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Monday, October 3, 2011

Roundup of New Films Released 30 September 2011

Another seriously underwhelming week at the cinema...

I have no earthly idea how Inside Out managed to get a theatrical release, when so many vastly superior and more obviously cinematic films go straight to DVD (especially if the film in question comes from the UK, oddly enough). It's not that it's a truly awful film, it's just so drearily by-the-numbers that there really is no need for it to exist at all. The plot, about an ex-con (played surprisingly competently by wrestler Paul "Triple H" Levesque) trying to go straight after a decade in prison only to get pulled back into his old life by an old friend, has been done to death and there is little in the way of invention, wit or real emotional potency to hold one's attention. It's really not surprising at all that is has been relegated to a small handful of random cinemas throughout the country as it's hard to believe that anyone would go out of their way to pay to watch this on the big screen.

I can, however, certainly see people going to see The Smurfs. I'm sure some of them will even see it in 3D. After all, we're talking about a group of characters that have endured for over half a century and there's nothing about the endless publicity for the film that won't have millions of kids begging their parents to take them to their nearest cinema to spend a couple of hours in the company of these weird blue creatures. Is it any good though? Well, if you're 10 years old or younger, you'll probably enjoy it but I doubt that even its target demographic would confuse this for a true children's classic. It looks especially weak when held up against the current reigning, um, king of kids cinema - The Lion King 3D. It's an utterly innocuous and perfectly watchable bit of fluff with a particularly fun performance from Hank Azaria as a wildly over-the-top baddie but it's impossible to escape the fact that this feels more like an advertisement for a new range of Smurfs toys than a serious attempt at add anything artistically satisfying to the seminal franchise. Not only has it been released in typically wasteful 3D, it also features more blatant product placement than any other film I can recall this year. It's not wretched by any means but it is more or less exactly what you would expect from a product that is this crassly commercial.

For those of you who missed it, the classic cult TV series Arrested Development will be returning for (presumably) a final 10-episode season next year before making the leap to the big screen and I, for one, couldn't be happier. Sure, they might screw it up royally (what's that saying about never going back home again?) but who in their right mind could complain about more of what is easily one of the smartest, most inventive and flat out funniest comedies ever made? If nothing else, it means that we could get a Jason Bateman vehicle that is actually worthy of his talents for a change.

And so we come to The Change Up, yet another in a long line of mediocre comedies that squanders the talents of one of the great deadpan comic actors working in Hollywood today. Bateman stars opposite Ryan Reynolds in a gross-out comedy that does so well-worn a staple as the body-swap genre no favours by adding dollops of projectile baby poo and limp sexuality to the proceedings and very little else. Reynolds does his usual slimey schtick, for better or worse but the script (by the writers of the Hangover as the poster so proudly exclaims) gives both actors very little to work with and the result is an occasionally amusing, generally diverting but predictable comedy that simply doesn't have enough real laughs to justify its existence. Immensely middling stuff.       

But wait! There's more...

I finally got around to seeing romantic weepie, One Day, so here's a quick bonus review.

One Day may be tonally reminiscent of the kind of epic romantic dramas on which Nicholas Sparks has made his name but - weirdly, yet somehow inevitably - it reminded me most of two Meg Ryan films. The first, of course, is When Harry Met Sally, the film that remains to this day the quintessential modern day rom-com. That's right, this is yet another film about a man and woman who are obviously tremendously attracted to one another but try and make their way through life as friends, not lovers. One Day does have the added high-concept of the film being set over 22 years but only popping into the lives of these two characters on one day per year - hence the title. The good news, though, is that despite it mostly being a romantic drama, it actually sullies the good names of Harry and Sally far, far less than most contemporary romantic comedies do.

Jim Sturges and Anne Hathaway are engaging, attractive (the most unintentionally funny bit of the film is when they try and make Anne Hathaway look "frumpy" and "unattractive" by dressing her in ratty clothes, comically large glasses and messy hair but she just lands up looking like Anne Hathaway) screen presences and, though the high concept device fails as often as it works, the smart, witty script keeps interest levels sufficiently high. It drags a bit at times and is a bit rough around the emotional edges but it's a perfectly enjoyable love story with some fine performances and a rather funny guided-tour-around-ol'-Blighty-govn'r-what accent by the otherwise terrific Ms Hathaway.

And then it decides to stop being a more serious version of When Harry Met Sally and turns into City of Angels, that rubbish remake of Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire starring Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan. If, by some chance, you actually remember that dreary romantic drama then you might know where I'm going here but, to further avoid spoilers, lets just say that I can't believe One Day actually went where it did in its final act - and that's despite my repeating, mantra-like, in my head "don'tdoitdon'tdoitdon'tdoit". Talk about letting the side down.

Ah well, it was fun while it lasted.


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