August 8, 2010
Greetings again from the darkness. Much of Will Ferrell’s box office success has occurred thanks to his collaborations with writer/director Adam McKay. This includes Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, and Anchorman. McKay’s long history at Saturday Night Live is often on display in his movies, but never more than during The Other Guys. While there was some effort put towards a story, the film often has the feel of individual skits.
The first skit revolves around two supercops played by Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Of course, the kicker is that they really aren’t great cops, but masters of Public Relations. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are partners and the titular ‘other guys’. We get minimal background on each but quickly understand that Ferrell’s cop comes from accounting and is obsessed with regulations and safety. Wahlberg was a former rising star until an unfortunate accident involving Derek Jeter snuffed out his promotions.
Obviously, there needs to be a super case that these two solve and it involves a corporate financing scheme with Steve Coogan. The story itself is really unimportant (luckily) and the humor is derived from individual moments between Ferrell and Wahlberg, that same duo and Eva Mendes, or scenes with Michael Keaton. As a baseball fan, I got a chuckle out of Keaton’s character name – Capt. Gene Mauch.
There are a couple of running gags that work (hot girls are always hitting on Ferrell, Wahlberg’s dancing, Keaton and TLC), and the best visual gag is an extended freeze frame montage set in a pub. It is pure comic genius. On the downside, I was really baffled as to the over-the-top approach taken by Mark Wahlberg. His anger and bitterness were so exaggerated that it has to be considered a spoof of his role in The Departed. However, if you try to view the film as a spoof, it just doesn’t work (outside of Samuel L Jackson).
Overall, this one has the laughs you would expect but is certainly not at the class of Anchorman. Comedy remains one of the most difficult film genres, and McKay remains one of our best hopes.
April 12, 2010
Greetings again from the darkness. Most married couples can probably relate to the grind of a life absorbed with work and parenting. Sometimes the fantasy turns into having a quiet moment of solitude. Heck, even “date night” can devolve into just another responsibility tacked on at the end of a long week. This is the premise for director Shawn Levy’s film. The best part? It doesn’t matter at all.
The reason this film works is not the plot or script, but rather the talents of the two funniest people in showbiz today: Steve Carell and Tina Fey. The two seem to have an exceptional comedic connection that brings out a timing that reminds of the best comedy teams of all time.
Sometimes what makes for the funniest comedy is putting “normal” people into exceptional situations and let them react. Here, Carell and Fey are just a typical suburban couple trying to re-ignite the luster of an all too comfortable marriage. The motivation comes when their friends (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig) announce they are splitting. This starts Carell and Fey off on a series of skits that would make Seinfeld proud.
The nightmare begins when the couple “steals” a reservation in a hot new restaurant and assume the identity of, what turns out to be a couple of low level thieves. The multitude of skits that follow include supporting work from dirty cops (Common and Jimmi Simpson), the real reservation holders (funny James Franco and Mila Kunis), a mob boss (Ray Liotta), a corrupt city official (William Fichtner) and a “security expert” in the eternally shirtless Mark Wahlberg.
The approach of the film reminds me of After Hours, Adventures in Babysitting and The Out of Towners. Some of the best comedy occurs when the main players aren’t tossing out incessant one-liners. Think back to Cary Grant’s screwball comedies. He was not a bumbling idiot or a stand-up comedian walking through life. His characters were reactionary to the odd-ball situations in which he was placed. That is the approach of Carell and Fey, and I hope they pursue future projects together.
January 23, 2010
(1-23-10) Greetings again from the darkness. With the uproar from fans of Alice Sebold’s novel, I am actually glad I have not read it yet (though I will). I found director Peter Jackson’s take to be interesting, attention-grabbing and well filmed, though at times a bit sloppy in story structure. The fact that the actual murder and rape are not shown did not affect my ability to connect.
Certainly not a who-dunnit, the viewer instead is exposed to the many forms of grief after a family tragedy. I found myself quite angry at Rachel Weisz (the mom) for deserting her kids, though I understand the clash with Mark Wahlberg’s (the dad) approach. Not only was I angry at her as a parent, but as a viewer, her running away meant more screen time for Susan Sarandon, which is rarely a good thing.
Saoirse Ronan (excellent in Atonement) plays Susie, the victim of neighbor Stanley Tucci’s crime. Tucci is my favorite kind of movie villain … non-descript and blends right in. I find that to be the creepiest possible monster – the one that lives amongst us. Some of Jackson’s camera work with Tucci is fascinating and frightening, especially around the dollhouse. We can’t wait to see this guy burn.
Again, I consider myself lucky in that I can appreciate the film for what it is rather than comparing to a great book. Oh, and don’t miss Peter Jackson as the customer playing with the video camera in the store when Wahlberg picks up the first roll of developed film.