Monday, March 13, 2006

Movie Mon. - Now, *That's* Effective Advertising

Out of the seven films discussed below, I highly enjoyed two, really enjoyed two, mildly enjoyed one, was amused by one despite itself, and found only one to be lacking in redeeming qualities.

All in all, not a bad week for movie watching.

Lollilove: A very politically incorrect mockumentary from the husband-wife team of Sean Gunn (writer of the Dawn of the Dead remake and the upcoming Slither) and Jenna Fischer (Pam on the American version of The Office) who play characters named Sean and Jenna Gunn, a well-to-do couple who decide to start their own charity to help the homeless in a unique way: by giving each homeless person a lollipop with an inspirational message and artwork. The film follows their efforts to convince people this is a good idea (an uphill battle), as well as their first disastrous outing. Off-beat, dark, unafraid to offend, and very funny (to me, at least). Jenna credits her work on this film for getting her the role of Pam, since in order to offset her husband's over-the-top improvs she had to perfect her own style of low-key camera takes and eye-rolling.

Undertaking Betty: Quirky British comedy (but then again, aren't they all?) about an undertaker (Alfred Molina) who convinces the love of his life (Brenda Blethyn) to leave her husband by faking her own death, a plan that threatens to fall apart due to actual murder attempts from her husband's mistress (Naomi Watts) and a snoopy rival undertaker from America (Christopher Walken). When the opening credits roll, the film is given the subtitle of "A Fable," which went a long way towards making the film work for me: it lets you know right from the get-go that things are going to be a bit stylized and over-the-top. I liked the conceit of having whatever episode of The Jerry Springer Show happened to be on TV actually comment on the plot of the film (loving people from afar, cheating on your spouse, etc.). I also enjoyed the sheer wackiness of Christopher Walken's character who viewed funerals as theatrical events: if your dearly departed's favorite hobby was cards, expect to see their corpse decked out like the Queen of Hearts; his funeral scenes were over-the-top to be sure, but I just kind of went with it. A cute little movie I'd recommend to fans of British comedies.

Kids in America: Teen-age comedy about a group of high school students (led by Gregory Smith of Everwood) who decide to take a stand against their totalitarian principal (Julie Bowen of Ed). The message of the film is pretty simple: "kids, fight for your rights." While I applaud the message, the characters' tactics made the teacher's son within me cringe. There's some wit evident here, from the snippets of the AV club's student films to some characters with a penchant for snappy dialogue, but it almost gets drowned out by the pedantic message and pedestrian plotting. Not a "must see" film by any stretch, but it was enjoyable enough.

Jarhead: Film based on Anthony Swofford's memoir of his time serving in the Marines as a sniper during Desert Shield/Storm. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Swofford, a young man who joined the Marines because he felt he had no other choice; the film follows his rollercoaster emotional ride as he goes from directionless jarhead to avid sniper to stir crazy basketcase and beyond. Gyllenhaal does a great job, as does the always entertaining Peter Saarsgard as Swofford's spotter. Supposedly many of the scenes related by Swofford are based on Marine Corps "urban legends," rather than actual personal history. At first glance, the film may seem to be a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, but in many ways, that's the point of it all: the film is as much a reflection of the futility of Swofford's time in the military as anything else. An enjoyable, if occasionally bleak, film. My only complaint is that I had Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" stuck in my head the entire time, despite the fact that the song doesn't even play in the film until the closing credits; but the fact remains that the song was so pervasive in the ad campaign that I can't even see the word "jarhead" without the song popping instantly into my head.

Prime: Well-done romantic comedy about a recent divorcee (Uma Thurman) who gets involved with a much younger man (Bryan Greenberg of One Tree Hill and Unscripted) who just so happens to be the son of her therapist (Meryl Streep), a fact that none of them realizes. There was a lot of potential for annoyance in the film, especially once the therapist discovers the truth but decides not to tell either her son or her patient; surprisingly, the annoying possibilities were never fully realized. Streep's character has good rationalizations for everything she does, and she doesn't try to pull a Monster-in-Law and sabotage the relationship; luckily for her the couple seem capable enough of that on their own. Thurman and Streep are pretty much known quantities at this point, so I have to give a shout out to Greenberg, who holds his own with both. Not your typical romance, and that's a good thing.

Fear of Clowns: Very low budget horror film about a soon-to-be-divorced painter whose art is all about psychotic clowns, and who suddenly finds herself being stalked by (shocker!) a psychotic clown. First thing's first: this movie could have shaved off a good 30 minutes or so and been improved immensely. Of course, even an immense improvement wouldn't have elevated it beyond Z-grade status; some truly hideous acting jobs throughout, many of which were bad enough to make the film worthwhile for fans of bad acting.

Death Tunnel: B-grade horror movie about a group of co-eds trapped in a haunted hospital as part of an initiation ritual. Here's a little tip for all of you budding filmmakers out there; just because you can make a film with non-linear storytelling, doesn't mean you should. The movie tries hard to be creepy, a bit too hard, really; the design of the ghosts made me roll my eyes more than anything else. The acting and script are miles above Fear of Clowns, but that only works against the film: not high enough quality to be good, but not low enough quality to be enjoyably bad. It is, at best, mediocre, at worst, a muddled mess.