the world of Las Vegas magic shows … big-budget stage productions (David Copperfield, Siegfried & Roy) vs. streetwise illusionists (Criss Angel, David Blaine).

incredible burt4Childhood friends Albert and Anton evolve into Vegas superstars Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). The influence of Siegfried and Roy are obvious, right down to the costumes, hair and tans. After 10 years of the exact same act, Wonderstone is a pompous womanizer who cares little for the magic act, and Anton is the epitome of the invisible sideman. Casino owner Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) threatens to end the act if the duo doesn’t come up with something new to compete against the daring and popular street illusionist Steve Gray (Jim Carrey).

Gray’s “Brain-rape” act is supposed to compare to Criss Angel’s “Mind-freak”. Instead, Gray comes across more like cheap reality TV with masochistic tendencies. Of course, Burt and Anton collapse under the pressure and their friendship and act splatters to a painful end. Burt spirals out of control and ends up performing in a nursing home … a fortuitous turn that introduces him to his childhood idol (Alan Arkin).

incredible burt3 All you really need to know is that this comedy offers few laughs and only shows a pulse when Arkin and Carrey are on screen. Carell seems miscast as a pompous womanizer, so neither trait plays particularly well. Additionally, his bounce back is not believable since his rock bottom lasts about 30 seconds. Buscemi’s only real gag is his poke at celebrity humanitarian crusades. Otherwise, he and Olivia Wilde are bystanders with little to do, which is a shame. Really would have liked to see Carrey’s character with a better, more believable act so that the rivalry might have proved more interesting.

There is an underlying message of friendship and maintaining a passion, but this is no message movie. Heck, it’s barely even a comedy … unless you are one of those teenagers in the back row.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you long for a glimpse of the past from Jim Carrey or the scene-stealing wonder known as Alan Arkin

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are seeking an insightful, funny comedy that takes advantage of a strong cast

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kn1wR1V9dqs


HEREAFTER (2010)

October 24, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. One of the advantages to not being dependent upon movie reviews for food and shelter is that there is no concern for a superstar holding a grudge against me and my opinions. Make no mistake, director Clint Eastwood is a Hollywood powerhouse and also one of the most consistently fine filmmakers working today. Still, no one bats a thousand … this is a miss, with barely a swing.

The film follows three basic stories. The first revolves around George Lonegan (Matt Damon), who seemingly has true psychic abilities. The problem is that George does not wish to have anything to do with his “powers”. The second involves twin brother, Marcus and Jason, who live with their druggie mom. Things change quickly when Jason is hit and killed by a truck and Marcus is taken away while his mom rehabs. The third story has Marie LeLay (Cecile De France) as an investigative reporter who gets caught in a tsunami while vacationing and has a “near death experience”.

I will not go into detail for any of the three stories other than to say Jay Mohr plays Damon’s money-grubbing brother who wants to take his talent to the big time; the sadness of the surviving twin is tough to take at times as he searches for a connection to his dead brother; and lastly, Marie’s near-death brings her closer to life than she ever was before.

What is most surprising, given the pedigree of Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, Last King of Scotland) is that this movie and each of these stories are, for lack of a better word, quite boring. We really get little insight into any of the characters – other than the overall sadness each shows regularly. The sub-story with the most interest involves a brief encounter with a secret research clinic sporting a Nobel Prize winner. The clinic evidently has much research and data on this topic.

As you have already guessed, these three stories intersect near the film’s end. This is a ploy that is all too common in Hollywood these days. I won’t give away how it all comes together, but it bordered on eye-rolling. The film does not depend upon the viewer’s beliefs or understanding, though I personally believe some people do have a heightened sense of awareness and connection. That’s not really what it’s about. It’s more about sadness, loneliness and the need for personal connection while alive.

As usual, Mr. Eastwood has put together a terrific score. And I will gladly admit that the first 7-10 minutes of the film, including the tsunami were captivating … and I loved the connection with Charles Dickens. That’s the best I can offer for the film, and here’s hoping Eastwood’s biopic on J Edgar Hoover brings significantly more interest and entertainment value.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you somehow enjoy watching sad, miserable people talk to other sad, miserable people OR you want to see a really cool CGI tsunami on screen.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you aren’t the president of the Clint Eastwood Fan Club OR you find connections between the present and afterlife to be full- baked baloney.