Review: Man Up

DIR: Ben Palmer • WRI: Ben Palmer • PRO: James Biddle, Nira Park, Rachael Prior • DOP: Andrew Dunn • ED: Paul Machliss • DES: Dick Lunn • MUS: Dickon Hinchliffe • CAST: Lake Bell, Simon Pegg, Rory Kinnear

 

Man Up begins with Nancy (Lake Bell), a thirty four year old cynic on the verge of being set up by a pair of friends at their engagement party. She’s pretty adamant that she’d rather spend the night with a great deal of food and an Anthony Hopkins film. After a great deal of pushing by everyone in her life, who’s sure that all she really needs to turn her life around is a man, Nancy enters the fray and begins the awkward dance of the blind date. Faux-pas is followed by awkward silence, which is followed by more faux pas and then by the inevitable flame-riddled car crash that the ordeal was always going to become. No, not literally.

Dejected and, quite probably hung over, Nancy gets on a train and begins making the journey to her parents’ fortieth anniversary party. She soon attracts the attention of her train-neighbour, the fiercely together Jessica, who strongly tries to push the self-help book Six Billion People and You as the solution to what she sees as Nancy’s problems. When Nancy disembarks from the train, she’s soon approached by the eager Jack, (Simon Pegg), whose blind date has said she’ll signal him by holding a copy of that very book. When Nancy realises the case of mistaken identity, she’s about to correct him until a film reference makes her realise that this could well be the man she’s been waiting for, and decides to go through with the date, pretending to be someone else.

Oh, didn’t I mention that this is a rom-com? My mistake.

Well, if you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy before, you probably won’t need much more of an explanation on what goes down. The formula’s all there, with just a few curve balls thrown in for good measure. We’ve got Nancy’s initial juggling to keep the lie going and trying to adopt someone else’s attributes while being very much herself, the unfortunately timed misunderstanding, the (somewhat sexual-assaulty) rival for Nancy’s affection, the ‘I’m broken too’ moments and the obligatory heartfelt speech. While Man Up seems to have a very tongue-in-cheek approach to some of the tropes of the genre, playing up old chestnuts with a wink and a smile, it also keeps a pretty straight face for more than a few. This seems like an attempt to please everyone who loved How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (guilty), with just enough gross out moments (and Simon Pegg) to draw in anyone who likes a touch of discomfort with their comedy (also guilty).

Pegg and Bell are on top form, each bringing something likeable and grounded to their characters and their relationship. Scenes walk a fine line between humour and human emotion, with only a few incidents that feel out of place. While Pegg is on top form, it really is Bell’s film and her moments and quips are likely to be remembered well after the film ends. Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of an obsessive suitor begins with endearing humour and very quickly enters some less charming, more disturbing territory, though the film seems content to ignore this for the most part.

It’s got laughs, it’s got romance, it’s got Simon Pegg. Man Up is very much a romantic comedy and a damned good one. It may be somewhat by the book, but it’s a book with rude words and funny pictures in it.

At last, a rom-com for the cynical cinema-goer.

Ronan Daly


15A (See IFCO for details)

87 minutes
Man Up is released 29th May 2015

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Million Dollar Arm

million-dollar-arm-jon-hamm-636-380

DIR: Criag Gillespie • WRI: Thomas McCarthy • PRO: Mark Ciardi, Gordon Gray, Joe Roth • ED: Tatiana S. Riegel • DOP: Gyula Pados   DES: Barry Robison   MUS: A.R. Rahman • Cast: Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell

Million Dollar Arm is a near sterling swing for the Disney team. The film is a sports drama centred around a struggling sports promoter, JB Bernstein (John Hamm) whose career has taken a nose dive since he became  self employed. The wild glory days of working for an agency seem firmly set behind JB. This stark reality is seemingly confirmed when all star basketball player Popo refuses to sign with him. JB’s lavish lifestyle of shiny porches, big houses and busty blonde models is being overshadowed by failure, bills and broken washing machines. There’s a hollowness to JB’s materialist dream, and this is really the thematic core of the film.

JB’s clutching at straws as to how he can maintain his lifestyle, he has an epiphany while flicking channels between X-Factor and cricket. The desperation in Hamm’s eyes as he flicks furiously between Simon Cowell’s face and a team of Indian cricket players is a a sight to behold. Sheer determination. Raw American competitiveness. It’s at this moment that an idea strikes home with JB, what if an Indian cricket player could be made play baseball? JB immediately recognises the potential, that by signing Indian players to American baseball teams he could create a vast baseball market in India. On the basis of this seemingly radical idea JB secures funding for a year and sets off to India on a steadfast mission to bring baseball to India.

JB and his team, which includes a former talent scout Ray (Alan Arkin), hold baseball trials all over India as part of a competitive campaign entitled ‘Million Dollar Arm’. Ray reluctantly sleeps his way across India from trial to trial, listening to hordes of Indians hopefully throwing baseballs in search of fame.  However, Ray is anything but hopeful, overcome with lethargy, distaste for Indian cuisine and dissatisfaction for the climate. As the campaign spreads there are no credible developments and the pressure builds for JB, he finds some comfort in a blossoming Skype relationship with his friend Brenda (Lake Bell).

But JB’s anxiety and Rays lethargy turn to cynical amusement when Rinku (Suraj Sharma) stands in a mongoose marital arts like poise. The absurdity of this image seems to encapsulate the futility of JB’s efforts in successfully finding any baseball candidates. But any doubts come to a crashing halt when Rinku, swings a speeding baseball. JB’s faith is renewed and the competition continues. Rinku and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) win and get the opportunity to train in LA for baseball try outs.

In LA the boys are put under the tutelage of experienced baseball coach Tom House (Bill Paxton). As Rinku and Dinesh struggle with challenges of training and being away from home, JB is contacted by Popo who now expresses interest in signing with JB. JB shifts his attention from the boys to focus on Popo and consequently Rinku and Dinesh feel rejected. JB is forced into a position where he has to choose between honouring his responsibilities to Rinku and Dinesh or sacrificing them in favour of his business success.

Overall, Million Dollar Arm is a decent family drama, of which there has been a deficit of in recent times. However, it did have notable flaws – aspects of the script are highly derivative and clichéd  reinforcing the commercial quality of the”true” story aspect of the story. These perhaps diminish a sense of integrity which it could otherwise have borne. In addition to which, the representations of Indian people in the film were, by and large, little more than crude cultural stereotypes, something which could have been avoided by more research. Ultimately, an average script was saved as a result of the wholesome performances by experienced actors and the high quality production values.

Michael Stephen Lee

PG (See IFCO for details)

123 minutes

Million Dollar Arm is released 29th August

Million Dollar Arm –  Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiC8o7i_ZqE

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Cinema Review: Mr Peabody and Sherman

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DIR: Rob Minkoff   WRI: Craig Wright  PRO: Denise Nolan Cascino, Alex Schwartz  ED: Tom Finan   MUS: Danny Elfman  DES: David James  CAST: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Allison Janney, Stanley Tucci, Lake Bell, Patrick Warburton, Mel Brooks

 

STOP. DO NOT CLICK OFF THIS PAGE…

I’m not one for stereotyping or profiling but I have a sense of the average Film Ireland reader. And I’m sensing kids’ animations get short-shift from you lovers of interminable European arthouse dirges and avid fans of restored silent black and white Eskimo epics from 1936.

What can I do to change your collective mindset? All I can say is that if you pass over this film with your snooty cineaste nose held aloft, then you are potentially missing one of the early unexpected highlights of 2014. (If you have a snotty cineaste nose – go see a doctor. That’s a whole other condition). So do you hate enjoying yourself? Do you hate laughter? Do you hate children?

If you’re still here, you’ll be happy to hear that I’m not exaggerating. This is a little gem of an animation bristling with verve, imagination and genuine warmth. I’m blissfully ignorant of the original TV show (bar a tangential reference in a Simpsons time travel episode) but I instinctively doubt it was as subversive and sharp as this modern re-imagining.

The film centres on and celebrates the relationship between a super-smart canine Mr Peabody and his adopted human boy Sherman. Even in an animated fictional world, their pure and mutual affection is viewed with incredulity and suspicion. Sherman becomes self conscious about having a dog as a dad when he starts a new school. However he is proud enough of his guardian’s inventions to try and impress a classmate by showing her a top-secret time travel machine. When they start to zip and rip through the fabric of history, their only option is to confide in Mr Peabody and trust that his genius brain can re-impose order on the past.

Naturally this playful confection has a zany take on history from Troy to the French Revolution but by jingo – there’s a subtle yet substantial educational pill inside this candyfloss entertainment.  Yet, the film is never less than an irreverent and rollicking adventure. Summed up by the duo developing a habit of being ejected from any animal shaped construct whether Sphinx or Trojan horse by the rear exit – if you get my drift. And it’s hilarious.

On paper, the character of the know-it-all Mr Peabody could easily be a bore or just plain annoying. However he is brilliantly personified by the dulcet tones of Ty Burrell (who is equally impressive as the effete father Phil Dunphy in TV’s Modern Family). As well as undercutting his boffin status with practical shortcomings and occasional over-confidence, Burrell imbues the dog with palpable insecurities. The stiff upper lip of the character is adroitly established with the clever deployment of a discernible trace of an English accent in the vocal performance. On the back of this wonderful work, I envisage Burrell being a stalwart on the voiceover scene for the foreseeable future.

Much like veteran vocal artist Patrick Warburton who is hysterical in the Troy sequence as an empty headed but overly emotive Agamemnon.  That entire section has me in stitches from the moment the occupiers of the main Trojan horse are fooled into bringing a much smaller wooden horse into their covert hiding place. Again, the film operates superbly but differently for kids and adults. The comedic peak of the film’s ambitious climax is a supremely naughty reference that kids will be blissfully oblivious of.

And though rampant incessant entertainment would have been reward enough, the film even has an emotional arc that resonates without being cloying or overly saccharine. The writer Craig Wright must be singled out even in this most collaborative art form. His script zings and fizzes with giddy creativity but in fairness, the visuals are exceptional too.

Even the 3-D is expertly and continually utilised to accentuate the storytelling. And that really is rare. Most 3-D in this field focuses on the opening sequence and perhaps is again concentrated on during the closing stretch. An entire raft of animated films has displayed this token approach to 3D but this film distinguishes itself by never forgetting about the extra dimension. From sword fights to snake fangs or angles that emphasise the height and depth of an Egyptian tomb, the effect is, for once, mesmerizing.

Kids of a certain age love watching favourite films over and over again. This title will instantly enter that firmament. Personally, I could have easily sat through it a second time just after the first screening had concluded. When’s the last time that happened in the cinema?

James Phelan

G (See IFCO for details)
92  mins

Mr Peabody and Sherman is released on 7th February 2014

Mr Peabody and Sherman – Official Website

 

 

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Cinema Review: In a World…

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WRI/DIR: Lake Bell  PRO: Mark Roberts, Jett Steiger, Eddie Vaisman, Lake Bell  DOP: Seamus Tierney  ED: Tom McArdle  DES: Megan Fenton  Cast: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Ken Merino, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Nick Offerman

 

The second I heard the title and premise of this film my mind instantly leapt to the sublime trailer that Jerry Seinfeld crafted for his documentary ‘Comedian’. Seinfeld himself is nowhere to be seen on-screen in the inspired promo. Instead we are treated to an increasingly frustrated sound engineer trying to coach an experienced voice over artist (Hal Douglas) away from clichés like ‘In a world…….’ .

Who knows whether the same skit had a similar impact on the writer/ director and star of this film Lake Bell but I was curious whether there is more comedic material to be mined in this area. The answer is – kind of.

This specialist corner of the movie industry should be fertile territory for laughs populated as it is by rich-voiced purveyors of bombast and hyperbole. The grave and portentous intonings of a talented voiceover artist can confer gravitas on even the most creatively bankrupt project while out on the promotion trail. It’s a marketing tool fundamentally but there can also be magic in the alchemy of a truly rousing voiceover. Injecting drama where none exists. Imbuing levity in the witless. Inferring class upon trash.

And in the western world, it’s a profession seemingly dominated by a male monopoly. That’s the clever entry point for this fiction as Bell’s vocal coach Carol strives to venture into the lucrative movie voiceover market. As depicted, studio approved vocal artists are drawn from a shallow pool. A very shallow pool including Carol’s own competitive father (Fred Melamed) who is an industry legend but still as insecure as any novice. Carol is intimidated at the prospect of breaking up the boys’ club but she is encouraged by a smitten sound engineer Louis (Demitri Martin) and her older sister.

Bizarrely, as Carol finally makes inroads in her career, her father resorts to subtly undermining her at first before turning openly hostile. The prize of securing the narration for a guaranteed blockbuster franchise ‘The Amazon Games’ becomes the crucible in which family allegiances are tested to the limit.

If that sounds a bit slight, you’ll have to sift through many subplots to keep track of the film’s central spine. Bell clutters proceedings with a variety of tangents and cameos that occasionally entertain but mainly distract. The conclusion that the film is being padded out to reach ninety minutes is hard to shake. For instance, a soapy relationship crisis for Carol’s sister generates few moments that would be missed if excised in its’ entirety. Similarly, an early brief appearance by Eva Longoria displays promise as Carol is hired to salvage the star’s apparently diabolical botching of a Cockney accent. It’s a funny notion, yet the scene fails to raise a smile nevermind a laugh.

In the end In a World is amiable and often impressive. It contains a couple of rib tickling moments and several sparkling one liners. It is uneven however. Logically enough because if all her roles before and behind the camera were judged separately, Bell would receive differing grades in each discipline. As a vehicle she designed for herself, the resultant film is more sturdy station wagon than Porsche.

And still my thoughts return to that ‘Comedian’ promo and the irrefutable feeling that it achieved more in a minute and a half than this feature manages in an hour and a half.

James Phelan 

 15A (See IFCO for details)

92 mins
In a World… is released on 13th September 2013

In a World… – Official Website

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It’s Complicated

Its Complicated

DIR/WRI: Nancy Meyers • PRO: Nancy Meyers, Scott Rudin • DOP: John Toll • ED: Joe Hutshing, David Moritz • DES: Jon Hutman • CAST: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell

Nancy Meyers is not your typical Hollywood director, i.e. male churning out pre-pubescent fodder for overindulged mall malingerers. Meyers makes mature fodder for groups of overindulged mall consumers. Her romantic comedies involve the lifestyles of the rich and embrace that tired cliché of a woman needing to find completion (i.e. a man) in her life.

In 2000, Meyers, gave us What Women Want. In 2006, it was Something’s Gotta Give. Now in 2010, Meyer’s has It’s Complicated, a romantic comedy featuring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.

Streep plays Jane Adler, a divorced 60ish restaurant owner, who, after a few drinks, hops in the sack with Jake, her ex (Baldwin) and rediscovers her mojo. They flirt with each other and with the idea of reconciliation. The trouble is, there’s a few stereotypes on the periphery. Jake’s now married to a thirtysomething loot-foraging ballbreaker (Bell) and Jane’s in the throes of dating Mr. Nice Guy (Martin). You guessed it – it’s complicated. Surely she won’t lose her chance to find future love by boozing her way to former lust?

Obviously it is to Meyer’s credit that she is making films for a certain demographic, but this could have been so much more than the anaemic, anodyne effort it is. There are some half-decent one-liners along the way, some playful banter and a few laughs provided by Baldwin hamming it up. There was always something about Alec Baldwin that made me think of him as a natural candidate for comedy. Streep has always shone in comic roles but is limited by the fatuous whimsy she’s given here. And her character never extends beyond being defined by the men in her life. Depressingly, Steve Martin again plays his post-career role of the emasculated lackey. I don’t know what’s happened to him; but his eyes seem to have disappeared. Perhaps some Faustian deal – ‘you give me money for old rope and I give you my eyes…’

Meyer’s one-track writing of well-to-do fantasy females searching for love in a lavishly constructed ideal of suburban America fails to rise up above the flashes of potential Streep and Baldwin provide. Meyer’s script takes no risks and plods along eventually disappearing up its own botoxed backside.

And yet, there’s a deeper-lying problem at work here.

Manohla Dargis, the NY Times film critic, recently said of Mamma Mia that ‘it’s a terrible movie…but women are starved for representation of themselves.’ Dargis argues that the Hollywood system is a ‘no win situation for women filmmakers.’

Of course, she’s dead right. There aren’t enough fingers on your hand to list the female directors working in Hollywood, despite their ‘resurgence’ in 2009. Bigelow is one of the most interesting and, of course, the major exception in that she directs action movies. Meyers exists solely in that comfort zone of romantic comedy. Hell, it’s even a genre that the men rule the roost in nowadays with the likes of Judd Apatow’s perverse reimagining of them for men to embrace. So there’s something rotten in the state of Hollywood. And sadly Meyers, and It’s Complicated, is part of the problem rather than the solution.

Steven Galvin

Rated 15a (see IFCO website for details)

It’s Complicated is released 8th Jan 2010

It’s Complicated – Official Website

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