29 August 2009

It's Quiet... Too Quiet...

I'm given to rather negatively assume that you're all browsing this blog o' mine to read me positively losing my shit over the latest releases. Then you'll go to the multiplex to chortle a little at the minutiae that bothered me so much and have a thoroughly good night. And good for you if that's the fact, but I find myself in the enjoyable position recently of being able to recommend films. Inglourious Basterds and The Time Traveler's Wife are both still playing in cinemas and are both rather marvellous, and it's a pleasure to recommend two rather different films. The trend continues with this week's post, and I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

By avoiding the route of seeing Dance Flick and Aliens in the Attic just to give hopping mad deconstructions of them on here, I've found my cinema-going experiences to be much more pleasant of late, probably because the summer season is drawing to a close, and the more stupid of the money-scoffing tyrannosauruses in the cinematic arena have all gone to shit in the wake of the flaming astral fireball that is er... September. Analogies have not always been my strong suit, but I'd sooner be happy than right any day. So here are a couple more reviews in which, as ever, mild spoilers may occur in the course of discussion but not so far as to ruin major plot developments.

Funny People is the latest comedy from Judd Apatow, a director who's slightly less prolific than advertising would have you believe. Yeah, he's the guy who brought you Knocked Up, but that and The 40 Year Old Virgin are the only films he'd directed before this more personal and dramatic effort. Adam Sandler reprises the "serious-mode" acting we've seen done well in Punch-Drunk Love and less well in Spanglish, to play George Simmons, a stand-up comedian turned sell-out movie star who's diagnosed with an inoperable type of leukaemia. Realising that his days could well be numbered, he reassesses his decadent lifestyle with the help of a young fan called Ira (played by Seth Rogen), who he effectively hires as an emotional punchbag.

Apatow's primarily telling us that Adam Sandler is very lonely. While I doubt Sandler has the personal issues that George does in real life, his career path is remarkably similar. I'm not pretending that Sandler's comedies have ever been high art, but I certainly think Happy Gilmore was a more credible film than the likes of Bedtime Stories. Similarly, George's efforts include Merman (a children's film about... well, a merman), Redo (in which Simmons has to be turned into a baby by a wizard to learn what it is to be a man) and My Best Friend Is A Robot (an Owen Wilson comedy that's never really elaborated upon). It's in this type of self-consciousness that Sandler gives such a good performance, amply reinforced by Apatow's traditional supporting cast.

Seth Rogen and Leslie Mann are as sympathetic and funny as usual, but it was a real joy to see Jonah Hill being funny again. Ever since Superbad, he's been touted as the Next Big Thing, but he's only really made forgettable cameos in the likes of Night at the Museum 2 since then. Here, he's given a sizable role with some great one-liners. Eric Bana is another standout cast-member who really doesn't seem to be on-screen long enough as he reprises his native accent to play an Australian alpha-male, but that's a problem that only exists because he makes such an impression. The amount of time he's there is relative to his importance to the story, and that's where Funny People really succeeds- a film the same length as your average Harry Potter film will invariably either bore the audience or use the time well and flesh out story and characters. You'll find yourself caring about what happens to these characters without it becoming mawkish or melodramatic.

The trademark quickfire dialogue and one-liners remain, but this is much more of a marriage of comedy and drama than Apatow's previous films. Like Knocked Up did for unexpected pregnancy and The 40 Year Old Virgin did for sexual immaturity, this film does take on a subject that isn't funny- terminal illness- and centres a comedy around it. However, unlike those films, Apatow is prepared to put a straight face on things for most of the film. The characters are stand-up comedians, so there'll obviously be jokes, but Funny People is a film about how damaged they can be once they're off-stage. Two and a half hours more or less flies by, with the exception of how frequently dick-jokes occur. By the time you hear how thick Seth Rogen's penis apparently is for the twelfth time, you might cast a look at your watch. Nevertheless, the fact remains that this is sometimes funny, sometimes sad but always very human, and it's Apatow's best film to date. That doesn't mean it's his funniest, but it is very good indeed.

It's likely many of you will go see Funny People, so I'll tip the scale and talk about a film I know was mostly overlooked at the cinema because it came out on the same day as The Time Traveler's Wife and the same weekend that Inglourious Basterds started previewing. It's called A Perfect Getaway and it stars Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich as Cliff and Cydney, a pair of newlyweds off on an idyllic Hawaiian honeymoon. The getaway is marred slightly by news of a savage murderer roaming the islands, and it's only after they meet another holidaying couple that they hear about how police believe a man and a woman were the perpetrators. It's directed by David Twohy, who hasn't really done anything in the past few years except talk about how he's going to make a third Riddick film. That project now looks to be finally going forward, and fair play to him, because his interim project is well worth a watch.

Twohy's writing and directing maintains the tension throughout, and by the time you get to the end, you'll want to watch it again right away so you can get your head around it. It would be unfair to reveal any of the plot developments that make the film so watchable, or to divulge the game-changer that occurs midway through. So it only really remains for me to praise Twohy's direction and recommend A Perfect Getaway to anyone who likes a good thriller. It's got great performances- this is the only film where I'd ever call Steve Zahn endearing, and there's a memorable turn by Timothy Olyphant too- and the requisite scenery is of course beautifully shot. The real shame with this film is how it's been advertised. I'm lucky to have seen this at all, because every other day of the week I would've passed this by as another run-of-the-mill cautionary tale about how going abroad is Bad, no matter how sunny it is. As it is, I felt like a trip to the cinema and saw this on a whim, so I'm very glad I did. Make sure you all catch it on DVD, because it's a film that deserves to be more successful than it has been.

Next time, I'll probably be back to ranting when it comes to Final Destination 4 (I refuse to use the title they're giving it) but hopefully retaining this newfound sunny disposition when it comes to either The Hurt Locker, District 9 or (500) Days of Summer.

Until then, I'm Mark, mad prophet of the airwaves, and make sure you don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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