Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Found just lying around: Old capsules

Just Friends

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 November 2005 at the AMC Boston Common #11 (First-run)

I like Ryan Reynolds and Amy Smart. Reynolds has a fun, relaxed persona that constantly threatens to be snide and off-putting but almost always pulls up just short; Smart is pretty and looks like she has the Cameron Diaz thing going on, where she seems like she'd be most comfortable in a sports bar, having fun as just one of the guys. They're both kind of minor talents, when you get down to it, but a lot of folks have had more success with less ability.

So why does it seem like everything they're in sucks? Come on, it's not like like you can't tell what their strengths are by now. So why are you putting Reynolds in a fat suit in half the scenes and making him flat-out unpleasant in most of the rest? Why aren't you giving Smart any sort of personality she can exaggerate into goofy lovability? Shouldn't one of the first goals of any romantic comedy be to make the main characters interesting and appealling? Instead, we get a pairing that is bland at best; it's lucky the film has Anna Faris as an over-the-top pop star trapped in a small town and Chris Marquette as Reynolds's obnoxious little brother.

This shouldn't be that hard; everyone in the cast is a known quantity. Maybe you won't get a great movie out of them, but an entertaining hour and a half doesn't seem like too much to ask.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 November 2005 at the AMC Boston Common #13 (First-run)

Harry Potter is a complete tool.

When you get right down to it, he's got to be one of the least impressive chosen ones ever. Through the first few movies, he's mostly spent his time getting his butt kicked, only to have his friends or the ghost of his dead mother pull him out. Here, he winds up literally being Voldermort's tool, easily manipulated without ever really getting a handle on what's going on.

Also, maybe I'm expecting a little much from my children's-entertainment-with-appeal-to-adults, but some things in the story just don't scan: The whole tri-wizard tournament thing. I'm trying to imagine the permission slip that parents have to sign for this. "Why, yes, I'm totally okay with my child participating in potentially lethal bloodsports. Don't let down the side, son!" Maybe it makes more sense in the original novel; the series has progressed to the point where it's adapting giant-size books, and I seem to remember a fan telling me that the Quiddich tournament briefly glipsed in the opening is a major subplot in the book, providing comic relief in terms of how it stays hidden from the mundane humans. I imagine other things which are treated as important in the end are actually built up: A character dies in a way that I gather is supposed to be shocking, but he wasn't used enough in the film for it to really have an effect, and Hermione makes a comment about how the schools must work together rather than against each other wihch doesn't really seem to reference the events of the film.

But, to a certain extent, that's just me being cranky. To say that the film does make up for its thin script with a few exceptional set pieces is putting it mildly; all the tasks in the Tri-Wizard Tournament are suitably grand scale, and the effects guys have had enough experience with specific visuals and the general look of the series that the whole thing looks much smoother, without the occasional unevenness the first film displayed. Director Mike Newell picks up right where Alfonso Caroun left off, using mostly "civilian" costumes and putting more sinister corners in Hogwarts. The cast, by now, is familiar and comfortable in their roles, working together with the apparent ease of that of a long-running television series.

I don't find the Harry Potter series magical; as I've said, Harry's a tool and I really don't like the way it sets up its world - the idea of escaping to a secret world where you're the chosen one despite your parents' apparent disdain is great for kids, but as an adult I wonder why, if these magicians can do so freaking much, they feeding the hungry or ending war (really, they're self-absorbed jerks who think they're above us poor muggles). But they're fun annual diversions.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 November 2005 at the Landmark Embassy #3 (First-run)

Movies like this one are why I've moved to just playing quick catch-up when I've alread reviewed the last movie I've seen. Back in November, I had some strong feelings on this movie, and how, even though it remained fairly faithful to the text of the book, the tone and feel struck me as far, far off. But now, it's almost four months later, and it's just not cohering as well.

What it comes down to, I think, is that in bringing his novella to the screen, Steve Martin has downgraded Ray Porter, the wealthy middle-aged man he plays from a co-lead on his onw sort of journey of discovery to a supporting player, and given Jason Schwartzman's Jeremy more screen time. Claire Danes's Mirabelle remains about the same, but the result is that her story becomes more conclusive - where in the book, Jeremy seems more like The Next Step, in the movie he's well-rounded enough to possibly be The One. Maybe making a movie made Martin more squeamish about ending it on Ray and Mirabelle having a sort of father-daughter relationship (considering the earlier, you know, sex) and he opted to make their relationship more clearly exploitive on Ray's part.

The end result, though, mostly works. Martin and director Anand Tucker find the proper amount to preserve the novel's relative austerity without making the film a chore to get through. A big part of that is Schwartzman, whose stumbling awkwardness is out there for all to see rather than tightly reined in like the other characters'. There's a real sense of the aimlessness of their lives, and one can see how the characters might even feel they're almost pointless. Danes, especially, is able to breathe life into her character and make her feel far more solid than the Mirabelle we always viewed from a remove in the book.

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