Three stooges: (l-r) Hill, Combs and
Brand in Get Him to the Greek.
One . . .
Him to the Greek
by Nicholas Stoller
older has-been is rescued from his self-destructive tendencies
by a well-meaning and loyal fan who is placed in charge of
the once-great artist. Along the way, the custodial character
loses some of his inhibitions, and steps out of his comfort
zone far enough to be completely disoriented and tempted to
abandon a core value. His refusal, ultimately, to compromise
ethically inspires the despairing former star to retrieve
the remaining fragment of his talent and to apply his creative
spark to productive ends again.
Now, pick a young actor: Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Mark-Linn
Baker. Pick a larger-than-life and charismatic costar: Russell
Brand, Adam Sandler, Peter O’Toole. Throw in parallel emotional
conflicts: say, the competing professional and personal ambitions
of a young couple as viewed against the damage celebrity can
inflict on romantic and/or familial love. Oh, and a handful
of goofball and/or wisecracking ensemble players couldn’t
hurt (the chance of Aziz Ansari inclusion is approximately
What have you got? Get Him to the Greek? Funny People?
My Favorite Year?
In Get HIm to the Greek, the setting is the world of
rock & roll. Russell Brand reprises the role of Aldous
Snow from writer-director Nicholas Stoller’s previous collaboration
with writer-actor Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Aldous’ record label is attempting to jump-start its own lagging
sales with a blowout anniversary concert celebrating a legendary
performance given by Aldous’ band at L.A’s Greek Theatre.
Aaron Green (Jonah Hill), the young label rep who concocted
the plan, is sent by his boss (a surprisingly funny Sean Combs)
to retrieve the reckless and unpredictable rocker and get
him from London to L.A.—in time and tolerably sober. Futures
lie in the balance, and antics ensue.
Whether or not you enjoy Get Him to the Greek will
depend almost entirely on how you feel about the two stars.
There is little—almost nothing, at all, in fact—new or surprising
about the plot. The presentation of the ecosystem of pop music
is mostly just convenient (which is a huge missed opportunity,
comedically), and the other players, with the exception of
Combs, are given little time or weight.
I found the leads serviceable. Hill is a natural and likeable
shlub (even less heroic than the popular Seth Rogen). And
with one caveat, I found Brand highly entertaining. I did
not, however, find him particularly convincing in his musical-peformance
scenes. Interestingly, he is credited with his own singing,
and he’s just fine in that respect. But Brand’s credible glam-trash
rock-star appearance didn’t gibe with the material his band
performed, songs written by a team including Dan Bern and
Mike Viola of the Candy Butchers and the voice of “That Thing
Bern and Viola also wrote the bulk of the songs for the very
funny Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. But where that
movie’s unapologetically parodic vibe was matched by its songs
perfectly, Get Him to the Greek fits its original music
less well. And because the movie does attempt some emotional
seriousness, that friction is disruptive.
Still, Brand is fun to watch and listen to, and his work with
Hill covered many of the faults of the script—and the awkwardness
of tonal shifts.
The Lives of Women
by Rodrigo Garcia
and Child begins in a way that reminds viewers of Juno.
A very young couple tentatively explore each others’ lips
in her bedroom, a turntable spinning an unheard song in the
background. Cut to the next scene: the girl, very pregnant,
is in a room full of other teens in similar situations, followed
immediately thereafter by the delivery itself, a faint glimpse
of a pair of tiny feet and flailing legs, and then that squalling
package being borne far away. Cut to today, and 51 year old
Karen (Annette Bening) wakes with a start, realizes that 37
years have passed, and forlornly feels her way to her aged
mother’s bed, where she tries to get back to normal routine.
This haunting prologue underscores the haunting memories and
regrets and “what ifs” that define Karen’s life. A competent
physical therapist, Karen goes about her work caring for elderly
patients but barely registering anybody else, until a new
colleague, Paco (Jimmy Smits), makes what to her is an audacious
move. He says hello and makes simple conversation. They end
up having coffee, but that is aborted when Karen mistakes
his basic chit-chat for judgment calls. “I am not a difficult
person,” she says through pursed lips, and the audience giggles.
At home, Karen tries to bring up conversation about her daughter
to her mother, who doesn’t bite.
Meanwhile, in L.A., Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is a lawyer whose
take-no-prisoners approach has her on the fast track to her
dream of a seat on the circuit court. Her new boss Paul (Samuel
L. Jackson, refreshingly unmenacing or cartoonish) is impressed,
but warns Elizabeth that her unorthodox method of switching
firms every so often isn’t the way to go, but she stares him
down with the news that she does everything her way, from
the time she emancipated herself from her adoptive parents
and changed her name at age 17. Obviously, Elizabeth is Karen’s
daughter, and we are left to wonder not if, but when, they
Meanwhile, Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her husband of four
years have concluded it’s time to adopt, and set upon the
often prickly process of engaging 20-year-old college student
Ray that they are the best prospects for loving parents. Ray
asks tough, probing questions, and Lucy, to her credit, is
brutally honest. Lucy’s mother questions whether she’s setting
herself up for yet another disappointment, and wonders whether
Lucy can love somebody else’s baby as much as one she gives
birth to herself, setting off one of the movie’s ongoing themes:
What makes the maternal connection, what defines love?
The movie is long and rambling, and often harks back to the
three-hankie movies of the ’30s—which for me is a compliment.
It’s amazing to me that it was written and directed by a man,
since it’s brimming over with little moments and workaday
routines—of caring for babies and the elderly, of looking
back to a passionate moment, or mulling over a loss—that pulse
through the daily lives and thoughts of women. These are moments
we don’t often see in movies anymore.
Keeping Mother and Child from veering into the melodramatic
are finely tuned performances by all, especially its three
lead actresses. Washington, in the smallest role, has the
difficult task of bringing to life a buttoned-down perfectionist
on a quest for a baby. Ultimately, Washington wins us over,
enabling us to see Lucy’s many layers. It’s hard to explain
what is probably the most gut-wrenching moment in the film
without giving away details, but let’s just say that Washington
leaves no doubt of either her character’s humanity or her
own acting chops. Watts, too, has a difficult role, as Elizabeth
is largely the type of bitch-on-wheels who beds any guy, no
matter the situation, just because she can. Her lack of empathy
is shocking, but the film’s writing is such that Elizabeth’s
defenses are peeled away to finally reveal a vulnerability,
even a softening toward the teen mom who supposedly abandoned
her. Holding the various story threads together is Bening,
who blossoms from repressed, uptight automaton to somebody
willing to risk taking a chance on love and, yes, loss. The
movie’s finale may be a little too coincidental for some tastes,
but Mother and Child is a supremely rewarding narrative
that blends old-time storytelling with modern angst in just
the right proportions.
of Persia: The Sands of Time
by Mike Newell
Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) clambers up walls, skips along the
backs of horses, and wields a sword and shield with the turbo-charged
agility of a video-game hero. Which he is—in his other incarnation
as the protagonist of the Prince of Persia video games. In
this big-screen adaptation (PoP creator Jordan Mechner contributed
to the script), Dastan is the rambunctious adopted son of
the king of Persia (Ronald Pickup), who has two older sons.
The king also has a brother, Nizam (Ben Kingsley), who acts
as his advisor. While Nizam schemes, the royal family almost
comes to blows over a planned invasion of the city of Alumet
and its hidden arsenal of weapons of unimaginable destruction.
The city does a have a secret weapon, but it’s not for war:
It’s a sacred dagger that contains magical sand that can turn
back time. But the Persians don’t know that, and after the
peaceable city is conquered, Dastan carries the dagger as
trophy. His brothers return with a captive, the beauteous
and feisty Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton, who does sultry
just as well as she did Strawberry in Quantum of Solace).
It’s a rousing start for an action adventure on its way to
being a faster and brawnier version of an Indiana Jones
film. But just as it’s decided which prince the princess should
be forced to marry, the king is murdered—in a ploy a Smurf
could see through. Kicking into a higher level as the unjustly
accused Dastan makes a digitalized escape, Prince of Persia
becomes another ungainly hybrid of gaming strategies (the
dagger even has a push-button release), CGI calamity (though
not quite as over-the-top as in The Scorpion King)
and traditional adventure-story intrigue ramped by the possibility
of a mushroom sandstorm of nuclear proportions.
Because it’s directed by Mike Newell, a specialist in ensemble
relationships, the characters have more life than any previous
game-to-film transfer, and Gyllenhaal and Arterton almost
get romantic as Dastan and Tamina turn from bickering adversaries
to swooning allies during their enforced partnership. Not
only do they have to elude the Persian army, but also a band
of assassins with mystical powers and an entrepreneurial sheik
(Alfred Molina) who operates a black-market oasis complete
with ostrich racetrack. Molina is so shamelessly comic, and
Kingsley so deliciously unctuous, that the inane dialogue
is even more of a disappointment, especially considering how
the script skips the more ingenious plot devices of the games
to follow a numbingly predictable course. Even the power of
the magic sand gets shorted, as the dagger’s do-overs add
special effects and little more to the narrative. The film
whips up a hell of a sand devil, but viewers are left in the