Archive for March, 2011

Grand Illusion

Posted in Drama, War with tags on March 8, 2011 by Mark Hobin

French drama is a fascinating study of unlikely friendships during WWI.  Legendary director Jean Renoir celebrates brotherhood among prisoners and guards within a German war camp.  The action follows three French officers captured as P.O.W.’s.  The well drawn characterizations are what ultimately draw the viewer into this anti-war commentary.  Lt. Maréchal is a husky working class type, Lt. Rosenthal, a wealthy Jewish banker and Capt. de Boeldieu, a member of the aristocracy.  The three are planning escape by digging a tunnel.  Capt. von Rauffenstein is the German commander of their fortress prison.  Despite being on opposite sides of the war, he bonds with Boeldieu based their similar social class and intellectual ideals. Rarely have enemies displayed such amiable camaraderie in a P.O.W. situation.  In another scene, Rosenthal shares his food parcels with his fellow prisoners, so that they actually dine much better than the guards do.  Indeed it begs the question, why would these prisoners even want to break out?  Certainly the generous treatment they experienced at the hands of their genteel captors exceeds the miserable life of the infantry in the trenches.

To truly grasp this astonishing point of view, it’s important to examine the movie’s release date amidst the historic background.  WWI ended in 1918.  Grand Illusion was released in 1937.  Two years before Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland, but well after Hitler had assumed power.  This makes the script’s friendly depiction of all the officers regardless of nationality, religion, or social class, rather surprising in this context.  Ironically the Nazis would ban the film, ostensibly because of its anti-war message.  All copies were destroyed in 1940, except for one negative they missed.

The film is consistently ranked as one of the brightest stars in the cinematic firmament.  It’s a notoriety that unfortunately detracts from a modern moviegoer’s first viewing of the picture.  Is it the greatest masterpiece ever committed to celluloid?  Hardly, but the terrific characterizations subtly reinforce the futility of combat.  Why are these honorable people fighting?   Director and co-writer Jean Renoir’s experiences as a soldier shape much of his view of it as a “war of gentlemen”.  Perhaps a poignant lament of an attitude that the world on the brink of another global conflict, would never see again. This is a war film without a single battle and only one death.  The portrait is such an anomaly in this genre.  An overly idealistic view to be sure, but too eloquent to forget.

The Adjustment Bureau

Posted in Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on March 6, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Suspenseful fantasy about a rising U.S. congressman who clashes with supernatural forces in order to be with the gifted ballet dancer that he loves.  What if our destiny was overseen by agents responsible for ensuring a preordained outcome?  That is the fascinating examination of free will vs. predestination presented here.  Utterly original idea is entertaining and thought provoking all at the same time.  Raises some interesting questions regarding what’s more important, a worldly successful life or a romantically fulfilled one?  The plot initially starts out as a sci-fi thriller then beautifully blossoms into a full blown romantic drama.  It’s the chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt that ultimately makes the formula so winning.  You want to believe that the power of love conquers all.  Supporting the action is the production design.  The effects are clean and uncluttered, but stylishly engaging.  The way the Adjustment Bureau jumps around the city simply by opening random doors, is visually exciting.  And who knew they would be such snappy dressers in their natty suits.  They just might bring back fedoras.  Another great adaptation based on a story by American novelist Philip K. Dick.

Hall Pass

Posted in Comedy with tags on March 4, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Buddy comedy from the Farrelly Brothers concerning two men whose wives, fed up with their constant ogling of women, give them permission to do whatever they want for one whole week to get it out of their system.  Open ended setup seems ripe for farce, but the premise is absolutely wasted.   They go to Applebee’s, eat pot brownies on a golf course and get so drunk at a bar they can‘t even speak coherently.  Most of their time is spent being miserable and alone. Long stretches pass where nothing funny happens.  Call it a dramedy about men coming to terms with suburban wedded domesticity.  Surprisingly, with a few edits of raunchy gags, this could have actually been a PG rated drama. A far cry from the team that gave us the outrageous humor of There‘s Something about Mary.  It’s not a terrible film.  There are some gut-busting bits here and there, but if you go in expecting a no holds barred comedy you will be disappointed.  Owen Wilson’s tired character is exactly the same sad sack he’s been playing in every single movie he’s ever done.  But Jason Sudeikis is likeable and can turn badly written lines into something amusing.  He’s gleefully lustful, but never obnoxious.  Also British actor Stephen Merchant provides some laughs with a mental fantasy he has of cheating on his wife.  It’s depressing that the hilarious bit shows up during the closing credits.

Megamind

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on March 2, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Animated comedy about an evil supergenius who, bored without purpose, feels compelled to create another rival after he defeats his righteous nemesis.  Will Farrell is excellent as the titular villain.  His mispronunciation of simple words is genuinely humorous and provides several laughs.  He’s the best thing in the film.  But it’s as if the producers felt Ferrell was so good, he must play more parts.  Megamind also disguises himself  as a museum curator and later as someone’s “space dad”.  All of the manic appearances as different characters can get a bit exhausting.  David Cross as his brainy talking fish sidekick is appealing, but Tina Fey as a news reporter and Megamind’s love interest is too acerbic to be likeable.  Ultimately the predictable plot has a feeling of staleness.  A scoundrel with a heart of gold is nothing new.  The similarly themed (and far superior) Despicable Me mined this territory just four months prior.  The animation is beautifully done, so young kids should be entertained, but adults will most likely find the recycled story to be rather undistinguished.