Friday, September 22, 2017

OVP: Green Card (1990)

Film: Green Card (1990)
Stars: Gerard Depardieu, Andie MacDowell, Bebe Neuwirth, Gregg Edelman
Director: Peter Weir
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Screenplay)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

One could make the pretty solid argument that we don’t make movies like Green Card anymore, because quite frankly we don’t.  The romantic comedies of the 1990’s, with a shy, innocent young woman (she might not be a virgin, but she’s hardly defined by sex) and the unconventionally attractive men that are polar opposites to her and yet are exactly what they’re looking for don’t exist anymore.  I’m not sure what exactly caused the change, but the 90’s Rom-Com queens (Bullock, Roberts, Ryan, to a lesser extent MacDowell, Barrymore, & Diaz), are a bygone era as we know have the sensitive guy at the center of the Rom-Com being an average-looking guy (Judd Apatow's entire filmography) or the female at the center is trying desperately not to fall in love but at least get laid (see Amy Schumer, Kristin Wiig).  As a result, visiting Green Card for the first time felt rather quaint-a throwback to an era that doesn’t exist but that I grew up with; however, sadly the film itself never really goes beyond nostalgia as it feels deeply paint-by-numbers and dated even for a type-of-film that no one makes anymore.

(Spoilers Ahead) The movie centers around Bronte (MacDowell, and really, who has the name Bronte?), and George (Depardieu), two people that decide to use each other by getting married randomly for their mutual benefit, but not because of love.  After all, Bronte needs a husband to get her dream apartment (seriously-who in Manhattan has an apartment like that with its own greenhouse, even in a movie?!?), and George needs a green card to stay in the country.  In a pre-Trump era, it comes as a surprise and not an inevitability to George & Bronte that they will have to prove that they are in love, and not just using the situation for their advantage, and after a disastrous interview with INS, they start living together to learn each other’s habits and tics, to pass the INS follow-up interview which will decide if George will stay in the country and if Bronte will stay out of jail.

If you don’t know how this ends, congratulations on never seeing a movie-you’re going to enjoy them, and they get better from here.  Obviously their mutual disdain for each other blossoms into something real, and by the end of the movie George might be getting deported but the marriage has, ironically, become real.  The opposites attract trope is tried-and-true, one that audiences tend to love, but I have to say here it feels a bit forced.  Forget for a second that the film’s 27-year-old status means that we’ve got some moments that wouldn’t fly today (George boorishly berating Bronte’s boyfriend is meant to be romantic, but comes across as possessive to modern audiences), as there’s a larger problem-MacDowell and Depardieu have very little chemistry.  Neither of them is able to make the jump as to why these characters should fall in love, and while they have a lovely set of separate interviews, when they’re together it feels too stiff.  He’s too unambitious for a woman of her nature, and she’s far too rigid and snobbish for him to ever put up with.  It feels more like they’d have a physical connection rather than an emotional one, but the movie rushes the final scene so that we can’t see which is which.  It’s hard to imagine their relationship works past the closing credits, quite frankly, but they leave hugging and kissing, much to the astonishment of the INS inspector.

The movie received a sole Oscar nomination, for Best Original Screenplay in a year that was lacking them, though part of me wonders if this nod was an afterglow citation for Peter Weir, who had had a popular movie with AMPAS the year before in Dead Poets Society, but had gone home empty-handed.  That wouldn’t explain the overwhelming success the film had at the Golden Globes, though, as it won Best Picture and Actor, in the process taking out mammoth hits like Ghost, Pretty Woman, and Home Alone.  Ghost, in particular, it’s hard to really see how it lost, and one wonders (cheekily) if a room full of foreign journalists might have liked the idea of a beautiful American woman falling in love with an overweight European man.  Either way, the script is pretty basic-nothing special is happening here, and no molds are being set.  It’s just a standard-issue 90’s rom-com in terms of the writing, and it’s hindered by a lack of spark between the two leads.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Anyone want to share their ideas of how Green Card beat Pretty Woman and Ghost at the Globes (they were not only bigger hits, but better movies)?  Who was your favorite 90’s rom-com queen?  And what modern-day actress would have had bigger success in the 90’s when this style of film was more popular?  Share below!

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Film: The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
Stars: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate
Director: Chris McKay
Oscar History: It's cute, and it's a slim year for Animated Feature, but if they didn't go for the first one, will they really go for the sequel?
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

I find it amusing when people talk about movies like The Lego Movie being a commercial, as if Frozen or Despicable Me aren’t built entirely to launch a thousand toys, pillowcases, night lights, and Halloween costumes as well.  The Lego Movie just took a known property, and then built the movie around it, something that has since been done by pictures such as Trolls and The Emoji Movie.  Yet The Lego Movie was something else-a truly funny, successful picture with likable characters, quotable dialogue, and a solid amount of in-the-know winking, mainly mocking the concept of the “chosen one” narrative.  It was genuinely the best Animated Movie of 2014, and made my Top 10 list that year, so I was curious to see how its off-shoot (there’s no indication that this is a sequel other than it features the same vocal cast, as I don’t recall hearing a single allusion to the previous movie) would succeed-could the same sort of magic come back, or would we have diminishing returns?

(Spoilers Ahead) The movie centers around Batman (Arnett), the same brooding, self-important and loner hero that has been the centerpiece of decades of cinema.  The movie smartly avoids an origin story, as everyone knows the origin of Batman by heart (George-and-Martha Wayne don’t need to die ever again-we all know how they’re going to turn out…same goes for Uncle Ben), and instead dives right into the ego-centric side of Batman, intent on warding out villainy without any connection to actual humanity, and frequently baiting criminals with his actions.  Think of how many of Batman’s foes are driven almost exclusively to defeat him, rather than any other motives driving them to their insane acts of violence.  It’s also worth noting, and noted often in the film, that Batman doesn’t necessarily end crime, but instead is just fighting off a constant cycle of it in the crime-soaked land of Gotham City.

The movie focuses on Barbara Gordon (Dawson), the new Police Commissioner, trying to put Batman into retirement through crime-solving measures.  She is joined in being annoyed by Batman by the Joker (Galifianakis), who wants Batman to admit that the Joker matters to him and that he is his arch-nemesis, that he truly hates him rather than just is fighting him off.  The movie follows similar beats to past Batman movies, where he has to count on a band of heroes and eventually villains (but not before they get a really shady one-liner in against Suicide Squad) to defeat Joker, who is joined by a plethora of villains from other franchises (Sauron, King Kong, Voldemort…only Lego could get these many properties under one umbrella) and then saves the day.

The movie’s plot is pretty simple, but it is a winner due to the wonderful vocal performances, particularly Arnett & Galifianakis, both gamely skewering their comic book personas while also creating actual characters.  It is also quite clever, finding ways to both hero-worship and mercilessly mock the rest of the Batman franchise.  The best bit of the movie would be when Joker is listing off the villains he’s teaming with, starting with the iconic (Penguin, Catwoman, Bane), and then moving into the absurd (like Condiment King).  The hilarious part of this is that every villain he actually lists is indeed a villain from some point in the DC franchise, and the only disappointing aspect here is they didn’t fit my personal favorite (ridiculous) Batman villain, Lady Penelope Peasoup, into the lineup.  These pop culture asides occasionally have diminishing returns (they feel like easy, and sometimes repetitive laughs), but particularly in the movie’s first half it’s hard to argue that they aren’t funny.

Overall, while I can’t quite claim this is as good as The Lego Movie, this is still a riot, assured and its own identity.  Let me know where this ranks in your own estimation compared to the other Lego movies (The Lego Ninjago Movie is opening this weekend, so we now have three), and where do you hope the films head next yet?  Could we see similar franchise targets in the future (say, a Lego Star Wars Movie?).  Share below!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

Film: Dunkirk (2017)
Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Director: Christopher Nolan
Oscar History: I suspect we have our first major Oscar contender of 2017, with nominations for Picture, Director, Cinematography, Editing, and Sound all in the cards.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

I’m still stuck in that airport when this is being penned (I’m hoping that I get a lot of articles at least out of this attempt to ward off sleep), so we’ll continue on into what was one of the best moments I had in a movie theater this year, even if I still find the pictures of Christopher Nolan to have their own set of problems.  Thankfully Dunkirk didn’t have the irrational fanboy nature of his past pictures (or perhaps I just missed it), so I don’t go into this with the same sort of need-to-make-a-point that I did for something like InterstellarDunkirk, Nolan’s attempt to go into more grownup affairs (you can see the way that he mimics Spielberg in this regard, trying desperately to get the Oscar that he clearly wants but so far hasn’t been able to land with his genre work), succeeds as an expansive look at war, even if it occasionally falters in his quest to make it an anonymous series of moments, making war an entirely universal experience.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film centers around the actions on the beach at Dunkirk, when during World War II over the series of a scant few days hundreds of thousands of soldiers were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk at great peril (they were essentially sitting ducks at the time for the Germans, and with them was the last hope of the British people and all of Europe).  Despite being one of the most storied moments of World War II (a favorite cinematic subject), it’s never really been done in a “definitive” way until now, so Nolan has chosen well, and uses a triptych of land, sea, and air stories to tell the story, frequently mixing virtual unknowns (like Fionn Whitehead) alongside more famous figures such as Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, and in his film debut, Harry Styles.

The movie’s most unique attribute, and the one that really sells it as an atypical war movie, is the way that it uses very little dialogue or even much identity to establish these plotlines.  Very few characters have openly-stated names in the movie, and we don’t get any really strong character growth.  Normally this would be a fault, but it’s the picture’s secret weapon.  Nolan makes his steady direction, the hyper-realistic cinematography (I saw this on 70mm, and genuinely felt like I could become seasick during select scenes, where the claustrophobia of war’s physical spaces are filmed in staggering realism).  Nolan gains from making his shots expansive and wide-you get a sense of the scale of such an evacuation, with tens of thousands of men littered like sitting ducks along the shores, their only hope of home waiting in a line, or taking matters into their own hands.

The movie, when it veers away from this anonymity, doesn’t succeed.  Scenes late in the film, particularly the way that Harry Styles’ character is treated as a xenophobe when the bullets fly, ring false (it’s worth noting that Styles is actually quite good in the movie, even if he’s saddled with a character that the script can’t handle-I hope he continues acting as he has a naturalism that his boy band brother Justin Timberlake couldn’t remotely approach).  I also felt like the climax of the picture doesn’t succeed, as we’re meant to underline Tom Hardy’s silent flight to the beach, likely to be captured, but the emotional ring of this moment is hollow as we don’t know anything about him other than he’s Tom Hardy (and in yet another role where his gorgeous face is covered by a mask), and I feel like Nolan had a deeper connection with this character when he was writing the script than came across in the picture.

Still, these are small quibbles over one of the better films I’ve caught this year.  Nolan’s script continues to be his weakness (I wish that he’d just storyboard and leave the actual writing to someone else), but his direction remains as capable as sure as ever, even without Science Fiction or comic books as source material.  Dunkirk is movie magic that feels like it’s of a bygone era, something we’d expect more in Thanksgiving than ever in the Summer.  Note to Spielberg, Scott, or Cameron-please when you go “serious” continue to challenge yourself creatively like Nolan does here.