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The Movie Report
April 2010

#606 - 607
April 9, 2010 - April 23, 2010

all movies are graded out of four stars (****)

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#607 April 23, 2010 by Michael Dequina

In Brief

Death at a Funeral poster Death at a Funeral (R) ***
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Neil LaBute's urbanized American version of Frank Oz's very British 2007 dark comedy is notable not for how different it is, but how in the text it is virtually the same film (and, indeed, Dean Craig is the sole writer credited on both films); this is, scene-for-scene, more or less the exact same film, with much of the dialogue duplicated verbatim. However, this makes for a fascinating study in how direction and casting can completely alter the feel and tone of the comedy, best exemplified by the performance by Peter Dinklage, the only actor who appears in both versions. As a mysterious stranger who incites the most explosive of many crises to erupt at a disastrous family funeral, he gives a bolder, looser, more in-your-face take in the new film, his readings of many of the same lines played for more cynical bite. So follows LaBute's more broad approach, which for makes for a funnier film, for such an over-the-top farce more naturally calls for a blunter hand than the genteel one Oz employed. Casting Chris Rock as the put-upon eldest son throwing the event makes the character far less of a dull pushover, and having a comic equal (Martin Lawrence) play his more successful brother effectively amps up the sibling rivalry angle and laughs. The women in this version (Zoë Saldaņa, Loretta Devine, and Regina Hall) are also much more prominent, with the latter two (as, respectively, Rock and Lawrence's mom and Rock's wife) benefiting from the most notable alterations Craig made for this version, creating a tense relationship between them. The others in the large ensemble--including Danny Glover, Columbus Short, Tracy Morgan, Luke Wilson, Kevin Hart, and James Marsden (going even further with Alan Tudyk's showy part in the original)--also make the most of their moments to shine. If the film is so close to the original as to also be pretty much disposable once its over, at least it as well serves up a healthy amount of laughs during its very brief and brisk run time.

Kick-Ass poster Kick-Ass (R) *** 1/2
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The initial fanboy hype and gushing around the adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.'s cult comic seems to suggest a film that is doomed to excite the (for lack of a better term) "geek" community and be met with indifference by the public at large. But director Matthew Vaughn pulls off the one trick that elevates simply a good genre satire to something far beyond: not only sending up the conventions with style and smarts, but ultimately also being itself a terrific example of the genre. Of course, laughs are the primary focus for most of the film, and indeed there are many as a shy, awkward teen (Aaron Johnson) decides to make like the superheroes he reads in his comics and become the real-life costumed crimefighter of the title. But with the entrance of the more seasoned costumed crimefighter Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his badass young sidekick/daughter Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), not only does the humor become even more twisted and inspired, the story and characters become all the more gripping--and by the final act, Vaughn has this film working as an outrageous comedy, an exciting action-adventure, and, rather surprisingly, an involving character piece. That last dimension would not have been achieved had it not been for the actors: Cage is at his idiosyncratic best, both deliciously, Adam West-channelling insane and emotionally affecting; Moretz stands to make the biggest career leap out of this, pulling off a part gradually reveals itself to be even more difficult and complex than at first sight; Mark Strong is both convincing and amusingly cartoonish as a crime boss; Christopher Mintz-Plasse brings both the expected goofy McLovin baggage and some genuine pathos as Strong's eager-to-please son. Compared to the more eccentric roles the supporting cast have, straight-arrow lead Johnson and the character of Kick-Ass cannot help but somewhat pale in comparison, but he makes for a likable underdog hero. Fast, funny, and a hell of a lot of fun, Vaughn's film does, indeed, live up to the brash punch of its title.

#606 April 9, 2010 by Michael Dequina

In Brief

Clash of the Titans poster Clash of the Titans (PG-13) ***
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For me, the original 1981 Clash of the Titans is the epitome of "movie you loved as a kid that kind of horrifies you when you rewatch as an adult." That said, there is a certain enjoyment of and personal fondness for it--most of all due to the incomparable Ray Harryhausen's classic stop-motion effects work--but, by Zeus, is it one incredibly thick slice of cheese, with affectionate memories of its major heights (Calibos! Giant scorpions! MEDUSA!) clouding those of the more confoundingly oddball choices (Bubo, the beeping and chirping robotic Owl-2D2! Those groovy lasers behind Laurence Olivier/Zeus's throne!) and, most of all, just how frequently the film falls under the two dreaded "-id"s: turgid and vapid--and there's no more prototypical example of the latter than its lackluster lead, Harry Hamlin.

So it's no real surprise that a certain "de-cheesing" effect has been applied to the 2010 version, which is a remake in a very loose and vague sense, for it's very much a product of this current time--and if one is able to accept this Clash as neither a "remake" nor a classical take on Greek mythology but a contemporary adrenaline-pumping actioner that happens to be in an ancient fantasy setting, then Louis Leterrier's film will serve as an adequately fun, fast ride. Our hero is still demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington), mortal son of Zeus, and he still must complete a series of dangerous tasks in order to defeat the sea monster Kraken and save the princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos). But many of the details have been shuffled and altered; characters have been added (a new female sidekick in the ageless Io, played by Gemma Arterton), subtracted (goodbye, scheming goddess Thetis), or changed in conception (the monstrous Calibos remains, but the specifics of his origins don't); and newly central is the conflict between Zeus and underworld ruler Hades (respectively, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, in the most unlikely Schindler's List reunion), who has been added to this version. While some changes are completely unnecessary (e.g. why the hell change the iconic color of Perseus's winged stallion Pegasus?), most come in service of the freshly amped-up, relentlessly paced action approach; here there is barely room to breathe, much less establish characters. But in keeping the set pieces coming one after the other, the film does the job to engage and excite, even if a bit of personality is lost along the way. The Medusa sequence, for instance, here comes off as just another in a series of many chase/evasion/fight sequences, rather than a climactic centerpiece, let alone the quietly creepy and atmospheric gem it was in the '81 version. Worthington doesn't have much to do than bring the square-jawed stoicism, and he makes a serviceable heroic anchor to all the digital mayhem--which, it must be noted, doesn't appear to have gained much of anything in the last-minute post-conversion to 3D, so it's much preferable (not to mention much more economical) to view the film in the standard format in which it was always intended to be seen.

Date Night poster Date Night (PG-13) ***
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Steve Carell + Tina Fey = a lot of comic promise--promise that is threatened by the presence of a filmmaking figure as undistinguished as Shawn Levy in the director's chair. Luckily for audiences, Levy knows better to simply stay out of the dynamic duo's way and let them do their proven thing, which is easily the right call given that the premise (normal, boring New Jersey married couple have a night out in New York City that turns crazy after a case of mistaken identity) is but a thin thread given comic heft by its players. While there are the broader, slapsticky gags that one would expect coming from Levy, those proceedings are elevated by the dry, wry spin by the Carell and Fey bring to the table, and ultimately the film's best bits come from the more quirky, subversive wit for which the two stars are known. The film also has some choice moments with a rather illustrious assortment of supporting and cameo players, most notably Mark Wahlberg, very nearly pumped back up to his old Marky Mark proportions as a perpetually shirtless acquaintance of Fey's; and James Franco and Mila Kunis as an oddball criminal couple. As light, undemanding entertainers go, they rarely come as likable as this, thanks to the starring pair, who strike a charming romantic chemistry as easily as they generate laughs.


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