Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The BC Review: MacGruber

As I was chatting with my friend Kara last Friday afternoon, she mentioned she and her fiancee were planning to grab dinner and catch the latest in the growing line of Saturday Night Live (SNL) parody skits-turned-feature-film-adaptations; MacGruber. Admittedly quite aware of the expected repercussions of a flick like this, I quickly disavowed all knowledge and reason and happily agreed (I knew my husband would be thrilled at the invitation and the chance to see it as we'd both admittedly enjoying the brief trailers we'd seen in the theatres over the course of several weeks).

For those of you who do not pride (?) yourselves on being SNL fans, I will just say that of all of the original skits (and characters) SNL has created (Superstar, the Ladies Man, Night at the Roxbury, the Blues Brothers, and Waynes World 1 and 2, to name a few), MacGruber ranks up there as one of the decidedly better adaptations. Will Forte's, what we will classify as "interpretation," of the 80's genius-problem-solving-creative-with-any-everyday-tool-or-device "MacGyver" is actually quite funny and lends itself to some serious belly-laughs.

Based on the 80's successful television program of a similar name, MacGruber tells the story of an American hero who has earned the rank of Green Beret, Navy SEAL, and Army Ranger, 16 purple hearts, 3 Congressional Medals of Honor, and 7 presidential medals of bravery, who comes out (following the horrendously violent, blood-spattered, death of his fiancee) to face his sworn enemy and life-long nemesis, Deiter Von Cunth (yes, you read that correctly) expertly played by Val Kilmer (who, as my husband pointed out, after going what can be classified as certifiably insane, moving his family out to the sticks and taking them completely off the grid, is apparently making a come back in his career).

In the aftermath of his fiancee's death, we find MacGruber much changed, sporting long hair and what looks to be Buddhist monk attire. Ten years since the dreadful events of his wedding day, he has sworn off violence and espouses a commitment to pacifism. However, this is short-lived. Upon hearing Von Cunth has attained a deadly nuclear weapon and is henceforth threatening to destroy the earth (or at least a big city or a lot of people), MacGruber buoyantly bounces back, cuts his hair, throws on his favorite vest, flannel shirt, and trusty watch, and joins with the expert stylings of Lt. Dixon Piper (another surprise casting role, played by Ryan Phillippe) and Vicki St. Elmo (played by Kristen Wiig).

Of course, as this is clearly a farce our hero proceeds to make mistake, after mistake, after frustratingly hilarious, mistake. As the film progresses we see his efforts to fashion a grenade out of a few household items continuously disappoint, leaving Lt. Dixon Piper with no choice but to use his (as MacGruber deems) "barbaric" guns to take down the assorted goons fighting with Von Cunth.

Will Forte does a great job portraying MacGruber, by all accounts a complete bumbling idiot who takes himself extremely seriously. His characterization is reminiscent of someone envisioned by a former SNL cast member, Will Ferrell (think Ron Jeremy in Anchor Man: The Legend of Ron Burgundy). Only time will tell if his career leads to similar commercial success, but from the looks of his resume he is presently working on two more feature films, played the role of Paul on Tina Fey's (another SNL alumna) 30 Rock, and has joined forces with Ferrel already on his website, Funny or Die.

Aside from MacGruber's absurd actions, the best elements of the film center on the assorted 80's paraphernalia, trends, fads, hair styles (check out Vicki St. Elmo's feathered style), and fashion. The worst (if you can classify them as such) are the truly, ridiculously, bloody/violent scenes of explosions, burn victims, and ultimately, death as well as the more crass humor ("potty" humor and the like). MacGruber is not for the faint of heart (or the easily offended).

Ryan Phillippe as Lt. Dixon Piper is an odd choice for this role (recent roles include Flags of Our Fathers, Crash, and Stop-Loss), but he seems to make it work and we get to see a side we normally do not see of him; a comedic one. He deftly plays the role straight; not wavering in his portrayal of a "serious" military soldier, but we cannot help but find his reactions and eventual acceptance of MacGruber's absurdity both endearing and laugh-out-loud funny.

Kristen Wiig, as Vicki St. Elmo also brings a bit of talent to the film. Similar to MacGruber, Vicki St. Elmo also reminds this reviewer of a character in Will Ferrell's farce; Anchorman, female reporter Veronic Corningstone (it could definitely be the feathered hair and pantsuits!). Another SNL cast member and a relative newcomer to the big screen, Wiig is starting to gather some notice, recently appearing in the previously review Date Night and lending her voice to the upcoming Steve Carell animated feature, Despicable Me.

Those looking for a laugh (albeit a cheap one) should enjoy MacGruber, as will fans of the original MacGyver; though die hard fans of the latter may be better off skipping this one and sitting home watching DVDs of the original in the comfort of their own homes.

The Bee Charmer Review Rating: C+

Monday, May 24, 2010

The BC Review: Date Night

So far this summer my husband and I have started a bit of a tradition - Tuesday night "Date Night" outings to the cinema! In the past couple of weeks I've let him pick the flick (I figure he does enough when I ask him to sit down and watch one of my decidedly "Indie" Netflix picks at home, he's entitled to pick some of the lighter summer fare).

This past week we made our date night a true date night, making our way to the Ballston Regal Theatre for an evening showing of (have you guessed yet?), Date Night (with Steve Carrell and Tina Fey)! As Romantic Comedies go, Date Night was quite enjoyable. Tina and Steve took us on a wildly uproarious ride as their characters, Phil and Claire Foster, attempted to spice up their happy, albeit, somewhat boring, average "Date Night".

The opening scene presents Mr. and Mrs. Foster in bed with the clock flashing an early hour on the night stand, their morning slumber soon-to-be interrupted by the running, jumping, and subsequently, landing of a child on Claire's shoulder followed by the cruel ripping off of Phil's anti-snoring "breathe E-Z" nose strip. This is our welcome to a day in the life of Mr. and Mrs. Foster, a New Jersey couple with young children living in a quaint suburban home outside of New York City.

After learning of the impending divorce of one their closest couple-friends, the Fosters decide to shake things up a bit, and well, prove to themselves (and each other) that their marriage is anything but dead. Seeking a high class "night out on the town" Mr. Foster drives them to a famed restaurant aptly titled "Claw" - the sort of place where the staff act as if everyone is at a party and the restaurant guests were not invited. Despite the pretentious host who ensures them in short order they did not make it in time to actually get a table and should expect to wait patiently at the bar all night; the Fosters decide to make their own luck, quickly grabbing a table really reserved for a "Mr. and Mrs. Trippelhorn" (who, as luck would have it, fail to show up). Upon sitting down and enjoying an apparently delicious entree, two goons (and yes, we would certainly classify them as such), arrive at "Mr. and Mrs. Tripplehorn's" table to inform them that they must leave immediately and step outside into the nefarious alley behind the restaurant. Of course, thinking this is nothing more than a slap on the wrist for stealing someone else's table reservation, they agree to do so.

Standing vulnerable in the alley, the "Tripplehorns" are corrected and informed as to the real reason they are out there - they have apparently stolen from Joe Miletto (played by none-other-than Ray Liotta), a notorious mobster. At this point, the film takes off and we proceed to go along for a hilarious ride as Claire and Phil Foster stumble onto the misgivings of the city's District Attorney, Frank Crenshaw (played by William Fichtner) and the city's seedy underworld.

Carell gives us what we expect; the sometimes bumbling, but always good-intentioned, caricature of a suburban guy trying to look cool, but constantly falling victim to his own cluelessness (recall similar characters in Get Smart and of course, the famed Michael Scott of The Office). But, no matter how many gaffs he makes, we find him endearing and secretly hope he can manage to get out of his own way long enough to do to the right thing and have it actually work out.

Fey is equally enjoyable as Claire Foster. Although even slightly less "cool" than her husband (she is absolutely clueless when it comes to any kind of technology and refers to a flash drive as "that little stick thingy we use at work"), she eventually succeeds in understanding the full scope of the plot they've found themselves mixed up in.

Liotta, quite rightly so, plays the notorious gangster. Since the start of this reviewer's awareness of him (as his ingenious portrayal of Henry Hill in Goodfellas), Liotta is often a welcome addition to any cast of characters (if you've not seen Corrina, Corrina, you are missing out on one of his best), especially, of late, as he delved into the comedic/family-friendly arena with such roles as Jack in Wild Hogs. His role as Joe Miletto is equally good, however, this reviewer would have liked a bit more on-screen time.

Among the great performances of Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, and Ray Liotta, we are treated to the stylings of an exceedingly hunky Mark Walberg, as Holbrooke Grant, a former client of Claire's who, conveniently, happens to be a wealthy independent security consultant with a litany of spy-like toys and agrees to help the Fosters in their quest to find the real Tripplehorns and ultimately escape the city in one piece.

Date Night is recommended for fans of Steve Carrell and Tina Fey and those looking for an enjoyable low-key "Date Night" flick.

The BC Review Rating: B

Monday, May 17, 2010

The BC Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox

It is certainly safe to say this reviewer thoroughly enjoys the comedic timing and (often) adorable characters of the animated genre. Watching such films as Dreamworks Animation's Shrek (and its extensive line of not one, two, or even three, but upcoming fourth sequels) and Disney-Pixar's Toy Story (again following the trend with Toy Story 2 and now Toy Story 3), one becomes accustomed to simple story lines (with a distinct moral/lesson-to-be-learned) and quirky characters. The latest animated feature to follow its predecessors and hit the big screen is based on the children's storybook author, Roald Dahl's, Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Released in 2009, Fantastic Mr. Fox was nominated for 2 Oscars (Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures and Best Animated Feature Film of the Year). Despite it's losses, the film deserves the accolades that accompany an Academy Award nomination. Of note, the picture shies away from the modern affects of computer-generated imagery and steers more towards an "old school" Wallace and Gromit appearance with the characters. The audience is also treated to the voices of a who's who of the movie industry to include: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and even Mario Batali (as the talented Rabbit chef).

The story is centered on Mr. Fox (voiced by non other than George Clooney), a lean, long, and witty chicken thief-turned-Newspaper columnist and his supporting cast of woodland friends. The audience is treated to Clooney's overture as the charismatic, yet humble (?), Mr. Fox as he tries (and ultimately fails) to adjust to a life far from the thrills and chills of his former life and settles into a foxhole with his wife (played by Meryl Streep) and for all intents and purposes, dimwitted, son, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman). At the behest of Mrs. Fox, Mr. Fox must end his thrill-seeking days and settle into a much safer life; a somewhat problematic set of rules for Mr. Fox, worsened by a sense of monetary underachieving.

Integral to the plot line is the arrival of Ash's cousin, Kristofferson Silverfox (voiced by the film director's brother, Eric Anderson). Much to Ash's dismay, Kristofferson is everything he is not; tall with an attractive coat, athletic, worldly (the silverfox practices Yoga on a daily basis), and to add insult to injury, succeeds in wooing the object of Ash's affection. The relationship between Ash and his cousin gives us a thoroughly enjoyable comedic interlude between Mr. Fox's nail-biting nightly raids.

Despite the wishes (and wise advice) of his wife, Mr. Fox becomes determined to purchase a upper-middle class home; a tree with the financial assistance of his lawyers (also furry woodland creatures) and the moral support of his best friend, Badger (the badger) voiced by the distinctive, Bill Murray. Following the purchase of his new home, Mr. Fox spies an enticing opportunity, the existence of not one, but three farms within eyesight from the trees' branches, owned by non-other-than three of the ugliest, meanest, and shrewdest English businessmen; Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. A credit to their horror, a song, devised by local children is sung in their honor:

Boggis and Bunce and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean
These horrible crooks
So different in looks
Were nonetheless equally mean

The introduction to Boggis, Bunce, and Bean is strikingly reminiscent of the diabolical Mrs. Tweedy from a similarly-crafted animated feature, Chicken Run (recall Mel Gibson as Rocky the adventure-seeking Chicken). Following two sneak attacks at the hands of Mr. Fox, Badger, and on the third night, Kristofferson; Boggis, Bunce, and Bean devise a plan to root out their new found woodland pests and destroy them by any means necessary. From this point on, the audience is taken on a wild ride as we watch the three farmers desperately try to reach Mr. Fox and his cohorts.

Fantastic Mr. Fox comes recommended for fans of the animated genre and the Fantastic Mr. Clooney.

The Bee Charmer Review Rating: B

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The BC Review: The Hurt Locker

Due to the unprecedented 10 films selected as Best Picture Oscar nominees, this year's viewing of the AMC Best Picture Showcase 2010 was somewhat limiting as the viewing I chose to attend (for fear of losing my sanity attempting to watch all 10 in a row) was limited to just 5 of the Oscar nominees (Up in the Air, Precious - Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, Inglorious Bastards, AVATAR, and The Blind Side).

To be sure, I had definitely intended to see the victor, The Hurt Locker, but unfortunately was forced to wait for its DVD release (admittedly, the formerly little-known Indie flick failed to garner my attention earlier). Following a couple weeks in my Netflix queue labeled "very long wait" it finally arrived in my mailbox.

Katheryn Bigelow's Best Director/Best Picture winner, though markedly less romantic than it's (and her personal) rival, James Cameron's AVATAR, gives the viewer something better; a realistic depiction of the conditions of war (and despite numerous critiques this reviewer has come across, sans any romantic, or for that matter, political, zeal).

Focused on three primary characters, The Hurt Locker presents three young American soldiers serving in Iraq in the improvised explosive device (IED) detection/removal division. In a jarring opening scene we see Guy Pearce (of LA Confidential and Memento fame) as Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson; the first of the squad to suffer the dire consequences of a grueling job. Watching as he carefully plots his course in an attempt to diffuse a small-scale roadside IED, the viewer is instantly sucked into the war drama and can literally feel the dirt, the dust, and the sweat, pouring off Staff Sergeant Thompson's face as he strides down the street in a huge explosive-detection suit. This first scene, indeed sets the backdrop for the rest of the film with Bigelow giving us all-encompassing explosions, annoying dust, and what actually feels like relentless thirst for a Capri Sun in the desert.

Sergeant Thompson is subsequently replaced with Sergeant First Class William James (played by Jeremy Renner); a wildly enthusiastic soldier with a cowboy-esque attitude. Of course, the two remaining members of Thompson's original team, Sergeant JT Sanborn (played by Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (played by Brian Geraghty) struggle to cope with the new guy's cavalier attitude, and at times, brash decisions. Adding to the already imbedded drama throughout the film, the dynamic between Sanborn and James is always teetering on the edge; wavering between sworn adversaries and mutually respected friendship.

Specialist Eldridge, vastly different from James, gives us an inside view into the mind of a young soldier as he struggles to literally fight each and every day for his life (and the lives of those around him). As the days on his tour of duty languish, each minute of the day seems to get harder for him to deal with. Taking solace in the Army-provided medical staff, Eldridge reaches out to a psychologist, Colonel John Cambridge (interestingly enough played by Christian Camargo, AKA Dexter's "The Ice Truck Killer"). Colonel Cambridge provides a much-needed shoulder for Eldridge, but unfortunately falls victim to the circumstances of his own surroundings while out with the team.

On a more personal note, as a former analyst in the security/force protection world, this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed the addition of private security contractors thrown into the story line. Specifically, as the IED detection team comes across an overturned vehicle in the wild Iraq "countryside" we are introduced (albeit briefly) to a nameless Ralph Fiennes, playing a British private contractor leading a definitely worse-for-wear team. In an outward nod to American-British cooperation on the battlefield, against the blazing sun, blistering winds, and downright pesky flies, Sergeant First Class James, Sergeant Sanborn, and Specialist Eldridge stop to lend a hand to Fiennes and his group.

Finally, I suppose it should be noted that Kathryn Bigalow's Best Director win was, like the 2010 Best Picture nominee list; unprecedented (Bigelow is the first female director to win the award). However, it should also be noted that this should come as no surprise to anyone (including Bigelow's ex-husband, Cameron); she did a phenomenal job on this film!

The Hurt Locker is recommended for fans of the "War Time Drama" (flicks like Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan) and those just interested in an enthralling human drama.

The Bee Charmer Review rating: A

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The BC Review: Iron Man 2

As part of our celebratory actions following the completion of my husband's last law school final exam of the semester, we decided to head to the theatre and catch the latest in the Marvel-made-into-great-or as the case may be-not-so-great-movies (and their sequels and in some cases, prequels); the much-anticipated Iron Man 2.

Seeking to (expertly?) avoid the drones of fans and movie buffs alike, likely to come out on Friday and Saturday nights, we purchased our tickets in advance and then promptly made our way to the Ballston Regal bright and early Sunday morning to catch the 10am showing. Our plan, indeed, worked - we managed to be one of half a dozen viewers in the theatre this morning!

Without giving too much away, I will say, Iron Man 2 delivered a relatively amusing story with some well-timed, action-packed scenes. We are reminded of our love for Tony Stark and his self-deprecation from the opening scene when we witness Iron Man launch himself from the back of a plane and burst onto the stage at the Stark Expo (a year-long expo demonstrating the latest and greatest Stark inteventions and for a lucky few, up and coming inventors). Robert Downey Jr. gives us the Tony Stark we've grown to enjoy since the first Iron Man and delivers a solid performance throughout the film.

Don Cheadle gives a stellar performance in his role as Lt. Colonel James "Rhody" Rhodes, Stark's long-time best friend. Rhodes finds himself struggling to balance his job and his duty to the United States, with his loyalty to and admiration of Stark. Despite what some may call, a serious lapse in judgement, in the end, the two come together to fight a commone enemy, achieving a few firsts for Iron Man and ultimately saving their friendship. Cheadle, also does not disappoint, and gives a sincere and at times, humourous performance. In this humble writer's opinion, Cheadle is a seriously underrated genius. As with all of his roles (Crash, Hotel Rwanda, and Ocean's Eleven, to name a few), Cheadle brings a certain dignity to the film.

We are also re-introduced to Stark's personal secretary-turned-love interest-turned CEO, Pepper Potts (played by Gweneth Paltrow). The back and forth banter between Potts and Stark, though amusing, is not nearly as integral to the plot line in the second installation of the film series and is somewhat tainted by Stark's secret (I won't spoil that for you - just suffice it to say, keeping Palladium in one's chest is not the healthiest option for a human being).

The best character by far that we are not re-introduced to, but rather introduced to for the first time, is that of Ivan Vanko, in true Marvel fashion, Iron Man's soon-to-be arch nemisis. Played by Mickey Rourke (who's career is definitely on the "up swing" since shocking and ultimately delighting all of us in the The Wrestler), Ivan holds a secret past and knows far too much than anyone should about Iron Man and just how he gets his power. Unlike Pepper Potts, Ivan is indeed, integral to the plot and gives our hero what he needs, a challenge!

Finally, we see Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johannson as the newest additions to the Iron Man family (unlike Ivan, they are clearly batting for the good side). On a somewhat disappointing note, Scarlett fans may be less than impressed with her role as Natalie Rushman. It is certainly evident she may have followed the ideas and extreme dieting her female colleague, Paltrow, espouses (her physical appearance is dramatically altered as a result of her super-hero costume), but the depth of her character was certainly lacking.

Iron Man 2 comes recommended for fans of the first film, action buffs, and the ever-growing hoards of RDJ fans.

The Bee Charmer Review rating: B