Friday, June 25, 2010

The BC Review: City Island

With all of the supposedly (at least marketed to be) Hollywood blockbusters making their way to the theatre during the summer season it's often difficult to find a shining "diamond in the rough". That is to say, the smaller Indie jewels unfortunately tend to fall by the wayside. One such flick is the recently released comedy, City Island. My husband and I had a chance to see this one over the weekend and we were beyond pleasantly surprised!

Starring Andy Garcia as Vince Rizzo, a City Island (for those of you not as familiar with New York City like me, City Island is a small historic fishing village in the Bronx) corrections officer with a secret dream he desperately (and ultimately fails) to hide from his wife and two kids.

Born and raised on City Island (which means he is a bonefide "clam digger"), Vince seeks a life away from the small-town expectations and difficult work of prison guard. His real dream? To become an actor in the likeness of his hero; Marlin Brando. Not wanting to embarrass himself, he uses the guise of evening "poker games" as a cover for his real activities; acting classes. Of course, as the old adage goes, "What a Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practice to Deceive"!

Vince Rizzo's wife, Joyce (expertly played by Julianna Margulies) also has a few secrets to hide; most notably, her addiction to cigarettes (a running theme throwout the film that all four Rizzos share) and her lust for young mysterious house guest tasked to build a bathroom in a shed next to the house. Joyce is the cement that holds the family together, she is rough and tumble with uncharacteristically straight hair, well-worn jeans, and a grating New York accent. But inside her tough exterior, she is vulnerable. As the film continues, her insecurities soon get the better of her and she falls prey to her own unfounded suspicions that Vince's "poker game" is just another word for "affair".

The Rizzo's two kids are also included in the tangled family web, as they too play charades in an attempt to keep their private lives (and in one case; hidden obsession) far from the knowledge of their parents.

Vince's teenage son, Vince Jr. (played by Royal Pains' Ezra Miller), forgoes the usual angsty teenager with a quick wit and biting tongue routine and instead plays a still quick-witted, yet surprisingly humorous, teen with a passion for women. Of course, as this is Indie, Vince Jr.'s love for women is not just any ordinary love, it is a love for the Full-Figured-Woman. One of whom happens to reside next door, runs a 24-hour web cam, and has a passion for baking.

Not to be left out, Vince Jr.'s sister, Vivian Rizzo also has a few secrets to hide. Most notably, her new career; dancing at a club in the city appropriately named, the Hell Cat. Of course, this wouldn't be such a big deal if it wasn't for what she was supposed to be doing; going to college. And one notable piece of trivia, Vince's daughter, Vivian Rizzo, is played by Dominik Garcia-Lorido; Andy Garcia's real-life daughter. In her case the apple certainly did not fall far from the tree!

Finally, we come to one of the most interesting characters in the film; Tony Nardella (played by Steven Strait). At the start of the film, Tony is in lock down in City Island's prison. After a brief and mysterious encounter with a well-intentioned corrections officer, Tony is brought to the outside and tasked to construct a bathroom in an unfinished shed. Of course, he too is not without a few secrets (although he does not yet know what they are) and plays a key role in bringing the whole charade crashing down.

This review would be remiss without the mention of Alan Arkin as Vince's tough, grating, acting coach. In my book, the addition of Alan Arkin to any film almost always spells success (Little Miss Sunshine, America's Sweethearts, and of course, So I Married An Axe Murderer).

Don't be surprised to find yourself laughing out loud at the priceless comedic scenes in this one. Andy Garcia leads the talented cast, expertly adopting the lovable "every man" character and winning our undying adoration.

City Island is highly recommended for fans of the Indie comedy and those looking for something with a bit more substance than the average DC Comics summer blockbuster remake/Tom Cruise action-romantic comedy.

The Bee Charmer Review Rating: A

Friday, June 18, 2010

The BC Review: Robin Hood

I’ve been waiting to write this review foolishly entertaining the idea that I would sit down and watch Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (the rival Kevin Costner version) in it’s entirely and then compose a comparison of the two. Unfortunately, as no less than a full month has gone by and it is likely I may never find time to screen it. Therefore, I’m forgoing the original idea and replacing it with this; a standard review of the Ridley Scott version.

In Ridley Scott’s 2010 version of the legendary tale of the true “Prince of Thieves” we are introduced to Robin Longstride, fighting along King Richard the Lionheart (a term used rather loosely in this depiction) in a series of battles; slowly, but steadily plundering his way back home from the Crusades. Robin Longstride, as he was known prior to his days of merriment, is a worse-for-wear archer who takes his leave after the fall of the King.

Along with some notable friends, to include “Little” John, Robin makes his way to Nottingham wherein he meets Marion, albeit a somewhat less-than-we-are-used-to-seeing-her, glamorous version. In Scott’s rendering, Maid Marion is not a maid at all but rather a matron as she has married some ten years prior (and unbeknown to her, subsequently widowed).

In terms of story, this version veers only slightly from the story we all know, giving us a bit of a prequel to the legend. To his credit, Scott succeeds in giving us some minor surprises, i.e. throwing the French and some nefarious insiders into the mix, but in the end, leaves much to be desired. Although this is not entirely unexpected, it seems Scott took the safe route; deciding against giving us a completely new interpretation and instead providing a litany of action scenes. Of course, as this is a Scott film, the action scenes are as expected; fast-paced, gritty, and always bloody.

Scott’s use of dialogue also leaves much to be desired (Shakespeare, this is not!). But, perhaps in a nod to critics (and a gift to the audience?), Scott fortunately keeps the dramatic love scenes to a minimum.

The presumed (and well-marketed) star, Russell Crowe plays Robin as we would expect; an unrelenting warrior full of vengeance, yet, also a man of heart.

Cate Blanchett, though not originally cast for this role, provides a decent interpretation of Marion. By all accounts Blanchett is one of the few remaining Hollywood actresses not afraid to “let her hair down” as they say, and show a less-than-perfectly-manicured-and-done-up-heroine. She never fails to bring a certain reality to the big screen and usually succeeds in attributing to my ability to suspend my disbelief (check her out as the incomparable Katharine Heburn alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator).

Blanchett’s talents aside, the best characters fall a bit farther down on the cast of characters list. Two favorites include Little John (played by Kevin Durand, previously seen in Wild Hogs) and Friar Tuck (played by Mark Addy of the television sitcom, Still Standing). These two, though not given a whole lot of on-screen time, give the audience excellent portrayals of inherently comedic characters.

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood comes recommended for Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe fans. For those seeking a really creative interpretation of the legend, we suggest adding Robin Hood: Men in Tights to your Netflix queue! Additionally, as the film is billed as a prequel, the ending leaves us primed for at least one more (if not, several) follow-on features.

The Bee Charmer Review Rating: C

Friday, June 11, 2010

The BC Review: Killers

Fresh off of our good experience catching Get Him to the Greek, my husband and I set out to see another comedy. This time changing it up a bit, and catching the Katherine Heigl -Ashton Kutcher Romantic Comedy (RomCom), Killers.

Of course, as you can probably discern from its off-beat title, Killers, is a bit of a unique RomCom. It’s somewhat shocking, and includes what I believe is supposed to be, funny violence (thus, contributing to this characterization). However, it fails to break away from the mold completely, clearly utilizing the basic RomCom plot line, Boy Meets Girlà Boy Marries Girlà Boy and Girl Argue/Have Disagreementsà Boy and Girl Make-UpàBoy and Girl Live Happily Ever After.

The film opens with Katherine Heigl playing Jen, an attractive blond and the victim of a recent dumping on vacation in the south of France with her parents, Mr. Kornfeldt (played by Tom Selleck) and Mrs. Kornfeldt (played by Catherine O’Hara). Struggling to convince herself that she not a romantic dud, Jen tries to make the best of her situation.

Fast forward to five more minutes into the film and Jen (and we!) are introduced to a shirtless, bathing suit clad, Spencer Aimes (played by Ashton Kutcher) with a secret to hide.

Of course, as this is a RomCom, it is not long before the wooing is in full swing and Jen finds she is head over heels for Spencer. Fortunately for us, the director considerately employs a time-flashing-forward-mechanism and we do not have to sit through several minutes of witnessing various scenes depicting their wedding/ marriage. Rather we are transported to three years in the future, with Jen and Spencer living what appears to be a quiet suburban life.

Unfortunately, this relative domestic bliss is short-lived. Spencer’s sorted past as an employee of the “Blah Blah Blah” who gave him a license to “Blah,” comes spiraling back, resulting in a harsh reality check for Jen and some pretty shocking scenes for us. In an effort to keep the details of the film a surprise, I will cease to divulge any additional specific details, but be forewarned, the film’s title is not without meaning or consequence.

Killers is the latest Heigl-helmed RomCom in recent weeks/months (years?), following a line of hits to include: The Ugly Truth, 27 Dresses, and Knocked Up, and has 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (yes, you counted correctly) films currently in production. Formerly Izzie Stevens on Grey’s Anatomy Heigl’s attained a substantial fan-base so her rise to movie stardom is not surprising, I just hope she does not go the route of those before her (i.e. Jennifer Aniston) and is quickly type-cast as the Romantic Comedy leading lady of choice for the next 10 years.

The additions of Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara to the cast are welcome. Selleck is reminiscent of his recent recurring television role as Monica’s boyfriend on Friends, giving us what we expect; a hyper-masculine, attractive older man with an impressive mustache.

Catherine O’Hara, playing Jen’s alcoholic mom, is arguably the best actress in the flick as she truly demonstrates what real comedic timing and characterization is. If you’re not familiar with her work, this reviewer highly recommends catching Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, Home Alone (although not as funny in that), and Away We Go.

Killers is an OK Romantic Comedy, but could stand some considerable improvement in character development and dialogue (a Quentin Tarantino flick this is not). Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher make a good team in this film genre, but they fail to provide Oscar-winning performances.

The Bee Charmer Review Rating: C+

The BC Review: Get Him to the Greek

Last weekend my husband and I decided to take a brief vacation and make our first summer of 2010 trip to the beach. To mix things up a bit, we rode the 4 hours or so down to Virginia Beach and spent two nights at a beachfront Quality Inn. After a long day of pool, sand, and ocean, and joined by some friends of ours, we took a break from the heat Saturday night and treated ourselves to the air-conditioned facilities of the movieplex. On tap for the evening, an uproarious comedy based on characters penned by How I Met Your Mother/Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s, Jason Segal; Get Him to the Greek.

For those of you who are Jason Segal fans, or for that matter, Jonah Hill fans (Seth of Superbad fame, co-starring in Get Him to the Greek), Get Him to the Greek does not disappoint.

Get Him to the Greek stars the comedic brilliance of Russell Brand (who in this reviewer’s opinion, certainly seems to be giving his predecessor and comedic rival, Sacha Baron Cohen a run for his money these days) as the over-indulgent, but not entirely un-sympathetic, bona fide British rock star Aldus Snow. Fans of Forgetting Sarah Marshall will fondly remember Russell Brand’s characterization of an overindulgent, crass, and for all intents and purposes, drugged out rock star (not to mention front man of legendary rock group, Infant Sorrow), Aldus Snow.

Unlike his part in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Brand plays a central role in this pseudo-spin off and gives the viewer what they really want to see; MORE Aldus! Just watching this guy fumble around on screen adorned with seriously tight jeans, a tall, yet not entirely gangly frame, not without the customary rock star bling in all shapes and sizes, and strikingly beautiful curled locks, as he dominates the stage and all those who cross his path, we find ourselves desiring a show at the biggest local arena starring Aldus along with other legendary rock greats like Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, and Robert Plant. Of course, as we feel our shoes slightly sticking to the ground and hear the faint tick-tick-tick sounds of the person next to us texting, we are sadly reminded that Aldus is a fictional character, limited to gracing our presence on screen only.

Jonah Hill expertly plays his role as the socially awkward, yet love able Aaron Green, a young man struggling to make it in the intensely competitive music business. Fortunately for the viewer, this is a familiar role for Hill (likewise roles in similar comedies like Superbad, Funny People, Knocked Up, and Accepted).

Struggling to renew his sense of adventure and challenged by his demanding boss (P Diddy), Green develops a genius idea to bring Aldus Snow back to the Greek Theater for an anniversary concert. Once given the go-ahead, Green sets off across the globe for a hilarious 3-day venture with 3 goals:

1. Find Aldus Snow;

2. Get him sober enough to play and make a litany of press appearances, not the least of which includes a visit to the Today Show;

3. And finally, GET HIM TO THE GREEK!

Of course, Aldus the self-proclaimed rock star, is not without his alcohol and drug addictions. From the moment Aaron Green shows up in his London flat, he is dead set on showing Green the time of his life (and indeed, succeeds).

Complimenting the comedic performances of Brand and Hill, we are also treated to some interesting cameos. To name a few, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, Meredith Vieira, Lars Ulrich, P!NK, Mario Lopez, Kristen Bell, Rick Schroder, and Christina Aguilera. Of note, Kristen Bell, with the addition of Rick Schroder, reprises her role as the television star vixen, Sarah Marshall (albeit for a brief moment). Perhaps a sequel starring Sarah Marshall is at bat next?

This reviewer is looking forward to additional films created, written, and starring, the new buddy-comedy/Bromance all stars troop, set to take over from the former “Comedy All - Stars” (Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, and Vince Vaughn).

Get Him to the Greek comes recommended for fans of the rising buddy-comedy star troop/makers of Knocked Up, Suberbad, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but is not recommended for those easily offended.

The Bee Charmer Review Rating: B+