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Juno is neither amusing nor touching
There's many problems with Juno, no matter where you stand on the teen pregnancy issue, that it shocks me how well this movie is being received. Much of it could do with the tone set by the script and director; is it a comedy? No, despite the supposed "hip" cultural references and wisecracks there are very few laughs to be found in this film. Is it a drama? Only if you consider awful made for the Lifetime television network films moving because that's the level of the writing here. The talented young actress Page tries to make the most out of the pseudo John Hughes meets Gilmore Girls lines she's given but it just doesn't work. Instead the Juno character comes off as though she may need serious psychiatric help, but don't worry because she's so cute and funny we'll be able to overlook her warped adolescent world view, or so the people behind this movie want us to believe.
I never bought it for a second. Outside of Page and the neat opening credits (for some reason director Reitman has a way with opening credits like in his previous cinematic turkey Thank You for Smoking...and little else) this movie is cringe inducing cutesy poo movie-making at its worst. The parents of Juno are right out of any John Hughes teen dramady from the eighties while the couple looking to adopt Juno's child are strictly paint by the numbers suburban zombies, especially Jennifer Garner's painfully clichéd wannabe mother. The rest of the cast from Juno's high school friends to the secondary characters that pass in her life are equally uninteresting. For some reason this movie is being compared to last year's sleeper Little Miss Sunshine but if you go and see Juno don't expect anything that good.
Black Snake Moan (2006)
Blaxploitation for a new century
All that I could think while watching this is I hope Christina Ricci is nominated for best performance by an animal on one of those award shows. The way it stands now Justin Timberlake(!)is the only one from this movie to garner any attention, winning "Breakthrough Star" from something called the "Teen Choice Awards" and that's all well because he's OK in a role without much screen time.
But the only reason most people, especially horny males of all stripes, are going to be watching this '70's throwback is for the sight of Miss Ricci in the throes of passion even before the opening credits...but it hardly ends there. There's a touch football game with Christina wearing nothing but her undies and shoulder pads, there's plenty of scenes of Ricci chained to a heating radiator scantily clad, then there's even more scenes of.....well, you get the point.
That's why it's sort of humorous to read some of the reviews here taking this movie just a tad bit seriously. I mean come on look at the poster for goodness sakes! The movie isn't bad, but it's hardly Shakespaerian, playing heavy on themes of redemption from one's past with an old bluesy soundtrack thrown in it seemed every second of the movie. But most of that is secondary to the site of Ricci writhing around on a couch, floor, wherever anytime a rattle is shaken on the soundtrack.
And I'm pretty positive the folks behind this movie understood that perfectly well.
Thank You for Smoking (2005)
I'm still amazed for the accolades this piece of obviousness receives from moviegoers and critics. Completely lacking in any subtlety or wit, and what's worse wasting a decent cast, Thank You for Smoking should be viewed only if decent satirical films like Smile and Election have already been rented. Particularly painful to view are the scenes where the lead character joins another couple of lobbyists (Maria Bello and David Koechner) at a bar to drunkenly crack witty asides at each other's business. For some reason the audience I saw the film with were laughing quite loudly at their banter while all I could do was groan. Midway through the movie, knowing very well where it was going and not having laughed once I almost got up and left the theater.
Unfortunately like I said...almost.
When satire was good
Director Michael Ritchie made two films in the seventies that nailed the suburban existence, not just of Southern California, but of America right on the head.
While Bad News Bears was a deserved box office hit, the under-recognized Smile is the better movie...and that's saying a lot as I adore them both. Having seen the recently released Thank You For Smoking and its lame attempt at broad satire it made me reflect about what made Smile so great. Ritchie genuinely cares for his characters, making them sympathetic instead of one dimensional cardboard cut-outs which would have been very easy to do. The many characters Ritchie focuses on are human, with all the foibles that entails, so while it may be easy to laugh at the beauty pageant contestants and their problems, you do it with a touch of guilt because they are so earnest in their attempt to win respect from not only the judges, but the choreographer (Michael Kidd), the den mother (Barbara Feldon), and ultimately themselves.
To mock them is to mock yourself for rooting for your favorite girl at the film's conclusion which fittingly, as it turns out, doesn't matter anyway.
Now that's good satire.
A truly under appreciated gem.
Match Point (2005)
Back to the future
When it seems as if Woody Allen is ready to break free of whatever creative rut his critics assume he is in, the Woodster still manages to regurgitate himself. This movie was better, much better when he did it fifteen years ago and called it Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Not to say that Match Point isn't without merit, but its subject matter is not only familiar territory for Allen, but at two hours maybe a bit too long to prove to Allen that he can do an old Hollywood pot-boiler outside of his beloved NYC....which I think was the point of this whole exercise.
What saves this from being negligible is the same thing that saves most of Woody's movies from falling into "Woody's World" and that's his uncanny ability to get a great performance out of his lead/supporting actresses.
Scarlett Johannson is great in this. Though her introduction scene is poorly staged and written (a ping-pong game?) in an obvious manner to make her seem like a tough, sexy American/Hollywood vixen, Scarlet turns an oversexed caricatured bitch into a sympathetic victim. Unfortunately not enough time is devoted to her character, which would have made for a far more interesting movie.
Hey let's laugh at the hicks!
I'll get this out of the way first by saying I usually like/love Coen brothers movies but I can't for the life of me figure out the appeal of this one. They've had a couple misfires with me before, Miller's Crossing and Oh Brother Where Art Thou, but at least those films had hints of humanity. This gore fest drips with condescension at the locals they purport to embrace, turning them into hockey loving pancake eating you betcha caricatures while supposedly telling a true story -though that's debatable- of a botched kidnapping in wintry Minnesota/North Dakota. A great cast is wasted, reduced to running around barfing, bleeding, screwing, shooting, hacking and wood chipping bodies for what? Cheap laughs? You betcha!
Sure it made coasters scarier
This is probably my favorite childhood film having seen it 30 times at the theater during the summer of '77 (to put it in perspective I only saw Star Wars 12 times) and it still holds up very well. I'm sure part of that is the nostalgia factor as it seems to capture a time and place(s) pretty well, but there's a bit more to its appeal to me than that. It works because none of the characters are grossly exaggerated caricatures but everyday men with foibles like struggling to quit smoking. The Caulder character is identifiable because of his family and work failings while Bottom's soft-spoken psychopath (which probably would be portrayed as over the top if the movie were to be made now) is much more in tune with an understated realism that most contemporary madmen you see on screen today lack. While the Widmark character of Hoyt is a pretty much by the book portrayal of a federal dick, his sardonic exchanges with Segal lend an heir of authentic, yet begrudging mutual respect. That credit should go to the screenwriters. Henry Fonda's exchanges with Caulder are similar in their edge and that makes for an understanding of what Harry is up against in trying to stop the bomber. Susan Strasberg as Caulder's love interest is sympathetic, and very pretty, but isn't given much screen time outside of being a nanny for Caulder's daughter...a minor complaint to be sure.
After Roller-coaster came down from my long since demolished local three screen multiplex and had its initial HBO run it sadly all but seemed to disappear from my life, outside of an occasional run on late night TV during the eighties, but reappeared in 1998 when I stumbled upon a VHS copy from a company called GOODTIMES at a Tower Record store in Seattle. I was ecstatic. I still pull it off the shelf every once in awhile to remind myself that some of the minor films of the seventies that weren't appreciated in their day deserve another view.