Game Change (2012)
by Charles Beall
There is a moment in the new HBO film Game Change that is particularly striking. Upon delivering his concession speech after his loss to Barack Obama, John McCain fades into the spotlight amongst the growing chants of “Sarah! Sarah!” Woody Harrelson, who portrays McCain’s chief strategist Steve Schmidt, watches in horror as his “game change” becomes an uncontrollable entity, a force in the Republican Party that, as of 2012, is leading to its ultimate demise.
Game Change is riveting theater, a look into an historic moment in our nation’s history. Lagging in the polls behind “celebrity” Barack Obama, John McCain (Ed Harris) needed something to shake the campaign up. The economy was tanking after eight years of a Republican president, and like it or not, McCain was tethered to the sinking ship that was the Bush administration. The film kicks in around August 2008, when sitting with his advisors, McCain decides to go for broke and make a “bold choice” in a vice presidential running mate selection. McCain wants Joe Lieberman, the Independent Democrat Senator of Connecticut; the campaign wants someone who is not a white male elitist. The problem is that it is getting down to convention time, and while the other choices for Vice President have been vetted, they are still unacceptable. Enter the game change.
After five (five!) days of vetting (in what is usually a multi-week process), McCain and his advisors agree on the unknown Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin (a brilliant Julianne Moore). She is attractive, insanely popular in her home state, and a solid conservative who balances out McCain’s more liberal political positions. She lights up a crowd and can bridge the enthusiasm gap that Republicans are lacking when it comes to Obama and the Democrats.
But looks can be deceiving. Palin, who with much more time and experience, could have been a decent candidate is thrust into the national spotlight without so much as any experience (or knowledge) to be one heartbeat away from the most powerful office in the world. The stress of the campaign begins to fracture Palin, pushing her to the verge of a nervous breakdown. She begins to worry about her standing in Alaska, rather than the national campaign and the mission ahead. Her advisors quit, and the campaign (particularly Schmidt) begins to wonder what they have gotten themselves into.
There is a turning point in the campaign, however, that snaps Palin out of her funk. Instead of teaching her everything about everything (and there was a lot she didn’t know), they campaign begins to feed her talking points. She gains her confidence back and a transformation begins. Sarah Palin becomes the celebrity that Obama is; she becomes an uncontrollable lightning rod that feeds off of the masses (which, I must say, Obama is not). Sarah Palin morphs from a respected governor into “Sarah Palin”, the woman who is around today.
Game Change is quite a fascinating character study. Moore’s performance is incredibly restrained. For someone who has been lampooned constantly, Moore brings humanity back to Sarah Palin. Her performance reminds us that Palin was a person who has feelings, who loves her family, and cares for her country…but then we see the morph of someone who is ultimately corrupted by our current American political system. There is a sad scene where Moore’s Palin is watching Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin on SNL; she can’t believe that they are laughing at her, not with her. The look on her face is heartbreaking, because she is realizing that she is not being taken seriously, but rather as a national embarrassment. This is a turning point, because she then begins to famously “go rogue” and do things her own way. She in a way becomes a Frankenstein Republican, the product of a desperate campaign and the victim of a vicious sense of entitlement.
Game Change is not a perfect film, but it is indeed an entertaining one. The performances and fireworks between Moore and Harrelson are particularly noteworthy and deserving of Emmy consideration, as is Harris’ subtle and enjoyable McCain. With that said, political junkie or not, Game Change is a very entertaining, cautious tale about the dangerous road our democracy is headed down.
Horrible Bosses (2011)
by Steve Habrat
Let’s be honest, the premise of Horrible Bosses, a revenge-fantasy comedy that places three Average Joes at the center of an intricate plot to off their bosses a la Alfred Hitchcock’s Stranger’s on a Train could strike a chord with many casual moviegoers. Why? Because who HASN’T had a boss that has made their lives a living hell! It’s an amusing “What if?” that provides some minor laughs in the dead heat of the summer and a surprisingly small picture going toe to toe with films like Transformers, Harry Potter, and Captain America. But the film has a charming underdog persona that many can’t quite ignore (It also happens to feature an all-star cast!) and leaves you hoping it will be remembered once it’s long gone from theaters. I say this because the film walks the fine line between classic dark comedy and comedy-no-one-will-remember-in-a-year territory. I consider it a blue-collar comedy that pours it’s blood, sweat, and tears into all the shenanigans to make you laugh but sometimes it comes up a bit short. It’s a shame it might get lost in shuffle.
Every summer has a sleeper hit that audiences pass on via word of mouth. It ends up making a boatload of money and it usually turns out to be a comedy. We’ve already had a 50/50 summer when it comes to comedy and, frankly, comedy has been very uninteresting for quite a while. We had Bridesmaids which was a surprise smash and was a breath of fresh air. Two weeks later, the guys of the Hangover crashed the party and left everyone with a bad taste in their mouths. We’ve also seen Bad Teacher, one that was heavily hyped but largely written off by many and Zookeeper, another dud chucked out by Happy Madison. Now we have the often witty, sometimes disappointing Horrible Bosses, in which three nice guys decide they’ve had enough of their tyrannical bosses and decide to off them for each other. By killing each other’s, they are spared a suspected motive by the police and they end getting off punishment free. It’s a bit of a tired premise and really isn’t that inspired of an idea, but it will resonate! Especially if you take the dry asides of Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), the screeching insanity of Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and smart-ass narcissism of Jason Sudeikis (SNL) and pair them up against the sadistic Kevin Spacey, man-eating Jennifer Aniston, and the under-used coke addict Colin Farrell.
The three amigos, Nick (Bateman), Dale (Day), and Kurt (Sudeikis) enlist the help of a professional killer in Mother Fucker Jones, played by the dead-pan Jamie Foxx. They slam their heads together and they embark on a bumbling journey to expel their demonoid bosses from planet earth. The usually sticky situations follow and they are mostly all amusing. They sneak around their intended victims homes, accidentally get high on cocaine, stupidly leave their DNA everywhere, and drool over a lingerie clad Aniston as she deep throats a popsicle, a banana, and a hot dog. It’s good to see a fresh line-up of comedians like we have here, but they seem a bit new to the scene, in all honesty. They try to ad-lib with the best of them but sometimes it’s a bit forced and amateur, especially from Day who relies on his bat-shit crazy persona he crafted for his character on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He rattles off some winners and delivers some stink bombs that are intended to shock the audience into belly laughs. The most laughs come from Bateman, who delivers some zingers (One about fleeing to Canada will have you in stitches), Foxx who demonstrates extraordinary comedic timing (His explanation of how he got the name Mother Fucker will have you covering your mouth), and the largely ignored Colin Farrell, who delivers countless one liners that will leave you quoting for weeks (Wait until you see his outtakes!). Sudeikis fails to grab many of the chuckles and he passes himself off as a second rate Nick Swardson, who is funnier anyway. The casting could have been a bit stronger without his character. Spacey is clearly having fun but his character descends too far into downright evil territory. I know we are supposed to hate him but c’mon!! Aniston has some eyebrow-raising moments, mostly when she shows up almost nude in one particular scene and fires off more racy innuendos than any character in a Judd Apatow picture. She surprisingly churns out one of her better performances since Office Space. Julie Bowen (Modern Family) also shows up as Spacey’s wife but she is basically ignored in all the chaos.
There isn’t much to say in the way of Horrible Bosses. It’s charming even if it’s consistently raunchy and it’s hard to dislike it. There are clever gags and the film does not overstay it’s welcome by any stretch. It was a nice breather from all the explosions and superheroes that have been zipping around theaters. But I think that filmmakers could have poured a bit more time into this film. It’s a bit rough around the edges and appears rushed at times. You are left feeling that all the events that took place in the film were minor and insignificant. You want to rally behind it but sometimes it’s impossible to do just that. When all is said and done, it never really feels like these horrible bosses have had it stuck to them. Further, it falls short of the sleeper status that I thought would surely follow in its wake. Overall, it grasps at comedy greatness but comes up with comedy goodness. Don’t worry though; it will still have you chuckling to yourself as you punch the clock the next morning.
Horrible Bosses is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
For those of you out there who were convinced that Judd Apatow was nothing but a sexist who made movies simply for immature males and about male tribulations have an argument no longer. Mr. Apatow and director Paul Feig have officially made a movie for females that tackle arduous female relationships with each other and themselves. To all the men out there who are writing Bridesmaids off as a “chick flick” need to suck it up and take the trip to pick up the Blu-ray because I guarantee you are going to laugh your ass off. Bridesmaids leaves the recent string of “bromance” films in its comedic dust and can proudly call itself one of the funniest movies since The 40 Year-Old Virgin. Much of its success lies on the slim shoulders of the comedienne in the center of all the pandemonium and that little lady is SNL alum Kristen Wiig. Wiig co-wrote the script with her pal Annie Mumolo and it is drenched in wicked shrewdness along with many other bodily fluids. Wiig also happens to prove to the suits out there that she can indeed carry a film and does not have to settle for the occasional cameo or background character. Her performance here is strikingly similar to what we saw from Steve Carell in The 40 Year-Old Virgin.
If one were to quickly glance at the title of this film and have no clue what the film is about, many would assume that it’s some new Kate Hudson bomb that follows her shallow quest to pull Matthew McConaughey for the fifth time. A disposable romantic comedy that presumes Hudson breaking a heel and falling down is comedic brilliance. The type of film that will last for about a month at the theater and then quickly make it’s way to DVD. It’s refreshing to see Wiig, who up until this film had not snagged herself a starring vehicle, a woman with pitch-perfect comedic timing step up to the plate to play Annie, a woman who has seemingly hit rock bottom. She is a victim of the recession as her bakery she started has been reduced to a boarded up graffiti wall. We also learn that her boyfriend picked up and ditched her after her bakery closed down. She spends her nights with a wealthy playboy (Played by a never better John Hamm) and spends her days paling around with her best friend Lillian (Played by another SNL alum and real life BFF Maya Rudolph). Annie complains to Lillian about her problems and figures she will always have a shoulder to lean on with her. That is until Lillian drops the bomb on Annie and proclaims that she is getting married. At the engagement party, Annie is introduced to the wildly colorful bridal party. She meets innocent Becca (Played by The Office’s Ellie Kemper), bored-housewife-with-a dark-side Rita (Played by Reno 911’s Wendi McLendon-Covey), the uber-confidant Megan (Played by scene-stealing Melissa McCarthy), and the wealthy and malicious Helen (played by Insidious star Rose Byrne). Annie finds herself pitted against Helen in the quest for maid of honor and hilariously self-destructs from the battle.
Wiig manages to play Annie not as a desperate-for-love caricature but as a wounded and vulnerable heroine. We root for her to, yes, find love but also to hold on to her best friend even as Annie and Lillian grow further and further apart. The universe has come crashing down on this poor soul and she is more desperate than ever to find a friend she can actually trust and does not come equipped with ulterior motives. Wiig also does the seemingly impossible task of making a horrific breakdown uproariously hilarious. There are scenes in this movie that will leave you howling with laughter and scenes that will have you wishing Annie was a real flesh-and-blood human you could give a big sympathetic hug and reassure her that everything will be okay.
It is an absolute thrill to watch Wiig and Mumolo lob a rowdily unpredictable comedic sequence that begins subtle and erupts into full on chaos at the audience. A bridal gown fitting that ends with food poisoning will bring you to your knees with laughter and shrieking “Oh, my God!” and a prescription drugs and scotch fueled meltdown on a plane to Vegas tops anything that was found in the incredibly overrated Hangover in terms of shock comedy. Wiig’s physical comedy comes to a head as she suffers a nervous breakdown during a shower in Helen’s mansion and battles Helen’s excessive wealth and her ability to purchase friends by throwing down with a giant cookie. Wait until you see it. It should join the ranks as one of the funniest scenes in the history of comedy.
When you’re not recovering from the countless belly laughs (trust me, there are PLENTY!), there is a scene of hushed, sincere emotion that will leave you speechless. Ones that left the entire packed theater silent in the particular showing I attended way back in May. You could actually feel the heartbreak hovering in the room and it became almost painful to sit and watch. One scene finds Annie confronted by the chunky Megan that is the definition of powerful and uplifting. Or a scene that shows Annie telling her mother that things have gone from bad to worse that will tug your heartstrings until they snap. It will warm your heart when Annie begins to find love with a sensitive Irish cop Rhodes, played by the charismatic Chris O’Dowd. The film is a testament to what great script writing and great direction can do for a film.
The ladies of Bridesmaids manage to prove that they can party just as hard as the boys and leave the Wolfpack looking like a bunch of cubs. They are real, honest, and hugely likeable even when they are reduced to hot messes. The performances here are what make the film seem effortless and strangely protracted. Like all Apatow films, it drags on about twenty minutes too long, but you’ll be willing to overlook it mostly because it blindsides you with overwhelming emotion. From the male perspective, it was nice to sit on the sidelines this time around and let the film just wash over me. It’s going to dispatch women from the theater to debate about the mechanics of their relationships just as Apatow’s “bromance” films struck chords with men. Already a strong contender for the best comedy of the year, Bridesmaids needs to party it’s way to the top of your must-see list. Grade: B+
Bridesmaids is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.