Friday, November 04, 2011

Too Late: The Guard & The Big Year

Well, bummer - by the time I get these two written up, they're good and gone from the Boston area. I knew that was going to be the case with The Big Year, as I wound up seeing it on its last night at the Arlington Capitol (after it had moved there from Somerville), and knew it was likely near the end for The Guard - it opened in Boston in early August, had a pretty good run for a little movie, sticking around Kendall Square long enough to still be playing there when the Brattle showed it as part of "Recent Raves" (usually movies that have come and gone) before also making its way to Arlington.

At least The Guard had a good run here; The Big Year came and went fast. I've got warmer feelings for it than are perhaps warranted; it reminds me of my late grandfather, who probably never did anything like a Big Year himself but loved birds all the same. I never really got that when I was a kid (at least once being a real brat about it), and while I can't necessarily say I've grown much fonder of birds or anything about the great outdoors since, I do understand having hobbies that other people think are weird or being strangely devoted to them.

As expected, it was just me and a half-dozen other people at the last screening, the folks behind me being a group that was likely a little older than the usual crowd for a Jack Black/Owen Wilson movie and which seemed to contain at least a couple of birders. It makes me wonder if Fox maybe should have tried to figure out some sort of alternative marketing for this movie; despite the stacked young cast, its natural audience is probably a generation or so older, the folks who would identify with the Steve Martin character. It's probably too late to get this a holiday release on DVD/BD, which is a bit of a shame; it really is one of the relatively few recent movies for grown-ups that I'd feel comfortable recommending to my grandparents.

The Guard

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 October 2011 in the Brattle Theatre (Recent Raves)

At one point in The Guard, it's suggested that there are hidden depths to the title character, with a visiting FBI agent saying he's not sure whether he's an idiot or a genius (in a somewhat saltier manner). That's oversimplifying, of course; a large part of what makes the movie so much fun is that even if Sergeant Gerry Boyle is neither, he's so perfectly suited to his environment that Brendan Gleeson is able to make such a screwy character cool.

Boyle is pretty much the entire police department for a small town in County Galway, Ireland, and since he's lazy and mildly corrupt, that makes it a good place to dump a body if you don't want a murder investigated too closely; even a conscientious new subordinate, Aidan McBride (Rory Keenan), isn't going to push Boyle to work particularly hard investigating. Still, when he sees the victim's face during a briefing on a gang of drug smugglers suspected of being in the area, he speaks up, bringing even more straight-laced FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to town, which threatens to throw a wrench into the plans of the other gang members (Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, and Mark Strong), who are planning to bring quite a bit of white powder into the country there.

The Guard is built like a buddy-cop movie, but it's really Brendan Gleeson's show. Gerry Boyle isn't a particularly complex character, but he is a nuanced one, well-rounded enough that although the audience may not always be able to predict what he'll do, it's always the thing that makes the most sense in retrospect. The trick is that Boyle doesn't really change that much over the course of the movie, but Gleeson has such a strong idea of who this guy is that he can slip from buffoonish to sly so smoothly the audience doesn't realize those bits are at opposite ends of a scale. The feeling is not that he's committed to something, but rather that he's accepted it - Gerry Boyle just is this guy, and Gleeson just needs to be Boyle instead of forcing him at the audience.

Full review at EFC.

The Big Year

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2011 in the Arlington Capitol #1 (second-run)

What a curious thing The Big Year is in this day and age - a movie made for a broad adult audience that is nevertheless so tame that the MPAA rated it PG. Throw in a couple of stars often known for wackier work and I suspect that its brief stay in theaters is due at least in part to audiences just not knowing what to make of it. Sure, even in retrospect, it's unlikely to be seen as a forgotten classic, but it's nice in more than one sense of the word, and that's a surprisingly rare commodity.

The film takes place among "birders", avian enthusiasts who often travel great distances to observe different species, with Brad Harris (Jack Black) as our narrator. Brad's got an unusual gift for identifying birds by their call, and he's planning his first "Big Year", where he'll attempt to see and identify as many different types of bird as possible within a calendar year. The current record of 735 is held by Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), who initially says he only intends to set the pace and see if anybody will come close to his record, though his wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike) knows better. Another man trying for the Big Year is Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), an executive whose attempts to retire from the company he founded are continually being interrupted by the merger that needs his personal input.

At times, it seems as though director David Frankel and screenwriter Howard Franklin had planned to go with a somewhat zany take on Mark Obmascik's book. The opening features an animated history lesson narrated by John Cleese, a series of snappy cuts and contrasts that emphasize the nerdy nature of the characters' hobby, and the on-screen counters that pop up with their totals emphasize the competitive aspect. There are comedic moments throughout the movie, and while the majority work, there are a few lazy ones in there, and the movie seldom seems to go for t)he really big laugh, settling instead for chuckles.

Full review at EFC.

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