Brett Ratner

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

2011

Sony Pictures Classics/Stage 6 Films/POM Wonderful

Directed by Morgan Spurlock

Written by Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick

Produced by Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, Abbie Hurewitz, Keith Calder, Jessica Wu

POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD may just be The Greatest Documentary Ever Made.  And here’s why.  Imagine that a magician like David Copperfield is going to perform the most amazing illusion you’ve ever seen.  But before he does the trick he breaks it down and explains to you in every single detail exactly how he’s going to do it.  After that, he goes ahead, performs the illusion and your mind is still totally blown at what you’ve just seen even though you know how he did it.  POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD is kinda like that.  Morgan Spurlock sets out to make a movie about product placement in movies by getting advertisers and marketing agencies to finance the movie.  Some corporate executives are quite simply gobsmacked when Spurlock comes into their offices with his storyboards and his pitch.  “Lemme see if I got this straight,” one of them says. “You want to make a movie about product placement that is paid for with product placements?”

That’s exactly what Morgan Spurlock wants to do and he does it in a manner that is so goofy that this documentary easily qualifies as a comedy in my eyes as during one encounter after another Spurlock explains his concept and is met with either outright astonishment, derision or really excited enthusiasm.

He doesn’t go into this completely blind.  He interviews directors such as J.J. Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Berg and Brett Ratner to find out how they feel about the demands studios place on them for product placement and what he should expect going into those types of meetings.  I found their honest opinions about it quite refreshing,  especially Brett Ratner who says bluntly that studios only care about two things when it comes to movies: “How much is it going to cost and how much is it going to make?” and that’s why they welcome product placement to help them pay for a movie.  Spurlock’s conversation with Ralph Nader about truth in advertising gave me some the best laughs in the movie as Mr. Nader is one of those people who are at their funniest when they’re not trying to be funny.

Some companies turn Spurlock down in a New York minute.  Some never even return his calls.  Others jump into the project wholeheartedly like POM Wonderful who kicks in a cool million simply to have their name in the title of the movie.  The rock band OK Go gleefully agrees to provide a theme song, naturally titled “The Greatest Song I Ever Heard.”

And the free stuff that Spurlock gets from the participating companies is mind-boggling.  He gets not one, not two, but six Mini-Coopers.  JetBlue lets him fly free. Hyatt lets him stay in their Executive Suites. Sheetz lets him pump free gas into his free Mini-Cooper.  Old Navy gives him truckloads of clothing.  It’s crazy.  But he’s getting away with it as he’s showing us exactly what these companies are willing to do just to insure their product and their company name is in a movie.

I wasn’t all that crazy about Morgan Spurlock’s first movie, “Super Size Me” as it seemed like a pretty pointless stunt to me.  I mean, even if you eat nothing but salad everyday it’s still going to have a detrimental effect on your body.  And I don’t need to watch a 90 minute documentary to tell me that eating McDonald’s fast food everyday isn’t good for me.  Tell me something I don’t know.  I enjoyed his short-lived FX series “30 Days” much more.  Every episode had either Spurlock or some other person spending 30 days living a lifestyle they were completely unfamiliar with, such as a Christian living as a Muslim.  It was a show that truly educated and it was a shame FX cancelled it.  If you can find it on DVD or on Netflix, by all means check it out.

But POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD I can recommend totally and completely.  Morgan Spurlock’s enthusiasm for the project is infectious and the reactions of the various corporate executives and their negotiations for their products are funnier than anything that could have been scripted.  It’s a documentary that doesn’t preach, doesn’t beat you over the head with a message until your ears bleed (I’m looking at you, Michael Moore) but gets its point across while it’s entertaining you at the same time.  Highly recommended.

PG-13

90 Minutes

Better In The Dark #124

 

Episode 124: TOM AND DERRICK VS. BARBARIAN MICKEY ROURKE, MRS. WATSON, OLD SCHOOL EDDIE MURPHY, JASON STATHAM’S CHAIR, EXTREME SPORTS SHAGGY, THE MEDICAL PRIEST AND GEORGE MELIES

After a brief break, The Boys Outta Brooklyn return with a massive two hours plus of reviews, views, and the usual chicanery! Join Tom and Derrick as they cover such films as the Tarsem-lensed mythological epic Immortals, the Brett Ratner comedy Tower Heist, and the found footage possession flick The Devil Inside. Plus the person you don’t expect imitates Eddie Murphy, the Full Hartnell, and why ‘The Feathermen’ is a crap name for you covert organization. You know you want to give us the dead baby, so get to clickin’!

BETTER IN THE DARK
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Silver Age Comics Through Modern Eyes
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Tower Heist

2011

Universal Pictures

Directed by Brett Ratner

Produced by Brian Grazer and Eddie Murphy

Screenplay by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson

Story by Adam Cooper

In the interest of full disclosure there are a few things I should get off my chest before getting into the review.  First, there’s the director Brett Ratner.  I thoroughly detest the “Rush Hour” films and like most of you reading this, I didn’t care much for “X-Men: The Last Stand” In fact, before today the only Brett Ratner film I liked was “After The Sunset”  The last time Eddie Murphy made me laugh was in 1999’s “Life”  Ben Stiller is hit-or-miss with me.  When he’s funny he can be screamingly, side-splitting funny as in “Meet The Parents” or “Tropic Thunder” but when he’s not he bores me to despair as in “Zoolander” or “Starsky and Hutch”

So trust me when I say that I wasn’t expecting much from them and therefore I was totally and delightfully surprised at how much I enjoyed TOWER HEIST.  Sure, the actual heist is pure screwball in planning and execution but the cast is so good and are all obviously having a terrific time that I didn’t care.  TOWER HEIST, like “After The Sunset” is a Brett Ratner movie that feels as if he’s telling a story about characters he cares about.  Unlike the “Rush Hour” movies that feel like pure product.

Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the manager of The Tower, Manhattan’s most expensive and exclusive condo skyscraper.  He’s extremely good at his job and is adored by his staff.  Among them, his brother-in-law Charlie Gibbs (Casey Affleck) who is the building’s concierge.  Enrique Dev’reau (Michael Pena) the elevator operator.  Odessa Montero (Gabourey Sidibe) a Jamaican maid who needs to find a husband to avoid being deported.  Lester (Stephen Henderson) is the building’s head doorman who is looking forward to retiring after many long years of service at The Tower.

Josh is also very buddy-buddy with the building’s most famous tenant: Wall Street billionaire businessman Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) who owns the penthouse.  They play chess by computer and Josh plainly looks up to the older man as a father figure.

That image is shattered when Shaw is arrested by the FBI for running a Ponzi scheme.  Shaw’s lost over $2 billon, including the pensions of The Tower’s staff as they all invested their money with him.  Placed under house arrest by the FBI agent assigned to his case (Tea Leoni) Shaw maintains his innocence but when one of the Tower’s staff attempts suicide, Josh is determined to get their money back.  He recalls that sometime ago, Shaw had his condo extensively remodeled.  He thinks it’s because Shaw used the remodeling to cover up having a safe installed in the condo.  Josh plans to break into the condo, get in the safe and hopefully get back the money The Tower’s staff lost.

A reluctant Charlie is enlisted, as is Enrique, Lester and Odessa.  They’re joined by Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) a Wall Street investor himself who’s gone bankrupt and has been evicted from The Tower.  The last recruit is Slide (Eddie Murphy) a small-time thief who is understandably dubious about the whole caper.

The heist is set to be pulled off during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and as I said earlier, it is a totally screwball heist as everything that can go wrong, does go wrong with results that are both hilarious and nail-bitingly suspenseful.

The story is one that is extremely timely, given the current financial crisis in the country and goes a long way to selling the movie’s premise.  Alan Alda is great in his performance, playing Shaw as a man totally indifferent to the havoc he’s created in people’s lives.  Casey Affleck is pure comedy gold and this is yet another performance that further reinforces what I’ve been saying for years; that he’s a better actor than his brother Ben.  Eddie Murphy hasn’t been this good in years and for me it was a pleasure to see him truly acting and not hiding behind tons of makeup and fat suits.  Gabourey Sidibe continues to prove that she deserves to be taken seriously as an actress and she’s not just a one-movie wonder.  And it’s always a pleasure to see Tea Leoni in a movie.  Why this woman doesn’t have a bigger career is a mystery to me.

I could go on and on but for once I won’t.  Just watch TOWER HEIST.  Trust me, it’s good.

Rated PG-13

104 minutes

After The Sunset

2004

New Line Cinema

Produced by Beau Flynn, Jay Stern and Tripp Vinson

Directed by Brett Ratner

Screenplay by Paul Zybyszewski and Craig Rosenberg

Story by Paul Zybyszewski

I strongly suspect that the main reason why AFTER THE SUNSET was filmed was so that the cast and crew could have one hell of a working vacation in The Bahamas.  The movie was filmed on Nassau and New Providence Island and showcases the gorgeous Atlantis Hotel and Resort.  The movie makes The Bahamas look so beautiful and so much fun that halfway through the movie I wanted to shut it off, wake up The Wife and go book a flight down there right away.   Which is part of the problem with AFTER THE SUNSET.  You’re so busy looking at the gorgeous scenery and the cast enjoying it so much you’re really not paying much attention to the story.  And with a killer cast like Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris and Don Cheadle you would think you’d be on the edge of your seat savoring the remarkable acting talent on the screen.

You won’t and I’m willing to bet you won’t even care.  AFTER THE SUNSET is such a lightweight movie and it’s obvious that the cast aren’t even going deep into the bag of acting tricks that they’ve all proved in the past they’re more than capable of.  There are no heavy performances in this one and no big scenes.  AFTER THE SUNSET is as amazingly laid-back movie with no more substance than cotton candy and it’s a movie you’ll be hard pressed to remember three days after you’ve seen it.  But while you’re watching it you’re enjoying what you’re seeing.

Max Burdett (Pierce Brosnan) is a Master Thief of the old school.  He’s never been caught and his trademark is that he always has an absolutely unshakeable alibi.  Matter of fact, Max always has concrete evidence that he was somewhere else whenever a heist was pulled.  Max’s latest heist involved stealing the second of three large diamonds once owned by Napoleon.  Max has already stolen the first.  The second diamond is being guarded by ace FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson) but Max is able to steal the diamond right out from under his nose with almost ridiculous ease that makes Stan the laughingstock of the FBI.

Max and his gorgeous lover/partner Lola (Salma Hayek) head off to The Bahamas for a well-earned retirement.  Stan has been suspended and his career is on the verge of the abyss.  On his own he tracks them down because Stan knows that the third Napoleon diamond is on a cruise ship heading for The Bahamas and he knows that Max knows.  And Max knows that Stan knows that he knows.  And Lola knows that Max knows that Stan knows that Max knows.  You see, Lola doesn’t want any part of the heist.  She honestly wants to retire and give up boosting ice.  But Max has a clever scheme to get both Stan and Lola to help him steal the diamond and the best part of it that the two of them won’t even know it.

It’s driving poor Stan crazy trying to keep one step ahead of the wily Max, even with the help of local police detective Sophie (Naomie Harris) who has her own problems trying to put local crime boss Henri Moore (Don Cheadle) behind bars. But seeing as how Henri and Max enter a partnership because Max is going to need Henri’s island contacts to steal the diamond, she agrees to team up with Stan to get the goods on both of them.

If this sounds to you like a harmless caper/crime/screwball comedy/romantic thriller you’re absolutely right.  AFTER THE SUNSET incorporates all of these elements as well as those of the buddy film since Max and Stan surprisingly develop a real friendship.  Max puts Stan up in the $25,000 a night Bridge Suite in The Atlantis Hotel.  Stan calls up Max and says he can’t be bribed that easy.  Max says it’s no bribe: he just wants Stan to see how Max lives.  There’s a really funny scene late in the movie where Max and Stan have messed up their respective relationships with Lola and Sophie.  Max goes to Sophie to try and talk her into taking Stan back while Stan pleads Max’s case to Lola.  The disbelieving look on the faces of the two women is priceless.  Max and Stan become so buddy-buddy that at one point Stan’s boss asks him seriously: “Are you and this guy dating or something?”

But that’s also a problem with AFTER THE SUNSET: it switches gears so fast that you’re never able to get comfortably into a mood.  The romantic scenes between Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek are either full of steamy sexual energy or seem as if the screenwriters are using lines and gags stolen from “I Love Lucy” reruns.   The heist scenes are either full of action and tension as any of Brosnan’s James Bond movies or so incredibly devoid of any common sense and logic you wonder if Max Burdett studied under Wile E. Coyote.  The scenes with Brosnan and Woody Harrelson are either deadly serious as when they’re pointing guns at each other in a John Woo type standoff or completely slapstick as when they’re on a boat fishing and catch a shark.  What happens next wouldn’t be out of place in a Martin & Lewis comedy.

Brett Ratner isn’t exactly one of my favorite directors as I absolute detest the “Rush Hour” movies and well made as it was, “Red Dragon” was a totally unnecessary film.  He’s all over the place here, never settling down for more than a minute as if he figures we would get bored if the movie was an out-and-out heist thriller and threw in as many elements as he could to keep things jumping.

I’ve got no complaints with the acting.  As I’ve said earlier, everybody in the cast looks like they had an absolute blast making this movie and it comes across on the screen.  And it’s worth watching just for the supernaturally beautiful Salma Hayek.  She looks so good in this movie it made my toes tingle.  I know women who have said that they’ve never thought about being a lesbian but Salma Hayek could make them change their mind in a New York minute.  It’s literally impossible to take your eyes off the screen when she’s on it.  And she has a really good rapport with Pierce Brosnan.  I’d really like to see them do something else together, maybe a modern version of “The Thin Man” Brosnan goes through 90% of the movie unshaven and rather scruffy looking but I don’t think the ladies are going to mind one bit. Don Cheadle has fun with his role as a crime boss but he has way too little screen time.  And his last scene is so abrupt and out-of-left field you may feel cheated by its resolution.

So should you see AFTER THE SUNSET?  It’s very difficult for me not to recommend this one.  The main thing in its favor is that it’s thankfully unpretentious.  It is what it is and that’s all it is.  It’s not trying to be a Big Important Film or win any Academy Awards.  It’s light, easy on the brain and the eye.  The guys have Salma Hayek and Naomie Harris to drool over while the ladies can groove on Pierce Brosnan, Don Cheadle and Woody Harrelson.  The locations and scenery are beautifully photographed and you feel like you’re catching a tan just looking at the movie.  It’s an okay Late Friday Night movie to chill with the wife or girlfriend.  AFTER THE SUNSET definitely isn’t going to make either of you feel like you wasted your time.

Rated PG-13

97 minutes