We're already two months into the year and there are finally movies coming out that I actually want to see. The question now is are they actually worth seeing?
Semi-Pro: Apparently trying to take on every sport in the known universe, Will Ferrell has delivered a very funny film about NASCAR and an even better one about figure skating. Silly comedies don't get much better than "Blades of Glory." However the third film in Ferrell's sports anthology, the basketball comedy "Semi-Pro" is most likely his weakest movie to date.
Telling the story of Jackie Moon (Ferrell), "Semi-Pro" is set in the 1970s, during the final year of the ABA as it is dissolved into the NBA. The plot consists of Jackie and his team of comic misfits trying to save their team, the Flint Tropics, from dissolution. The NBA is only going to take on four teams from the dying league, and thanks to Jackie's outburst at the owner's meeting (he's the team's owner-player-coach which is one of the only funny things about the film), it is decided that the NBA will take on the four teams with the best records and the best attendance.
The problem with this plan is that the Tropics have the worst record in the league and while their fans are loyal, the number remains small. In an attempt to improve the Tropics' chances, Jackie trades the team's washing machine for veteran player Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson), while beginning a series of radical promotions which include Free Corn Dog Night and Jackie wrestling a bear after a game. I don't really know much about the ABA but apparently promotions of this nature were a big part of the league.
Going into any sports movie you know that the standard formula is that a lousy team pulls together to become a good one. "Semi-Pro" follows this road map steadily, which is not the movie's problem. After all "Dodgeball" followed this formula and it's one of the funniest films of this decade. The problem with "Semi-Pro" is that the comedy doesn't work. Much like "Nacho Libre" it's the sort of movie that you watch and think, "I'll bet this was funny on the page, it was probably funny while they were shooting it, but put together as a movie it just doesn't work." Most everything falls terribly flat. Throughout the film it's obvious where the jokes are but they just aren't funny. When the sight of Will Ferrell wrestling a bear can barely elicit a pity smile from me it's a sign that this thing just ain't working. Let me say that again. Will Ferrell. Wrestles a bear. And it isn't that funny. Where did this movie go wrong?
"Semi-Pro" is also incredibly vulgar. While the vulgarity in "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" was funny because it came from a believable place and characters with heart, here it just seems to be purely for the sake of vulgarity. What Ferrell, writer Scot Armstrong, and director Kent Alterman fail to understand is that crudeness for the sake of crudeness does not equal comedy.
As the film's straight man, Harrelson gives a good performance. He seems to be in a different movie from everyone else. Whatever movie it is it's clearly a better one. I was hoping it might be playing next door.
"Semi-Pro" is not irretrievably awful, but it's certainly not worth your time. Just because a comedy is dumb doesn't mean it shouldn't be funny. Ferrell knows that. Hopefully when he makes films about squash and the two-man luge he'll remember it. 4/10.
The Other Boleyn Girl: Royal history is full of scandalous tales, backstabbing, and intrigue. How this brought about a film as drab as "The Other Boleyn Girl" is a mystery.
Sisters Mary (Scarlett Johansson) and Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman as the self-proclaimed "other") are as close as can be. However their father and uncle create a fierce rivalry between them when they attempt to gain power and position for the family.
After marrying William Carey ("Amazing Grace's" Benedict Cumberbatch), Mary is quite happy to live life quietly. The older and ambitious Anne wants more however. She gets her opportunity when her father and uncle set her up to be King Henry VIII's latest mistress. Henry (Eric Bana) is quite taken with Anne but it's not long before his attention is turned to Mary, who reluctantly bows to family pressure to have an affair with him. Together Henry and Mary produce a baby boy, but due to Henry's marriage to Katherine (Ana Torrent) the child cannot be heir to the throne.
After a time Henry casts Mary aside and goes after Anne who tries to convince Henry to annul his marriage so that she can be Queen and mother to the future King.
I've never had a problem with Brits playing Americans or Americans playing Brits. It's called acting for a reason and if you can pull it off my hat's off to you. Having said that, Portman and Johansson needed to spend more time with the dialogue coach. Otherwise Johansson gives a decent if unmemorable performance. Portman meanwhile doesn't fare as well. She's wonderful in films like "Leon" and "Garden State," but she really needs to stop playing royalty, a lesson she apparently didn't learn from "Star Wars." The normally outstanding Bana, like the rest of the movie, is pretty lifeless here.
Kristin Scott Thomas as mother Lady Elizabeth Boleyn and Jim Sturgess ("Across the Universe") as brother George are amongst the film's few bright spots. Lady Elizabeth is the one character in the film who knows from the very beginning that things are going to go very badly for everyone involved. Despite her best efforts however, there's really nothing she can do. It's much like Thomas, whose performance deserves to be in a better film. Maybe she and Woody Harrelson should team up.
Written by Peter Morgan, "The Other Boleyn Girl" is full of dialogue that spells things out a little too neatly for the audience. The film has several lines that come across like background information as opposed to people talking. Having delivered such an excellent script for "The Queen," my first instinct is to give Morgan the benefit of the doubt and assume that nervous studio execs are responsible for these bits of dialogue. I could be wrong, but "The Queen" didn't have this problem so for now I'll let Morgan off the hook a bit. Just a bit mind you because the rest of the script is nothing spectacular.
Director Justin Chadwick, a vet of British TV, doesn't really do anything terribly interesting or engaging. There are a few breathtaking shots but much of the film looks rather bleak. This is befitting of the picture's mood, but even gloom can be stylish. This is not.
If you want to see how this sort of thing is done right rent "Becket" with Richard Burton as Thomas Becket and Peter O'Toole as Henry II and "The Lion in Winter" with Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine and...Peter O'Toole as Henry II. (Hey, the man was good at it.) Both of those films bring royal backstabbing and intrigue to vibrant life through crackling dialogue. As for the story of Henry VIII and the Boleyns I still need to check out Showtime's "The Tudors," which by all accounts does a much more interesting job of telling this story. 4/10.
That's two no go's. Let's hope things get better.