Wednesday, July 02, 2008

mid-summer round-up

Some brief thoughts about the movies I have seen so far this summer:


Director Jon Favreau has assembled a superb cast, admirably led by Robert Downey Jr. as rebel billionaire Tony Stark. Downey's performance in the film's first act is worth the price of admission, but the highlights of his ballsy comic take on the character are all in the preview, so most of us have already seen this performance for free. After Stark escapes from captivity he becomes sullen and self-righteous and, to be honest, a little bit boring. (my full review here)


Minor Mamet. This film, set in the world of mixed-martial arts competition is compelling due to the facts that it: (1) is written and directed by David Mamet, (2) is not about the sport as much as it is about a behind-the-scenes conspiracy, and (3) the actors-- the impeccable Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mamet regulars Ricky Jay and Rebecca Pidgeon, and a surprisingly capable Tim Allen-- deliver the writer's nuanced dialogue superbly. The inevitable plot twists, however, are far too predictable to anyone familiar with Mamet's work. Judging by the audience at the screening I attended, those who are not familiar with his previous films (and/or plays) were disappointed that Redbelt wasn't more like Jean-Claude Van Damme's Kickboxer.


It's crap. If I get started on all of the film's flaws again, I'll be sitting here typing for hours. So please see my full review


I lump these two films together for a couple of reasons. One is that the premises of both movies are seemingly absurd.
Zohan: an Israeli Special Forces soldier moves to New York to pursue his dream of becoming a hair stylist. Guru: a self-help author/spiritual advisor from India is asked to come to Toronto to rekindle the talent and love life of the Maple Leafs' star player. Another is that I read a lot of early speculation about these pictures that questioned whether or not Sandler and Myers are still relevant in the age of Seth Rogan/Judd Apatpow comedies. Well, critics have maligned The Love Guru because it relies upon only two gags: puns and penis jokes. Zohan has received considerably more acclaim; I suspect this is because it has an underlying message that Israelies and Palastinians should get along, but what they don't seem to acknowledge is that Sandler's film regurgitates two jokes, as well. Is hummus funny? How about sex with old women? Maybe the first time, but not the umpteenth. Jews and Arabs would be wise to unite in hatred of a movie that insults the intelligence of an audience to such a degree. The Love Guru is probably a better film, but it is more disappointing than Zohan because it had more potential to begin with. Guru has a lot of material that would have been funnier if better timed in editing (how can we not laugh at the idea that the Leafs' star hockey player is black and their manager a dwarf?). The main problem, though, is that Myers seems not to be sure whether the Guru Pitka is savvy or stupid. Had he made the character more specific, like the fish-out-of-water Austin Powers, The Love Guru could have been laugh out loud funny, and Myers performance may have been compared to some of Peter Sellers' work. Are Sandler and Myers still relevant? I believe that Myers has more humour and intelligence to offer, but neither comic has provided enough evidence this summer to indicate that they're still on the cutting edge.

Having now seen two film adaptations of this comic, I am convinced that the Hulk is just not interesting enough to warrant this much screen time. Furthermore, simply casting a talented actor like Edward Norton is not enough to ensure that Bruce Banner will be interesting, either. Throw an equally dull villain into the mix, and you've got a big budget recipe for boredom. The highlight, for me, was watching the two animated monsters wrestle their way down Toronto's Yonge St. in their climactic battle. Prominent background sites include Sam the Record Man and the notorious Zanzibar strip club.


With Steve Carell stepping into Don Adams' phone shoes and five seasons of zany spoof material from the television show created by comedy legends Mel Brooks and Buck Henry to provide inspiration,
Get Smart had every advantage it needed to be successful and funny. Sadly, it is neither. The movie has more action sequences than gags, and the Maxwell Smart character as interpreted by the screenwriters is competent when he should be clumsy. The handful of jokes that do work are the ones that reference the TV show, suggesting that the filmmakers would have done well to stick closer to the source material in the first place.


Critics have looked favorably upon this summer flick, albeit with a qualification of the film as "mindless entertainment." I, on the other hand, would encourage viewers to remain
mindful while they watch this movie, as it champions some rather suspect ideology. Having said that, I really dug the film. The action is invigorating, the dialogue is sharp, and James McAvoy is funny as hell. To say that the premise, a disgruntled young man in a dead end job is recruited by Angelina Jolie to train as a super-powered assassin for a secret agency, plays into base male fantasies might be too mild a statement. It is likely that the original story was born of a comic book writer's wet dream. (The film is an adaptation of the Millar/Jones graphic novel.) Wanted is
"Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality," and takes full advantage of that classification by refusing to shy away from excess. In spite of its abject morality, this film won me over in terms of sheer excitement. Definitely the high point of the summer so far.

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