July 13th, 2008

DAN IN REAL LIFE (2007) **


Steve Carell tried to pull a Jim Carrey/Truman Show type switcheroo on us by starring in this interminable comedy-drama as a widowed advice columnist trying to raise his three daughters.  During a week long stay at his parents’ cabin he ends up falling in love with his brother’s girlfriend (Juliette Binoche), which leads to various sitcom/Lifetime Channel style clichés. 


I really like Carell, but even he can’t save this ho-hum flick.  This is the kind of movie where if Carell just told his brother he was in love with his girlfriend at the twenty minute mark, it could’ve saved us all a lot of time.  As it is though, director Peter (Pieces of April) Hedges stretches the scenes of Carell and Binoche exchanging awkward glances and uncomfortable pleasantries to the breaking point and ratchets up enough cutesy family bonding scenes to make you want to puke.  (Seriously, what the fuck kind of family throws a TALENT SHOW for Christ’s sakes?) 


If Hedges managed to blend the comedy with the “dramatic” portions of the film, Dan in Real Life could’ve worked, but the movie is pretty much a mess.  Consider the scene where Carell and Binoche are trying to meet clandestinely in the bathroom and are interrupted by his daughter.  Carell hides in the shower with the water running while Binoche talks to her.  Because Carell’s daughter says nothing meaningful to Binoche, the scene just plays like a sitcom.  If they actually had a touching scene together (say, she tells Binoche something she couldn’t tell her father) the scene would’ve played a lot better and given the movie the kind of tone I think the filmmakers were looking for. 


Since the one-note premise (Carell is an advice columnist who needs to listen to his own advice) and cardboard cut-out supporting characters (Dane Cook is especially grating as Carell’s brother) aren’t much help, Carell has to carry this thing pretty much by himself.  He isn’t bad here, but if given a better script, I’m sure he’d be capable of something worthwhile.  Stick with comedy, Steve.   


Everyone always bitches every time someone does a sub-par remake of an Alfred Hitchcock film, but they tend to forget that Hitch’s remake of his own 1934 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much wasn’t all that great either. 


James Stewart and Doris Day star as a couple whose son is kidnapped while on vacation in Morocco.  While looking for their child, they get embroiled in international intrigue and eventually they have to thwart an assassination attempt at Albert Hall. 


I don’t claim to have seen all of Hitchcock’s work but out of the two dozen or so films I have seen; The Man Who Knew Too Much is easily his weakest.  Stewart is likable as always, but I found Day to be quite blah as the female lead.  Day is thoroughly innocuous and pales in comparison next to Hitchcock’s other leading ladies like Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren.  She also gets to belt out her irritating trademark tune, “Que Sera, Sera” TWICE, which further adds to her annoyance factor.  Luckily, the supporting cast, including Hillary (The Abbott and Costello Show) Brooke, Reggie (Salem’s Lot) Nalder and Carolyn (Morticia!) Jones is fun to watch.


Usually I don’t like to harp on a film’s running time, but this movie makes for a long two hours.  It had no business being this long (the original ran only 75 minutes!) and you literally feel every second of screen time.  (It took me two tries to successfully get all the way through the film.)  Everything about the film just seems to go on forever.  Many scenes play out longer than they should (especially the opening scenes); almost as if Hitch was a bit TOO comfortable with his stature as the Master of Suspense and self indulgently let things run on for far too long. 


Hitch was normally adept at his use of editing to create suspense, but even the suspense scenes are stretched out to infinity.  Take the highly touted Albert Hall assassination sequence for instance.  It goes on for TWELVE whole minutes without dialogue and for all the build-up Hitch puts into the scene, it all ends rather anticlimactically.  I mean watching a classical music concert in real time isn’t exactly my idea of suspense.  The ending is also abrupt and on the whole, pretty worthless.  


Despite fleeting moments of fun (like Day and Stewart’s first meeting with the kidnapping couple), for the most part, The Man Who Knew Too Much is a talky, bloated, bore.  Stewart pretty much carries the whole show by himself and the film is at least worth a look if you’re a die hard Hitchcock fan.  Otherwise, skip it and watch Psycho. 


Hitch did The Wrong Man next. 

CONVOY (1978) ***


As movies based off of cheesy 70’s country songs go, Convoy is no Rhinestone, but it sure is a heck of a good time. 


Anyone who remembers C.W. MacCall’s classic novelty song Convoy will know that it was all about a trucker named Rubber Duck who is on the lam from the law.  The film has SLIGHTLY more plot.  In the movie, Rubber Duck is played by Kris Kristofferson and after getting into a diner fight with Sheriff Dirty Lyle (Ernest Borgnine), he hightails it out of there and heads for the state line.  Along the way, some of the nation’s grubbiest looking truckers sympathize with Duck’s plight and join his convoy and in the process, turn him into a modern day folk hero. 


There is a lot of religious symbolism prevalent in Convoy.  For one, Kris Kristofferson just plain LOOKS like Jesus with his scraggily beard.  For two, everyone follows Kris in the convoy blindly and always look to him for the answers, the same way the apostles did.  Three, there’s a caravan of religious nuts who follow Kris in the convoy quoting scripture left and right.  And four:  Kris dies in the end, only to be resurrected. 


Okay, I’m reading far too much into this flick. 


Look, Convoy is a stupid movie but lots of metal gets twisted up real good and while it runs out of gas near the end, it’s still lots of fun.  It breaks no new ground that Smokey and the Bandit hadn’t already covered ten times better, but if you’re like me and you enjoy seeing lots of truckers talking into CB radios while crashing through plenty of houses, roadblocks, and hardware stores, then you’ll definitely want to give this flick a big 10-4.


Kristofferson is quite good in the lead and the colorful supporting cast, which includes Burt Young and Seymour Cassel adds some spunk to the proceedings.  The only performer I just plain couldn’t stand was Ali MacGraw.  Not only is she just plain awful as the love interest, she looks like somebody did a drum solo on her face with the ugly stick.  Seriously, she looks like an Aborigine hooker in this movie and she has zero chemistry with Kristofferson.  (I don’t blame you Kris, I wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot pole either.) 


I’m not exactly sure what possessed Sam fuckin’ Peckinpah of all people to direct this thing, but since he did there are a lot of slow motion shots of car crashes and people getting thrown through glass windows.  Since it’s rated PG, nobody gets shot a thousand times in slow motion, although in the finale, Borgnine DOES pump several hundred rounds of ammunition into the Duck’s truck. 


Peckinpah, the ultimate man’s man director would only direct one more film in his lifetime, The Osterman Weekend.  B.W.L. Norton wrote this sucker and he went on to not only write but direct the vastly underrated More American Graffiti the next year.