Tower Heist

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Tower Heist

Run time 104 minutes.
OK for children.

From l, Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in “Tower Heist.”

Sparked by the return of the old Eddie Murphy of Beverly Hills Cop fame, this is laugh out loud funny, with a terrific cast of accomplished comedians, including Murphy, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Michael Peña, Alan Alda, and Judd Hirsch. With Ben Stiller as the glue, this is a throwback to old-fashioned Hollywood movies that are simply funny. It has no need for lots of profanity, although there is some (how could there not be with Murphy in the cast?), or toilet or genital humor, the latter of which has become one of Stiller’s staples. Fortunately, here Stiller is not playing it for laughs, leaving the humor up to people who are actually funny.

Stiller recruits them all to stage a revenge robbery of bad guy investor Alda’s penthouse condominium of $14 million, and it quickly descends into a fine screwball comedy.

Murphy took a two decade vacation from quality, producing one bomb after another, one horrible performance after another. Now he’s gone back to his roots and the result is a film that is as funny as he is, because he’s just one of a myriad of fine comedians. While the film has a fine script (apparently a jumble that resulted from the efforts of Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson with story credits to Griffin, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage, too many credits for what became a good movie), the person to whom this film owes its quality is director Brett Ratner, who shows that he knows what pace is and how to use it.

There is one scene, for example, where the cast is planning the heist from Alda. It digresses from planning the theft and descends into a discussion of lesbians that is a classic example of perfect timing, one of the many scenes that caused me to laugh out loud. Ratner paces this scene so that each line is funnier than the one that preceded it, but doesn’t linger. He gets the laughs and mores on.

The result is a fine comedy that I could see again.

J. Edgar

Run time 137 minutes.
Not for children.

Leonardo DiCaprio in “J. Edgar.”

Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio are to be commended for wanting to make an old-fashioned biopic, educating people on an American legend. But did they have to make it so long, boring, and uninformative?

Purportedly the true story of the founder of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio), Hoover is portrayed as a sexually ambiguous, speechifying, cantankerous bore. In fact, DiCaprio makes so many monotonous speeches in this thing that I’m surprised he didn’t grow a granuloma on his vocal cords.

Not only does Eastwood show no familiarity with pace, but the music he wrote for this makes the film even slower than it would be normally. The wordy, actionless script (Dustin Lance Black) doesn’t help Clint much.

The film shows Hoover to be a loner with high moral expectations of others, but with few personal relationships, except one very close friend, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). While the film paints Tolson as clearly gay, it makes it fairly plain that the relationship between him and Hoover was not physical.

Making the film even harder to watch, instead of telling a straight biography of Hoover, Eastwood jumps back and forth among time periods without so much as an explanation. The only way we know that the time has changed is that Hoover looks older or younger. One minute he’s looking for the Lindbergh kidnapper and then the very next scene he’s talking with Bobby Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan). It’s confusing and unnecessary.

It is also maddeningly uninformative. It’s pretty well known that Hoover did not like the Kennedys and, in fact, hated Bobby Kennedy. There is not an iota of a clue as to why. In fact there’s no why about anything anywhere. Hoover remains as much an enigma after seeing the film as he was before going in.

Naomi Watts plays Hoover’s longtime secretary, Helen Gandy, and Judi Dench plays his mother, with whom J. Edgar was extraordinarily close. The film alludes to the vicious rumor that Hoover was a cross-dresser, but doesn’t spend any time on it and seems to reject it, but it is ambiguous. Both give good performances. In fact, all the performances are very good, especially DiCaprio’s. It’s not the acting that makes this such a disappointment.

Then there’s the cinematography (Tom Stern). It’s shot in washed-out colors. Is there a reason? Don’t ask me.

There’s more: the makeup (Tania McComas) is sometimes so bad it appears camp, especially when Tolson ages. He looks like a freak from a horror movie.

The first hour is agonizingly slow. In fact, except for about five minutes when Eastwood deals with Martin Luther King, Jr., this entire film is a drag.

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