Monday, October 29, 2012

Movie Guy: Rom-Com Phooey

Okay, I didn't mean for it to take a week for me to get back to the blog. I'll have to start planning better.
Before I get back to the movies, I want to say that I hope everyone on the east coast is now and continues to be safe in the face of this monster storm. You all certainly appear to have managed to keep your sense of humor about it:

That's my friend Amanda Van Nostrand, New York actress, comedienne, and star of the Astro-Cons web series. (Yep, I totally just name-dropped.) My thoughts will be with Amanda and many others today. (And I will be referencing Amanda again later in this blog.)
Okay, back to the movies:

Love Actually (2003)
I do, actually, love this movie, despite the fact that I fully recognize that it is deliberately manipulative and, at times, a bit silly. I'd call it a guilty pleasure except that I don't really feel guilty about having watched this film multiple times. I do wish that the director had chosen to excise the cartoonish, one-joke, and - compared to the rest of this film - aberrant Colin (Kris Marshall) storyline in order to flesh out (no pun intended) the cute story of movie stand-ins John and Just Judy (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page). However, it isn't my movie, and I'll just take the not-as-good moments with the I've-seen-this-film-a-dozen-times-why-am-I-still-giddy-when-Aurélia-speaks-English moments.

New Year's Eve (2011)
I passed on this and its earlier companion, Valentine's Day, because I felt that they were both simply going to be unsophisticated attempts to capitalize upon the Love Actually's formula for success: take several storylines that are insufficient to sustain a full film on their own and tie them together thematically into one movie. (And, yes, I know Love Actually is far from the first film to utilize this formula.) After a recent re-watching of said British rom-com, I decided to give Garry Marshall's recent effort a second chance.
"Dude, I was 7 when 'Slippery When Wet' came out."
Turns out my suspicions were correct. More a parade of stars than a cohesive film, this film's blatant manipulations just don't pay off in a way that I was willing to forgive them as I do with Love Actually. A storyline about a rocker hearththrob reconnecting with the girl he left behind seems like a natural fit for Jon Bon Jovi until you remember that he has to be able to do more than sing. What little chemistry there is between Bon Jovi and Katherine Heigl (seventeen years his junior) is provided entirely by the oft-maligned but truly wonderful Heigl.
There is one really intriguing storyline that has bike messenger Zac Efron (meh) bribed by frumpy (?) secretary Michelle Pfeiffer to help her complete all of her current year's resolutions before the start of the new year. This one does not fit the formula, and it really probably could have been expanded into its own feature (with some re-casting).

You've Got Mail (1998)
"Black 10 on red Jack, Hanks."
"Good dog."
This is another one that I can - and do - re-watch frequently, but it had been a while since I had last seen it. This time I found myself far less forgiving of Meg Ryan's choice to let her character bounce and flit through the movie. I may have actually yelled, "Sit still!" at the screen. I think this helped me to understand why my favorite scene in the film is when Ryan's character is home sick with a cold. She is much more grounded in the scene, and - as a result - much funnier. She reminded me very much in that moment of the aforementioned Amanda Van Nostrand, whom I had met sometime after my previous viewing of the film and who now lives in New York City. (Be safe, Amanda. Batten the hatches or hatch the battens. Whichever.)

Two Weeks Notice (2002)
Worst. Ventriloquist. Ever.
Shouldn't this be "Two Weeks' Notice?" I guess a contextual argument could be made for the absence of the apostrophe. I think about these things. My friend Erica and I argue about whether or not The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother is misusing its apostrophe. (I say it is.)
Anyway, this was another re-watch inspired by recent viewings of Love Actually and About a Boy. I wanted to watch another Hugh Grant movie, and - while I remember not being blown away by this one the first time I saw it - I decided to give it another chance.
Hugh Grant is funny and charming. Sandra Bullock is funny and adorable. For some reason, though, the chemistry (and the motivations) just feels a bit forced. Not a bad movie, really. Just not a great one.
It is worth noting, however, that this film was almost going to be shot in Canada to save on production costs, but producer Sandra Bullock insisted that a movie about New York must be shot in New York. The movie's production was a big shot in the arm for the city in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. That context sort of smooths out some of the rough edges of the film.
We're all big fans of Sandra Bullock over here at Superfluity central.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
"Yes. I know who you are."
This movie boasts a handful of Orders of the British Empire - those bestowed upon Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, and Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith - so it sets the expectations pretty high. That's a tough position for a really nice, charming, but not terribly thought-provoking film to be in, frankly. I liked it, but I just can't rave about it the way that others have. It's a cute film that combines the idea of the elderly discovering that their lives are far from over with a fish-out-of-water tale in exotic India. Given the talented cast involved, it was a slam dunk, so I think I'd have liked to have seen the writers make it a little harder for them.

I think I'll leave it at that with the pledge that future blogs will occur more frequently. In the meantime, why not check out Amanda Van Nostrand and company in the animated web series Astro-Cons, as mentioned previously?
Here. I'll start you off:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Movie Guy: Frogs, Cancer, and Killing Captain America

I decided to return to the blog after - whoah! - after about three months. Interesting how life can do that to you.
Anyway, someone referred to me the other day as "a movie guy" - not in a disparaging way, just as a means of identification. I do watch a lot of movies. I guess I tend to think in terms of the movies I haven't seen yet (nearly 10,000 - I'm a list-maker) rather than the few thousand I have seen. Included among the films I haven't seen are several classic and new classic films that people I regard as movie experts say I "must see." (They're on the list. I'm getting around to them. I'm going to go watch The Best Years of Our Lives when I finish here today.) This is why I always talk myself out of starting a podcast about movies. I don't feel that I'm quite "expert" enough. Still, I do watch a lot of movies.
I'm also one of those people who likes to discuss a movie after I've seen it - preferably with someone other than my cat - but that opportunity doesn't always present itself.
So, as a precursor to a possible movie podcast somewhere down the line, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts about a few of the movies I've watched or re-watched in the last week or so.
(This may be a two-parter.)

The Muppets (2011)
Do a Google Image search for
"Kermit Goatse." Funnier than
this movie. Really.
I actually waited a little while to see this. I grew up watching the Muppets, so - like many others - when the first teasers for the the Muppet re-launch movie/tribute showed up, I was downright giddy, until . . . Jason Segel. I'm sure I will alienate many How I Met Your Mother fans (which will bother me for probably all of about seven seconds) but I just don't like Jason Segel. I didn't like him on Freaks and Geeks, and I haven't liked him in anything I've seen him in since. The only thing I like less than Jason Segel's acting is Jason Segel's writing, and - as a co-screenwriter on this film - his amateurish and forced sense of humor was evident throughout. And I'm not talking about corny jokes - corny jokes have always been a part of the Muppets in their subversive take on Vaudeville variety shows. I'm glad that Jason was a fan of the Muppets and pushed to bring them back into the public eye, but - as a storyteller - he's just no Jim Henson. But then, who is?
Hollywood has a tendency lately to take someone who has become a popular comic star (often inexplicably so) and simply give them carte blanche to work on whatever projects they want. Seth Rogen's insulting Green Hornet debacle comes to mind. I am disappointed that Disney decided to fall into the same trap in handing over to the Muppets to Segel.
It was nice to see the old gang again, but I'd suggest any one of the other Muppet films over this one - especially the first three.

The Sitter (2011)
"Man, I hope Elisabeth Shue doesn't see this movie."
I think Jonah Hill is a funny guy. Is he funny enough to carry a movie on his own? Sure, probably, but he needs a good director to make sure his improvisations don't go off-track or deviate from his established character, and he needs a good script that 1) helps to establish that character and 2) has him doing things that established character would do.
The Sitter is just flimsy on all counts and is basically a vehicle for Jonah Hill to run around and be Jonah Hill on a pretty thin premise that doesn't so much mix genres as bash them together.
Now, this is not a new concept by any means. I can think of a few Richard Pryor films in the 80s, Jerry Lewis films in the 60s, and Bob Hope films in the 40s that followed the same formula. They aren't great  films, either, but they do have a little bit of heart. So does The Sitter. Not a great film, but if you're a huge Jonah Hill fan, you'll probably be more forgiving.
I can think of one thing that - while it certainly wouldn't have fixed the issues with this film - would have made this film more enjoyable (and this is a note to all of Hollywood):
More Ari Graynor.
More, please.
My Favorite Brunette (1947)
"I'm being punk'd, right?"
This is one of those Bob Hope films that I mentioned above. Silly fun that is just a vehicle for Bob Hope's wackiness and more-miss-than-hit one-liners. Hope's brand of comedy worked better as the comic sidekick to Bing Crosby and in short sketches for NBC specials. I chuckled aloud once or twice during this film. For comparison: I'm usually holding my sides during a Marx Brothers movie - even one I've already seen.

50/50 (2011)
Look,  Rogen is good in this film, but if you thought I
would pass up an opportunity to post a picture of Anna
Kendrick on my blog, you're sick in the head.
I really liked Seth Rogen in Freaks and Geeks and then, really, in not much else I've seen him in since then. Pineapple Express and Paul. That's about it. Until this film. Here he is the crass but lovable best friend of the lead character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. When Gordon-Levitt's character discovers early in the film that he has a rare form of cancer, Rogen's reaction is not forced and fits well in-line with his character. This movie has great performances all-around from Gordon-Levitt, Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard as the supportive but selfish girlfriend, Anjelica Huston as Gordon-Levitt's smothering mom, Anna Kendrick (I really like her) as a fledgling psychologist, and two of my favorite character actors Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall as fellow cancer patients. I also really enjoyed director Jonathan Levine's juxtapositional music choices that are neither prosaic to the scene (all too common these days) nor directly contrasting.
Good movie. Funny and touching. I recommend it highly.

The Three Stooges (2012)
I totally just forgot what this movie is about.
Oh yeah, it's - nope. Lost it again.
Unlike The Muppets, I was opposed to this update from the very beginning and then gradually warmed up to it. It goes off the rails a bit toward the end (which, actually, is more or less the case with all of the Farrelly Brothers movies), but this is actually both a very loving tribute to the slapstick trio and an updating that fits in line with what the Stooges were doing during their era. When Chris Diamontopoulus as Moe says to a zoftig woman at a fancy party, "Pardon me, Jumbotron," I thought "Classic Moe." Of course, the real Moe Howard may not have ever lived to see a Jumbotron. Will Sasso's Curly is a bit over-the-top even for Curly, but Sean Hayes is dead-on as Larry.
One odd thing: there's a scene where Moe says that Larry has a headache and Larry disagrees. Moe then hits him in the head with a hammer and says, "How 'bout now?" Larry holds his head and says, "Yeah, it's coming on." Hayes delivers the latter line in one way for the take used in the movie. The take used in the trailer is an altogether different delivery than the one in the film, and - in my opinion - funnier.
Why do studios show scenes or takes of scenes in the trailer that aren't actually in the movie? Anyone?

"Even like this, your girlfriend would
still dump you for me. Sucks to be
you. Sucks! Get it? I'm a vampire!"
Dark Shadows (2012)
I've only seen bits and pieces of the original Dark Shadows soap opera. I've thought about trying to watch the series at some point, but the 1,225 episode run seems a bit daunting. In any case, I'm not really qualified to compare the 2012 Tim Burton/Johnny Depp remake to the original article. I know that the original series wasn't a comedy, and the remake definitely is, so I can already see that there's a problem with the architects of the movie not fully trusting the source material. It showed. Dark Shadows the movie is uneven enough trying to incorporate elements of over a thousand episodes' worth of storylines (and character development) into a single feature, so adding comedy into the mix makes the film all the more wobbly. Setting the film deliberately in 1972 adds another element for the film to juggle and exacerbates the problem by adding the cheap gimmick of the 2012 Alice Cooper playing himself in 1972 (but bizarrely lip-synching to his old track. WTF?)
I guess Burton chose 1972 because it is 40 years in the past, but the actual Dark Shadows series ended in 1971. I don't know. It was just messy. Maybe Tim Burton was distracted with Frankenweenie.

The Avengers (2012)
Hawkeye. Yep.
I watched this twice in theatres - the second time just to re-experience the ride that Joss Whedon had created for all of us fanboys (and to appreciate the fine artistry of Scarlett Johansson's wardrobe designer). I know that there are holes in the film, and some seriously gimmicky moments. It was cool to see Thor bounce his hammer off of Cap's indestructible shield, but - given that Thor didn't know that Cap had an indestructible shield at that point - it also makes the God of Thunder an attempted murderer.
Anyway, I couldn't resist a third viewing, and it was still a great ride even on the small screen. This time around I watched Ruffalo's performance more closely, watching it with the foreknowledge of his revealed "secret" near the end. It was a little like watching the dinner scene between Bruce Willis's character and his wife in The Sixth Sense after having already seen the film. See what I did there? If you've seen both films, you know what I'm talking about, and, if you haven't, you're still not spoiled. Of course, the whole hammer-on-shield thing was kind of a spoiler, wasn't it? Sorry about that.
I rarely watch a film three times in the same year, but - holes and all - The Avengers has been my favorite movie experience this year.

So that's seven movies. That should do for one entry. I'll share my thoughts with you about a few more movies next time, including this one: