Friday, September 28, 2012

Bernie! On a Ledge of Misfits

     This go around of the reviews pertaining to the movies (fairly) recently distributed on DVD includes:  a cute but slight Aardman 'toon, a big name broad comedic actor's first shot at more subtle dramedy, and a fairly unoriginal yet entertaining suspense thriller.  Enjoy...

  Bernie - I have never been the biggest fan of Jack Black, mostly because I'm not much into the types of films he usually makes.  It's not that I've ever thought he was a BAD comedic actor, in fact, he's better than most of his contemporaries in his sub-genre.  It's just that I prefer high brow comedies, dramedies, and "witty dialogue" type comedies to body odor jokes and stock characters that seemed a bit moldy when they were used in Italian "Commedia dell'arte" theater during the Renaissance.  If you are going for juvenile it had better be brilliantly and creatively juvenile along the lines of South Park or Airplane.  I'm just wired that way.  I know.  It's crazy.
     Oddly enough, he is the entire reason that I saw this film.  A few scattered voices on the web have been giving Mr. Black Best Actor buzz for Bernie, because he displays acting chops that are not exactly dramatic, but definitely less buffoonish than usual.  I can't really take the buzz that seriously.  Don't get me wrong, he does a good job, and it IS a little bit different than anything that we've seen him do before.  It is not, however, some huge stretch of his acting range that shows us much that we didn't already assume he COULD do, if he ever got a role in which pies in the face were not briefly considered at some point in the script.
     Matthew McConaughey continues to impress this year, with his recent growth as an actor, both in maturity and diversity.  Shirley MacLaine, unfortunately, is used as sparingly as possible for a character who is such a major part of the storyline, and she seems to be struggling with what she is given.  I'm going to hell for that.  I still consider her "The Great" Shirley MacLaine.  The real stand out of this film, however, is the ensemble cast of townspeople.  I actually had to check to make sure that director Richard Linklater hadn't used this true story's ACTUAL townsfolk, because they were so convincing in the documentary style interviews.  He did not (although that would have been a brilliant idea for a cross between reality inspired narrative fiction and documentary film making), but if I had told you that he did, and you saw the film, you would be unlikely to doubt me.  Highly believable.
     As for the film as a whole, the script is a little disappointing.  It could have been funnier, and the story (while amusing) didn't really shoot for much in the way of subtext or thematic development.  The picture is a little better than most of director Richard Linklater's recent efforts, but still can't hold a candle to his early works.  Available on DVD.  3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Pirates!  Band of Misfits - I selected this film because my "Best of" list for animated features in 2011 was so skimpy and difficult to fill even though the slots were limited to five.   So I thought, Aardman Films produced it.  I often love their films (Chicken Run, Arthur Christmas, and all the Wallace and Gromit shorts), so I decided to give it a shot.
     Unfortunately, I was not overly impressed.  This is the company's follow up to last year's Arthur Christmas?  I'm afraid that it suffers by comparison.  Much more predictable story.  Far fewer half hidden witticisms obviously tossed in for the benefit of adults in the audience.
     Although sporting an impressive cast of voice talent (Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Anton Yeltsin, Brendan Gleeson) the actors are not really given the quality of material needed to shine.  The one exception is Imelda Staunton, whose voice work as Queen Victoria rises above the throng a bit through sheer power and enthusiasm (and general nastiness).
     It's not that the film was bad, it was just a fairly good kiddy cartoon and Aardman Studios is often far better than that.  The stop motion animation was, as always, pretty amazing.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*

  Man On a Ledge - A friend picked this out to watch the other night and I went in with few expectations as it had not been something that I really planned on watching.  The title is completely indicative of the sort of self-aware, but uncaring obviousness that permeates the whole film.  There are few elements of this picture that are really novel or surprising.  It is rife with cliches of its genre and filled with stock characters we've seen the likes of many times before.  It actually has several rather groan worthy (OH, THEY WENT THERE) sort of moments, especially the last three minutes of the movie.  And yet...
     It sort of worked in its unapologetic approach.  It was almost...campy.  It helped to have a great cast, and it did (even if Sam Rockwell's accent was terribly inconsistent). Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez have particularly good chemistry, in supporting roles.  The editing and pacing were also excellent, which helped to heighten the suspense even when the framework of the particular scene was unabashedly derivative.
     Man On a Ledge is far from a great film, but it isn't trying to be one.  If you can let go and just enjoy it without judgement, it can be a fun ride.  I am very rarely able to do that with films.  For some reason, this time I could.  That's got to say SOMETHING.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*

     That's it for now.  Kind of meh set of films, but I've already seen a very good film that will be in my next set of DVD reviews, so things are looking up.  Until then...

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