Want a terrible sequel to a mediocre remake of a comedy classic? ‘Pink Panther 2’ is perfect for you

The Pink Panther 2 is a tragedy of massive proportions. It stars Alfred Molina, Andy Garcia and Jean Reno. These actors are much better than this. It’s a remake of The Pink Panther series, which thanks to Peter Sellers are some of the funniest movies ever. Those movies are better than this. And it stars one of the funniest comedians ever, Steve Martin. He is most definitely better than this.

I think my biggest problem with the film is that in comparison to the original films, or any decent comedy, it’s ridiculously unfunny. Every scene revolves around Steve Martin getting hit with something or a joke about his overdone French accent or Steve Martin accidentally hitting someone or setting something on fire. The plot is the exact same as the film 3 years ago. The Pink Panther diamond is stolen and the bumbling Inspector Clouseau must recover it and through a series of accidents and elaborate sequences of slapstick, he recovers it.

It seems that Steve Martin in recent days has had two personalities. In one, he is subtle, clever, and funnier than ever. See his supporting role in Baby Mama, his presenting speech at the recent Academy Awards, and even his hilarious memoir, Born Standing Up. In his alter ego, he is a fraction of what he once was, resulting to elaborate set pieces and slapstick to garner laughs instead of actual humor. Enter The Pink Panther 2. You’ll be glad to exit. D-

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Daniel Craig stars in mediocre Holocaust film ‘Defiance’

Most of the time, a film has no real plot whatsoever but the film itself ends up being great fun, and a really good movie. Which makes Defiance something of a curiosity. It has the great story and actors. But the execution is where it falls stiff. Defiance has some moments of greatness, but the end result is a colossal disappointment. Which is a shame, because the cast is great and the story is compelling. It’s the true story of a trio of Jewish brothers in 1941 Poland: Tuvia, Asael, and Zus Bielski who narrowly escape the Nazi camps and build a camp of their own: one for Jews hiding in the forest.

Daniel Craig, who we know as James Bond, turns in a rather subtle but effective enough performance as Tuvia. Liev Schrieber isn’t as mind-blowing as I’ve heard, but he still retains the best performance in the film, as the aggressive brother Zus. It’s more of an ensemble film than you would think. The marketing is rather deceptive: It doesn’t focus on the brothers killing the Nazis, but the inner conflicts the group encounters.

Edward Zwick directs, who has done such great movies as The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond. His films tend to be visually stunning, emotionally engaging, but also retain some really great action sequences. Defiance is a step backward. It has really great action sequences, it is definitely visually stunning, but it isn’t emotionally engaging. More specifically, it force-feeds us too much emotion. C

Winslet’s best performance in ‘The Reader’

Kate Winslet once said, playing herself in the mockumentary TV series Extras, that whoever stars in a Holocaust film automatically wins an Oscar. Which makes it a bit ironic that she has finally won an Oscar, starring in The Reader, a Holocaust film. I only say ‘a bit ironic’ because she truly delivered the best performance of the year, and in a rare feat (for the Oscars), they actually picked the right winner.

Michael Berg is a 15-year old boy living in 1958 Germany. He’s rather quiet and reserved. One day coming home from school he vomits, and a tram conductor named Hanna Schmitz gives him some medicine. Michael becomes infatuated with Hanna and they begin an affair. They fall in love, despite the noticeable age difference. But then one day Hanna is suddenly gone, leaving Michael heartbroken. They reunite 8 years later, though under undesirable circumstances: He is a law student, and she is on trial for Holocaust war crimes.

The Reader is a rather subtle film that also happens to tackle some really huge issues. Holocaust, growing up, affairs, guilt. But there is no huge revelation moment of screaming, no major Hollywood twist ending. It’s handled rather delicately. It’s not a happy film, and one could argue that the morals of the story are rather twisted.

Kate Winslet, in her Oscar-winning performance, is fantastic. Her mastery of accents is rather well-known by now, her German accent is flawless. She pulls off the incredible feat of making a despicable character almost sympathetic. From the first hour where you can sense her massive regret, to her scenes as a 70-year old woman that in a way, provide the emotional core of the film, Winslet is fantastic. The greatest actress working today gives her greatest performance, and it makes this film worth seeing alone.

David Kross is great as Michael Berg at ages 15 and 23. At 15 he has an aura about him, an energy that is rather unique. Which makes it rather shocking how somber his body language and overall demeanor is during the courtroom scenes. Ralph Fiennes plays Michael in his 40s and 50s, and has the easiest job of the three. He’s on for about 15 minutes.

The Reader is one of the better Holocaust films, with an emotional impact you don’t quite expect. It’s actually sort of a masterpiece. A

My Academy Award predix

It’s no secret I was less than pleased with this year’s nominees. Mild bitterness aside, allow me to give my predictions for the Academy Awards. (I was 7 for 8 in the big categories last year!)

Best Picture:

Oughta Win: Milk

Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director:

Oughta Win: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Will Win: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Best Actor:

Oughta Win: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Will Win: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Best Actress:

Oughta Win: Kate Winslet, The Reader

Will Win: Kate Winslet, The Reader

Best Supporting Actor:

Oughta Win: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Will Win: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Best Supporting Actress:

Oughta Win: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Will Win: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Original Screenplay: Milk

Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Editing: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Animated Movie: Wall-E

Best Documentary: Man on Wire

Best Foreign Language Film: Waltz With Bashir

What’s The Deal With Frost/Nixon?

I have stayed silent for too long. Two months ago, I wrote a review on a film entitled Frost/Nixon. I dismissed it as entertainment, a film that wouldn’t touch an Oscar. I said the film was nothing special, that it would be forgotten soon…

Two months, $10 million, and 5 Academy Award nominations later, apparently I was wrong. Very wrong. Frost/Nixon was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Screenplay, and Editing. Why? What on Earth would cause such a travesty? I could easily think of 10 films from the summer that were more engaging, entertaining, or God forbid thought-provoking than Frost/Nixon.
Take Wall-E for an example. (My #5 film of last year) Wall-E was hilarious and all that, but it took an incredibly powerful message and delivered it in a way that little 5-year olds could soak it up, remember it, and enjoy the film along the way. Frost/Nixon crams the morals down our skinny little throats. Consider Kevin Bacon’s monologue at the end about how Nixon’s future relies on the interview. It’s a perfect example of how it takes an interesting topic and waters it down to TV Land level.

The bad thing about Frost/Nixon is how it depends on all these symbolisms and exaggerations and yet at the core, we cannot decipher them, or at the very least, care. Why? Because it gives us no one to emphasize with. If Langella didn’t play Nixon so over-the-top (in a terrific performance I grant you) we’d care. If Sheen as David Frost wasn’t such an emotional black-hole throughout the movie we’d care. But it is over-the-top, it is emotionally disconnected, and suffers as a result.

The Academy has fallen for this ploy. And Frank Langella as Richard Nixon is magnificent, as well. But see The Wrestler. Look at the pain that aches and simmers throught Mickey Rourke. You see it in his eyes, you see it in his body language. You hear it when he talks. That was a real emotional experience. This is studio-produced Oscar bait. And the sad thing? The Academy took it.

Mickey Rourke’s spectacular comeback in ‘The Wrestler’

The Wrestler is not a happy film. Or one with much action, or much of a plot. There’s no big pay-off at the end, no twist or happy ending. But there’s so much that it offers in between. Not only is is the best film of 2008, its one of the best of the decade.

Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (Rourke) was the next big thing in wrestling. 2o or so years ago, he seemed destined for greatness. Then, he lost a match, and lost it all. 2o years later, he lives in a trailer park. He’s lucky to have a job at the grocery store. He wrestles in New Jersey community centers, filled only by die-hard fans. He clings to any fragment of fame that he had all these years ago. His daughter despises him and haven’t spoken to him in years. A friendship with a single mother/dancer Pam (Tomei) offers a ray of light, and he slowly is brought back to the real world, building up to a devasting ending.

Although there is so much to admire here, the performances are all magnificent, and are definitely the best part of the movie. Mickey Rourke as Randy turns in one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. He combines his great ability with his tragic past to become Randy, and it’s simply devastating. You see his past on his face. You know the awful things he’s done and still continue to do. But you still symphatize with him. This isn’t necessarily a tearjerker, but shows the harsh conditions in which he lives, with some devasting moments along the way.

Evan Rachel Wood as Randy’s daughter has 3 scenes, but what she does in those 3 scenes goes to show that she is one of the best young actors working today. The majority of Marisa Tomei’s scenes required that my eyes be shut, but she proves that as well as a great comedic actress she is a great dramatic one.

It’s stunning that although it could have resigned to many cliches and come off as Rocky 10, it remains original and unpredictable right till the end. It’s left ambiguous but not in an artsy way. Either way you interpret it, it’s a great and fitting ending, if not complete.

Darren Aronofsky directs it with passion equal to that of Rourke’s  performance. His camera always follows him, and often times it feels like a documentary.

See The Wrestler. If not, you’d miss the best film 2008 had to offer. A

Humbled by a twelve-year-old…again

Ryan receiving his award: Michigan Press Association, 2008 Better Newspaper Contest, Local ColumnistBy Pete Cunningham
Pete Cunningham’s Blog, Word on the Street
Posted: February 9, 2008

Wunderkind Ryan Michaels, 12, was honored Friday, Feb.6, by the Michigan Press Association as the youngest-ever recipient of a professional journalism award. As I’m sure you all know by now, Ryan writes movie reviews for the Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader of Heritage Newspapers, Inc., and beat out other journalists (myself included) from weekly papers with a circulation under 4,000 in the category of local columnist.

Motivated by the subsequent jealous rage that accompanies losing to a 12-year-old (see U.S. women’s gymnasts) I wrote a column about Ryan (pdf) back in October, which the MPA printed in their weekly publication, The Bulletin. In addition to publishing my column, the MPA was kind enough to invite me, along with Ryan and his father, Kevin Michaels, as special guests to their annual convention at the Amway Hotel in Grand Rapids.

In my column about losing to Ryan, I wrote that I felt like I was playing second fiddle to him. At the convention, we weren’t even in the same band.

 

People flocked to Ryan to congratulate him. They would then introduce themselves to Kevin, then awkwardly ask who I was. No one seemed to care, but because I was with Ryan, they felt obligated to inquire.

Here is a rough synopsis of how this all went down:

Person X: It’s great to meet you, Ryan. Congratulations.
Ryan: Thanks. You know what they say, journalism awards today, world domination tomorrow. Here, take one of my business cards (yes, he has business cards) and please visit my website (yes, he has a website.)
Person X: Kevin, you must be very proud of your son.
Kevin: Yes, thank you.
Person X: And you are? (in a real “I don’t care” tone)
Me: Hi, I’m Pete. I haven’t won any awards, but I did write an article about Ryan winning an award, so I got invited, too. I never pass up a free lunch!

One MPA member – confusing me for an employee of the catering company – actually began giving me instructions on how she wanted tables set up in the banquet hall. In a room full of peers and prospective employers, a 12-year-old was on a first name basis with everyone in the room and I was being asked to bus tables.

No one really seemed interested in my article, so I just started saying “Hi, I’m Pete, and I got my ass kicked by a 12-year-old.” This at least got a chuckle out of most.

State legislators, Lt. Governor John Cherry and every other distinguished guest at the convention posed for pictures with Ryan. I, on the there hand, was able to trick one of the cuter hotel staffers into taking a picture with me.

Convincing an attractive female to fake enthusiasm in my presence without having to pay her (I told her it was for an article, easy play at a press convention) provided a temporary ego boost.

Riding my high spirits from the aforementioned deception, I decided it was a good time to check my e-mail. There, awaited a message from a producer at “The Bonnie Hunt Show.” It read:

“Pete, I read your article about Ryan Michaels and would love to get in touch with him. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.”

Apparently, the nationally televised talk show wants Ryan’s perspective on the latest blockbusters.

When I grow up, I want to be Ryan Michaels.

http://www.petecunningham.net