Roman J. Israel, Esq. (***1/2) – We can’t have nice things

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Roman J. Israel, Esq. – 2017

Written and Directed by Dan Gilroy
Starring Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Nanzeen Contractor, Joseph David-Jones, Andrew T. Lee, Shelley Hennig, Amanda Warren, Sam Gilroy, Tony Plana, DeRon Horton, Hugo Armstrong, Lynda Gravátt

This, is our fork in the road…

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a man for whom the hard, narrow and treacherous path of righteousness has been his only source of solace for his whole working life. He’s been the silent partner in a law firm with his inspiration and former Law School professor for almost 30 years. Now that his professor has had a heart attack, he has a crisis on his hands.

He gets an offer of employment from another one of his ailing partner’s former students George Pierce (Farrell), but he really wants to do is work with the poor and dispossessed. Unfortunately, he finds during his interview with Maya (Ejogo) that they are all volunteers, so he must accept Pierce’s offer of working in a high pressure and way more successful firm while offering help to Maya when he has time.

One of his first clients provides for Roman an opportunity, and in a moment of weakness, he pounces on that chance to improve his lowly existence. In true Thomas Hardy (the 19th century novelist) form, as soon as he takes the risk, he begins to succeed, while attempting to push his past behind him. His past will not be ignored, however.

Ultimately, Gilroy and Washington do an above average job of hitting every doomed note of the unsung hero, whose miserable life starts to get better while immediately falling down around him. All because…well, he’ll tell you that himself.

To say this is a great film would be stretching it a bit. It certainly is better than the advanced word out of the Toronto International Film Festival. The fact that they cut almost a quarter of an hour out of it didn’t entirely help, if we’re trying to give the motivations of both the protagonist and the two people who end up being disciples of the man he was before he changed.

It’s at this point that the story requires the most willing suspension of disbelief. The script requires us to accept that each of very few interactions with Israel has made enough of an impression with George and Maya as to push them into new heights of dedication to social causes. They dive right in, asking Roman for further words as he clearly struggles for his own inspiration, which is now seemingly out of reach.

The ending, like the rest of the film, relies on a series of exact happenings that give Washington’s protagonist increasingly fewer options. Even so, he’s such an excellent actor, he gives enough grist and flawed good intentions, the story works.

Gilroy and cinematographer Robert Elswit continue the marvelous work they did on the best movie of 2014, Nightcrawler to set a mood of Los Angeles which allows its vast expanse to feel claustrophobic as well as sadly beautiful.

If there is any disappointment to the film it’s that there doesn’t seem to be enough room for the script to acquire peripheral characters that have more dimension than required to push the plot forward. Farrell is as engaging here as I have seen him, but in the end, he feels more a mechanism of the plot than a fully fleshed character.

The same goes for the incredibly appealing Ejogo, whose idealism still has a shred of innocence after years of neglect. She gives the effect of a withered flower, once more opening to a beautiful bloom under Israel’s now eclipsing sun.

There’s virtually no shot at this film winning any awards, and perhaps it doesn’t truly deserve any. Washington’s about the only actor alive that can so eloquently display his faults as a virtue. He’s able to color a little outside the lines of his somewhat limited character. Even though he shows signs of a high functioning autism, he knows the point of his character is self-analysis that the others will learn from. This limits him to acknowledge he’s doomed from the start.

This is why it would appeal to me as a Catholic. It’s a brand that he needs to accept, and there’s no outrunning the shadow, especially if you avoid the truth about yourself.

Gilroy is now in that special zone as an incredibly talented writer and director who is outside of the glow of Hollywood, particularly because he doesn’t rely on the powers that be to fulfill his vision. If anything, this story was a little too well written, as it doesn’t leave much room for the viewer to contemplate how they’d react to the hero, even if the hero knows he’s become a fraud. If the judgement of this film is a little too harsh, it is certainly no crime to write something so well you leave little room for nuance that most scripts don’t have anyway.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens the Potter world (****1/2)

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – 2016

Director David Yates
Screenplay by J.K. Rowling based on the book of the same name
Starring  Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman, Colin Farrell

Before we go any further, I have to say this: I love this movie. It does much of what Harry Potter took 8 movies to do within the space of its two hours. More than anything, it breaks the feeling of claustrophobia we had in heading back to Hogwarts every single year and exploring the cracks and crevices within its bounds.

We begin in New York back in the prohibition era. Not only is alcohol restricted, there are severe limitations for American Wizards and Witches too. Newt Scamander (Redmayne) arrives, but he’s not planning on staying. He wants to head to Arizona, where he plans to give some of his magical beasts room to thrive. Soon after he arrives, he comes across an earnest and well-meaning muggle (Fogler). They are soon tied together, for better or worse. Mostly better, really.

He also encounters Mary Lou (Morton) a muggle who thinks Magic is dangerous and is soldiering the fight to tear it out by the root. She has adopted children conscripted into her army of fear. One of these, Creedence (Miller),  is conspiring with a high-ranking Auror wizard (Farrell) to find a very powerful child. What is an Auror? Essentially a Fed.

Another low ranking Auror (Waterston) takes it upon herself to investigate the doings for Scamander. Just about the time she figures out the depth of his and his muggle friend Jacob’s doings, they all get steeped into some big trouble.

The best parts about Fantastic Beasts… is the casual nature of the story. We know there will be fireworks, but for most of the movie, there is a concentrated effort on enjoying the wonder. The vehicle for this enjoyment is Fogler, who is essentially a stand in for the viewer. We want to be amazed and don’t want to be shooed away. The muggles in the Hogwarts films are necessarily bumpkins. They have no real chance for commentary, except for the negative kind. Smartly, they make Jacob a good guy, but an average guy. People can love him because of his character, not because he knows spells. Every discovery he makes in the film is a discovery for us. We get to breathe it in, with no feeling that we should disappear.

In allowing us the chance to gaze, the filmmakers use their time wisely in developing the rest of the story. Rowling has learned how to condense over the years and it pays off with a riveting last act. By the time we get to the chase, it’s almost easy to forget that they are destroying much of the city like happens in most movies these days. It’s a fair bet you can guess if the city stays destroyed or if anyone remembers it.

Colin Farrell is absolutely stunning in his role as Auror. Playing someone with questionable motives really suits him. He’s better here than anything I have seen him in outside of his work with Brendan Gleeson.

Waterston is a major find. She is so humbly engaging, she is impossible not to love. She is able to exhibit intelligence, compassion and the emergence of strength. Let’s hope she’s given more reins than Hermoine. Even better, her younger sister Queenie (Sudol) fits the times and makes magic fun as heck. She is an exceptional supporting character.

Fogler is incredible. If they find a way to incorporate him into the future movies and somehow connect him to Hogwarts, it will make everything so much better. The possibility is there to be a very exciting union with a wonderful Witch.

Redmayne is a natural Wizard. His quirks feel at home and much less annoying than in stuff like Jupiter Ascending. He is groomed into a believable awkward hero and definitely someone upon whom is worth investing 5 films.

The very biggest drawback is in the cameo. It was enough to almost cripple my enjoyment of the series going forward. If things go heavy in the direction of that star and the character, it’s hard to get excited.

Let’s see what happens, though. They made a lot of good moves in this film. I was tired of Harry Potter’s world. Let’s be glad we’re in an entirely different part of it now.

(****1/2 out of *****)

The Lobster (***1/2) is precisely as pathetic as it’s supposed to be

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The Lobster – 2016

Director Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay Efthymis Filippou & Lanthimos
Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Ben Whishaw

I get it. There is a contingent out there who will love this film and it’s screenplay drolled to perfection by a cast that is as bewildered and browbeaten by conformity as we are at times. The Lobster has won a bunch of prizes and is destined to win even more. It’s the kind of film that is perfect for those who like to isolate themselves by liking a movie. There may be no better script presented this year, to be sure. The direction doesn’t miss a beat, either. Every scene, every angle: it all means something and much of it has a dark, grey beauty. That said, I can tell you without a doubt I will never watch this film again.

Starting off with the seemingly senseless death by handgun of a donkey in a field somewhere at the hands of an obviously spurned woman,  we soon understand the premise and rules presented in this jarred version of the future. In this time, people are discouraged from being single. It’s illegal, in fact. When they find themselves in that way, they need to report to a hotel. While checking in, we discover that the guests have 45 days to find a mate or they will be transformed into “the animal of their choice.”

There are a series of rules in the hotel, some that stab away at loneliness, some that encourage conformity and one particularly bizarre hunting ritual that allow the hunters to extend their time by bagging a certain type of game. When we discover where this game comes from later, that solved mystery gives way to myriad new ones that seem designed to be rules for rules’ sake.

To call this dystopian is a misnomer, because it takes itself so seriously and follows its rules so intricately. There are no kids yearning to be free, either. It’s beyond absurd, and if it is funny, it’s also too cutting to produce more than a sympathetic smile from this viewer. I spent enough years being single to understand the agony and pressure inherent from a table for one.

There is a deliberate choice in the film to present every line with a different accent, but absolutely not one shred of emotion. Every character spends their time trying to calculate what to say in the effort to avoid detection of who and what they are, because we know there are consequences to being genuine.

Still, it bothers our protagonist David (Farrell) to the extent that when someone beats the game, he has to go out of his way to point it out. Then he discovers that in this world, just like their own, most are content with their own version of events. They don’t need to know the truth. They just need to know they beat the clock and can continue their sad clinging to delusion. It beats the alternative, even if that option is thought through.

The overall effect to me is somewhere between amused and nails on a chalkboard. This film has appeal to people I admire, and I cannot fault them their feelings. It’s a little too close to “Sprockets” for my taste. When I watch a movie or read a book, I am in for a different type of entertainment. I don’t need to touch anyone’s monkey but my own.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks

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Mary Poppins – 1964

Director James Stevenson
Starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns
Screenplay Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi based on the book by P.L. Travers

Saving Mr. Banks – 2013

Director John Lee Hancock
Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell, B. J. Novak, Ruth Wilson
Screenplay Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith

I avoided watching Mary Poppins for years, in part because it was so often on in our house.   My sisters, a set of twins four years older than I, were always looking through TV Guide for showings of that, Sound of Music and other musicals and dropping suggestions for Mom and Dad to watch them on the house’s lone color television.  Throughout the years, I was able to catch the film in its entirety, but not ever in a single setting.  It didn’t help that Dick Van Dyke had perhaps the single worst English accent in recorded history.  I could not stand 5 seconds of his cloying attempt at low rent British.  Indeed, to this day, Van Dyke sets a standard for bad accents on film.  Even Costner did better in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  And he didn’t even try.

That Van Dyke’s accent and somewhat daft character keeps Mary Poppins from being a perfect film is a given.  How much it detracts depends on:

  1. Whether it’s the accent or the actor that is wrong
  2. Whether his character was intended as just a really happy guy or kind of an idiot
  3. How much you think it matters to kids vs. adults

Dick Van Dyke was at the top of his game in the 1960’s.  In the midst of his classic television run with Carl Reiner and Mary Tyler Moore, Van Dyke had the physical comedy thing down pat.  He could also get a point or two across Andy Griffith-style.  It’s understandable that Disney would want to work with him.  It is equally understandable that Travers would think him all wrong for the role.  Just think what Guinness could have done as a Chimney Sweep with an imagination.  On the other hand, could Van Dyke have better succeeded had he just played an American?  It would have taken another line or two of dialogue at most and would have allowed a little more room to play the character straight.

That goofy accent, however, precludes playing Bert as a normal person, or even just a slightly obtuse Cockney.  Van Dyke blamed his accent teacher, who was Irish. So comically bad is his accent, they just go with screwball, at the cost of a real, understandable character.  Even the one scene where he “teaches” Mr. Banks the error of his ways is like something out of Awakenings.    The fog temporarily lifts, and we see someone who comes out of the dark, speaks cogently and then drifts away.  The rest of the time, watching Bert feels like watching something fly over the cuckoo’s nest.

Much like the stubborn millions that insist The Goonies is something other than an insult to every child’s intelligence, Van Dyke gets a pass for Bert.  Many have a warm spot in their hearts for this lovable goof.  Giving credit where it is due, Van Dyke did a good job singing and hoofing it.  It’s hard to imagine the rooftop dance scene without him.  It is very conceivable to imagine Mary Poppins having little room in her life for this Jar Jar Binks, even if she can appreciate the differences between he and Mr. Banks.  So can adults look past this character?  I couldn’t, even as a kid.  There was nothing to identify with.  My father was a serious man, who often told jokes.  To me, Bert seemed like a joke, with no capacity to be serious.  This did not improve when I finally watched the whole thing.

It’s a shame, too.  The rest of the movie borders on genius.  Andrews deserved her Oscar for her quick wit as much as her stellar singing voice.  Glynis Johns is brilliant as a apparently daft mother, Winifred.  It takes no more than 5 minutes to become convinced of her genius.  As a father now myself, I identify with Mr. Banks as Walt Disney does.  The music, as contorted as it makes things for Van Dyke, is classic.  Several of the songs, aside from that ridiculous Uncle Albert business, are memorable from first listen.

Speaking of Uncle Albert, the most interesting thing about that part of the film, which really has not aged well, is that the old goof is played by Ed Winn, who is primarily known as the father of Keenan.  The whole scene and Ed’s voice is so off-putting it gives me concern that children would ever be allowed to be alone with him.  It’s the voice and look that fills nightmares.

When one weighs the real negatives versus the positive, Mary Poppins is a good film, overall.  Just not the great one its been given credit for.  It does, however what it is supposed to do for most who see it.  It restores hope.

(**** out of *****)

Saving Mr. Banks is the kind of film that brings life to Mary Poppins the same way Hitchcock reintroduced the world to Psycho.  There is some magic in the air, but it’s partly dampened by Thompson’s portrayal of P.L. Travers.  She really puts the “ice” in nice.  There is a reason she’s such a sweet person, and that’s for us to figure out through a series of flashbacks.  The general story is Travers’ childhood spent with her very nice and attentive father (Farrell).  As we draw the curtain back, we discover more about her family.  The tension is unbearable even after the inspiration for her titular heroine arrives on the scene.

Back in the present of the 1960’s, Walt Disney (Hanks) is trying to woo Travers into signing over the film rights to her precious commodity.  He brings her to California in that very pursuit.  This part is first in the long line of made up stuff about the film.  In real life, she’d already signed over the rights to the film.  Notes from the consultations that took place during the visit are reasonably accurate, however.  This includes her objections to the hiring of Van Dyke, the use of animation and her perception that the harsher aspects of Poppins’ character were watered down.  The film does a decent job of showing Disney’s firmness on these points, but the order of the signing has a lot to do with his actions.  In this sequence, Disney seems much more bold.

One of the most genuine aspects of Saving Mr. Banks is the relationship between Travers and her driver, Ralph (Giamatti).  This is an easy sequence of interactions from two incredibly talented veteran actors just doing what they do.  I think the film would have been better had they handled it purely from that aspect and ditched Disney altogether.

This is not to say that it isn’t fun to watch the Disney studios in action during their heyday.  The architecture of the lot is a joy to behold.  There is a reason the world of entertainment went through Disney by then.

Saving Mr. Banks does not tread any new ground, but it doesn’t tread in maudlin territory either.  It’s accessible and it gives you a little in depth feeling for the spirit of the beloved film.  How much of it is true depends on your willingness to suspend disbelief.  The saddest thing about Travers life is not touched upon here, and with good reason.  Upon her death in 1996, Travers was given the following description, according to her grandkids.

Travers “…died loving no one and with no one loving her.”

I hope to God that’s not true.

(***1/2 out of ****)

 

CPE, Em & El: Not quite an Epic, but it’ll do

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Epic – 2013

Director Chris Wedge
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell, Beyoncé Knowles, Christoph Walz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler
Written by William Joyce based on his book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs

In the end, I really expected nothing from this film, so I did not leave disappointed.  Epic is the kind of film that lesser storytellers would have turned into a diatribe about going green, lessening your carbon footprint and such.  Most of us would know that type of film as Ferngully, according to my wife.  Thankfully, I never saw it.  I almost never saw this one, either, as I was fighting sleep from the get-go.  My girls fighting over popcorn and an Icee.  It made me wonder: is 10 and 7 too old to make one share a large drink?  And, oh yeah, there is a movie happening…

There is a wacky scientist father (Sudeikis) who believes he’s finally discovered proof that little men are riding birds in his forest.  He has a daughter (Seyfried), who recently lost her mother.  Her mother had left the father.  Apparently she did not believe in the little men riding the birds.  The daughter, M.K., is leaning towards her mother’s line of thought.

Of course this has to change, and through a sequence of events that seem more like plot contrivances than magic, she is made into one of the smaller people by a queen (Knowles) who is on her way out of the scene.  Now she has to babysit a soon to be budding flower until is opens, producing the replacement for the queen.  Along with the bud are a slug (Ansari) and a snail (O’Dowd).  They provide comic relief that truly is quite funny, especially in Ansari’s case.  Every time I experience Ansari, I feel like I need to see (or hear) him more.  And his cousin, Harris.

The little people seem to be mostly warriors.  There are those who make everything come to life, lead by Knowles’ Queen Tara, along with Ronin (Farrell) and Nod (Hutcherson).  The other guys, of course, are big fans of decay.  Each side seems intent to have only their side prevail, which of course flies in the face of what we know about the 4 seasons.  The two things work in convert with one another, in a symbiotic relationship.  This should matter most when my girls are taking biology, I would guess.  Nonetheless, the relationship brought to mind this song, which just would not leave for the longest time, as I heard the decay king (Walz) just kept prattling about his need to take over:

Around this time, El started moving strategically about the theater.  At first my heart leapt, because I did not want to risk the chance that she’d disturb anyone else.  The theater was only 1/3 full and there was no one in her immediate vicinity.  She played on the bars immediately in front of her chair.  There was no one in the row next to her, and she was not flailing about, so again I let her go.

Em, meanwhile, was immersed in what she was watching.  She curled up and watched as if nothing could tear her eyes from the screen.  As the band of rugged warriors and brave bugs advanced across the screen working their way towards the inevitable happy ending, she agonized with every challenge, and exhilarated with every triumph.   This movie, of course, had been made for her imagination.  My imagination, of course, was lost in the perfect cycle of growth and decay.

After this, El, still watching the movie, took a few dance steps in the direction of the screen.  She seemed just as enthralled as her sister.  She just had to be doing something with the other 90% of her brain, apparently.  So the movie appealed to her, kind of.

Is this a good movie for kids?  It depends on one’s perspective.  There is very little in the way of the idiotic preaching that destroyed The Lorax.  On the other hand, the message that is given, that you are either for life, or you are for decay, pushes an ignorant point of view.  Are they saving the idea that life and decay must work together for a potential second movie?  I am not sure.  It just seems silly to suggest to the young sponges out there that the green stuff is the only thing good seems a little short-sighted.  It is prettier though.

The vocal work is distinguished without being annoying.  The animation walks the border between Rio and Barbie’s Princess and the Popstar.  The stuff pertaining to nature is exquisite.  When it comes to M.K.’s scientist dad and Ronin, the work is rather bland.

If you want to kill an afternoon, but don’t want to turn your kids into Greener zombies, this one will do.  Don’t expect anything to last through their adolescence, however.  The girls were entertained, on their own terms, and neither of them felt the need to preach afterword.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Em’s review:

I liked the movie.  If I were to give it a rating, it would be ****1/2, or maybe a **** rating.  The thing I didn’t like about it was the Dad.  He was a little goofy looking.  I liked the slug and snail.  They were funny and gross at the same time.  I liked that at the end of the movie, when the snail was trying to be a leafman, the girl grabbed his bird.  Then he said “Hey!”

El’s review: Remember when the King (she means Ronin) says, “You’re with the slugs” and Nod said “Gross.”  Then the slugs said, “Who are you calling gross?”

CPE: So did you like the movie?  (El grins)  What would you give it?  5 Stars?

El: How did you know what I would give it.

CPE: Just a wild guess.

Seven Psychopaths: Sam Rockwell out-Walken’s Walken.

Seven-Psychopaths-Posters-SliceSeven Psychopaths – 2012

Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh
Starring  Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko

The craziest notion in the film Seven Psychopaths is the idea that Colin Farrell is any sort of writer.  I can buy the alcoholic part, even if it’s a cheap stereotype about the Irish.   But a writer?  No thanks.  I would believe an uncharismatic pretty boy actor perhaps…but back to the story.  There’s a crazy killer called the Jack of Diamonds going around knocking off members of the mafia.  There is a dog “borrowing” operation that run by two guys named Billy and Hans (Rockwell and Walken).  Billy is friends with Marty (Farrell) and Marty is a drunk.  Oh yeah, Billy stole the dog of a local mafia nut job named Charlie.  Charlie is pretty mad about this.  Stuff happens after that, but I would not want to ruin it for you.

There are some good performances in the film, most notably Rockwell and Walken.  This is Sam Rockwell at his best.  McDonagh’s dialogue rolls perfectly off his tongue.  It’s his performance alone that makes the movie a minor success.  When one  finally understands his warped perspective, it is hard not to agree with it.  Walken is as good as he has been since he’s found his late career fame.  He is subdued, which, in his case, is still more disturbed than most.  Not more than Rockwell.

For his part, Farrell has pulled out one of his better performances since McDonagh’s In Bruges.  He plays along incredulously with Walken and Rockwell, giving them enough of the lead for them to run a bit wild, but not out of control.  He spends much of the film sponging ideas off of his two nutty friends, making the idea of him as a screenwriter much more believable.

McDonagh gives evidence here that In Bruges was not a fluke.  His talent for screenwriting exceeds that of his direction, but he’s better than average there, too.  One of the best parts of the film is his exquisite self-analysis (through Walken) of his inability to write good female characters.  If there is one failing here, it is that there are more actors here than there are plot lines.  Some day, he may hit one out of the park.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Total Recall remakes Mars into Australia

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Total Recall – 2012

Director Len Wiseman
Starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsdale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, Bill Nighy, Dylan Scott Smith, Bokeem Woodbine,
Screenplay Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback, based on the original script by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett based on the story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick

“If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?”

For everyone that has “a long commute for a shit job,” Total Recall sounds like a good idea.  Len Wiseman has done a good job making the second of what undoubtedly will be many re-imaginings of the original Philip K. Dick.  As Carl Hauser / Doug Quaid, it’s kind of hard to believe that Farrell could over be a  working stiff, even with preprogrammed memories.  His fake wife, Lori (played charmingly by Beckinsdale), is right to question his intelligence on buying it all.  (They even have the temerity to present us with Obama money).  Once one gets past that with a willing suspension of disbelief, the story moves smoothly, even as he decimates terminator sentries that look like storm troopers, presumably with his bare hands.  We can buy this, of course, because he spent six weeks that seemed like an eternity building them.

What’s harder to buy is the idea of Jessica Beal as any sort of action star, even in the future.  This is definitely a personal choice, but her presence is not enough to turn my allegiances.  Her acting ability is somewhere between Erin Gray from Buck Rogers and Halle Berry in just about anything.  Oh, and Gray is the upside here.  Biel plays the same character in just about everything.

It is fun watching Beckinsdale, however.  She marches through the film, showing a mastery of every situation.  She gets to work with Wiseman a lot, since they are married.  They know how to get the most out of one another.  Taking a tangent from Stone’s groundbreaking portrayal in the original, she completely owns every scene she is in and Wiseman smartly keeps her in it much longer than Stone.

Bill Nighy is not used enough to leave an impression.  Bryan Cranston employs skills heretofore unseen.  The fake hair is not quite enough to put him in Ronny Cox territory, but he is serviceable.

Farrell is more believable but not nearly as fun as Arnold.  While both play stupid very well, Farrell has In Bruges to fall back on.  That performance is ten times anything you will see here.  We aren’t going for Oscar levels here, though.

Wiseman’s true gift in this version of Total Recall is that the effects are about as realistic as one can make a film in this context.  There are good scenes, like the early stages of the chase, when the camera pans back and we see a vista with two people jumping from platform to platform, guns blazing.  It is surrounded by movement of the city, and it looks better than anything Lucas did in the Star Wars prequels.

In the end, this movie is fun, but not necessary, and I am sure we will be saying this about the next time they re-do it.  If you like the principals or want to see some well done effects, then rent it.  If not, you are not missing anything special.

(*** out of *****)

Horrible Bosses is not nearly as bad as it’s title

Horrible Bosses – 2011

Directed by Seth Gordon

Starring Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland

Written by Michael Markowitz, John Frances Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

In the ever perfectly fitting placement of poor Hollywood screenwriting, three high school friends find themselves stuck between a rock and a bad economy.  Horrible Bosses plays like 9 to 5 meets Strangers on a Train circa Judd Apatow.  The resulting film is an unorthodox collection of sketches, some that work, some that don’t, which doesn’t amount to much, but is funny nonetheless.

Nick (Bateman), Dale (Day) and Kurt (Sudekeis) have all found themselves in an untenable situation at their places of work.  Nick works for Dave (Spacey), who is insanely jealous of his wife and generally enjoys the misery he puts his employees into.  Dale, a dental assistant, is being accosted continually by his sex-starved dentist boss, Dr. Julia (Aniston) and it looks to get in the way of his pending marriage to his longtime girlfriend.  Bobby (Farrell) is the louse, drug addled son of Kurt’s boss, who passes away soon after credits roll, but not too soon to hear that he was in line to get the job.  He doesn’t, of course.  Bobby steps in.

This set up is about the worst aspect of the film.  The exposition goes out of its way to show that the friends have ostensibly no way out, as if to make what comes next more excusable.  It would have been easier to say the economy sucked and leave it at that.  That part of the film infirmly established, we move on to the next phase of the plot: how to get rid of their problems.  Enter “M.F.” Jones (Foxx), a hit man who misleads the guys into giving him $5000 for becoming their murder consultant.  His advice, each of the friends should kill the other’s “problems,” but before they start, they should do surveillance to help, of course, make them all look like accidents.

At this, the film takes off like a jalopy, clanking and puking out filth throughout the journey, but getting somewhere in the process.

“It’s like we stepped inside the mind of an asshole.”

Kurt spouts the line as they break into the house of his boss, Bobby.  It’s a simple phrase, but it’s enjoyable and apt.  The script from here on is dotted with these types of lines.  Some of them my wife liked, some I did.  Either way, one can safely expect to get a chuckle or three about every half hour.  There is a pleasant aspect to the randomness of the humor throughout Horrible Bosses.  It fits together well at times, other times it clanks, and at other times goes absolutely nowhere.  Editing may have helped, especially when one watches the end credit scenes and sees some that would have improved the overall story and are funnier than most of what was left in.

As for acting, Sedeikis, Day and Bateman have a certain amount of chemistry.  Each of them have their great lines and none of them are overly sympathetic, either.  This could be a breakthrough for Day, who until now has acquired the reputation he has on the cable show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  As for the bosses, Aniston and Farrell made the biggest change from their normal routine as Spacey did the guy he’s worked to a tee by now.  Again, their effectiveness is dependent on the writing and editing.

Obviously, more works on this film than doesn’t work.  It is the kind of film that could get better or worse with repeated viewings.  If it sounds like I haven’t made up my mind…I am pretty sure the fact I think I will be watching it again should say enough.

(*** out of *****)