Saturday, August 27, 2011

Movie Log: Rapid-Fire Catch-Up Edition

I've seen a number of movies over the past couple of months -- not as much as I saw at the same time last year, possibly because I'm frenzied at work, or because my other blog (Editorial Explanations) is taking too much of my time and mental energy, or just because my time management skills have gone all to hell -- and neglected to inflict my opinions about them on you folks. But perhaps I can fix that now, and perhaps babbling about minor movies will help take my mind off the hurricane bearing down on me and the twenty million people closest to me.

So, in no particular order:

I saw Rango longer ago than I care to say, and it's not a movie that should be contemplated at leisure after much deep thought. Johnny Depp is the voice of a lizard who is not named Rango -- I don't think we actually ever learn what his real name is, or if he even really had one -- but who takes that name for reasons that the movie belated realizes it should have explained to us, once it's almost too late. Rango is a talking-animal movie set in the desert Southwest, and it looks wonderful, as long as you're fond of beiges, greys, and browns. The lizard who is not Rango, following some well-paid hack's theory of story-making, gets rudely ripped from his cushy but spiritually unfulfilling existence, wanders into the requisite Crooked Town, and bounces off things for a while before meeting the Spirit of the West and learning his True Destiny as a Hero. (He's gets the girl -- well, the female lizard -- along the way as well, because a movie like this can't have any surprises in it.) It hits all of the beats that the suits at whatever this studio this is required, and will reliably entertain anyone who has seen more than five American animated movies.

Love and Other Drugs is the first of several major "she just wants to have sex; he wants a Real Relationship" movies that have been flung at the American public over the past few months; I've got one more immediately below this, and the Mia Kunis-Justin Timberlake incarnation is still slouching through movie theaters at this very moment. It's possibly the best of those movies, partly because it has Anne Hathaway in it, partly because it has a real plot and a real reason for her not to want that Real Relationship (she's very ill with the modern version of Ali McGraw Disease, and wants no part of your pity, no sir!). It starts off shaky, though, with Jake Gyllenhaal careening around as a glad-handing drug salesman in the go-go '90s -- betraying this story's origins in the memoirs of an actual glad-handing drug salesman in the go-go '90s -- and only settles down somewhat once Hathaway fixes her fiery eyes on the camera. It goes pretty much where you expect it to go -- this is an American movie, and true love will win out over all, or it won't get funded -- but it's pleasant to look at all the way. Speaking of pleasant to look at, both Gyllenhaal and Hathaway spend an extensive amount of time naked or partially so, and if there's someone who doesn't like to look at either of those bodies sweaty and thrusting, I feel deeply sorry for you; they're fine, impressive specimens.

No Strings Attached is somewhat of a roadshow version of Love and Other Drugs; Natalie Portman is as good an actress as Anne Hathaway (and Ashton Kutcher, astonishingly to me, can stand up to her in every scene), but she's vastly less physical here, and unwilling to be naked, physically or emotionally. The story here is much more obvious -- clearly coming from a screenwriting workshop rather than the mess of an actual life -- with pat parental conflicts (with the charming Kevin Kline as Kutcher's father), and work-life drama, and other Movie of the Week stuff. Portman and Kutcher are both good and engaging, though, so watching them wander around each other for nearly two hours is plenty of fun.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about as exciting and adventurous as the first two movies -- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian -- which is to say, not nearly as much so as anyone would like. (Unless one is a timid and easily frightened Christian child.) Most of what was dull and unexceptional about the first two movies is repeated here, though there are no tedious scenes of armies gathering, and the Christian proselytizing is almost entirely absent. In fact, if you happened to find yourself back in the last summer, and wanted to spend a few hours indoors, looking at vaguely adventurous happenings on a very large screen with good sound, Dawn Treader would not at all have been a bad choice. At home on video, though, what virtues it does have are very muted and unexceptional; this is a movie that means well but doesn't really produce.

Cedar Rapids is a funny fish-out-of-water movie that doesn't really aim any higher than that, and that's just fine. Ed Helms is the fish in this particular case, a small-town insurance salesman sent to the slightly larger city (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) for the big convention of his peers, where he quickly runs into his first African-American (Isiah Witlock, Jr.), his first loose cannon (John C. Reilly) and, though he doesn't quite realize it, his second loose woman (Anne Heche). He rooms with two of them and sleeps with the third, and, in best naive-guy fashion, agonizes and feels guilty about all of the parts of that equation. Whitlock is possibly even more square than Helms -- and a movie like this with someone like Whitlock at the center would have been even more interesting -- Heche is smart and sexy in a businesslike way, and Reilly is his usual big-comedy raucous persona. The secondary characters (including Sigourney Weaver, Rob Corddry, and Stephen Root) also work well -- it's an overdetermined movie, but one with a good heart and a strong sense for what it should be doing at any particular moment. It's also one of the sweeter of the recent slew of raunchy comedies; it does have a soft spot for the traditional Midwestern virtues of hard work, sobriety, honesty, and determination.

A Summer in Genoa pretends to be a movie about Colin Firth, but it isn't, at all. Firth plays the father of the real center of the movie, two daughters -- teenaged Kelly (Willa Holland) and ten-ish Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) -- whose mother we see die in a car crash in the excruciatingly extended opening scene. That scene sets the tone for the whole movie -- it runs on too long, it's shot with a shaky hand-held camera that will give us headaches, and it doesn't quite come to any conclusion even at its overextended length. The movie is about those two girls, and how they cope with their mother's death -- and, particularly, with their guilt about that death. Firth's Joe -- and if there ever was an actor less able to play a standard American named "Joe," it's Firth -- decides to accept an offer to teach in Genoa, Italy, for a year, to get the girls away from the Chicago scene of their mother's death, and they all go off in early June to have a summer together there. But the girls don't want to leave everything they know, and Firth seems to be teaching the minute he gets into town, so the girls are left to themselves. Kelly discovers boys, and Mary, often left behind and, the camera movements and music cues insist, in danger of getting lost, sinks deeper into herself and her guilt. The movie mopes along for far too long, with those too-extended scenes and bouncy camera shots becoming more and more tedious every minute, until, finally, the family comes back together so that the movie can finally, thankfully, end. I saw it because The Wife loves Firth, but I think even she loves him slightly less now than she did before this movie.

I haven't seen the Dudley Moore version of Arthur in at least twenty-five years, if I ever did. (Memory is fuzzy on that point.) But I'm willing to bet that it's better in nearly every way than the recent Russell Brand version of Arthur, down to the fact that the new movie neglects to have the romantic lead on the poster, giving our alcoholic boy-man instead a choice of nanny (the stern but loving Helen Mirren, trying not to be compared to John Geilgud) or shrew (the game Jennifer Garner, as the girl this Arthur is supposed to marry, or forfeit all his millions). This one is cartoonish at every turn -- pleasant and aggressively unoffensive, but never as exciting or interesting as it should be. When you have a movie about a rich, self-absorbed, and childish drunk, you have to let him be less than perfectly likable at least once in your movie, but the makers of this Arthur would not agree; Brand remains pixieish and brightly smiling throughout, except during the laughable "everyone is moving at high speed around me to indicate that I Am Sad" scene. Oh, and I should mention that Arthur's true love -- the one left off the poster -- is played gamely by Greta Gerwig, who nearly makes us believe that she can see something good in Brand's Arthur. This is another agreeable way to waste time, if necessary, but nothing more than that.

No comments:

Post a Comment