Friday, August 27, 2010

After Life: Review

After.Life: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long | A Constantly Racing Mind

Taylor, "Where am I?"  Elliot, "You are Dead."

What would it take to convince you that you were dead? A death certificate? Your ashen body staring back at you in a mirror? The memory of a tragic accident. That is the question the director of the film After.Life asks. Christina Ricci ("Monster," "Cursed," "Black Snake Moan ") and Justin Long ("Jeepers Creepers," "Drag Me to Hell," "Galaxy Quest") try to answer this question in this 103 minute dive down the rabbit hole of the dark world of the Mad Hatter of a mortician played by Liam Neeson ("Taken," "Kingdom of Heaven," "The Haunting"). In many ways this is a film that as director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, takes a philosophical stance, like "Saw" - what is the measure of a man's life. Or in this case, What is the measure or meaning of Ann Taylor's life.  Also please meet Anna's student Jack (Chandler Canterbury), don't mind him, he is a little creepy, like Renfield in "Dracula," he likes to start small.

Ann Taylor (Ricci) is an elementary school teacher who wakes up every day to her boyfriend trying to hump her frigid body, she showers, goes to work, meets her boyfriend for dinner, and agree not to argue for everything like her mom.  The director gives us slight hints that Ann is not a happy camper and this sets the mood for the rest of the film.  Meeting her boyfriend and live-in lover, Paul (Long), for dinner at a nice restaurant -- Paul before popping the question, prefaces's his marriage proposal to Ann with the news of having to move to Chicago - stupid.  The high strung Anna immediately accuses Paul of breaking up with her (pull out the ring idiot Paul) tells him to Fuck off and she leaves, making a scene. This film is a cautionary tale to all of us who like to speed in the rain recklessly, while dialing on our cell phones chasing big trucks with heavy loads. Within moments Taylor's life is over and she is on the mortician's slab. Waking up, groggily, she asks Elliot (Neeson) where am I? He replies you are dead. Then he shows her the death certificate. Momentarily convinced, she relaxes as she lays nude on the table, a wound on her head and chest.  Nesson asks, "Don't you remember the car crash?"  Taylor thinks back, and says "I don't feel dead."  "Why must you people always have to argue with me, It's not my fault you are dead." Like a Vietnam torture tactic, Liam Neeson tells her that she has three days to prepare herself for the journey to the other side. Also claiming that he has a gift to see between those in between worlds, it is his gift/curse/duty to help people journey out of this life. 

Thus sets the story and the tone for the rest of this psychological, philosophical mind-provoking thriller on the meaning of life and its worth.  We learn through an ongoing dialog between Neeson and Ricci that she is not happy and would probably be better off dead. The philosophical term for this mindset is called antinatalism. Playing cat and mouse with Ricci's wits and her will to live, Neeson breaks down her sad life, little by little, with lies and half truths he ultimately moves Ann Taylor's psyche closer to accepting her death.  Not like the TV show "The Ghost Whisperer," Elliot's mission is a bit different but perhaps just as important. I liked "After.Life" for the different take on getting a person to examine one's life, rather than the torture methods utilized in the "Saw" films. Ultimately my issue with this well made, well acted, well produced film is, that although director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo gives us plenty of clues as to the true nature of Taylor's existence on this plane. However, she denies us the satisfaction of celebrating that our ultimate conclusions are correct. For the most part this is an excellent film, but I did walk away feeling less than satisfied with the ending.

Movie Data
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Year: 2010
Staring: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long, Chandler Canterbury 
Director: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Producer(s): Celine Rattray, Brad M. Gilbert
Writer: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Paul Vosloo, Jakub Korolczuk
Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Date: 8/26/2010

Originally published by Robert Barbere on Associated Content on 8/10/2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Other Guys: Review

The Other Guys: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
I have to admit that I am not a big fan of Will Ferrell.  I do like a couple of his films, such as "Elf" and "Old School."  Other than those two, I haven't really cared for much of his other work.  I watched about the first 10 minutes of "Anchorman," but couldn't handle any more; I turned it off and never looked back.  Will Ferrell is an acquired taste.  Teaming up with Ferrell is Mark Wahlberg ("Shooter," "The Departed ") as the has been cop now stuck with Ferrell who refuses to take no risks. "The Other Guys" is a cop buddy movie where two opposite personalities are teamed together and mayhem and laughter are expected to follow.  "The Other Guys" is funny, but not that funny and Wahlberg doesn't help much with the comedy.

What would it be like to for Samuel L. Jackson, and Dwayne The Rock Johnson teamed together in an action picture, to see them taking out bad guys in "Lethal Weapon" action style of filmmaking?  Well...  "The Other Guys" provides us with that glimpse for the first 10 minutes.  We see high-powered action, clichéd buddy dialog, and one hell of a romp that these two Rock Star Police Officers lead the charge.  What we are left with is Will Ferrell, and Markey Mark reciting ridiculous dialog and nonsensical situations that in themselves have a tendency to provide a steady pace of chuckles that flows throughout the film.  I have to admit that although the plot is ridiculous and predictable, Will Farrell is funny as he plays the straight-man in this film, leaving Owen Wilson-esque lines for Wahlberg to utter and thus the joke is on Mark not on Will.  Michael Keaton plays Glen, their police squad captain seems like he is ad-libbing lines left and right trying to up with the scene.  I don't know if this was intentional but Keaton's portrayal was hilarious.

The Other Guys: Mark Wahlberg & Will Ferrell | A Constantly Racing Mind

The flaw for "The Other Guys" is in the thin storyline that screenwriters Adam McKay and Chris Henchy try to flesh out Ferrell's natural comedic pacing.  In this case, it seems that Will isn't given enough material to keep the laughs coming with out, instead he is running constantly into awkward pauses that take the actors a beat to recover  I get what McKay is trying to do a "Lethal Weapon" reverse parody, but it doesn't quite work.  I sense that the pacing of the jokes and the editing of the scenes don't seem to be in harmony.  What is funny, but not played on enough, was that they had Michael Keaton working an extra job to pay for his gay son to go to college.  Rob Riggle ("Knight and Day") and Damon Wayans Jr. performances were pedestrian at best and predictable.  Steve Coogan was in fact an asset as the weasel stockbroker out of a Charles Dickens’s story.  Eva Mendes was just pure eye candy to distract us from the obvious lack of story, but that's okay.

As usual, Adam McKay treats this movie like a TV segment, and it feels this way to the audience.  Mark Wahlberg’s character sliding down a table, arms spread wide taking out the bad guys is extremely unlikely and takes the viewer is just to ridiculous for a viewer to suspend their belief any longer.  In contrast, When Ferrell is given a wooden gun and Wahlberg says "but that’s just a wooden gun," inviting a smack in the face with said wooden gun by Ferrell is funny.  Explosions and stunt effects for the film seem to be on par on what we expect in films today.  As a parody of "Lethal Weapon," I don't think it measures up.  As a typical buddy film, "The Other Guys" also falls short.  Should you watch this film at the theater?  I say no.  Wait for the DVD or Blu-ray and give it a shot there.  You are not missing much.

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime
Year:  2010
Staring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Damon Wayans Jr.
Director: Adam McKay
Producer(s): Patrick Crowley, Will Ferrell,  Adam McKay, Jimmy Miller
Writer: Adam McKay, Chris Henchy
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 116 minutes
Release Date: 8/6/2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dinner for Schmucks

Dinner for Schmucks: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
W hen watching "Dinner for Schmucks" you have to ask yourself one question.  Who is the real idiot here?  Is it Steve Carrel "The Office" who plays Barry, the unwitting dupe, or Paul Rudd "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" as Tim, the nice guy who can't help himself in wanting to climb the corporate ladder?  Perhaps it is Bruce Greenwood "Star Trek" - 2009 as Lance Fender, the corporate leader intent on keeping people in their place.  Is the biggest schmuck in this film really Ron Livingston "Band of Brothers", as Caldwell, who obviously has no qualms about finding and inviting the most hapless rube to Fender's dinners. How ever you justify seeing "Dinner for Schmucks," do it, it is worth your time for this comic film by Jay Roach "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery".  

After a seventh floor executive at Fender Financial is fired, sixth floor analyst Tim (Rudd) is eyeing the upper floor and the departed exec's office.  Given the opportunity to make an impression on his bosses, Tim baits them with hooking millionaire Mueller as a client.  Mueller is the rich heir of a Swiss munitions manufacturer from that made a ton of money during WWII.  Fender (Greenwood) gives Tim the opportunity, however, on the condition that he comes to monthly dinner that he holds in honor of the biggest idiot they can find.  Although Tim thinks that the idea is stupid, he goes along until his girlfriend Julie who is appalled by the idea.  Hoping that he can get out of the dinner by faking a backache, Tim is calling and driving and accidently hits Barry with his Porsche. A hilarious debate ensues in the middle of the street between Tim and Barry as they debate the price of keeping a lawyer out of the proceedings.  The price ranges from $5 to $1000 that Barry thinks he has to pay.  I have to give it to Tim, as he could have really taken advantage of Barry, but it is moments like this where Tim's character comes through.  Going home to his girlfriend Julie, Tim explains that after meeting Barry it is fates design that he goes to the dinner with Barry as his guest.  Realizing she Tim is a jerk, she leaves the apartment.  Did I mention Tim keeps asking her to marry him?  Bad time for that now, I guess. 

Havoc continues as Barry shows up, and throws Tim's back out for real, invites one of Tim's old psycho-girlfriends over mistakes Julie for said stalker, tears up his apartment, and keeps Tim up all night with just general goofiness.  As all this takes place, the great Peter Sellers comes to mind in his role as the hapless Inspector Clouseau.  The next day Tim is to meet with Müeller and his wife (she's the art collector) and Tim was supposed to bring Julie (the art curator) so he and Müeller could talk business.  Already ruining his relationship with Julie, Tim is intent on landing Müeller as a client for his firm.  Barry to the rescue, he brings the psycho-girlfriend as a substitute.  I would love to tell you more but I have told too much already... 

Dinner for Schmucks: Steve Carrel  & Paul Rudd| A Constantly Racing Mind

Inspired by the 1998 French film "Le dîner de cons"  aka "The Dinner Game," Jay Roach and writers David Guion and Michael Handelman have taken Francis Veber original work and turned out a film that appeal to the base need of the audience to feel superior.  Steve Carell as Barry does an extraordinary job of pulling off the hapless goofy IRS worker who makes dioramas that pose dead mice in famous works of art.  The director shows us with painful detail how much care and pride that Barry puts into each of his “mouseterpieces.” Although we truly think, Barry is a schmuck we love him anyway.  

Tim, on the other hand, we are not as sure about him as he waffles between nice guy and jerk throughout the film.  Paul Rudd as Tim shows us sides of all of us who are willing do to anything to get ahead in life despite our moral compass.  Tim's girlfriend Julie, played by The Devil Wears Prada’s Stephanie Szostak provides that moral character that Tim lacks.  Julie is an art curator whose current client is the wild and over the top artist, Kieran, whose artwork is filled with exotic images of him with horns, eating and devouring animals, or he posed in Christ-like poses.  Played by Jemaine Clement, one-half of the music comedy duo 'Flight of the Conchords,' is an over the top character that adds another layer of absurdity to this film.  Clement adds a complete layer of sexual tension that hangs in the background, as it hangs in the back of Tim's mind.  It takes Barry as Tim describes as a walking tornado, to bring these thoughts to the surface.  

In fact, Barry brings all sorts of Chaplin-esqe sympathetic comedy to "Dinner for Schmucks" that without him would be just plain mean spirited.  Director Roach realizes that although we are there to laugh at poor Barry, he also gives Barry a sympathetic back-story.  One that if you were paying attention to all the mouse posing vignettes you would realize that those are Barry's way of communicating his sorrow and grief over the lose of his wife to his boss, Thurman Much - The Master of Mind control. Zach Galifianakis seems to be popping up everywhere now-a-days and his addition to this film helps even out the characters, proving that schmucks can be cruel as well. Lucy Punch as Darla the stalker chasing after Tim, is a nice touch that makes for one funny lunch scene. 

Take my word for it, if you don't see "Dinner For Schmucks" at the theater, see it on DVD, this film is funny, well timed, with both the comedic pacing, and the steady editing that keeps the laughs coming and the fun flowing.  Dinner For Schmucks is rated PG-13, which is about Barry's mental age.

Movie Data
Genre: Comedy
Year:  2010
Staring:  Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Jay Roach
Producer(s): Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes, Jay Roach
Writer: David Guion, Michael Handelman, Francis Veber (film "Le Diner de Cons")
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: 7/30/2010

Originally published on Associated Content on 8/3/2010 by Robert Barbere