DEATH AT A FUNERAL

May 27, 2010

I’m playing catch-up since the semester has ended (and grading completed!).  One of the films I had some interest in seeing but no time to see earlier is Death At A Funeral.  The preview trailers were funny, and honestly almost all of the funniest moments are included in the trailer.  There is one unexpected reason, though, to check this film out, especially as a DVD rental or DVR selection:  James Marsden.  He is hilarious in a performance that steals every scene including him.

As you may recall or have read, Neil LaBute directed this remake of a 2007 film directed by Frank Oz.  Same title and basically the same script but LaBute replaces the proper British family with an African American family.  The only unusual thing about this – since remakes are commonplace — is the short timespan between the two English-language versions of the story.

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JUST WRIGHT and LETTERS TO JULIET

May 19, 2010

There are two pleasant, moderately entertaining romantic comedies to choose from this week in the Triad.  Both try to put a new wrinkle in a very old narrative, but they are as predictable, in the end, as fans of the genre expect (and probably wish) them to be.

Just Wright stars Queen Latifah as a physical therapist named Leslie Wright who is obsessed with the New Jersey Nets.  A chance encounter with the team’s star leads to…well…to complications on the way to true love.  I think Queen Latifah is terrific in general, but she’s a bit subdued in this film.  Still, it’s good to see Paula Patton in a totally different role (than the good teacher Ms. Rain in Precious) and also nice to see Pam Grier and Phylicia Rashad get a little screen time as moms.

Letters to Juliet adds a few plot twists and some gorgeous Italian locations to the standard fare, but in the end it, too, is predictable.  Amanda Seyfried comes close to transcending the material.  She plays a woman named Sophie who is engaged to a gorgeous chef more interested in epicurean delights than in his fiancée  – he has a hard time listening to her when there is a glass of wine or a slice of cheese or a pastry nearby – and Seyfried has the best support available with Vanessa Redgrave, who is pursuing a long lost love of her own.  The whole affair is accomplished but predictable nonetheless.

Maybe that’s okay.  After all, real life seldom turns out this way, so why not engage in a bit of fantasy at the movies?


ROBIN HOOD

May 18, 2010

I still say Ridley Scott’s best movie is Thelma & Louise.  Other may argue that another of Scott’s films is better, but I doubt that anyone who’s seen both could launch a persuasive argument that Robin Hood is better than the director’s iconic 1991 film.

As for Robin Hood, not only am I longing for Errol Flynn, I’m thinking Men in Tights (which is not one of my Mel Brooks favs) is a better way to spend time than seeing the new tale of Robin Hood.  It’s not that the new film is terrible – I don’t think Scott makes terrible films – but what’s the point?

Russell Crowe is too old, this character seems nothing like the legend, and the story just plods along without giving us a sense of him as a person.  What drives this man who does not seem a leader until circumstances lead him to impersonate one?  The circumstances set up in the movie and the convenient flashbacks (that feel both too fey and like an imposition of modern themes in ways that subvert history) run counter to popular narratives of Robin Hood.

I love the country landscapes and enjoy seeing Cate Blanchett as Marion (no maid here, a widow) and her father-in-law played by Max von Sydow, but this version of Robin Hood is pretty forgettable.


IRON MAN 2

May 18, 2010

So far, there really aren’t any summer movies (many of them sequels like this one) that I’m seriously jazzed to see.  Of course, maybe it’s a good thing to have modest expectations.  At least, sometimes it can be.  I thought Iron Man 2 was entertaining mostly because it was a comic book movie that felt like a comic book (at least to someone who doesn’t really read comic books).

It’s really the performances that drive this movie.  The actors look like they’re having fun (except Don Cheadle).  Robert Downy, Jr. is always watchable (remember how he almost saved Sherlock Holmes last year?), and he has Tony Stark down to perfection.  Mickey Rourke is over the top in life, so playing a Russian villain isn’t too overtaxing.

Scarlett Johansson is a welcome addition as a mysterious operative (a scene in which she takes out a bunch of security guards had me laughing out loud) while Gwyneth Paltrow carries on as Tony’s assistant and love interest Pepper Potts.  But, I was most captivated by Sam Rockwell’s performance as Justin Hammer, a business competitor of Tony’s.  Remember Rockwell from Moon last year?  He’s terrific.

The effects and action sequences in Iron Man 2 are ho-hum, the script has clever tongue-in-cheek moments but isn’t particularly memorable, but the actors sure are fun to watch.


BABIES

May 15, 2010

I finally caught the French documentary Babies, which documents the first year in the lives of four babies from around the world:  Mongolia, Namibia, San Francisco, and Tokyo.

The filmmaker uses an observational approach (putting the camera in a location and recording what happens without narration and other conventional narrative techniques).  This is an approach a normally favor, but instead of giving the viewer a sense of daily life here, the focus seems to be on highlighting universal cuteness.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that – cute is cute, after all – but I found more interesting the cultural differences that arise from glimpses at the lifestyles of the four families.  This also gave me an uncomfortable understanding of why my now-nearly-grown-up son has always called me overprotective.

This film is definitely pretty to look at and entertaining at moments, but I prefer a more substantive narrative to really pull me into a documentary and keep me there long after the credits have rolled.


Quick Updates

May 14, 2010

Glee is heating up a bit but still not quite clicking, Treme is holding my attention, Friday Night Lights is back on NBC (don’t miss episode two tonight), and I sincerely hope I did not jinx Law & Order!  Yikes!


LaCrosse

May 8, 2010

Last night I tuned into Larry King Live, which I almost never do, because the topic for the evening was the murder of a member of the U.Va. women’s lacrosse team, presumably by her former boyfriend, a member of the men’s lacrosse team at the same school.  During commercial breaks, it was shocking to see two commercials for the Buick LaCrosse within the half hour.  That’s a linkage the car manufacturer cannot want viewers to make, and I’m surprised the ads weren’t pulled.  I never knew before last night that there was such an automobile as the Buick LaCrosse, and now I doubt that I’ll ever forget it.  The story has left me with such a heavy heart, and seeing the commercials just felt weird.