Justin Ellis (Portland Press Herald) & I on the week’s new releases (1/19/10)

In this week’s episode Justin and Videoport Jones have to contend with Three Men and a Funny Lady in the latest round-up of new DVD releases! Pot smoking suburbanites? Creepy space aliens? A world gone mad on videogames and a world that has never known a lie? It’s all in store. Will Justin and Jonesy make it out alive? Is there enough beer in the fridge? How soon until Jerry Bruckheimer comes knocking at the door with a cease and desist letter? Find out! Guest starring Ricky Gervais (yay!), Dennis Quaid (meh!), Gerald Butler (who?) and Mary-Louise Parker (swoon!).

The Invention of Lying

Videoport Jones: “I think we all can agree that Ricky Gervais is a comedy genius, right? ‘The Office’ and ‘Extras’ are two of the gems of modern television; achingly-funny, tightly-written, squirmingly-hilarious character studies both featuring Gervais as the beleaguered center of a capriciously-cruel universe. That being said, film has not been Gervais’ best friend. ‘Ghost World’ suffered from the friction of shoehorning Gervais’ prickly-smart sensibilty into the mediocre Hollywood high-formula moccasin. ‘Well’, you figure, ‘he’s just a dumpy little British guy trying to make it in big old Botoxed Hollywood – he’ll get ’em next time, especially if he can write and direct the next movie himself.’ Well Gervais is still a unique and refreshingly-smart presence on screen (if his post-David Brent characters seem to have one thing in common, it’s that their intelligence, while setting them above the mass of standard humanity, does absolutely nothing else for them), but, again, this time the film he’s in smacks of compromise. The Jim Carrey-worthy premise is that Gervais’ typically-smarter-than-everyone shlumph is the first guy, in an alternate world where no one has ever lied, to realize that not always telling the truth can get you what you want a whole lot more expediantly. It’s a fun setup, with lots of room for social satire and, like in ‘Ghost Town,’ the whole thing holds together for about the first half, while Gervais is utilizing his newfound power to manipulate the more beautiful and fortunate (Rob Lowe does pretty well as the epitome of both), but, again like in ‘Ghost Town,’ things go a bit soft and fluffy as Ricky wrestles with his conscience and pursues his dream girl (Jennifer Garner, slightly more likable than usual, although it looks as if she had a clause in her contract that she would not show any measurable physical attraction toward her costar). This is far from a bad movie (and there are some juicy guest stars I’m not going to spoil), but it’s not the triumph that I someday expect from Gervais.”

Justin: “I will spoil them. I will spoil them so very hard: TINA FEY! TINA FEY! TINA FEY! Phew…OK. Had to get that out. I loves me some Tina Fey. But onto Mr. Ricky, who, we have to wonder will ever be a hit with American audiences. Judging by the response to his hosting duties at the Golden Globes this past weekend, some loved him, others could have done without him. And I find that to be the case no matter what the set-up. People who aren’t fans of “The Office” UK have a sort of begrudging respect for him because he’s the reason we have “The Office” US. Along those same lines, I think David Brent tracked a little close with Gervais own personality (at least in terms of snarkiness, but not intelligence), and that rubbed folks the wrong way. What am I getting at with all of this? When you have a charming, but prickly, short British guy who half the crowd loves and the other half is unsure, projects that aren’t 100 percent aren’t going to get him very far. I think that was definitely the case with ‘Ghost Town,’ which looked cute, in a ‘lets just leave this to Greg Kinnear’ sort of way. So along comes “The Invention of Lying,’ which has a better premise and seems to suit Gervais so much better, and yet it ends up leaving you feeling like you ate a piece of chocolate you thought would taste better. I personally think Gervais talents and special brand of wit are better in the controlled doses of TV (like say, oh, ‘Extras’), but I’d like to think he’ll nail down the right feature film at some point, if only to see him dance.”

Pandorum

VPJ: “Let’s talk about Dennis Quaid for a moment, shall we? (He stars in this dark sci-fi thriller about space soldiers waking up with amnesia and lots of bad stuff going on. In space.) I’m never

More of this...

displeased to see him around, sort of like I’m never displeased when I open my fridge and find an unexpected can of light beer; it’s serviceable, moderately-pleasing, gets the job done, at least until a more Bass Ale-level actor shows up (an Edward Norton, maybe). From the height of his fame (I’d place that around the ‘Innerspace’ /’The Big Easy’ era), I’ve always rooted for DQ, even though his range wasn’t much and, for a period of about fifteen years he clearly had it written into his contracts that he got to show off his abs once per film. He had a nice, rascally charisma that was pretty winning. As he’s gotten older, though, his talent hasn’t really progressed, and he keeps trying on a soldier-y tough guy persona that just doesn’t suit his essentially-goofy likability. In this one (sort of a plodding, mean-spirited cross between ‘Event Horizon’ and ‘Memento’), he’s

...less of this.

gotta act both tortured and hardassed, which is a pretty deadening combination. C’mon, Dennis – I think ‘Innerspace 2’ would actually be a lot of fun. Loosen up again, big guy…”

JE: “I could use more ‘Undercover Blues,’ am I right! Heck YEAH I’m right! Can we get a sequel in development already? I probably shouldn’t joke about that too loud. Next thing we know he’s gotta play opposite Miley Cyrus as his grown-up, precocious, and DEADLY daughter the spy. They don’t really get along, but when mom is…crap, I’ve probably already said too much. STOP LISTENING NOW HOLLYWOOD! OK, as for D-Quaid, I think the best word I can come up for him is ‘serviceable.’ He’s pretty much the go-to guy if you’ve got a middling sports movie

...and maybe a little bit more of this?

that needs a coach or aging, ‘wily’ veteran, or aging ‘wily’ cop, or aging ‘wily’ orthodontist. On paper he’s the right type for a lot of movies, he has a rugged look that producers can attach to tons of roles, but you are right when you say his range is not wide. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. This guy’s not going to play Hamlet, and that’s fine by me. But I could use a bit less of him in these menial roles, such as ‘Pandorum,’ which I would call ‘Event Horizon’ meets ‘Alien’ meets every science fiction movie or TV show you’ve ever seen where the characters don’t immediately remember who they are and what they are doing. Ah, Tabula Rasa…IN SPACE. Somehow that’s not as catchy a title…”

Weeds – Season 5

VPJ: “I’ve gone on record as not being one of the gang on this show; there’s no bigger fan of the lovely and talented Mary-Louise Parker than I, and I salute the fact that a drug dealer heroine is so popular on American TV, but I maintain that this is a pretty badly-written series. I like watching Parker, with her sensibly-daffy kewpie doll delivery, navigating her mom/pot dealer character

I'm not stoned, but I play one on TV. Wait...what?

through some morally-tricky crises, but I still find her, and literally every other character on the show, both glib and unpleasant. Cable TV series have set a high standard, and ‘Weeds’ certainly has it’s share of followers (only half of whom are stoned, according to demographics), and has had staying power, but I’d call it second-tier cable dramedy- more ‘Californication’ than ‘Eastbound and Down’. At least this season brings in the ever-welcome Jennifer Jason Leigh for a while.”

JE: “Oh Mary-Louise Parker, when will you come back to non-pay cable and series TV that is more than passingly watchable? WHEN?! I feel both you and I have a soft spot for MLP thanks to her stint on ‘The West Wing’ as Amy Gardner, the romantic and intellectual foil to Mr. Josh Lyman. I’ll be the first to admit that I liked the original concept of ‘Weeds’ and MLP seemed perfect for the role of widowed suburbanite soccer mom Nancy Botwin. The problem is the writers and other creative forces behind the show came to realize that the world of drugs, even when it’s marijuana, is not always comedic and kind. So they pushed the tone a bit down the slide, and that gets us to the later seasons, which involve all sorts of plots with Mexican drug cartels and violence (the unfunny kind). As you say, I am sure there are loyalists to this show, but even they have to be getting tired of the story at this point. Then again, they could be so baked that an episode of ‘Yo Gabba Gabba’ would be as dramatically gripping. Please, MLP, come back to non-pay cable. It’s rather nice now.”

Gamer

VPJ: “Gerard Butler! ‘Dexter’s’ Michael C. Hall! Video games where people use – dare I say it – AVATARS!!! in, as the IMDb says, “a future-world where humans can control other humans in mass-scale, multi-player online gaming environments…!” Yeah! Kind of like ‘AVATAR!’ (Or that one movie with Bruce Willis with the almost identical plot that no one remembers). I dunno, I maintain that I can not actually recall what Butler looks like from one moment to the next (not Mr. Charisma, he), and the premise is a little too tech-y for me. From what I hear, it’s good enough, though, to hold the – dare I say it – nerds until ‘AVATAR!!’ shows up.”

JE: “As keen observers of the film world, we know that it’s not uncommon to see several films rolled out at the same time all having similar themes. ‘Deep Impact’ and ‘Armageddon,’ ‘The Fast and The Furious’ and ‘Redline,’ ‘Donnie Darko’ and ‘Bridget Jones Diary.’ This is what the industry does, it sees a promising trend or proto-trend and fires up the development machine. A year later there are five movies all roughly about the same thing with varying levels of talented actors. And thus, we end up with ‘Gamer,’ which, really, let’s just say it, is ‘Tron’ meets ‘Running Man’ meets, you know what, I could keep doing this, but you get the point. Here is a pro-tip humanity: Don’t let your lust for robots or video games lead to the downfall of society, or the almost downfall requiring a beefy hero like Butler, aging hero like Bruce or maniac like James Cameron to save the day. I’d say that’s far worse than the actual apocalypse itself, right?”

LIGHTENING ROUND! And more this week at Videoport: You the Living (Another mysterious, darkly comic Scandinavian film from Swedish director Roy Andersson, “Songs from the Second Floor”), Death In Love (Two sons of a woman who, they discover, had an affair with her concentration camp doctor, try to deal with their legacy in this no-doubt heavy drama; starring Jacqueline Bissett, Lukas Hass and Josh Lucas), Chuck – Season 2 (He’s a nerd! He’s a secret agent! He’s got a cult following!), Left Bank (Dutch/Belgian thriller about an athlete, sidelined by a mysterious ailment, who starts to suspect her European-y boyfriend is up to no good; talk to Videoport’s resident Dutch-fellow Dennis/the Rage if it’s accurate about how creepy the Dutch are…), Brothers at War (Documentary follows a young filmmaker as he embeds himself as a journalist in Iraq, partly in order to understand the experiences of his two soldier brothers), The Keeper (Steven Seagal…those who want to rent this need no more information; neither do those who don’t), Damages – Season 2 (Glenn Close continues to be terrifying in this lawyer series; seriously, she scares me), No Impact Man (A documentary about a Manhattan family who decide to live for a year without having any environmental impact whatsoever; and yes, Mr. Smartypants, the DVDs were packaged in carbon-neutral materials, which, unfortunately, we’ve had to replace with plastic immediately so that the case doesn’t disintegrate immediately upon the first rental…).

PARTING SHOTS:

– Has Ricky Gervais film efforts just missed the mark or does he not fit the taste of US audiences?

– If you were casting Dennis Quaid, what would you throw him in?

– Seriously, should we be worried video games or robots will be the downfall of civilization?

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Published in: on January 20, 2010 at 8:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. US audiences are (dare I say it) just not smart enough to get Ricky Gervais. We need to try harder. It is worth it.


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