OUR BRAND IS CRISIS (2015)

October 29, 2015

our brand is crisis Greetings again from the darkness. The world of political campaigns and elections is a never-ending treasure trove of material for movies. It’s a subject ripe for parody, satire, comedy, suspense and documentaries.  Need proof?  How about this widely varied list: The Manchurian Candidate, Bob Roberts, Wag the Dog, Bulworth, Welcome to Mooseport, and The Ides of March.  Director David Gordon Green has a resume equally as varied, ranging from Pineapple Express (2008) to Manglehorn (2014).

This wide spectrum of possibilities seems to have confused screenwriter Peter Straughan (the excellent Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) who used Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary of the same name as inspiration. It seems to be both a comedy that’s not too funny and a drama that not very dramatic. Casting Sandra Bullock in the lead probably created a certain feeling of security with the filmmakers, as they assumed audiences would laugh along at such creative moments as her predictable pratfall from a private jet, the sunglasses-on-the-nose look of consternation, and the rah-rah speech given to a group of campaign volunteers who don’t speak English. Even fans of Ms. Bullock will recognize the laziness.

Alvin Lee and Ten Years After delivered the anthem “I’d Love to Change the World”, and never before this movie had I placed it in such a negative manner … how the United States sticks its nose where it doesn’t belong in international elections. Ms. Bullock’s character Jane is a political strategist brought out of self-imposed exile to run the campaign of Bolivia’s former President (played by Joaquim de Almeida). See he is far behind the leader in the polls – a progressive candidate whose campaign is being run by Bullock’s long-time rival Pat Candy (played by Billy Bob Thornton). Let the juicy rivalry games begin!

The only problem is … it’s a wasted rivalry filled with mostly lame games and it’s often quite plodding (just like real politics!). The character of Jane is based on the real life efforts of James Carville to influence South American elections, and yet it’s Pat Candy who sports the look of Carville. The supporting cast is filled with talent: Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, and Zoe Kazan, yet none are given much to do other than play second fiddle to Bullock.

While the script offers no real surprises or twists, and the forced “message” at the end could be guessed by most any viewer 10 minutes in, it’s the amateurish ploys that make this one score high on the annoyance scale. Having Ms. Bullock sport the only blonde follicles in Bolivia, the over-use of super slow-motion to create some unnecessary effect, and using the word “crisis” the way Tarantino uses the f-word, all combine to give the film a very cheesy look and feel … and we aren’t even rewarded with a single memorable exchange between Bullock and Billy Bob. One thing for sure … this is not the garden spot of Bolivia.

watch the trailer:

 


RUBY SPARKS (2012)

August 6, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Well it took six years, but co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris finally deliver their follow-up to the smash hit Little Miss Sunshine. With a script from first time screenwriter Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of legendary director Elia Kazan), we get an odd mash-up of would-be Woody Allen, Charlie Kaufman, Stranger Than Fiction, and a “Twilight Zone” episode.

The story begins almost as a whimsical fantasy. Paul Dano plays Calvin, a blocked writer 10 years after writing the next great American novel, while he was still a teenager. The necessary comparisons to JD Salinger are made, and we witness Calvin as a socially-inept type who was never comfortable with his early success, and now can’t find a way to move on with life. Given a writing assignment by his shrink (Elliott Gould), Calvin discovers the true power of the written word is far beyond anything he had previously imagined.

 After a dream of meeting a lovely girl in the park, Calvin’s fingers tear through his manual typewriter and develop a story around his literal dream girl. And literal means literal. He runs into her downstairs. His creation has become his creation. Once he realizes they aren’t going to lock him away for insanity, Calvin and Ruby (also Zoe Kazan) begin a real relationship. Well as real as it can be with a girl who is not really real and whose actions can be changed simply by typing words on a page. If you think this sounds like a male fantasy, then you are in agreement with Calvin’s brother (Chris Messina).

 A trip to visit the brothers’ mothers (Annette Bening) and her boyfriend (Antonio Banderas) adds some humorous scenes while also signaling the beginning of trouble for Ruby and Calvin. It turns out that bringing your invented dream girl into the real world doesn’t always work so well. Who would have thought? There is much humor in the film including Steve Coogan as Calvin’s mentor. Deborah Ann Woll (“True Blood”) has a scene as Calvin’s ex-girlfriend and it is probably the best written scene in the film. Really good insight into how two people’s view of the same relationship can vary greatly.

 The story can be looked at from different perspectives. It certainly serves as insight into how a writer’s mind can work. Many writers need a muse … but few get to create their own! More importantly, it makes a statement on how we (well, not me) often try to control and manipulate the other person in our relationships. This is a sterling reminder to be careful what you ask for … you just might get it.

**Note: on a side note, it is refreshing to see a love story between two actors who look rather “normal” rather than so perfectly beautiful they appear to be a genetic experiment

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy off-beat, quirky humor with an underlying message

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: the last thing you wish to do is crawl inside the head of a Hollywood writer

watch the trailer:


HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE

March 14, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Yes, that really is the title of the film.  If such a thing existed in Hollywood, I wouldn’t be surprised if Woody Allen brought a Trademark Infringement suit against writer/director Josh Radnor. There is even a clear reference to Mr. Allen, who must be one of Radnor’s idols. Of course, similar ideas and approaches happen frequently in movies, so really what we have is a snapshot in time of what it’s like to be a young (late 20’s to early 30’s) New Yorker trying to figure out life.

Radnor is one of the stars of “How I Met Your Mother” and this is his filmmaking debut. He does show some promise, despite some weakness in the script and too dang many close-ups – talking heads, as I call them. His goal was to take an intimate look at relationships and the road to maturity, which is often filled with potholes. This seems especially true for these artistic types who are convinced New York is the only land of opportunity in existence.

There are 4 stories going on: Sam (Josh Radnor) is a struggling writer who meets Mississippi (Kate Mara), a cabaret singer/waitress; Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) and Charlie (Pablo Schreiber) have their relationship tested by a proposed move to L.A.; Annie (Malin Akerman) suffers from a self-image problem and faces off against a true romantic in Sam #2 (Tony Hale); and an on-going interwoven story line involves Sam’s character making an asinine decision when a young boy gets separated from his family on the subway.

 The best of the stories is Annie’s. Suffering from an auto-immune disease which leaves her hairless, she has a real self-image problem in thinking that she is not worthy of love. On the ironic other hand, she is put off by the advances of nice guy Sam #2 because he isn’t the physical specimen she had dreamed of. Akerman and Hale make these characters believable and we actually pull for them to figure it out.

Kazan’s Mary Catherine just had me hoping Charlie would slap her and take off to LA on his own. Kazan (granddaughter of the great director Elia Kazan) actually does a nice job capturing the suffering that so many females put themselves through. Kate Mara’s Mississippi is the perky on the outside, defensive on the inside type who should probably never get mixed up with the self-centered mess that is Sam (Radnor). Still, Mara’s talent is on full display (she first leaped off the screen in Brokeback Mountain as Heath Ledger‘s 19 yr old daughter).

 One thing the script reminds us is that this generation still believes the world revolves around their every decision. They have been a bit slow on the uptake here, but it makes for easy pickings in script writing. My favorite line in the film is when Mara tells Radnor that he likes living his life like the short stories he writes, but she is ready for the novel.  There are some terrific individual scenes, but some of the larger plot lines are not treated fairly or completely. Maybe Radnor tackled a bit too much for his first outing. Still, a decent effort and I look forward to more from him

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy “little” films that focus on life intricacies

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: narcissistic, young New Yorkers make you want to run screaming from the theater