Saturday, November 27, 2010

"The Detective" is Gritty and Very Well Done

Frank Sinatra is a name synonymous with crooning, blue eyes and being "chairman of the board". This film from 1968 shows his blue eyes in a dark, film-noir setting. There's no crooning. What it lacks in his crooning, it makes up for in suspense, intrigue, and an excellent performance by Sinatra and other actors in the cast.

Sinatra plays Detective Joe Leland, a New York City detective. The film begins with the death of a gay man. As Joe delves into the case, questioning friends, family and lovers, he uncovers and unravels links to corruption in the City. He soon realizes that the corruption can be traced back to a source closer to him than he'd care to admit. As he begins to pull at all of the lose ends, he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy rife with sex, drugs and betrayals. All the while, he has to deal with his personal life. As the film begins, Joe and his girlfriend Karen, played by the late Lee Remick, discuss marriage. Knowing full well what Joe does for a living, she accepts. But turmoil begins to mount for the new spouses. Each has a jealous nature, and both parties are tested the further Joe delves into the case.

This film, I feel, is a throw back to the earlier Cagney and Robinson era of film noir. That being said, this film studies subjects that would have never been explored in a film made twenty years earlier, mainly because of the censorship laws of the time. It's a dark, moody film, yet Sinatra manages to bring a lightness to it, while still being as dark and intense as the film matter. Case in point, Joe's relationship with his partner and best friend, Dave, played by veteran actor Jack Klugman. While working on this case, each man can still make jokes at the other's expense. At times they're self-effacing. Remick's portrayal as Karen Leland certainly deserves recognition as well. She can certainly hold her own opposite Sinatra. While he's dark and intense, so is she. When he's light, she comes back with an equal lightness.

As I mentioned, this is a dark, intense tale that will make the hairs on your neck stand. If you don't like the bygone era of the 1930s and 40s film noir genre, then I would not recommend this film for you. However, if you're open minded and love a good thriller, then this film will be perfect for you. As much as one can enjoy a story of murder, betrayal and corruption, I did. I would absolutely recommend it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Greek" Is Funny At Times, But Disappointing Overall

Sometimes, watching a movie is like going out to dinner at a new restaurant. You spend a lot of time anticipating, waiting and hoping for a good experience. Then, the day comes. You get what it was you've been waiting for. But instead of being satisfied, you're let down. Then you pay the bill, and either you feel that the price was worth it, or you feel jilted. In this case, I didn't feel jilted by paying too much to see a movie, one which I highly anticipated. I felt satisfied that I only spent a dollar to rent it. Had I spent anymore, I would've felt cheated out of my money.

Russell Brand plays Aldous Snow, a British Rocker who, once having lived the life of relative stability and sobriety, relapses back into a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll when his long time girlfriend, Jackie, played by Rose Byrne, leaves him. Famous for his success, as well as one monumental failure, Snow goes from being the epitome of clean living to the stereotypical rock and roller. Enter Jonah Hill. He plays Aaron, a young music executive who takes on the task of going to London and getting Aldous Snow back to Los Angeles to perform at the Greek Theater for the tenth anniversary of Snow's performance at the same theater. As expected with such a charge, the odd-couple go through many strange adventures together. But instead of being funny and enjoyable, and comes across as contrived and convoluted.

This film certainly has it's moments of comedic gold. Russell Brand has made his career playing outlandish characters, such as his portrayal of Aldous Snow. But it's because his characters aren't too far removed from the man himself. Brand is a successful comedian whose honest observations of himself and his surroundings have made him a commodity on the comedy stage. Other comedic gems in the film are Sean Combs (a.k.a Puff Daddy) as record executive Sergio Roma, and Colm Meany's portrayal of Aldous Snow's father, Jonathon Snow. Combs' Sergio is so over the top, it's hard not to laugh at what comes out of his mouth, and the lengths he goes to just to save face. Meany's portrayal as Jonathon is hilarious as well. It's not hard to see that Aldous did not fall far from Jonathon's tree.

Jonah Hill has made a career for himself as well, often playing the roommate (as in "Knocked-Up") or the lovable nerd (as in "Accepted"). However, in this film, one of this first I've seen in which his character is one of the leads, his role is one that I would have probably thought a little harder about before writing it into the script. First of all, the realism in this film doesn't really exist. If I ran a music label, I don't think I would hire a scruffy, twenty something who seemingly has no drive or ambition. Also, if I were a woman, such as Aaron's love interest in the film, played by Elisabeth Moss, I would have to step back and ask myself, "Do I really see myself being with him for the long term?" Seeing these two together, playing a couple made me, as the viewer, step back as well. In reality, it would be difficult to believe that they would work as a couple. Whereas Brand, Combs and Meany are comedic gold, Hill's Aaron Green is more like comic Kryptonite.

Had I spent anymore on this film, I would have felt like having gone to an expensive restaurant and still being hungry afterwords. It certainly had it's comedic gem moments, but over all, I felt it was over-hyped and over-tauted.

"Grown Ups" Funny and Entertaining

Opera man. Wedding singer. A hockey player turned pro-golfer with anger issues. These are just a few of the portrayals of Adam Sandler's that we've seen over the years. We've also seen him come from his days on "Saturday Night Live" days, to having a successful and lucrative film career. Lately, he's made the move into more family oriented films, although most of them, you still wouldn't want to watch with a five year old. His new "family" film is one such film.

Sandler (who also co-wrote) plays Lenny Feder, a talent agent who lives a very posh lifestyle. After receiving devastating news of the death of his childhood basketball coach, played by Blake Clark, a Sandler film regular, he and his four childhood friends and fellow teammates, David Spade, Kevin James, Chris Rock and Rob Schneider, all Sandler mainstays as well, take a trip to a New England lakeside cabin to spend a few days together, and spread the ashes of their former coach and mentor. With their families in toe, the five men reunite, albeit under less than ideal circumstances. Despite the underlying reason for their reunion, hilarity and hi-jinks ensue, making for a very funny, gust busting, and tears of laughter creating experience for the viewer.

The topics in the film range from breast-feeding, ageless love, getting back to basics, and even being a vegan. Each subject is presented in signature Sandler fashion, ranging from sarcastic, touching and often just plain disgusting. But each subject is presented in such a way that works within the context of the film. The film is successful, not only because of the chemistry between the main cast of five actors, but also that with the secondary cast, mainly those playing the mens' wives and children. Each man's family life has its flaws, which is a huge part of what makes it a successful part of the film. Salma Hayek plays Roxanne Chase-Feder, the wife of Sandler's Lenny, a union that seemingly is explained only by the existence of wealth. This has, in turn, produced two spoiled children who don't know the meaning of the words tap water. James plays Eric Lamonsoff, a family man as well, but one that does not live quite as extravagantly as his friend. Chris Rock and Rob Schneider play Kurt McKenzie and Rob Hilliard. Kurt (Rock) plays the "Mr. Mom" character, one who not only caters to the needs of his children and a pregnant working wife, but also to his sassy, wise and often flatulent mother in law. Rob's family dynamic is perhaps the funniest of the film. He plays an ultra liberal hippie, if you will, who has long been infatuated with women of an earlier generation. He too, has a family, one that brings another level of hilarity to an already funny film. David Spade plays the confirmed bachelor, a role that certainly works, not only in this film, but in his other projects as well.

Another layer of the film comes from competitiveness. Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, Steve Buschemi and Jonathan Loughran play Sandler and company's rivals, as part of the very team they beat to win the only championship of their now deceased coach, a bane of Quinn's character, Bailey. While this undoubtedly adds another layer to the onion, so to speak, I feel it serves as a detriment to the film. Quinn, most of the time, is funny, but his sarcastic comedic delivery can often be misinterpreted as prickly and unkind. For this reason, he has been typecast in many films as the jerk, rival or antagonist. In this film, while the competitive nature of the two groups gives the film some comedic moments, it also acts as an anchor.

This film is a great addition to Sandler's repertoire. It had me laughing so hard at times. There aren't many films that will do that. So for that reason alone, I highly recommend this movie. Even somebody who is not an Adam Sandler fan will find something to enjoy in this one.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Orginal Film Shows More Character Development

Something interesting happens when you compare an original film to its remake. Quite often, you'll find that some of the magic found in the original is lost in the remake. The chemistry between the cast may be lacking, or the story may be more convoluted. I've found that this is usually the case, especially now, in the days of computer animation and CGI. However, in this instance, I found the chemistry between the cast in the original and that of the cast of the remake to be comparable.

There's no doubt that George Clooney, Brad Pitt and company have chemistry on screen. There were often news stories of practical jokes played by Clooney and Pitt, either on the cast and crew, or on each other. But I found that the chemistry between Frank Sinatra and his fellow "Rat Pack" members to be more enjoyable. Sinatra originated the role of Danny Ocean in this 1960 film "Ocean's Eleven". He plays a criminal mastermind who pieces his scattered crew back together for a heist that, to quote a line from the film, "Will not only put your kid through college, it will buy them a college." As in the Clooney-Pitt version, the crew devises a plan to rob a number of Las Vegas casinos, simultaneously. In this film, the robberies are to take place during the five casinos' simultaneous New Years' festivities. With the rest of the crew in place, including, of course, the remaining members of the "Rat Pack" (Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop) as well as secondary characters, such as Norman Fell (who would later play the curmudgeon landlord Stanley Roper in the hit sit-com "Three's Company") the plan is developed in great detail. It develops slowly, over the course of the two hour film, with the actual heist taking place in the final scenes of the film, as one would expect. But, also as expected, the film has it's share of complications, which adds a much needed complexity to the film. Without them, the film would become one dimensional and mundane.

One of the best examples of the complexities of the film lies within Lawford's character Jimmy Foster's relationship with his mother, played excellently by Ilka Chase. Jimmy is a man who lives beyond his own means. That being said, he's never far from his wealthy mother, just in case he should need to borrow a few (thousand) bucks. Their relationship is further strained when mother-dearest returns from a trip with news of her impending nuptials. The situation is even further complicated when Jimmy meets his soon to be step-father, Duke Santos, an ex-con now living a (supposedly) honest life, played by the suave Cesar Romero. Jimmy's contempt for Duke is palpable, but there's no way, short of speculation, whether or not the two actors really had this sort of animosity towards one another, or if it was all part of their respective roles. There's no doubt that these two actors, whatever their feelings toward each other off set may have been, that while on camera, they played well off of each other.

After seeing this film, I can see why the Rat-Pack was so popular. Their chemistry together was certainly dynamic. But, without question, their chemistry out of the "pack", be it alone, or with the film's second tier actors, such as Romero's Santos, and also the chemistry of the actors in the later incarnation of the film, is what made the film and the careers of all its stars so successful. I would highly recommend this film for the fan the the thrill, but also for someone who loves to get lost in a film, to feel what the characters on film may feel. It's not hard to see why this film, as well as the Clooney-Pitt franchise was so popular. See the film that started it all.