Aug 19, 2010

Viewing Log #3

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The Other Guys (2010, Adam McKay) Missed the first twenty minutes or so of this, so a full review will have to wait. But the 80+% I did catch is the makings of a comedy classic, a remarkable balance between familiar buddy cop genre trappings and sheer lunacy, people acting ridiculous just outside the lines of acceptability (which goes a long way in showcasing how ridiculously we get along most of the time). Watch your beverage intake whenever Ferrell's moderately lame-brained police accountant speaks, especially to or about his wife (the ravishing Eva Mendes). Wahlberg has also displayed some fabulous comedy chops these past few years. And that freeze frame bar sequence... The end credits are among the years high water marks in cinema. The team of McKay and Ferrell is now four for four. UPDATE 12/13: I have since watched The Other Guys twice more. Dwayne Johnson and Sam Jackson (who were already absent from the picture the first time I saw it) hold their own in a diverse and hilarious cast; this may be Ferrell's finest performance since Anchorman. Savory, like wine, but ridiculous as all hell. [Rating: 4 out of 5]

Cop Out
(2010, Kevin Smith)
As something of a Kevin Smith fan, this mostly hurt to watch. Smith's heart is certainly in the right place as far as the raucous comedy spirit is concerned (he's already made one certifiably great pure laugh-fest, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back; Clerks., while profoundly hilarious, strikes me as a bit more seminal). That said, this, his first movie not of his own writing, is the wrong material to channel it through. Willis and Morgan go through their roles with a fairly zealous enthusiasm, salvaging scraps of humor along the way, and it seems like everyone was having fun (in front of and behind the camera) in just that way that often takes a good comedy off the ground; pity that most of the material sounds like improv misfires. Good or bad, Smith's own writing is honest (and modest) and also helps legitimize his fairly conservative (in style, not beliefs) filmmaking methods. I'm hoping I can see that again soon. [Rating: 2 out of 5]

Clash of the Titans (2010, Louis Leterrier) I might actually prefer this to the 1981 original, a tonally stilted wannabe that doesn't deserve the swansong work of Ray Harryhausen that's primarily responsible for its generally high regard (the stop-motion Medusa sequence is admittedly a masterpiece in special effects history). Backhanded compliment, yes, but such is fitting for this remake's ruthlessly basic approach to all things, which allows neither empathy with the characters nor substantive visceral engagement with the computer-generated behemoths. It's watchable and decently staged, but only occasionally cool. In other words, it's 10,000 BC's non-retarded little brother. [Rating: 2.5 out of 5]

Date Night (2010, Shawn Levy) Minus Fey and Carell's ingeniously paired charm, this is really boring stuff. Thank you, Hangover, for making overly calculated screenplay 101's posing as off-the-cuff works of uncontrolled insanity the norm for mainstream middlebrow comedy. Even more than that overrated frat fest, Date Night tries too hard to be freewheeling, and the effect is plain top-heavy (and downright embarrassing on more than one occasion). Only a fairly unique car chase involving J.B. Smoove's taxi driver really takes off, and while the end takes us to some nice places, the preceding movie hasn't earned it. Carell, Fey... you deserve better. [Rating: 1.5 out of 5]

Despicable Me (2010, Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud and Sergio Pablos) This cute riff on spy movies is high bar stuff for kids, and pleasant enough for adults. Steve Carrel flexes his chops nicely but his work is nothing compared to what he achieved in Over the Hedge. The "minions" -- plentiful child-sized yellow critters who aid Carrel's aspiring supervillian -- offer the most plentiful sight gags, but very little here sticks after all is said and done with. [Rating: 3.5 out of 5]

The Karate Kid (2010, Harald Zwart) The original - classic status notwithstanding - is nothing great, but at least it has the assurance of a relatively singular, personal vision. I don't regret the fifteen opening minutes I missed for one second...nor the majority of the second half, as I quickly bored and took to pleasuring myself with female company ("of the opposite sex," says Meatwad). This trifle's been scrubbed clean of anything involving poetic or emotionally invested storytelling (only the strong performance of Jackie Chan keeps things grounded in real feelings); it clicks together like an overly schematic videogame. Karate Kid '10 never ends. Its time merely runs out.

Salt (2010, Phillip Noyce) This will probably remain the best pure action movie of the year, the most potent rush since Boarding Gate. Streamlining the espionage thriller to its finest essences (narrative setup and character establishment is knocked out within fifteen minutes), Salt efficiently moves its pieces into place and proceeds to knock over the dominoes for a gloriously unrelenting hour. The equally fluid and chaotic visual style tramples The Bourne Supremacy and steals its chocolate milk. Story-wise, who's who should seem obvious but isn't necessarily so amidst the present-tense immediacy of it all, and this little spitfire thrives on such classic (and classy) tricks. Confirms Jolie's goddess status; her acting strengths and capabilities (and sex appeal) have never been so perfectly utilized. Let's hope the ending doesn't open the door to a sequel; it's far better as sheer existential propulsion. [Rating: 4 out of 5]

Second Viewings: Inception went down far more smoothly the second time around (for the record, I'm done with IMAX until they re-release 2001 or something of comparable worthiness), but it's still among the most inanely contrived attempts at profundity since The Usual Suspects. Once the screenwriting dust settles and zero-g stuff kicks in, some cool images abound (not so much the city folding in on itself - yawn, says this Escher fan - as the slow-motion shots of the van turning corners, Joseph Gordon-Levitt kicking ass, etc.) and excellent parallel editing make this worthwhile in parts, but Nolan's exposition renders the majority of it a waterlogged bore. I wish the setup dovetailed more into the science at work (where are the dreamworlds stored?, and what the hell is that noise like a humidifier?); less talk, more show. For the sake of entertainment, I can buy it, but if you want to really blow my mind, make me believe it. [Rating: 3.5 out of 5]

Toy Story 3's narrative compactness is a bit less affecting once you're familiar with it (like many of its kind, this one's too brisk; the original had a pace tightened to perfection), but another look also reveals that this is one near-perfectly constructed machine, just a bit too well-oiled to let the emotions soak in to their fullest capacity. Still superior is the preceding short Day & Night (directed by Teddy Newton), a morally and politically charged look at our perception of reality (and each other) and easily the best of Pixar's shorts to date. [Rating: 4/4.5 out of 5] (TS3/D&N)