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Monday, June 27, 2011

New Movie Releases Roundup for 24 June 2011

Even putting aside Green Lantern, it's a pretty interesting week for films with a couple of comedies being particularly pleasant surprises.

I Am Slave is this week's harrowing art film. This time the laugh-a-minute subject is modern day human slavery - specifically an 18 year old North African enslaved by an Arab family in London. That, in a nutshell, is the plot. And therein kind of lies the problem. The film's greatest strength by far is just how emotionally draining it is and if its sole intention was to really put the audience through the grinder as it educates them about the reality of slavery in modern England, then it is nothing less than an unequivocal success.
As a piece of storytelling, though, it is rather less impressive. It it somewhat heavy handed and the characterization is fairly shallow but, more than anything, its greatest failing in my eyes is the fact that I started to lose patience with it fairly quickly. While the acting and production values are perfectly fine, the film effectively made its point within its first half hour so, with the exception of the final, redemptive final few minutes, the last hour felt very repetitive - which is especially problematic when it comes to a film that is this grueling. I Am Slave deals with a worthy subject, to be sure, but I can't really recommend this one.

All Good Things, on the other hand, is an art-circuit film that I have far less trouble recommending - even if it does suffer from a serious flaw or two. The plot, in short, is based on a true story about the clearly troubled son of a massively successful business man and the disappearance of his young wife that remains unsolved to this day. What's interesting - and, ultimately, frustrating - about All Good Things is that such a simple plot gives way to a story of two fairly distinct parts.

The second and final part deals with the case itself and it is by far the less enjoyable aspect of the film. It plays like a fairly ordinary true crime story and has none of the power of what precedes it. And, make no mistake, the initial two acts of the film add up to an incredibly powerful, engrossing slice of drama, where quirky romance gives way to something far more sinister and far more disquieting.  Chillingly directed, smartly written and featuring, along with typically unimpeachable performances from Ryan Gosling and Franl Langella, a startlingly raw turn from Kirsten Dunst - those initial sections of All Good Things are enough to make the film well worth your time, even if its final act is disappointingly ordinary. (7/10)

With those heavy-hitters out of the way, onto the true pleasures of this week's cinematic releases. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, the sequel to last year's Diary of a Wimpy Kid (a film that I had not seen at the time, an omission that I have since rectified), took me entirely by surprise. Here we have a film that, at the outset, looked like the sort of juvenile, idiotic nonsense aimed purely at very non-discerning kids and, admittedly, I stubbornly clung to my pre-conceptions for the first few moments of the film. Within minutes, though, my grimace started to give way to a faint, uncertain smile and before I knew it I was laughing often and laughing hard at jokes that had no business being as funny as they so obviously were.

From the hilariously naff horror film-within-a-film to the ridiculous teen party where all the kids acted like they were drunk out of their minds when the film made it abundantly clear that the strongest thing they had to drink was Coca Cola, the laughs come thick and fast. And, sorry, I don't care how old I am, I laughed far more often in this than in something like The Hangover II.           

Yes, the story of Greg - our eponymous Wimpy Kid - trying to survive school, his brothers and his parents, while trying to win the affections of a girl he has a crush on is mainly there to support the gags but it's a sweet and charming film, with likeable but surprisingly flawed characters and enough laughs to outshine most big-screen comedies released these days. Oh and, yes, this sequel is indeed far better in every way than its already pretty good predecessor. 

When you consider how lame big-screen comedy has been recently, it's pretty amazing that not only do we get a comic gem like Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 for kids (pardon the cliche) of all ages but, in the exact same week, we also get the best "adult" comedy I've seen in ages.

Bridesmaids may appear to be nothing more than the female alternative to the Judd Apatow-produced (or Judd Apatow-inspired) raunchy blokey comedies of the last few years. That this is produced by Apatow certainly does little to dispel that perception. Shockingly enough, though, not only is there far more to it than that, it's also far funnier than most of those kinds of  films since, at least, Superbad.

In many ways, Bridesmaids, is exactly to me what Sex in the City always claimed to be but never, ever was. Far be it for me to lay claims to being an expert on the "average women" but Bridesmaids does seem to be a film very much about exactly that. Not only do these women display a wide variety of body-types and faces - mostly refusing to conform to the Hollywood "ideal" - they have distinct personalities, not defined at all by the men they find themselves with. They are also very, very funny with The Gilmore Girls' Melissa McCarthy, especially, constantly threatening to steal the film by playing very much against type.

More than anyone else, though, (more even than Paul Feig, the TV genius responsible for Freaks and Geeks and various episodes of Arrested Development and The Office, who finally gets a film project worthy of his talents) this film belongs entirely to lead actress and co-writer, Kristen Wiig. Not only has she created a genuinely interesting character to base the film around, a complex, very flawed woman whose out of control life imbues the film with a great sense of melancholy, all the while providing the film's primary narrative and comic drive. As a comic actress too, she is nothing short of extraordinary whose impeccable comic timing leave just about every other major romantic comedy leading lady in her dust. She has impressed for years in small and supporting roles but, after Bridesmaids, she deserves a long and successful career with films built around her.       

It's a bit long and some of the toilet humour felt slightly out of place but Bridesmaids is the best R-rated comedy to come out in years.

Best film of the week: Bridesmaids or Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 if you're not old enough.
Worst film of the week: Green Lantern, sadly.  

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