The Final Countdown
As 2010 drew to a close, I managed to sneak in three more films. Herewith, for the sake of completeness, my musings:
I wasn’t going to bother. I mean, I enjoyed The Hangover, and will see pretty much anything Robert Downey Jr. turns his hand to, but the trailer did look rather full of slapstick and base humour, the type (dare I say it – yes I do) that boys like. And when you’re hanging out for 2011’s release of The King’s Speech, Due Date is like the Turkish Delight chocolate in the bottom of the box.
I do wonder when Hollywood scriptwriters and their audiences are going to tire of the “I’ve never taken drugs in my life” Downey in-jokes. And when Zach Galifianakis is going to finally get sick of the typecasting and demand a dramatic/romantic lead. But until that day comes, we are destined to see many more buddy-comedies with mismatched leading men getting themselves into predicaments and then bonding (think Paul Rudd and Jason Segel in I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell in Dinner for Schmucks, Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen in Knocked Up… hang on a minute).
To be fair, Downey plays a good straight man, his character sufficiently fleshed out to justify the oscillation between bursts of anger and chastened warmth for the idiot who got him kicked off his flight home, and with whom he must drive across America. Although Galifianakis feels somewhat exploited for his ability to abandon his dignity for the sake of a laugh, I can’t help but side with the playground bully who first forced him to perform. From his mincing walk and flamboyant scarves to his naively ridiculous responses to some genuinely emotional situations revolving around paternal loss, Ethan Tremblay steals every scene, and Downey’s Peter graciously abets him.
There is plenty of silly physical humour, peppered with some laugh-out-loud lines that still render this a 3-star (out of 5) film. But it’s no Hangover, and it will soon be time for the filmmakers to observe their talents’ real talent and start using them for something better.
The Kids are All Right
A wonderfully original premise: the children of a lesbian couple seek out their biological father and the family starts a relationship with him – is played out surprisingly and beautifully by acting heavyweights Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo.
The women in particular bring terrific characterisation to the dinner table (and bedroom) as Nic and Jules, happily married for 20 or so years, with two well-adjusted teenagers who call them “Moms”. When Paul (Ruffalo playing his oft-seen slacker, a role he seems designed for) enters their mix, the moms take to him in different ways – Nic perturbed by and Jules attracted to his laid-back, dope-smoking, attitude; daughter Joni excited and son Laser more skeptical. The family dynamics shift slightly, and lessons are learned along the way.
If anything, Paul’s response to having two ready-made children pop up in his commitment-phobe life is the only slightly untrue note in the film; however, Ruffalo plays this as if meaning every word. Across town, Nic and Jules feel the impact on their own relationship as much as theirs with their children, and the effects on their expanding family are enlightening as well as painful. The story doesn’t seek to propagate big ideas, but is nonetheless heartwarming and well-performed.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest
Yes, I saw the others. So you’ll have gathered that, so unimpressed was I with the second film, I didn’t bother to review it in these pages. Having now completed the trilogy, I think it’s worth a few words.
I didn’t read the books, but I understand the filmmakers left out some of the key thriller moments in their final film. Why, given the 147- minute story which is overstuffed with padding, unnecessary dialogue and sub-plots that in no way advance the main narrative, I do not know. What the filmmakers did not shy away from, however, is the extreme violence in each of the books. I do get that our protaganist, Lisbeth Salander, needed to have been treated badly (which is putting it mildly) in order to justify the intense revenge story that followed. I also appreciate that often people who are hellbent on such a course of action need to shut themselves off from emotion, and appear cold, unfeeling and impermeable. They might even want to wear dark clothing and have tattoos. Perhaps a piercing or two. Often they will have sought solace in the restriction-free, impersonal world of the internet and may be IT whizzes. I suppose it’s plausible, if a little gratuitous, that they might be lesbian (or at least bisexual).
But rather like in a serial killer movie where the screenwriter has done a spot of research online before writing a character ridden with cliches, to me Lisbeth Salander is a cobble-together of every supposedly antisocial (or “hardcore”) trait imaginable. On top of this, she isn’t even very likeable. We feel sorry for her, sure! (she is put through extraordinary ordeals in flashbacks and in the present, to ensure we forgive any resulting murderous deeds). But overall the films are so grim, and the conclusion so muted and joyless, that even leaving the cinema after 2 1/2 exhausting hours of it, I found it hard to care.
Hornets Nest brings us to the end of Lisbeth’s story (the author, Stieg Larsson, having died before the success of his books, will not be bringing us any more). I enjoy a good courtroom drama more than most people, and there was sufficient opportunity for there to have been shock and awe on the faces of the prosecution in the denouement. But alas, as the Swedish film meandered along, the key evidence was leaked to the audience early on, and subsequently lost all impact by the time it was played in court. Meanwhile, back at the offices of Millenium where journalist/knight-in-shining-armour Mikael Blomkvist is sending the whistleblowing issue to press, we sit through irrelevant backstories about the danger their editor is in, while Lisbeth languishes in jail, spiking her hair and applying eyeliner in preparation for another day refusing to answer questions.
David Fincher is making the inevitable Hollywood remakes as we speak. Normally I wouldn’t give you tuppence for an American version (I gather vampire movie Let Me In adds nothing to its Swedish precursor) but in this instance, I’m going to give Fincher’s a go, simply because he knows how to craft a good movie, and I want my story served rare, without garnish and chutney.
See you in 2011 to discuss whether he managed it.