Monday, August 20, 2012

The Campaign

Prior to leaving the country for a few weeks on business, I made it a point to go see the new comedy, The Campaign, starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. I’ve been a fan of both for quite some time, and their team up seemed like a guaranteed comedy success; not only that, it starred my favorite actor, Brian Cox, so for me it was a must-see movie.

For those who don’t know much about Jay Roach’s latest comedy, IMDb describes the premise of The Campaign: “In order to gain influence over their North Carolina district, two CEOs seize an opportunity to oust long-term congressman Cam Brady by putting up a rival candidate. Their man: naive Marty Huggins, director of the local Tourism Center.”

The timing of the film couldn’t have been better, intentional as it was, given the political subject matter and upcoming presidential election. In the film, the election isn’t for the Oval Office, but you wouldn’t guess it as the race for a North Carolina district is just as tense. The story concerning why the two must campaign is a little weak and not properly fleshed out, but the real reason people will want to see this movie is for the comedy.

In that regard, the film is like a tank half full—it’ll get you there, but not by firing on all cylinders. The Campaign has its fair share of laughs, and some good ones at that (i.e. an unorthodox maid with a funky accent), but it wasn’t the full-fledged comedy I was expecting. It wasn’t raunchy and outrageous like The Hangover, nor was it unapologetic like Anchorman and Talladega Nights; instead, it was on par with other Roach comedies like the Austin Powers, Meet the Parents/Meet the Fockers, and Dinner for Schmucks.

I really liked the Austin Powers flicks, but I didn’t care too much for Dinner for Schmucks. With that said, I would put The Campaign on the same level as Meet the Parents—somewhat serious at times, but riddled with comedic one-upmanship.

Ferrell portrays the aforementioned Brady and Galifianakis tackles Huggins as the two battle for political supremacy. Surrounding them are a varied cast of supporting characters rendered by Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd and of course Cox.

Both Ferrell and Galifianakis do a decent job delivering jabs and taking turns as heroes and villains. Ferrell was a little more mature than I’m used to, but it was satisfactory nonetheless. Meanwhile, Galifianakis, who shaved his trademark beard for the film, walks the fine line between annoying and adorable as Huggins.

On the other hand, the supporting cast was a mixed bag. Lithgow and Aykroyd were grossly underused as the brother CEOs fueling the mean-spirited campaign. Likewise, Sudeikis was way too straight-laced as Brady’s campaign manager.

On the flip side, McDermott hit it out of the park as Tim Wattley, a mercenary campaign manager brought in to make a winner out of Huggins—and later Brady. I like to give credit where credit’s due, and McDermott certainly deserves it as I literally laughed out loud at most of his scenes. Regarding Cox (pictured above), my opinion is that he was underused and should have played a more prominent role, but of course I’m going to say that given he’s my favorite actor. With that said, he played a convincing non-paternalistic scoundrel in his limited role as Huggins’ father.

I’ve always enjoyed political comedies; in fact, My Fellow Americans with Jack Lemmon and James Garner is one of my favorite movies. The Campaign didn’t make as big an impact as that film, but I did enjoy it and feel I got my moneys worth.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 67%

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hope Springs

I’ve always been a big fan of both Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep, and it’s for that reason alone that I decided to check out their new film, Hope Springs. The adult drama/comedy is definitely geared to an older demographic, but that didn’t discourage me from checking it out with my old man, who also happens to be a fan of both.

The premise of Hope Springs is simple. As IMDb explains: “After thirty years of marriage, a middle-aged couple attends an intense, week-long counseling session to work on their relationship.”

Obviously the couple is the aforementioned Jones and Streep as Arnold and Kay, who’ve fallen into a repetitious rut long after their two grown children moved away. The counselor who helps them work on their relationship is none other than Steve Carell, though you wouldn’t know it from his performance.

Before taking a look at the individual performances, which were superb all around, let me quickly address the story. As you read above, it is a relatively simple situation that no doubt affects hundreds of thousands of couples every year; in fact, I imagine that if my parents were still married, they’d have been in the exact same situation as Arnold and Kay. For anyone that’s been married for an extended period of time, you'll certainly relate to the material.

The story isn’t complicated by nonsense nor is it fluffed. It is merely two people examining their relationship and rediscovering what made them fall in love in the first place. The movie is quiet, and even a little slow at times, but it is honest and pure. It does a marvelous job of showing just how hard it is for some people to talk about the simplest of things, even after years of marriage. 

There are some laugh-out-loud moments along the way, but contrary to what you might think, they come from Jones and Streep, not Carell. In fact, the man known for his shtick and antics was subdued and straightforward. He was simply a counselor doing what he does. No backstory, no development, just a helping hand. It was a different type of role for Carell and some of his fans might be disappointed, but the fact of the matter is that he delivered in an uncharacteristic supporting role.

With that said, the real strength of Hope Springs, which is also the name of the town in which they stay for their weeklong counseling session, is watching Jones and Streep work their magic. I grew up watching the former in action films like Under Siege, The Fugitive, and Volcano, so seeing him in dramatic role was a welcomed change of pace.

As much as I hate to admit it, Jones has become an old man, but that made his ruff and tumble persona perfect for this role, especially when you strip away the inherent confidence and swagger you've seen from him in the past. The role of Arnold was originally offered to Jeff Bridges, who is a great actor in his own right, but it wouldn’t have been the same. This role was made for Jones, and in my opinion it was one of his best performances to date.

On the same token, Streep was spot on. Largely considered the greatest living film actress, Streep has a knack for bringing characters to life. She does an amazing job portraying a housewife desperate for change, and what she’s able to say with her body language and facial expressions is nothing short of spectacular. Streep has put in some stunning performances over the years, but from start to finish, her portrayal of Kay in Hope Springs is one of my favorites.

If you’re looking for whirlwind romance or slapstick comedy, this movie isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of fine performances and don’t mind a sincere look at a modest story, then Hope Springs is right up your alley. 

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 84%

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