Thanks to the recent speech at the Republican National Convention in which the former Dirty Harry berated a chair holding an invisible Barack Obama going into a movie starring Clint Eastwood as a technophobe who has trouble not walking into tables and chairs on a daily basis isn’t exactly a setup for success. But believe it or not it’s actually not that unfortunate context that’s the problem: from the clunky script and pacing to Clint’s ever-present grumble and the film’s predictable plot Trouble with the Curve is a slow pitch right down the middle.
And this is coming from someone who loves baseball movies so much she’s suffered through Kevin Costner’s For the Love of the Game – twice. But Trouble isn’t really a baseball movie. It’s a sappy father-daughter relationship tale with baseball as the hook and the caulk filling in the film's cracks.
Gus (Eastwood) is one of the oldest most respected scouts in the game but he’s getting old his eyes are going and some twerp with a laptop (Matthew Lillard) and his frat boy henchman are determined to shove Gus out of his position at the Atlanta Braves and replace him with a computer (muah-ha-ha). His daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) who he named after Mickey Mantle because that’s how much he loves baseball is trying to make partner at her law firm in a pool of misogynistic bigwigs when she’s called down to North Carolina to help her dad at the behest of his boss and best friend (John Goodman). While she should be working things out with her pops a young scout named Jimmy (Justin Timberlake) shows up flirts with Mickey and steals the storyline for the entire middle section of the film.
While Eastwood’s growling grumbling demeanor are perfect for the role of a stalwart old man who refuses to give up the game he once knew he’s saddled with stale jokes and quips – you may know them as “dad jokes” – that undermine his ability to be the wise man who knows better than these young whippersnappers. Adams does the best she can with a role that asks little more than for her to be smart sassy and outspoken but it simply feels like the role was over-cast. Timberlake’s character is plagued with Gus’ same brand of dad jokes but luckily for us the former boy bander is oozing with enough charm to make any joke no matter how terrible funny enough to make us fall in love with him – for an hour and half anyway.
Script issues aside where the film really starts to lose its way is in its portrayal of Lillard’s young ladder-climbing villain. At one point they even show him sitting in a dark room backlit by a lone desk lamp as he instructs his henchman to keep spying on Gus. All that’s missing is a maniacal laugh and a fluffy cat on his lap for him to stroke with his ruby-ring-decked hand.
It’s this hyperbolic villainy coupled with the treatment of Gus’ mortal enemy (technology) paired with two battling relationship stories (Timberlake and Adams vs. Eastwood and Adams) and the slow plodding pace that keep this film from being what it should be: a perfectly sweet predictable popcorn flick.
Trouble would be a perfectly adequate movie to casually watch on a Sunday afternoon with your dad but then again you could just get Field of Dreams on Blu-ray just as easily.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros]
The Client List, Jennifer Love Hewitt's new Lifetime drama, makes no attempt to hide what it is. The words "guilty pleasure" actually appeared on screen in an ad that aired seconds before the start of last night's season premiere. However, for a show based on a Lifetime original movie about a mom turned prostitute, it was actually surprisingly decent. The reimagined Client List aims to be a folksier version of The Good Wife, and while it certainly won't be nominated for any Emmys, no one in the cast embarassed themselves in April 8's episode (which is certainly more than you can say for Smash, TV's last guilty pleasure offering).
Hewitt's role has been cleaned up considerably since she appeared in the 2010 TV movie. In the series, she stars as Riley Parks, a Texas mother of two young children. The series starts with a shot of a bare-torsoed dude lying down on a massage table as Riley nervously slips into lingerie behind a screen. Then we flash back to one month earlier, before Riley's life of happy ending debauchery began. At a backyard birthday party for her husband Kyle, she presents a gift ostensibly from the kids: an expensive leather jacket. Annoyed, Kyle asks Riley to speak with him inside. (Important side note: Hewitt has an entertaining Texan accent, and wears a midriff-baring top and low-slung jeans to the party. In other words, typical suburban mother of two attire.) Kyle reminds Riley that they're both out of work and can barely make ends meet. They bicker about money some more, and then just in case there are any concerns that the show won't be trashy enough, they start passionately making out on top of the kitchen table. Apparently they forgot that the kids, Riley's mother (Cybill Shepherd) and Kyle hotter younger brother (Colin Egglesfield) are all on the patio waiting to finish opening gifts.
While headed to a job interview, Riley runs into her old friend Selena. As Selena steps into a red sports car, she tells Riley that the spa she works at is hiring and gives her a business card. Riley shows up later with her masseuse resume in hand, but the owner, Georgia, takes one look at her and hires her on the spot. Riley doesn't suspect that there's anything unusual about the massage parlor, though co-workers keep making innuendo-laden comments like, "The tips are great. The harder I work the bigger they get," and "Don't worry honey, this job is all about flexibility."
Riley meets the other women who work at the salon, including Jolene (a.k.a. Toby's ex-wife from The West Wing) and Kendra (a.k.a. Lane's Playboy Bunny girlfriend from Mad Men). She gets to work on her first client, a young, hot oil company employee, who tells her his "hips and legs are a little tight." He grabs her butt as she's leaning over him, and she slaps his hand away, saying, "That's not on the menu!" He explains nicely, "The girls that don't give extras don't really do well here," but she pulls off his sheet and storms out of the room.
After a commercial break, Riley confronts Georgia and says what we're all thinking: "You didn't think it was important to tell me that the guys who come here expect extras?" Georgia says she assumed someone told Riley, and explains that 90% of the business is legitimate, but there's a small client list (chug your drink!) of guys who want more. Riley makes it clear that she has a loving husband and two kids at home and is simply not that kind of girl.
Cut to Riley returning home to find her house empty and immediately freaking out, since apparently Kyle never goes on jaunts to Home Depot. As it turns out, her instincts are right. She finds a note from the poor man's Keanu Reeves on the kitchen table and collapses on the floor weeping.
Back at the spa Riley learns via montage that giving massages is hard work! Some people are old, gross, and/or hairy and they don't tip very well. She caves and tells Georgia to get her one of the guys on the list. Now we've caught up to the first shot of the episode, and Riley is wearing a negligee and inching her hand up her client's leg. They have a flirty conversation and she tells him, "This is just not what I expected." It really isn't what anyone would expect dudes who pay for sexual favors from masseuses to look like. Each guy is more blindingly beautiful than the last and the episode averages about one chisled man torso every four minutes.
Her one somewhat less attractive client is a middle-aged man named Jared. She realizes he really just needs someone to talk to, and offers some advice on how he can reconcile with his wife (plus a "groin massage"). It seems that in the TV show Hewitt's character only lets her hands stray into intimate areas, while in the original she had sex with her clients.
Riley is finally able to make her mortgage payment, but her family is growing suspicious. Evan, the aforementioned hot brother-in-law, has taken to helping out around the house in Kyle's absence (while shirtless, natch). He stumbles in drunk one night and accuses Riley of having a sugar daddy. She's insulted and tells him to get out.
Riley becomes even more torn about her new line of work when someone writes "WHORE" on her car. Later she finds the culprit, Jared's wife Valerie, waiting outside her house. Rather than running in her house and calling the cops, she confronts her and winds up sharing some tips on how she can repair her marriage.
Later Evan walks in on Riley while she's changing her clothes for her kids' talent show. (Certainly it's the first and last of their romantic misunderstandings!) He apologizes, and after running into her boss Georgia at the show, Riley tells her she intends to stick with the job. Or as she puts it, "I may not have been able to save my marriage, but I'm going to save my family." Finally, after putting the kids to bed the phone rings, and it's her husband Kyle on the other end... dun, dun, dun.
Surprisingly, the worst thing about The Client List is it's time slot. There are already too many great shows on Sunday nights, and The Client List shouldn't be competing with the likes of Mad Men and Game of Thrones. This is a weeknight, unwind with a glass of pinot grigio after putting the kids to bed type of show. But, that's why they invented DVRs.
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Based on James Bradley’s bestselling book of the same name Flags of Our Fathers is Saving Private Ryan meets Stand By Me. Buried in the collective national conscious the Associated Press photo of six American soldiers raising a flag of victory over Iwo Jima is the basis of the film. Bradley’s father Doc Bradley (played by Ryan Phillippe in the film) who was one of the flag-raising soldiers never fully shared the details of the experience with his son but Flags meditates on some of those unanswered questions. The Iwo Jima conflict fortified by crags of Japanese snipers lays siege to thousands of messy casualties and the tattered flag--immediately seized by U.S. government officials to rallying and recruit soldiers--emerges as a symbol for American pride while the five Marines and one corpsman who raised it are basically forgotten. Heavy dramatics are saved for Adam Beach (Windtalkers) as Ira Hayes the Native American Marine who degenerates into madness. He represents the bittersweet languor of lost ambition and broken spirits. Director Clint Eastwood is actually the film’s best actor even though he isn’t in the movie. We can see his simmering restraint in the Flags’ acting ensemble as he guides his actors into finely tuned performances. From Beach to Phillippe to Paul Walker (2 Fast 2 Furious) Eastwood gets the most out of his young cast by playing them down. Similar to real-life soldiers allegiance to the team is the actors’ goal creating authenticity. Intense stress requires the actors to have genuine instincts. But by intentionally constructing a more lived-in feel there is consequently no flashy or Oscar-worthy stand-outs. To his credit Walker who usually goes for the brain-dead million dollar paychecks tries something different here while in his pivotal role Beach plays the juicy role as best as he can. Still Beach’s breakdown scene is quite honestly one-dimensional and doesn’t have the same dramatic impact as say Born on the Fourth of July’s Tom Cruise. Of Flags’ likely award recognitions the acting seems to have the least chance of reaching the winner’s circle. Vintage Eastwood is a lion in winter directing as though there’s no tomorrow. With Flags he interweaves numerous themes to create a war movie which despite its cliché-filled genre is constantly real in tone. The film is historically credible from the American perspective only but Eastwood has also directed a companion piece Letters from Iwo Jima about the Japanese side which hits theaters next year. Complex themes of celebrity worship also give the film a post-modern jaded Iraq War-era vision. Then there are the visuals. Eastwood incorporates breathtaking CGI shots of the fleet of warships reminiscent of Troy on top of an old-style photographic framing black and white and green all washed-out. It’s like looking at a scrapbook of old photos on a high-definition CD-ROM. Naturalistic scenes--sprawling in their panoramic framing with cactuses and hills of black sand--remind us we’re watching one of America’s cinematic icons at work. Flags could be Eastwood’s third Best Director Oscar--and will likely net him $100 million-plus at the box office.
Based on the bestseller by Nicolas Sparks the film begins with Duke (James Garner) and Allie (Gena Rowlands) an inseparable couple living in a nursing home. While Duke remembers their life together Allie who suffers from progressive dementia does not. Their only bond is a faded notebook from which Duke reads to Allie every day telling her the same story over and over. It's a sweeping tale of two South Carolina teens country boy Noah (Ryan Gosling) and city gal Allie (Rachel McAdams) who spend one glorious summer in the early 1940s falling madly in love. Unfortunately the couple is soon separated first by her disapproving parents and then by World War II but after seven years apart after taking different paths they are passionately reunited. There's a catch though; Allie is now faced to choose between the man she once loved and the successful businessman (James Marsden) she is engaged to. It's really no surprise who the young Allie chooses in the end--but for Duke the only thing that keeps him going is the fact that every day somehow through the power of this story the mentally impaired Allie miraculously remembers their love if only for a very brief moment before slipping back into oblivion. Tears being jerked from your eyes yet?
The talented cast certainly elevates The Notebook's romantic drudgery. McAdams takes a departure from all the Mean Girls she's played lately (including The Hot Chick) and easily wins you over as the spirited young Allie while the usually intense Gosling also tackles something lighter so to speak than his previous darker roles such as his Jewish-turned-American Nazi leader in The Believer. While infusing a certain sense of brooding and melancholy into Noah especially in the years he spends pining for Allie Gosling manages to exude Noah's genuine warmth and sensitivity as well. And between the two of them real sparks fly as the actors paint a fresh and inviting picture of young love that stands the test of time. Marsden is completely wasted however as Allie's fiancé Lon a upstanding Southern gentleman Allie's parents expect her to marry who offers little as to why Allie should stay with him. As the older contingency veterans Garner and Rowlands who take the sappiest material and turn it into something meaningful inspire some truly heart-ripping moments as the aging couple holding onto their love as tight as they can. In the supporting cast Joan Allen has some shining moments as Allie's uptight mother with a secret of her own.
In bringing the popular novel about enduring love to life director Nick Cassavetes (Unhook the Stars) may have used his own experiences having seen his parents--the late John Cassavetes and his lady love and muse Gena Rowlands--play out their own real-life love affair. Cassavettes gets to the heart of the material right away and permeates the screen with the beautiful surroundings of South Carolina where The Notebook was filmed. We glide through lush moss-filled swamps and sleepy Southern towns marvel at languid shots of the South Carolina coastline. It's very clear Cassavetes has a way with actors much like his father did gently coaxing realistic performances from his young somewhat untested leads while allowing old guards like Garner and Rowlands to simply work their magic (imagine telling your Oscar-nominated mother how to act. Right). The problem is the story itself which not only offers nothing new to the romance genre but also isn't very compelling. There are no great tragedies (save perhaps for the whole dementia thing) no real villainous presence to keep the lovers apart no peril at all. It's boy-meets-girl boy-loses-girl boy-wins-girl-back--ho-hum. Where's the sudsy soap opera when you need it?