I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing...

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To avoid only posting on Sundays this month...
...I bring you another review post. Today. Saturday. November 20th. Ready, go.

I Love You, Man
4 stars

What a feel-good movie! I was glad to see so much positive Apatow-ness able to come across without Apatow even being present. I can't even think of much more to say than that, since most of the praises I'd give it I've already written about The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. I will say that Paul Rudd was smashing (yes, I did say smashing) in his role, and Jason Segel foiled him perfectly--plus, both of their characters grew up and into themselves in a really cool way.

I do have one complaint, though, and its name is Jon Favreau. For serious, what is going on with this man? It's like he was so traumatized by playing a soft, pathetic dumpee in Swingers that he overcorrected into this muscleheaded jerk who can't do anything but be mean! Is anyone else really bothered by that transformation? It didn't ruin the film for me, but it did piss me off like you wouldn't believe, and made me heartily wish his scenes had been excluded. (I felt the same way about Four Christmases, where he plays an almost identical character.)

Fortunately, nearly every other element of this film was amazing, heartwarming, clever and hilarious. A must-see.

The 6th Day
3 stars

This was a fun film. Duplicate identities is always a neat gimmick, usually a comedic one, but The 6th Day takes it into sci-fi, and doesn't do too bad a job of it. Clearly there's not going to be much depth (it's sci-fi with Ah-nold, what did you expect?) but it definitely has decent action and all in all, it's fun.

That's really all I have to say about it. *shrug*

Fragments (Winged Creatures)
1.5 stars

Wow. This film proves that it is, in fact, possible to have too much of a good thing. I've spoken at length in many reviews about how awesome it is when movies take disparate characters and connect them in interesting and powerful (sometimes violent) ways, as in Crash, The Air I Breathe, Vantage Point, Powder Blue and Even Money. And to be honest, after all those awesome films came out, I didn't think any movie based on that premise was ever going to be bad. Those films are tailor-made to be interesting and moving, not to mention to have amazing casts. But Fragments (or Winged Creatures, its original title), in a very disappointing surprise, proved me wrong. It certainly tried to be emotionally gripping and hard-hitting, and its premise of several strangers responding to witnessing a fatal robbery was very strong, but it only ended up being disconnected, confusing and depressing.

The biggest surprise here was that Fragments' cast was as strong as Crash's or Vantage Point's, and arguably stronger than Powder Blue's, and yet the film still fell flat. Kate Beckinsale and Guy Pearce played reprehensible and irresponsible characters, and drew no emotional reaction from me in doing so. Dakota Fanning's bombastic Christianity was grating and intrusive, becoming pointless rather than telling when (spoiler alert) it was revealed to be based on a lie. Jennifer Hudson was a throwaway actress in a throwaway role. Forest Whitaker, a mainstay of this film type, wandered blearily around the screen with no justification for any of his character's actions--including (spoiler again) willingly letting a loan shark break his arm when he had the money to pay his gambling debt. And the only two actors who brought any sense of purpose or direction to their roles, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Jackie Earle Haley, were given very little screen time and even less to do with it. And even more frustratingly, the lack of clarity surrounding the characters had nothing to do with the portrayal of WHAT they did, which was very obvious in every case, but with WHY they did it. I ended Fragments not with more or fewer questions than when I began it, but with the exact same ones.

I realize Fragments' point was to portray how people deal with their grief, shock, rage and hysteria in different and sometimes inscrutable ways, ways that may not seem justifiable to those not experiencing similar emotions. And I guess it succeeded in doing that, since I saw the characters' actions and didn't understand them precisely because I couldn't connect with or relate to any of their emotions. The film's short running time and frequent flashbacks did not help clarify much of anything, instead making the whole film seem jerky and rushed as well as unclear. The end result was literally a fragmented film, where all the pieces were meant to fit together, but it wasn't worth the mental investment to figure out how.

3.5 stars

Upon reflection, Havoc seems more of an urban fantasy than an urban reality, largely because the audience finds itself going "really?" on many occasions throughout it. It just doesn't seem plausible that two gorgeous spoiled suburban teenage girls could decide on a whim to slum it in East L.A. because they're bored, and get away with it to the degree they do without being robbed, raped and/or killed as a result. But that's actually what happens in Havoc. Don't get me wrong, the girls do end up hitting some tough consequences for their actions, and the film leaves a potential gunfight between a gang and the girls' suburban boyfriends somewhat open-ended, but by and large things pretty much end up okay for its two protagonists, and I'm not sure I bought that. I like a happy ending as much as (or probably more than) the next guy, but in Havoc it seemed somehow out of place.

That said, I found a lot in Havoc that was very gripping and even believable despite its somewhat shaky premise. I know little about gang culture in Los Angeles, but I do know the spoiled suburban teenage mentality and Havoc is one of the few films I've ever seen (Brick is another) that explored that culture in any context other than a comedic one. The fact that teens with money to burn and little or no parental presence/influence are becoming increasingly bored with their perfect lives, and routinely seeking increasingly high levels of danger and illegality to cure that boredom, Havoc shows not as an overblown speculation but a stark, matter-of-fact reality. Anne Hathaway's character admits to it, with some pride, in the first frames, and the whole movie takes off from there. It hits, and it hits hard.

One of the most interesting and captivating part of Havoc is Hathaway herself. If you look at her filmography, you will notice that between 2001 and 2004 she starred in The Princess Diaries (1&2) and Ella Enchanted. Between 2005 and 2008 she appeared in Brokeback Mountain, The Devil Wears Prada, and Rachel Getting Married, for the last of which she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Right between those two periods, she filmed Havoc. It is clear, to me at least, that this film was her first step into the world of serious acting, and it is a complete 180 from anything she did previously. I have no doubt that taking on the lead in Havoc prepared her for every hard-hitting role she's had since. Even if you find the rest of the film obnoxious (as other reviewers did), seeing Anne in this role is worth it. Bijou Phillips and Joseph Gordon-Levitt also do very well in their roles, and Freddy Rodriguez would steal all of his scenes if it weren't Hathaway he'd be stealing them from. (Apparently Channing Tatum is in this film too...but I didn't remember him in it, so apparently he doesn't do much of note.)

In sum, I got a lot to think about out of this film, and on that basis I think it's worth seeing.

The Hunt for Red October
4.5 stars

When it comes to books being made into films, Tom Clancy's works are among the most consistently well done. Perhaps only John Grisham and J.K. Rowling have matched this prolific and thrilling author; Robert Ludlum started too late, Stephen King is too hit-or-miss, and Stephenie Meyer's material isn't smart or challenging enough. (Not that those criteria are absolute bars to good book-to-movie transitions; Clancy just happens to have cornered the market over most of these others.)

The Hunt For Red October is, I believe, the film that started the long, exciting and profitable partnership between Clancy and Hollywood, and it did so in impeccable form. It introduced to film Clancy's most beloved and famous character, Dr. Jack Ryan. It took a novel of over 500 pages and made from it a movie that was not only crisp and coherent but edge-of-your-seat suspenseful. And it did those things without any of the CG special effects that the Hollywood of today spends millions on without a second thought. It was action-packed without losing authenticity, character-driven without stagnating in development, technological without drowning in jargon, and global without being impersonal. It also featured two of the biggest actors of the late 1980s, Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, without seeming so heavily focused on star power as to gloss over everything else. (Baldwin's portrayal of Jack Ryan, btw, while not quite up to the standard that Harrison Ford eventually set, was still excellent. Ford played a good older Ryan; Baldwin was not a bad choice by any stretch for a younger one.)

In other words, this movie just plain rocked. It can hold its own with action/suspense flicks twenty years younger, not least because it is quite simply more original and more genuine than many of those more recent blockbusters. It's one of the best movies of its year, its decade, and probably the last twenty-five years.

Thanks for reading!


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Re: I Love You Man - agreed on all counts. I still maintain that Favreau's best role was that of Gutter in PCU. :)

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