Archive for Albert Brooks

Concussion: A Strong Team Doesn’t Quite Deliver on All Its Promise

Posted in 6, Drama, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , on February 5, 2016 by mducoing

ConcussionAmerica’s love affair with football is no secret. And the inherent violence in the sport, the almost obsessive need for bone-crushing crashes and heart-stopping groans at each down, is virtual law. It is with this in mind that Concussion enters our collective consciousness, the story of a much darker side of the beloved sport. And as the story of Dr. Bennett Omalu’s discovery of CTE, the specter that terrified the NFL unfolds on screen, audiences will find it hard to look away.

Premise: In Pittsburgh, accomplished pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu uncovers the truth about brain damage in professional football players who suffer repeated concussions in the course of normal play. Result: A fair but disjointed biopic.

Concussion follows the standard biopic formula, offering three basic story lines: first, the story itself, of CTE, the great medical discovery Omalu’s (Will Smith) makes after the madness and subsequent death toll of aging Pittsburgh Steelers players mounts. Next, we have Omalu’s victimization at the hands of the NFL and rabid Steelers fans apparently bent on his destruction and erasure from history. And then, of course, the depiction of Omalu as more than a doctor but as a man, with human needs met only by a woman that literally falls into his life.

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This is 40: A Fun Film About an Often Unfunny Milestone

Posted in 7, Comedy, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2012 by mducoing

Thsi is 40This is 40 is a humorous spin off of director Judd Apatow ‘s 2007 classic Knocked Up.  While not as strong as its predecessor, 40 is still a fun follow up, with a robust set of memorable characters, and decidedly better than expected.

Premise: The long-awaited follow-up to Knocked up that follows familiar characters Pete and Debbie as they confront middle-age. Result: While not the instant classic that its predecessor was, this film is still well worth the screen time.

40 follows Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) five years after we first met the loving but dysfunctional couple in Knocked Up.  Now, the film centers on their experiences, especially the mid-life crises and financial woes that plague them as they reach the epic milestone.

Pete is mired in financial troubles that ultimately force him to question his life choices.  His business failures seem to bring his fledging independent recording studio to the brink of doom: while he reps Graham Parker, fans seem allergic to his latest release and employees Ronnie (Chris O’Dowd) and Cat (Lena Dunham) can’t seem to offer anything more than excuses and punch lines.  And this situation is only exacerbated by his family life forcing him into permanent bathroom-escapist exile.

Debbie, on her end, refuses on principle to even admit that she is a day over 38 and for much of the film seems bent on destroying her husband with vegetarian meals and enough nagging to be considered for the Elderly Jewish Lady Hall of Fame. And despite working with familiar trainer Jason (Jason Segel) and best friend Barb (Annie Mumolo), nothing seems to improve her mood, especially as her financial troubles develop: Debbie is faced with uncomfortable confrontation when she discovers a thief at her store where the only possible suspects are beautiful Desi (Megan Fox) and strange freak-girl Jodi (Charlyne Yi).

Worse still, Sadie (Maude Apatow) is confronting a challenging milestone herself as she becomes a teen: challenging fro everyone else, of course. Complete with outbursts, tantrums and a searing hatred for sister Charlotte (Iris Apatow), Sadie finds her parents’ troubles as alien as their clothes, music or word choice.  And a strange relationship with Joseph (Ryan Lee) explodes into one of the more amusing conflicts when Debbie and Pete wage war with Joseph’s mother Catherine (Melissa McCarthy).

And even peripheral family members can’t help but swirl around them delivering a stream of confusion and bad news; whether it is Pete’s father Larry (Albert Brooks) and his own desperate financial situation or Debbie’s father Oliver (John Lithgow) and his sudden resurfacing after a previously shocking lack of presence in his daughter’s life.

Ultimately, Apatow has filled this film to the brim with competing plotlines that, at first, seem unoriginal and worse, by sheer volume, indigestible.  There’s a sense of foreboding as the film opens that audiences may be crushed by the weight of too much happening, and nothing happening that we haven’t heard before.

However, as the film progresses, the storylines converge and rather than expand the relative size of the film, this convergence texturizes the characters, providing depth that ultimately makes the film more engaging, blossoming its inherent uniqueness.  Even peripheral characters make splashes throughout the film in a variety of ways, helping to deliver not only laughs but very clear, deep messages about the true emotional toll that life presents and the need for love and belonging amidst the chaos.

The acting in the film is excellent throughout as Apatow effectively casts this film with vast comedic talent.  Rudd and Mann are veterans within and without these roles but still manage to make their characters appear fresh and new.

Brook and Lithgow are both expectedly wonderful.  While Brooks brings his veteran flare for a certain trademarked comedic melancholy, Lithgow is able to deliver a detached brilliance that make each line effortlessly hilarious.

Fox is perhaps the greatest surprise.  Her role initially seems as if it will go nowhere and she will once again be relegated to “pretty girl on screen”.  That is absolutely not the case; she is fantastic in her role, managing to deliver funny lines as well as a deep, interesting character we are attentive to for reasons not related to her appearance.

McCarthy, of course, while limited on screen never misses an opportunity to steal the show. The rest of the cast, including Siegel and O’Dowd deliver their atypical sense of comedy and charm that allows the film to feel both familiar yet also distinctive.

Overall, 40 is a fun, engaging film that maintains our interest in these unique characters while also allowing audiences to feel satisfied that they have seen enough.  This closure is a positive in a film genre (and Apatow is far from immune to this) that often over-stays its welcome; in fact, while the film as a whole is funny, there are more than enough jokes that fall flat.  Nevertheless, once 40 hits its stride, observers will be glad they came along for the ride.

Rating: 7 – A refreshing Champagne that a cute bartender comp’d you!

Drive: A Uniquely Astonishing and Disturbing Film

Posted in 9, Action, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2011 by mducoing

Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhala Rising) has managed to deliver one of the most unique films of this year, if not the decade.  Through the bizarre, but brilliant use of slow motion, a gritty, ethereal cinematography, and an odd, but brilliant score, he succeeds in placing audiences in a strange crossroads of worlds, making the experience from moment one impressive, seductive, and downright addictive.

Premise: A stunt driver/ criminal wheelman tries to right wrongs after a heist gone wrong. Result: A brilliant, action thriller that will leave audiences stunned by both its beauty and its brutality.

The style in which this film is shot is perhaps its most notable feature, which says much considering that most other aspects are remarkable.  Winding Refn manages to create a strange universe that will make audiences feel like they have stumbled into some coarse, shadowy version of a 1980s film, while still preserving its modern appeal.

This contradiction on screen is supported by the use of slow motion to capture the passion of certain key moments to backdrops of a supremely distinctive score that can’t help but place observers into a time warp. This strange mixture of nostalgia and modernity easily seduces audiences, making them feel as if they are in a dream somehow, that what they are watching is some new magical experience.

From moment one, this film is equal parts non-stop action thriller and extraordinary experiment in visual, sensory cinema.  We are introduced to our protagonist, the Driver in the film (Ryan Gosling) who quickly establishes his line of work: stunt driver/getaway driver extraordinaire.  He rules his car with an artist’s precision, evading his pursuers like water through a drain. He will captivate audiences by his cool, confident, controlled performance in the first scene of this film, and by then, like a perilous drop down a shadowy well, there is no turning back or preparing for what looms ahead.

We begin to learn about this man, while really knowing nothing.  He is like an odd autistic, everything rests not on what he does but doesn’t say; oddly, this manner somehow instantly connects him to everything and everyone, including his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan).  There is instant chemistry and soon even this mysterious loner cannot resist.  There is beauty in the manner in which the two fall in love on screen as well the dream that seems to be blooming for him.  For a few moments, audiences may believe this is a simple love story.

Yet, while love delicately blooms between these two, we find that his employer (in various occupations it appears), Shannon (Bryan Cranston), has secured a deal with a local mob boss, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), for money to launch him as a race car driver. While this seems like it might only compliment this fated romance, life has other plans. Suddenly, like the final strike to some piñata of misery, tragedy comes crashing down, piece by piece.  Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), returns from prison, penitent, but ultimately unable to rid himself of his past. Our Driver, in an effort to protect his love and her son, agrees to help him pay off his debt, with one last job. 

The rest of the film is the tragic darkness of humanity where the first half, despite its flaws, was its light.  A complex caper unravels before audience eyes, as horror and unstoppable chaos, take hold on screen. The film becomes twisted, gruesome, in its irreverence and complete lack of respect for human life. Yet the shock and gore here somehow transcends the horror; it is not gratuitous: it is graphic but somehow reasonable as a poignant juxtaposition to the splendid, subtle calm and tranquility of the film. 

As desperation grows and anarchy prevails, our protagonist’s transformation is perhaps the most captivating development. His evolution is awe-inspiring, terrifying, and shocking in every way.   

As the film takes its final twists and turns, audiences may wonder just how much coincidence they will be expected to accept; however, the nature of the film allows for complete submission to on-screen events: observers will sit mesmerized by whatever they are given.  Fortunately, the resolution of the film is satisfying considering that by that point in the film, audiences will likely no longer be holding onto any expectations. But in its darkness, there is a sense that any other outcome would have cheapened the story.

Ryan Gosling delivers a performance that finally displays his true talent as an actor.  In this film, he manages to maintain a cool confidence under an equally composed mystery.  Comparatively, Gosling has potentially fewer lines than the rest of the cast, yet it is his non-verbal cues, his glances, his control over pausing, his eyes, his stance… everything works for him in this film creating an eerie but alluring sense that his character, as invisible as he may try to be, is uniquely notable.  He harnesses the calm of the great actors like Dean, Redford, Newman while managing to unleash sudden bursts of emotion with such ferocity as to approximate of DeNiro in Taxi Driver or Bale in American Psycho.  However, whatever the comparisons might be, there is no debate that his performance is his own and memorable as it is shocking.

Carey Mulligan, on her end, plays a person we can actually relate to on a human level.  She is confused by love but confounded by the tragedies she faces as she struggles to support herself and her child.  Every man she touches seems to turn to disaster and we can feel it, through Mulligan’s nuanced performance, in every inch of her face, in every streaming tear.

Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, as the villains, are in some ways different sides of the same coin.  Perlman plays the more goonish of the two, and does this rather masterfully, creating a man we would rather not see in a dark alley or at Church (although it might be said that this is his professional forte).  Brooks, on the other hand, is a genuine surprise.  While his signature manner still scream comedian, his performance is far from funny.  He manages to deliver a terrifyingly cruel monster, a genuine savage that manages to place the whole film into perspective: evil lives everywhere, no matter how unlikely.

Bryan Cranston and Oscar Isaac are both genuine in their roles and under other circumstances would have shown brightly.  But here, both characters are relegated to the background, playing supporting roles to the true drama on stage.  To this extreme, Christina Hendricks is non-existent, making a splash mostly for her trashy, clash-y outfit and her, um, sendoff, but hardly her talent (through no fault of her own).

Drive means many things, and hardly anything about cars.  Surely, cars are a relevant component to not only the film, but the character himself -his mastery of cars will give you goose bumps- but it is much more than that. This film is about those things unseen that drive us, that motivate us deep within to do good and evil…it is a command to move on, keep running, keep going someplace, any place to escape what you have become, what you are.  And this film captures this sentiment beautifully, managing this tranquil chaos of life through a stunning tale that more than shouldn’t, won’t be forgotten.

Rating: 9 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak that someone else is paying for and where you don’t have to put out

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