Friday, August 31, 2012

David Frankel, Tony Gilroy, Jay Roach, and Peter Hedges: August Crowd Pleasers

David Frankel . . . . . .  a talented workman, Frankel showed visual pizzazz and smarts with his directorial debut, the adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada. Marley and Me was a sentimental film done right, and The Big Year was a sleeper comedy nobody saw last year starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson.

Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Hope Springs, MGM, 2012.

Hope Springs, a marvelously mature studio film, takes its characters and subject seriously enough to have us laugh with them. Vanessa Taylor's original screenplay is very well written and Frankel handles the proceedings with verve, while Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones deconstruct an aging troubled marriage brilliantly. Steve Carrell is at his best as their marriage counselor at a paid getaway, but its Jones who stuck in my mind the most. He's never given a performance like this before. The way he communicates anger, loneliness, frustration, all wrapped up in an American any man makes for some of his best work in years.

Tony Gilroy . . . . . ace screenwriter behind the fun Bourne movies starring Matt Damon and directed by underrated Doug Liman initially, and then British visionary Paul Greengrass, Gilroy had the directorial debut every screenwriter dreams of. Michael Clayton was like a well calibrated machine, slick, steely, hypnotizing. The legal thriller reminded of 70s ballsiness in its refusal to kowtow to audience expectation. He was nominated for an Oscar as best director, as was his film as best picture. His actors, George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson, were nominated, while their costar Tilda Swinton deservedly won for her villainess.

Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, The Bourne Legacy, Universal Pictures, 2012.

His second feature, Duplicity, was a fun, more mainstream, smart romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. His third feature is the much debated fourth entry in the Bourne series, not based on a Robert Ludlum novel, but from a dense, convoluted, intelligent original screenplay by the director, who really pulls a feat here by making the picture work minus its tentpole star, Matt Damon. While Jeremy Renner is more of a character actor, he straddles that fine line as almost a lead. Here, he commands the screen as another agent who becomes drawn into a labrynthine plot to track the "real" Jason Bourne. Exotic locales, bristling dialogue, scenery chewing abound. Gilroy is a stylistically muscular director; he is equally capable of directing a good action sequence as writing a great dialogue. Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Scott Glenn, and Stacey Keach are all in top form. Gilroy's third feature is a fun action film with guts.

Jay Roach . . . . . . an underrated comedic director, he is noteworthy as the man behind the 60s spy spoof series Austin Powers, he also helmed the sleeper Mystery, Alaska, he's also the man behind the initially funny, gradually terrible Meet the Parents series. Most recently he helmed the interesting misfire Dinner for Schmucks, before doing some of his very best work earlier this year with the HBO movie Game Change. Detailing the McCain-Palin presidential bid with tongue planted firmly in cheek, it afforded Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, and Woody Harrelson some of ther best roles of their careers.

Zach Galifanakis, Will Ferrell, The Campaign, Warner Bros., 2012.

How fitting that Roach's almost simultaneous excursion into the multiplexes be the frequently hilarious and over all well made political comedy The Campaign. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifanakis both are at their most surreally funny as equally moronic adversaries in a race for a seat in the state senate. Its all ridiculous and not all of it works, but the parts that do make up for the others. Its another triumph for Ferrell, after the brilliant Casa de mi Padre earlier this year. Roach knows how to bring things just to the right pitch of bizarre hysteria, how to frame for maximum physical comic effect, and how to wring laughs out of the most randomly peripheral things.

Peter Hedges . . . . is another screenwriter cum director, who initially wrote Lasse Hallstrom's best film, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), before embarking on his own directorial journey. Pieces of April (2003) was his warm, funny, humane debut, a year after he co-wrote with the Weitz Bros their masterful drama About a Boy. Both films were Oscar nominated. His sophomore feature, Dan in Real Life (2007) starring Steve Carrell, was sweet and funny and sad. His third feature, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, has alot of heart, and for a sentimental Disney family film, is one of the most sincere I've seen in some time.

C.J. Adams, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Walt Disney Pictures, 2012.

Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton are the couple who cannot conceive; through a strange miracle, precocious Timothy (C.J. Adams) comes into their lives. Based on a story by Ahmet Zappa, Hedges brings his human touch, ear for real dialogue, and eye for visual space to the magical project and makes it succeed sweetly as his own.

These four films represent studio film making, if not at its best, than at its most harmlessly well done.

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