29 August 2007

Review: Superbad

Genre: Comedy (Adolescent Hijinks)

OK, I couldn't resist that little addendum to Genre. "Hijinks" is such a great word for this stuff. But, really, the hijinks that the endearingly charming characters of Superbad undergo are pure teenage (sex-)comedy gold. While Superbad is certainly to no landmark accomplishment, it is clearly a triumph for its trendy sub-genre whose history is riddled with stock characters, bad plot twists, and cheesy maudlin motivations.
Superbad, on the other hand, is replete in supply of original characters with typical but not tired motivations and story arcs. "Typical but not tired": I think, that is at the heart of what makes this film so good. Its developments and people are real, born of today's climate of crossing-cultured MySpace pervasions, satyriatic but earnest young-male sexual perspectives, relationship asseveration based on emotional honesty regardless of its constituents' vital data, and a marked and unembarrassed frankness about all matters, especially those deemed unconventional, or (for the purpose of context with its category) non-stock. The boys were not sex-crazed goofballs with lofty aspirations concerning how to get laid for the first time; they were not those fiercely heterosexual wannabes so afraid of guy-to-guy feelings and so 'eager to show their chest hair', that any thought of camaraderie and friendly intimacy need be validatingly mediated by the extensions of their female (structural) counterparts; they were not even the dressed up, clueless, and often incapable of being aught but single-minded pretty boys that so wildly populate the cinematic teenage universe - not even in a 'Beauty-and-the-Geek'/hot--post--girl-inspired--make-over way; and, most importantly, they were not the prescribed variety of males almost branded onto the 'high-school buddy flick.' They were normal; they were smart (i. e., pliable to thoughtful discourse and **self-aware**); they were believable *and* entertaining. And this whole inspired magic of original exploration of people as people (i. e., not types) stretches well beyond the leading three: Consider the cops, and the liquor store's check-out girl, for even she has a (funnily) credible backstory. I thoroughly applaud the screenwriter's work in this regard (and in his attention to closed arcs and structure).
And the rest is just apt icing on the cake.
Kudos, Superbad, for, as the (presumed) thought behind your self-aware, ironic title suggests, you're pretty good.

Grade: B :)

28 August 2007

Review: The Nanny Diaries

Genre: Drama / Faux Fairy Tale

Filling this year's slot formerly occupied by The Devil Wears Prada, The Nanny Diaries unfortunately fails to be as flush as its predecessor, professing empty orisons and unfulfilled arcs to the dim theater. While it begins steadily enough, quietly displaying glass panes to separate and spilling out anthropological credentials like a new college-graduate keen on self-validation, it fails to recognize even its own good points and carry them through, a remission that would have otherwise provided a much tighter correspondence of audience with characters and meta-consciousness with acting consciousness. It also, despite the possession of several nimble actors, fails to make proper or adequate usage of any of them, with the possible exception of one scene of Ms. Linney, though altogether, I must say, her character was not pushed hard enough.
Furthermore, in a movie with the particular potential for stunning visuals, it is significantly tragic that its cinematography was so utterly daft. Cinematographer, back the fuck up - seriously, I kid not: Your work would have been at least some few notches better, if you had just stepped back a good ten feet from every one of your shots and thought about them. I mean, you're trying to uphold the cold isolation that practically composed all of your film's characters, right? So, why why why did you choose to pull warm, tight close-up shots on practically all of them (save one absolutely beautiful shot [when Mrs. X confronts Nanny in her bedroom about a discovered negligee] that I'm sure was sheer accident]?
Ugh, but this lack of 20/20 on the part of the D. P. was not the worst part of The Nanny Diaries; no, the worst part for me was that its screenplay's ending seemed to do nothing but uphold the another permutation born from the same destructive pretexts that its characters are supposed to have learned to avoid. (The beautiful) Ms. Johannson's character does not seem to take heed that, as she even says, money and status are not guarantees of happiness, or of certitude. Instead, she blindly goes on, into the arms of the awaiting, slightly pompous, and definitely man-candy - "Harvard hottie"? I mean, come on - prince of this faux fairy tale. What is the audience supposed to take away from this absurd deus-ex-machina solution to her woes? That the pernicious pitfalls of wealth and of a socially approved life are viable with the correct antidote of a passing attraction to an Ivy-Leaguer whose Brite Smile for a minute at least gives the impression that he'll in twenty years still actually give a shit? That long sought-after complete independence of a woman in today's world can mean surrendering to the twisted (nevertheless) ideal of an inflated, cocksure 'Aber-zombie' with the dough to back her up, all with the quick blessing justification to herself that she knows better and therefore what she's doing is, not only OK, but correct? Or is it merely that good looks with a splash of charm always make the best cocktail, regardless of the cost? At least The Devil Wears Prada knew what it wanted to say.

Grade: C- / D+ (i. e., "Try again.")

Review: Becoming Jane

Genre: Drama / Historical Romance

The bird just doesn't fly. It just doesn't. And by "the bird" I mean the ill-constructed, mottled fledgling that proposes to be this film - o, and Ms. Hathaway as well, whose work I will address first.
Now, Ms. Hathaway and I have been acquainted, actress and film-goer, since her first small debut in the much underappreciated Nicholas Nickleby (2002). It was then, when she played the subdued love-interest of the similarly tiered Charlie Hunnam playing Nickleby, when I first thought that she would succeed on to bigger and desiredly better roles; then, when I believed she could be a great actress...maybe. Only time and more films would obviously be able to tell. So, I waited, and I watched: her practicing in her first 'popular' role as the lead in The Princess Diaries (in which she was priviledged to spend much screentime with the celebrated Ms. Andrews), her bobbling (not to be bilked) in a second role of the like in Ella Enchanted and then a third in The Princess Diaries 2, and finally her returning to a testing shot in Mr. Lee's breath-taking Brokeback Mountain. While she in my eyes failed to stand out as did the rest of her young castmates from the film, she appeared not thoroughly raw and inappropriate, a still improving talent who with more time and well-nurturing guidance could yet achieve serious status. More time then, and she took on the following summer the blockbuster hit The Devil Wears Prada, an almost make-it-or-break-it opportunity for her to prove herself, as she matched wits and skills with one of the screen's legendary personages: the great Ms. Streep. Now, of course it helped her none that Ms. Streep was, not merely good (as she is always apt to be), but rather exceptional, turning in what I believe to be one of her strongest and most studied performances as the viciously fabulous Miranda Priestley; and this fact, woeful for Ms. Hathway as it may have been, I entirely acknowledge and consider. But, it was impossible for me to ignore the utter travesty she suffered, when her acclaimed castmate, not only shined in her (technically supporting role), but also and moreover upstaged her, the lead(!), to such an extent, that there was barely leave room on the critics' papers for the merest comment about what was to be her cementing role - not to mention the little gem that was Ms. Streep's Leading(!) Actress Oscar nomination. Ms. Hathaway might have as well been a mannequin with a cursory voice-over. Needless to say: I was not impressed. Still, I decided, she ought to have one more fair shot at redeeming her potential, and that shot came quite appropriately in a Jane Austen adaptation, what is yet another godsend opportunity for young actresses like herself to prove their mettle as "serious" talents, to tumble with the likes of the nimble Mr. Cromwell and the iconic Dame Maggie Smith. I mean, consider Ms. Winslet, who rose to glory as the winsome and passionate Marianne in Mr. Lee and Ms. Thompson's brilliant Sense and Sensibility; or - even better - consider the more recent Ms. Knightley, whose film's character structure is nearly the double of Becoming Jane's and who won herself respectability (and a Leading Actress Oscar nomination) matching with the wonderful Ms. Blethyn and the forceful Dame Judi Dench. Yet, I am sorry to say that Ms. Hathaway's work in the film, besides the film's own faults, was in no way similar to her aforementioned peers'. It was just not up to the mark, not in the least. It is a rather unfortunate consequence to admit, yes, but she has failed to "bring it" one too many times and, I fear, thus has, not only failed to give rise to this latest attempt, but more importantly failed to give rise to her career. I do wish her luck, but I must say that I cannot at this time pronounce her to be in any way a ready talent, ripe for the plucking.
OK, now on to the film: Becoming Jane's flaws are plural, many misguided attempts at throwing together greatness without a (discernible) idea of from where greatness actually foments behind them. Sure, one can collect several celebrated actors and throw them into a period Austen piece designed to by its very nature dupe audiences into thinking it and perhaps even calling it expressly a work of serious, unartificial merit; but from the discerning film-goer no such ballyhooing can ever disguise a ploy such as that, to be what it truly isn't - and, I believe judging by the film's August release date (i. e., the we-don't-consider-this-awards-fare-anymore release date), that it couldn't be disguised from the studios either. The structure of the screenplay was a poor duplicate at best, much like the last facsimile made by a dying copy machine: yes, you can make out some of the original but the whole fullness of the design just isn't there anymore. Yet, somehow that analogy is not entirely accurate. Becoming Jane was not just the mindless redubbing of (Knightley's) well done Pride and Prejudice; no, it was more the redubbing of that film and Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park and the rest of the Austen canon, haphazardly clipped and collaged with Elmer's before the copy machine ever laid scanner on it. OK, I'll stop the bashing, but I'm not very far from the truth here.
As far as the rest of the film goes (e. g., costumes [which usually bring a redeeming feature], cinematog., [other] acting, art direction, score), the work was average: mostly unremarkable and middle of the road, with brief trips toward the extremes with equal measure, as is expected of the majority of films. Only one feature for me is worth specific mention: Mr. McAvoy's spry and dandy Mr. Lefroy is another reason for me to believe in him, that he could be a "serious talent".

Grade: C-

(For all my talk you may assume that I have an idea of what such a snippet comment means, that I am an expert on the matter, or at least that I think I'm an expert, but I'm just a blogger, trying his observations on the world, in hope to piece together something better.)