Saturday, March 28, 2009

Film Round-Up for March


In this edition of The Film Round-Up: A look at two independent documentaries and the ultimate showdown, Paul Blart: Mall Cop vs. The Pink Panther 2.

To make life easier, here's a photo of one of my favorite actresses (and, sadly, Pink Panther co-star) Emily Mortimer. I'm kind of mystified why she hasn't become a big star, or landed an Oscar nomination.

Speaking of which, have you seen what my Filmcritic.com colleague Sean O'Connell and I have been up to on Dyalogues.com? We've been having spirited discussions on Benjamin Button, the best performer not to get an Oscar nom (alas, Mortimer missed the cut), and other film-related hijinks. Stop on by.

These reviews appeared in the March issue of ICON and are reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

Sometimes it's smart to be stupid. Look at Paul Blart: Mall Cop (PG, directed by Steve Carr), about the bumbling adventures of an overweight, overachieving single dad (Kevin James) who's forced to protect his New Jersey mall when it's overrun by terrorists. The movie made over $30 million during its opening weekend, and will almost certainly top $100 million. Some may believe the popularity of a movie about the buffoonish antics of a fat guy with a bad moustache as a sign of the apocalypse. Yes, it's silly, but James (Hitch) saves the movie, refusing to turn his character into an oafish stereotype. In that regard, James is more like John Candy than Chris Farley, so he allows you to see the character's nice-guy soul, even when he's getting plastered at a karaoke bar or fighting an obese woman at Victoria's Secret. And, regardless of your movie tastes, there are some funny moments that take advantage of James's physicality and goofy charisma. One significant complaint: James' love interest (Jayma Mays) looks like she's about to graduate from high school. Are there any nice-looking actresses between the ages of 30 to 35 working in movies these days? **

The towering success of Paul Blart made me think that Steve Martin's reprisal as Inspector Jacques Clouseau in The Pink Panther 2 (Dir: Harald Zwart, PG) was going to gross somewhere between $150 million and the GDP of Spain. As of press time, the movie was a box-office disappointment. It should remain that way. Martin seems to believe his status as a comic genius and New Yorker-bylined wit will automatically imbue his rumbling, bumbling, stumbling Clouseau with ironic cleverness. It doesn't, especially when the script, which Martin co-wrote, has no build-up or thought behind any of the physical comedy. Or when most of the actors sport broad accents usually found at bad improv shows. Or when there are several scenes devoted to Clouseau getting sensitivity training, a topic that was last funny (or relevant) during the days right after Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill locked horns. Basically, Martin and company destroy the set--and a part of your soul--for an afternoon. It's aggressively unfunny and a waste of a gifted cast. After watching, I felt like recommending a good grief counselor to Alfred Molina, Emily Mortimer, and John Cleese. Anyone have a number handy? *

For those who don’t want to venture into the multiplex quite yet, consider these two titles, which should be opening soon at a nearby art house.

Guest of Cindy Sherman (Dir: Paul H-O and Paul Donahue). In 1993, artist Paul H-O got his first video camera, which became the springboard for his NYC public access show, Gallery Beat, as well as a diary. While chronicling artists and shows, Paul meets acclaimed, reclusive artist Cindy Sherman. Sherman, clearly smitten, agrees to be profiled by the persistent, forceful Paul, and the two begin dating soon after. This is a huge shock considering the super-cute, super-revered Sherman counted Steve Martin among her boyfriends. For Paul, the relationship becomes a double-edged sword: He clearly loves Cindy, but her massive success leaves him feeling inadequate. Aside from being a first-person account of a relationship going south, the film offers revealing insights into the increasing corporate nature of art, the perilous merging of fame and love, and a look at the denizens of the NYC gallery scene in and out of their element. The lack of focus is sometimes confounding, but the presence of Paul, who lived through all this, provides a redeeming personal perspective. If the movie is messy, it's with good reason. So is life. *** NR

Must Read After My Death (Dir: Morgan Dews). Dews' grandmother, Allis, left behind a massive archive of audio footage from the 1960s. It made sense. Allis' husband Charley spent four months a year in Australia, so the family bought Dictaphone recorders so everyone (including the couple's four children) could keep in touch. Years later, Dews uncovered these tapes--along with home movies and journals --and has used this material to construct a haunting reality. Allis chafed in her role as a housewife, while it's clear that Allis and Charley had their physical needs met by others. But what's really bone-chilling is how Allis uses the Dictaphone as her confessional, detailing her family falling apart at the seams--oldest son Chuck struggles mightily as a student, middle son Bruce gets committed--and the desperation in her voice as she figures out how to save everyone. Dews has done a remarkable job assembling a haunting piece of suburban strife, but the story deserves a resolution, or at least the perspective of surviving family members, that never comes. How did everyone move on? Or did they? Dews has shone the light on one aspect of his family's turbulent history but obscured another. *** NR

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