Summer Movies: Part 1
A look at what I've seen since Memorial Day weekend...
The genius of Judd Apatow, of course, is his ability to be rowdy and raunchy, smart and sincere, burst-out-laughing funny, and heartwarmingly sweet, all in the same movie... and often all in the same scene. Knocked Up is Apatow's mega-hyped tale of a (not too) lovable loser who gets a (not too) together careerist pregnant on a drunken one-night-stand. What happens when she decides to keep the baby? Yes, hilarity ensues, but Apatow is too clever to simply leave it at that. There are so many things I liked about this movie: the dynamics—especially the relentless shit-giving—between Ben (perfectly played by Seth Rogan) and his stoner housemates; the improbable, though thoughtfully handled like/hate/love relationship between Ben and Alison (nicely done by Katherine Heigl); the baffled marriage of Allison's sister (Leslie Mann, who is excellent) and brother-in-law (Paul Rudd, also very good); the dozens of one-joke scenes that not only cracked up the packed house, but also felt honestly integrated into the movie as a whole. Apatow clearly cares about and respects his story, characters, his audience. And it shows.
Over the years I've liked many movies about boyhood best friends, growing up in a (semi-) tough neighborhood, whose loyalty to each other is challenged as they become adults. Brooklyn Rules was no exception. Set in the 1980s, the movie follows the fortunes of our three heroes, bonded more by childhood ties than interests or temperament: one takes the postal-worker's exam to buy an engagement ring for his high school sweetheart; one goes to Columbia and dreams of breaking free of Brooklyn; one gets involved with the local mob, headed up by Alec Baldwin. The script is definitely a little hackneyed, but the performances are solid—especially Scott Caan—and the picture's heart is always in the right place. If nothing else, this is definitely the most good-natured, most gentle movie ever made that features one character cutting off the ear of another with one of those deli meat slicers.
I desperately needed to go completely mindless for a few hours on Monday night, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End didn't let me down. Following the suggestion of those who went before me, I threw out any expectation of coherence, or subtlety, or even an original idea, and just sat back and let it all flow over me. And I definitely had a good time. But what the heck was going on with all those betrayals? Where was the love/attraction among Knightly and Bloom and Depp? Where was Depp, for that matter, and why wasn't he given anything to do? And if you're thinking of going because the Keith Richards cameo sounds cute, don't bother. I saw—and very much enjoyed—Pirates 1 and 2, but I felt totally lost here from the get-go. Yes, there are laughs to be had, and a couple of thrills, and some cool effects, and who doesn't want the raucous, colorful, anarchic sensibility of Piracy to win out over the greedy, cruel world of the British Empire, but really? I couldn't get over how this hugely successful, global blockbuster was made without any regard for basic storytelling... almost as if Gore Verblinksi shot a $200 million art film while no one was looking.
Last Saturday night Bo, Co and I went to Gracie—the story of a teenage girl who tries out for the high school boys soccer team after her older brother (and star player) dies—and left with varying degrees of satisfaction. Family jock Co loved it, announcing as we left that she cried three times. Bo also enjoyed it, especially the cutesy beginning and the crowd-pleasing end, but felt that the conflict between father and daughter, the working out of which takes up a large chunk of the movie's middle, got too repetitive. I was the least convinced, agreeing with Bo on the saggy middle section, and wishing the script overall had been sharper. Set in the late 1970s, (the music, at least, was fun for me) and loosely based on the real-life story of Elizabeth
and Andrew Shue (who performed in and directed the film, respectively), Gracie had plenty of potential, but they just couldn't put it into the back of the net.
The concept of Paris, Je T'aime is simple and compelling: 18 directors—including such heavy-hitters as Alfonso Cuarón, Gus Van Sant, the Coen Brothers, and Wes Craven—each create a love story, set in Paris. How bad could it be, right? Well, out of the 18 different shorts, starring the likes of Natalie Portman, Steve Buscemi, Juliette Binoche, Nick Nolte, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ben Gazzara and many others, there are only two really good ones (Portman's, and the one in which the fates of two Nigerian immigrants are unexpectedly linked), maybe three or four others that are at least moderately entertaining or interesting, and the rest... meh. It just shows how difficult it is to tell a complete story with any creativity in five minutes or so. Gallery expert Eric said it best: you leave this movie in the mood to go see a movie.
Finally, there's Bug. For the first maybe 20 minutes, I was intrigued: the menace was subtle, Ashley Judd charismatic, the plotting unpredictable, the makings of a creepy, claustrophobic thriller all laid out before us. Then came the twist, which I didn't believe for a second, and the rest of the movie was just relentlessly gross and annoyingly melodramatic. What was interesting were the reactions of the two types of people in the audience: those suckered by the positive reviews from sources like New York Magazine; and those suckered by Lionsgate's straight-up slasher-flick marketing. Needless to say, neither camp was pleased.