Toast to “The Proposal”

23 07 2009


The Proposal 2009

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson

Let’s start by pointing out the flaws in The Proposal. There are some, of course. For starters, it follows the utterly predictable and totally overused romantic comedy formula: Boy and girl start out hating each other, they suffer through a number of different silly plot contrivances that throw them together outside of their natural habitat, giving them enough time to really get to know one another, empathize over their respective plights, and fall in love. In the end, we feel smug. We knew it all along. What took them so long???

Lucky for The Proposal, Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock agreed to take on the starring roles. Reynolds is notorious for his no holds barred approach to acting, and his outrageous behavior onscreen never fails to elicit gales of laughter in an audience. But here, he plays it straight. As Andrew Paxton, the compliant assistant to Bullock’s uptight publishing exec Margaret Tate, Reynolds scores with an understated deadpan approach. Bullock, on the other hand, lets herself get carried away. The role-reversal is a welcome surprise, and we end up liking the familiar actors even more for their departure from the norm.

The movie borrows plot elements from The Family Stone, Two Weeks Notice, and just about every other romantic comedy ever made in the history of film. After a hundred years, they’ve simply run out of new ideas in Hollywood, the land where romance (both onscreen and off) goes to die a painful and hyper-visible death. Now they just produce hybrids of the originals, which were usually better. The fact that the film has a small edge over some of its predecessors, and generates enough belly-laughter to conceal any missteps, is no small feat. Don’t set your hopes too high, and you won’t be disappointed.



Rating System

28 06 2008

At the advice of a valued new friend and mentor, I’ve decided to implement a rating system for my reviews. I’ve never been much good at assigning grades, but because I tend to be a bit ambiguous about my opinion of certain films, I thought a rating system might serve as a straightforward evaluation of the films I choose to review. Here it is, more or less:

♦ = Don’t even bother.

♦♦ = Not my cup of tea, but might be worth a look.

♦♦½ = I will be using half-diamonds, but you’ll probably see the two-and-a-half rating the most often. This one is for films that I really did like but I can’t bring myself to place among the “worth every minute” movies in the three-diamond category.

♦♦♦ = Worth (almost) every minute.

♦♦♦♦ = Captivating, start to finish. Designated for films which I hold in the very highest regard.

Prepare For Turbulence

6 05 2008

“The Flyboys” 2008

Starring: Jesse James, Reiley McClendon, Stephen Baldwin, and Tom Sizemore

I’m not sure if it was the shared excitement of attending the opening night of the Syracuse International Film Festival that made the audience exceptionally enthusiastic about this film. Perhaps it was the fact that they were able to share the theater with the film’s starring character. Possibly neither, as opening night marked the Film Fest’s 5th annual visit to the Central New York city, and Stephen Baldwin and his equally famous brothers are proudly regarded as friends and neighbors by default to residents of their native Syracuse.

Whatever the explanation, Rocco DeVilliers “The Flyboys” captivated each individual in the jam-packed theater, with collective “ohhs” and “ahhs” and “oh nos!” audible at every twist and turn in the story. I might classify this film as a pre-teen fairy tale for adolescent boys. “The Flyboys,” as they are dubbed halfway through the film, are two junior high school-aged friends who in the span of two days find themselves twice flying a mobster-owned airplane unaccompanied by adults, jumping out of the airborne airplane without the encumbrance of anything so troublesome as a death-preventative parachute, and are invited by hardened criminals to enjoy a smorgasbord of virtual toys conveniently located in their basement game room. It’s ridiculous. Utterly and undeniably impossible, even laughable. And I haven’t even started talking about the assortment of cringingly sentimental sequences littered throughout the film.

This is the kind of story that can only take place in cinema fantasy land. It’s a place they used to visit frequently generations ago, before actors acting like they are doing anything but acting became the order of the day. Back then movies were not made to reflect a society’s score of idiosyncrasies, or to depict a slice of life story that could easily have happened to our next door neighbor or the friend of our sister’s husband’s second cousin. Back then, it was still necessary for a film to tell a story about something that was ever so slightly out of reach to its audience. It was still acceptable to over-sentimentalized connections between characters and twist physics and facts just enough to let the viewer know there while there would be no Never-Neverland or Yellow Brick Road, it would still be feasible for a character to survive a parachute-less free-fall from a pilot-less plane.

When Steven Baldwin rose to present the film as a courtesy to his director, who was diligently manning the projection room, he invited us to enjoy what he believes is a highly entertaining picture. Despite the film’s flaws, I was never bored, and I left the theater that night with a smile on my face. Perhaps it did take place in Neverland after all. Where gangsters are bad but not too bad. Where thieves feel regret about a betrayal and crime kings make fatherly role-models for adolescent boys. Where good kids get the better of bullies instead of the other way around, and romance is easy and innocent, even between adults. It’s the kind of world I wouldn’t mind visiting again, if only for 90 minutes or so.


Pathologically Challenged

23 04 2008

“Pathology” 2008.

Starring Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Weston, Alyssa Milano and Lauren Lee Smith

The bad guy wins in the end. I’m hoping that is enough of a spoiler to dissuade you from seeing this gory predictable mess of a psychological thriller.

Actually, to say that the bad guy wins does not really spoil the ending at all. In “Pathology,” every character that turns up onscreen is a twisted and sadistic killer. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But not much of one. Off the top of my head, I can think of two significant characters (with more than just a line or two of dialogue) who do not in the course of the film commit a crime of a depraved nature that brings about a death or human suffering.

“Pathology” apparently has something to say about the human race’s capacity to kill without motive, particularly in the event that there is no risk of being caught for the crime. This preposterous proposal is made early on in the film, by a brilliant twenty-something resident in a medical pathology program in New York City. He and his other classmates, the whole attractive, bullying, under-thirty bunch of them, kill people for no particular reason because they can, and not get caught. Oh yes, and they all have drug problems. And bizarre sexual fetishes that somehow tie into their preoccupation with “extreme homicide,” their sport-of-choice.

One of the main problems with this film is that the protagonist is no hero, and is possibly the most emotionally corrupt of all the characters (and believe me, there are many crazies to choose from). Yet the film wants us to believe that he is. It urges us to understand why he does what he does without a reasonable explanation, and forgive him when he begins to turn himself around out of love for his sweet fiancée. We can’t, because he neither shows remorse for his hideous crimes nor repents for his brazen infidelity. And because we can’t, we don’t care who wins in the end.