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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The conclusion everyone deserves.
How do you possibly live up to The Dark Knight? A question that has been asked by many people, not least Christopher Nolan, the man trusted with the unenviable task of following the aforementioned blockbuster with a suitable conclusion for his take on the Batman mythos. A job made even trickier by the fact that, unlike Spider-Man 3 (which was meant to have a follow-up) or X-Men: The Last Stand (which might still get one), The Dark Knight Rises has been described by all the people involved in its making as the final chapter, the definitive end point for Nolan's Bat-saga. So the question remains: how do you live up to The Dark Knight? Answer: you don't. But you still deliver an intelligent, riveting piece of filmmaking that proves to be a worthy epilogue.
When we last saw Batman (Christian Bale), he had vanished into the shadows, taking the fall for the death and crimes of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, briefly featured in archive footage). Eight years have passed since that night, and the Caped Crusader has disappeared from Gotham City. Bruce Wayne has similarly withdrawn from public life, convinced there is nothing left that is worth living for, much to the chagrin of Alfred (Michael Caine). That is, until something happens that changes Bruce's dual life: the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a terrorist bent on the destruction of Gotham, who is capable of breaking Batman both physically and spiritually. With a little help from his old allies (Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon, Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox) and some new faces (Joseph Gordon-Levitt as police officer John Blake and Anne Hathaway as "cat burglar" Selina Kyle), the Dark Knight has to return to save his city from annihilation. But what price will he have to pay?
The defining characteristic of Nolan's Bat-films has always been the grounded, reality-based look at the different tropes of the superhero genre, and this chapter shows the director at his most ambitious, throwing in overt references to financial crisis and the US government's attitude towards terrorists (complete with a brief scene featuring the President which, thankfully, doesn't slip into Roland Emmerich territory). These themes are perfectly encapsulated in the figure of Bane, an intriguing villain who, despite never reaching the heights of Heath Ledger's Joker, remains a frightening presence and acts as the main connecting tissue to ideas first touched upon in Batman Begins, which provides the jumping point for many of The Dark Knight Rise's most poignant scenes.
That said, Nolan's ambition is also the film's biggest flaw: even at an impressive 164 minutes, the film feels too short to squeeze in everything he has to say as he tries to bring the trilogy full circle (cue Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy cameos). This is most obvious in the third act, a rushed, action-packed affair that also suffers from unexpectedly contrived plotting. A given in any other superhero film, it comes as a surprise that Nolan, famous for bending or even breaking narrative conventions (he killed off the hero's love interest halfway through the second movie, for crying out loud), should in this case resort to a more predictable climax, effectively embracing the comic-book roots that the trilogy had, thus far, left in a corner. This also accounts for a couple of fan-baiting twists that may prove amusing to some, irritating to others.
Nevertheless, the film's heart is in the right place: after the Joker-centric mayhem of The Dark Knight, the focus in this installment is once again on Bruce Wayne, whose personal journey has been the trilogy's emotional anchor. Bale, who's always been perfect in the role, goes even further this time around with his portrayal of a broken man, touchingly aided by similarly compelling performances by Caine and Oldman. And it's testament to Nolan's skill that, even though some of the new characters inevitably get more attention (Hardy gives Bane the on-screen dignity he was shamefully denied in Batman & Robin, while Hathaway's introductory scene alone would justify a spin-off for her Selina), none of the supporting roles feel like afterthoughts, even when it looks like actors of the caliber of Marion Cotillard and Matthew Modine come off as shortchanged in terms of presence.
Darker and more brutal than its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises still offers a glimmer of hope, and is therefore a fitting epilogue for what is, at this point, the best superhero series put to film. And while the conclusion doesn't exactly live up to what can only be described as sky-high expectations, one should not overlook the fact that this has the guts to actually be THE end. And given the circumstances, it's exactly what we need, and what we deserve.
In the beginning, there was Alien...
Prometheus was always going to be a double-edged sword: on the one hand, you have Ridley Scott returning to the genre (and the franchise) that made his name, and pre-release info - be it trailers or the riveting viral videos hinting at important plot elements - suggested it would be a most welcome return; on the other, the Alien franchise has had a rather difficult life for the best part of two decades, due mainly to the disappointing Alien: Resurrection, which, ironically, killed the official series, and the mediocre Alien vs. Predator films, which tarnished the brand's legacy in much worse ways. In other words, this prequel (which isn't really a prequel) has a tough job to pull off.
After a spellbinding prologue, we find ourselves in the year 2093, on the scientific exploration spacecraft Prometheus. The ship is headed to a planetoid called LV-233, based on findings by archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who believe the human race was created by an alien species they refer to as Engineers (i.e. the creature Alien fans call the Space Jockey). With funding provided by the presumed dead Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the expedition's goal is to find evidence of the existence of the Engineers. However, problems arise on two fronts: given the Weyland Corporation's involvement, company representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and android David (Michael Fassbender) may have a hidden agenda; and the Engineers might not be as peaceful as expected.
Originally conceived as a straightforward prequel to Alien, the script of Prometheus was subsequently reworked into a standalone effort that remains set in the same universe. This is the film's smartest idea, as it ditches the usual prequel shortcomings (namely knowing exactly how it's going to end) and establishes its own identity, whilst retaining references to the larger franchise, and Scott's original contribution in particular. It is also, however, the movie's biggest flaw, in that the screenplay, credited to both Jon Spaihts (who wrote the first, more prequel-like draft) and Damon Lindelof (who revised the story and mythology), is an uneven affair. The general plot structure is solid, but occasional snippets of dialogue are cringe-worthy, one scene in particular is dramatically pointless and some characters are underdeveloped. Forgivable in a run-of-the-mill monster movie, perhaps, but less so in a film that downplays the horror angle - the tag-line "In space, no one can hear you scream" would feel out of place this time around - in favor of bigger ideas and themes.
This isn't to say, though, that smarts and scares can't coexist. In fact, Scott, ever the talented visionary, constructs imagery that is both breathtakingly beautiful (the aforementioned prologue, which is among the finest sequences in the director's career) and quite shocking, notably a much talked-about surgery sequence that is every bit as intense (and somewhat disgusting) as one would expect from the original Alien man. Prometheus may look more polished than its predecessors, but that doesn't reduce the film's stark visual impact, which is a suitable complement to the deeper themes at play, combining leftover ideas from the established franchise (the deleterious role of corporations) with a new, bold look at the essence of human nature.
Which leads to the movie's greatest achievement: the character of David. A mixture of Pinocchio and Roy Batty, childishly curious and inhumanly lethal at the same time he's a gratifyingly complex and intriguing creation, played to unsettling perfection by Fassbender, who is the standout in the cast. The other performances are a bit hit-and-miss (due to the writing), but equally deserving of mention are the most un-Ripley-like Rapace, the delightfully cold Theron and a remarkable Pearce, whose extended cameo requires him to play a man more than twice his age. In the end, though, the real star of the show is Scott, whose untarnished cinematic eye, enhanced by a clever use of 3D, ensures that the journey will be worthwhile. There are a few bumps (including a final scene that is little more than gratuitous fan-bait), but overall this is a decent rebirth for the Alien saga, laying the ground for what could be an interesting extension of the franchise.
A Dangerous Method (2011)
Method and Madness
Given his entire filmography is concerned with themes linked to man's identity and the complexities of human sexuality, David Cronenberg is, on paper at least, the ideal director for A Dangerous Method, a movie dealing with the birth of psychoanalysis. Then again, the film is also a bit of an odd fit for him, since the script by Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) doesn't really lend itself to the outbursts of graphic violence that permeate the Canadian auteur's body of work. The result, first witnessed at the Venice Film Festival (after the film had allegedly been rejected by Cronenberg's fest of choice, Cannes), is an interesting but somewhat hollow entry in the director's admirable career.
Ostensibly about the professional relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), A Dangerous Method is in reality more concerned with the bond between Jung and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a young woman sent to his clinic in Zurich since her mental condition is an ideal subject for his research. Sabina, it turns out, is incredibly well-read, and soon progresses from patient to assistant, much to the amusement of Freud, who corresponds regularly with Jung about their mutual scientific interests and also meets the young woman on a few occasions. The relationship between the three evolves in even stranger ways as time passes, with Sabina taking an unexpected place in Jung's heart...
With its combination of psychoanalysis and sex, the story - perhaps familiar to European film buffs thanks to Roberto Faenza's Italian-language take on the same subject - has all the right characteristics to be vintage Cronenberg (hints of which are offered in the opening and closing credits via Howard Shore's music). And yet there's something missing: whereas the reconstruction of Vienna in the early 20th century is impeccable, the director appears to be less interested in the actual development of story and character, with a rather detached approach that suggests he's almost working on autopilot. That having said, part of the blame can be laid on Hampton, whose screenplay only glosses over key details of the story, leaving us with a quite simplified, "safe" version of events (the sex is unusually tame and unchallenging for a Cronenberg film).
The performances are a mixed bag as well: Knightley, stuck with the showy role, is unbearably OTT in the first 30 minutes, shouting and shaking endlessly before she eventually tones down the mania and focuses on finding the character, complete with a solid Russian accent. At the other end of the spectrum is Mortensen, pitch-perfect from the start but criminally underused, especially considering his past associations with Cronenberg. And then there's Fassbender, quietly intense and generally up to the task, were it not for his decision to speak RP English when he and Mortensen, who adopts a German accent, are supposed to be from the same country (this is even more perplexing if one thinks of Fassbender's flawless mastery of German).
A Dangerous Method is thus a textbook case of a film that, while not disappointing in the strict sense of the word, comes off as a minor effort in a generally spotless filmography. But even on an off-day, Cronenberg deserves to be seen at least once. Just don't expect another History of Violence...
Scream 4 (2011)
Same franchise, new decade
Back in 1996, the first Scream was a breath of fresh air in the American horror film landscape: a smart, self-aware slasher movie that poked fun at the genre's various rules while still managing to be genuinely scary. In the fifteen years that have passed since the film made its debut, US horror has taken a turn for the worse, with an endless stream of remakes, torture porn and whatnot. Scream itself suffered from the law of diminished returns, with the third installment in particular being perceived by most as a tired repetition of the same old formula. It is therefore safe to say that it took a lot of guts (pun intended) to decide that Ghostface and his victims were ripe for a reinvention, with original director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson still on board. Well, that gutsy decision paid off, because Scream 4 is easily a match for the original in terms of quality.
This time around, the people of Woodsboro seem to be enjoying some well-deserved peace and quiet, since the only murders taking place now are in the latest episodes of the Stab franchise. That is, until a couple of teens are savagely butchered and some of their friends start receiving creepy phone calls (Scream veteran Roger Jackson is, as always, supplying the voice). One of these young potential victims is Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), the cousin of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) - who, coincidentally, is returning to her home town to promote a new book. Naturally, it doesn't take long before she and her old friends, Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and former reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), end up on the killer's radar, and with the new trends in horror cinema, there are some new rules to pay attention to...
The big risk with Scream 4 was that it could all too easily turn into a bad joke, given the genre's lackluster form of late (a phenomenon Craven is well aware of, having even produced two remakes of his own films, although it must be said those were slightly better than most of their peers) and the fact that the first movie was itself made fun of in the inaugural Scary Movie (funnily enough, one of the new characters is played by funny-man Anthony Anderson, who had a prominent role in Scary Movie 3). The solution? Acknowledge the ridiculous nature of it all. The first ten minutes alone are a masterpiece of meta-cinema and self-mockery, with the very concept of movies-within-movies (alongside pointless sequels and torture porn) being the target of one of Williamson's jokes.
In fact, the events of Scream 4 are deliberately structured so as to mirror those of the original franchise-starter, which allows for some neat reflections on the concept of remakes and reboots. And yet, despite all the laughs and reinventions, this is still very much a Scream movie, and not just because Campbell, Cox and Arquette are back. Ghostface remains an iconic villain, and the scary scenes really go for the jugular. Sure, the last 20 minutes get a little close to self-parody, and, with the exception of Roberts (and Rory Culkin), the younger cast isn't that impressive. Then again, since they are typical horror movie victims, maybe that's part of the joke.
According to this film, the first rule of remakes is "Don't f*ck with the original". On those terms, Scream 4 is quite a success, as it sticks to what made the first episode work while providing a 21st century twist. Maybe it isn't enough to launch a new trilogy, but on its own terms it's an efficient mixture of gore and fun.
Doctor Who: The Idiot's Lantern (2006)
TV's bad, you know...
Remember the Dickens episode in the first season? Well, The Idiot's Lantern marks the return of writer Mark Gatiss to the series with another quirky, inventive tale, one that has a bit of social critique to it: it's all about the negative influence of television.
Back on normal Earth, the Doctor and Rose head for what they think is 1958 Las Vegas, only to realize they're in good old England a few years before that. The Queen's imminent coronation is shaping up to be a big event, followed all around the country via television. Only something seems to be out of the ordinary: as Rose points out, there are a few too many TV sets available for the time period, and police officers hiding under blankets who drag away random people is a strange sight. And what if the old story of TV sucking your brain out were true? Yep, it's an ordinary day for the Doctor...
Hitting the right balance between funny and creepy, Gatiss' script is everything a good Doctor Who story should be: entertaining, suspenseful, magical and quintessentially British. The villainous Wire, played by Maureen Lipman, is a memorable creation that is bound to give viewers of a certain age bad dreams related to television, and the inventive way the plot works around an established historic event is wonderfully mad and brilliant. The best bit, however, has to be at the beginning of the episode, when Rose and the Doctor step out of the TARDIS in perfect American '50s attire. Who would have thought David Tennant could make a good Fonz?
The Rite (2011)
"What were you expecting? Spinning heads and pea soup?"
The Rite is an odd film, at least in terms of how it's been marketed: on the one hand, it sets out to be a realistic look at the practice of exorcisms, complete with "based on true events" caption at the beginning. On the other, director Mikael Hafström (him of 1408 fame) and star Anthony Hopkins are better known for work that veers closer to straight-out horror, making The Rite look like some kind of pale imitation of The Exorcist (incidentally also based on a true story, according to writer William Peter Blatty). The result is a slightly schizophrenic picture that doesn't quite know in which genre to remain. It's also a consistent source of good fun, meaning it manages to remain perfectly watchable from start to finish.
The main concern of the film isn't horror, but faith. Specifically, it's all about one Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) trying to reconnect with his beliefs. Having studied to become a priest in an attempt to get away from the family business (his father, played by Rutger Hauer, is a mortician), he finds himself questioning that decision. The solution, according to Father Matthew (Toby Jones), is to attend an exorcism course in Rome (Pope John Paul II supposedly suggested every diocese should need an exorcist, and was said to have performed the rite personally in his younger years). The teacher, Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds), recommends that Michael spend some time with a Welsh priest, Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), known among his peers for his unorthodox methods. And that's when things start getting interesting...
For about an hour, The Rite is every bit as serious about its subject matter as The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Sure, there's an ominous feel all the way through, with clever camera work, cinematography, editing and music, but the film really appears to be more about mood and thematic depth than jump-scares (although that area is covered with a predictable scene involving cats) and gross-out. The script even appears to be sending up audience expectations with a neat quip about The Exorcist, which simultaneously acknowledges the latter as an unreachable milestone.
However, at some point Hafström is expected to deliver the goods, if only for box office reasons, therefore ditching the attention to character that made Evil his masterwork and choosing to go for "proper" horror instead. Perhaps it was inevitable, as the presence of genre veterans Hopkins and Hauer (shamefully never in the same scene) seems to indicate, but that doesn't mean there isn't a correct way to do it. Toned-down, effective exorcism scenes fall under the appropriate category; an all-stops-pulled dream sequence that is essentially five minutes of pure WTF writing, is just plain wrong, and paves the way for a climax that, for all its entertainment value, is depressingly predictable.
Thank the silver screen gods, then, for Hopkins. The cast does an overall good job (although Alice Braga is stuck with a pointless role), but it's the former Hannibal Lecter who really carries the picture, knowing exactly when to unleash his OTT instincts and when to restrain himself, giving a performance so riotous and fun to watch it sort of makes up for the by-numbers third act. Whether he's taunting a demon in Italian or making fun of his Welsh roots (surely the movie's most ridiculously iconic moment), he's a pure joy to behold, and the main reason why The Rite doesn't fall apart in the conflict between serious filmmaking and pandering to audience tastes. Turns out it isn't really about faith at all - it's about the protagonist proving, once again, how ace he can be.
Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)
The Bard gets animated
No other writer lends himself to so many different film interpretations as William Shakespeare, whose plays have spawned musicals (West Side Story), teen comedies (10 Things I Hate About You), even cartoons (though not credited as such, Hamlet is an obvious source of inspiration for The Lion King). The latter genre is used again for a peculiar take on Romeo and Juliet, put together with CGI under Disney's Touchstone banner.
The film takes place in the present day, where Montague and Capulet no longer are two warring families, but simply two next-door neighbors who just don't get along. This animosity is also found in their adjacent gardens, where the gnomes, much like the toys in Toy Story, come to life when no one's watching. The blue gnomes, led by Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith), belong to Mrs. Montague, while Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine) and his red acolytes belong to Mr. Capulet. Their mission is to find new ways to make the enemy garden look bad, and it all goes well - so to speak - until a full-scale war erupts, and star-crossed lovers Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) find themselves caught in the middle...
The material is an unusual choice for Disney, which traditionally favors straightforward adaptations of popular stories (albeit with necessary alterations) over postmodern riffs that combine tribute and spoof. This take on Shakespeare's tragedy would probably be better suited for a Dreamworks treatment, as they make no mystery of having older audiences in mind. Disney, on the other hand, is torn between pandering to younger viewers and giving Bard aficionados the fun yet intelligent picture they crave and deserve. Sure, there are in-jokes galore (the house numbers 2B and Not 2B are the standout), but the third act is particularly underwhelming, with too much screen-time for the mandatory talking animal sidekick (an annoying flamingo, voiced by Disney mainstay Jim Cummings) and a climax that has inevitably been altered - presumably - to keep the kids from crying.
When it works, however, Gnomeo & Juliet is an absolute joy: the opening send-up of the play's prologue set the tone quite nicely, Elton John's contribution to the soundtrack is faultless, and the voice cast is a hoot. Aside from the filmmakers having the nerve of putting Jason Statham and Ozzy Osbourne in the same film as Smith and Caine (surely a once in a lifetime kind of thing), the idea of incorporating Shakespeare himself as a character (voiced by Patrick Stewart) and having him criticize the film's plot detours is the self-mocking stroke of genius there should be more of throughout the movie.
All in all, this is a nice little film that is worth watching for entertainment value. It suffers from some lazy writing and questionable gags (shouldn't the Terrafirminator be voiced by Arnold Schwarzenegger instead of Hulk Hogan?), but it contains enough Shakespearean wit and invention to make for a fun 82 minutes.
Interesting, but hardly biutiful...
Biutiful is a departure and a confirmation for Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu: on the one hand, it is another study of lives gone awry, with no punches pulled in regards to the misery experienced by the characters; on the other, it's the first film he's made he parted ways with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, who preferred to move on to other projects after Babel. Biutiful proves two things: firstly, Inarritu remains very good at constructing memorable images; secondly, these aren't worth quite as much without Arriaga's words.
Set in Barcelona, the film ditches the filmmaker's traditional fragmented, multi-character narrative, focusing solely on one imposing figure: Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a man who has to deal with his own imminent death from cancer, a dire relationship with his family (wife, kids and brother), his ties to local criminal activities and, more generally, the ugliness he sees every day walking down the streets. Surely the (intentionally misspelled) title must be ironic.
Working on the script himself, Inarritu goes for a simpler story, but doesn't renounce his penchant for harrowing material. In fact, Biutiful is undoubtedly the least cheerful film he's directed to this day, and that's saying something. His depiction of a gray, ugly Barcelona is faultless, exposing the city's seedy underbelly and disease (both physical and spiritual) with genuine, relentless storytelling passion. However, this is also detrimental to the film's impact: without Arriaga's more experienced take on the subject, the director doesn't know when to stop, throwing in one tragedy after another for the best part of the movie's 148 minutes, with no pause for breathing. It's almost too bleak, too tragic, to fully convince as a drama.
Does this mean all the praise Inarritu has received in the past was premature? Not really. Even his detractors usually acknowledge his talent with actors, and in this case, perhaps being aware of the script's shortcomings, he has hit the jackpot: from start to finish, Bardem is a revelation, justly awarded with the Best Actor prize in Cannes. Sure, he's always been a gifted thespian, and no stranger to difficult parts (see The Sea Inside), but here he's really in a class of his own. Communicating with his sad, tired eyes rather than his broken voice, he carries the whole picture with a stoic dignity that is always gripping and heartbreaking.
While easy to mock and criticize, Biutiful, for all its flaws, warrants at least one viewing on the grounds that it proves beyond doubt that sometimes a truly astounding performance can save an otherwise mediocre film.
127 Hours (2010)
A true story that looks fake
From the get-go, people were skeptical about this film adaptation of Aron Ralston's autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and for good reason: it's hard to make a compelling drama about a man who spent five days of his life stuck in a canyon. Or, as Danny Boyle puts it: "The audience has to care for the entire 127 hours, not just the last 40 minutes" (the contents of which it's best not to disclose in case someone isn't aware of how the story ends). Now, it is remarkable, even commendable, that Boyle used his newfound respectability (read: post-Oscar rise in fame) to get this seemingly impossible project off the ground, but throughout the film there's an awkward truth that emerges: he wasn't the right director for this project.
A shame, since the story could lend itself to a good movie, provided certain adjustments were made. As Ralston recounts in his book, he should have told someone where he was going on that fateful day in 2003, when his latest mountain trip turned into a nightmare: stuck between a huge boulder and the mountain wall and unable to move, he quickly ran out of supplies and optimism, giving in to hallucinations and video-messages to his loved ones. Then, on the fifth day, he came up with a brave, shocking solution.
The challenge, according to Boyle, was making 127 Hours a film that worked as a full dramatic unit, not just a money shot with an irrelevant build-up. His passion for the project was so big that, for the first time in his career, he has also worked on the script (alongside Slumdog Millionaire partner Simon Beaufoy). And for the first fifteen minutes or so, it looks like he's nailed the tone, capturing Aron's euphoria and naivety as he prepares for the hike, arrives at the canyon and interacts with two attractive girls (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) before his unfortunate experience. It's an approach that has worked before - the fun before the tragedy - and it sets up the plot nicely.
Unfortunately, once Ralston is stuck (and Boyle with him, so to speak), the director has to figure out how to make the film gripping without leaving the canyon. His solution? He doesn't, allowing for several hallucination and dream sequences that allow him to expand the cast (Kate Burton and Treat Williams as the parents, Lizzy Caplan as the younger sister) and, more importantly, show off his visual trademarks once again. And there lies the real problem with 127 Hours: given the harrowing and very real subject matter, a certain restraint would be expected. Instead, the film is closer in tone to Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, meaning the true story displayed on screen looks too fake and movie-like to fully convince. Okay, so the scenes in question are justified in terms of narrative (Ralston himself has admitted he was hallucinating), but playing them on a loop, like Boyle does (seriously, there's a dream sequence every five minutes), makes for a very repetitive and dull viewing.
This also impacts on the central performance, arguably the film's main talking point. Though his talent has never been in question, be it as James Dean, Spider-Man's best friend or a comedy drug dealer, James Franco is justly regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation. However, he's never had to carry an entire movie (well, most of it) like he does here, and it's truly sad that Boyle struggles to keep his camera still, because the pain and despair reflected on Franco's face is the kind of a stuff that, if the overall movie were stronger, would definitely be worthy of an Oscar. Even if the growth (or rather lack thereof) of his facial hair over those five days is absolutely unrealistic.
On paper, the combination of material, star and filmmaker was a good match. At the end of it all, though, the result is uneven and unconvincing, and it's all due to the director. Don't get me wrong, Danny Boyle is a very talented filmmaker. It's just that until he finds a way to keep his more visionary instincts in check, he should stay away from movies like this one.
Get Him to the Greek (2010)
The Russell Brand Show
Although the lead role was ostensibly played by Jason Segel, many reckon (and justifiably so) that Forgetting Sarah Marshall really belonged to Russell Brand, whose deranged - and, to some degree, autobiographical - performance as a womanizing, junkie pop star was a consistent laugh magnet. Not a big surprise, then, to find out that the character received his own movie, albeit described in official circles as a "semi-sequel" instead of a "spin-off" to avoid comparisons with previous, failed attempts to flesh out minor characters from popular films. Well, one thing is certain: for all its flaws (and there are a few), Get Him to the Greek is no Evan Almighty.
Aside from Brand reprising his role as Aldous Snow, the only other on-screen link with Sarah Marshall, not counting a brief but fun cameo by Kristen Bell, is Jonah Hill, playing a different character this time. Gone is Matthew, the hotel employee with a weird fixation for Aldous; welcome Aaron, a California record company employee with a weird fixation for Aldous. In fact, he suggests that, in order to boost the company's success, they bring the British singer from London to L.A. for a big comeback concert. His boss Sergio (P. Diddy) agrees, on one condition: Aaron himself has less than three days to get Snow across the Atlantic. This proves to be more difficult than anticipated, as Aldous is off the wagon, pining over former flame Jackie Q (Rose Byrne) and generally prone to behavior that could wreck the whole operation. To quote Bette Davis, "It's gonna be a bumpy ride".
With no aid from Segel (who participated merely as a songwriter), returning director Nicholas Stoller is on scripting duty as well, and retains the first film's showbiz satire angle. While that got a bit out of hand last time, a tighter focus (solely the music industry) allows for greater, more genuine laughs: as in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Aldous' outrageous lyrics are a hoot, and the presence of all the genre clichés - sex, drugs, booze, family issues, slutty girlfriends, et al - feels less trite and predictable than usual. Then again, not many movies begin with the "hero" proudly proclaiming himself "the African Jesus".
On the flip-side, the rom-com material isn't equally strong, the main "arc" - Aaron's strained relationship with his girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss) - being a rather conventional and tired plot device that fails to convince throughout, climaxing in a cringe-worthy Chasing Amy spoof that wouldn't be bad if the storyline had been developed more carefully. A shame, because Moss, who proved to be the best thing in the dull Did You Hear about the Morgans?, shows once again that she has comedic skills to be reckoned with. The rest of the cast is just as reliable: the spotlight is inevitably on Brand, but the real standouts are P. Diddy's hilariously foulmouthed manager and Rose Byrne's spot-on "troubled" British singer, showing off a knack for comedy never even hinted at in her previous roles (well, 28 Weeks Later... is hardly laughing matter).
All in all, perfectly acceptable Apatow stuff: inconsistent but solid laughs, a game cast, terrific soundtrack and some neat movie references. Hardly a genre classic, but the Kubrick joke alone makes it worthwhile.