Ty Burrell

Dawn of the Dead (2004, Zack Snyder)

There are good things about Dawn of the Dead. Maybe not many and certainly not enough to make the film at all a rewarding experience, but there are good things about it. They usually come with caveats.

For example, Jake Weber is really good. Of course, his part is terribly written (all of the parts in James Gunn’s screenplay are terribly written; calling them caricatures would be too gracious) and director Snyder and editor Niven Howie aren’t really interested in telling the characters’ story so Weber doesn’t have much to do. But you can tell, it’s a fine performance. Just a poorly written one and a poorly edited one.

Ditto Michael Kelly, who shows up as a jerk, disappears for a bit, then comes back and with him some liveliness to the film so it clearly needed him more. Because instead of Kelly, Snyder and Gunn sort of focus on Ving Rhames’s reluctant hero cop character. Rhames gets some of the film’s worse dialogue; he’s able to remain sympathetic, while never exactly turning in a good performance.

In the top-billed role (presumably because she got the prologue), Sarah Polley eventually has less to do than the dog.

Snyder’s not interested in his characters, he’s not even interested in the zombies they’re trying to survive. He’s interested in the final product. So the film’s calculated, manipulative, reductive and tiring. Snyder isn’t trying to tell a good story, just a sensational film.

Doesn’t amount to much. Certainly not a good movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by James Gunn, based on a screenplay by George A. Romero; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Niven Howie; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Andrew Neskoromny; produced by Eric Newman, Marc Abraham and Richard P. Rubinstein; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Sarah Polley (Ana), Ving Rhames (Kenneth), Jake Weber (Michael), Ty Burrell (Steve), Mekhi Phifer (Andre), Michael Kelly (CJ), Inna Korobkina (Luda), Kevin Zegers (Terry), Lindy Booth (Nicole), Jayne Eastwood (Norma), Michael Barry (Bart) and Matt Frewer (Frank).


Butter (2011, Jim Field Smith)

Jennifer Garner plays a Sarah Palin-type evil Republican woman in Butter. There’s her character. She does a Sarah Palin in Iowa impression; nothing else. It’s easily the most useless performance in the film, but the film’s otherwise filled with good, rounded performances so it’s even more glaring.

And Garner produced the film too so she really just didn’t get it. It’s not all her fault, of course. Director Field Smith and writer Jason A. Micallef maybe should’ve understood you don’t make a wholly unlikable villain a main character, especially not such a real one. It’s not even possible to be sympathetic to Garner’s husband (an underused Ty Burrell) tomcatting around on her. Because his hooker of choice (Olivia Wilde) is human and not an evil monster.

On the flip side, Butter is also the story of a ten year-old black girl (Yara Shahidi) working her way through the all white foster care system in the state. She ends up with some well-meaning liberals (played by Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone) and they have all these profound, wonderful moments.

Shahidi’s half of Butter is amazing. Silverstone doesn’t have enough screen time, but Corddry does and he’s great in the muted comic role.

Wilde and Burrell are both good. Ashley Greene’s good as Garner’s stepdaughter. Hugh Jackman’s hilarious in an extended cameo….

But Butter can’t have it both ways. It should be a great film about race and family and belonging; Garner’s political spoof ruins it.

It’s a shame.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Field Smith; written by Jason A. Micallef; director of photography, Jim Denault; edited by Matt Garner and Dan Schalk; music by Mateo Messina; production designer, Tony Fanning; produced by Michael De Luca, Jennifer Garner, Juliana Janes and Alissa Phillips; released by The Weinstein Company.

Starring Yara Shahidi (Destiny), Jennifer Garner (Laura Pickler), Ty Burrell (Bob Pickler), Rob Corddry (Ethan Emmet), Olivia Wilde (Brooke Swinkowski), Alicia Silverstone (Julie Emmet), Ashley Greene (Kaitlen Pickler), Kristen Schaal (Carol-Ann Stevenson), Hugh Jackman (Boyd Bolton) and Phyllis Smith (Nancy).


Morning Glory (2010, Roger Michell)

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good “Hollywood” New York comedy, even longer since I’ve seen a great one.

Morning Glory is a good one. Though, at times, it reminds of a great one—I’m not sure if David Arnold’s score, which is lovely on its own, is supposed to remind of Sabrina, but with Harrison Ford walking around Manhattan… it’s hard not to think of it.

Since he’s lost the luster of superstardom, Ford has actually become an exceptionally interesting actor. His performance in Morning Glory is easily his funniest (he plays an egotistical news anchor) and it’s unlikely anyone but Ford could have made the role work.

But for Ford to work, Rachel McAdams has to work too, because all of Ford’s scenes are with her. McAdams does a fine job here—it helps the film is incredibly well-cast. From John Pankow as her sidekick (the two are fantastic together… McAdams works well with other actors), Diane Keaton (it’s a shock how little she has to do here, but she’s great), Jeff Goldblum (similar to Keaton, but he’s not third-billed), and Patrick Wilson (who’s excellent as the love interest).

Reading over that paragraph, it seems like I’m not giving McAdams enough credit—she really is good. The film couldn’t work without her.

Michell shoots Morning Glory in Panavision; he and cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler know how to use it. It looks fantastic.

The only problem is the soundtrack—modern pop songs are weak.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Michell; written by Aline Brosh McKenna; director of photography, Alwin H. Kuchler; edited by Daniel Farrell, Nick Moore and Steven Weisberg; music by David Arnold; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Rachel McAdams (Becky Fuller), Harrison Ford (Mike Pomeroy), Diane Keaton (Colleen Peck), Patrick Wilson (Adam Bennett), John Pankow (Lenny Bergman), Jeff Goldblum (Jerry Barnes) and Ty Burrell (Paul McVee).


The Incredible Hulk (2008, Louis Leterrier), the extended version

After seeing The Incredible Hulk in theater, I knew a couple things. First, I knew the extended version–the one Edward Norton fought for, that fight costing him the role in future productions–would be better than the theatrical release. Second, I knew its release would be contingent on Norton’s future involvement with the franchise.

So, something of catch-22.

Luckily, there’s an Internet.

The extended version of Hulk runs about thirty minutes longer. It still has the problems the theatrical version does–for example, the big long fight scene at the end is a terrible way to end a movie about three people coming to terms with their actions (Norton, Liv Tyler and William Hurt)–especially when you take into account it boils down to Hurt not liking his daughter’s boyfriend. Simplest is often best and Hulk does get there.

What the extended version improves is everything until that finale. It fleshes out characters–continuing the distilled reading, Norton’s nemesis becomes Ty Burrell (Tyler’s jealous boyfriend), instead of Tim Roth’s creepy but ultimately goofy aging career soldier.

Norton and Tyler–whose relationship anchors the entire film, theatrical cut or extended–becomes even more compelling, the film taking its time with them.

Unfortunately, the added character development makes Hulk‘s competing intentions clash even more. Making a simplistic summer blockbuster out of a tragedy doesn’t work.

Still, the extended version’s a significant improvement. And if Norton and Leterrier ever did get to do a professional revision… I imagine it’d be incredible.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Leterrier; screenplay by Zak Penn and Edward Norton, based on a story by Penn and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by Rick Shane, John Wright and Vincent Tabaillon; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd and Kevin Feige; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Edward Norton (Bruce Banner), Liv Tyler (Betty Ross), Tim Roth (Emil Blonsky), William Hurt (General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross), Tim Blake Nelson (Samuel Sterns), Ty Burrell (Leonard), Christina Cabot (Major Kathleen Sparr), Peter Mensah (General Joe Greller), Lou Ferrigno (Security Guard) and Paul Soles (Stanley).


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The Incredible Hulk (2008, Louis Leterrier)

All I wanted from The Incredible Hulk was dumb fun. I figured Louis Leterrier could deliver. Unfortunately, it’s not dumb fun, but Leterrier does deliver–and instead of fast food, it’s rather good French. Frequently, Hulk showcases Leterrier’s directorial abilities and they’re significant. Leterrier handles everything the story needs–be it rural or urban, Brazil or New York (well, Canada). The Incredible Hulk has a distinctive, maturing visual style. Leterrier adds on to the beginning until he reaches the end, which is his sole misstep.

But I’ll start at the beginning. The Incredible Hulk drops the viewer into a continuing story (sort of, again, more on this bit later) and doesn’t give he or she a lot of information. For example, expatriate Edward Norton seems to have a flirtation with his neighbor and co-worker, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Norton spends most of this time alone, not even with his dog, and it doesn’t move. Norton can make watching “Sesame Street” interesting, but the script cannot. So there are lots of cuts to William Hurt’s pursuit of him. Hurt’s not an Ahab here, which is an interesting move, but one of the script’s eventual bungles (it fails to recognize what it’s done with the character). Eventually, Norton heads back to America and the script hits the first enormous logic hole. Hurt returns to the U.S. too, but has no idea Norton wasn’t still in Brazil. Norton’s reasons for heading back are inferred, rather than explained. They’re neither shown nor told. Except maybe in the press release.

As Norton gets back, the movie starts toward its now inevitable conclusion. The Incredible Hulk is not really a continuing story, it’s just a story deferred. Apparently, in the five years in between the opening titles recap and the present action, there haven’t really been any interesting Hulk sightings. It’s an origin movie, only with the fight scene five years later than it should be.

But the break does make the relationship between Norton and Liv Tyler better. Tyler starts incredibly weak, but once she and Norton get together (actually, it starts with her and the CG Hulk), she gets good. Even though she’s a scientist (sure), her voice turns their relationship into an analog of Toad and Debbie’s, from American Graffiti, and the relationship sustains through the rest of the film. But the movie’s already half over when they finally get together alone and the third act and the big fight scene hang over the scenes like the Sword of Damocles.

The big fight scene at the end starts all right, but then it gets real dumb. Zak Penn’s a terrible plotter. The fight gets boring once it’s the two CG monsters duking it out, the only accessory a helicopter. It’s just nowhere near as interesting as the idea of the fight putting people in danger. When everyone shows up to (silently) commend the Hulk, it doesn’t make any sense… only two people saw the fight scene besides the viewer.

The script’s the big problem, summarizing too much or just insinuating too many important details. There are some great moments–and they do resonate and they are memorable–but there’s too much malarky.

Norton’s amazing–I don’t think any other actor could have made the Brazilian exile believable. Everything he does is gold in the film. Tyler’s got that incredibly problematic start (why does she have to be a scientist too?), but then she’s fine. Good even. Hurt’s okay, nothing more. He’s probably never had such a poorly written character. Tim Roth’s decent, until the script fails him. Tim Blake Nelson’s strangely bad, overdoing it as a generically eccentric scientist. His character and the lack of explanation is another big script defect.

The tie-ins to the Marvel comic books are almost all terrible. They’re only goofy at the start, then there’s the excellent scenes with Norton and Tyler on the road and the hints of what a good movie it could have been (not dumb fun either)… or the nice references to the television show. With the exception of the use of the show’s theme music, which is disingenuous. Then there’s the Robert Downey Jr. cameo at the end, which is a disgrace. Maybe if they’d stuck it after the credits, but it basically takes the movie away from Norton and gives it to Downey. I’d be shocked if Norton ever makes a return to the character, given the diss.

With Leterrier’s direction, with Norton, The Incredible Hulk should have been good. With Leterrier turning out to be a great director (though the fight scene at the end is too Hollywood, not at all visceral), it should have been ever better.

Instead, it hints of a good film and it should do much more. Especially given how… incredible the love story turns out to be.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Leterrier; screenplay by Zak Penn, based on a story by Penn and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by Rick Shane, John Wright and Vincent Tabaillon; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd and Kevin Feige; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Edward Norton (Bruce Banner), Liv Tyler (Betty Ross), Tim Roth (Emil Blonsky), Tim Blake Nelson (Samuel Sterns), Ty Burrell (Dr. Samson), William Hurt (General Ross), Christina Cabot (Major Sparr) and Lou Ferrigno (the security guard).


In Good Company (2004, Chris Weitz)

At its best, In Good Company is never very good–the soundtrack is one of the worst I can remember–but Chris Weitz’s ineptitude is something to behold. His plot is predictable, his characters are boring, and everything feels like it’s been done before. I mean, who would have thought Dennis Quaid would have found out his job was in jeopardy the same day his wife announced–even though they thought she was post-menopause–she was pregnant again? (And I won’t even get into Weitz’s problems establishing the size of Quaid’s family or non-principal character names).

And Weitz’s idea of innovative scenes–panning back and forth over various people getting fired–has been a film standard since the 1930s and maybe earlier.

Oh, the innovation is the terrible music.

But what makes In Good Company watchable–and occasionally good–is Weitz’s unwavering attempt at making a moderately budgeted studio picture aimed at being a sleeper hit. As an attempt at that genre, it reminds of better films and better filmmaking. There’s no reason Topher Grace should be bad in the movie–in fact he’s pretty good–except Weitz’s hollow writing. Weitz isn’t even a bad director–he’s rather serviceable, though it’s sad to see–embarrassing, really–a director use “Salsbury Hill,” and poorly, so soon after Vanilla Sky. But given the rest of the soundtrack, it isn’t a surprise.

The problem’s with too much content and not enough development. There’s a movie in Quaid and Marg Helgenberger having another kid late in life (Helgenberger’s in it so little, I don’t even think she has a conversation with either of the daughters), there’s a movie about Quaid schooling his up-and-coming (but emotionally devastated due to absent father and disinterested mother household) younger boss, there’s even a movie about the successful, recently divorced twenty-six year-old who falls for his college freshman girlfriend (but she’s not ready for it). With a limited cast of characters, I’d say all of those stories are mutually exclusive. Too much gets sacrificed or contrived to make them fit together.

Scarlett Johansson, who’s proved she can play this kind of character in Scoop, obviously needs some direction. David Paymer’s got an okay, if unspectacular small role, as does Philip Baker Hall. Clark Gregg, as the corporate climber, fails.

The other failing aspect of In Good Company is the unreality it exists in. There are constant lay-offs and firings, but severance packages are never discussed.

The ending to the film is really quite dreadful, enough I wanted In Good Company to be worse. It’s bad, cheap, predictable and soulless. But it’s competently produced (if poorly written).

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Weitz; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Myron I. Kerstein; music by Damien Rice and Stephen Trask; production designer, William Arnold; produced by Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Dan Foreman), Topher Grace (Carter Duryea), Scarlett Johansson (Alex Foreman), Marg Helgenberger (Ann Foreman), David Paymer (Morty Wexler), Clark Gregg (Mark Steckle), Philip Baker Hall (Eugene Kalb), Selma Blair (Kimberly), Frankie Faison (Corwin) and Ty Burrell (Enrique Colon).


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