Archive for July, 2009

Take every rom-com stereotype, roll it into one movie, and you will have The Ugly Truth.

Abby (Katherine Heigl) is the producer of a failing morning show. She is highly-organized and a bit of a control freak – she does background checks on her dates and outlines talking points for the evening. Mike (Gerard Butler) is a tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy with his own cable show, on which he rants about the differences between men and women in relationships. Abby’s boss decides his brash personality is exactly what they need to bring up the ratings of their own show and avoid cancellation. Abby and Mike form an unlikely friendship as he helps her snag her dream guy (Eric Winter), but they eventually realize they’re each other’s perfect match instead.

This is the age-old romantic comedy formula: boy meets girl; boy and girl hate each other; boy and girl fall in love. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bring anything new to the equation. The jokes are often predictable and the story lags because of it. Mike is a misogynistic ass for the first half, trying to convince women men are simple beings without feelings that only care about sex – like we haven’t heard that before. He tells women they’re single because they’re fat, so “get on a Stairmaster!” Not surprisingly, he’s only hardened because his heart was broken. Abby is every woman with a checklist for her ideal man, willing to settle for nothing less and alone because of it. Furthermore, the sexual innuendo is not really innuendo as they’re usually quite clear about what they mean.

Heigl is beautiful and competent as the obsessive control freak but her character’s willingness to change who she is so easily for a man is against her grain and somewhat insulting to her gender. Butler is the stronger of the pair, carrying most of the film with his high energy and flirtatious personality. On the other hand, most of his comments are appalling and his four lessons for getting a man make them out to be thoughtless Neanderthals, which he almost never proves to be with his quick wit, insightful observations and glimpses of sincerity.

The Monster-in-Law and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton director, Robert Luketic, is on a losing streak since Legally Blonde. The lack of realism in most of the situations makes it difficult to connect to the romantic element of the story. The morning show becomes a salacious circus and the main characters’ personalities are contradictions. On the other hand, The Ugly Truth could gain recognition for the second best orgasm in a restaurant, after Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

They’re cute; they’re furry; and they’re secret agents with attitude. “Commando[s] that just happen to be guinea pigs.”

Juarez (Penelope Cruz), Blaster (Tracy Morgan) and their leader Darwin (Sam Rockwell) are highly-trained guinea pigs working for the FBI; their tech expert is a mole named Speckles (Nicolas Cage) and their surveillance is provided by a fly named Mooch. When the Bureau threatens to shutdown their operation, their supervisor, Ben (Zach Galifianakis), sends the special rodents on a mission to recover data from the computer of a suspected terrorist (Bill Nighy) in hopes of rescuing their department from the chopping block. When it appears the mission went awry and Agent Killian (Will Arnett) decides to permanently eliminate the team, Darwin becomes determined to prove it was successful and save the world from the utter destruction he knows is imminent.

The inclusion of voices of well-known actors is more of a draw to adults than kids, but the payoff is negligible; most of their voices are unrecognizable. Cruz attaches a sexy quality to her character, which is amusing, but with the exception of Cruz and Morgan the familiar personalities are hidden under the fur. However, the highlight of the movie is Bucky, the hamster that is part ferret, voiced by Steve Buscemi. He is hilarious and by far the most entertaining element in the film. It’s unfortunate he is only present for one act of the narrative and a short bit at the end. The mice trio are fun too, but chime in with one-liners more than anything else. “The horror, the horror!”

Unlike many of the Pixar animations, G-Force is directed entirely at kids with few jokes just for the adults. In this sense, Disney is successful because the kids will love the movie. The animals are cute and grade school funny. On the other hand, adults will have to settle for the few references to films older than the children they’re accompanying, such as Scarface, The Breakfast Club and Die Hard.

The film has been played on romantic dates, the single has been chosen as a first dance wedding song countless times and the story is a timeless classic that has been retold over and over – but never as well.

Robin Hood (Kevin Costner) is the prince of Nottingham, but his kingdom was stolen from his family in his absence. Having returned, he finds only a blind servant living in his dismantled castle. Joined by a moor (Morgan Freeman) who owes Robin his life, the two plot to overthrow the overlords. Robin’s enemy and rival for the heart of Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). Robin’s quest leads him to Sherwood Forest, where he teams with men who live in the forest to steal the Sheriff’s gold and eventually take back the kingdom and crown the true king.

In addition to those named above, Christian Slater plays a significant role in Robin’s plans; he portrays a young man that lives in the forest but is unappreciative of Robin’s efforts, while plotting to sabotage the hero as revenge for an unknown offence.

This retelling of the classic tale of the man who stole from the rich and gave to the poor is the most captivating version to date. The calibre of acting and actors is top-notch; the story is enchanting, exciting and enticing; the film is a good balance of romance, drama and action; and the music, featuring the single ‘(Everything I do) I do it for you,” is consistently complementary.

The special edition Blu-ray release includes commentary by director Kevin Reynolds and Costner, and another with Freeman, Slater and producers/screenwriters Pen Densham and John Watson. “Robin Hood: Man, Myth, Legend” is a 30-minute television special hosted by Pierce Brosnan that aired in 1991 when the film was originally released. There are also vintage one-on-one interviews with Costner, Freeman, Mastrantonio, Slater and Rickman that are five minutes or less each. In regards to the moving soundtrack, the Bryan Adams music video for the featured song is included, as is the option of a music-only audio track.

To say this man went off the edge would be a significant understatement.

The man in question (Michael Douglas) has no name; he is referred to in the credits by his licence plate number – D-FENS. Trapped in gridlock, trying to get to his estranged wife’s home for his daughter’s birthday, he can finally take no more. He abandons his car on the highway and begins to make the journey on foot. In his wake, he leaves many dead or bleeding, including a store owner, Hispanic gangsters, a Nazi, senior citizens, innocent bystanders and a cop. D-FENS snapped and decided to tell the world what he really thinks of it – railing against the same world that has abandoned him. And with each aggravation he overcomes, he gains increasingly more powerful weapons, confidence and power. Meanwhile, on the day of his retirement, Officer (Robert Duvall) is the only cop on the force that suspects the explosiveness of the situation.

Falling Down is a mind-blowing film about one man’s drastic plunge into insanity. As he rampages through the city, he rants against small injustices like the cost of variety store merchandise and rages against violent perpetrators. Despite the madness he displays, there are tiny moments of catharsis in the film as the man acts out against the unfairness everyone has experienced.

Douglas is phenomenal as the psychotic that feels like he has run out of options. The raw anger and power he displays is frightening and awe-inspiring. Douglas has never again played a role quite like this one, having perceptibly put everything he had into the nameless, but thought-provoking, stranger.

The Blu-ray release includes an exclusive 34-page booklet that discusses the film, the importance of the L.A. location and provides actor biographies. The special features include insightful commentary from director Joel Schumacher and Douglas and a 10-minute interview with Douglas on his demoralized character and his actions.

At the Toronto Just for Laughs Britcom gala, shirts were optional. Host John Cleese took to the stage in a drab dinner jacket and ugly tie, sans shirt – he lost it in the divorce. Welcome to “The John Cleese Humiliation Tour – anything for a laugh.” To save the $20 million, he considered a “boat accident” but refused to be grouped in with Phil Spector. Instead, Cleese produced “The Really Inconvenient Truth,” a montage of other things he could do with the divorce settlement, including: buy hundreds of Bowflexes, a tank, a U.S. election, 20 million things at a Dollarama and an endless supply of poutine. Then he introduced Mark Watson.

Within 24 hours of being in Toronto, Watson “rationally generalized” the whole nation as a people that think, “It might be shit, but let’s hope for the best.” He hoped this would work in his favour. Sharing a toothbrush is a popular topic amongst comedians, as a woman’s refusal to share something that goes in her mouth is hilarious. Watson’s extended anecdote was about kicking someone because of the sheer temptation from trying to convince yourself you shouldn’t do it.

Next up was Gina Yashere. She’s black and British; but she wonders if when her Nigerian mother was looking at the world, trying to find a new home she said, “I’m fed up with the sun. I want to go somewhere with drizzle and subtle racism.” Nonetheless, she likes to use the contrast of her accent and skin colour to confuse Americans – especially cops; they apologize for tailing her. She declares Somalian pirates are proof the economy is bad because black people have faced a fear of swimming and resorted to water-related crime.

Idiots of Ants made YouTube top lists with their skit, “Facebloke in real life,” which demonstrates what it would be like to act out the things we do on Facebook. Their first sketch was a Waldo book reading at Chapters – “There I am.” Next was the mandatory office hello and goodbye kiss, which is awkward to say the least. Then they closed by serenading a young woman from the audience, implying a night of sweet, group sex was on the horizon.

Cleese returned for the “John Cleese Telethon” because donation money is wasted on the poor and crippled; it should go to someone who will appreciate the money. As incentive, he said he would do anything in exchange for the money, such as act out favourite scenes from Monty Python. Unfortunately, the requests were more sadistic, such as having Cleese dig $10 out from underneath broken glass and, in Canadian tradition, tasering him.

Ross Noble is a consistent comedian, in that he returns to earlier jokes throughout his act. He made frequent comments about the scaffolding-style set design – “only the best for out-of-towners” – and the spirit of the house band that lurks behind the screen. He pointed out that before getting on a plane, he likes to marinate his own butt in case they crash and the other passengers have to eat him. Noble was all over the stage and blamed a chocolate Kinder high. He claimed that in Canada people are not surprised by a tiny toy in their confectionary; it’s just called a Kinder Egg, not a Kinder Surprise like in Europe.

Then came the straight-laced Jimmy Carr. His delivery of jokes is so proper, just his style is humorous. He said, “The courts wanted to move forward on female bishops, but bishops can only move diagonally.” He told a two-word joke that was unexpectedly hilarious and then expanded on it anyway. He then gave audiences a little inside, behind-the-scenes information: they feed chimpanzees peanut butter because as they try to eat, it looks like they’re talking – they do the same when making The Hills.

The final act of the night was Scotland’s-own Danny Bhoy. A wire shirt from London was causing some problems for him, particularly with stewardesses. Funnily, the flu that can be caught from swine has given the advantage to the Muslim world again. Bhoy then launched into a story about a car crash that had more interruptions than an airport. In the end, it was understood the other car’s music was comparable to a cat being sick (followed by an impression of a cat that was thrown out of the house just before it could be sick inside), the music of national anthems is enjoyable, and the post-crash confrontation made him cry-out like a child.

To end the evening, Cleese presented the last segment of his own version of The Bachelor. However, his rose recipient refused to sign a pre-nuptial agreement, as did either of the runner-ups. Luckily for Cleese, a transsexual from the audience was more than willing to sign the paper. They were married that same night on stage.

Most people have heard of the hardships, discrimination and violence Muslim women continue to face but nothing has ever driven the point home like The Stoning of Soraya M – of course, one of the primary motives appears to have been to evoke an angry reaction from viewers.

In 1986, an Iranian-French journalist’s (Jim Caviezel) car breaks down near a small Iranian village and a woman (Shohreh Aghdashloo) secretly asks him to listen to the tale of her niece, which she hopes he will share with the world. The story is that of Soraya M. (Mozhan Marnò). Soraya was married with two sons, but the boys favoured their father (Navid Negahban) and he openly spoke ill of her because he did not love her. He wanted to remarry but circumstances prevented him from getting a divorce. Soraya eventually began to help a man with a son whose wife recently died. He pays her a little and she gets the satisfaction of working and feeling needed. Her husband, on the other hand, sees it as an opportunity to get his divorce – he accuses her of adultery. But Soraya refuses to surrender so her husband conspires with other men in the village to have her publicly stoned.

This tale of male-domination and injustice is horrific and heart-wrenching. As Soraya accepts her fate and takes her place to be buried to prevent her from defending herself, the level of disgust you feel as an audience member is nearly unbearable. But that feeling is exactly the one director Cyrus Nowrasteh is trying to summon. Nonetheless, this is a story that should be seen and heard by everyone because it is true and it is wrong. On the other hand, the men in the film are made complete villains and have no redeeming qualities. Rather than explore the issues, the film sets out to infuriate audiences against a people and religion that are already largely demonized. The 20-minute stoning scene is exceptionally shocking and a poorly used tool to the director’s end.

Marnò gives an exceptional performance. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been to play out some of the appalling things Soraya endured. The experience must have been equally painful for the men, having to pretend to be these ghastly human beings. Nonetheless, it is the realism of the performances that make the film striking and create a lasting impact.

The film was a runner-up for the audience’s choice award at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and will now receive a limited theatrical release internationally, including Toronto. The performances, if not the film style, deserve recognition, which will also provide the issue the spotlight it deserves.

If you want real no-holds bar comedy, then look no further than “The Nasty Show.” It was crude, rude and left nothing untouched, including audience members – it was everything I expected and more from the Toronto Just for Laughs X-rated special.

The night of impropriety was hosted by Nick Di Paolo and he came out swinging. He first complained that the bright spotlight would give him melanoma and the fake smoke would cause lung cancer. Then he pointed out the size of “the tits” on one of the unfortunate souls sitting in the front row. Di Paolo admires homeless people because they can sleep anywhere without tossing and turning and believes U.S. President Barack Obama might be the Messiah because when he was elected, Di Paolo pointed at his television and said, “Jesus Christ.” He returned to the stage in between acts to share a little more of his comical wisdom; subjects included getting old and his marriage – he noted a man can go home alone, order pizza, watch Sportsnet and jerk-off 11,556 times before admitting he should get married.

Jay Oakerson took the stage, immediately informing women that it’s summer so they should shave their vaginas (but without using that word). He then provided a few instructions and tips about doing so. Staying on topic, he explained no vagina has ever matched the original one he imagined – of course, he envisioned it was the magical entrance to a Narnia-like world. Next was a tale of an “inter-racial, inter-species gang-bang,” followed by the story of how he lost his virginity at 17 to a demanding, more experienced 22-year-old that tickled his balls.

Then came Hamilton-native Jason Rouse; he’s the type of comedian you know will be included in a show like this, but you wish he wasn’t. His idea of funny is being as vulgar and offensive as possible. He opened by declaring the water in Hamilton would kill him before AIDS. Then he spent a minute flirting with the mic stand before launching into a series of “fucking” jokes, including a distasteful but expected impression of a “retarded girl.”

On this night, the best was saved for second-last. Jimmy Carr walked to the centre of the stage wearing a suit without a tie and carrying a clipboard, which apparently listed his jokes. “I’m from Briton – that’s how things sound when they’re pronounced properly.” Carr entertained the audience with a string of one-liners that covered a variety of topics, but regardless of what he said it sounded less crude because of his accent. He ended with three pick-up lines and the best (and the one that can be repeated in mixed company) was: “Does this rag smell like chloroform?”

Patrice Oneal closed the show, beginning with some advice: spend all your money now because there is no future; soon we’ll have to barter. His sense of humour was less rude than some of those that preceded him. He also really enjoyed his own jokes, often laughing boisterously before it was even complete. He talked about his addiction to food despite his diabetes and lactose-intolerance, as well as the reintroduction of fish into his vegetarian diet because they’re not cute enough not to eat. He also spoke a lot about his relationship with his woman, his step-daughter (the reminder of his woman’s previous relationship), and the reason men don’t screw around – it’s not good for their life. At the end, even though the red light was blinking him off incessantly, Oneal just couldn’t seem to stop himself.

“The Nasty Show” lived up to its name in every respect, so leave your judgement at the door.