Playing for Keeps Review… (a.k.a. my Open Letter to Gerry Butler)

[sigh] I didn’t really want to write this letter. Not only because I had done it once before when The Bounty Hunter came out, but I was quite anticipating Playing For Keeps for a while. I was thrilled when I got and advanced screening invite on the same day as The Hobbit (yay!) right before I left for vacation.

I saw The Hobbit first which I loved, and a few hours later, I went to another cinema to see Playing For Keeps with my girlfriend Becky (aka PrairieGirl). I really wanted to LOVE this movie and I thought the premise had potential. I mean Butler was [seemingly] perfect as a former soccer star (with his Scottish brogue intact), starring as a former player of his beloved Celtics no less. I’ve seen him in a soccer movie before (the based-on-a-true-story Games of Our Lives and also those Soccer Aid Charity Match), so he’s very believable in that role.

Alas, I’d have to agree with the Rotten Tomatoes summary:

Witless, unfocused, and arguably misogynistic, Playing for Keeps is a dispiriting, lowest-common-denominator Hollywood rom-com.

PFK_RTscore

Actually, the weekend I checked the RT score, it was at a woeful 0% and you know what, I really can’t disagree with that. It’s truly one of the WORST movies I’ve ever come across and to add to the sting, GB didn’t just star in this movie, he also produced this stinker (yikes!!). In the trailer post, I had hoped that it would at least be a feel-good dramedy this Winter, alas, it barely even give us that! It’s even more discombobulating that actors like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid, and the affable Judy Greer agreed to do such an embarrassingly-thankless roles. Forget one-dimensional, yes there’s that, but mostly, their characters are just bizarre, disturbing and cringe-worthy!

I’d like to recall my letter to him I wrote in March of 2010, clearly he did NOT read it…

Please don’t waste your talent on sub-par scripts, especially those that require you to be a neanderthal/ chauvinistic/ boorish/ obnoxious (and in the case of The Ugly Truth and The Bounty Hunter, all of the above). I’m inclined to say ‘get off the rom-com’ trail, but to be fair, I quite enjoyed P.S. I Love You and your ‘Gerry’ character is both charming and sexy, a perfect combination of being manly and hopelessly-romantic at the same time. What I do want to say is, stay away from bad scripts! It doesn’t matter what genre, a bad script is a bad script, and it’s just not going to help your career.

Well, suffice to say I just can’t be a GB fan anymore. Consider this my goodbye letter Mr. Butler…

Dear Gerry,

I can’t believe it’s been nearly an entire decade since I saw you in The Phantom of the Opera. It still remains one of my favorite musicals and my favorite roles you’ve done to this day. It’s a testament of the quality of your role choices lately that when I was about to update my list of Favorite GB roles for your birthday, I was quite stumped. So I kept my original list which includes one of your finest performance to date, that is in Dear Frankie, as I didn’t really think your recent performances in the past two years wowed me enough to replace any of them on that list.

PFKposter

It’s quite astounding that the movie itself could actually be worse than this poster!

Now, let me just speak for a moment of my monumental disappointment with your recent dramedy Playing For Keeps. Well, I was expecting some drama and comedy but got neither! Let me start with your performance. I don’t know if you’re trying to be understated and cool, but it came across as lethargic to me. Yes I get it, your character is down-on-his-luck as George had squandered his good fortune as a soccer star and now he could barely able to pay rent as he dreamed on being a sportscaster. George had good intentions, wanting to reconnect with his  young son, and preferably rekindle his romance with his ex-wife. It’s all [potentially] heartwarming stuff, except that the relationship with his oh-so-adorable kid was hugely overshadowed by all that creepy soccer moms lusting over him. There’s nothing fun or amusing in any of George’s encounters with any of these women, and it didn’t help that George (nor you playing the role) seemed to have much fun doing the scenes either. Don’t even get me started with the predictable ending, which you could’ve surmised from the trailer. Now, there have been some movies that I still appreciate despite the predictability factor because the journey was worthwhile, but in this case of PFK, the journey was so excruciating that it was like being kicked whilst you’re down!

I must’ve gained an extra wrinkle on my face from cringing so much during the entire movie! There’s not even a moment of sincerity I could find, or even to relate to, the whole time I kept wondering just what the heck was Gabriel Muccino trying to do with this movie, what Robbie Fox was trying to say with this script, and most of all, how did this kind of movie ever got greenlit?? There’s no depth whatsoever in any of the characters, not even George himself on whom the whole story hinges on. Poorly-conceived plot is just putting it mildly, I think the only word that came to mind about PFK is ill-advised. It’s everything that’s wrong about Hollywood’s rom-coms… and sadly Gerry, you’ve been in more than your fair share in them. I mean heck, even Matthew McConaughey had been off the rom-com trails and has since garnered some kudos for his recent performances.

Going back to those favorite roles once again, three of the movies I listed (Dear Frankie, BBC’s The Jury and PS I Love You), and I should also mention your excellent performance Coriolanus, you had a supporting role in them. You didn’t carry the movie but yet your presence was a highlight. It made me think that perhaps you should take a well-deserved break and take a good long look at your career so far. It might be a good idea to seek out supporting roles (no I’m not talking about a stint in something so far-off like Movie 43), I’m talking about a small but important supporting roles in a quality project. It’d be nice if it’s with an acclaimed director, but so long as it’s got a strong script, that’s all that matters. Forget the pay check, I’m guessing you’ve made enough to last a couple of centuries. If you truly care about acting, don’t you want to be remembered for the craft of your work? Perhaps your entourage/groupies tell you that you’re a star and you must always play the lead. Well, as your [former] fan, let me tell you that it’s far more gratifying to see an actor in a good performance in a brief screen time than seeing him/her in an awful one scene after scene.

As I said in your Birthday post, I still think you’re a talented and capable actor. I just can’t fathom your role choices, especially now that you actually have the opportunity to seek out good ones with your own production company. Please don’t let the disappointment of the marketing of Machine Gun Preacher give you an excuse to forgo strong characters. Granted not everybody loved the film, but you did your best with the role and the story of Sam Childers was inspiring, so I’m glad you did that film and I was happy to recommend it. I could even enjoy a so-so movie like Chasing Mavericks because at least I could see the value of the story and I appreciate the dedication you did for the role, even to the point of almost dying in a surfing accident. Roles like George on the other hand, just left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Pardon my harsh letter but I feel that things need to be said for my own sake, as I don’t think you’d care to read it and your still-ardent fans probably would just brush me off. I do hope that your recent flops would be an eye-opener for you and hopefully you have the humility to take a look at what you have become. Everyone needs a ‘wake up call’ once in a while and perhaps you’ve been hitting the snooze button for far too long.

Best Wishes,

ruth m.


Well, it feels good to get it off my chest. Don’t cry for Gerry Butler, folks, I’m sure he’s still got a legion of fans ready to defend him :D

So that’s one crush I’m saying good bye to after all these years. Whilst we’re on the topic, which of your movie crush disappointed you this past year?

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Weekend Roundup: Frequency and Headhunters reviews

Ahhh… Fall is in the air. I LOVE Autumn, it’s my favorite season. Growing up in a tropical country where it’s 80+ degrees all year long, I’ve come to appreciate the changing seasons and I’m really looking forward to the cool, crisp weather.

It’s another week where we opted for home cinema viewing once again. The only movie that opened wide was the fourth Resident Evil movie which I never had any interest in seeing, and The Master hasn’t opened yet where I live. Fortunately, the three movies I saw were both excellent, reviews below.

Sunday night I re-watched one of my all-time Disney favorites, Sleeping Beauty. The plot is pretty thin but the visuals are so gorgeous! I still need to see the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty that explores the art of modern animation and the stormy days of Disney’s animation house. Even 53 years later, amongst a plethora of other animated features, I think that it still stands as the most strikingly beautiful. Princess Aurora remains one of my favorite Disney princesses!

Anyway, here are my reviews:

FREQUENCY (2000)

I don’t know why it took me so long to finally saw this. My friend at work raved about it and lent me her DVD nearly a year ago. The premise about a rare atmospheric activity marked by the appearance of Aurora Borealis that somehow allowed a NYC firefighter Frank Sullivan to communicate with his son John 30 years in the future via a ham radio. Frank supposedly died in a warehouse fire, so John used the opportunity to warn his dad of his impending death, which was to happen the day after the two talked on the radio. Frank survived the fire and they’re overjoyed, but what they didn’t realize is that the alternate history also meant that a new set of events are triggered, including a horrific serial murders that affect the fate of Frank’s wife. So the father/son must work together to somehow change history again and hopefully prevent the murders from happening.

As with any time travel/alternate history movies, the logic behind the story is tough to grasp. I mean the film never really explained how the Aurora Borealis caused the radio reception to function in such a way, enabling the Father/Son to communicate 30 years apart. But hey, obviously the sci-fi fantasy element asks the viewer to simply accept that fact, so I was willing to go with it. The movie starts out being more of a drama, but the last third it becomes more of a thriller as the father/son worked together to catch the Nightingale killer, named for his penchant for killing nurses. The fact that John’s mother is a nurse—which ironically saves the killer at the hospital in the alternate universe—obviously made her a target. At times it felt like a procedural suspense drama, like an episode of Criminal Minds or CSI, but the father/son bond is what makes the whole thing intriguing. Shawn Doyle as the psychopath is undeniably creepy, relentlessly terrorizing both father/son in parallel timelines.

Frequency‘s strength definitely lies in the emotional bond between the father/son roles. Dennis Quaid as Frank and Jim Caviezel as John palpably displayed a heartfelt bond despite not sharing the screen together pretty much the entire movie. The first time they realized the identity on the other side of the radio, you immediately connect with these two characters and the love they have for each other. I love how the movie depicts such a loving family life, not just between father and son but also between Frank and his wife Jules (Elizabeth Mitchell). Andre Braugher as John’s partner in the force who’s been trying to solve the Nightingale murder case also gives a memorable performance.

It’s not a perfect movie by any means, in fact, there’s perhaps overly sentimental at times, down to the unbelievably happy ending. But overall, the performances of the leads are what made the movie work so well. It’s a sci-fi thriller that’s full or heart, and one that confirms me even more how underrated both Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel are. Caviezel in particular has this charismatic presence and that ‘quiet hero’ sensibilities about him that would make him a perfect candidate to portray Superman. I think he was considered by Bryan Singer at one point and I think he could pull off such a role [at times his looks and mannerism actually reminds me a bit of Christopher Reeve]. Obviously he has convincingly played humanity’s hero in The Passion of the Christ, a role that in a fair world should’ve nabbed him at least an Oscar nomination.

Frequency is definitely worth a watch for fans of time travel movies, or anyone who appreciates a heartfelt family drama with a twist. Fans of baseball might get a kick out of all the World Series facts used throughout the movie, at times it becomes a plot significance as well.

4 out of 5 reels


Headhunters (2011)

This independent Norwegian movie has definitely shot up to be one of my favorites of the year! I’m so glad I gave it a shot despite it being more violent and gory than I’m usually comfortable with.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is one of Norway’s most powerful headhunters. You’d think he makes pretty good money to live a good life, but if you want to live like a prince, then certainly one must pay for it. Roger lives an incredibly extravagant lifestyle: multi-million dollar house, top of the line Lexus and he could buy his beautiful wife Diana a 98,000 Krone (about $17K) earrings! The secret? Well he’s also an art thief, which is ironic since his wife is a gallery owner. With the help of his security guard friend Ove, Roger’s perfected his heist method, replacing the originals with forgeries which often goes undetected for years and the trails have gone cold.

It’s an interesting character study and Roger is definitely an intriguing individual. By self admittance, he realizes that he overcompensates his relatively short stature (5’6″) with an outward panache and marrying a tall, beautiful blond (Heidi-Klum lookalike Synnøve Macody Lund). He’s more in love with what the Diana represents than the woman herself, which explains why he hesitates to have a baby with her. He also has a mistress who’s much less glamorous than Diana, perhaps because internally, Roger feels inferior to his own wife.

Early in the film, the VO during one of Roger’s heist says that everything is fine until one gets caught. Well, unbeknownst to Roger, there’s apparently an even bigger danger lurking. The movie quickly gains momentum the moment Diana introduces her husband to a powerful man in the name of Clas Greve (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). A former elite soldier and former CEO of a surveillance company HOTE. It turns out Clas wants to be the CEO of HOTE’s competition, Pathfinder, which is a position that Roger happens to be recruiting. Clas soon becomes the target of Roger’s thieving plan, as Clas apparently inherits a rare Rubens painting worth close to a hundred million, along with his grandmother’s apartment.

What happens next propels this movie into a relentless cat and mouse game beyond anything Roger could’ve imagined. It’s full throttle action that involves a brutal shootout, dog attack, car/tractor chase and a breathtaking accident involving a truck going in full speed! The action is quite vicious and relentless but none of it feels gratuitous to me as it moves the plot along. One particularly disgusting scene rivals the one in the Slumdog Millionaire (you’ll know which one it is when you watch it). Roger is in deep sh**, and I don’t just mean that figuratively speaking. Yet beneath all that bloody action sequences, the film is not without heart. There’s a conversation between Roger and his wife that’s particularly striking for its emotional honesty.

36-year-old Aksel Hennie carries the movie with aplomb. Initially he’s not a sympathetic character but he grows on you as the film progresses. The only actor I’m familiar with, Coster-Waldau, definitely fits the role of a charming but deadly former military guy who’ll do whatever it takes to get ahead. I picked the tall, gorgeous Danish as one of the actors I’d love to see as James Bond, and I stand by that pick after seeing him here.

This is easily the smartest, most gripping thrillers I’ve seen in years. The acting is understated and the script, based on Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s novel Hodejegerne (The Headhunters), is taut and unpredictable. I was at the edge of my seat the whole time and a few times I thought I knew where the story was going, but fortunately the movie still managed to surprise me. I’m not very familiar with Scandinavian cinema, but the stark minimalism packed with maximum efficiency is definitely a breath of fresh air.

There’s apparently a US remake in the works (surprise, surprise) as Mark Wahlberg was reportedly so impressed by this movie that he already bought the remake rights. Meh, I doubt it’ll ever live up to the original. So I advise you to watch this one instead before the US one comes out. Kudos to director Morten Tyldum who’s only made less than a half dozen feature films. This is what every thriller movie should be as it really was a thrill ride in more ways than one.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on either one of these movies? Did you see anything good this weekend?