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Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Truly funny: a unique comic form
This is a whole different animal in the genre of film called 'Comedy'. It doesn't set up conventional comedy dilemmas that allow you to judge its merit on how well it handles the pay-off.
I mean it as a compliment that it's more Pee Wee Herman than Mel Brooks, because it assumes we've all known a Napoleon Dynamite and know that really funny people are 'out there': unashamed of their inherent nature, and not about to show any deference to anybody.
While I'm not a big Pee Wee Herman fan (the infantilism makes me a little uncomfortable), Jon Heder's Napoleon doesn't enjoy being silly. His geeky affectations are delivered with the belief that nobody is cooler or smarter than he - other people are just, all-too-often, luckier ("Lucky!" is his common anguish when he acknowledges that he wants what you got). In fact, the whole plot - if you can call it that - is a tally of unexpected lucky triumphs and frustrating failures where Napoleon fearlessly follows his odd instincts with abandon. He will not deny himself the experiences his curiosity brings because he might lose or look stupid. Bullies can do physical harm to him, but they'll never shame him. Dropped by a punch to the gut from one who despises his absurd bragging, he snarls "Idiot!" - a little too loud, too nasty, for us to feel sorry for him if it earns him a second punch. But there's something admirable about his refusal play the victim. He lacks pathos: that traditional, endearing characteristic of all the other comic losers who don't deserve their misfortune. So why is he so funny? Why do we like him? Because he's so insanely strange, but he's not over the top - we really know people with that stubborn, self-righteous commitment to not letting anyone else decide how they feel - and an ability to dismiss his tormentors as annoying without giving them the power to challenge his resolve. This kind of comedy ignores all the formulas that define what 'funny' is. Like the best jokes are the ones that make you groan, this is comedy where you watch him play out a strange but vaguely familiar character - ridiculous, but completely believable - shake your head and think, "Idiot!"
A street urchin with a flair for clocks gets a history lesson in film mastery.
This review is only a spoiler if you're indoctrinated into praising the pedantic pace of Martin Scorcese. This is not a children's movie. Not because there's violence, nudity, coarse language or an adult theme. It' isn't for children because they have short attention spans. By the time Hugo and Isabel find the key to the automaton (that starts the story), any normal child would have quit caring why he was in the theater, long ago, and started some annoying tactic to ensure his removal. Sparse flashbacks to early film making might interest someone old enough to remember how special effects were set up prior to universal CGI, but a kid expects to see the results and let those who attempt to entertain him worry about how it was done. George Melies was a magician who used the new phenomenon of film to synergize his shows. He was brilliant, and so were his movies. That's what you can try telling an eight year old who thinks he's going to see a young boy outsmart the adults who are trying to send him off to an orphanage. But that won't work long enough to allow you to see where this film is going. But remember this is Martin Scorcese! (What gave you the idea that it was going somewhere?) "Will the clock-robot become a friend of Hugo, like E.T, and help him with supernatural uncanniness (because he's taken on the consciousness of Hugo's departed father)?" If you're determined to stay in the theater, suggestions like that might string your child along until he falls asleep. But then there's the question of you staying awake, amidst the ticking and talking and waiting for the tedious details of the premise to show some pay-off for having been so exacting.
Ben Kingsley's character goes to great lengths to stop Hugo from making a well-kept secret well-known. For what he's willing to do to Hugo, it must be an ugly, ugly story - one would think. In terms of "what really happened to George Melius?", one answer might be that he was heartbroken because his great efforts were no longer appreciated by the public. And if that was true n the 1930s, then Scorcese has a pay-off that can that generate enough bang for your buck to warrant an interest now. But to go into that would constitute a spoiler. Don't take a child to this movie. Adults can argue the artistic merits of Martin Scorcese in the same way they argue the merits of Jackson Pollack, but don't do that to a kid.
Under the Undertow (2005)
It's "Night of the Hunter"
This movie is an over-directed version of "The Night of the Hunter". Josh Lucas replaces Robert Mitchum stalking two young siblings for the fortune they ran away with after Lucas (Mitchum) murdered their single-surviving parent.
In both movies, the stalker has a supernatural ability to go without sleep - to know where to look and whom to charm to stay one clue behind his prey. The older child will eventually destroy the fortune that he was previously willing to die to protect.
Mitchum's psycho-Evangelist portrayal transcended every other uninteresting aspect of "Night of the Hunter". In "Undertow", it's Shiri Appleby's character, Violet - a strange homeless tramp with a huge wardrobe of rags. She looks like she rubs her face in mud, and her bipolar con-artist/savior is the only reason to sit thru this self-indulgent exercise.
The Merry Gentleman (2008)
Protecting Kelly MacDonald
Kelly MacDonald has that quality about her that pulls the male ego into wanting to protect her. I felt it in "The Girl in the Cafe," and I'll never forgive Javier Bardem for keeping his vow in "No Country for Old Men." "The Merry Gentleman" could be titled "Who will Protect Kelly?" Will it be the cop, the hit-man (Keaton) even her "born-again" husband?-they all want to protect her. Her husband is insane, and the cop offends her every time he speaks. Cold-blooded murderer Logan (Keaton), seems to win her heart with coughs, wheezing and repeating twice "I found a girl under a Xmas tree." Keaton's minimalist dialog even has him wheezing for her to quit talking and leave the hospital. If he charms her with any more silver-tongued devilry than that, it must have been edited out. I thought the ending worked; the part that was missing was 'What did she see in him?'