Saturday, August 13, 2011

30 Minutes or Less (2011)

30 Minutes or Less looked like it could be one of the best late summer surprise comedies of the summer. Based off of the previews, it already had a stellar comedy cast consisting of Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, and Nick Swardson. And the fact that you had Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer helming this project (in addition to re-teaming with Eisenberg for the first time since 2009's Zombieland), it looked like nothing could go wrong with it. However, this movie actually turned out to be one of the most disappointing comedies of the year.

Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is a pot smoking pizza delivery boy who confides himself to a very basic slacker lifestyle. Meanwhile, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) are two dim-witted criminals who concoct a plan to murder Dwayne's lottery winning father (Fred Ward) so they can inherit his fortune. The duo calls up the pizzeria Nick works for, and of course Nick is the one to show up. He gets attacked by the two and has a bomb vest placed on his chest which will detonate in 9 hours unless he robs a bank to pay for the hitman who will kill Dwayne's father. Nick teams up with his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), and what ensues is a fast-paced buddy action-comedy.
After winning me over with his fantastic portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg has returned back to his typecasted zone of playing the neurotic guy who sputters his lines out like he's the long lost son of Woody Allen. There are some moments where his matured acting emerges in the most random moments of the film, but it was very underwhelming overall. Aziz Ansari actually delivered the best moments in the film. His schtick is definitely not for everyone, but he had some chuckle-worthy moments involving his improvisation. Eisenberg and Ansari had decent chemistry between each other, but the script doesn't give them enough funny moments to work with. Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, though, really brought this movie down. McBride's schtick of saying the f-word for laughs has gotten very old in the past couple films he's starred in, and here he overuses it constantly to a point where you just want a break from his character fort the rest of the film. Nick Swardson also follows a similar style like McBride's which made me laugh probably twice or three times in the film, but my respect for him lowered even more when the abysmal trailer for his new film Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star played before the movie started.

In Zombieland, director Ruben Fleischer showed a lot of promise with his ability to mash a whole bunch of genres into one movie while still making it a lot of fun. The one positive thing in his directing for this film, though, is that he gives the film a constant fast pace in which the series of events the characters go through pass by rapidly. However, I can't place the blame on him for how underwhelming the final product is, because I think the script (written by first-time scribe Michael Diliberti) contains moments of humor that are very sporadic, and the moments for potential comedy gold are replaced with scenes that feel very disjointed to the main plot of the film.
I thought 30 Minutes or Less could have been one of the funniest comedies of the summer along with the likes of great comedies we've already had this summer including Bridesmaids and Horrible Bosses. But instead, it's a very sporadically funny film plagued by inconsistent writing and annoying performances by Danny McBride and Nick Swardson. I did chuckle off an on throughout the film, but those chuckles were far and few between the longer this film went on for. Thank god it went by fast, though.

Final Grade: C

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Drive (2011)

When I attended Comic Con 2011, I managed to catch early screenings for two films: Drive and the 3D remake of Fright Night. The first of those two I saw was Drive, which is definitely the most of all of the films they were showing around downtown San Diego during the four days of the Con. Believe it or not, this was my most anticipated film to see when I was down there, especially for the fact that it won Best Director at this year's Cannes, and that it came very close to winning the Palme d'Or over The Tree of Life. Before the screening began, director Nicolas Winding Refn along with stars Carey Mulligan and Ron Perlman appeared to give a short introduction to the film and then it began. 

Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed protagonist who is a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a getaway driver for criminals at night. His boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston...hell yeah) books him a job with a new shady client named Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), while in the meantime, Gosling's character strikes up a friendship with his single mother neighbor (Carey Mulligan). But her husband (Oscar Isaac) returns home to disrupt their relationship from reaching further heights. He's in trouble to pull off a final job, though, and he recruits Driver to be his getaway driver. And that's the point where the job gets botched and the rest of the film kicks into major overdrive. 
This is a very daunting challenge for Ryan Gosling's acting because his character is very silent for most of the film and it's his facial expressions that do most of the acting. However, he does a sensational job as his performance pays a brilliant ode to characters of the neo-noir genre who slowly pace their line delivery and don't even say much which makes the viewer feel more weary of what they'll do when they hit their breaking point. Carey Mulligan drives the emotional strength of this film as her performance is similar to Gosling's with the slow line delivery, but she continues to show that she's one of the strongest female actresses of this current generation in the industry. Bryan Cranston (with hair) and Ron Perlman also manage to deliver commendable performances as well, even though their characters aren't utilized as much as I thought they'd be. Albert Brooks on the other hand, is the real scene stealer of this film. He's mostly known for playing neurotic characters for most films he stars in, but here he gets to play a shady businessman that goes completely insane and slimy when things go wrong. And when things go wrong, boy does he become evil! Be on the lookout for his name to pop up during awards season because his performance is nothing short of brilliant in this film.

Nicolas Winding Refn has officially become the new Tarantino (but without the humor) of today's industry as he directs this film masterfully. Refn builds up moments of unbelievable moments of tension to before these bursts of extremely shocking and bloody violence, which really reminded me of Tarantino's style of doing the same thing in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. In addition, Refn also uses the sudden tone change in a perfect way, especially involving a scene in an elevator with Gosling and Mulligan that immediately switches the film from a love triangle to a very bloody revenge thriller. And look out American History X, because that scene just about put your curb stomping scene to shame! Newton Thomas Siegel's cinematography is breathtaking, especially within the nighttime shots of downtown Los Angeles which perfectly convey the moody tone the film takes on in the first half of its duration. In addition, the chase sequences are filmed to perfection as the camera angles used for those scenes will remind you of the way car chases were filmed back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as you can hint that the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt served as an inspiration for both Refn's directing style and Gosling's performance.
Overall, Drive is an unforgettable thriller with lots of odes to the art house and neo-noir genres in tow. Flat out fantastic performances across the board from all of the main actors (especially Gosling and Brooks) along with very stylish direction by Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive is a film that will be either an international box office hit, or one that will only be appreciated by the film geeks who have a passion for the art house or neo-noir genre. Whether or not it will fall into the realms of one of those two, it is sure to be a cult classic in the future because this is definitely one of those films you shouldn't miss because it will talked about a lot come next year's awards season.

Final Grade: A

The Change-Up (2011)

Body switch comedies over the last 10 years have mostly become cliched messes. However this time around, we have a film that puts a new spin on the genre with the r-rated raunchy form with The Change-Up. Before I start the main bulk of my review, though, I must say that I have only seen the Freaky Friday remake out of all of the body switch comedies out there. The Change-Up however, actually delivers its promise that it puts a new spin on this genre with crazy situations combined with both sheer ridiculousness and often hardcore raunchiness.

Dave (Jason Bateman) is workaholic lawyer who's close to achieving partner status at his firm, but he can't catch a break in his personal life outside of work because of taking care of his three kids and wife (Leslie Mann). Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) on the other hand, is the total opposite of Dave. He's a definitive slacker trying to kick-start his acting career which hasn't taken him too far in the direction he wants it to be in. The two finally get a night to hang out together at a bar to watch an Atlanta Braves game (who are actually my favorite MLB team since I was 7) and they get too drunk which leads to them peeing in a "magical fountain" that performs the "body switch" on them when they both say at the same time that they wish they had each others lives. And what ensues is an extremely insane and raunchy comedy that sure stands alone in its genre for now.
For a body switch comedy to work consistently, you need two actors that need to have great chemistry together and say their lines with spot-on delivery. And surprisingly, Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds are both fantastic in their roles. For the first twenty minutes of the film, Bateman is playing his Arrested Development character he's been doing in the majority of the films he's starred in, while Reynolds is the foul-mouthed, wisecracking slacker. However once the body switch occurs, Jason Bateman commands this film. It's so rare to see him play a more edgy role than the other films he's starred in before, and you can tell that he fully embraces this opportunity he's given from the very moments Reynolds' character becomes him. And Ryan Reynolds also manages to do a decent job as Jason Bateman's character, too. Leslie Mann also has several comedic moments and she plays over-the-top well for scenes that are meant to be over-serious until they end with a comedic payoff. Olivia Wilde is hotter than ever with darker hair and before I begin to sound anymore like a drooling 13 year-old talking about her, I have to say that she displayed some good comedic chops on screen as well, and she also had good chemistry with Ryan Reynolds. However I think Alan Arkin's character could've been written out of the film because his scenes just don't really do justice to anything that happens in the film and they feel very out of place.

David Dobkin does a decent job directing this film, even though the tones switch so quick between lighthearted comedy and extreme raunchiness. At least he's doing himself justice with this film from what he did by taking a step back when he directed Fred Claus in 2007. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (writers of The Hangover) pile on the cliches of this genre but make up for them by cooking up some very insane comedic set pieces, especially scenes involving a  lawyer's meeting and when Jason Bateman deals with the twins in his family. Some moments in the script seem to stretch too far on the gross humor at times and there are points in those gross out gags where they just drag out for too long. In addition, the ending scenes are dragged out for a little too long as well.
The Change-Up is definitely not the best comedy I've seen this year, but it's still  a very entertaining and funny spin on the body switch comedy genre. Thanks to the brilliant chemistry between Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds along with some of the most insane comedy moments I have seen this year, The Change-Up is a slightly flawed but still very funny film, however I wouldn't recommend it being a date movie because of some of its gross out gags. From the opening scene alone, I might have second thoughts of having kids in the future.

Final Grade: B