romance

The Switch

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The Switch

Thankfully I saw this film before I saw any terrible spoilerific previews — enough of the film is embarrassingly predictable that ruining any of the pleasurable surprises of the story is a crime. That said, even the things you see coming are pretty enjoyable — so give yourself as much of a head start on making room for discovery as possible.

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Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

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San Diego Comic-Con was a huge love fest for this, director Edgar Wright’s latest movie. (Previous beloved outings: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz.) Some may complain of Michael Cera fatigue, but Scott Pilgrim gives Cera’s tender appeal some post-punk juice. This movie makes full use of Brian Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel source material (graphic renditions of feelings, quick short cutaways like individual panels) as well as its target demographic’s love of video games, anime, and epic epics of epic epicness. Wright fully commits to a style that is loud and bright and snarky and dynamic — and the key words here are “fully commits.” Even small reaction shots get a sound sting and/or an effect or camera move. Be sure to take your seizure medication before seeing Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. I’d say overall that the movie is about 90% style and 10% substance, but the style is so fully realized, so lush and different and dynamic, that it in itself becomes substantive.

Cera’s 22 year-old title character lives with the not-seen-enough Kieran Culkin and has a “fake high school girlfriend” named Knives (the adorable Ellen Wong), that is, until he meets Ramona Flowers (a detached Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Ramona is a punky funky fuschia-haired chick who has a League of Evil Exes that any new swain of hers must battle to the death in order to date her. Is she worth it? The movie doesn’t bother to answer that (hence the 10% substance). It doesn’t matter. Scott thinks she is. Not all the Evil Exes have supernatural powers, but some of them happen to. It’s pretty great how Wright can plop the extraordinary into a sea of ordinary and still keep his feet on the ground, even with this hyper-real video game-like world. I wonder what he might do with a franchise like X-Men. Pilgrim battles, the loser drops loot, achievements are unlocked, and his levels increase. Meanwhile he still needs to deal with Knives, his roommate situation, and the struggle of his band, the Sex Bob-Ombs. Sure, in real life we all struggle with multiple challenges, though little of it so publicly.

If you have watched or played Mortal Kombat and its ilk, or seen big one-on-one battles in anime movies, the visual language of the film will be clear enough. After seeing the film I was able to flip through one of the graphic novels, and the frenetic-but-never-frantic tone is dead on. If the last video game you played was a table-top console of Ms. Pac Man at a pizza joint, go with a high schooler who can translate between yelping “Pwned!” The story itself is pretty pedestrian, more like a quest than a full narrative with full characters. The people get a lot of pyrotechnics and fantastic editing behind their stories and performances — and by behind, I mean in the classic sense of upstaging. But really, the pleasure of this movie, and it is hyperactively pleasurable, is in digging the mechanics of it; the gamifying of life, if you will. The animations, the floating words and jump cuts and witty barbs, the funny villains and Cera’s unlikely but solid bad-assitude, these all make a potent and spicy sauce you may not have seen before.

Remember in Shaun of the Dead, the Requiem-for-a-Dream quick montages of Shaun getting ready to go out for the day? Take that pace and sense of overly vital importance, and add tons of insane anime-inspired fight scenes; then take script pages from Better Off Dead, Mean Girls, and Kick-Ass and put it all in a blender with Cera and Culkin. Did I enjoy it because it made me feel young and in touch with the kids today? More so I enjoyed its balls-to-the-wall full-on appropriation of the concept and the merry, antic pace for what is really just a sweet romantic comedy about nerds.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 8/13/10

Time in minutes 112

Director Edgar Wright

Studio Universal Pictures

I Do & I Don’t

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This little comedy, now available on video, feels like it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. At times it treads the path of “normals shocked by weirdos” forged by such films as Four Christmases or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. At other times, a satire of — well, something — seemed to be brewing, but never gelled. About-to-be-wed Alexie Gilmore and Bryan Callen are forced to attend last-minute pre-cana counseling with married couple Matt Servietto and Jane Lynch. This is where the farce or mayhem or something should ensue, but I Do serves more as a showcase for characters to be weird to no purpose.

Pre-cana, a term with which I was unfamiliar, is the required pre-marital counseling for a couple wishing to marry in the Catholic Church. Except for this being a practical/administrative requirement for their nuptials to take place, the pre-cana aspect has zero philosophical or metaphysical impact on the movie. It might have been interesting to commit to some kind of religious context for this young couple (who don’t seem a particularly good match), or conversely it could have been interesting to commit to mocking the arcane requirements that have no bearing on the day to day lives of these clearly non-practicing people. Like the film’s title, though, I Do & I Don’t can’t seem to take any side, daring or not. Please do not confuse it with the chick lit title and adaptation I Do But I Don’t, which is a delightful book (though doubtless a forgettable movie).

It should come as no surprise that a movie couple being counseled by another (especially one that includes the redoubtable Jane Lynch) is going to get something weird and unexpected — well, unexpected by them; the audience sure knows. Servietto and Lynch are both screenwriters’ angels. They can do so much with a line reading and a character that when they are onscreen, you might not notice the story going nowhere and the jokes falling flat. Gilmore and Callen have the thankless role of reacting to this unlikeable, unlikely pair. Gilmore has little more to do than be brittle and impatient; Callen at least gets into horribly awkward situations with both Lynch and Servietto.

So, without spoiling anything, our couples meet and awkwardly interact, and end up achieving nothing — no growth, no realizations, no great understanding of their happiness or unhappiness or what marriage is or anything. The beginning of the movie tells us whether they successfully completed the task; the end of the movie tries to force the title to work. Lynch and Servietto are weird, but it works for them, so nothing happens there either. All drama, even comedy, is about change or progress. I Do & I Don’t serves as a puppet show slice of life of gags, and then life goes on as before. Meh.

MPAA Rating R- crude and sexual content, nudity, language and some drug material.

Release date 7/20/10

Time in minutes 83

Director Steven Blair

Studio Phase 4 Films

Grease Sing-Along

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If you haven’t seen Grease, somehow, but intend to break yourself in with this sing-along, be prepared to wonder what all the fuss is about. Grease is a girlhood rite of passage, a high school theatre staple, and a cheesy classic, but it is quite terrible. The film version of course being better known than the stage version, 1978’s Grease has even infected stage productions to add the movie-only songs (You’re The One That I Want, most egregiously). It’s amusing to watch the leader of the rival gang The Scorpions (nonexistent in the play) sport scars for acne his character should instead be aflame with afresh. It’s campy fun to see Frankie Avalon make mid-twenties actress Didi Conn swoon and to worry about 34 year-old (!) Stockard Channing get knocked up by her 28 year-old boyfriend. (And people complain about Glee’s 21 year old stars!)

These are known quantities, though I confess it had been so long since I had seen it (the DVD, a gift, remains shrink wrapped) I had forgotten much. It all comes swirling back, though. It’s certainly still got that good ol’ Rydell High spirit, fun costumes, and that terrible message. And fun, energetic dancing which was definitely out of vogue in 1970’s movies.

As for the Singalong part, well, it’s new and special all right. Has it been a while since you had to recall “rama lama lama, kadingety ding de dong, shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yippity boom de boom?” The lyrics are up there, in distracting yet fun and kicky animations. (Personal favorite: editorial commentary on Channing’s Rizzo’s virtue: TRASHY!) The Sound of Music Sing-along, which resembled nothing so much as a lush big-screen karaoke with discreet white block lettering, focused on the movie as the draw. Grease Sing-along pulls out the stops with hearts floating up and out of “devoted,” words getting kicked by dancers, and unnecessary extra bits like flying calendar pages and moons and huge fonts. Anyway, it’s fun, but it kind of feels like it’s trying too hard. It’s less a gift to the fans than an attempt to engage new, very young ones. You know how some movies do a cutesy little scrapbook or yearbook thing for the end credits, chockablock with really blatant and obvious jokes? That’s this. Inexplicably, the opening Barry Gibb theme song “Grease is the Word” has no screen lyrics.

Again, Grease is a romantic musical comedy from a simpler time, depicting an even simpler time. Blazing through the divorce-frenzied disco era came a sweet, slightly raunchy musical set during the innocent 1950’s, where girls are still girls and boys are still boys, where Frenchy shouldn’t pursue her feminazi dream of becoming a beautician, where Sandy has to change who she is in order to keep the man who’s not brave enough to admit to his friends that he did love you as you were, where your dates discard you like the Kleenex from your bra when you get home from semi-consensual drive-in petting. Grease sparked the 50’s retro craze that contributed to the new wave/mod look and reminded 1970s’ and 1980’s teens that they weren’t the first teenages: the Boomers were. It was our primer for romantic angst and negative peer pressure, and it’s still a rockin’ fun time, even if a slightly tarnished one.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 7/8/10 (originally 1978)

Time in minutes 110

Director Randal Kleiser

Studio Paramount/Insurge

Cyrus

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You might think, looking at a poster featuring John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill, that Cyrus is going to be a broad and raunchy comedy. It is indeed a comedy, and there are a few amusingly inappropriate moments, but this is a bona-fide dark, mostly smart psychological art-house comedy. No, I’m serious. Reilly plays a spiraling sad sack who meets single mom Marisa Tomei, and they ease into a relationship. Hope for all the depressed and hopeless sad sacks in the world! The problem? Her son Cyrus (Hill), who is more than a little odd. The seemingly smooth and slippery slope of their burgeoning romance is confounded by that inscrutable young adult’s machinations.

The feel of the story is accelerated, then poky, but it never feels Written, it never feels forced so much as just wonky to us but organic to them. Perhaps it was the very short but intense shooting schedule, or the surprising amount of improvisation that went on. Even though just about every individual thing that happens seems really unlikely, the overall sense of Cyrus is a feeling of inevitability and naturalness. Credit all these fine actors, of course, including Catherine Keener as a concerned and affectionate ex-wife to Reilly.

I did enjoy it — I laughed with my appreciative and generally older audience, but like was done the character of Cyrus, I feel like a lot was left below the surface. Reilly and Tomei have a sweet and easy chemistry, but I wonder at her character’s general lack of awareness or discernment. I wonder what draws her to Reilly considering the rest of her existence, and her weird “all things to all people” stance in her day to day life. Not that Reilly isn’t lovable, but we don’t get to see what she loves, as such. How does she make a living? She is neglected in the service of Reilly and Hill, whose battle is the centerpiece of the story. She and her son live in a sort of vacuum of dysfunction, which is generally made to be funny and harmless, but which should actually creep us out more. Magically, the film makes everyone relatable, everyone accessible, except kind of Tomei. Hill returns to his less-is-more approach that he introduced us to in Get Him To The Greek — no longer the blustering teenager trying to get laid at a party, his open face and unblinking eyes dare us to try and look within. We can’t see inside him yet but he shows great promise here.

Still, it was funny and we all wanted to know what would happen next. I didn’t laugh at what I expected to laugh at because very little of what might be expected comes out of this film. Cyrus is definitely a welcome antidote to the plethora of unsympathetic arrested development dude movies littering the landscape — and like any effective antidote, is formed from a benign form of the very virus it seeks to defeat. See what you think.

MPAA Rating R- language and some sexual material

Release date 7/2/10

Time in minutes 92

Director Jay and Mark Duplass

Studio Fox Searchlight

Your Friday Fix 07/02/10: Kaichou wa Maid-sama!

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Your Friday Fix 07/02/10: Kaichou wa Maid-sama!

Genres: Comedy, Romance

Ratings Ratings
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Seika High School, a traditionally boys only institution, has recently begun admitting girls. One of these girls, Ayuzawa Misaki, has pushed her hardest and became the student council president. Due to the unbalanced population at the school, 80% of the student body is still male. Misaki has decided she will protect the girls from the boys because they are rude, abusive, dirty, etc… she is labeled a man-hater.

Misaki’s family fell on hard times when her father, in serious debt, abandoned her mother, her little sister and herself. Her mother, Minako, works as a nurse as well as doing odd jobs like crafts. The sister, Suzuna, has a very blank personality but helps support the family by entering contests for food. Together they keep their dilapidated house on the brink of collapse and survive. Misaki’s biggest secret is that to earn enough money to keep her family afloat, she had to take a job in the neighboring town, in a maid cafe.

Misaki’s carefully kept secret falls apart when the most popular guy, a heartbreaker named Usui Takumi, passes her in the alley behind her work. He sticks around to confirm Misaki’s identity, then begins to return to patronize the establishment. He calls this his “secret entertainment” (but seems more like a ploy to stay close to her). Later on, three punks led by Shirakawa Naoya confront her in the same alleyway while she is resting. They threaten to expose her to the school, as well and make veiled threats about other deeds to be performed. Takumi steps in and defends her, while she passes out from a fever, and possibly from having Takumi call her cute.

During a school festival, which Misaki wants to use to draw more girls to the school, things go horribly awry. The boys in one class feel like she never gives them a chance at anything. In her own way she is doing the right thing, but when the boys walk out on her plans, she pleads with them for assistance. Takumi, again, steps in to smooth things out. At the post-festival bonfire, Takumi swiftly pins her to a tree and instead of an intimate moment, he uses it to taunt her about the maid job once more.

While many have called this series bland, it’s because of the lack of ecchi moments that I really find it entertaining. I was laughing many times during the first two episodes and I expect many more to come.

Overall Hook Rating: A

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Your Friday Fix 06/04/10: B Gata H Kei

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Your Friday Fix 06/04/10: B Gata H Kei

Genres: Comedy, Ecchi, Romance

Ratings Ratings
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Yamada, last name withheld, has entered high school with only one goal: she wishes to have sex with 100 guys so that she can overcome her self-image issues. This is compounded by her complete lack of the basics of sex. But hey, don’t let that slow you down Yamada! Her master plan is to find herself a practice man to help her lose her virginity. That way her self-image, total lack of experience, and general lack of knowledge will not harm her chances.

Everyone is her school looks to her as a popular idol; guys want to be with her, girls want to be her. She thinks that anyone she chooses to be her first will be lucky to have her. This is where our hero Kosuda Takashi steps in. Well, not really, Yamada managed to tackle him to the floor in a book store. She scopes him out carefully and determines that he will be the one. He is above average looking, shy, and a virgin as well. When Yamada questions him about his virginity, loudly and in public, he runs away.

Yamada begins to pursue Takashi at school, leading him to think she wants a serious relationship. To him, however, her signs seem mixed. At one point she grabs him in to a closet and flashes her bra at him, then runs away because she hadn’t thought her approach through. Later she yells at him to touch her in the nurse’s office. When she does manage to get herself invited over to his place she runs off in fear when she gives Takashi an erection.

At the behest of her friend Takeshita Miharu, Yamada slows things down and invites Takashi to a water park on a double date. She is under strict rules to not try anything pervy. While riding waterslides, Yamada mistakes Takashi’s fearful grasps as something more. By the end of this, she finds herself developing feelings for Takashi. It is cute, funny and a little pervy in general (she IS a high school student after all). This series doesn’t deserve a total panning, but I can’t say it’s on my priority list either.

Overall Hook Rating: C+

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Your Friday Fix 05/07/10: Arakawa Under the Bridge

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Your Friday Fix 05/07/10: Arakawa Under the Bridge

Genres: Comedy, Romance

Ratings Ratings
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Ichinomiya Kou, sole heir to the Ichinomiya Corporation, has lived his life without debts. His father commanded that only man who can support himself, alone, can lead this company. To take this to the extreme, when Kou was three years old his father took on the role of a helpless child so that Kou could pay back those first three years of debt. Now 22, Kou suffers from severe asthma whenever he finds himself in debt and goes to great lengths to be self sufficient. This all works out well until a gang of kids steal his pants and hoist them to the top of a bridge.

Kou scales one of the bridge supports to recover his pants, shrugging off the help a young girl fishing off the bridge offers. Now debt free and pants in hand… disaster strikes. The bridge support collapses into the water and Kou nearly drowns. The girl, named Nino, has rescued him from certain death. However, he is now in debt way over his head. As Kou tries to think his way out of his predicament, he learns that Nino lives under the bridge in a make-shift room of cardboard, street signs and a big curtain. Thinking himself lucky, he offers to buy her a proper house to clear his debt. She says she doesn’t need one, and his asthma comes back.

She wants him to fall in love with her instead. While he initially takes this as a joke, his sense of duty forces him to go through with it. Nino lets Kou know that her behavior may be odd because she is from Venus. His first night under the bridge, as Nino wants his to live with her now, nearly kills him due to the cold and precarious living space. Kou constructs himself a rather sizable apartment up under the bridge to fulfill his agreement.

He spends his time in this under-bridge village, called Arakawa by its inhabitants, attempting to stay sane. From the Village Chief who dresses as a kappa; the town’s religious leader named Sister who is a gun toting, cross dressing man; Shirai Tooru who can only walk on white lines; and the multitude of young, masked men who despise Kou for being with Nino… he is having a tough time adjusting.

This series flows pretty well from joke to joke and situation to hilarious situation. The central premise of Kou needing to clear his debts only serves to ensure he stays and racks up more debts. As the only thread to hold this chaotic mess of insane individuals together, it pulls its weight. I am excited to see how things get moving, as we are only just in character introductions by this stage of the show.

Overall Hook Rating: A

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Your Friday Fix 04/09/10: Omamori Himari

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Your Friday Fix 04/09/10: Omamori Himari

Genres: Action, Comedy, Ecchi, Romance

Ratings Ratings
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It’s funny that in comedies, “simple” lives rarely stay that way past the first episode. As if some galactic punch line finally struck home, Yuto Amakawa’s life is about to get a touch complicated. Having pulled himself together after the loss of his parents 8 years prior to the series, Yuto and his childhood friend Rinko Kuzaki are living happily together. Rinko has feeling for Yuto, yet he seems somewhat oblivious to them. He is allergic to cats, which Rinko uses to punish him when he is being a pain.

On their way in to school, Yuto and Rinko are stopped by a young woman who clings to Yuto, asking if he remembers her. Rinko goes off into a jealous rage and drags Yuto free of this intruder to their happy little life. It is not until later when a classmate, Taizo Masaki, becomes possessed by a demon that the real story line takes off. The strange girl from before, Himari Noihara, steps forward to fight the spider-like demon and protect Yuto. She wields a sword and easily dispatches the demon without killing its host. Her alternate form is that of a cat, which sets off Yuto’s allergies if she transforms.

Himari joins the school as a transfer student the next day and sets about explaining herself to Yuto and Rinko. Himari is one of a line of demons who are repaying an eternal debt to a demon hunter who spared their ancestor’s life. The last remaining descendant of that demon hunter’s family line is Yuto. While his own powers as a hunter have not awakened, the protective charm placed on him by his grandmother has weakened to the point that demons can attack him openly.
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Date Night

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O, what benevolent god has finally paired Steve Carell with Tina Fey — two huge, crushable comedy icons, likable and pulchritudinous! Alas, who has written them a vehicle that on the surface seems like a sure thing but in execution, achieves so little with their epic potential? You may be surprised to hear that the angel and devil described above is one person, Shawn Levy, of the Night of The Museum movies. Whereas in his Ben Stiller outings, Levy took Stiller’s mania and hypertension and made it hold the chaos together, here he takes two people who have brilliant innate creativity as performers and made them not be that in the midst of chaos. Fey and Carell seem restrained, restricted to responding to the madness around them, with only occasional bursts of inspired survival instincts.

Great teams need a comic side and a straight man foil, and really great teams can even switch off (as these would be best utilized) — but Tina and Steve seemed to just be getting out of the way of each other rather than shining. This is not to say that their performances are even close to substandard; Carell and Fey have a romantic chemistry and an ease with each other that draws the audience in. As with his Museum movies, and with the screenwriter’s execrable Shrek sequels, Levy drops a wellspring of relatable, smart funniness into a seriously overblown situation that overshadows the leads. Maybe he should just move into straight action movies. The result is plenty of chuckles, and a pure affection for our heroes Phil and Claire Foster, but we feel detached from their predicaments.

By the time the movie gets to a climax with William Fichtner (See what I mean? Good elements!) something happens that should be hilarious but only ends up sort of amusing. Is it bad to only be amused? Not as such, and that’s why I give this film a Rental rating. But considering how far they have come and how hard they are clearly working to overcome the execution, they deserved epic. I could almost hear the directorial wheels in Fey’s and Carell’s heads whirring with ideas to make the scene work better (I could hear the same noise watching Ben Stiller too), and wished they had had more leeway. If Judd Apatow had directed this clumsy script as-is, his collaborative style would have freed it from the shackles.

A scene in the credit bloopers, played multiple ways, gave us a taste of our leads getting to stretch their wings a little, but I fear Levy (and probably Josh Klausner) has clipped them too close. A huge street action sequence uses the song Cobrastyle, used the same month in Kick-Ass, and two years ago on Chuck; that sequence summed up what was off about Date Night: a big idea but no real way to take it anywhere, with a warmed-over leftovers feeling. A zillion funny actors make the most of their small parts (notably Fichtner, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, James Franco) while Carell and Fey are forced to stand around and watch. Mark Wahlberg gets to play a sexy plot device; I’d like him to have had more of a chance at comedy than sleepwalking through a perfectly engineered deus ex machina. When will someone give Tina Fey the movie she deserves? At least Steve Carell has the 40 Year-Old Virgin. I did enjoy watching the movie, but I can’t recommend you spending tons of money on it.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 4/9/10

Time in minutes88

Director Shawn Levy

Studio 20th Century Fox