Love The Coopers

Every family is dysfunctional to a degree, some more than others. The Coopers, Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton), a couple whose 40-year marriage has lost its energy, have a family with issues galore. Charlotte wants one more happy family Christmas celebration before they split.

Love, The Coopers is like an edgier Hallmark Christmas movie, with cast members who are better known. Like a Hallmark movie, things generally work out. Like a Hallmark movie, there are few non-white faces. Unlike a Hallmark movie, a few impolite phrases are uttered and bodily functions draw attention. But don’t worry: LTC is safely PG-13.

Cooper offspring include Hank (Ed Helms) and Eleanor (Olivia Wilde). Hank’s marriage to Angie (Alex Borstein, best known as the voice of Lois Griffin on Family Guy) is breaking up. Among their three kids is son Charlie (Timothee Chalet) who is at that awkward age and is especially awkward at kissing.

Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) is a flirty type who picks up cute serviceman Joe (Jack Lacy) at the airport and drags him to the family’s Christmas Eve dinner as her pretend boyfriend. Their verbal jousting (over political and religious differences) provides some of the film’s highlights.

Emma (Marisa Tomei) is Charlotte’s younger sister with whom a sibling rivalry persists. She is busted for shoplifting at the mall. She does some amateur counseling from the back seat of the patrol car for the quiet cop (Anthony Mackie), who opens up about his sexuality.

Guests at the Christmas dinner table also include Charlotte and Emma’s dad Bucky (Alan Arkin) and his favorite diner waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried). Also, an addled aunt played by June Squibb is more cute than funny. Narration for the story is by Steve Martin.

Love, The Coopers—I added the comma to indicate that it refers to a Christmas card signature, not a command—is a not unpleasant holiday film. But it’s not as touching as The Family Stone (which also starred Keaton) or It’s A Wonderful Life, not as funny as Christmas Vacation or the Santa Clause movies. I’d put it right around Christmas With The Kranks level in the Christmas movie rankings.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

If you like Steve Carrell, you’ll probably like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. This movie is funny and it is fun. TIBW has several hilarious sight gags to go with a good group of well-cast characters.

Carrell and fellow Steve, Buscemi, play childhood friends who parlay their love of magic into a long running gig together in Vegas as Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton. But the act gets stale, egos inflate and they get sick of each other. When audiences disappear, it’s not an illusion.

Meanwhile, a street magician, played brilliantly by Jim Carrey, is creating huge buzz with his over-the-top stunts. As his star rises, Burt and Anton’s is fading. A desperation stunt by Burt and Anton ends badly and their partnership goes “poof!”

Burt’s redemption comes with help from Alan Arkin, a man who adds a spark to any movie he’s in. Arkin is an aging magician who helps Burt regain a passion for magic. The beautiful Olivia Wilde adds more than just eye candy in her role as a magician’s assistant who helps Burt regain some humility.

James Gandolfini is the oily casino boss who hires and fires Burt and Anton, then gives them a big opportunity for a comeback. And the rarely seen but talented Jay Mohr plays a likeable small-time wannabe Vegas magician.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not what you would call a “laugh riot.” As with Carrell’s performance on The Office, some of the laughs delivered here are chuckles, not guffaws. But there’s plenty of fun in TIBW. If you’re looking for a pleasant amusement, my magic words are “go see it.”

 

 

 

 

 

Stand Up Guys

An action comedy with three of our best actors as senior citizen crooks who get together for one last fling—can’t miss, right?

Stand Up Guys is not a total misfire. It has its moments. But it’s not as funny onscreen as it might have been on paper. The movie starts slow and has pacing issues throughout, but it is a suitable amusement.

Al Pacino is a paroled prisoner who, upon his release, is met by his old partner in crime played by Christopher Walken. Another bad guy has ordered Walken to kill Pacino by 10:00 a.m. the next morning or he (Walken) will be killed.

The two old chums go out for drinks, drugs and hookers. When his initial sexual effort fizzles, Pacino gobbles a handful of Viagra (or similar) pills to get the job done. The result is a successful hookup, followed by a visit to the emergency room for treatment of priapism. (Look it up.)

After they bust their old driver (Alan Arkin) out of a care center, they head out for more adventures including a return trip to the brothel and a joyride in a stolen Dodge Challenger (new version). More adventures lead to return visits to Walken’s favorite diner to satisfy Pacino’s ravenous appetite. He never knows when Walken will pull the trigger, but he behaves as if it’s inevitable.

I enjoyed Walken’s low-key performance and Arkin’s energetic performance, but grew weary of Pacino and his character early on. It seems like he’s trying too hard in this role. Julianna Margulies has a small, mostly forgettable, role as Arkin’s daughter.

Stand Up Guys is not a good as it should’ve been. It will not overwhelm you in any way. But if you are a fan of any of the three lead actors, you might actually like it!

Argo

“Argo” is a home run. Ben Affleck confirms his talent as a storyteller with a film that has new relevance following recent anti-American turmoil in the Mideast.

Most Americans don’t know about the CIA operative who guided six U.S. Embassy employees out of Iran in early 1980. The mission was declassified in the 90’s and now the tale can be told, with dramatic embellishments. The embassy staffers had taken refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s residence during the siege that began the hostage crisis in 1979.

Ben Affleck is director and star of “Argo.” Look for a best director nomination for his excellent work with a compelling story and a strong cast.

“Argo” grabs attention from its opening frames. Following a brief prelude that gives an overview of Persian history, “Argo” presents a graphic recreation of the Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

What distinguishes “Argo” from other rescue mission movies is the scheme employed to convince Iranian officials that the six Americans (and the CIA guy played by Affleck) are members of a Canadian film crew. A Hollywood makeup man (played by John Goodman) and a veteran producer (played by Alan Arkin) provide a legitimate cover story for the “crew.” Goodman and Arkin’s characters also provide vital comic relief.

Affleck, Goodman and Arkin sift through a pile of rejected movie scripts. From the many, one is chosen. Titled “Argo,” it gets the full Hollywood treatment: storyboards, posters, a media event, coverage in movie trade papers, etc. The Iranians buy it. The CIA guy gets into Iran. Getting the six others and himself out is the hard part.

The pacing of “Argo” is near perfect. Its narrative unfolds neatly, switching among settings in Iran, CIA HQ, the White House and Hollywood.

Our trip back to the beginning of the 80’s accurately shows long hair and sideburns on men, omnipresent smoking, 70’s cars and archival clips of TV news coverage of the hostage crisis. An answering machine similar to one I owned back in the day is an appropriate period prop.

Bryan Cranston is Affleck’s CIA boss. Kyle Chandler is almost a dead-ringer for former Carter administration Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan.

Some who post on message boards are distressed that the role Affleck plays was not given to a Hispanic actor, as the real life CIA operative was a Latino. Friends of the real life Canadian ambassador claim he was given less credit for his role in the mission by the filmmakers than he deserves. Others posters claim that the movie is little more than US propaganda to get the country ready for our upcoming war with Iran. Folks, it’s a movie. It’s based on a true story, but it’s a movie.

Hollywood likes movies about movie making, which means “Argo” could be a contender for best picture.

“Argo” is a “must see.” Those who can recall the awful feelings we felt in America during the hostage crisis will appreciate the fact that during that horrible period, our country managed to do at least one thing right.