Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Come Back Little J-Lo

The Back-Up Plan, Jennifer Lopez's cinematic come-back vehicle, fits neatly into her film catalog. It is a middling project probably a step or two above Maid in Manhattan but not quite as good as The Wedding Planner, which may be the zenith of the J-lo oeuvre. Still, the Plan is not without its charms.

As far as cinema chicas go, Lopez is the bridge that gets you from Rosie Perez to Jessica Alba and, thus far, she is only one who has successfully top-lined a movie. Plan is the seventh movie Lopez has starred in, beginning with Selena, but her first since 2005's Monster-in-Law (which took in a hearty $155 million worldwide). In the meantime, in-between time, she has co-starred in three movies, El Cantante (with her husband Marc Anthony), Bordertown (with Antonio Banderas) and An Unfinished Life (with Robert Redford) that have a total haul of $33 million at the box office.

Then there is the matter of La Lo's age. Twenty-eight when she winningly portrayed the Twenty-three year-old Selena, Lopez is now forty-one. As Julia Roberts ruefully demonstrated in the box office failure Duplicity, it is much more difficult to sell plucky ingenue-ness at forty-two than it was at twenty-two (Pretty Woman). The camera is no longer kind to Roberts, and Lopez, just two years younger, is awash in the same danger water.

Let's not get it twisted, Lopez still looks awesome. Too awesome , perhaps, to play maternal clock challenged, pet shop owning Zoe who, with all her ducks in a row (minus one), decides to get herself inseminated by an anonymous sperm donor. Feeling giddy and with nothing able to rain on her parade, Zoe runs into Stan (Alex O'Laughlin) and fitfully realizes he is "the one" she had been waiting for all her life. Still, as played by the sleek and well-toned Lopez, one can't imagine this particular woman risking her fabulousness with a pregnancy.

All the essentials of modern romantic comedy are here: the "meet cute"; the initial mutual dislike; the dislike that turns into like; the like that turns to love; the love that leads to misunderstandings; the misunderstandings that leads to break-up; and the realization that leads to love and reconciliation.

The push-me/pull-you of The Back-Up Plan mirrors the broadly played mood swings of the lead character. A laugh out loud scene will be directly followed by a scene that will bring you down faster than a double-bill of Gigli and Jersey Girl.

O'Laughlin, 34, who has had respectable runs on little seen series (Three Rivers and Moonlight), plays the overwhelmed, exasperated and oft put upon Stan, who becomes not only J'Lo's main man but our man. Clearly enamored, Stan stands pat in the face of Zoe's frequent bouts of angst and insecurity. I mean, I realize Zoe is pregnant, but geez louise!, can a cheese-making farmer/econ student catch a break?

This being a movie about pregnancy, there are lots of body fluids to deal with including but not limited to vomit, urine and excrement. And surprisingly, each one elicits unexpected if not surprising gales of laughter. Let me insert here that comedian Robert Klein gooses the film nicely with his portrayal of Lopez's gynecologist.

Speaking of the sixty-three year-old Klein, it is jarring to see eighty-three year-old Tom Bosley (say it isn't so, Mr. C!) and seventy-three year old Linda Lavin (Alice) as Lopez's grandmother and her geriatric fiancé. It doesn't seem possible that these actors, who had their heydays from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, could have gotten this old. Bosley, who is playing a ninety-three year-old in the film, looks too old for the part.

My heyday was also in the late to middle seventies and eighties. I am scared to look in a mirror.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Death Becomes Them

Neil LaBute's remake of Death at a Funeral is both faithful and radically different from director Frank Oz's original. Recasting the movie with a primarily African-American actors colors everything while casting white actors in two of the showcase roles retains familiarity.

Death reunites Chris Rock with LaBute who directed him in Nurse Betty. For my money, Betty was the first movie where Rock played an actual human being instead of a caricature of one. There was real menace in Wesley, the junior hitman Rock played in Betty. And, under LaBute's direction, there is some of that in Death. But whereas Nurse Betty was a black comedy, Death is a black comedy, and a frequently hilarious one at that.

Edward (played by legendary stunt man Bob Minor) has passed and eldest son Aaron (Rock) has been given the responsibility of giving his father a proper send-off. Complications ensue when his childless wife (Regina Hall), who is ovulating, wants to engage in a quickie before the wedding. This is acerbated by constant diatribes about not having any grandchildren uttered by his grieving mother (Loretta Divine).

Making love to his wife is the last thing on Aaron's mind. Among his many responsibilities, he has to finish writing his eulogy, which he is writing against the wishes of his extended family. To add insult to injury, his famous brother (Martin Lawrence), a best-selling author everyone else wants to write the eulogy, arrives with Louis Vuitton luggage but nothing to contribute to the mounting funeral expenses.

Then there is the matter of Oscar (James Marsden) the fiancé of cousin Elaine (Zoe Saldana) who has mistakenly been given acid instead of a Valium to calm his nerves at the prospect of once again enduring the blistering disdain of Elaine's disapproving father, Duncan (Ron Glass).

Marsden (Scott Summers/Cyclops in the X-Men movies) turns in an surprisingly nuanced, touching and hilarious performance as his drug addled character blissfully destroys the decorum of Edward's funeral.

That is, the decorum that is not upended by the arrival of Frank (Peter Dinklage reprising his role from the original) and his disconcerting news for Edward's sons.

The biggest laughs in the movie come during a scene involving Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover and Columbus Short and may be the funniest scene involving the porcelain goddess since Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Glover) discovered a bomb under his loo in Lethal Weapon 2.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Sum of All Parts

I just saw the movie Dororo based on the manga comics of the same name. The movie is an epic, odd and moving mishmash of Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Edward Scissorhands, the Karate Kid, and the story of Moses, if all those stories had taken place in feudal Japan during the age of Samurais.

At the heart of Dororo is an incredibly silly and wondrously irresistible premise: the warlord Kagemitsu Daigo has made a pact with demons - in exchange for giving him the wherewithal to rule the world, he will allow the demons to take 48 body parts from his unborn son (the demons need the human body parts so they can deceive and wreck havoc and mayhem).

Daigo knows his deal has been sealed when his son is born without arms, legs, mouth, nose, eyes, ears, liver, heart and forty other undisclosed body parts. Daigo wants to kill his newborn son who, sans heart and other vital organs, still lives and breathes (or a facimile thereof since he doesn't have a mouth or lungs). Daigo's wife intervenes, places the baby in a woven basket and sets it adrift on the river.

The baby is found by Jukai, an alchemist-healer who proceeds to turn our hero into a real boy via miraculous prosthetic limbs and organs. The deaf, dumb, blind kid (who will wield a mean set of demon-slaying swords/hands) is also given a clockwork heart that allows him to see and hear (How does he see? With his heart!).

When Jukai dies, Hyakkimaru sets out in the world to kill demons and retrieve his stolen body parts. Every time he discovers and dispatches a demon, his prosthetic parts are replaced by real parts.

Hyakkimaru is joined on his quest by the feral girl-thief, Dororo, who is masquerading as a boy. Dororo's father is killed by Daigo's dark army and she has vowed to stay a boy until she has avenged her dead parents.

Satoshi Tsumabuki as Hyakkimaru and Ko Shibasaki as Dororo, an alleged couple in real life, are fetching and compelling as the stars of this movie. Filmed in New Zealand by director Akihiko Shiota (with the beautifully acrobatic sword fights choreographed by Hong Kong master Siu-Tung Ching), Dororo rises above its hokey and unconvincing demons, a mishmash of bad special effects and worse CGI, to wring actual emotion out its outlandish premise. Improbably, it makes you care and long for parts two and three, the promised sequels.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Tyler Perry Land

Tyler Perry Land is a piece of intellectual property as valuable and deep-seeded as Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. It ain't real estate but it is where Mr. Perry's characters live. So you can complain of false motivations and false emotions if you want while Why Did I Get Married Too?, Tyler Perry's latest opus, mines the same lucrative vein of middle-brow humor and angst he has worked for years.

The gang's all here from Why Did I Get Married only it is four years later and the locale for confrontations and shocking revelations has moved from the snow white of Colorado to the white sand of the Bahamas. There has been much adding and subtracting. Dianne (Sharon Leal) had relented and given Terry (Tyler Perry) the son he desperately wanted while Sheila (Jill Scott) has traded up from Mike (Richard T. Jones) to Troy (Lamman Rucker) and made Troy a proud papa, too (Officer Troy's deep well of bed-rock confidence, so appealing in WDIGM, was apparently left in Colorado when he and Sheila relocated to Atlanta so she could be closer to her family and friends). Meanwhile, Marcus' (Michael Jai White) career is on the ascent while Angela's (Tasha Smith) has been buffeted by the recession. The only couple maintaining status quo appears to be Patricia (Janet Jackson) and Gavin (Malik Yoba).

The wheres and whys of a Tyler Perry plot are often too tortuous, ridiculous and/or fantastic to repeat but he understands how to play his peculiar and particular audience, cueing up tears, laughter, hoots of recognition all the while retaining the ability to shock if not surprise. Perry's plays taught him how to please an audience, how to clown like a master and how to move people with jokes and a song. It is a stage savvy; a performer's savvy. In years of relentless touring with his self-authored and self-financed plays, Perry has learned and honed a craft.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Avatar to the IMAX

It is hard to believe anything can surpass the experience of watching Avatar in 3-D. Then James Cameron and crew takes it up a notch and releases the movie in the IMAX format. And I am not talking about seeing it at some rinky-dink flat IMAX screen, I am talking about crystal clear images on a six-story-tall screen with wraparound digital surround sound at an IMAX® Dome Theater.

Settling back in your stadium seat and seeing the movie unspool in front of you, above you and on either side of you is a transcendent experience. Filmed to take advantage of the full IMAX experience, Avatar has so much to engage the eye and ear it is sometimes hard to decide what to focus on.

And all of it is spectacular, stupendous, marvelous - you lose track of superlatives.

This format allows you to appreciate the proper scale of the ten-foot tall Navi and the majesty of Hometree. The flora and fauna is awe-inspiring and the predators are truly menacing. "That was scary!" my seventeen year-old daughter exclaimed as Jake Scully (Sam Worthington) made a hairbreadth escape.

The photo-realism is stunning. With the world of Paradox literally wrapped around you, everything is heightened: the drama, the suspense; even the romance. You can actually look into Neytiri's face and see every facet of her large, expressive eyes.