Role Models

I’ve started and stopped this review so many times, I can’t remember if I, in fact, already did review it. It’s mostly the holiday season and what-not, but to a degree it’s that the new Paul Rudd/Sean William Scott vehicle Role Models is not all that memorable.

It’s not bad. In fact, The Boy really liked it. The story is that the rather juvenile Scott and Rudd do some rather juvenile things and end up in front of a judge. The sentence is community service, to be filled in a “bigger brother” type organization.

I’m pretty sure–I hope!–this never actually happens, sentencing people who act like idiots to be mentors to children. But, hey, it’s a vehicle, and the first part of the movie is really carried by the not-nearly used enough Jane Lynch.

Doing a classic “reformed drug addict, now responsible but compelled to share uncomfortable details at every turn” bit, she rides the boys asses (even when they’re being relatively good), much the way she did in 40-Year Old Virgin.

Rudd is paired up with a nerdy LARPer whose parents don’t understand him, and in fact demean him even when they’re trying not to. Scott is paired up with a sassy black kid, as if Gary Coleman had been raised on hip-hop and porn. Scott is a womanizing frat-party regular–what you might imagine Stiffler to grow up to being, while Rudd is on the verge of losing perennial girlfriend Elizabeth Banks.

Knox will be happy at least that this time Banks is paired up with the reasonably good-looking, clean-cut Rudd instead of the slovenly, unshaven Seth Rogan.

You know how this plays out, right? Our Peter-Pan-esque boys actually get involved and start caring about their wards, only to screw up at the end of the second act and have to fight for honor, even at great personal risk to themselves.

I mean, seriously, how else is it going to play out? They continue their reckless ways and get the kids killed? Come on. What’s the matter with you? (OK, just once….)

The movie keeps you chuckling throughout, which may be sufficiently distracting from the parts that don’t work that well. Too, there is enough avoidance of some of the obvious subplots to make it not seem fresh, exactly, but at least not completely predictable.

The relationship between Rudd and Banks is really a pointless waste of screen time. Banks is really just a backdrop on which Rudd’s growth can occur, but the whole growth thing is pretty minor, and when contrasted with the fact that in the end she, of course, loves his new self, it’s particularly unconvincing why she would. (I like Banks a lot, but this is a pretty typical male comedy writer’s idea of women, i.e., a cardboard cutout.)

It looked early on like they might go with Scott putting down roots with his little buddy’s single mother. Thank God they didn’t go there.

LARPing gets an unexpected fair shake. I mean, personally, I’ve never met a LARPer who wasn’t totally insane, but I assume that’s just random chance. (They can’t all be nuts, can they?) At first, the movie is unsympathetic but then allows that it’s really not an unreasonable pursuit.

Rather than teach the foul-mouthed little black kid to behave, Scott teaches him how to score with the ladies. OK, that’s different.

As I noted, The Boy liked this a lot more than I did, and he is closer to the target demo than I am, so I guess they did that right. There’s a KISS theme running through the movie which is, I suppose aimed at me (and I did find it amusing), but ultimately I was sort of underwhelmed.

This currently has a whopping 7.9 on IMDB. It takes an 8.0 to break in to the all-time top 250. (Score inflation: When I started looking at IMDB 10+ years ago, the #1 movie in the top 250 was The Godfather and it had a 7.9.) I found it trite and sloppy which is something that doesn’t necessarily kill a comedy, if the gags are good.

And the gags are pretty good. So, you know, have at it.

Ride of Die Walk├╝re

I was on the fence about seeing the new Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie. I’m kind of on the fence about Cruise, and not just because the one time I saw him, he kept shooting me dirty looks. (OK, in fairness, I kept sorta staring at him like, “Who the hell is this little guy?” But I digress.) But as an actor, I don’t find him particularly compelling. The exceptions are his under-rated performance in Rain Man–I thought he was better in that than Hoffman by a long-shot and, uh, oh, yeah, he was great in Tropical Thunder. Oh, yeah, I liked him in Risky Business, too. (He was good in Magnolia but it almost felt like a rehash of his Rain Man character.)

He seems callow to me, even after all these years.

But I don’t dislike the guy, and he has some fine moments in this film about Germans who set out to kill Hitler–and actually more significantly, overthrow the National Socialist government.

I don’t buy the rather silly argument that since we know how this turns out, it has no potential to be an interesting movie. We know that the Titanic sank, yet the movie made over a billion dollars. Whatever the Hindenburg’s movie’s problems were, knowing that it was going to blow up was not one of them.

There are several hundred miles worth of film coming out in the next few weeks all dedicated to WWII, and we know how that event turns out, too.

Silly argument. And, in fact, director Bryan Singer does a great job handling the issue. You do wonder, at more than a few points, whether they’re going to be able to pull it off, and while it’s in progress, there are times when it seems like they can’t fail.

In fact, the plotting and execution of the plot is quite good, but it felt like the movie was waiting to get started up to that point. Stauffenberg is a difficult character to write and play, and the opening character development is sort of hit-and-miss. Obviously, the guy was a bit of a bad-ass, and cool as ice, something Cruise does pretty well. The other side, the more emotional, father, husband, human, is also hit-and-miss, though particularly good during the “let’s kill Hitler” and less so during the family scenes.

I found myself, overall, less engaged than I wanted to be. I was distracted by the timeline, for example, since the plot takes place about nine months before the war ended and I kept wondering if it would really help much taking Hitler out when the horse was sorta out of the barn already. (Though a lot of the worst stuff happened at the end of the war.)

I was also distracted by wondering if, at this point, more English-speaking people had played Nazis than there had ever been actual Nazis. The accents are all over the place. Cruise stays American but most of the rest of the cast is English. Except his wife, who is Dutch. Also his secretary. (Both actresses from Black Book.) Some use German accents. All the signs and telexes are in German, though.

Usually this doesn’t bug me, but it did, as did a big round of “Hey, who is that?” Bill Nighy, for example, I half-recognized. Like, “That guy looks like Bill Nighy, only thinner. And less funny.” Nighy is a great actor, but I’m used to seeing him in silly things like Pirates of the Carribbean. Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson are also great, but they’re also so very English.

I try to avoid comments like “this would’ve been better in Japanese” but I have to think this might have been done better with a bunch of no-name German actors.

Or maybe not. The Boy liked it more than I did.

Moscow, Belgium

I told The Boy when we left the theater that he could probably claim to be the only 13-year-old American boy to see the Belgian-made Dutch-language movie Moscow, Belgium. Sage that he is, he said, “It doesn’t matter what it’s about as long as you care about the characters.”

Dayamn. When I was 13? I was all about plot. Plot and boobies. (OK, I threw that in for Troop.)

Anyway, this is the wrong title for the movie. The Dutch title is Aanrijding in Moscow, which means “Collision In Moscow”, I think. That’s a better title but stupid Americans would think it was a Russian movie, I suppose. Not a Belgian movie. In Dutch.

I don’t know why I’m fixated on that. I guess because I was listening to it and thinking, “That sounds Germanic more than Frankish,” which is the sort of thing that bugs me. The last Belgian movie I saw (the fine Memory of a Killer) was in Frisian.

I digress.

This is the story of 43-year-old Matty, whose husband Werner has wandered off to have an affair with a younger woman but who won’t divorce her and sort of hints about coming back (for six months!) and has made her miserable, raising her three kids alone except for the alternate weekend.

The story begins when frazzled Matty gets into an accident with 29-year-old truck driver Johnny and is taken aback by the fact that Johnny is strongly attracted to her. This is interesting because she’s a complete shrew to him.

In fact, she’s rather unpleasant throughout the beginning of the movie. On top of anger, sarcasm, bitterness, they also do the “no makeup and hair” thing so she looks a haggard 43 indeed.

But with his persistence, we start to see Matty change and get a glimpse in to what’s made her so angry. (We also later get a full-on view of her body in a mirror which I think most even 20-something women would kill for.) And when she gives in (sort of), she has to take a hard look at what her husband has done and how she’s let it affect her.

There’s a curious element to this movie in that none of the characters are portrayed as victims. The cheap shot–the Hollywood formula–would be to have Werner be a jerk and Johnny be a saint, but Werner digs up dirt on Johnny and we find out he’s far from a saint. And then, just to make things a little more complicated, the movie shows us Johnny being a jerk. Meanwhile, Werner brings back a lot of the old memories that made Matty attracted to him in the first place.

Werner is especially jerky, I guess, since he seems to not want to let go of either Matty or the girlfriend.

There’s no “happily ever after” but this movie is hopeful–optimistic, even. We know the characters may be happy, but it won’t necessarily be perfect or easy. And there’s the subtext, or at least one subtext: Easy isn’t always better.

There’s another interesting bit of tension: Werner is an art professor; Johnny is a truck-driver. I somehow thought the enlightened peoples of Europe were beyond class wars as snobbery, but this movie brings the bigotry to the forefront. And it shows the prejudice going both ways as Werner turns out to be an insufferable snob–as does Johnny in his own way.

Ultimately, The Boy is right: While this movie is positively prosaic in its subject matter, ultimately you care about the characters, and so it works.

If you see only one Dutch-language Belgian film this year, make it this one.

Let The Right One In

It’s hard being twelve. Being Swedish probably doesn’t help, with the long, dark winters and constant snowfall. Being a smaller kid with an absentee father who’s a target for bullies certainly doesn’t help.

What does help, though, is getting a girlfriend. Sure, she’s a little strange looking, sometimes very pale, and the windows on her apartment are papered over, and people start mysteriously vanishing from the neighborhood, but hey–a girlfriend’s a girlfriend.

And here we have the crux of this Swedish vampire tale, which plays very cleverly on the vampire legend and, in particular, the notion of a vampire not being able to enter a person’s home without permission. (Something I’ve always considered metaphorical.) Whom do you let into your life?

This movie felt really Swedish. Somewhat slow, dark (literally and metaphorically), brooding and snow-covered, the bursts of violence is especially shocking given the quiet, bourgeois surroundings.

It also works by avoiding, on the one hand, the pitfalls of glamorizing vampires, and on the other by making the vampire victims largely sympathetic. There’s really only one truly evil character, and it doesn’t seem to be the vampire.

It’s a good movie, and there’s really only one thing that doesn’t work. But if I say what that is, and you watch it, you’ll be thinking about that thing through the whole movie, and it’s really unnecessary to the film (but is a vestigial remnant of the backstory in the book).

Suffice to say, there’s one aspect of the story you may wonder about, and it has to do with a very short shot (in the USA version) where we see the vampire naked from the waist down. (This is simulated; no actual naked twelve-year-olds were shown, I’m told.) I totally misinterpreted what I was seeing.

The Boy liked it and we think it was probably way better than the teeny-bopper Twilight.

And if you don’t like subtitles, give ‘em a year and you’ll see this movie remade in English. (But it probably won’t be as good.)

Who Wants To Be A Slumdog Millionaire?

When we’re first introduced to Jamal Malik, he has been winning on the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” and the police are torturing him to find out how he’s cheating. For the bulk of the next two hours, we see the relevant parts of his life story that explain how this impoverished orphan got to be so peculiarly knowledgeable.

The word we’re looking for is “Dickensian”. That’s right, Dickensian.

We see religious riots, beggar factories, gangsters, and strange sorts of enterprise (lightly to heavily criminal) as Jamal and his brother Salim survive and diverge on their paths through life.

Jamal is an exceedingly good character. It’s not that he doesn’t swindle and steal–he has to, to survive–but given an opportunity to live honestly, he will. His driving force in life is to be united with his true love, Latika.

His brother Salim is jealous of Jamal’s affection toward Latika, and this causes innumerable problems. Salim more fully internalizes the horror of the world that he comes from and, in a turn reminiscent of those old ‘30s Bogie movies, as Jamal walks the straight and narrow and Salim falls in with the neighborhood gangsters.

It’s almost old-fashioned except for director Danny Boyle’s flair. Boyle seems to be enjoying an artistic peak with his last four films (28 Days Later, Millions and last year’s under-rated Sunshine).

The acting is top-notch but you’re not likely to have heard of them. Jamal is played by Dev Patel (and a more generic Indian name there isn’t), whose only previous credit is the British show “Skins”. Madhur Mittal plays Salim, and his only other credit is a minor role the Indian film Say Salaam India (which I think actually played at our local Laemmele, though without subtitles). And “the most beautiful woman in the world” is played by model Freida Pinto in her first role.

“Freida Pinto” sounds Mexican, doesn’t it? But she’s a Mumbai native! She is, plausibly, the most beautiful woman in the world, too.

The only actor I recognized was the great Irfan Khan, who has also appeared in The Darjeeling Limited, and whose performance in The Namesake was simply unforgettable.

The great thing about Boyle, IMO, is that he’s never boring. This is a movie of great depth and art that doesn’t seem to belabor the point. The religious riot scene is heavy, but appropriately so. And the whole thing moves along lightly even though it’s awash in the desperate poverty and corruption of India. There’s a curious optimism there, a buoyancy provided by Jamal who manages to wade through the muck without being spoiled by it.

In the process, he becomes a hero to thousands of impoverished India who see “Millionaire” as a note of hope.

The Boy was a little under the weather and so became fixated on the economics of the two brothers living on the street. He liked it but was sort of unmoved as a result.