Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Film Week

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

BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S JOURNEY (2011)
I finally was able to sit and watch this documentary. I want to call it charming, but for some reason that sounds reductive to me. But Kevin Clash is a charming guy and his story is great; a Muppet fan who went into puppetry, whose family supported him, and who eventually got to live his dream. And he now has the best job title in the history of the world ("Muppet Captain"). Kevin Clash is one of the major forces of the Muppets, and he got there by being really great at what he does. It's especially interesting to watch now, almost 20 years after the Tickle Me Elmo Extinction Level Event, with a much different perspective on Elmo than I had then. I watched this the same day Jerry Nelson died. There were tears that day. ****

COOLEY HIGH (1975)
A couple of high school students (Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) grow up, have adventures, and experience life in 1964 Chicago. Turman and Hilton-Jacobs are both good (Glynn Turman is always so damn good), and I liked the observational approach the movie takes. It pulled me in and invested me in these characters' lives. Fantastic soundtrack of 60s Motown hits (and the new song "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday"), and Chicago looks beautiful. ****

THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT (2012)
Two smug, charmless yuppie wannabes spend 2+ hours meandering through a predictable, plotless, unfunny mess, nothing really happens, you decide that this exact movie is absolutely everything that's wrong with comedies and movies today, then it finally stops and your life is 2+ hours shorter. I saw a lot of people doing the usual "Well, it's not great, but it really has some good points" wishy-washy non-opinions, which itself tends to be a warning sign for these things. Guys, no. There's nothing redeeming here. It doesn't even inspire enough passion to be truly awful. It doesn't even rise to the level of mediocrity. It's just there, it flashes past, and then it goes away. True pointlessness, and a disappointment coming from the people who wrote and directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, one of my favorite movies. This just doesn't even try, but it thinks it's awfully cute. Jason Segel is just tepid and Emily Blunt... what the fuck is it people like about her? She has zero personality, and I'm just not fucking rooting for her. I wanted these two to stay as far apart as possible. It's also one of those annoying movies that thinks no one can truly be fulfilled unless they get married, even if it's to the wrong person. Fuck you, movie. Go to hell. *

JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME (2011)
Well, at least my faith in Jason Segel is restored (though he didn't write this, so he's still not off the hook). I found myself surprisingly moved by this story. Segel plays Jeff, an unemployed 30 year-old who lives in his mother's basement and keeps waiting to see signs and cosmic connections that tell him where he's supposed to be (like the movie Signs, he explains). Ed Helms plays his brother, who is driven and selfish, and whose marriage is falling apart. And their mother, Susan Sarandon, is suddenly being wooed by a secret admirer in what she believes must be an elaborate prank. As the day goes on and their plots intersect, it all does come to a point, but I like the way the movie doesn't force the emotional payoffs or linger too much on them. It's really, at it's heart, just about what happens to Jeff to get him to take the first real step towards independent adulthood. And it hit a chord with me. ****

CARNAGE (2011)
After one kid hits another on the playground, their parents (Jodie Foster & John C. Reilly and Kate Winslet & Christoph Walz) meet together to decide how to proceed, who should apologize, and what this means for their children. It's not really about the plot so much; it's more of an excuse for four of the best actors in film today to get into a room and interact with one another, and if you find truly great acting as electrifying as I do, that's all that needs to happen. In just 79 minutes, all four actors experience just about every emotion possible, playing off of one another as opinions explode, lines are drawn, and alliances are made and unmade. If there's a point to the movie, it's that good manners and civilized reasoning can be stripped away as soon as it comes down to my kid vs. your kid. This movie pulled me in and made me pay attention, and it rewarded me much more than that lumbering mess The Five-Year Engagement did. ****

BATMAN: YEAR ONE (2011)
Flat and dull. Like All-Star Superman, this animated flick takes one of the great comic book stories and takes no chances with it, holds no surprises, and is unimaginatively straightforward. At times, David Mazzuechelli's art is replicated so exactly that you could be watching one of those insipid motion comics. It's a good story, but not told in a way that's innovative or even alive. Bryan Cranston is very good as the voice of Jim Gordon; Ben McKenzie is a terrible, boring Batman (and an even worse Bruce Wayne). At least it's only an hour long. **1/2

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