Aloha

Posted on May 28, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Copyright 2015 Columbia Pictures
Copyright 2015 Columbia Pictures
Writer/director Cameron Crowe presents us with an attractive and talented but messy and compromised hero in “Aloha,” and asks us to root for him. The problem is that the film itself is attractive, talent-filled, messy, and compromised, and harder to root for than the hero of the story.

That hero is Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), once an 11-year-old who loved the sky so much he wanted to identify everything in it. In a quick narrated recap that opens the film we learn that after he grew up things went well for him (in the military) and then not so well, and then badly. While working for a private contractor in Kabul, he was badly injured, and apparently not in the way that gets you a Purple Heart.

Brian arrives in Hawaii and needs to prove himself. His former employer, Carson Welch (Bill Murray) is one of the wealthiest men in the world, presiding over a telecommunications empire. He and the Air Force are working together on a big project that involves the development of land on the island that was a burial ground for the indigenous people. The Air Force assigns a “fast burner” named Sergeant Ng (Emma Stone) to work with get the cooperation of the King of the native population to build on that property, and to show that by performing a blessing ceremony. The King is played by real-life King Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, and he is one of the few from Brian’s past who seems to like him much. Welch does not. The Air Force General (Alec Baldwin, volcanically angry) does not. Then there is Brian’s ex-girlfriend, Tracy (Rachel McAdams), now married to an Air Force pilot and the mother of two children.

It totally goes off the rails several times, with a plot that would daunt a Bond villain thwarted by a completely ridiculous hacking scene, plus a last-minute redemptive reconciliation that is so far off the mark of any known human response the characters would be just as likely to sprout feathers and levitate off the ground. While the Hawaiian natives and their struggle against what they see as American imperialism and colonialism are sympathetically portrayed, it is still a story that is about white people and their problems. And the casting of Emma Stone as bi-racial is insensitive at best.

But like its hero and its writer/director, it won me back with the crackle of its dialog and charm of its poetry, even in the hacking scene, and especially in a statement of romantic intent that is one of the best I’ve seen in many months. It is also very funny, with a wonderfully expressive performance from Krasinski as the taciturn Woody, and thoughtful work from Cooper, who keeps getting better at finding moments of surprising insight and nuance with every performance.

Parents should know that this film includes strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situation, paternity issue, references to war-related violence and injuries and to weapons of mass destruction, references to imperialism and colonialism, and alcohol.

Family discussion: Why did Ng talk so much about being one-quarter Hawaiian? Why was the King the only person from Brian’s past who seemed to like him? What happens when billionaires make decisions that used to be made by government?

If you like this, try: “The Descendants,” and “Almost Famous”

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Comedy Drama Romance

30 Minutes or Less

Posted on August 11, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Counter-terrorism expert Mark Sageman has described what he calls the “bunch of guys” theory.  Instead of looking for a mastermind and a bunch of crackerjack operatives, Sageman says more often the people who create mayhem are a bunch of guys who think they are more intelligent and capable than they really are.  “30 Minutes or Less” is what we could call a “bunch of guys” movie about two pairs of guy-friends who get wrapped up in a bank robbery and murder for hire from a combination of bitterness, slackerdom, and way too many movies and video games, with constant crude language and sexual references.  In other words, if Quentin Tarantino made a Three Stooges heist movie, this is what it would look like.

Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Adam Sandler pal Nick Swardson), in the tradition of duos from Jay and Silent Bob to Dumb and Dumber spend their days hanging around the house Dwayne’s dad (Fred Ward) bought with his $10 million lottery winnings.  They eat, squabble, blow stuff up, watch movies, play video games, and talk about all the things they could do if they had the money.

Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) delivers pizzas for a place that promises if it doesn’t get there in 30 minutes, it’s free.  His best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari of “Parks and Recreation”) is a teacher and the twin brother of the girl Nick likes.  They hang out, squabble, and watch movies.

Dwayne decides to hire someone to kill his father, a retired Major (Fred Ward).  But it costs $100,000, so before he can do that, he decides to force some random guy to rob a bank for him by making him wear a vest covered with explosives.  How do you get a random guy to come to an isolated place?  Order a pizza.

This is a fairly standard “dumb guys do dumb stuff” movie along the lines of “Pineapple Express.”  There are some funny moments and clever conceits but the family of a real-life young man who was killed in a similar incident has raised strong objections to turning a tragic story into a buddy comedy and it is difficult for this slight material to overcome that blight.

 

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Comedy Crime

Land of the Lost

Posted on October 13, 2009 at 8:00 am

“Land of the Lost” features two funny actors and a criminally underused actress tramping around an alternate reality in search of comedy but not finding much for us to laugh at.
Too raunchy for kids, too dull for anyone else, this over-budgeted and under-scripted film wastes everyone’s time, especially the audience’s. The original television series about a forest ranger and his two teenage children in a time warp land with dinosaurs and lizard people called Sleestaks was best known for effects that could hardly be called “special,” even for the 1970’s. But it had innocence and charm, while the remake has neither. It is so carelessly written that when the humanoids don’t understand English but the dinosaurs do it feels more like laziness than an attempt to be funny. It is too busy coming up with a reason for Ferrell to douse himself with dino pee to try to, for example, give the female character any — what’s the word? — character.
Will Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, a discredited scientist whose theories about the particles that control space and time are not taken seriously by anyone. Then Holly (Anna Friel), a young scientist from England, tells him that she has some proof that his theories are right. Led by Will (Danny McBride) a guy who sells fireworks and lives in a trailer, they go into a cave and find themselves catapulted into an alternate universe where they are chased by dinosaurs and befriended by a missing link ape-boy named Chaka (Jorma Taccone). Ferrell’s job in the movie (big surprise) is to vibrate between neediness, panic, and arrogance and run around in his underwear. Friel’s job is to know the answer to everything (she even speaks Chaka’s language), allow herself to be (literally) pawed, look very fetching in tiny little shorts, and gaze adoringly at Ferrell. The best moments in the film come from the always-hilarious Danny McBride (“Pineapple Express,” “Tropic Thunder”), the songs of “A Chorus Line,” and, surprisingly, from Matt Lauer, playing himself.

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Action/Adventure Based on a television show Comedy Fantasy Remake

August MVPs: Steve Coogan and Danny McBride

Posted on August 20, 2008 at 8:00 am

This month’s Most Valuable Cinematic Player award has to be shared by Steve Coogan and Danny McBride, who each deliver not one but two different magnificently hilarious performances in two August releases.
steve coogan.jpgSteve Coogan, is often underrated as an actor because he is so good as a comedian. But in movies like “24 Hour Party People” and “Coffee and Cigarettes” he shows his extraordinary mastery of tone and precision in defining a character. His roles in the two movies he appears in this month are very similar — both are wild satires about show business and in both he plays inexperienced directors whose productions are out of control. But in “Hamlet 2” and “Tropic Thunder” Coogan brilliantly calibrates his performances to fit the character and the story. In “Hamlet 2,” his demented neediness and giddy sense of joy is comedy heaven. In “Tropic Thunder,” his character unravels in a symphony of panic and desperation. Coogan is an exceptionally gifted and appealing actor whose utter commitment, fearlessness, and insight are as important to his performances as his impeccable comedic timing.
mcbride.jpgDanny McBride plays an affable drug dealer in “Pineapple Express” and a wild-eyed special effects demolition expert on “Tropic Thunder.” Both films call on him to work through a range of situations and emotional temperatures, sometimes with split-second reversals, and he is flawless. Whether displaying demented excess as a man who can hardly believe his good fortune in being paid to blow stuff up or shifting loyalties from one minute to the next in an over-the-top shoot-out, McBride is fully invested in the character and very, very funny.
Special mention: Emma Stone of “Superbad,” who is terrific in two films opening on the same day “The House Bunny” (as a good-hearted girl with some social skills problems) and “The Rocker” (as a brooding bass player).

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