Archive for July, 2009

Funny People
A Dramatic Effort

Audience expectations may be the biggest enemy for Funny People, the new film from writer/director Judd Apatow. Built up in the trailers as the “third film from the director of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up” and starring the likes of Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, audiences are likely to go in expecting a laugh-a-minute comedy. It is even suggested in the title. Apatow is trying to branch out, however, and this more dramatic effort is sure to let many filmgoers down.


Green Lantern: First Flight
Send the Kids Outside

With this origins-tale franchise reboot of sorts, you may well deduce that what you’re watching is an animated version of Green Lantern that’s as much influenced by Firefly and the Joss Whedon school of comics as by the rather straight-laced inked pictures that first brought us the character. And why not? That can be a good thing. On the other hand, before you get five paragraphs of dialogue into the thing, you may well be thinking, along with one of its characters, “What the hell?” Somebody tagged my comic book with bargain-basement four-letterisms. Wholly potty mouth, Batman! Is the target demographic for this kind of thing really boys between fourteen and a regressive thirteen-and-a-half?


Wild Pacific
Nature Straight Up, Agenda Chaser

In an effort to be entertaining, the writers have tended to engage in mild hyperbole and melodrama a bit too often for my taste. When comparing the ecologically disastrous fate of Easter Island, for instance, with the measured subsistence economy of another remote, tiny island community, the PC message is abundantly overstated and oversimplified: capitalist excess equals Easter Island apocalypse, and we’d all be better off hunkering down as hunter-gatherers on a cyclone-swept atoll. But really, a program like this all boils down to the footage—and what footage! It’s nice to be able to pull something off the shelf on demand and see the places you want to see when you want to see them, along with the whole family.


The Ugly Truth
Formulaic with a Vengeance

Fresh off the heels of the delightful, unconventional romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer, the formulaic rom com is back with a vengeance thanks to The Ugly Truth. Whereas the former sought to explore the relationships between men and women, the latter seeks only to exploit them for entertainment value. Fortunately, the entertainment value is there.


Watchmen
Who'll Watch Watchmen?

As long as the plot remains abstract and philosophical it’s all in thoughtful, profane fun. “It rains on the just and the unjust alike,” Laurie observes, and the biblical allusion is both apt and welcome. Dr. Manhattan reminds us that a being of limited omnipotence is really no god at all; and Rorshach’s bitter and self-damning conclusion, “God doesn’t make the world this way… we do,” seems warranted. It’s even amusing to consider an alternate 1980s that still produces music like “99 Luftballoons.” But when the plot and naked bodies start coming together, Snyder’s flick just jumps the rails. By the time Laurie has to explain her post-heroic ennui, you kind of feel like you’re watching Winnie Cooper as a superhero. And that’s not all that fun.


The Quantum Activist
Making Science and Faith Work Together

Physics tells us that matter is simply a manifestation of statistical probabilities; that is, when you look at the sub-atomic particles which make up a tabletop, you can’t actually locate them: you can only definitely say that they exist. Amit Goswami and other like-minded scientists claim this as proof of the metaphysical: that is, we can collectively shape reality by the combined exercise of our conscious wills. But I don’t think the filmmakers do themselves a great service by citing “change we can believe in” as a prime example of their theory. Instead, visualize being a good citizen and friend. That can’t but help to transform the planet in radically positive ways: activism of that sort worked 2000 years ago, and it still can.


(500) Days of Summer
This Generation's Annie Hall

The lead performances are top-notch, the type of performances that are likely to be considered as “snubs” when the Oscar nominations are announced. As Tom, burgeoning superstar Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries the movie by allowing the audience in and allowing them to feel like he represents the romantic in all of us. As Summer, the always delightful Zooey Deschanel pulls off the impossible of playing the “girl of our dreams” while still managing to make her feel authentic and attainable. The crux of (500) Days of Summer is that the protagonist believes he has finally found the girl he has been looking for his entire life. Well, while watching the movie, I couldn’t fight the feeling that I had found a movie I had been searching for my entire life.


The Bracelet of Bordeaux
Yes, I Laughed

Interested in a little goofy Saturday morning fun with your kids? The Bracelet of Bordeaux is goofy enough and fun enough, and it’s even fairly family friendly. But to be honest, I ended up watching the film’s second half at double speed—and don’t think I missed a thing. At 99 minutes, the premise is probably stretched about 39 minutes too long for adult taste, though I imagine kids will stick with it as they munch on Cheerios and build things with Legos, or whatever it is that kids build things with these days. Bottom line: a pretty darned decent job for a micro-budget DIY crew. You probably won’t regret renting this for some light weekend entertainment, at least not too much.


Selfless
Pacific-Rim Noir Lite

I know nothing about architectural design; clearly, the Pander Brothers know a great deal. I know nothing about the conventions of anime and manga; the Panders are steeped in them. Perhaps, as a critic, I’m as ill-equipped to critique this film as Dylan Gray is to build his dream domicile. Perhaps I am just unsympathetic to the inhabitants of the Panders’ world. As I browse around their various websites, this possibility becomes quite distinct. On the other hand, I do think the film would have been better served by an ending closer to John Dahl’s work than Jean-Claude Van Damme’s. And I’m pretty sure that Dahl knows a thing or two about film design.


I Love You, Beth Cooper
Try "Barely Tolerate"

I can easily imagine the pitch meeting for I Love You, Beth Cooper: “It’s like Superbad meets Can’t Buy Me Love”… or fill in the blanks with any “one crazy night” and “dweeb longs for popular girl” flick. Both sub-genres tend to be very successful, so it seems a good idea to combine them, but the end result feels like a half-baked effort. Therefore, it surprised me at the end to learn that the film was directed by Chris Columbus, a man whose resume includes some pretty A-list films like the first two Harry Potter films and even the popular ’80s one-crazy-night flick Adventures in Babysitting.


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