A Sunday In The Dark - 3 Reviews From Andrew - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
15Aug/100

A Sunday In The Dark – 3 Reviews From Andrew

Sometimes I like to leave the cold comforts of my apartment and venture out into the world with it's bright sun and...people.  Usually for the purposes of going to a theater and watching movies.  This weekend something strange happened, there was actually more than one movie that I wanted to see in the theaters.  Rather than let myself get torn apart by which movie to watch, I just decided to pick a whole mess of 'em and marathon run my way from one end of the theater to another.

This is the record of that journey - random thoughts in italics, the review in normal type.  I have to say, I got many ends of the cinema spectrum today and I got lucky, they were all really good and one significantly more so.  Off I go!

Unfortunately, I woke up a lot later than I meant to, and missed out on the 11 AM showing of my first feature.  Thankfully, I woke up in time to catch the 2:15 PM screening of my first flick.

Greeting me in the trailers is the sight of Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, and Dane Cook in a romantic comedy about long distance relationships.  Or a drama.  I don't know, the trailer was getting so muddled with it's intended emotional target that it shifted again and again.  Tone is such a tricky beast.

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

ANDREW LIKEThis is the movie I've been waiting for all year.  In a sea of crappy comic book sequels, recycled franchises and half-hearted attempts to manufacture emotion, this is an oasis.  Annette Bening broke my heart so many times that I lost track of taking notes because my vision was so blurred by tears.

The Kids Are All Right is about the family unit led by Nic (Bening), her partner Jules (Julianne Moore), and their two children Joni (Mia Wasikowska), and Laser (Josh Hutcherson).  We learn in one of the many passing details that Nic and Jules each took turns having a child, getting a semen donation from one of the reliable facilities in town.  Laser is 15, and getting to the age where he wants to figure out who he really came from.  He knows his mother, but the seed in question is still unknown.  So he enlists Joni, who is 18 and allowed to make these decisions, to contact the bank and reach Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a hippie running a resturaunt and co-op farm in town.  Eventually the three meet, and Nic and Jules decide to start integrating Paul into their lives.

I don't want to speak too much more about the plot, because that's one of the most fascinating parts of the movie.  All of it is completely character driven, and I found myself strongly whispering "NO!" at so many points.  These are living, breathing people, each with their own flaws and strengths.  They just so happen to collide with each other at the wrong point in their lives.  What's so brilliant about this film is the way it challenges traditional family and parental units without being overtly political or forceful about it because those points stem entirely from these people.  These are our neighbors, let's give them some respect.

Nic has a bit of an alcohol issue, Jules requires a lot of attention, and Paul is a little too careless with his feelings.  Nic and Jules have such a wonderful relationship, baiting and attacking, loving and supporting - leaving them to be the only fully realized couple I've witnessed all year.  Paul is just a dangerous celestial object without a target, and happens to be pulled into the families field because the kids are curious about where they come from.  The kids themselves are mostly innocent, making bad decisions about friends and romantic conquests, but ultimately still trying to figure out who they are in this world.

This is nearly perfect script writing.  Filled with the tiny details that only a family would have, and the writers maintain the courage to see what would happen if someone disrupts the balance.  But we're still left to wonder if the problems that they face would have been the same without Paul's interference.  Was he the specific catalyst, or just accelerated the process?

The Kids Are All Right is so wonderful that it must be seen immediately by anyone that has the slightest interest in film.  And in a year that's been so devoid of intelligence and genuine emtion, while still taking a stand on any issue, it's a Godsend.

So it ended up getting out a lot later than I was expecting.  Decisions had to be made, and fast.  Thankfully, the 4:10 show of Step Up 3D was starting shortly and my decision was made very easily.   No trailers, no ads, just the theater opening and then the film began.

Step Up 3D (2010)

ANDREW LIKEOk, it's time for you to take a test if you're reading along at home.  Watch this.

Did it give you a little giddy thrill or did it fill you with longing for something more?  If the first, go watch Step Up 3D as soon as you can get near your car.  If the second, you have my pity, but will remain $6.75 richer than I will ever be.

I've enjoyed every single one of the Step Up movies, and this is the best.  The plot is virtually nonexistant, a group of homeless dancers fight to keep control of the warehouse where they live and train, and run afoul of the evil Samurais.  They're a stylized dance crew lookin' to take the feisty do gooders down.  All the while their fearless leader documents their exploits, and is making a film about life, love and dance.

Thankfully we don't see that film, we see this one, and I loved it.  The whole thing is as simple as you can possibly get, with dialogue that gets us from location to location with minimal effort and occasionally confusing transitions.  The characters don't really exist as they're just an extension of their dance moves, but don't really play in to any stereotypes or cliche's.  Everything is so light and breezy that it seems like it will blow away if not for two things.

The first one, and it really surprised me, was how damn good the film looked in 3D.  I've hated having to watch films in 3D ever since the second wave of this craze kicked off.  Usually, it just dims the colors and hurts my eyes, rather than adding to the experience.  But this film is popping with visuals all the time, and is the appropriate genre to do something like this.  The figures pop and twist through the air, sometimes implementing parkour moves and classic dance tricks, all incredibly pleasing to the eye.  I will say that there was one gratuitous belly button shot that made me shake my head, but that was one in a sea of otherwise excellently used 3D.

The second reason is the most obvious.  The dances are incredible, filled with so much positive energy and enthusiasm that the stupid grin I had on my face persisted through all the routine dialogue.  What's more is just how damn strange some of them are in concept and execution.  Take the linked example above, you don't get to really see the opposing team in action, but they're a group of break dancing coal miners flipping about in a sea of chalk powder.  The opposing team is a wonderfully eclectic, multinational group of homeless dancers led (in this dance) by a man pretending to be a robot.  I was giggling the entire way through that dance.

The highlight of the film is a two person dance that takes place on the streets New York.  It's done in one, long, unbroken take and is really beautiful.  The dancers cycle through decades of dance styles, sampling old Lubitsch films and ending with Singin' In The Rain, all while adding their own stamp.  This kind of memory for film history is lacking in a lot of the "good" films that have been released this year, and is a really touching moment.

Step Up 3D is not deep, it's not particularly well plotted or written, but it's got heart and moves aplenty.  Hit the theater, park your butt down, and try not to dance along.  It'll be really hard not to.

Thus, the second film of the day was completed, and I had the longest break between movies.  After jotting down some notes and settling down with some ice cream I prepped myself for the third film.  There is a strange coincidence between the first two films, a very unrealistic portrayal of college life.  English test at 8 PM?  Dorm rooms larger than my living room?  Such is the magic of Hollywood.

Unfortunately, something was obviously wrong as soon as the film started.  There was a giant pink filter over the screen, and each of the trailers looked it is was being filmed through heat vision goggles.  The three trailers were for Gulliber's Travels, Machete, and Red - not exactly the kinds of quality entertainment I'm looking forward to.  But, once the problem was fixed, the film had to start over from the beginning.

A second viewing of those trailers did not quite help my appetite for more crap.  So, mercifully, The Other Guys finally began.

The Other Guys (2010)

ANDREW LIKEWe've already got one lame self referential buddy cop movie this year, why do we need another?  Well, I guess that it's nice when talented people make good movies and it's even nicer when they do so in a way that highlights the previous films shortcomings.  What I'm trying to say is this: Kevin Smith made an atrocity, Adam McKay made a great tribute to buddy cop movies and managed to wring out some laughs (now, Smith still has made some better movies, just not this year).

The Other Guys is gonna be another difficult film for me to write about, because the opening scene contained some surprising moments that I had no idea about.  I have no cable television and thus, no access to commercials, but the surprise was delightful.  So I'll carefully tiptoe around that and say that the excellent opening action piece sets up exactly how lame our two heroes are.

Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) are mismatched partners.  Instead of a good cop/bad cop, we get deranged/emotionally unstable.  Terry is dying for a way to test out his testosterone on the streets, and is constantly pushing Allen to abandon his paperwork routine and fight some crime.  But Allen is hilariously straightforward in his desire to do paperwork.  He's aware no one else in the department likes him, especially is partner, and is more worried about building code violations than drug dealers.

That leads him to a trail of loose paperwork that points towards the criminal mind of one David Ershon (Steve Coogan).  He seems to   be embroiled in some multinational corporate Ponzi scheme that he only half understands.  That lack of basic comprehension drives a lot of the comedy in The Other Guys.

Allen is so comfortable being himself that he fails to see the other parts of his life that really work.  Like his emotionally crippled partner, his incredibly hot wife (that he only finds cute), and his former life as a "date negotiator" (translation: pimp).  He's comfortable being himself, even if he doesn't fully grasp the surroundings.  Terry, on the other hand, craves the action so much that it's tied to his manhood in ways that he's not quite prepared to deal with.  Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg seems like an odd pairing at first, but their chemistry is easy and frequently hilarious (like when they accidentally play bad cop/bad cop).

Then we have the wonderful Steve Coogan and Michael Keaton as the "villain" and Lieutenant.  Coogan is pulling off a sub-Jeremy Irons the whole time as he doesn't quite understand how he ended up the bad guy in all this, and Keaton got his cop metaphors mixed up with his soft R and B mix tape.

There are a lot of big laughs in The Other Guys.  A poor mother forced to deliver increasingly explicit sexual messages, and a general lack of "bribe" understanding were my two favorites.  It's only barely worth watching in the theater, but if you miss it and you get a chance to catch the DVD you'll contentedly chuckle through the whole film.

Whew, all those films finally done and I still had a few left over I wanted to watch.  Maybe next week, but for this week stay tuned to my At The Movies memorial, Bela Tarr Tuesday, and new DVD reviews for the week.

Posted by Andrew

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