Trailer: J. Edgar (dir. Clint Eastwood)


Every year since he retired from acting we seem to get one film from Clint Eastwood and this year it’s going to be one major prestige picture due this November. The film is J. Edgar and it’s a biopic detailing the life of the FBI’s founder and first director, J. Edgar Hoover.

This film will be the first time Leonardo DiCaprio and Eastwood will be working together. From the look of the cast assembled Eastwood has surrounded DiCaprio with some talented performers from Dame Judi Dench, Naomi Watts right up to Jeffrey Donovan, Geoff Pierson and Stephen Root.

The trailer shows just how much the film just screens “Awards Picture” from beginning to end. It’s not a suprise that J. Edgar has become one of the films this coming fall/winter to be a major frontrunner for the many film circles awards and, most likely, for the next Academy Awards. Here’s to hoping that this film will be a major bounce back for Eastwood after 2010’s very uneven and dull Hereafter.

J. Edgar is set for a limited release this November 9, 2011 before going worldwide a couple days later on November 11.

Film Review: Everything Must Go (dir. by Dan Rush)


Everything Must Go is Will Ferrell’s attempt to prove that he can be a serious actor and to a large extent, he succeeds.  I saw this film at the Plano Angelika and the audience, at first, seemed to be rather confused as they realized that Will Ferrell wasn’t going to be particularly funny in this film.  However, as the film progressed, his performance — if not the film itself — seemed to win the audience over.  Though, at first glance, this film would seem to have little in common with Anchorman or Tallegada Nights, it does fit in nicely as part of the Mediocre American Man trilogy.  It’s just that here, we’re supposed to feel for Ferrell’s mediocre American man as opposed to laugh at him.

In Everything Must Go, Ferrell plays a middle-aged, alcoholic who, after getting fired from his job, returns home and discovers that his wife has locked himself out of the house and has put all of his possessions out on the front lawn.  Over the next few days, Ferrell spends his time sitting out in the front yard, drinking beer, dealing with the neighbors, and eventually — with the help of a neighborhood kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace) — holding a yard sale that, as you can probably guess — serves as a metaphor for the sorry state of his life in general.  The film is based on the short story Why Don’t You Dance? by Raymond Carver and, as you can tell from the plot synopsis, it’s definitely not a film to see without your Cymbalta.

I wanted to like Everything Must Go a lot more than I actually did.  It’s a beautifully shot film that features scenes of true insight and pathos.  Unfortunately, for every scene of subtle power, there’s another scene where director Dan Rush pushes too hard to appeal to easy sentiment.  There’s a wonderfully awkward yet poignant scene in which Ferrell tracks down and talks to a woman (played by Laura Dern) who he barely knew in high school.  Ferrell and Dern have a great chemistry and the scene is difficult to watch precisely because it’s so honest and revealing.  However, to get to that scene, you have to deal with scenes of Ferrell dealing with a self-righteous neighbor (Stephen Root) or awkwardly talking to the pregnant woman (Rebecca Hall) who has just moved in across the street.  These scenes are awkward for the opposite reason — they just seem so false, forced, and predictable.

Falling somewhere in between are the scenes in which Will Ferrell befriends a lonely neighborhood boy, played by Christopher Jordan Wallace.  Wallace does a good job in the role and he and Ferrell act well opposite each other but, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel as if the Wallace is being used more as a dramatic device than an actual character.  It’s hard not to feel that this is yet another film in which the filmmakers attempt to get us to accept bad behavior on the part of a white protagonist by having him befriend the only black person in the entire movie.  

Everything Must Go is Will Ferrell’s attempt to prove that he can play a serious role and it must be said that he succeeds even as the film fails.  Essentially, he’s just playing a real world version of the same goofy, overgrown boys that he plays in his comedies but he’s smart enough as a performer to realize that and use it to his advantage.  Ferrell understands that, in real life, both Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby would be burned-out dinosaurs with failed marriages and no place to live.  If nothing else, Everything Must Go proves that the line between comedy and tragedy is quite thin indeed.

Lisa Marie Finally Gets Around To Reviewing Cedar Rapids (dir. by Miguel Arteta)


So, in my review of The Beaver, I talked about the annual Hollywood Black List and how the movies that are always listed at the top of the black list usually turn out to be vaguely disappointing.  Well, in that review, I failed to mention that The Beaver was not the only Black List film that I’ve seen (so far) in 2011.  A few months ago, I saw the film that topped last year’s list, Cedar Rapids(The Cedar Rapids screenplay, by the way, was written by Phil Johnston.)

Now, Cedar Rapids (which is scheduled to be released on DVD in June) actually had a pretty good run down in here in Dallas.  Unlike Austin, Dallas is not a film-crazed city and — with only four theaters currently specializing in indie and art films — it’s usually a case of “you snooze, you lose” when it comes to seeing anything out of the mainstream.  We’ll have a few hundred theaters all showing something like Avatar for half a year but a film like James Gunn’s Super will usually sneak in, play in one theater for two weeks, and then just as quickly vanish.

Cedar Rapids, however, stuck around for about a month and a half, playing exclusively at the Dallas Angelika.  It took me a while to actually find the time to go see it (and, perhaps because of the whole Black List thing, I just didn’t feel much enthusiasm for seeing it) and, in fact, I ended up seeing it the last day it played at the Angelika. 

As for why I wanted to see it — well, it had gotten some very positive reviews from critics who traditionally don’t give comedies good reviews so that piqued my interest.  I knew that the film featured three of my favorite character actors — John C. Reilly, Stephen Root, and Thomas Lennon.  The film was also being touted as a comeback for Anne Heche whose autobiography Call Me Crazy was a favorite book of a former roommate of mine.  Finally, I wanted to see the film because it starred Ed Helms, who, at the time, I thought seriously might end up as the new boss on The Office.

Helms, in case you don’t know for some reason, plays Cornell graduate Andy Bernard on The Office.  When he first appeared during the show’s third season, he was portrayed as an incredibly obnoxious preppy with an anger management problem and I loved how Helms so thoroughly threw himself into making Andy just the most annoying human being ever.  Andy was eventually sent to anger management classes and, upon returning, the character has become less obnoxious and just more buffoonish and, in my opinion, a lot less entertaining.  As well, with Jim and Pam now safely married, Andy ended up as the focus of some of the Office’s weakest episodes.  In fact, Andy was the center of so many episodes earlier this season that I found myself wondering if the show’s producers weren’t perhaps trying to see how the audience would react to Ed Helms becoming the new star of the show.  Since I had mixed feelings about that prospect, I felt that maybe Cedar Rapids would provide me with an answer.

In Cedar Rapids, Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, an almost impossibly innocent insurance agent who is sent by his boss (Stephen Root, who appears to be the go-to guy when you need someone to play a friendly but vaguely threatening manager) to a regional conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Tim is ordered to conduct himself well, to go out of his way to impress the conference president (Kurtwood Smith), and to win the prestigious “Two Diamonds” Award.  (The award has been won for the company in the past by Helms’ rival at the company who, at the beginning of the film, accidentally kills himself while practicing autoerotic asphyxiation.  The rival is played by Thomas Lennon and I’m kinda sorry that Lennon didn’t have more scenes because seriously, he always makes me smile.)

After saying goodbye to his much older girlfriend (Sigourney Weaver, who is wasted in her cameo), Helms heads off for Cedar Rapids.  This is a big deal for him because he’s the type of movie innocent who has never even been on a plane before.  Helms arrives at Cedar Rapids determined to do the right thing but he soon discovers that he is rooming with Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), a loud, crude, and cynical agent who indulges in every vice that Helms has been ordered to avoid.  Needless to say, Helms initially tries to resist being drawn into Reilly’s orbit but soon, he finds himself being corrupted and enjoying it.  Through Reilly, he meets yet another insurance agent (played by Anne Heche) that he soon finds himself falling in lust with.  All this happens, of course, under the disapproving eye of Kurtwood Smith and Helms soon learns just how far he is expected to go to win that Two Diamonds Award…

As it might be obvious from the above description, Cedar Rapids is one of those films that attempts to be both a wild comedy and a poignant coming-of-age drama.  And it succeeds very well at being a comedy and it does pretty good job of being a drama but it never manages to do both at the same time.  The end result is an entertaining but wildly uneven film that never feels like it’s quite as good as it should be. 

The film is at it’s best when it’s just Helms, Reilly, Heche, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (playing another insurance agent) hanging out and BSing.  Those scenes ring well and all four of these actors have a real ensemble chemistry together.  You really do end up believing that Reilly, Heche, and Whitlock truly do care about their new friend and you just as strongly believe that Helms really is falling in love with Heche.  These are the best scenes in the movie. 

The film is less effective when it tries to be something more than just an ensemble comedy.  It’s in these scenes — with Kurtwood Smith quoting bible verses and the Two Diamonds Award becoming a metaphor for all sorts of things — that the film gets heavy-handed and a bit boring.  I also have a feeling that these scenes are probably the reason why so many Hollywood readers went nuts of the Cedar Rapids screenplay because these scenes are the least challenging in the film.  These are the scenes that pat you on the back for watching the movie.  Anyone who has ever seen a movie knows that Kurtwood Smith’s character is going to turn out to be a hypocrite because when was the last time that you see a movie in which the guy who talked about Jesus didn’t turn out to be a hypocrite?  Therefore, it’s kinda hard to buy into Helms’s shock when he discovers that Smith isn’t all that he’s cracked up to be.  I mean, I can force myself to buy that the Helms character has never been on a plane before but my God, has he never seen a movie or an episode of Law and Order before either?  Seriously, the character isn’t a Mennonite.  He’s just from the midwest.

In the lead role, Ed Helms is a lot like the movie.  He’s great when he’s just a member of the ensemble but sometimes seems to struggle a bit in the more dramatic scenes.  To a large extent, the problem is that the film goes so out of it’s way to present Helms as being some sort of man-child that it’s hard to take him seriously once he suddenly starts to think for himself.  As I previously stated, the supporting cast is uniformly strong.  Reilly is a drunken, foul-mouthed force of nature while Heche steals every scene that she’s in and, in the end, proves herself to really be the heart and soul of the film.

So, in the end, I guess I would say that Cedar Rapids, as uneven and as frustrating as it occasionally turned out to be, is worth seeing once it comes out on DVD in June.

Quickie Review: Dodgeball – A True Underdog Story (dir. by Rawson Marshall Thurber)


What is there to say about Dodgeball – A True Underdog Story other than it’s a no-brainer of a hilarious movie that doesn’t aspire to lofty heights. What it does do is come out firing with some of the funniest physical comedy and one-liners since The Farrelly Brothers’ Something About Mary. First time director Rawson Marshall Thurber does a good enough job to keep the laughs coming one right after the another to keep Dodgeball from becoming too repetitive.

The movie is a riff from the stock underdog sports genre with a Peter La Fleur (played by Vince Vaughn with his usual sardonic wit) having to find a way to save his Average Joe’s Gym from being foreclosed by his bank and turned by a rival hi-tech gym next door into a parking lot. Who else would be the perfect foil for Vince Vaughn’s Peter La Fleur but none other than Ben Stiller as the former-fatty turned workout fitness Nazi, White Goodman. Goodman’s Globo Gym is a state-of-the art, sterile and BALCO-like gym where insults and making its members feel ugly, fat and useless is the way to clean health and the perfect bod.

Already, within the first fifteen minutes, we know who to root for and who to boo. In one corner we have the Average Joe’s guys played with comedic timing by Justin Long, Stephen Root, Chris Williams, Alan Tudyk and Joel Moore. Stiller’s Goodman and his consigliere Me’Shell (Jamal Duff channeling Barry White) with a hand-picked ringer of a dodgeball team he calls the Purple Cobras. With the two sides set the dodgeball carnage begins as Average Joe’s must win the Las Vegas Dodgeball Invitational to earn the $50,000 needed to save the gym. To round out the Average Joe’s team will be the bank accountant who ends up sympathizing with the Joe’s, Kate Veatch (played by Stiller’s real-life wife, Christine Taylor) and Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn in a scene-stealing role).

Rip Torn is hilarious as the acerbic and insane former dodgeball great Patches O’Houlihan. He pretty much gets all the best one-liners in the movie the moment he appears on the screen. He coaches the Average Joe’s team by browbeating them, insulting them and, failing that, throwing wrenches at them to help them in learning the 5 D’s of dodgeball: Dodge, duck, dip, dive, dodge. In fact, I would say that if it wasn’t for Rip Torn’s character dominating the middle part of the movie, I think Dodgeball‘s constant ball to the groin shots would’ve gotten old. Instead Patches O’Houlihan constantly gave people watching a reason to laugh out loud.

Dodgeball – A True Underdog Story is a movie that the Academy voters will not go about showering with praises and awards, but I’m sure most of them will be watching it and laughing out loud like the rest of the general public. Dodgeball is one hilarious, one-liner after one-liner ball to the nuts funny and it doesn’t aspire to be anything else but that. This movie will never get old with each viewing and will continue to make people laugh out loud.

Red State (Teaser Trailer)


I will admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Kevin Smith as a filmmaker though I don’t dislike or even loathe the man the way some film bloggers seem to. He’s definitely much more talented than Uwe Boll despite what some people may say. I just think that Kevin Smith had ended up listening too much to his own press about how he was the indie darling of the 90’s. He lived too much in his past glories and stagnated as a creative artist.

His last few films were either bombs financially and/or critically. Smith just tried too much to replicate what he had done in the past when he should’ve been trying to expand his horizons and attempt new things. To say that his Cop Out was awful would be an understatement. One of the worst films of recent memory, but for some reason actors still want to work with the guy.

It’s a good thing that good actors still want to work with him because his upcoming film, a horror film at that and a straight out one, in 2011 looks to be Smith reinventing himself beyond his “Jay and Silent Bob” era.

Red State looks like it’s just plain horror and the teaser trailer doesn’t seem to show any black humor or any humor at all that seem to be part and parcel of any Kevin Smith production. The teaser has a fundamentalist eerie vibe to it and with Michael Parks in what looks to be a Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church infamy has definitely peaked my interest.

If Neil Gaiman, who has already seen the finished product (or close to being finished), was shaken by the experience but in a good way then my optimism for this film may not result in another Kevin Smith disappointmen. One can only hope.