“I Love You Phillip Morris” review.

Ewan McGregor & Jim Carrey in one of the quieter moments of "I Love You Phillip Morris".

Ewan McGregor & Jim Carrey in one of the quieter moments of "I Love You Phillip Morris".

“I Love You Phillip Morris” cheats you. Often. There will often times be a build-up emotionally, only for the movie to show you that it just screwed you over with a smile on it’s face. It takes after its main character that way; the con-man Steven Russell (played by Jim Carrey). Russell lives a flamboyantly gay lifestyle, pulling off numerous frauds and con-jobs to cover his endless spending. These eventually land him in jail, where he meets a man by the name of Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). It’s pretty much love at first sight for these two, and the movie covers the span of about 15 years as Steven & Phillip struggle to stay together (seeing as Russell keeps landing back in jail for his illegal activities to support them as a couple).

Dark as this may seem, the oddest thing about “I Love You Phillip Morris” is how it can deliver a scene that both breaks your heart and makes you laugh out loud. We laugh because, at face value, it’s traditional Jim Carrey-shtick, but we feel sadness because he’s doing all this to pursue a love that he refuses to accept just cannot work out.

It’s the weird balance between the hilarious and the heartbreaking where “Phillip Morris” gains its personality and in my opinion, its greatness. All of this is held up by Jim Carrey, in a (predictably) high-energy yet mature, fleshed-out performance. For every little joke or stunt his character Russell will pull, there will be a moment where you can’t help but pity this often really clueless character. He does a hard job, in making us sympathize with and understand a criminal. It’s great work, what he does here.

Ewan McGregor has some fantastic moments as the title character, Phillip Morris. But what I didn’t expect? That Carrey and McGregor, two straight male actors, honestly have a fantastic on-screen chemistry together, which is important considering the entire movie is about the dynamic between these two actors. I’d go so far as to say they click together better than most heterosexual couples I’ve seen on-screen in a while.

The writing here is also definitely worth noting. “Bad Santa” writers Glenn Ficarro and John Requa are the writer-directors here, and just like that past effort they write great, snappy dialogue. It grants all the characters really funny things to say, but grounds it in reality so that the laughs don’t come at the expense of our respect for these people.

If there’s a fault with “Phillip Morris”, it’s laid out in the first sentence of this review: The movie constantly one-ups us with new knowledge or developments. This is often times charming and entertaining, but sometimes comes off a bit too strong in moments where restraint would have worked best.

But overall, how can I complain? “Phillip Morris” is a great little slice of entertainment that juggles elements of comedy, crime and romance in a breezy, fun and occasionally heartbreaking way. I’ll just say this movie made me smile, and leave it at that. You take it from here. A-

The best films of 2010

2010. What a year!

For better or for worse, there’s been a dizzying array of movies this year, be them good, bad, or otherwise. Although the majority of the fare was ‘meh’ or barely above, the gems this year surpass most in recent memory. So without further ado, here’s my picks for the best ten of the year. You know. The good stuff.

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#10: ENTER THE VOID (Gaspar Noe)
I admit, I liked some movies this year more than this one, that didn’t make the cut. But I didn’t admire them as much as I did “Enter the Void”. What other movie dared take the risks that this one did? The whole movie is told either from the first-person perspective of a drug-dealer, or, when he’s shot dead, his spirit hovering above the streets of Tokyo. Suffice to say, this movie is absolutely insane. The director Gaspar Noe does things here that I literally haven’t ever seen before in a movie, ever. It’s daring, adventurous, and even a little exhausting. It’s also genius.

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#9: THE FIGHTER (David O. Russell)
Underdog athlete overcomes obstacles to win glory and fame. It’s been told before, maybe even better. But none as emotionally involving and compelling as the stuff on display in “The Fighter”. Everyone, yes, EVERYONE in this film does the finest work of their career, be it Amy Adams’ performance as a bartender, Mark Wahlberg’s transformation into a professional boxer, or Christian Bale’s devastating work as Wahlberg’s crack addict of a brother. All these performances bring the fairly average material up to the level of greatness, and director David Russell injects it with his trademark energy and heart. All in all, “The Fighter” is a knockout. (Pun intended. Hee-hee.)

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#8: MOTHER (Bong-Joon Ho)
One of the most original filmmakers around, the South Korean native Bong-Joon Ho does yet another crafty spin on genre in “Mother”, flipping the murder mystery on its ear this time around. Kim Hye-ja plays a woman who will do whatever it takes to prove her young son is innocent of a murder, regardless of whether or not he actually is. In the last third, Joon-Ho does so many back-flips and tricks with the narrative. But they wouldn’t mean anything were I not emotionally invested; and it’s in the odd connection we forge with these characters that “Mother” reveals its bizarre genius. Don’t let the fact that you have to read it scare you away from this one.

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#7: EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (Banksy)
Follow me here: A documentary about a failed documentary that was going to be about the person who made the documentary’s involvement in street art. You follow me? If not, don’t be worried, because one of the many miracles of “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is how effortlessly it holds your hand and takes you down a rabbit-hole of twists and turns.
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#6: INCEPTION (Christopher Nolan)
I fell out of love with this one for a bit. Looking back on it, I have no idea why. Because yes, the movie is mostly setting up rules (and the other part breaking those rules) and yes, it’s a bit emotionally hollow. One could nitpick about this one for hours, and believe me, I have. But to do that is to deny just what a kinetic, exciting film this is. In “Inception”, anything is possible, nothing is quite like what you’ve seen before, and everything is just…freaking awesome. Not the best of the year, but almost certainly the coolest.

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#5: TRUE GRIT (Joel & Ethan Coen)
It was always going to be interesting, seeing some of the quirkiest directors around tackle a straight genre picture, the classic American Western. But with “True Grit”, the Coens are in full entertainment mode, firing on all cylinders to deliver a crowd-pleasing yet typically witty and straight-up awesome movie. It coaxed great work out of veterans like Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, and a star-making performance out of 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld. My #2 pick aside, no movie has benefitted more from repeat viewings this year.

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#4: BLUE VALENTINE (Derek Cienfrance)
Switching back-and-forth between the passionate origins of a marriage and the furious destruction several years later, “Blue Valentine” is absolutely devastating. But also, thanks to the brilliant work from leads Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams, it’s fantastic. It’s the cinematic equivalent of A cautionary tale for those who take passion for granted.

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#3: TOY STORY 3 (Lee Unkrich)
How does one top two of the greatest animated films ever made? I have no idea, but Pixar accomplished precisely that with the sequel to those films, “Toy Story 3″. It’s just a magical feeling watching so many great elements click together in one movie; be it a thrilling prison break-out sequence, gorgeous animation, snappy banter between the unforgettable characters, or the final fifteen minutes, which absolutely wreck me every damned time. It’s the crowning jewel to cinema’s greatest trilogy (apologies to Rossellini and Frodo).

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#2: THE SOCIAL NETWORK (David Fincher)
A uniquely modern movie whose themes are as old as any fable: Friendship, betrayal and deception, just set against a back-drop of college, parties and hacking. It’s the story of Mark Zuckerberg’s creation of the phenomenon that is Facebook; told in a breathless, motormouth style that only gets more involving and exciting as it goes on. Hey, man. Five viewings in the theater does not lie.

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#1: BLACK SWAN (Darren Aronofsky)
Accept no substitutes. Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” is the artistic pinnacle of the year. The story of one ballerina’s pursuit of perfection and subsequent descent into absolute madness, combined with Natalie Portman’s amazing realization of precisely that, is some of the most riveting, jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and haunting stuff I’ve ever seen.

“Blue Valentine” review.

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First-time director Derek Cienfrance has been trying to get “Blue Valentine” made for the last 12 years. Watching the end product, I can see why. Because I’m going to be totally honest with you: The movie destroyed me. It took any trace of positive energy or mood that I had, and smashed it to little pieces. But then, reflecting on it, I was awed. Awed at what a balancing act the very nature of the film is, awed at the amazing work from the two leads, Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams.

“Blue Valentine” has been, oddly enough for a film of its low budget, highly publicized, thanks to the MPAA’s now-revoked NC-17 rating (on account of one particularly graphic love scene). Although I am outraged and offended at their childish, stupid decision, I feel it works out eventually to the film’s benefit. After all, the controversy will probably lure more people to the film than wouldn’t otherwise bother.

“Blue Valentine”s focus is the rapidly collapsing marriage of Dean and Cindy: Dean an intelligent underachiever and Cindy a more stubborn realist. The movie intercuts between their past moments of courtship and joy, with their bitter, resentful present-day lives. This is really effective in many ways. It allows us to build an emotional foundation and understand these characters. It allows us to appreciate the extent to which their relationship falls apart, and feel for them when it does.

Gosling & Williams are just brilliant here. They both flesh out these characters in incredibly compelling yet realistic ways. They make Dean and Cindy characters that are both relatable and interesting on their own. This, of course, makes their clashing all the more painful to watch.

I’m too young to experience love, or even to truly appreciate it for what it is. I know that. But walking out of “Blue Valentine”, tears in my eyes, I felt as if I maybe knew a little more about it, as if I could feel a little deeper. And if that doesn’t speak as to a film’s greatness, what does? A