What movie was that...?

30 March 2012

Friends with Kids

directed by Jennifer Westfeldt

After watching Jennifer Westfeldt’s Friends with Kids about two weeks ago, I was looking forwarding to forgetting the film the way you forget some terrible nights out on the town, a tragic memory that recedes into the sweet oblivion where all uncomfortable recollections go to die. But then I made the mistake of reading a few reviews of this film from so called professionals, hardly believing eyes as I read glowing review after glowing review. What was happening? Had I gone mad? Did we watch the same film? The answer to these questions was yes, we had watched the same film, but it wasn’t me who had gone mad. For shame, you critics out there for doling out praise to an undeserving recipient. Westfeldt was definitely trying to tell the story of partnerships, marriages (good, bad and unconventional), friendships, and how these relationships are strained or forged when little ones enter the fray. The most significant contributor to this film’s shortcoming (for me) was in the “show, don’t tell” argument championed by every Writing 101 teacher in existence. Too much was simply declared by the film’s characters at convenient times, which is always a tragedy when you have such strong talent working together. And that may be the biggest contributing factor to these positive reviews, the caliber of newer talent trying admirably to make it all work. Yes, Kristen Wiig is a deservedly hot talent right now, as is Jon Hamm (still in his Mad Men revelry). Even Adam Scott (finally getting some serious street cred. I have loved you for years!) finds a way to humanize a role that seems almost an “insert face here” kind of part. The film had potential, and what’s so deflating about it was that Westfeldt’s script didn’t achieve anything, good or bad. It was like a filmic bowl of melted ice cream, repellent in its gelatinous afterglow, yet you can still see in the sticky glop the delicious treat it could have been if you had gotten to it before. Before what, you may ask? Well, I don’t know. Before it got all gooey and unrecognizable. Before it dissolved from an appetizing treat for the soul into a mess that you just want to slop down the drain. It sounds harsh, and I feel badly about it, but there was just too much talent in the room for these kinds of mistakes to be made. 

29 March 2012

Coriolanus

directed by Ralph Fiennes

I’m going to have to plead ignorance when it comes to William Shakespeare’s tragedy, having sacrificed experiencing it in school so that Hamlet and Macbeth could be dissected one more time. I’m sorry I have, because even going on the fragments that John Logan was able to contract into a pretty tense narrative, Coriolanus is a bruiser (T.S. Eliot once declared Coriolanus superior to such tragedies as Hamlet or Macbeth). There are a few elements of the general plot that don’t seem to work when modernized (Coriolanus getting banished by, essentially, a mob. A late and surprising plot twist that had me scratching my head), but I can forgive such trivialities in light of true venomous acting (thank you Ralph, Ms. Redgrave, and G Butler).  Ralph Fiennes, putting on his director hat as well as his leading actor hat, opts for the uber-gritty and perhaps too frenetic camerawork in an attempt to give us a war ravaged Rome and the battle between social classes. Directing wise, it may have missed the mark a bit for me, but Fiennes and Gerard Butler kick some serious ass as blood enemies turned unconventional comrades. The film belongs to Vanessa Redgrave (the frightening mother of the exiled warrior) though, and she squeezes every ounce of blood out of her stony personae to chill your blood. Bravo all around, though I suspect that there was more to the original play that helped to flesh out various character arcs, plot points and the like, but Logan almost pulled it off.

27 March 2012

21 Jump Street

directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Whilst my film snob friends were bashing this movie before it hatched, I was tentatively defending the potential of the Tatum/Hill buddy cop television series reboot spinoff comedy. Little brother DC and I caught a show when I went to visit him the other day, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy the hell out of 21 Jump Street’s silly ass. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are a stellar duo, rocking genuine friend chemistry and enough comedic timing to make my sides hurt at times. The movie does lag, but the high points, the humor and the cameos more than make up for it. Tatum and Hill, both working to break their showbiz stereotypes, seem to be succeeding on an empirical level, but DC and I have always thought of Tatum as an actor of subtle, understated sincerity. Hell, Tatum’s slightly unhinged genius was the only good thing to say about the filmic floater that was The Dilemma. Hill is always solidly funny, and Jump Street finds him in the writer’s chair also this time around. Jump Street is just the thing we need to liven up the gray doldrums of Detroit sprinter (The shitty, sleety cold/warm sunless period where it’s supposed to be spring, but we’re still wearing our winter coats). And it’s the kind of film that has too much fun, even as it’s saying Fuck you, art film!

02 March 2012

The Interrupters

directed by Steve James

Many critics lamented this doc’s absence from the greats of 2011, and they were absolutely right. Steve James (remember Hoop Dreams?) has crafted an amazingly heart breaking, yet somehow hopeful documentary about life amid the violence of inner city Chicago. The Interrupters focuses on a group called Ceasefire, consisting of ex-gangbangers and criminals who seek to minimize violence (mainly gang related) by interceding before the altercation escalates. The interesting perspective held by members of the group is that violence is an actual disease, a modern plague that must be treated as such. The members of Ceasefire act as antibiotics or vaccines, interrupting the disease’s mutation before it becomes communicable. The members James chooses to highlight are astonishing examples of redemption and stalwart belief in the effects of such a daunting endeavor. These heroes all have demons, very real demons that cling to the coattails of the entire film, but James doesn’t try to vilify or exonerate, opting instead to simply shine a light on a very small, yet very significant effort to make things better. It’s a heavy brew, but well worth the time.