Justin Ellis of the Press Herald and I on the Week’s New Releases (10.27.09)

Maybe we should just call this the Autumn of Disillusionment. First it’s our favorite actors, now it’s one of our favorite directors. If that weren’t enough we’re beginning the slide into mediocrity that is holiday movie season. What are Videoport Jones and I to do? Our jobs of course. Which is to say, make fun of the new DVD releases.* (*Which I should note was regrettably missed last week when I was out. “Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen,” consider yourself lucky.)

Whatever Works

Videoport Jones: “I’d like to preface this review by announcing that I am not enjoying this. ‘Annie Hall.’ ‘Love & Death.’ ‘Manhattan.’ ‘Take the Money and Run.’ ‘Hannah and Her Sisters.’ ‘Sleeper.’ ‘Broadway Danny Rose.’ ‘Bullets Over Broadway.’ ‘Even Everyone Says I Love You.’ These are great movies, personal favorites, and the foundation for the rapidly-eroding bulwark of good will I’ve erected around Woody Allen against the increasingly-incontrovertible waves of criticism that have greeted virtually every movie he’s made for, oh, twenty years or so. I was momentarily roused from my slough of despondent fallen hero worship when I heard that ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ comedy god Larry David was cast as the latest Woody simulacrum in this one (he seems a better fit than Kenneth Branagh, Will Ferrell, or, gods help us, Jason Biggs). But, having now seen it, well, that’s over. David’s a funny guy, and his signature brand of misanthropic grumpiness seems, on paper, a good fit for Allen’s late-career grouchy comic pessimism, but, and here’s where I’m not having any fun – Woody Allen has absolutely lost it. He has lost it on several levels. To wit: 1. He has no idea how people talk anymore. People don’t talk like this, and Woody thinks that they do. It’s a stilted, uptown mirror to Kevin Smith’s overwritten dialogue and, like Smith’s, it only works when it’s, well, funny. This is just hollow. 2. He is out of ideas and he is repeating himself in almost every way. David plays an aging, sarcastic guy who thinks that life is pointless, that people are stupid and cruel, and that death is coming for him any second now, and who meets up with a young, beautiful, not particularly bright girl (played, with chattering charmlessness here, by Evan Rachel Wood) who, although uncouth, is refreshingly innocent, guileless, and improbably into older curmudgeons. Sound familiar? Couple that with some fetishistic New York snobbery, and a gaggle of overqualified actors joining the ‘I got to play an underwritten supporting role in a Woody Allen movie’ club, and, well, you’ve got this unfunny, derivative, tired, and altogether depressing film. The word ‘tarnish’ keeps coming to mind.”

Justin: “Here we go once again, another installment of “What Happened to You” theater. I think I’m maybe a little more forgiving of Woody than you, in that I think some of the more recent movies, like ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Small Time Crooks’ had enjoyable moments and showed glimpses of Woody transitioning into a filmmaker who lives in a weird sort of an amplified world of New York or L.A. I’d be more forgiving of him if it felt like these comedies were supposed to live on in a hyper-reality making fun of our own. I say this, because one of my favorite Woody Allen movies is a strange one: ‘What’s Up Tiger Lily,’ which is strange, surreal and funny. ANYWAY, all of this is to say he’s just off on an island now, and he’s probably too far gone to come back. The grumpy, frumpy-yet-charming older man character has been run into the ground Woody, we know this because you created the standard. Maybe it’s time to put down the camera and try producing? But since we know that’s not going to happen, perhaps we can ship him off to an island with other actors and directors who have outlived their creativity. It’s be like the island of misfit toys, but George Lucas would be there, and Eddie Murphy…”

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

VPJ: “Wait – ‘Dawn of the Dinosaurs’? But this is the third movie about an approaching, well ice age, and that’s when the dinosaurs died out in favor of our wisecrackin’, celebrity-voiced mammal ancestors…shouldn’t this be called ‘Dusk of the Dinosaurs’? Anyone? Well, this second sequel in the middling animated series, nonsensical title and all, is here, with Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Ray Romano, and others getting paid. I have literally nothing more to add, except to say that Pixar’s ‘Up’ comes out on November 10th.”

JE: “Oh Jonesy, ye of little faith. Leave your anthropology book at home and turn off your brain for this family-friend laff riot! In this installment our heroes stumble upon a hidden world where the dinosaurs, still exist! Sorry…I don’t know what overcame me there. I feel ill. I’m not gonna pretend to know about the ‘Ice Age’ franchise, because I look at it and it makes me think of ‘The Land Before Time’ franchise, which, then just makes me angry. They are – with the exception of a few mammals and dinos – the same. Only ‘Land’ came first. I suppose I could say what I always do at times like this, that we’re just not the target demo here, but that feels hollow. Let’s wrap this up with the usual disclaimer: If you’ve got kids and are looking for something to entertain them and want to grab a 90 minute nap or watch a ball game on a separate TV, then this is your bet. If you’re one of those parents who wants to, you know, actually spend time with their kids watching movies, then, not so much.”

Nothing Like the Holidays

VPJ: “Well, the first shot in the yearly Christmas movie wars has been fired across our bow. Every year, the same deal: grab a bunch of suspiciously-dissimilar-looking celebrities to play a mildly dysfunctional family, give everyone a little backstory/conflict that can be wrapped up with a new boyfriend/girlfriend or a few hugs, throw in a wacky uncle and, jingle bells! You’ve got yourself an easily-digestible, completely forgettable would-be holiday favorite. (Am I being too harsh? Go ahead and tell me one memorable detail from ‘The Family Stone,’ ‘Surviving Christmas,’ ‘Four Christmases,’ ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas,’ ‘Christmas with the Kranks,’ ‘Deck the Halls,’ or ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night.’ I can wait…) This one at least can boast some ethnic flavor, with reliable Latino actors like John Leguizamo, Elizabeth Pena, Freddy Rodriguez, and the ever-welcome Luis Guzman (and, for some reason, Debra Messing) doing time in the tinsel. It may be ordinary, predictable, and bland, but…well…yeah…”

JE: “I think the bad Christmas movie is the worst racket of all, worse than Halloween scare flicks or anything that is marketed with the phrase ‘This Valentine’s Day…’ I may be repeating myself when I say this, but, do studios make this junk because they think people expect it? I get the idea since the holidays are a time when people need a break from family events, shopping or other madness, but do we really need stuff like this? It seems like every December I’ll try to go to the movies and it’s a choice between bad holiday comedies, Oscar contenders looking for an early lead and the occasional sneaky good drama or sci-fi flick. Maybe we should blame Chevy Chase and ‘Christmas Vacation,’ or ‘A Christmas Story’ for becoming templates. We get it, families can be crazy and holidays can make for stressful and hilarious results, but if you’re going through all that in real life, would you want to go see that in a movie, and a bad one at that? John Leguizamo’s got a badgering, obnoxious brother, so do I, Hahahahaha! Luis Guzman drinks to cope with the embarrassments of family, so do I! Hahahahahaha. Come on now Hollywood.”

Il Divo

VPJ: “Giulio Andreotti has been elected Prime Minister of Italy seven times since 1946. He’s been named ‘senator for life,’ and is still active politically today at age 90. He’s also been accused of having ties to the Mafia, the Freemasons (and the P2/Vatican Bank scandal), and the kidnapping and murder of political rival (and former Italian Prime Minister) Aldo Moro. Sounds like an ideal figure for a biopic, doesn’t he? Well, some intrepid Italian filmmakers have made one about the still-living Adreotti, and, since they haven’t been murdered (yet), maybe that means the old man’s power is finally fading. ‘Il Divo’ is a fascinating, if confusing (if you’re not well versed in 20th century Italian history), and often funny look at a political monster (his nicknames include “the Sphinx,” “the Hunchback,” “the Black Pope,” and, of course, “Beelzebub”) who, while always at the center of the most outrageous scandal, controversy, and conspiracy theory, has never been pinned down.”

JE: “To think we get worried about governors who disappear to South America with mistresses and vice presidents who accidentally shoot friends. You’ve got to admit they do some things better in Italy, this time making Democracy menacing and sexy all at the same time. The reason people like Andreotti make compelling characters in film is probably the same as what gets them in power, charisma and cunning. History’s littered with guys like that, a little too connected to shady events, yet so coated in Teflon they’ve skated past all problems. As you point out the fact that the filmmakers are still alive is either a testament to Andreotti’s waining power or his sense of humor. While not a documentary, ‘Il Divo’ provides a glimpse into what it’s like to be infamous. Even if you don’t know about Italian history just sit back and enjoy the story.”


VPJ: “A nice, wealthy couple decide to adopt a lonely, orphaned girl from a disadvantaged country. Feel good story of the year? Not hardly, when the girl has creepy doll eyes, a vaguely Middle European accent and dresses like a temperance crusader. Yup, it’s time for middle class white America to be afraid of foreigners and poor people again according to this crappy, manipulative ‘evil child’ thriller. Starring the very talented Peter Sarsgaard (‘The Center of the World,’ ‘Shattered Glass,’ ‘The Dying Gaul’) who deserves much, much better, and Vera Farmiga (‘The Departed’) who’s just about where she should be.”

JE: “I’ve never understood the appeal of the ‘creepy kid’ genre and I hope I’m not alone. I mean as a culture we’re supposed to like kids, right? Like them enough to have them and ensure the continuation of the species. Is that it? Directors/screenwriters think they’re being clever by messing with people’s perceptions of children as wholesome and innocent? Doesn’t matter if it’s ‘The Omen,’ ‘Problem Child,’ or this, that’s messed up man. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that’s wrong, and it’s even worse if it’s executed poorly and cheaply, as is done here. Don’t power-lock the doors of the Ford Childmover just yet parents, just skip this flick. And remember, adoption, still okay 9 out of 10 times. Unless your child is the chosen one.”

Battlestar Galactica – The Plan

VPJ: “‘Battlestar Galactica’ is back! And people are…kind of happy, and pretty confused! This tag end to the acclaimed sci fi series revival takes us back to the beginning of the show and reveals the whole, you know, “kill all the humans” plot from the Cylon perspective. I haven’t really gotten into BSG in a big way yet; it seems fine, but I still have childhood cheese burns from the daffy original, and from what I gather from the Galacticans at Videoport, there’s a certain secondhand feel to this movie (I understand that some of your favorite characters don’t appear). So…could nerd riots be far off?”

JE: “RIOT! FRAKKIN’ RIOT! OK, we all know I’m a big nerd for Battlestar. I may or may not have non-costume BSG related clothing in my wardrobe (WHAT? A guy can’t have a T-Shirt? is that a crime?). So I’ll take anything they feed me when it comes to this story since they’ve earned my fanaticism through compelling stories, great characters and a mind-melting plot. That said, I’m not sure how I feel about this one. I remember sitting down to watch the finale of the show, only to see commercials for this and instantly think ‘oh no.’ Once a story’s done you have to worry about any additions. While the potential is there to make the whole thing better, it feels like the potential is double to make the whole enterprise worse. But I’m a big sucker, so I will most likely buy this, chew it over and wait to watch the spin-off series ‘Caprica.’ Yes that’s right folks, the lesson as always is I am indeed a sucker.”

Parting Shots:

– Is it time to drop Woody Allen off on the Island of Misfit Toys?
– What’s your recipe for a GOOD holiday flick?
– Seriously, who likes creepy kid thriller movies?

Published in: on October 28, 2009 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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