Archive for Alec Baldwin

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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Still Alice: An Emotional Horror Captured Perfectly

Posted in 9, Drama, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2015 by mducoing

Still AliceAccording to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 67 seconds a new person in the US develops the pernicious, mind-destroying disease. As a clinical, cold fact, this is terrifying, even mind-boggling enough. But with Still Alice, directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland have transformed the Lisa Genova novel into a horrifying, personal reality that is certain to cast new chilling light on this ever-looming global nightmare.

Premise: The story of Alice Howland’s rapid loss of mental function, and thus her loss of identity. Result: A chilling, emotional catharsis that delves deeply into a personal horror and never lets go.

Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is brilliant and happy: top of her intellectual game, revered by peers, and the center of a loving family that includes husband John (Alec Baldwin), and children Anna (Kate Bosworth),Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart). And then one day, a genetic diagnosis previously overlooked changes everything.

Alice is dying. But not, as she laments, from cancer or some pernicious affliction that targets her body. Alzheimer’s targets her mind and thus, everything that make Alice, Alice. The horror and misery that confronts her is, in some ways, as destructive as the disease itself.

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Blue Jasmine: A Beautiful, Stunning Tragedy

Posted in 9, Comedy, Drama, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on September 17, 2013 by mducoing

Blue JasmineWriter/director Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris, To Rome with Love) can never be accused of holding back.  With Blue Jasmine, his latest foray as the Lord of Awkwardness, he goes above and beyond to paint a stunning, mortifying portrait of a woman lost to self-ruin, and audiences will not soon recover.

Premise: The life of a New York socialite after a disaster that leaves her deeply troubled and in denial. Result: The brilliant, mesmerizing tale of a woman whose life spirals out of control.

Blue Jasmine begins with talkative Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) personifying Woody Allen in a conversation that is really nothing more than a constant, idiosyncratic monologue.  She talks on incessantly and this will instantly bring a smile to observers’ faces, especially those familiar with Allen’s works and the quirks of his own.

But this is not a funny movie.  Well, not really anyway.  Observers will laugh nervously from beginning to end, chuckle at the traumatic, embarrassing events that populate every frame of this directorial master class.  But the film isn’t funny.  It’s agonizingly tragic in deeply insightful ways.

Ultimately this is the story of a woman in emotional despair, in psychological catastrophe that must look to the future, uncertain and terrifying.  Her link to reality is tenuous as her story unfolds in a series of flashbacks that will chill observers.  All eyes must always be on Jasmine as there are so many nuances, so many schizophrenic moments, acute angles, strange sights that to watch her is to engage in an anthropological excursion.

She is regal, elegant, beautiful and all this as she smolders in the ashes of her own horrifying ruin.  She finds herself in San Francisco in the wake of personal disaster that has dropped her in her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) apartment.  She is traumatized by her surroundings, observing the very apartment as if it were unbearable squalor and her sister as if even in Jasmine’s most desperate hour, she is mountains above her.

Allen allows her story to reveal itself slowly, deliberately: her relationship to her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), her former rivalry with Ginger’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), her current rivalry with Ginger’s current boyfriend Chilli (Bobby Cannavale) and the complex relationship she has with her stepson Danny (Alden Ehrenreich).

At every moment, Allen douses us with humiliation after grueling humiliation, where this woman has not only come to devastation, but continues to unravel before our very eyes.  There is nothing sacred, no moment where her mascara has not run, where her choices are not horrifying, where she is not only deserving of our contempt but deserving of our deepest pity.

Other than an interesting story, Allen provides audiences with a relevant allegory here – that the wealthy, the entitled cannot live in our world and when their greed turns to ruin, they continue to feast on us like parasites, desperate for anything to place them in the warmth of the sun, even if they must stand on our cold, dead bodies.  These characters are deeply complex and audiences will be mesmerized by the twists and turns until that final, chilling resolution.

The entire cast of this film is perfect, embodying their characters. Blanchett’s performance is inspired, almost transcendent.  She delivers every line with devastating realism, and she manages expression and movements that tell multiple stories in a single moment: she is walking calamity and audiences will loathe and pity her character while adoring her for it.

Hawkins is also stunningly suited for her role, somehow managing to survive on screen even as Blanchett delivers one of the best performances of her career.  Hawkins, playing a completely different character, somehow is as deep and fascinating as anything we could hope for.

Dice Clay is impressive as Augie, harnessing both his signature raw power as well as a sadness and vulnerability that makes his role really stand out.  Cannavale is wonderful yet again delivering on a character that is as remarkable as he is unstable. Baldwin, for his part, is wonderful but his role is largely marginal when compared to these others.

In the end, Blue Jasmine is a stunning triumph.  The film is has a remarkably nuanced story with deep characters and magnificent performances.  It is a must see for Allen fans and neophytes alike.

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

Rise of the Guardians: Reinventing Holiday Classics Makes for a Fun Film for the Whole Family

Posted in 7, Animation, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2012 by mducoing

Rise of the GuardiansDirecting his first feature-length animated film, director Peter Ramsey does a good job of bringing a very interesting tale to the screen.  Working with David Lindsay-Abaire  to adapt the William Joyce book first imagined through stories to his own daughter, Ramsey manages to deliver a clever, entertaining tale that reinvents our famous Holidays and Holiday characters and will likely leave smiles on all children’s faces, as well as their guardians.

Premise: Four Guardians must team up with reluctant Jack Frost to battle an ancient evil. Result: Fresh takes on familiar characters helps transform what might have been a hackneyed tale into an enjoyable film.

The story begins with Jack Frost (Chris Pine) who has come to be one day through the power of the mysterious Man in the Moon.  All he knows is that he is Jack Frost and for three hundred years he roams the world brining joy to children through blizzards and snow days yet always remains invisible to them.

But one day North (Alec Baldwin), essentially a muscled up Russian Santa, finds that the glistening lights of believing children on his globe have begun to flicker, the work he believes of ancient enemy Pitch (Jude Law). He calls on the other Guardians: Tooth (Isla Fisher), Bunny (Hugh Jackman), and The Sandman to regroup and face this threat to children everywhere. It is here, through the details surrounding each character that the true genius of the story unfolds.

Each Guardian is interesting and amusing: North is a wonderful reinvention of Santa, compete with “Naughty” and “Nice” tattoos that make one wonder if he has a Harley stashed out back and a Gulag UD stamped somewhere on his back.  He has adorable elves that are essentially there only for comic relief since all of the work at the North Pole is done by the Yetis, massive but adorably anthropomorphized fur balls that deliver more than their fair share of laughs.

Tooth, for her part, is half-hummingbird-half-woman, who with a massive force of “baby teeth” (fairies) is able to collect and guard children’s teeth around the world.  Children’s teeth it turns out, hold the key to the most essential childhood memories.  Sandman, for his part, does not speak but instead plays the part of animated Teller, silent comedian throughout, with the duty of managing children’s sleep through dreams.   And Bunny, that Australian Easter Bunny, is a boomerang toting bad boy that manages his own army of walking eggs and Egg-Shaped Easter Island statues.

Frost is the lead of the film, as the Man in the Moon selects him to be the newest Guardian to face off against the vile Boogeyman, Pitch, who is turning children’s dreams into nightmares and bringing fear to all he meets.  But Frost is reluctant, interested more in bringing low-level joy to children like Jamie (Dakota Goyo), rather than take on any responsibility the new role would entail.

The film itself is a straightforward story of Good and Evil with a few un twists and several moments that range between tepid smile and booming guffaw.  The formula, however, languishes beyond the nature of the characters. First, our central character is reluctant to take on new responsibility and must come to learn about himself before rising to the task.

Next, this task is all-too familiar as an ancient threat that brings fear is rising, having been held at bay for hundreds of years only to return with vengeance.  And finally, the Guardians power is not their own, but stems from children, who in turn believe in them.

On some level all of this has been done before in some shape or another, dulling the impact of the film initially; there is a certain stale quality to the proceedings that distracts. And so all the surprises are relegated to the characters, not the story which initially feels like a weakness to the film’s relevance (it should also be noted, that if the Guardians were actually interested in having more Children believe on them, then two of the Guardians probably shouldn’t be secularized Christian creatures).

Nevertheless, the characters are fun and interesting with enough new developments stemming from the mythos of these beings to keep audiences interested.  The animation itself is impeccable, glistening on screen with a wonder worthy of its subject.  And the story, despite having borrowed bits and pieces, is still well-constructed and sturdy enough for children to follow and adults to enjoy. While not a perfect film by any means, Rise of the Guardians brings enough fresh material, stunning visuals and laughs to keep men, women, and children of all ages paying close attention.

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

To Rome with Love: The Twilight Zone with Some of That Woody Allen Charm

Posted in 6, Comedy, Independent, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2012 by mducoing

To be direct, this film was entirely preposterous.  Fortunately, that appears to be writer/director Woody Allen’s (Midnight in Paris, Match Point) intention. While the film doesn’t really offer anything new in terms of content and meanders for some time, it’s crazy, post-modern tales somehow seem more amusing and relatable than his other recent works.  Of course, in the end, like with all Allen’s work, you either get him or you don’t.

Premise: Four stories that follow the antics of visitors and residents of Rome. Result: A ridiculous if albeit mildly entertaining romp through the world of Woody Allen.

The film follows four stories, each set in Rome, to set the stage for a city that is perhaps even more magical than Paris, Allen’s previous venue.  Unlike acclaimed (I feel wrongly) Midnight in Paris, Allen attempts to top himself with not just one insane tale, but four bizarre, comical vignettes, all supposedly taking place over a variety of different times, and possibly dimensions.  While the venue appears to be Rome in the same world we exist in, Allen’s reality is far more flexible, with unknown boundaries and rules.

The first story involves Allen himself as Jerry, father to Hayley (Alison Pill) and husband to Phyllis (Judy Davis), and is a reluctantly retired music executive.  Hayley is to marryMichelangelo (Flavio Parenti), a man Jerry does not fundamentally understand; matters grow more comical and complex, however, when Jerry is introduced to Michelangelo’s family, especially his father, who appears to have a beautiful voice while singing in the shower.  While this storyline appears minorly grounded in reality, it has its moments of absurdity that somehow work: the crazier it gets, the more enjoyable.  While the result is somewhat flat, the journey will produce a few hearty laughs along the way.

Next is the story of ordinary Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a dull and forgettable clerk with a quaint family life and the relevance of sales items in a thrift shop.  But one day, out of nowhere, he finds himself suddenly famous…for being famous, as Allen seemingly takes our own media’s obsession with transforming “nobodies” into “Nobodies”.  This storyline clearly departs from all reality and while there are a few amusing moments here and there, the antics quickly tire; by the end, once we hear the clichéd moral of this story, we saw it coming and had already placed attention elsewhere.

The third story seems to be taken right from the Pink Panther portfolio, or some other concept long tired and dated.  Here newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) have just moved to Rome from small town Italy to pursue a new opportunity Antonio has been given by his family that is sure to make them rich.

The two experience all types of predictable antics and quasi-humorous escapades that defy all logic but are somehow charming as the characters become more established.  In particular, the introduction of prostitute Anna (Penélope Cruz), adds just the right amount of absurdity to keep the Three Stooges at bay. By the end, the rationale for this tale is not wholly relevant but the story was told sweetly enough to keep a smile on our faces.

The final story is the most impactful and also the most frustrating.  Here we begin with Architect John (Alec Baldwin) who has come to Rome after 30 years, a time spent long ago to be inspired and to “fall in love.”  In an effort to walk down memory lane, he searches for his “old stomping grounds” and runs into Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who coincidentally happens to be studying architecture and lives basically in the same apartment John did years ago.

John follows Jack to his apartment and is introduced to his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig).  Suddenly, the story takes a sharp turn for the bizarre when it appears John has now become a looming conscience/narrator of the impending love catastrophe that will be brought by Sally’s friend Monica (Ellen Page). John’s narration/critiques are quite hilarious and the story unravels as an absurd play-by-play of every bad-decision-for-love story that has ever been.  In the end, the story is fun, the lines and events funny, and the resolution, predictable and flat.  Of course, something that might make most observers enjoy this more might be to ask one simple question: how are John and Jack related? =)

What is important to note with To Rome, is that the journey is far more important than the destination.  Allen is not really making this movie to give us new insights (if he is, this film is an unmitigated disaster) but instead trying to take familiar ideas and give them an absurd, quirky spin through the delightful madness that is Allen’s mind.  Each story has its own charm (some more than others) and there are always at least a few moments that most any observer can enjoy.

The acting in the film, overall, is strong.  Cruz and Baldwin lead the pack with their own respective talents.  Cruz has an undeniable charisma that really controls the screen; even as a limited character, she demands attention. Baldwin uses his signature smug, sarcastic comedy to power his way through lines that often feel tired to make them memorable.

The entire Italian cast, including Begnini is good as well, although there is always a sense that everyone is trying to be an Italian Woody Allen, which in itself is a frightening thought.  Page is her typical character, spouting lines quickly, pontificating, but ultimately right for this role.  Pill and Gerwig are largely invisible in this film, a position we sometimes wish for Eisenberg, who is erratic and often irritating in his role as Jack.

Davis, for her part is great, once again, although somehow feels under-utilized considering her talent.  Audiences might wish that more screen time used for Allen himself might have better been devoted to Davis since his antics come off as tired, almost as if he is doing a lazy parody of himself.

In the end, To Rome is a quirky, mildly interesting telling of several stories we have already heard.  While the delivery is the true Allen conduit, the film isn’t able to really engage audiences or move them; instead, it rests on simply stirring them occasionally.  While there is no doubt Allen had some fun with this film, audiences may have gotten the short end of that stick.

Rating: 6 – A mediocre Prosecco that a cute bartender served you

Rock of Ages: A Strange Place Where Fun and Not Good Co-exist in Perfect Harmony

Posted in 6, Comedy, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2012 by mducoing

While our world may already be full of contradictions, nothing has stopped Director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) from producing yet another in Rock of Ages.  The Rock-Comedy based on the acclaimed musical runs the movie experience gamut: on the one hand there are several good laughs and a great forum for a better soundtrack; on the other hand, it is messy, predictable, and plagued with problems that while acceptable on stage, are unforgiveable on screen.

Premise: A small town girl and a city boy meet on the Sunset Strip, while pursuing their Hollywood dreams. Result: A few laughs, some great songs and some fair performances ultimately don’t lift this film from mediocre past-time.

We start with small town Tulsa girl Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) who boards a bus to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of being a singer.  Equipping Sherrie with stunning looks, big hair and a suitcase full of records, Shankman wastes no time immersing audiences with the film’s formula: a sudden, ridiculous rendition of “Sister Christian” that spreads through the bus like Ebola sparing not even small children from its infectious melody.

Audiences will laugh, at first in horror that the scene looks so absurd, then with relief when it appears Shankman deliberately directed the scene in such a manner, and then finally cautious optimism, where we hope it was deliberate. And this is a staple problem with the film throughout: with several messy editing choices, a dialogue that seems lifted from the musical directly, and some events that simply toe the line between humorous and cringe-worthy, audiences will be in a perpetual state of blissful agony, laughing and grimacing with frightening frequency.

As Sherrie arrives in LA, a metropolis that in 1987 somehow resembles Earth after The Rise of the Machines, she skips and smiles only a few blocks before her suitcase is wrestled away by either a common criminal, or the backup drummer for the The Misfits. But as luck would have it, Drew (Diego Boneta) is there to save the day.

Of course, the same can’t be said for the scene: despite losing her only earthly possessions, Sherrie seems minorly inconvenienced, like she broke a nail; Drew for his part is quick to hit on her awkwardly, apparently having taken lessons from local middle schoolers on first impression charm.  Worse still, the scene plays with exaggerated movements, sighs, and awkward pauses that work well on stage but are clumsy and sad on screen.  At this point, audience members might fear they are in for a long, painful ride.

The good news is the film gets better than its first few scenes, if only marginally.  Ultimately, beyond just the familiar boy meets girl in big city plotline, we have a series of others that are more intriguing. First, there is the also painfully familiar “I’ve been a rocker for years, jaded and now I might lose it all” plotline with Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and side-kick Lonny (Russell Brand); honestly, wasn’t this plotline even used in the scandalously underwhelming Burlesque? Fortunately, a few funny scenes, good delivery and an interesting, if not entirely fresh twist will keep audiences watching.

There is also the anticipated Staceee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) plotline that has the added advantage of having a hilarious Baboon sidekick named Heyman that often steals scenes.  Together, these two characters keep the film in a state of watch-ability, even as other components languish.  Not unlike the entire “protest” angle from Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and her philandering Mayor-husband Mike (Bryan Cranston); this entire plotline paddles just above miserable and might be the best time for audiences to take that much needed nap.

Fortunately, despite some mindless antics, audiences will be immersed in fun 80s Rock montages and mashups as well as a few fun one-liners from a talented cast.  And to our sadistic delight, as the film hits climax, we have pretty much all the stars in some sort of ruin: financial (Dupree), love/career (Sherrie/Drew), career (Stacee), cinematic relevance (the Whitmores) and scoring more ways to be sneaky and evil -Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti).

In fact, Paul may be one of the better characters, sliming his way on screen as Stacee Jaxx manager and creepy-ex porn star look-alike with that signature ponytail, porn-stache and just a hint of ogling-school-children cologne we expect.  Stacee Jaxx for his part has hit the Rolling Stone iceberg of journalists Constance (Malin Akerman) and begins to question his own career.

The acting in the film is good overall.  Cruise is great in pretty much every scene and despite needing a bit of time to acclimate to his style and character, is a must watch.  Giamatti is sleaze supreme and Baldwin and Brand are both quite good in their respective roles, having fun both with the characters as well as with the audience.  Akerman is powerful in her humorous role as well, managing a noticeable charisma, even as Cruise is her counterweight.

Boneta manages a rocky start but ultimately fills into his role as Drew.  Hough is a good Sherrie throughout but never manages to make the character relevant, despite it being the lead role; even a few scenes with the great Mary J. Blige still didn’t make me want to watch.  And Zeta Jones and Cranston are simply dull, pointless characters and so despite both actors being quite strong in their own rights,  both seem helpless to make either character a justifiable survivor of the editing room chopping block.

Overall, Rock of Ages is clumsy where it should be graceful and dull where it should excite.  Fortunately, its songs and absurd antics will likely elevate the mood at least as frequently as not.  But what really supports this Titanic is a genuinely invested cast that keeps the smile plastered on observing faces through the opening credits.  While some of these smiles may be more mocking than friendly, this film might just well take it where it can get it.

Rating: 6 – A mediocre Prosecco that a cute bartender served you

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