The Morning After: Dec. 9, 2013

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Guns of Navarone

Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven headline a top notch cast in a World War II tale of a brave band of soldiers who scaled the sheer cliff face of a Greek island to destroy the massive anti-ship guns that have plagued the Mediterranean and are blocking aid to a group of British soldiers trapped on another Greek Island.

Sometimes, the best films about war come years after the fact. The film sugar coats a few elements, but with betrayal, bravery and belligerence, a small unit of soldiers achieve a pivotal moment in World War II history. Employing techniques that are now the norm, journeyman director J. Lee Thompson turns what could have been a long, two-and-a-half-hour slog into a breezy, engaging film. Tension is ratcheted up with each new scene and victories are snatched from the jaws of defeat and vice versa as these soldiers explore their insecurities and flaws while moving through the treacherous hillsides of Navarone.

Peck is absolutely terrific the weary mission expert who takes control of the team after an accident leaves its leader wounded. Quinn glares with credible menace as he agrees to the mission in spite of his distrust and dislike of Peck. Niven plays the facetious enlisted man and resident bomb expert with great panache, delivering long monologues like few others. The rest of the cast is excellent all thanks to the convincing, bold script by Carl Foreman based on the novel by Alistair MacLean. As a producer, it’s easy to let the production get away from you, but Foreman wears both producer and writer hat equally well and turns out a fine piece of war-set adventure. It doesn’t ask many philosophical questions, but exploring the bravery of men with varying types of things to lose is its own brand of philosophy.

Enough Said

Nicole Holofcener’s focus on the winding perils of romantic relationships brings us a compelling look at unconventional connections and the lengths we’ll go to in order to poison our own happiness.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus isn’t an actress I’ve particularly enjoyed. She may have been the most likable character on Seinfeld, but she’s just not the kind of comedienne I enjoy watching. Enough Said may change my feelings towards her. The film gives her a brilliant outlet for her unique style of comedy, creating a universe in which she can play a lovelorn masseuse facing the loss of a daughter to college and falling in love again with a man whose ex-wife is now one of her clients.

Louis-Dreyfus has an awkward charm that neatly fits into Holofcener’s unusual romantic arrangement. James Gandolfini gives a fine film performance as the self-conscious, exuberant television archivist who couldn’t please his ex-wife, but whose own charms are self-effacing, yet endearing at the same time. Gandolfini may be best known as Tony Soprano, but this film would have meant a new turning point in his acting career, giving him his first genuine opportunity step out of Tony’s shadow in a big way. The rest of the cast is fine, with Toni Collette and Ben Falcone handily stealing the show at just the right moments as Louis-Dreyfus’ closest friends.

Last Vegas

When you put five Oscar winners together in a comedy, you hope for sparks to fly. And in Vegas, that opportunity is increased dramatically. Unfortunately, Jon Turtletaub, one of the least interesting directors working today. For him to succeed, he needs a great script. Unfortunately, Dan Fogelman was hired to write it and the result is a lazy, meandering comedy that these fine actors didn’t deserve.

The premise is that four childhood friends have grown apart after Michael Douglas skips Robert De Niro’s wife’s funeral, a woman whom the two had been competing for when they were younger. Caught between them are Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline. The premise intended to sell this film to audiences is that the four of them are back together on a geriatric journey to Las Vegas for Douglas’ bachelor party and hilarity is supposed to ensue based entirely on Old Folks Humor.

Many of the jokes soar, but that’s thanks to the brilliant comic timing of these great actors. Unfortunately, they can’t even sell some of the dumber ones. Freeman is as good as you would expect, but Kline provides some of the film’s best and most genuine moments. Douglas does ok, but doesn’t quite seem up to the task. De Niro has plenty of experience with comedies, but still feels like he’s trying too hard. Sensational situations and loose plotting make for a challenging, but mildly entertaining excursion. The film’s savior is Mary Steenburgen who plays a Vegas lounge singer who becomes the central romantic interesting sandwiched in the Douglas-De Niro rivalry. She enlivens nearly every seen she’s in, especially her frequent stints at the microphone belting out glorious torch songs with gusto.

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