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:

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