Get Him to the Greek (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) was a rock star at the peak of his career but the negative reviews of his most recent album called “African Child,” labeled as offensive and racist, forced him to retreat from the spotlight. Enter Aaron (Jonah Hill), an intern for a major record company, when he was assigned by his boss, the tough Sergio Roma (Sean Combs), to take Aldous from England and accompany him to the Los Angeles Greek Theatre for a comeback concert. This proved to be a difficult task because Aldous loved to party, do drugs, and deviate from the original plan. “Get Him to the Greek,” directed by Nicholas Stoller, was hilarious during its first thirty minutes. Celebrity cameos seemed to come from everywhere; I liked it best when I didn’t know what hit me and I was forced to think, “Did that just really happen?” Unfortunately, the rest of the picture failed to measure up. Although there was mayhem left and right, the chaos wasn’t interesting because it had the same type of humor all the way to the finish line. I didn’t mind that it was raunchy. I laughed at some scenes like when Aaron felt forced to become a drug mule at the airport. I understood that it wanted to poke fun of stars like Britney Spears with their intense relationship with the media and their fans. It also wanted to make fun of us for liking bad pop music reflected by Aldous’ ridiculous song lyrics. Eventually, I realized there was something missing. The picture had to draw a line between fun and serious issues. It had the capacity to change things up as Aaron was forced to be in increasingly uncompromising situations. A person recently plucked from an ordinary life, despite the glamour of the world of celebrity, would eventually question whether it was ethically and morally right for him to enable an artist struggling with an addiction. Toward the end, it attempted to tackle the issue but it felt forced because the journey that Aldous and Aaron took together wasn’t particularly meaningful. They shared some drugs and they eventually learned (or thought they learned) to be comfortable with each other to the point where they agreed to a threesome, but there was not one conversation when they connected as equals. It was always about Aaron catering to Aldous’ fragile ego and that wasn’t friendship. It didn’t even work as a story about a fan and the person he looked up to because moments after Aaron met Aldous, he was perfectly aware that the Aldous in his records didn’t reflect reality. He came to terms with it right away. “Get Him to the Greek” would have been a stronger film without the redemption arc involving the rock star supposedly overcoming his addiction. Because when it tried to be sensitive, it just didn’t feel genuine.
★★ / ★★★★
A journalist (Kenneth Branagh) divorced his wife (Judy Davis) because he wanted to be with other women–women who were some type of a celebrity, like a supermodel (Charlize Theron), an actress (Melanie Griffith), or a very successful book editor (Famke Janssen). One of his main reasons for divorcing his wife was, as he claimed, he was unhappy with the way she was in bed. The insecure wife, on the other hand, met a seemingly perfect television producer (Joe Mantegna). She could not believe the fact that she had met someone who was willing to devote everything to her. She suspected there must be something wrong with him and so she waited for the relationship to go haywire. Throughout the film, the journalist became unhappier while the ex-wife’s luck turned for the better. Directed by Woody Allen, “Celebrity” was ultimately a disappointment despite its interesting subject matter. I think it is more relevant than it was more than ten years ago because of the recent surge in technology that allows us to get “closer” to our celebrities. Unfortunately, I thought the humor was too broad. Did it soley want to be a showbiz satire, a marriage drama, or a character study? It attempted to be all of the above but it didn’t work because the protagonists lacked an ounce of likability. The journalist was desperate in getting into women’s pants while the ex-wife pitied herself so much that it was impossible to root for her. Their evolution and the lessons they learned (or failed to learn) were superficial at best. Instead, I found myself focusing on the many interesting and vibrant side characters. For instance, I loved Theron’s obsession with her health as well as her outer appearance. It was interesting to see her and the journalist interact because I constantly wondered what she saw in him. As the night when on, layers were revealed as to why while some details were best remain as implications. Leonardo DiCaprio as the very spoiled young actor was great to watch as well. His arrival on screen was perfect because it was at the point where the script was starting to feel lazy. The characters had no idea what they wanted or what they wanted to say. DiCaprio’s character was invigorating to have on screen because he wanted everything but at the same time his wants lacked some sort of meaning. Even though the spoiled actor and the journalist did not get along well, they were more similar than they would like to believe. While cameos were abound such as the surprising appearance of Donald Trump, I wish the filmmakers trimmed the extra fat in order to make a leaner film with astringent wit. It had some great moments but they were followed by mindless sophomoric jabber (uncharacteristically not charming considering it’s a Woody Allen film) that quickly wore out their welcome.
Men in Black II (2002)
★ / ★★★★
Several years after Agent Kay’s (Tommy Lee Jones) memory had been erased, Agent Jay (Will Smith) kept having trouble with finding the right partner for him on the field. This was particularly problematic because there was an alien that landed on Earth which took the form of a supermodel (Lara Flynn Boyle) with plans of obtaining ultimate power by finding the so-called Light. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black II” fell into a trap of delivering bigger and better special and visual effects but dumbing the material down considerably. While its predecessor was smart in terms of delivering references of other science fiction pictures and television shows, the sequel was unfunny and downright disappointing. Instead of further exploring the partnership between Agents Kay and Jay, the movie focused on the aliens such as the annoying talking dog and two-headed alien played by Johnny Knoxville. I didn’t care about how the aliens looked like; I cared about the material’s level of imagination. There were also too many distracting and unnecessary cameos from Michael Jackson and Nick Cannon. What’s the point of making a cameo if their appearances weren’t even funny? Establishing the heart of the picture should have been easy. Since the two agents have been apart for so long, I wanted to know how they’ve changed over the years. For instance, their positions, in comparison to the first film, had essentially been switched around. Since they now had the chance to walk in each other’s shoes, how have their opinions of each other changed? Or was there even any change? What made the first one so enjoyable was not solely because of the visuals. It was because of Jones and Smith’s brotherly chemistry with a bit of friction on the side. In this installment, they were barely given a chance to interact in a meaningful way. They were constantly running around like kids in the playground. They didn’t seem to slow down but we grow tired of watching them because everything was recycled. I did like watching Rosario Dawson as a witness to a murder in a pizzeria but the script did not do her justice. Furthermore, the romance between her and Smith’s character was desperate and unconvincing. Their interactions were almost as awkward as the extended silences in between scenes when audiences were signaled that something funny just happened and it was their cue to laugh. I didn’t laugh. I wasn’t amused. I was angry because the freshness that I knew it should have had was not translated onto the screen. Perhaps the filmmakers thought we had been “deneuralized” and wouldn’t notice the fact that we’ve seen everything they had on here before.
The Invention of Lying (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, “The Invention of Lying” took place in a world where no one could lie. Everybody told the truth no matter how painful it was and people learned to adapt to the sharp comments thrown at them. They were so stuck in the truth that life essentially became boring. Even “movies” were simply a man telling the audiences historical events. That is, until something in a screenwriter’s (Gervais) brain allowed him to lie after being fired from his job, told by a date (Jennifer Garner) that he was not good enough for her, and been kicked out of his apartment. It’s unfortunate that the second half of this movie did not quite hold up against the first half because I thought the first forty-five minutes was hilarious. Some people may not get it because the comments that the characters made to one another were mean, but the dry humor was exactly what I liked about it. The honest things that people told each other, one way of another, have occured in my head (and some I’ve successfully/shamelessly vocalized). The pacing quickly faltered when Gervais and Robinson injected some religious anectode about “a man in the sky.” It just did not work for me because they got stuck on that joke and the film became severly limited. It was the antithesis of the first half–the first few minutes felt like anything was possible, especially with cameos from Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman. However, the movie did have its moments of brilliance such as the sensitive scene when Gervais told Hill that it was not a good idea to kill himself and the scenes involving Garner’s obsession with being someone who was financially successful and “genetically superior.” Even though her character was ridiculously shallow at first glance, I think it was the truth: a lot of people (including myself) have this idea our partner should be at an equal or better footing than us. Granted, after seeing this film, my position about what I want in a partner did not change but I thought it was nice that the movie pointed a finger to its audiences and tried to make fun of us. “The Invention of Lying” could have been so much better if the second half did not slow down its momentum but I still say it’s worth watching because it made me laugh and it was clever. I love the not-to-subtle product placements and it made me wonder how the C.E.O.s of products featured managed to agree to have thier products in the movie since the comments about the products were not exactly flattering.
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Jeremy Piven, Kathryn Hahn, Ving Rhames and David Koechner agreed to take on a job offer from a failing auto dealership business. What started off as an edgy, politically incorrect and very funny movie, after its thirty-minute mark, became an incomprehensible pot of tired jokes and poor writing. What I loved about the first thirty minutes was that it didn’t try too hard to be funny. Each character had his or her own sense of humor and they don’t apologize for it. But then when they finally get to the car dealership, Piven’s character became another man with a dirty bag of tricks who falls head over heels for a woman (Jordana Spiro) about to be married to a man in a boy band (Ed Helms). If Neal Brennan, the director, had taken control of the picture and avoided the sidequests and not focused so much on the so-called heart of the movie, this would have worked as a dark comedy through and through. The movie became so unfocused to the point where I thought of the things I could have done instead of trying to finish the film. I also didn’t appreciate the many cameos from actors and comedians because they absolutely had nothing to offer other than to make the movie that much more muddled and unconvincing. But there was one character that never failed to make me laugh, which was played by Hahn, because even though she’s not given a deep character to play, she carried the character with such aggressiveness and I couldn’t stop laughing every time she opened her mouth. I wish the movie had instead made her the lead character because I think a deeply narcissistic character is far more interesting than a man-boy discovering love. I don’t blame the actors because I think all of them are hilarious in other movies. I mostly blame the lazy writing because it rested on typicality when there are so many rich jokes that could have been told about cars, car dealerships, the people that work there and the customers. With a running time of just about ninety minutes, I assumed that it was going to go by quickly. I was wrong. “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard” started off well but it just didn’t have enough goods to keep me entertained.
★★★ / ★★★★
I love zombie movies because I’m fascinated with the idea of the dead taking over the world of the living. (Did I mention I have nightmares about zombies?) Not to mention zombie flicks usually have social commentaries which were not absent in this little gem. “Zombieland,” directed by Ruben Fleischer, stars Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus, who wants to make his way to Ohio to be reunited with his parents. On the road, he meets Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee, a man on a mission to find Twinkies; Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as Wichita and Little Rock, respectively, sisters who initially look innocent but turn out to have a knack for survival. The very “28 Days Later”-like gathering of very different people was smart because all of them yearned for that rare human connection in a world full of flesh-eating monsters. All four of them eventualy head to Southern California in order to find refuge with other humans. I love this movie’s self-awareness. It seemed to know its strengths which were highlighted in the beginning of the film as Eisenberg described his survival guide. It was done with such craft because the jokes were genuinely laugh-out-loud funny so the realization that it was all a gimmick later on became insignificant. The flashback scenes were done well, especially how Eisenberg’s character reflected on how much of a loser he was back when humans still ruled the planet–staying in on a Friday night playing video games, not socializing with people, and not getting enough attention from girls. A lot of people compare him to Michael Cera but I think there’s an important difference between the two. I think Eisenberg’s awkwardness is edgy and his characters usually have a certain toughness. Cera’s awkwardness, on the other hand, is softer and cuter–the kind that makes you go “Aww” and maybe pet him afterwards. That awareness was also highlighted via pop culture references from Russell Crowe, Facebook to Ghostbusters. Comparisons to “Shaun of the Dead” is inevitable because it is a horror-comedy about zombies. But I think “Zombieland” is a little scarier because the characters didn’t stop to analyze a zombie, imitate, and make quirky comments about them. All of that said, I had one problem with the film. I thought it slowed down a bit somewhere in the middle because it spent too much of its time showing the characters bickering on the road. It got redundant and such scenes could have been taken out and instead added terrifyingly slow suspenseful scenes. Lastly, I thought the final showdown at the carnival was inspired. The movie was able to find ways on how to kill zombies using the rides or the characters using the rides to their advantage. It made me want to ride a rollercoaster right then and there. I’ve read audiences’ reviews about how surprised they were with how good the movie was. To be honest, right after I saw the trailer for the first time, I had a sneaky feeling that it was going to be good. It certainly didn’t disappoint and in some ways exceeded expectations. If you love zombie movies, blood and guts, cameos, and pop culture allusions all rolled into one, then see this immediately. It’s total escapism and it has the potential to get better after multiple viewings.
The Great Buck Howard (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Sean McGinly, “The Great Buck Howard” stars John Malkovich as a magician/mentalist who desperately clings on to the remaining celebrity he has left from his best years of performance. Forced to work on small venues, he one day hires Troy (Colin Hanks), a twentysomething who recently drops out of law school to pursue his dream to be a writer, as Buck Howard’s very own errand boy. I have to be honest and say that I did not expect much from this movie. However, twenty minutes into it, I was really into it because it had a certain insight about the struggles of a person who wishes to break out of the expectations of his parents (in this case, Troy’s dad was played by Colin’s real-life father, Tom Hanks) and follow his true passion. I guess it was easy for me to relate to it because my graduation from the university is just right around the corner. It also had some insight when it comes to satirizing celebrity life. This picture had a plethora of cameos to offer such as Regis Philbin, Conan O’Brien, George Takei, Jon Stuart, and many more. At first I thought Buck was just a washed-up sham who claimed to have known and met all the celebrities he mentioned and that it was only a matter of time until we get to know who he really was. When in fact, the story unfolded in the opposite direction. It had a bona fide sense of humor even though Malkovich’s character was vain and at times quite poisonous with his words. I also enjoyed the romantic angle between Colin Hanks and Emily Blunt. I did not think that the two would have chemistry but, surprisingly enough, they did and the whole thing was magic (pun intended). I also never thought that Colin ever looked like his dad but when Colin and Blunt were on screen, I noticed certain quirky body movements and intonations in Colin’s voice that truly reminded me of his father. In under ninety minutes, this film managed to entertain and surprise me in many ways so I’m giving it a solid recommendation. Lastly, one should not miss Malkovich being brave enough to take his character to the extreme yet not lose heart so that we can ultimately root for him to succeed.