Get Smart

  • Title:  Get Smart
  • Director:  Peter Segal
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers (Time Warner)
  • Genre:  Comedy, Action
  • Cast:  Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, James Caan, Masi Oka
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“All I’m saying is that until we understand that our enemies are human beings, we will never be able to defeat them.  Yes, they are Bad Guys but that is what they do, not who they are.” — Max Smart

“So, to be clear – you’re not promoting me because I do such a great job.” — Max Smart

I loved this film when I originally saw it at the theater, and it’s still a very enjoyable movie to re-watch.  The movie begins with Max in his apartment, which is covered with post-it notes, some motivational (“You can do it,” and “8th time’s the charm,” etc.) some merely practical reminders.  We then follow Max as he listens to Russian chatter on his way to work.  Max walks into the Control museum exhibit at the Smithsonian but when no one is looking slips in — through the complicated multi-door entrance seen in the opening credits of the original TV show (updated slightly with CGI effects), finally he reaches the phone booth and uses that as an elevator to reach CONTROL.  Far from the dis-banded organization described by the museum guards, Control is an alive and vibrant secret intelligence organization.  Max is their top analyst, a job he is actually very competent at — picking up on subtleties that agents ignore and even other analysts don’t catch.  He’s even friends with two CONTROL scientists – Bruce and Lloyd, who design the various gadgets used by the agents.  Max had been very over weight and out of shape, but he’s slimmed down in order to pass the physical portion of his agent’s exam.

Max is playing paintball war games with Agent 23, being teased unmercifully by the other agents when he’s called into the chief’s office.  The chief  tells him the good news – he’s finally passed his agent’s exam (we learn later with an A+ or perfect score).  However, the Chief isn’t going to promote him to agent status because he’s too good an analyst.  Bummed — Max leaves the office for the day, talks to Fang (the dog) and literally bumps into Agent 99.  When he returns to Control headquarters, the place has been attacked.  In the aftermath, it’s learned that the identities of all CONTROL agents have been compromised and the agents are being systematically killed.  The chief decides to sent Max out as a full agent, pairing him with the more experienced Agent 99, who’s just had a complete facial re-sculpt, and thus is unrecognizable.

They travel to Russia to track down a KAOS threat to use yellow cake plutonium to make a bomb.  They find the KAOS assassin at his mansion and the yellow cake at a bakery, but despite Max’s best efforts, he’s set-up so it appears he is the double agent who attacked CONTROL.  However, while in lock-up, despite his own nightmares, Max figures it out and travels to LA — where Max, 99, and the Chief stop the bombing of the Disney concert hall and some very special guests.  They also figure out who the double-agent is.

Get Smart is a lesson in how a TV Show to Movie remake should be done.  I loved that not only is Max earnest, which he was in the series, but he’s smart and competent.  The chief isn’t kidding when he calls Max his best analyst.  What keeps Max from being the next James Bond, is he’s inexperienced.  And Carell’s also great at physical comedy — so there are some very funny parts to the movie — both physical and witty.  I also really, really appreciated that Carell did NOT even attempt to do the “Maxwell Smart” voice that Don Adams made so famous.  I think if he had, the movie would have been painful to watch instead of very enjoyable.

The second part to the excellent remake status of this film is that the action sequences are very well done.  In the series, Max actually was a good hand-to-hand and sword fighter (see “The King Lives?” and “To Sire, with Love” for Max’s sword-fighting abilities); the film takes that competence in action and extends it to Max’s abilities to figure things out and solve a mystery, basically.  Max’s issues come from a lack of real world experience — something 99 ends up teaching him, not a complete lack of ability.  And he does have the book smarts, as a successful analyst with over eight years of experience, and, having gotten an A+ on his agent’s exam (99 received an A-).  Also, Max is a really nice guy too — something that came from the series as well.  Max’s ability to sympathize with and help others (the overweight girl he dances with at the assassin’s party; his befriending of a very physically large KAOS agent, which leads to the agent passing a coded message to Max which then helps Max solve the case) also becomes important to the film – something I really liked.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film..  Honestly, before making a film of Starsky and Hutch, or I Spy, or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — the film producers should be required to watch this, and Bewitched.  Maybe then we’d get better remake films.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4.5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Ghostbusters

Date Night

  • Title:  Date Night
  • Director:  Shawn Levy
  • Date:  2010
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Romance, Comedy, Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Jimmi Simpson
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC, Extended Ed.

That’s marriage, right, sometimes you do stuff you don’t want to do.”  —  Phil Foster

“It wasn’t a crazy idea – it was just dinner in Manhattan, one night, one date where we’re not talking about the kids the entire time or what we have to do next week.”  — Phil

“Everything you’re doing,  I’m doing in heels!” — Claire

There is an old saying that “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.”  The opening of Date Night, shows us a 40-something married couple who are both living quiet, suburban lives of quiet desperation – he’s a tax accountant, she’s a realtor.  They have two kids, a house in the New Jersey ‘burbs, and the clichéd white picket fence.  Even their weekly “date night”, has become hackneyed and boring.  When their best couple friends tell Mr. and Mrs. Foster (separately, no less) they are getting a separation out of sheer boredom, Mr. Phil Foster (Steve Carell) decides they need to do something different for the next date night.

So they head into Manhattan – and swipe a reservation at a swanky seafood restaurant.  And chaos ensues.  The couple is mistaken for another couple who are up to no good.  That’s the basic set-up of the movie.

Date Night has everything – humor and character comedy.  Carell is instantaneously likable (in fact, “Phil Foster” reminds me very much of Carell’s “Maxwell Smart” – except Max knew he was an agent; Foster really is just an accountant).  A couple of McGuffins and mistaken identity drive the plot of the film, but what makes the film really work is having two normal people who are dropped into a ridiculous situation – finding excitement and a renewed relationship with each other.  These characters feel real – yet at the same time the movie is very, very funny.  Carell delivers one-liners like nobody’s business, but Fey also manages to get in a few zingers.  And, like the best of the Cary Grant screwball comedies – from tiny beginnings (taking a reservation from a no show so they could have a nice date) the situation just gets more and more intense and thus funnier and funnier.  There’s danger in Date Night and humor – a rare but perfect combination.

The relationship between Claire and Phil works because it feels real.  After meeting one of Claire’s former clients (Mark Walhberg), Phil is, admittedly jealous – he sees the guy as hot and built, so he’s sure his wife does too.  So he points out to Claire that she sparked for him – why doesn’t she spark for him anymore?  To which Claire goes on a rant about how exhausted she is – because she has to do so much, with taking care of the kids, working, cleaning the house, etc.  To which Phil responds, and this is the important bit, that he could help – she should let him do something.  “And yeah, you know what?  Maybe, occasionally, I might buy the toy made from Chinese lead or I might make a sandwich for Ollie that God forbid breaches the jelly perimeter.  But if you just let me do something for you… I think that I would surprise you.  I really do.  I know I’d surprise you.”.  Phil admits their couple friends are breaking up, Claire says that she knows.  The conversation returns to sex fantasies – and Claire says, if anything, she fantasies about being alone, just leaving, going to an air-conditioned hotel room, closing the door and just sitting in the peace and quiet, sipping a diet Sprite.  It’s a turning point in their relationship as the two begin to realize just what they need to do.  But such quiet moments are rare – in this screwball comedy that just gets bigger and bigger, and funnier and funnier.

This film also has the funniest car chase scene I’ve seen since The Blues Brothers.  It’s a brilliant car chase, it really is.  The film is laugh-out-loud funny without making fun of the characters.  At no point are Carell and Fey’s characters the butt of the jokes – the situation is funny because normal people are put into an outrageous situation.  The occasional senses of danger work, but also have that 80s-TV feel of “no one is going to get seriously hurt, here, even the bad guys, so just have a good time”.  Good comedy comes from putting realistic characters in funny situations, not making fun of characters to the point where you cringe watching it, and Date Night is a good comedy.

I highly recommend seeing Date Night.  Despite the title, it’s not your traditional romantic comedy – more of a romantic action/adventure/comedy thing.  The characters, especially Carell and the various people he and his wife run into in one wild night are also well-drawn.  If you watch Psych on USA Network, you might remember “Mary – the profiler”  from “An Evening with Mr. Yang”, played by Jimmi Simpson, he’s in this. And, no, I’m not telling you who he plays!  Oddly enough, because of the humor, action, and even a touch of romance – Date Night might be a great date movie, but definitely not in the traditional weepy chick flick sense.  It’s a film virtually everyone can enjoy.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Dead Poets Society

Bewitched

  • Title:  Bewitched
  • Director:  Nora Ephron
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Genre:  Romantic Comedy
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m about to be killed by a fictional character!” — Jack  Wyatt

“I can’t be normal because I’m a witch; I can’t be a witch because I really want to be normal.”  — Isabel Bigalow

Since I reviewed this movie when I saw it in 2005 at the theater and when I finally picked up and watched the DVD in March 2010, I figured I would save a little work. Below is my original review. New comments at bottom.

Bewitched was a surprisingly fun, cute movie. Unlike many movie remakes of television shows which are often very poorly done, Bewitched travels quite happily down a slightly different path. In the film, Will Farrell plays Jack, a down on his luck actor, unable to get starring film roles after his last film tanked at the box office. Nicole Kidman plays Isabel, a witch, who like Samantha in the original television program wants to give up witchcraft and lead a normal life. And like any romantic comedy, Jack meets Isabel, the audience knows they are meant for each other, and after a few trials and tribulations, Jack and Isabel do get together, cut to end credits.

However, what makes Bewitched, incredibly fun to watch is the “B” plot, the making of a new –remake — television show called, Bewitched. Farrell’s character, Jack, meets Isabel (Kidman) in a bookshop. He offers her the part of Samantha on his new show. However, once casting her, he realises she is up-staging him right and left, and decides to make Bewitched his show. He overacts, steals scenes, has the shows writers cut Isabel’s lines, insists on delivering all the punch lines, and in short makes every mistake both a bad actor and a remake (television or film) could possibly make. When the focus group blue cards come back, Isabel is tremendously popular (99 points) but Jack isn’t (32 points; the dog did better). Farrell throws a tantrum.

Isabel, meanwhile, is having problems of  her own. She figures out how poorly Jack’s been treating her and decides to quit, but before she can do that, her Aunt Clara experimentally places a hex on Jack turning him into the perfect, and horribly fake, movie-like romantic man hopelessly in love with Isabel. Isabel, to her credit, sees this as a fake, and un-does the hex, starting over again. She then blows up at Jack, calling him out on the carpet for being selfish and self-centered (she’s right).

Jack, seeing the error of his ways, more or less tells Isabel she’s right, and the two begin working on their new television show as partners instead of as competitors. The resulting montage sequence of the creation of a new hit TV show is well done. But Isabel’s and Jack’s problems aren’t quite over — Isabel still has to tell Farrell she’s a witch, a real witch. The next sequence in the film, consists of Isabel revealing the truth to Jack. A truth that he at first does not believe, and once she proves it to him, causes him to reject her — in true romantic movie fashion. It takes Uncle Arthur, a character that Jack (a fan of the original program), imagines — to get Jack to realise the error of his ways, and that he really loves Isabel, which brings the two together.

The entire film, however, full of television in-jokes, manages to parody television, without, necessarily, parodying the show the film is based on. The film breaks the reality/screen wall over and over again, to full audience acceptance, in truly excellent style. For example, in one sequence where Jack courts Isabel, the two chase each other around various sets and partial set-pieces in the television studio where both work — in a sequence extremely reminiscent of Gene Kelly’s courtship of Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain.  (A film referenced earlier in the movie when Isabel, runs into the rain, joyfully, after arguing with her father about whether or not she can give up being a witch). In another sequence, Jack and Isabel chat on what appears to be a romantic balcony, until two stage hands move the background away while they talk. Those sequences, and the parodies of television and film conventions are what make the film Bewitched truly magical.

Update:  Yes, Bewitched is still a very fun romantic comedy with a twist. It’s enjoyable to watch, even when one knows where it is going (which let’s face it – is the case for all romantic comedies). The playing with the “Fourth Wall” still works, even when it’s no longer a surprise. Steve Carell plays “Uncle Arthur”, as a really, really good impersonation of Paul Lynde (even to the point of being a little swish) – but because his character is one that Will Farrell dreams-up, the dead-on impersonation works. Shirley MacLaine is Endora – in the new TV series remake of Bewitched, playing the part in flamboyant style and with the best wardrobe in the film (except for possibly Isabel’s). She also gets her own subplot, in that the actress, Iris, falls for Isabel’s father, Nigel, played by Michael Caine. In fact, that older romance – between Caine and MacLaine – who have fantastic on-screen chemistry, adds to the feel and enjoyment factor of the film. Will Farrell is a bit over-the-top at times, but in a sense, he’s meant to be playing an over-the-top actor/drama queen (drama king?) and it works.

Oh, and by the way, – the soundtrack / music is terrific in this movie.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Billy Elliot