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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Carell’

Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart

Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart

“CAFE SOCIETY” My rating: B-

96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

It’s tough getting a handle on Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society.”

It’s not a drama, certainly. Its approach is too tangential and distant for any sort of emotional intensity.

But it’s not exactly a comedy, either. Despite a few chuckles there’s a noted paucity of laugh lines, and those bits of dialogue that do register are noteworthy not for their hilarity but rather for their weary resignation. (“Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.”)

And despite being set in 1930s Hollywood, it has none of the nostalgic warmth of “Radio Days,” Allen’s memorable reverie about growing up in NYC in the glory days of radio.

So what does “Cafe Society” have going for it?

Well, good performances from Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively, spectacularly good cinematography from Vittorio Storaro (“Apocalypse Now,” “The Last Emperor”) and detailed production design courtesy of Allen’s frequent collaborator Santo Loquasto.

As the picture begins young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) has fled his suffocating home in the Bronx (Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott are his bickering parents) to tackle life in wide-open Los Angeles. He hopes to get a job from his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a Hollywood agent who drops celebrity names with the frequency with which the rest of us use words like “a” and “the.”

Phil is so busy (or self centered) that he keeps Bobby cooling his heels for weeks. (It must be noted that unlike your usual Allen protagonist, someone who’s hugely clever and bent on a career in the arts, Bobby is pretty much an average guy.)

Finally Phil sees the kid and assigns his girl Friday, Vonnie (Stewart), to show his nephew around Tinsel Town.

Between gawking at the homes of the stars the two youngsters hit it off. But unbeknownst to Bobby, Vonnie is having an affair with a married man. This is no small roadblock to their relationship.

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Ryan Gosling...kicking Wall Street's Ass

Ryan Gosling…kicking Wall Street’s Ass

“THE BIG SHORT”  My rating: B+ 

130 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Everybody loves to see the little guy take on a giant.

But what if in rooting for the little guy we’re also advocating our own destruction?

In Adam McKay’s “The Big Short”  a handful of high-finance outsiders and weirdos smell something fishy in the pre-2008 sub prime housing market. They decide to beat the corrupt financial establishment at its own game.

Viewers of McKay’s ‘s grimly amusing comedy (he’s best known for lightweight Will Ferrell vehicles) will find themselves in a dilemma. For the story’s heroes to emerge triumphant the American and world economies will have to tank. Millions will lose their homes, their savings and their jobs.

But, hey, that’s capitalism. Somebody always wins. Somebody always loses. And making money off the other guy’s misery is the American way.

The screenplay by McKay and Charles Randolph (adapting Michael Lewis nonfiction best seller The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine) begins in 2005 with Michael Burry (Christian Bale), the oddball manager of a California-based hedge fund.  Possessor of a medical degree and virtually no people skills, Burry prefers to hold his conversations with numbers.

Christian Bale

Christian Bale

Burry pads around the office barefoot and in cutoffs and has one glass eye — but he sees enough to recognize that the sub-prime housing market is destined to collapse. Banks have been giving home loans to people who shouldn’t qualify and are destined to default; those bad loans are then bundled and resold, building “worth” where there is no value.

So Burry offers the big Wall Street firms a deal they can’t refuse.  He has them create for him a financial instrument — the credit default swap — that will pay off only if the market collapses. The heavy players are only too happy to oblige…they can’t imagine the bubble bursting.

Burry is considered a madman by most, but to a handful of fund managers he makes real sense.  One is Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who is as slick and gung ho as Burry is dweebish (think Matthew McConaughey in “The Wolf of Wall Street” ).  But numbers don’t lie and Vennett gets on board.
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Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell

Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell

“FOXCATCHER” My rating: B

129 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Funny guy Steve Carell dons prosthetic teeth and nose for “Foxcatcher,” transforming himself into the fabulously wealthy and seriously unhinged John du Pont,  a convicted murderer who died in prison in 2010.

He’s flanked in the film by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, both of whom give career-high performances.

Yet despite this terrific acting (or because of it), “Foxcatcher” is a squirm-worthy experience. We know going in that it will end badly, but Carell — with director Bennett Miller (“Capote,” “Moneyball”) and writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman — ups the ante by creating a mood of queasy uneasiness that slowly builds in intensity until you want to jump out of your skin.

Which puts this critic in the weird position of subtracting points because the movie was too effective. At the risk of seeming a philistine, it is difficult to wholly recommend a movie that makes one feel so uncomfortable for two hours-plus.

The story begins in the mid-’80s with wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum), who with his older brother Dave (Ruffalo) was a big winner at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

While Dave is a family man with a decent gig teaching and coaching at a university, the unmarried, solitary Mark seems to be circling the drain, a not-terribly-bright jock whose glory days are behind him. He’s reduced to donning his gold medal to give talks to elementary school kids for a few bucks.

Enter the mysterious John du Pont, a ferret-like individual who invites Mark to become part of his Team Foxcatcher, a privately funded wrestling community the multimillionaire maintains on his vast estate.

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way way Liam James“THE WAY, WAY BACK” My rating: B+ (Opening wide on July 19) 

103 minutes | MPAA rating:  PG-13

Coming-of-age-movies are a dime a dozen, and a plot outline of “The Way, Way Back” suggests just more of the same.

But five minutes into this first feature from the writing/directing team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (they wrote the screenplay for Alexander Payne’s marvelous “The Descendants”) you’ll realize that something special is at work. This movie is fall-over funny, emotionally resonant (without getting sticky) and astonishingly charitable toward a cast of characters who are, to put it mildly, majorly flawed.

Our  protagonist is Duncan (Liam James), a 14-year-old who appears to have no personality save for a bad case of sullenness. Duncan is stuck in the summer vacation from hell. His divorced and insecure mother Pam (Toni

Toni Collette, Steve Carell

Toni Collette, Steve Carell

Collette) has taken up with alpha-male car salesman Trent (Steve Carell in a straight role); now Duncan has been shanghaied into a summer at Trent’s beach house on Cape Cod.  Also on board is Trent’s high-schooler daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), who cannot mask her disdain for these interlopers.

Once installed on the shore Duncan can only observe with silent disgust the behavior of vacationing adults. Trent and Pam seem to party around the clock (after seeing this film you’ll think twice before drinking around your kids), acting like teenagers with Trent’s friend Kip (Rob Corddry) and his hot wife Joan (Amanda Peet).

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“CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE” My rating: B- (Opens wide on July 29)

118 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13 

“Crazy, Stupid, Love” isn’t just about cheating. It IS  a cheat.

But if you can buy its improbable premise, its jarring and sudden shifts in tone and its desperate desire to be all things to all people, you may find moments of real substance here.

It helps that this romantic comedy from directors Glenn Ficarra and John  Requa (“I Love You Phillip Morris”) features an astonishingly strong cast with several breakout performances.

Suburban husband/dad Cal (Steve Carell) is blindsided when Emily (Julianne Moore), his wife of 24 years, announces she’s been having an affair with a co-worker and wants a divorce.

Sad sack Cal finds himself sitting night after night in a bar bemoaning his fate and watching other people score. An expert in that pursuit is the suave, slick, self-assured Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who goes home every night with a different woman. (more…)

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