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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Roundup of New Films Released 23 March 2012

With 21 Jump Street out of the way, onto some other, often more interesting, films that came out this past weekend. 

Carnage: Starting off with a film that is both the most flawed film of the week and the one I enjoyed most, Roman Polanski's Carnage. It's primary flaw becomes pretty obvious within minutes of the film, it is based on a play and, for all of his experience as a filmmaker, Polanski fails to fully translate a story that is fundamentally theatrical into something cinematic. As such, the "action" is somewhat static, the dialogue somewhat stagey and the characters somewhat hyper-real. With all that said though, Carnage is a complete delight from beginning to end. I know, I know, "delight" seems an odd word to describe a film called Carnage but, though there is a reason for its title, it certainly doesn't exactly encapsulate the feel of the film itself. A more apropos title would probably have been "Adults Behaving Badly" or something less hopelessly unoriginal because that, in effect, is what the film is about. The central irony at the heart of the film is that it deals with two adult couples becoming more and more childish in their interactions as they try and solve a fight between their two young children. It also deals with a number of other "intellectual" issues, none of which are exactly miles beneath the surface but the real reason why Carnage is such an easy film to recommend is because it is very, very funny. The way Carnage has been sold, you wouldn't expect it to be more frequently and more gut-bustingly funny than the vast majority of straight up mainstream comedies and yet it really is precisely that. It also clearly features four immensely talented actors working off one another, but however much you will probably spend most of the time laughing at Jodie Foster - or at least at the other characters reactions to her intense, tightly wound too-liberal-to-believe mother - it's clearly Christoph Waltz's show to steal as he outdoes himself with one of the most effortlessly hilarious comedy roles I've seen in quite some time.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Speaking of comedies with phenomenal casts and wonky titles, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a perfect alternative to Carnage for those who like their comedy less acerbic and tempered by an unapologetic sentimentality. Though, really, why not enjoy both? The plot, such as it is, involves a group of elderly people who find themselves in a hotel in India specifically designed for retirees, that is run by an enthusiastic young Indian who is desperate to prove his worth by turning a prophet on this old family business. Each of these half dozen characters have their own reasons for being there and their own - and I hate to use this word but - journeys to complete. Unsurprisingly then, the film's biggest flaw is that it is ultimately rather bitty, never quite coalescing into an entirely satisfying whole. Its sense of sentimentality may also be a bit to on the nose for some people. Nonetheless, for all that doesn't entirely work about it, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a genuinely delightful little film, filled with gentle humour, wonderful performances and plenty of heart.

Our Idiot Brother: Similarly flawed but equally enjoyable, Our Idiot Brother is effectively a family dramedy that is a whole lot smarter than its title and poster would seem to imply. Paul Rudd plays the titular "idiot brother" - though, to be honest, "hopelessly naive brother" is far more accurate - who, after being jailed for dealing marijuana to a cop, gets passed around from sibling to sibling as he tries to get his life back together, all the while highlighting everything that is wrong with theirs. The film is far from a masterpiece, as it lacks both the thematic focus and inspired scripting to ever make the jump from good to great. But "good" it certainly is. Paul Rudd has proven to be a master at playing the laid-back, somewhat dopey nice guy and his character is instantly likable. The same, of course, can't be said about his siblings but the main point about the film is the way these supremely flawed people try and use their seemingly hopeless brother as a scapegoat for all that is wrong with their lives. It's nowhere near as good as something like 50/50, but this is still a superior example of a genre that is known for churning out some seriously suspect material and even if it's never as funny or as moving as it could be, Our Idiot Brother still balances its serious and comedic sides with unmistakable panache. A very pleasant surprise.


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