Charlie Wilson's War
dir. Mike Nichols
Is there a writer alive today with a more recognizable line of patter than Aaron Sorkin? Much like Kevin Smith, the award-laden West Wing creator doesn't write dialogue so much as a constant stream of dueling monologues, all breathlessly delivered in what sounds suspiciously like the same voice. The above isn't meant to harp on the man's genuine, sizzling literary gifts (anyone responsible for the loopy delirium of 1993's Malice deserves, at the very least, a small national park named in his honor), but rather to point out that his hyperliteracy is perhaps best digested in small, commercial-interrupted chunks. Too large a dose, and it begins to feel like a forced race-walk through one of the author's trademark endless hallways.
True to form, the Sorkin-penned Charlie Wilson's War features miles upon miles of speech-clogged corridors. Thankfully, the combined efforts of a top-tier cast, an undeniably relevant mid-'80s storyline, and a director who does this type of highbrow stuff better than anyone manage to punch a breezy hole through the ever-present chattering din.
Based on George Crile's nonfiction bestseller, the story follows Democratic Texas congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a boozy, womanizing master of the party line who, with the prodding of a wealthy socialite (Julia Roberts), unexpectedly vows that the little-noticed rebels in Afghanistan will receive enough U.S.-funded weaponry to fend off the invading Soviets. As usual, director Mike Nichols's unhurried, semisatirical grace is a wonder to behold, particularly in the performances he gets out of his actors: Hanks and Roberts both add winningly seedy facets to their established personas, while Philip Seymour Hoffman's slobby, profane CIA man steals damn near every scene.
Everything runs so smoothly, in fact, that it isn't until afterward that you realize there really isn't a second act—the film proceeds from notion to resolution without much in the way of conflict. Structural natterings aside, this remains an extremely entertaining conversation starter of a movie, of the sort earmarked for a better-than-average night out with the folks. Depending, of course, on their tolerance for scenes involving talky naked strippers in hot tubs. ANDREW WRIGHT
P.S. I Love You
dir. Richard LaGravenese
Hey, you stupid movie. I don't love you. In fact, you are terrible. If we were married and then you died of a brain tumor, and then you sent me magic love letters from beyond the grave (which is exactly your plot), I would throw the letters into the garbage and then I would pee in the garbage can. And then I would feed the garbage can to a stupid goat so that your memory could slowly dissolve in the stomach juices of the world's least popular animal. Then I would push the goat off a cliff. That's how much I hated our time together.
Your star, Hilary Swank—dead of husband, pointy of spine ("You make a ravishing widow, sis!")—is just so, so unappealing as a romantic-comedy lead. She's annoying. She's a snooze. And, like I said, she looks like a fucking stegosaurus. (Also, her character makes "shoe art"! SHUT UP.)
Your dialogue is insane. "Don't be like that!" scolds Gina Gershon. "Like what?" asks the mopey stego. "Like the only lonely widow in Gotham City!" Later, in bed: "I can feel you hugging me," whispers Swank. "That's because I am," replies ghost husband. "You look great," Swank tells the ghost. Whoa! What?
You do have three things to recommend you, though. The first thing is Lisa Kudrow. But that one cancels itself out, because for some reason you chose not to cast Lisa Kudrow in every role. Bad move. The second thing is hot Irishmen. The ghost, Irishman #1 (Gerard Butler, not actually Irish), is hot. Irishman #2 (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, not actually Irish) is even hotter. Thanks for that. The third unexpected gift is Harry Connick Jr., who, with the deadest of pans, consistently spins your horrible writing into comedy gold. "How did he die?" he asks at the funeral. "Brain tumor," says the bony widow. "NICE." Ha!
But seriously, when Harry Connick Jr. is the funniest thing in your movie, it's time to get a brain tumor. P.S., I love hot Irishmen. LINDY WEST
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
dir. Jake Kasdan
I'm about to use a pseudo-witty critic cliché... wait for it... wait... Walk Hard walks a fine line. Boom. But it's true. For the movie to be successful it was going to have to cleverly mock the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line (which I love) and in turn mock Johnny Cash himself without coming off as a big bully kicking a (literally) dead horse.
Johnny and June Cash's turbulent love story is practically sacred; Walk Hard (cowritten by Judd Apatow), meanwhile, is a goofy movie with dick jokes being delivered by cast members of SNL and The Office. The plot follows the rise, fall, and resurgence of an American music legend, Dewey Cox, who cheats on his wife, hooks up with his duet partner, loses her and wins her back, has tons of babies, does tons of drugs, and struggles to remain relevant. Ahem.
But it's really, really funny (if you like dick jokes), and it's still funny even if you love Johnny Cash. First of all, the songs don't suck and John C. Reilly (Dewey Cox) can actually sing. Secondly, even if the obvious turns of the plot don't entertain you (because let's be honest, you know exactly where the movie's going at all times), you'll have fun spotting the guest stars littered throughout the film, playing rock stars both dead and alive. The Beatles are played by Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long (the Mac guy), and Jason Schwartzman. Jack White of the White Stripes plays Elvis Presley, the little Frankie Muniz kid from Malcolm in the Middle plays Buddy Holly, and the Temptations play the Temptations. Jewel plays herself, which is unfortunate, but otherwise Walk Hard is awesome. MEGAN SELING