Film #25: Cyrus (2010)
Cyrus is a comedy-drama written and directed by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, and released in 2010. With the exception of its professional actors, the film has all the hallmarks of the indie “mumblecore” movement that the Duplass brothers partake in: Low-budget filmmaking that’s character-based and dialogue-driven. The tenets of mumblecore can be divisive enough for a movie-going public more acclimated to high-concept films; Cyrus doubles down on its disconcertion by featuring a nearly incestuous Oedipal relationship. Plenty of people are probably interested in this movie based on its cast. Many will probably end up disappointed.
Personally, I absolutely loved it.
March 19, 2012 | Categories: 9 - 9.5, Comedy, Drama, Genre, Ratings | Tags: catherine keener, duplass bros, duplass brothers, jas shelton, jay dueby, jay duplass, john c. reilly, jonah hill, marisa tomei, mark duplass, matt walsh, michael andrews, michael costigan, mumblecore, ridley scott, tony scott | Leave a comment
Film #24: 21 Jump Street (2012)
21 Jump Street is an action-comedy film loosely based off the TV series of the same name that ran on Fox from 1987 to 1991. I never saw the show, but apparently all the 2012 film takes from it is the premise: Youthful-looking police officers are placed undercover as high school students. The two youthful cops that the film follows are Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum). They’re much the same as they were in high school – Schmidt intelligent but awkward, Jenko athletic but an idiot – but this is 7 years later, so even though they were at odds in their schooling days, they quickly become the best of friends during training. They’re terribly incompetent cops, though, and are stuck patrolling a park on bicycles. They get reassigned to the 21 Jump Street program after Jenko irresponsibly detains a perp, eschewing reading the Miranda rights in favor of humping the drug dealer while telling him to suck it.
March 17, 2012 | Categories: 8 - 8.5, Action, Comedy, Crime, Genre, Ratings | Tags: 21 jump street, barry peterson, brie larson, channing tatum, chris miller, chris parnell, dave franco, ellie kemper, holly robinson peete, ice cube, jake johnson, joel negrone, johnny depp, jonah hill, mark mothersbaugh, michael bacall, neal h. moritz, patrick hasburgh, peter deluise, phil lord, rob riggle, stephen j. cannell | Leave a comment
Sports have always ranked low on the list of priorities in my life, and baseball probably sits at the very bottom. Although I can appreciate the statistics involved, nothing about the sport has ever intrigued me, so it was with some skepticism that I went into Moneyball. Turns out, you can have any opinion about baseball that you want, and this movie will still be amazing.
Based on the book by Michael Lewis, screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Stephen Zaillian have crafted an enthralling story about one man trying to change the way the sport is played. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Beane has a tumultuous past in baseball, revealed to us piecemeal through flashbacks. After turning down a full ride to Stanford to play professionally, Beane struggled on the field and burned out quickly. Harboring a grudge against the types of scouts that recruited him, Beane hires Paul Brand (Jonah Hill) and uses Brand’s system to recruit cheap players based entirely on statistics.
This “sabermetric” approach earns the ire of pretty much everyone else, from the table of scouts that work with Beane to his team manager Art Howe (a very surly Philip Seymour Hoffman). The film becomes a story about the politics behind the sport, and it’s because of this focus that the screenplay is so strong. Much like the Sorkin-penned The Social Network, the drama and tension are derived by the interrelational power struggles constantly at play. Angry at his picks for the season, Howe is defiant of Beane and refuses to play any of his new hires. In retaliation, Beane trades away the player that Howe had been relying on instead.
If this seems like an extreme measure, that’s because Beane is an explosive character. Bitter and temperamental, it would be a challenge to count the number of times that Pitt hurls objects across the room enraged. We may be rooting for Beane to accomplish his goal – putting an end to judging recruits based on how attractive their girlfriends are and other such drivel – but his motivations are undoubtedly selfish. Part of it has to do with the chip on his shoulder for the recruiting methods that led him to fail as a player. But another part of it is more admirable: The fact that he wants to win a series with the Athletics, with HIS team. His passion for his team is reserved at first, but eventually spills over into fraternizing with the players he may have to fire or trade away.
In contrast to Beane’s bombastic intensity sits Peter Brand, a recent college graduate with a degree in economics. Diffident and meek, Brand cowers in front of Beane at first before they establish a stable and very entertaining relationship. Brand, as played by Hill, may speak quietly and seem awkward in the presence of other baseball bigwigs, but he has enough faith in his science to stand his ground. This conviction is what wins over Beane (especially when Brand admits he wouldn’t have drafted Beane until the ninth round, with no signing bonus), and this resilience is what allows Brand to stick around even as Beane yells at him, abusing the power difference between them.
Watching Pitt and Hill establish a kinship is one of the film’s chief appeals. They’re in it together, against everyone else, and that’s just fine because the audience is ready to back them through their trials and tribulations. Both actors are in prime condition here. Pitt continues to show that he is a serious talent suitable for any genre, with a sad smile that lets Beane’s sorrow shine through his eyes. Hill continues to inch away from the ribald comedies that he gained popularity for, proving that there’s more to him than just vulgar hilarity. Everyone else similarly excels, from Hoffman to Chris Pratt to Stephen Bishop, the latter two as players on Beane’s motley crew of a team. And I have to single out Kerris Dorsey for being an adorable and self-aware 11-year-old actress. Assuming that’s actually her voice in those singing scenes, this girl has a lot of talent that I can’t wait to see more of.
Moneyball has very few scenes that actually take place on the diamond. Instead, it focuses on character interactions. The best scenes are those with Beane and his scouts, as their relentless droning on about irrelevant characteristics tire and then irritate Beane; a scene where Beane first encounters Brand, as he tries to trade for better players with the Cleveland Indians GM (played perfectly by Reed Diamond, who just barely tiptoes the line between courteous and condescending); and a scene in which Beane visits his ex-wife at her new husband’s house and awkward conversation fills the time as they wait for their daughter to show up. All of these scenes consist only of dialogue, but none of them are short of exceptional. Neither is the film. Soundly scripted with flawless performances, Moneyball is the best movie to come out of 2011 so far.
Final Rating: 9/10
- I’ve developed such a trust for Aaron Sorkin. In The Social Network, he made computers programming and formal lawsuits entertaining; here, he turns baseball and math into excitement. At this point, I will follow you into the dark, Mr. Sorkin.
- I was pretty peeved at Beane in the end for not taking that money, and I felt like it was a really weak dilemma to go out on. But I guess it made the most logical ending, and you can’t change things around so drastically if you’re basing your script off of reality.
- Since their approach was based in science and math, I might have been siding with Beane and Brand a little more than your average audience member. But between objective statistics and “intuition”? I’ll take the facts every time.
–James A. Janisse
September 28, 2011 | Categories: 9 - 9.5, Drama, Genre, Ratings, Sports | Tags: aaron sorkin, bennett miller, brad pitt, chris pratt, christopher tellefsen, jonah hill, kerris dorsey, michael de luca, michael lewis, mychael danna, philip seymour hoffman, rachael horovitz, reed diamond, stan chervin, stephen bishop, stephen zaillian, steven zaillian, wally pfister | 1 Comment
I was watching Moon with a couple of people when one of them had to leave for a bit. The other guy and I started to look around on the Internet and saw that Adam Sandler’s lowest rated film was Strange Wilderness. I happened to have a copy on hand, so as we waited for our third companion to return, we decided to watch it.
Strange Wilderness is a gross-out comedy released in 2008 with a hodgepodge of comedic actors from the supporting cast of Adam Sandler films and some others like Steve Zahn, Jonah Hill, Kevin Heffernan, and Justin Long. Zahn leads these men, his film crew, as they try to track down Bigfoot in an effort to save their failing nature show.
One thing clear is that this film is dumb. Its humor consists mostly of things that are gross (there’s a close-up on a mangled penis) and the cast yelling stupidly. The entire cast. None of these characters are unique or have any kind of personality – they just yell. And make bad jokes.
Steve Zahn leads the pack, and while his naive stupidity garners a few laughs here and there, the majority of his performance is more irritating than humorous. Allen Covert, star of the hilarious Grandma’s Boy, is practically his second-in-command, but I couldn’t really tell you anything unique that he does. He’s just another semi-recognizable face to bring “humor”. Jonah Hill is at his absolute, all-time worst here. He was possibly the least funniest character in the entire film – I don’t think I laughed a single time that he spoke. The person I watched this with kept asking what Hill’s problem was. Apparently Hill wrote his part for the movie, so I guess that was what his problem was. Let’s all collectively agree never to let Jonah Hill pen anything else ever, okay?
The other cast members just do what they always do, and rarely are funny doing it. Justin Long is a stoner – huge surprise. He actually had some good instances of comedy, like when he tattoos eyeballs onto his lids, but it’s nothing new or original. Peter Dante acts like an amiable but idiotic “bro”, and Kevin Heffernan plays the role of an excited newcomer to the group. Ashley Scott plays an entirely useless and formulaic female character – she has to go along for the ride, looks like she’ll be a tight ass and a wet blanket on the guys’ activities, and then ends up being cool. I’m guessing they just included her so the entire cast wouldn’t be males. I guess they didn’t realize how many other problems the script had.
Like the scene in which everyone stands around laughing and making jokes because Blake Clark’s name is “Dick”. You wouldn’t believe that someone would write a film where a bunch of grown men laugh at a common name because it happens to also mean “penis”, but that’s the kind of well thought-out humor Strange Wilderness has to offer. The film hits its all time low when Steve Zahn is attached by a turkey and gets his penis stuck in the turkey’s throat. There’s a whole making-of featurette on the DVD about this scene, which makes me suspect that the filmmakers thought it was hilarious, but really, it just serves as the point in the film when you realize there will be no redemption and that you’ve wasted this time of your life.
The first ten minutes of the film had me laughing more than I’d like to admit, but afterward it just got progressively stupider and less and less funny. One exception is a cameo by Robert Patrick, who plays his part with such welcome seriousness as compared to the audacious stupidity everyone else is emitting that it ends up being very funny. Other than his small role, the funniest instances might be when Zahn narrates incorrect or irrelevant facts over real footage of nature, but they must have realized that this was funny since it gets overdone and ends up as tired and worn out as all of the other humor in the movie. The fact that they blatantly steal the “got knocked the f*** out” line from Friday is borderline offensive.
The movie looks and feels like a low-budget video done by a group of jackasses who thought they were being funny. This becomes crystal clear when you see Bigfoot and realize that they didn’t even try with the costume. I guess they had to spend all their budget on the CGI shark that predictably bites off Dante’s hand near the end. No, I didn’t give you a spoiler warning, because you shouldn’t be seeing this movie in the first place.
Unless you are the single biggest fan of Happy Madison and want to see usually minor actors in bigger roles, there is no reason to see this. The whole film is an excuse for these B-grade (or worse) comedy actors to run around and act like morons unrestrained. Perhaps 10% of the jokes are funny, 20% if you want to be extremely generous (and watch the movie under the influence of a substance or two). And if you’re a Jonah Hill fan, avoid this at all costs, because this will shatter your illusions. The movie is horrible, yes, but I can’t possibly stress how bad Hill is. Thankfully he’s not the lead actor in this atrociously stupid movie. Unfortunately, the lead actors – and everything else about this movie – aren’t much better.
Final rating: 2.5/10
–James A. Janisse
February 2, 2010 | Categories: 2 - 2.5, Comedy, Genre, Ratings | Tags: adam sandler, allen covert, ashley scott, blake clark, fred wolf, jonah hill, justin long, kevin heffernan, peter dante, robert patrick, steve zahm | 1 Comment