I Love You, Man (B+)
Hey PR firms, how 'bout a little creativity?
I'm not going to use the pop culture "B-word" surrounding this movie because I just don't like it (and I'm a stubborn contrarian with things like that). Besides, there's little romance going on here anyway, just your typical manchild hijinx. Which is not to say I Love You, Man doesn't have its funny moments. Paul Rudd continues to show the same leading man potential he had in Role Models, the supporting characters (especially Andy Samberg, Jon Favreau and Lou Ferrigno - who for some reason isn't a credited cast member) are hilarious, and there are two or three belly laugh-inducing scenes - and maybe a few more if you don't mind hearing the same joke five times.
But if you're looking for maturity or wit or originality, well then you should know better than to even be reading this. Just because Judd Apatow isn't involved here doesn't mean his influence isn't all over it: honest, innocent loser (The 40 Year-Old Virgin) has to get himself in order before major life event (Knocked Up), all while being held back by childish schlub friends (Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and so on). Apatow's is a brand that all comedies are copying these days, which means you've seen I Love You, Man before and you'll see it again soon. It's really almost like a sequel to Role Models: "See what happens to Danny Donahue five years later when he's about to get married and his only friends are still the nerdy role-playing kids!".
If stale humor is OK with you, or if you love the band Rush - you'll probably love I Love You, Man.
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) (A)
Find my original capsule review here.
As I mentioned in my pre-preview of the 2009 P.O.V. season yesterday, I've given The Betrayal a lot of attention here since seeing it at MSPIFF last year. Now that it's opening here and an official poster has been made, I'm offering what will likely be my final recommendation. It requires some patience to watch but it will likely teach you quite a bit about immigration and cultural assimilation, and also make you consider the collateral costs of war.
The Great Buck Howard (B-)
By the last minute of The Great Buck Howard I had one question in my mind: why in the world was this movie made? It hadn't been terrible to that point by any means, but then it hadn't really been anything - it just existed on screen like a vapor, as if somebody made a movie about a guy who woke up this morning and had a cup of coffee. Then the epilogue text came up, reminding me that The Great Buck Howard was inspired by a true story: the career of the famous mentalist "The Amazing Kreskin", for whom writer/director Sean McGinly once worked as an assistant. Alright - so it's a biopic/tribute movie of sorts, and McGinly reminds us on screen that "no one has ever proven that his [Kreskin's] magic is anything less than 100% amazing". Whatever - McGinly also hasn't proven to me that this movie is anything less than 100% forgettable.
I'm being overly harsh. It was entertaining enough and I laughed quite a bit at John Malkovich taking this part and running with it, much like Jim Carrey used to do with these unique roles. But this movie is just missing something to make it really terrific, like a magic show where all of the tricks are decent but none of them are astounding. Worse, you often find yourself waiting for a punchline that never comes, so the comedy blows out of some scenes like hissing balloon. Too bland to see in the theater, but charming enough for a DVD rental.
You might find yourself doing this during the movie in order to keep yourself entertained.
And Hollywood's crowning achievement (and my guess as the box-office winner) for the week of March 20, 2009, is the disaster movie Knowing. It's about knowing when the world will end, and if that happens in real life before you're done watching this movie, consider yourself a blessed soul. Without question the worst movie I've seen since The Happening (though not nearly as pretentious), this Nicolas Cage vehicle shocked me only because it was worse than I thought it could be under the direction of Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City, I, Robot).
I'll look at it in two parts: first noting the obvious weaknesses of Knowing and then shredding it for a complete disregard for logic and reason. MAJOR SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW.
Since I already mentioned Shyamalan's disastrous last movie, why not start there? Like the now-infamous director's recent movies, Knowing tries to make big, bold statements about paranormal issues like the existence of life on other planets and the ability to see the future or otherwise operate outside of normal human dimensions. Instead of attempting anything fresh or thoughtful, however, Knowing goes about its business primarily by alternating between expensively produced special effects (you can almost see the money burning in the fire from the explosions), tons of cheap, door-slamming thrills, and way too many scenes with freaky kids who are truly awful actors. And like Shyamalan's movies, the conversations you have afterwards won't be about the themes of the movie, but about the mystery of how and why these movies continue to be made with such frequency.
Knowing does add one somewhat original contribution to the "end times" genre by making numerous references to religious prophecies, but theological discussions deserve better than Nicolas Cage and aliens. This movie could have been, well, at least decent without these two liabilities and all the rest of the trappings of extravagant Hollywood fluff, including the most manipulative use of sound effects and a musical score that I've heard in years: something...Is... GoInG... TO... HAPPEN RIGHT NOW - DUN DUN DUN!!!!
And now for a few of the immediate questions that threw my mind into a frenetic tizzy while watching Knowing. Somebody help me out because I'm really too dense to understand the following:
Why didn't the school officials start looking for Lucinda inside the school before dark? And when searching for her inside the school, why didn't they just turn on the lights?
Why didn't Lucinda just get another piece of paper and pencil instead of carving bare wood with her fingers? The "whisper people" told her to write it in a closet where she might never be found?
Wasn't Miss Taylor's class the only one to write the letters for the time capsule? If so, how were there enough letters available to hand out to the entire school 50 years later, and how had the enrollment at the school not significantly increased?
Why would anyone ever marry Lucinda, and how was she never committed to a mental institution?
Why does an MIT astrophysicist not only own a Ford F-150, but drive it like he just stole it?
Why does an MIT astrophysicist live in a decrepit old house, where half the rooms are inexplicably and beautifully furnished while the other half resemble interrogation rooms?
What's the significance of showing us the tiger show on TV so many times?
Why didn't John tell anyone else about the numbers other than his dullard MIT colleague?
Why would John, an alcoholic, not know how to properly pour himself a drink without spilling it all over?
What was the point of Caleb's hearing aid? It literally served no purpose (especially since Abby and Lucinda could hear the aliens just fine without one) other than to amplify the creepy whisper noises for the audience, right?
Wasn't the first disaster (the plane crash) to happen on 10/26/08? Then how did the last one happen on 10/19/08? I swear those dates were messed up.
Why did John run into the burning wreckage of the plane crash while everything was clearly still exploding, and how did the paramedics know he wasn't a passenger when they arrived on the scene?
Why did the aliens give the kids the rocks from the clearing instead of just telling them the message?
Why are the aliens ultimately revealed to be simply skinless, translucent humans, with the same muscle and bone structure and central nervous system? This has to be the most pathetic attempt at alien life in years, doesn't it?
If it's so hot because of the solar flares, how can there be so much fog and so many puddles at night? Wouldn't the earth's atmosphere be scorched of all moisture at this point?
Why would the aliens forecast any of the other disasters in the 50 years of history when it's all irrelevant to the point at hand - and what's the significance of 50 years in the context of human life, anyway?
Why did the alien show Caleb the burning world outside his window and completely freak him out? Why not just tell Caleb what's going to happen - like they eventually did?
Why would Lucinda write "EE" backwards when she's written all of the number forwards? Just as a sneaky trick for whoever figures it out?
Why didn't Caleb have a cell phone? Wouldn't it be more likely that he would have a cell phone than that he would always have change handy for a pay phone? Why there are so many pay phones around in the first place?
Why does the fate of the world always lie in the hands of white American kids? And why do all of the last major disasters only happen in the U.S.?
Why were there so many people waiting in the subway station? Don't those trains run every few minutes?
Why did Caleb honk the horn of the truck if the aliens aren't there to harm them or take them away? I mean, they're calmly communicating with each other, right? What was he so afraid of?
Why was the gas station manager the only person in Boston who had a Boston accent?
Why does Manhattan remain the only city whose destruction qualifies the apocalypse when it's not even the 10th largest city in the world?
Why wouldn't the GPS coordinates on the school closet door show through the paint if they were scratched so deeply into the wood?
How did the aliens expect the kids were going to make it to the UFO clearing without their help? Why wouldn't they just take the kids in their sleep or by force at any other point during the movie?
Why did the aliens drive an old-school Cadillac boat and not something more awesome?
Why did Caleb start writing the numbers at the end? Wouldn't John have assumed those were more clues, instead of stopping him from finishing?
Why would the news anchor say, "We're going to stay on the air as long as we possibly can. All we're going to do is repeat what we've been saying all along - get indoors and underground."? Why would he stay on the air and not just put up a blue screen with that message instead? Do they really care about maintaining their market share of the local news at this point?
How was John able to calmly drive through the city with the streets on fire and people in chaotic riots? What were people doing standing around in the streets anyway?
Who dressed the kids in tunics in the New World and why - shouldn't they be unclothed like Adam and Eve?
Why do the aliens give the kids albino bunnies? Because rabbits breed? Is it just going to be humans and rabbits in the New World?
Please help me with these and many other questions if you see Knowing, because otherwise I'll continue to feel like a complete idiot.