Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (2010)
It didn't entirely work for me. I think there's a balancing act going on here and if the film starred anyone other than Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, the whole thing might even collapse. The premise of the movie (I've not seen the French original, The Dinner Game) is that Paul Rudd will get a promotion if he participates in the executives' game, which is to have a dinner where everyone tries to big the biggest idiot they can find. It's cruel, even monstrous, but the movie's not interested in that so much as it's interested in its main character. Not Rudd, but his fool: Steve Carell as a goofy IRS agent whose consuming hobby is building elaborate (and frankly lovely) dioramas with costumed, preserved mice. Carell is excellent. He gets the key to the role, which is not to ever wink at the audience and let them in on the joke. (Which is something that, to think of it, it seems like audiences reject; does it make people uncomfortable?) Carell's character has to be not only happy with his Dickensian foolishness, but completely oblivious to the fact that people see him as a joke. It's really worth it for Carell's performance. Rudd is good, too, because we never once get the sense that he's inviting Carell to the dinner out of cruelty, but out of an ambition that has been backed into a corner. The farcical dinner scene is funny and whimsical, and Zach Galifianakis is fun as Carell's boss, who is convinced he can control minds. Oh, and Jermaine Clement is hilarious. So is Lucy Punch. And David Walliams. There are a lot of good comic actors here. But the whole subplot with Rudd and his girlfriend is just a distraction that eventually feels like padding. The whole thing doesn't come off, but it's an enjoyable flick. *** stars.

DESPICABLE ME (2010)
I loved this movie. Steve Carell again, this time voicing Gru, a super-villain who adopts three little girls as part of a plan to infiltrate the home of an upstart rival (played by Jason Segel) and set in motion a long-cherished plot to steal the moon and take over the world. Of course, in taking care of a new family, Gru is put in touch with a long-denied humanity. It seems obvious, but the emotions are so genuine and the warmth grows organically from the characters. It's witty and honest and doesn't rely too much on smartass humor or media parody or any of the other crutches most modern computer-animated features can't get away from. It's also worth noting that there are a number of comedians in here (Carell, Segel, Russell Brand) who do interesting voices, instead of just being called on to play themselves. **** stars.

OUTFOXED: RUPERT MURDOCH'S WAR ON JOURNALISM (2004)
A chilling look at Rupert Murdoch's quest to strangle journalism and present the world with a skewed, right wing viewpoint. Thankfully, it also looks at the problem of global monopoly, which is what many corporations (such as News Corp.) are engaging in now, simply moving through subsidies in an attempt to hide their reach. Viewpoints are disappearing in the news media, and here we have a detailed blueprint as to how Rupert Murdoch is doing it. **** stars.

THE KING'S SPEECH (2010)
It keeps changing weekly, but this is my pick for Best Picture of 2010. Colin Firth stars as Prince Albert, the Duke of York. His handicap is a stammer that is nearly crippling, but seemingly born out of a self-confidence issue. Though no one has been able to help him, he eventually puts his trust in Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unconventional speech therapist who wants to attack the problem at the root. In Lionel's mind, Bertie doesn't have a deformity or a neurological problem, but something much deeper, related to his upbringing. Firth and Rush are excellent; so is Helena Bonham Carter, someone I don't much like, but who is better in this movie than anything I've seen her in in a very, very long time. 10 years or more. One of the great innovations of this movie is to show Edward VIII's abdication not as grand romantic sacrifice, but as the cowardly move of someone in far over his head. Firth portrays Bertie's accession as King George VI as much more noble and selfless, even though he has incredible doubts of his own. It's an exciting movie, exciting in the way great storytelling and great acting always are, when we actually see them. **** stars.

TANGLED (2010)
As you know, I was fully prepared to not like this movie. So I was wonderfully surprised at how much I enjoyed myself with this retelling of Rapunzel. As much as the commercials tried desperately to oversell this as a slick, smartass DreamWorks movie, it's comfortably within the Disney tradition. Not only that, but it's beautiful to look at. It's kind of egregious that this isn't nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, simply from an aesthetic viewpoint. It's simply the best-looking computer-animated flick I've ever seen. It mimics the warm, storybook tones of a movie like Beauty and the Beast, but makes them three-dimensional in a way that doesn't detract from the visuals, but rather enhances the limits of computer animation. It's a fantastic achievement, and a fun movie besides (I'd put it third for this year's animated crop behind How to Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me). Particularly, I have to point out Donna Murphy as the film's villain, Mother Gothel. She's a delight; terribly funny, very passive-aggressive in an almost boisterous way--and very well-designed and well-realized. **** stars.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON (2009)
Bella's abusive boyfriend Edward runs off because he can't trust himself not to murder her, so her life falls apart, she becomes a thrill junkie, and picks up a romance with Jacob, a shirt-impaired werewolf running with a shirt-impaired pack. Bella has to decide which she wants more--the fey boy who stalks her and makes all her decisions for her, or the homoerotic wolf pack trying to push her to stay away from the vampires. Either way, no one trusts her to know what she actually wants for herself. A little more enjoyable than the first movie, but that's only because (for a time) Jacob's simply less of a twat than Edward is, and with Robert Pattinson missing from 95% of the movie, that can only be an improvement. But the fact that these movies are presented so seriously, as something we're really supposed to believe in, will sink these every time. Decent soundtrack. **1/2 stars.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (2010)
The nightmare continues. The film takes forever to introduce any new conflicts, instead wallowing in the love triangle that was supposedly resolved at the end of the first movie, drawing out the epic whining between Shirtless Caveman-Face, Emo Vamp-Twat, and the block of wood that a distractingly-bewigged Kristen Stewart plays so well in these things. Seriously, since seeing the first Twilight movie a year ago, I've seen Kristen Stewart in three movies that I though she was exceptional in--The Yellow Handkerchief, The Runaways, and Welcome to the Rileys--and it's so sad to go back to these movies and see her struggle to have any heat at all with Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, who in one scene with Bella asleep have more romantic chemistry with each other than with her. (Which is always the case with Eurotrash and the naked Indian houseboy, isn't it?) K. Stew, we get it, you're a big lesbo, and we actually love you more because of it. But ditch the romantic leads, the Adventurelands, anything where you have to convincingly carry off a connection with a man. You're a good actress, but in those roles you aren't convincing. To be fair, though, everyone sucks in this movie, because everyone's trying to sell this as something serious and sweeping, but really coming across like they're in a tenth-rate Lord of the Rings rip-off, and a poorly written one at that. This thing could have gone straight to the Sci-Fi Channel. This is the worst of the Twilight movies (so far), completely convoluted and underwhelming, incomprehensibly directed, and with the characters even more like bobbing parakeets you're just dying to see fly into a ceiling fan than ever before. * star.

6 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

The king's Speech is the best 2010 movie I saw

Paradox Al said...

Shirtless Caveman-Face and Emo Vamp-Twat. I couldn't stop laughing after that. Seriously made my day.

Kal said...

I knew that once you say 'The King's Speech' that you would agree with me that it is the year's best picture.

I am resisting 'Tangled' for the same reasons you did but you have convinced me to watch it today.

I find KS beatiful and that is why she lets me down so often. I am glad she didn't ruin the 'Runaways' for you since you have a special connection with that band and that film.

Carl said...

Despicable Me was one of my favorite movies of last year--Let's just say I got very taken with the Minions... BEST thing about that movie, although Vector is warming up to me after each viewing.

And still haven't seen the Twilight movies... Don't really want to, and Kate won't let me even if its to make fun of them,

Bob "Melon" Melonosky said...

I agree with you about Kristen Stewart in these movies, and she maybe a lesbo (i'm guessing bi), but have you seen her in Into the Wild?

She had chemistry oozing down both her legs! She actually ruined the movie for me because I couldn't believe that the guy wouldn't bang her in her trailer and then decide that going into the wild could wait a few years.

Daskaea said...

Aaron, you just made my life worth living with those Twilight reviews.