Movie Reviews: Recent Movies I’ve Watched Recently
Because sometimes I do watch movies that were produced in this century.
I’m going to call this movie “Almost Almost Famous” because that’s the movie it reminded me of, without being quite as wonderful. (Make no mistake, though—I have Almost Famous on a high pedestal. Adventureland is still actually really good.) I don’t always love these types of coming-of-age movies because they tend to show the process by which nerds get introduced to conventionally cool behavior. The nerd gets accepted into the fold of the cool kids. The nerd gets drunk or does drugs for the first time. The nerd finds that the hot girl liked him all the time, etc. And that’s counterintuitive to me, because learning to be like everybody else is regressive, i.e., NOT a good lesson.
What’s fun about Adventureland (and like Almost Famous before it) is that even though the main character is in some ways accepted by the cool kids, he remains on the outside. Jesse Eisenberg, as the main character, is cringingly awkward for the first half hour / hour of the film, and only gets marginally better from there. But, wonder of wonderment, the awesome hip girl he likes (Kristen Stewart) is actually kind of a dweeb, too. When she finds out he has a stash of pot, she gets all excited because, “We can make pot cookies!”
I expected to dislike Kristen Stewart. I haven’t even seen her in anything since she was the little androgynous moppet in Panic Room, but because she’s so popular now and she always looks so calculatedly dour, I thought she’d bug me. Actually, she was great, and, I daresay, one of the main draws of the film. Her character was smart-mouthed but vulnerable; like a hundred different girls I knew in high school and college, making bad choices because she doesn’t think she deserves better ones. She was kind of hardened, in the way the cool girls that age always are, because they’ve seen things, they’ve ‘lived,’ or they think they have—but she was also supremely young. By which I mean, both Stewart and Eisenberg hit just the right notes—they made precious, youthful mistakes, but you root for them to just get there already, to figure it out.
Really funny, too, with 80s detail that is prominent but not overbearing, and lots of strange and hilarious sidekicks: Martin Starr (who is also very funny as a regular character on Starz’s Party Down) as the Gogol-reading games guy, and SNL’s Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig as the weirdly oblivious couple who head up the operations. Ryan Reynolds is a mechanic, a guitar-playing slickster who is idolized by everybody including himself.
Saw this just for Tina Fey and Steve Carell, and ultimately I would call it not quite a waste, but more like something falling just beneath expectations—less like seeing an awesome episode of 30 Rock or The Office, and more like watching a middling rerun of one of those same shows. It has some well-observed moments (like Tina Fey’s over-scheduled suburban mom, who admits that she never reads the books for her book club, she just reads “the first 30 pages and the last page”), and Fey and Carell actually seem like a couple who would have gotten together—they have hilarious restaurant conversation, making fun of people at other tables. They’re unhappy because they’ve let their responsibilities crush them, so they go to have a big date in the city and get embroiled in this weird scheme involving a flash drive, dirty cops, and a district attorney who likes strippers.
Like most action comedies, the movie falls short when it gets too actiony. There’s an endless car chase (though parts of the chase were funny) and an incredibly draggy scene where Fey and Carell infiltrate a strip club, and the resolution is, predictably, glossed over incredibly fast so that viewers can’t ask too many questions. The movie makes a running joke about this, though, with Fey’s character (who doesn’t watch cop shows very often) always three steps behind and asking Carell to explain what’s going on.
James Franco and Mila Kunis are totally funny as the couple for whom Fey and Carell get mistaken, but don’t be fooled—their one scene is actually pretty short. Mark Wahlberg also makes a priceless contribution, playing his action hero persona for laughs. As a movie, it would make it a bangin’ good TV show, is the bottom line, I think. Anyway, fans of Fey and Carell will be pleased to see that they are both there and being their usual selves, and non-fans will stay away from the movie altogether. Which is probably what the filmmakers figured would happen anyway.
This movie was riotously funny, though I can hardly begin to describe how. A British film (or at least, a film populated mostly by British characters), set in kind of a middle level of the federal government where every machination moves a hundred miles an hour. This character is blackmailing this character and that one is trying to cover for her boss’s stupid gaffe on TV and this character is trying to clean up messes made by these characters and this character is trying to do the right thing and it’s all just chaos. But it’s a comedy. The characters are insanely foul-mouthed and quick-witted. The humor is super dark, asking you to find amusement verbal abuse of all kinds. My personal favorite was Malcolm to Judy, the way he kept telling her to climb back into Wuthering Heights where she belongs. Except it’s dirtier.
It’s the kind of movie where if someone asked me to quote some of the best lines I would be at a loss. “Here’s the script. Just… all of it.” Not a lot of recognizable faces—even fewer if you don’t regularly watch BBC literary adaptations—but James Gandolfini is there in a relatively major role as a general who plays tough even though he hasn’t seen combat for like twenty years.
Also, don’t think that not knowing anything about warfare or politics is any kind of hindrance to enjoying the movie. I’ll be damned if I could, at any minute, grasp the big picture of the political crisis. Just keep up with the dialogue; the dialogue is the reward.
I can’t even describe how much I loved this movie, so I’m going to attempt it in list form.
- The main character is an inventor named Flint Lockwood (who is voiced by Bill Hader, whom I love). He has a monkey sidekick whom he has fitted with a vocal translation machine. (That sounds familiar if you saw Up, but unlike the intelligent dogs in that movie, Flint’s monkey, Steve, thinks the things a monkey would think. “Hungry!” “Touch!” “Steve!” Steve’s jibberish is voiced by Neil Patrick Harris.)
- While Flint is working, he continually professes aloud what he is doing. “Researching! Building! Processing! Waiting!” (Steve: “Helping!”) Flint creates a machine that converts water into food and accidentally launches it into the stratosphere, causing food to fall from the sky and bring joy to the town.
- Flint falls for a pretty amateur meteorologist. They “meet cute” when she accidentally kicks him in both eyes. To profess his love for her he produces a mountain of Jello, which is her favorite food. In a divine moment of nerd empowerment, he tells her she looks prettiest when she says smart things with her glasses on.
- The story, which has got enough action and humor to draw in tiny kids, is supremely adult-friendly. (For example, I am twenty-nine. And watched it alone, in my apartment, laughing loudly.) It even has socially relevant things to say about our culture of overconsumption, although it doesn’t push too hard about it.
- When a tornado of oversized spaghetti and meatballs threaten people at the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China, a newscaster reports that–strange as it may sound!–all the recognizable international landmarks seem to be getting destroyed while, presumably, corn fields, forests and oceans are unaffected. (I’ve been making this joke since Armageddon. I’m delighted someone else finally made it.)