Tuesday, February 19, 2013
One of my all-time favorite television shows was Seinfeld, and in one of the best episodes, Elaine is deciding what films to rent based on the recommendations of the employees at the video store. The film that forces her to betray her favorite employee's picks in favor of Weekend at Bernie's 2 was a fictitious film called The Pain and The Yearning, a three hour film where "an old woman experiences pain and yearning." You might be able to see where I'm headed with this review, but trudge on faithful readers...
I need to preface this review by saying that I am not a fan of director Michael Haneke in any way, shape or form. I admire his composition, and I have always enjoyed the fact that as a director, he never feels the need to get "coverage" on a scene. In other words, he doesn't set up the standard shot-reverse shot conversations that we as an audience are accustomed to seeing. Apart from that I can't say anything else good about him. He is a provocateur, plain and simple, and he utilizes the cheapest of tricks to get a reaction out of an audience, such as lingering on static shots for an interminable amount of time and using sudden, shocking moments to relieve the ridiculous tension that he's built by simply not doing anything at all for extended periods of time (up to an hour in some cases).
All that being said, I was strangely looking forward to seeing Amour since I had heard so many incredible things about it. I put aside the fact that I didn't like Cache, The White Ribbon, The Piano Teacher, Funny Games (either version) or The Seventh Continent, and decided to go into this with no biases. It didn't take long to get turned off almost entirely though, as he was clearly up to his old tricks within the first ten minutes of the film, holding on a static shot of an audience preparing to watch a piano concert, with our main characters framed just left of center, and the shot holds for several minutes for no discernible reason. If I'm missing something here, I'd certainly like for someone to tell me what it is and why I clearly don't get it.
The film tells the story of two octogenarians Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) & Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) living in quiet isolation. One morning, Anne suddenly slips into a catatonic state & when she recovers several minutes later, she has no memory of the incident. Georges takes her to the hospital, only to discover that she's suffered a stroke which has left her paralyzed on her right side.
Upon returning from the hospital, Anne makes Georges promise not to take her back to the hospital, no matter what happens to her. And thus the film is a long, slow march towards death for Anne, and Georges is left to take care of her by himself. He refuses help from their daughter (Isabelle Huppert) & he fires a hospice nurse for being insensitive to his wife. And so the rest of the film plays out, sometimes in real time, as we watch this woman die, and this man attempt to care for her.
It's a chore to get through. It's unsparing in its brutality and how unsentimental it is, and while it's likely the most realistic portrayal of the long process of dying, it's exhausting to watch when the audience has absolutely nothing to cling to in the way of relief. I understand that this is the point that Haneke is trying to make, I'm just trying to say that it makes the film almost unbearable to watch.
I often feel like a philistine when I walk out of a film such as this and find myself completely and totally turned off by what the filmmaker was attempting to do. I consider myself to be a fairly enlightened film goer, I just can't handle a film as unrelentingly morose as Amour is. Much like Cache, the film relies on two big, startling moments to relieve the built-up tension, and just like in that film, they both feel cheap to me. They're designed solely to force the audience into reacting to something since the rest of the film has been dwindling in silence for so long. To my mind, it's no different than the cheap jump scares that come from any of the Paranormal Activity films, they're solely there to get a reaction from the audience.
What makes them feel especially cheap to me in a film like this is the fact that Haneke is clearly not interested in goading the audience into feeling any sort of emotional attachment to his characters or situations prior to this. These two outbursts almost seem designed to jolt the audience awake after sitting in silence for so long. It's Machiavellian in a way, since it seems to come from a place of pure maliciousness on the filmmakers part.
The two lead performances are both very good, and are likely the only reason I could even recommend watching this film. Riva is an actress that I've seen far too little of in the past, but she is in one of my absolute favorite films, Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Her performance here is spare, subtle & devastating. Trintignant is forced to do the heavy lifting and is quite good, in spite of the fact that his character is pretty curmudgeonly. If the two leads had not been as good as they are, this might have been one of the most irredeemable films ever made.
I'd be willing to bet that your appreciation of Amour as a film will directly correlate to your appreciation of Michael Haneke as a filmmaker. He is undeniably skilled behind the camera, but his willingness to treat his audiences with contempt has all but turned me off to his films in general. Is there value in a film like this? Yes, but I think that there's value in other films that can illustrate similar points with more levity. Maybe I am a philistine after all, but I'd rather not be forced to live in a world where I'm forced to watch old women experience pain and yearning without the ability to gasp for some air.
GO Rating: 2/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]
Friday, February 15, 2013
"This is the peace shield!" "Nothing says peace like a gigantic gun."
I will fully admit that I was filled with nothing but apprehension about the new Weinstein Company animated film Escape From Planet Earth. The first trailer I saw for it, which was before Wreck-It Ralph, made it look like a 7-11 commercial with a hackneyed storyline. As a movie loving parent with movie loving daughters, it's my duty to see most every kid friendly film that gets released and I knew I'd get dragged to this one as well.
Thankfully, the film is actually infinitely better than its advertising campaign would lead you to believe. In fact, despite some lame jokes early on and some ridiculous plot contrivances, the film is actually pretty good.
Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) is a renegade space hero from the planet Baab (pronounced Bob). His older brother Gary (Rob Corddry) is in charge of mission control on his adventures, and constantly saving his brother's hide. When Scorch accepts a dangerous mission to "The Dark Planet" (Earth), Gary protests, as no aliens have ever come back from that planet. Scorch fires his brother & sets off to be a hero.
Arriving on Earth, Scorch is kidnapped by the corrupt General Shanker (William Shatner) and held with other abducted aliens. Gary, feeling bad about the falling out with his brother, mounts a rescue mission to get his brother back. Once he arrives on Earth, he is promptly abducted as well, and begins to uncover a much more nefarious scheme at work involving General Shanker.
At first, the film seemed to be going for a lot of cheap, lowest common denominator jokes, but it began to show some signs of both life and bite with an informational video that Gary watches about Earth. Narrated by Ricky Gervais, it's actually a scathing indictment of a lot of things that humanity has done over the course of its evolution. I and many of the other parents in the audience were in hysterics, and it pulled me instantly back into the film.
There are several Star Trek references as well, such as referring to Earth as a Class-M planet, but the film actually manages to balance these jokes that will fly over the heads of children, with lots of jokes that they will eat up. Ultimately, what won me over was the film's underlying message that our planet is full of militaristic madmen who would genuinely not understand what to do with aliens who actually do come in peace. It's what I had been hoping to find more of in Monsters Vs Aliens or Planet 51 several years ago, but this film is actually much better than those as it balances the commentary quite well with themes that children will latch on to like working together to achieve a goal and believing in yourself.
The voice cast is excellent, with some great supporting turns from Jane Lynch, Craig Robinson, & George Lopez. Corrdry is very good as well, as is Sarah Jessica Parker as his wife & Shatner is always a hoot. Fraser might be the only one completely out of his league. His character seems to reside in a much dumber film and most of what didn't work for me revolved around his character. With four credited writers on the film, it's no surprise that some of the jokes and situations were going to land flat, but his entire character seemed like a relic of an earlier, dumber draft of the film.
First time feature director Cal Brunker manages to keep the action moving well. He cut his teeth as a storyboard artist on such animated films as Horton Hears a Who, 9, & Despicable Me, so he's got some good experience under his belt. Two of the film's writers have also written the Hoodwinked films, which I think are pretty decent as well, and I would say that if you liked those films, you'll like this one as well.
The matinee my daughter and I attended today was packed, mainly because school is out and there's been a dearth of animated theatrical films since Rise of the Guardians, but part of me is hopeful that a halfway decent film is actually going to find an audience and make some money. This is not the kind of film that will set the world on fire and it's likely to be forgotten in years to come. It's not on the same level as a Pixar, Laika or even Dreamworks at their best, but it is much better than it looks and provides lots of laughs for kids and adults.
If you have kids, I would highly recommend that you take them to see this film, and even adults without kids will find enough stuff to keep them entertained for 80 minutes, but it's not essential viewing. At the end of the day, it's better than it has any right to be, and that's more than I can say for just about every film I've seen so far this year.
[Photos via Rotten Tomatoes]
Thursday, February 14, 2013
"I believe in a God with a sense of humor. I would find it absolutely intolerable not to be to able blame someone for all this."
One of the most fascinating & interesting actors currently working is John Hawkes. He first showed up on my radar in 2005 when I saw him on Deadwood on HBO & then in Miranda July's film Me and You and Everyone We Know. It was his Oscar nominated performance in 2010's Winter's Bone that got him a lot of well-deserved attention, and he's been on a roll since then. Many prognosticators thought that his role in 2012's The Sessions would earn him another Oscar nomination, but it wasn't to be unfortunately. He's certainly the best thing about the film, and I'm always happy to see him recognized for his work.
In this true story, Hawkes plays Mark O'Brien, a man who was afflicted with polio when he was a child, and has been bed-ridden ever since. He's allowed to be out of his iron lung for up to four hours at a time, and he spends most of that time either at church or at the park. He is contacted by a local university to do a study on sexuality and the handicapped, and this gives him a sense of his own lack of sexuality in his life.
He is given the number of a licensed sex therapist, and with the counsel of his priest (William H. Macy) decides to embark on a quest to lose his virginity before it's too late. Cheryl, the sex therapist (Helen Hunt) is up front with Mark about their sessions together. The ground rules are that there will be no more than six, and that it is about him becoming in touch with his body and desires, and not about him projecting emotions on her. Of course, it's more complicated than that, and before long, Mark begins having feelings for Cheryl, which Cheryl seems to somewhat reciprocate, in spite of her status as a married woman with a family.
The film was written and directed by a man named Ben Lewin, who I was surprised to find was an older Polish gentleman. The reason I say that this surprised me is that after watching the film, I expected to find out that it was the product of some young film school graduate, since so much of the dialogue and particularly the third act situations all seem like the stuff of a rank amateur. The film gets so heavy handed at the end of the second act and start of the third act, that it actually almost completely came off the rails for me.
I enjoyed the first hour of the film, and thought it moved well with all of the dialogue and situations feeling very grounded in reality, and well saturated with humor. However, the film takes a hard left turn into cliche-ville and becomes so absurdly over-wrought, I found myself becoming very disappointed in it. I don't want to risk spoiling the film for anyone, but the scene with Cheryl & Rhea Perlman at the temple & the next scene with Mark and the power outage were awful. They were the kind of thing that make me hate movies like this. I understand that it's based on a true story, but those two scenes in particular were nonsensical. Thankfully it rebounded a bit and ended strongly, but it teetered on the brink for much of the last half hour.
The performances were very good in the film, in spite of its heavy handed subject matter. Hawkes is a magnetic actor who manages to turn what could have been a "Simple Jack" style character into a real person. His eyes are incredibly expressive, and his work here is top notch. His role isn't as showy as Hugh Jackman's in Les Mis, but I certainly think he deserved a nomination over Jackman for Best Actor.
Helen Hunt is also good, though her accent is a bit overdone. Maybe it's just because she has such a recognizable voice and putting a Boston accent on it sounded strange (very similar to her As Good As It Gets co-star Jack Nicholson in The Departed). William H. Macy is also good in what is essentially a plot device of a character. I did, however, like the way the film jumps around a bit and utilizes Mark's confessional sessions with the priest as a means of explaining some of his inner life.
Overall, The Sessions is a good film that walks the narrowest of tight ropes. It could have been a great film had it found a more solid footing and ditched the cliche-ridden third act scenes, or it could have been an awful film had the script and performances not been as good as they are. I don't see myself revisiting this film again, but I could see people thoroughly enjoying it. It's a very mature film that deals with sexuality in a light hearted but adult way, which is more than I can say for most films in this day and age. It's worth your time, just don't expect too much from it and you won't be disappointed.
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]
Sunday, February 10, 2013
"I've got no money, I've got no time, I've got no... pants."
As far as auspicious beginnings go, director Seth Gordon had one of the finest. His first feature length film was 2007's The King of Kong, an absolutely remarkable documentary about old school video game world records. It's unfortunate that his leap to fictional filmmaking has been notable only for how generic the films are that he's chosen to make (Four Christmases & Horrible Bosses). I am sad to report that his latest film, Identity Thief, does nothing to change that perception of Gordon as a director.
Sandy (Jason Bateman) is stuck working a thankless role at a large corporation when he fields a phone call from a woman named Diana (Melissa McCarthy) offering to help him protect his identity from being stolen. After a brief time on the phone, she has all the information she needs to successfully steal Sandy's identity and begin using it to rack up some major league purchases. After Sandy is arrested for missing a court date in Florida for assaulting a bartender, he realizes what has happened to him.
The only way for Sandy to reclaim his identity is to bring Diana to Denver, where he lives, since she can't be extradited across state lines (one of the many plot contrivances that seem to exist only to inflate an otherwise slim concept). Sandy travels to Florida to bring Diana in, only to discover that she's in big trouble with a drug dealer, his flunkies (Genesis Rodriguez & T.I.) and a skip tracer (Robert Patrick). The two unlikely companions are now forced to flee together across country in an attempt to clear things up.
As I hinted at earlier, my biggest issue with the film is the number of thoroughly ridiculous plot devices utilized to ensure that these two remain in each other's company for as long as humanly possible. The aforementioned extradition, the reason they can't fly together & are forced to drive, the drug dealers, etc. are all brought in to play solely to elevate this to feature length material. Eventually though, the film's bloated 113 minute running time gets the best of it, and all of these converging plot lines overwhelm the film.
I hate to accuse the film of being wholly unoriginal to boot, but it borrows from so many other "road trip" film playbooks, it's ridiculous. Even the mediocre Due Date is ripped off wholesale in a scene when Diana has a chance to runaway and then has a sudden change of heart. The film's climax is even cribbed a bit from Gordon's previous film, Horrible Bosses. I'm not asking for much from a comedy in this day and age, but the only thing that the film's screenwriter Craig Mazin has proven with every screenplay he's written (Scary Movies 3 & 4, The Hangover Part 2) is that he hasn't got an original thought in his head.
Thank goodness the fllm's leads are as likeable as they are, otherwise the film might have been a total disaster. McCarthy manages to mine the comedy in even the most banal situations, and her infectious energy is the only thing that keeps the film afloat for most of its interminable running time. Bateman is a world class comedic straight man, and he does a great job playing in counterpart to McCarthy. They're both amazing comedic talents that deserve infinitely better material than they're given here.
The film is aided by some great comedic turns in smaller roles such as Eric Stonestreet, Jon Favreau & even Patrick in his funniest turn since his role in Striptease. The major problem, which I can't stress enough, is that it's all in service of a film that's significantly less than inspired.
With a better script, fewer plot contrivances, and a tighter running time, there's a chance this could have been a much better film. As is, it's got a handful of laughs, none of which are worth wading through the rest of the film to get to. Like Horrible Bosses, it's got a talented cast that does the most they can with slight material & jokes that seem to consist of nothing more than people saying a curse word for a laugh. It's unfortunate that this film is a step backwards from that one, rather than the giant leap forward it should have been.
GO Rating: 2/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]
Friday, February 8, 2013
"Isn't she sick? I thought sick people sometimes make things up."
In what is purported to be his final theatrically released film, director Steven Soderbergh returns to familiar territory with his latest thriller Side Effects. Working from a script from Scott Z. Burns (Contagion), he has concocted a well-oiled mystery that doesn't let up once it gets going, proving that he's one of the more underrated directors working today.
It seems odd to call an Academy Award winning director underrated, but because Soderbergh has proven to be such a chameleon in his film choices, he is rarely brought up in the discussion of great directors. He's a true journeyman, working in multiple genres, styles & even technologies, always cranking out solid films and Side Effects is no different.
Emily (Rooney Mara) is going through some turmoil in her life. Her husband (Channing Tatum) is about to be released from prison for insider trading, and she seems like she's barely able to hold things together. After a failed suicide attempt, she meets with Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who prescribes her some anti-depressants.
Not feeling any better, Emily asks to be placed on a new drug called Ablixa. The drug seems to have helped her turn the corner on her depression, but brings with it the nasty side effect of sleepwalking. Her husband is not convinced he wants his wife on the medication,but she says she's never felt better. Dr. Banks decides to keep her on the medicine, but when she commits a horrendous crime, his entire medical practice falls under scrutiny, and he finds himself in danger of losing everything.
I'll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, though I fear I've already said too much. If you've seen the advertisements for the film, it's not hard to glean what she does, and it wasn't a huge surprise for me, but it caused lots of gasps from the audience at my screening. At first, the film seems to be heading straight towards becoming a screed against the pharmaceutical industry, but Soderbergh & Burns are smart enough to skirt that territory. That material has been covered before, phenomenally well, in The Constant Gardener, and doesn't need to be rehashed. It's merely a gateway into a much simpler pot-boiler.
The film is extremely well made, keeping you constantly guessing what characters' motivations are and who has an advantage over whom at any given moment. It's the kind of film that doesn't get made much anymore, mainly because it's so small and I don't mean that as an insult. In the late 70s and early 80s, directors like Brian DePalma, Alan J. Pakula, Sidney Pollock & Sidney Lumet routinely churned out entertaining whodunits, and that just doesn't happen much anymore. Too often now, audiences rely on twists & turns & big reveals that inflate otherwise slight material into self-important nonsense.
While Side Effects certainly has its faults, it doesn't hinge on twists to keep it afloat. The reveals are done in classic mystery style, with clues leading to revelations. There's no big "pull the rug out from under the audience" moment that collapses everything, it all fits together quite well.
The performances from the leads are all particularly good. Jude Law is the sort of actor who is at his best in roles like this, where he's morally ambiguous and the audience isn't sure whether or not to root for him. His best work has come from him playing dubious characters such as he played in I Heart Huckabees or The Talented Mr. Ripley. Directors who tried to cast him as an everyman or a dashing lead have worked him against his type, and it's nice to see him working with a director who knows how to utilize him properly.
Rooney Mara is also very good, building on her outstanding performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She knows how to inhabit a character and similarly make them fleshed out but still morally ambiguous. I would love to see the film again and contrast her scenes early in the film with the work she does later in the film. Tatum is perfectly serviceable in his role, as is Catherine Zeta-Jones as Emily's old therapist. It's a well put together ensemble, but Law & Mara really shine in their roles.
If you're looking for a good old fashioned mystery that flies by in about an hour and forty five minutes, Side Effects is a pretty damn good film. It will keep you engaged with its interesting characters & fine performances, and it might well be your last chance to see a Steven Soderbergh film on the big screen (his LIberace biopic is set to debut on HBO later this year). It's certainly the best film I've seen so far in 2013.
GO Rating: 3.5/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
As a parent, I've been subjected to all manner of terrible children's entertainment. Never in all of that time though has either one of my daughters turned to me five minutes into the movie and said the following statement: "Dad, is this the movie?" Until tonight. Clementine looked at me and said that in the most sincere manner imaginable, sending me into a bout of hysterics. That statement, made by a six year old girl (one who's seen her fair share of movies, mind you) sums up the entire problem with The Oogieloves. It just doesn't look, sound or feel like a movie.
Goobie, Zoozie & Toofie are The Oogieloves, a rotund trio of felt characters that speak without moving their mouths. It's off-putting at best and god damned nightmare inducing at worst. They live in a house with their friends Schluufy, a drowsy pillow, Windy Window, a window with a woman's face & curtains for hair, Ruffy, a giant felt fish, and J. Edgar, a vacuum. Yeah, the vacuum's name is J. Edgar, and don't try looking for a joke in there somewhere, it's not there, I tried. So, it's Schluufy's birthday and J. Edgar bought five magical golden balloons for her, but let go of them when he was accosted by some woodland creatures on his way home. I think anyway, I'm not entirely sure if that's what happened, but taxidermic squirrels & chipmunks were on screen at the time, and I think they had something to do with him losing the balloons.
So anyway, The Oogieloves set out on a, you guessed it, adventure to reacquire the five magical balloons. The balloons have made their way to some of your childrens' favorite celebrities, all of whom contribute a musical number to the film. You're encouraged to sing along, but the lyrics are not on screen, so good luck. First up is Cloris Leachman as Dotty Rounder who lives in a treehouse with her granddaughter Jubilee Rounder. Then it's time for a trip to the diner of Milky Marvin (Chazz Palminteri), where Ruffy wins balloon number 2 in a milkshake drinking contest. I'm not sure why I feel the need to bring this up, but in close-up, you could see Palminteri's hearing aid. It just made me sad more than anything else, I guess that's why I mention it.
The next balloon is in the possession of Rosalie Rosebud (Toni Braxton) who is about to embark on a world tour. The Oogieloves must convince her to give up her balloon before leaving for her tour by playing in her band, I think. They sing a song about sneezing and coughing that made me want to claw my eyes out. She wears an obscenely low-cut dress, so there's that I guess.
Balloon four is with my favorite character, hands down. Bobby Wobbly (Cary Elwes) is a bubble loving cowboy who's bow-legged gait causes him to wobble around and generally look like he has to take a monster dump. I'm also relatively certain that all of his dialogue was done in ADR. They sing and dance about wobbling & bubbles, but both the voice, costume and general appearance of this character is so oddly out of place in the film, it actually stands out as the film's high point. It's the sort of thing that I can most readily point at as being wrong with the entire endeavor: familiar concepts (cowboy, bubbles), misguided execution.
The last balloon is attached to a windmill near the giant sombrero home of Lola (Jaime Pressly) & Lero Sombrero (Christopher Lloyd). Lloyd is no stranger to shitty kids movies having been in Santa Buddies & Fly Me to the Moon 3D, but this is a new low even for him. Mercifully, he doesn't speak at all, and when he dances, the action is sped up a la Benny Hill to make him look like a sexy flamenco dancer. Yakety Sax may have made the scene better, but nobody involved in this film has a sense of irony.
The whole conceit of the film is that it's supposed to be an interactive movie experience, where the children are encouraged to get up, dance, shake & sing along with the action on screen. The fact that anyone thought this was revolutionary clearly has no children. Virtually every television show in the post Dora The Explorer world uses this conceit, encouraging children to shout out answers at the screen. My children are both fairly active kids, but didn't participate in any of the on-screen festivities. Something tells me that even in a "packed" theater, they wouldn't have either, but who knows?
I suppose it seems like a radical notion to someone billing himself as "Marketing Visionary" Kenn Viselman, but it's not. Every movie I've taken my kids to has been enough to hold their attention for ninety or so minutes without making them feel like they have to run around or yell at the screen like young ruffians who can't control themselves. Perhaps the very young children, say, under 4, would love this conceit, but I think it would have to be for characters they already know and trust.
This film isn't a colossal disaster, but it's mind-numbingly dumb. It's not terrible, but it's a ridiculously failed experiment. Hopefully something this lame is a one-off deal, and thankfully it's failure at the box office has all but ensured that's what this is. My daughters are also the type to laugh a lot during movies, but I don't think this movie made them laugh once. Like I said, there's probably an audience for this kind of thing, but, and I don't want to be mean here, it would take some children with extremely non-discerning taste to go for ninety minutes of this schlock.
With all of the quality children's entertainment in the marketplace, you've got to distinguish yourself on quality more than anything else. Sure, my kids love a lot of crap, but the films that they ask to watch most often are typically ones of quality (The Wizard of Oz, Ratatouille, Coraline, etc.) Films like The Oogieloves are a subpar distraction, but destined to be remembered more for what they failed to do than for what they were about. I guarantee my kids have already forgotten all about it.
[Pictures via Rotten Tomatoes]
Friday, February 1, 2013
"They say we die twice. Once when the breath leaves our body and once when the last person we know says our name."
There's a temptation to approach everything Al Pacino does with a sense of impending doom. Pretty much everything he's done since his Oscar-winning turn in Scent of a Woman has made him devolve into a self parody of his younger self. There are exceptions to this however (Angels in America, You Don't Know Jack) but more often than not, even the most promising Pacino performances reach a point where he can't contain his hammier impulses & he drags the film down with him.
Thankfully Stand Up Guys never reaches that point, in spite of a marginal script that desperately tries to sabotage itself with some out of place humor (more on that later). But overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the film.
After getting released from prison, Val (Pacino) is picked up by his old friend Doc (Christopher Walken). Val's been in the clink for 28 years for a job gone wrong, and now Doc is tasked with the nasty business of having to kill his best friend. During the botched crime, Val ended up accidentally killing the only son of their boss Claphands (Mark Margolis), and the only reason that he spared Doc was so that he would kill Val upon his release.
Upon surmising that Doc is the one to kill him, Val asks if they can have the night of their lives first. This involves stealing pharmaceuticals & a car, springing their old friend Hirsch (Alan Arkin) from a retirement home, and a few visits to a local brothel. The old criminal trio's reunion reinvigorates their spirits, and makes Doc begin to doubt whether or not he can do what he's being forced to do.
The biggest issue with the film is that it too quickly goes for cheap laughs when it really doesn't need to. Much of the film's early humor comes from some really obvious and awful set-ups. For example, did we honestly need another Viagra joke at this point in time? Worse still is a fairly low-key scene that follows, where some crucial information is gathered, is all played with Pacino lying on a hospital gurney with his comically grotesque boner popping up under a bed sheet.
Thankfully, the film does not hang its hat on such absurd set pieces, and has enough sense to move beyond this nonsense. It eventually settles in and becomes a solidly touching film whose success will totally depend on your feelings of goodwill for its trio of stars. These three actors have enough charisma to carry much better films than this, and elevate the half baked material they were given to work with. In general though, I can see a direct correlation between how much you enjoy these actors, and how much you'll enjoy the film.
The film reminds me a great deal of Grumpy Old Men. Not the most earth shattering movie ever made, but if you like seeing Walter Matthau & Jack Lemmon play a couple of crabby old bastards trying to kill one another, you'll have a blast. It's the same concept here. Watching Pacino, Walken & Arkin play youthful old criminals has a ton of novelty value, and probably made me enjoy the film more than most other people would. This is a great movie to watch with your dad, particularly if you grew up watching films like The Godfather with him.
Pacino keeps himself reigned in nicely, and ends up being better here than he's been in a long time. Walken is also great, playing things much more low key than usual, but also landing a few key laughs with his typically unconventional line readings. Arkin is good, if underused, and the supporting cast including Lucy Punch, Julianna Margulies & Addison Timlin are all very good as well. Director Fisher Stevens does a nice job with his composition, particularly Pacino's dance with a young lady at a bar & the final shot of the film was quite lovely.
This isn't the kind of thing you'll catch me saying often, but because this film was released in an otherwise dead couple of months, it's better than average. Had it been released back in November, surrounded by prestige pictures, it would have faded into memory as an anomaly, but in the doldrums of winter, it ends up seeming better than it actually is. If you like these actors in this kind of situation, I have a hard time believing you won't like this movie, or at the very least, enjoy it for what it is. If nothing else, it's worth the novelty of seeing a couple of once great actors having fun again.
GO Rating: 3/5
[Photos via Rotten Tomatoes]