Well, lets take a look at some films I watched recently, as well as a previously unpublished review of Across the Universe from a few weeks ago. These thoughts are relatively spoiler free, so feel free to take a look at them even if you haven’t seen the film.
Welcome to the Dollhouse
This was actually my first full experience with Netflix instant viewing. I’m a bit disappointed actually, as Welcome to the Dollhouse was available only in 4:3 (non-widescreen) format. Why? I cannot think of a single reason. Anyway, most places, such as Netflix, bill this is as a dark comedy. While there were places where I chuckled some, I found that it evoked more anger and pity than laughs. 7th grader Dawn Wiener is surrounded by people who could very well be the worst in the world. Throughout, I kept track of who I felt was the most loathsome character. In the end, I’m going to have to go with Dawn’s mother as the most despicable with Dawn’s teacher in second. Almost every character is so detestable that it feels as if what we’re really seeing isn’t whats actually occurring in this film universe – but more like we are experiencing reality distorted through the eyes of an outcast 7th grader. Dawn has to be one of the most sympathetic characters I’ve seen in a film; even though I was never really bullied in school, this movie still brings out strong visceral emotions. I dare you to make it through Welcome to the Dollhouse without wanting to fight multiple characters.
Be Kind Rewind
After 2006’s The Science of Sleep, I was very excited about Be Kind Rewind. When I first heard of it, the plot sounded a big goofy, but after all the excitement about it, I forgot about this concern. I was really looking forward to see what lo-tech wonderment Gondry could pull off. I was not disappointed – by the lo-tech wonderment that is. Gondry’s message about the power of film and filmmaking is a noble one, but the plot is a bit lacking in the creativity that is found in the fun little films that Mos Def and Jack Black create. The plot device of an old person losing a piece of real estate isn’t exactly groundbreaking (is it, Happy Gilmore?), but I like to think/hope that this was the studio’s fault. The parts with the sweded movies being filmed is so much fun, I can’t help but wish there was more of it in Be Kind Rewind.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
I basically watched this because I really enjoy Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, and Jason Bateman in addition to be written and directed by Zach Helm, who penned Stranger Than Fiction. Plus how often is it you get two Jews in the two leading roles? Going into it I think the ceiling for this was probably Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events with a floor of, well, children’s fantasy movies can be pretty terrible. Let’s say the floor was The Last Mimzy (I was on a plane, leave me alone). In any case, Hoffman is delightful in the role of Mr. Magorium, flamboyantly spouting non sequiturs and other oddities. Jason Bateman is probably the best comedy straight man and is perfect for the role of stiff accountant who learns to have fun. Thats really not a spoiler, because this is an uncomplicated kids comedy with a straightforward and predictable plot. The real strength of Mr. Magorium lies in the small absurd touches, such as Mr. Magorium’s name tag of “Not Steve” and an hilariously unexpected cameo by a certain well known fictional character.
Across the Universe
First off, I don’t like musicals. So when I say I enjoyed this film, this can be taken as a bit more than an arbitrary person saying that they liked a movie on the internet (though probably not much more). Sure, the singing is hokey (musicals are, by definition, hokey) and the plot a bit scattershot, but there is some fun stuff going on here. The characters are likable and the visuals fun and fanciful. Knowing that I enjoyed this film, I was not surprised that this film was not adapted from a stage production. Across the Universe takes advantage of the qualities of film that are not present in theater, of which cannot be always be said about film adaptations, such as Glengarry Glen Ross. Despite the impressive imagery, Jude and his friends seem to just sort of stumble along from song to song, most especially near the end, where the producers seemed like they wanted to cram in as many songs as possible, regardless of what they added to the plot. I enjoyed their adventures, most especially the bizarre one with Eddie Izzard, but really this film is just about the colorful visuals, Beatles songs, and a couple choice cameos. Thats not a bad thing.
Arbitrary song of the day: Run-D.M.C. vs. Jason Nevins – It’s Like That