Monday, February 20, 2012

Another Happy Day

From the son of veteran writer/director Barry Levinson comes the independent debut film "Another Happy Day" written/directed by Sam Levinson that is a dark comedy about a complicated family dynamic. Expectations are unfavorably high due to the family connections, which is partially why the cast is so superb and draw some attention. The film performed well at Sundance earlier this year receiving a screenwriting award, but didn't last in the theaters very long and a little effort will be needed to find it on DVD.

A family weekend intended for happiness is upset by the emotional past and unfortunate consequences that have developed and left unchecked by the emotionally absent family that chooses to ignore the darkness in each other. The story focuses on Lynn (Ellen Barkin) as she arrives at her parents' Annapolis estate for the marriage of her eldest son Dylan (Michael Nardelli). Lynn's hopes for a joyful reunion are crushed as her troubled middle son Elliot (Ezra Miller) shows his abusive side both physically and verbally before escaping to a dependency on drugs and alcohol. The weekend quickly unravels as Lynn demands to be heard by her distant mother (Ellen Burstyn), ailing father (George Kennedy) and judgmental sisters (Siobhan Fallon, Diana Scarwid), but most especially by her ex-husband Paul (Thomas Hayden Church) and his hot-tempered second wife Patty (Demi Moore). Lynn's intentions through most of the film are to protect her daughter Alice (Kate Bosworth), who fights to keep her own personal demons under control.

Sam Levinson wrote a superb script that digs into the minds of each of the characters through clever writing, but the performance from Ellen Barkin (Lynn really distanced me during the film. The family feels that Lynn always has to have everything be about her, and even though that is clearly not true, the performance from Ellen Barkin says otherwise. But she isn't the only one that is over-acting in the film, notably Demi Moore as the wife to the ex-husband, along with Siobhan Fallon and Diana Scarwid as the gossiping sisters are all guilty of over-acting. Perhaps this was the intention of Sam Levinson, but in my opinion a more refined and subtle approach could have been taken and yet still been as powerfully emotional. The softer approach taken by Ellen Burstyn (Doris) and surprisingly the younger actors Ezra Miller (Elliot) and Kate Bosworth (Alice) served perfectly to contrast the polar extremes of the film.

As Ezra says in the film, it is interesting that in a weekend for a family wedding that is meant for such happiness, that the family is so angry all the time and pushes each other away. Makes you wonder what a weekend built on sorrow would mean, and if it would have the opposite effect of bringing everyone closer. The film ends, where I almost wanted it to start.

While many might not enjoy the darkness in the film, it is never the less worth watching as the story carries a lot of emotion with it. There are so many layers to the film that each story could have been dealt with on its own. By combining them all the subject becomes watered down to focus on the emotionally unstable Lynn, when the focus would have been on Alice and Elliot. For a debut, Sam Levinson should be extremely proud of the film and I look forward to his next film. For now, "Another Happy Day" is only a 3 Quack film, but who knows what Sam Levinson has in his bright future.


"Arthur" is nothing more than an unabashed remake of the 1981 comedy featuring Dudley Moore. Many will probably already know the story, which doesn't really change in the remake directed by Jason Winer who is best known for the hit TV comedy "Modern Family".

Arthur is a happily drunk and rich playboy with no pretensions at any ambition. After another drunken run-in with the law, his aloof mother has had enough and forces him to marry Susan, a proper business woman, or else he will lose his inheritance. He does not love Susan, but he meets Naomi, a free-spirited girl who Arthur thinks is perfect for him. Arthur has to decide, what is more important: love, or his mother's money.

Some of the more interesting updates in the film are the inclusion of Helen Mirren as the dutiful guardian Hobson who was previously played by John Gielgud. I think that having Hobson be a woman actually offers a little more of an emotional appreciation for Arthur in the final act of the film. Additionally, the stern Jennifer Garner holds her own as Susan, a role that was less convincing by Jill Eikenberry. Jill Eikenberry is coincidently having a huge career into her 50s with "Young Adult" and "Something Borrowed" both being released this year.

Greta Gerwig is the quirky actress from "Greenberg" (2010) and "No Strings Attached" (2011) that seems to get mixed reviews for how she constantly looks like she is on the precipice of crying with her whiny demeanor and slurred speech. She will never be Liza Minnelli, but there never seemed to be any genuine chemistry between her and Russell Brand to make the film even remotely believable. But that isn't Greta Gerwig's fault as I don't know if I have ever seen any believable chemistry between a female and Russell Brand in film or real life.

The film seemed more like an attempt by Russell Brand to impersonate Dudley Moore than an actual remaking attempt. Ultimately, the film was the same with a few upgrades offered by the women and some fancy toys. However, not even Helen Mirren can save this film from itself and regrettably only receives 2 Quacks.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Salmon Fishing in Yemen

The debut novel from Paul Torday is the source material for the film of the same title, "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen", which was adapted for the screen by Simon Beaufoy who is received an Academy Award for "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008).
What do religion and fishing have in common? The inspiration for the novel stemmed from Torday's interest in both fly fishing and the Middle East. From these two strands, he weaves a political satire that centers on the world of political spin management. The film is directed by Lasse Hallström who brings a vibrant visual simplicity to the film.

This story revolves around a British fisheries expert, Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor), who is approached by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), a consultant to help realize the vision of a Yemeni Sheikh (Amr Waked) in bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the desert and embarks on the proverbial upstream journey of faith to prove that the absurd and impossible can be overcome. Willing to spare no expense, the Sheikh instructs his representatives to turn the dream into reality. That is, until the Prime Minister's overzealous press secretary, Bridget Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), hijacks it as a 'good will' story for a vote-winning photo opportunity.

When you need a good news story from the Middle East the first thing everyone naturally does is to Google "good news story from middle east". Humor in the film comes from the most unusual of sources as Kristen Scott Thomas is the Press Secretary to the British Prime Minister has some of the better lines in the film. She also is involved with the creative imagery brought by director Lasse Hallström during online chat sequences with the British Prime Minister inquiring about his fishing abilities. There is also a poignant moment of Fred Jones walking with the foot traffic of the city and then turning around and walking against the traffic similar to how a salmon goes upstream. This imagery was symbolic of how the farm raised salmon would need to change their genetic predisposition if the project was to succeed.

As unbelievable and impossible as it may seem to bring the sport of fishing to the Middle East, the relationship between Fred Jones and Harriet Chetwode-Talbot was equally unbelievable. While the actors don't lack chemistry, it is a lack of writing necessary to develop their relationship. The ending is rather flat after a sensational conclusion to the salmon project. Perhaps it was the cast the left me wanting more substance, but ultimately this film receives 3 Quacks with the possibility of a second viewing necessary for me later to determine if a change is necessary.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Rampart Division is known for being a shit storm of epic corruption. The Rampart Division was at the center of an in-depth internal investigation of corrupt officers in the 90s that resulted in most widespread cases of documented police misconduct in United States history. Other films have touched on the corrupt nature of the LAPD, but failed for one reason or another in capturing the true impact that Rampart had. "Rampart" was written/directed by Oren Movermand with James Ellroy to bring a realistic crime drama about to the forefront.

"Rampart" succeeds where "Cellular" and "Faster" failed; by giving attention to the issue of a corrupt officer instead of using it as a background for a superficial action film. For fans of "The Shield" this is a must see film.

Set in 1999 Los Angeles, the story centers on veteran police officer, Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), or Date-rape Dave as he’s known in the Rampart division of the LAPD for his as-yet-unproven killing of a serial date-rapist, is a womanizing, chauvinistic, chemically dependent, misanthrope. He declares that he is not a racist, because he hates all people equally. When things go bad he uses his influence as an LAPD officer to score prescription drugs. He is a father of two daughters, Helen (Brie Larson) and Margaret (Sammy Boyarsky), each born from separate mothers, Barbara (Cynthia Nixon) and Catherine (Anne Heche), who happen to be sisters. In what almost comes across as a cult-like feeling, they all are living in the same house together.

As an officer with the LAPD, he lies and cheats to get the necessary scum off the streets. He is involved with an unprovoked shooting, unprovoked beating, planting of evidence, framing of suspects, and stealing. He relies on a retired officer (Ned Beatty) to get information and influence the political aspects of the LAPD (Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi). An Internal Affairs investigator (Ice Cube) starts digging into recent reports as the story unfolds.

This is the second time that director Oren Moverman has worked with Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster with the previous being "The Messenger" (2009), which received an acting nomination for Woody Harrelson and a writing nomination for Oren Moverman. Oren Moverman deserves a screenplay nomination for his skill in weaving in-between the personal life of Officer Brown and still showing the corrupt nature of being an officer. Woody Harrelson was brilliant in the complex role and deserving of a nomination as well. I am not sure if this film counts towards the 2011 or the 2012 award season, but it is certainly a 5 Quack film.

Due Date

As the follow-up to "Hangover", director Todd Phillips attempts to provide an updated version of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles". However, with such high expectations the result is a mediocre R-rated comedy.

The film is really a two-man show with the high-strung father-to-be Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.), an architect with anger management problems, and aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis). Through the rudeness of Peter and the destructive nature of Ethan, they find themselves on the "no fly list" and are forced to ride from Atlanta to Los Angeles with on a road trip in order to make it home in time to see Peter's wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) and the birth of their child.

Peter is your typical business traveler that only had intentions of a quick trip and is ill-prepared for the events that take place when he leaves his wallet on the plane after being escorted by the air marshal. Ethan is a strangely effeminate, bearded wannabe actor that carries his masturbating dog in a purse. With no money, Peter is forced to tag along with Ethan for the journey back home.

The guest appearances are necessary to keep whatever momentum the film has to continue moving. Danny McBride as a handy-capable Western Union employee with reservations at Chili's. Juliette Lewis as a medicinal marijuana dealer. Jamie Foxx as the best friend Darryl, helps save the day by providing transportation just when things look to be at their lowest point. In a less literal way, Jamie Foxx also saves the movie from the irritating, over the top, jokes that the audience has been abused with. However, I wonder why Peter didn't call Darryl earlier.

In the end the film made me go out and find a copy of "Plane, Trains and Automobiles", because it was so much better with Steve Martin and John Candy. Perhaps it is because both are/were true comedians as compared to the dry stylings of Robert Downey Jr. and the zany Zach Galifianakis. Most of the jokes work, but in the end you are ready for it to be over, which isn't a good way to leave a film and cause for me to drop the rating down to only 2 Quacks.

It's Kind of a Funny Story

"It's Kind of A Funny Story" (2010) is a film based on the novel of the same title written by Ned Vizzini and was adapted for the screenplay by the team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden who also worked together on "Half Nelson" (2006) and "Sugar" (2008). Ned Vizzini is a talented Young Adult writer that writes with an edge of personal experience focusing on a teen protagonist that struggles with self-identity.

The film is about Craig (Keir Gilchrist) who is filled with teen angst, and is struggeling between the ideal that his parents (Jim Gaffigan and Lauren Graham) have for him and what he wants for himself. Craig is looking for a quick way to escape from the pressures of being a youth that is scared about his future, his parents and a crush on a girl (Zoe Kravitz). Looking for a quick fix with medication, he finds himself in an adult psychiatric ward and a minimum observation period of five days. He meets people that help him realize that he doesn't have to be afraid of being himself. Craig meets Bobby (Zack Galifianakis), who is hiding from his own life, and an attractive teenage girl his age, Noelle (Emma Roberts), that is a cutter. It is through the interactions with the others in the psych ward that Craig comes to the realization that he still has a lot to work out and deal with, but he also has plenty to live for.

It was fun to see Zack Galifianakis outside of a comedy like "Hangover" or "Due Date" (2010). Even though he provides the comic relief to the film, he also offers some poignant moments in the development of the story and shows a small amount of maturity not usually seen in his films. Emma Roberts continues to be the "it girl" that is on the cusp of growing up and taking on more serious roles, but is doing well with the complicated girl role as she followed up with "the Art of Getting By" (2011). Keir Gilchrist is a quirky young actor that even though is the center of the film is quietly in the background of better performances. Even the smaller performances from Viola Davis and Jeremy Davies stand out as more memorable. I admit I am a fan of everything Viola Davis has done, including "The Help", and Jeremy Davies as Daniel Faraday in "Lost".

The Bob Dylan quote in the film "He not busy being born is dying" is very important to the growth of all of the characters in the film, and is a reminder to the audience to continue working towards the things you want in life. The film is a refreshingly different type of a teen movie that is about young adults and their day-to-day life as compared to the insultingly simple sex comedy. Certainly a 4 Quack film that I wish I saw in the theater.

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