Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In the Red: We're off on the Road to...

In this new feature I'll be writing short (well, relatively short) capsule reviews of what I've been wtaching on netflix. Todays films have two things in the common. One, they're both 2009 releases and the other is that they're both road trip films. From the charming adventures of Bing and Bob to the hopeless ambling of Fonda and Hopper, the road trip has long been a staple of the American cinema. Of these two new films only one really offers some new wrinkles into the genre while the other feels as spent and old as the road it travels. Ugh, its hackiness has worn off on me. So without further ado my look at Harold Ramis' Year One and Sam Mendes' Away We Go.
For a number of years Judd Apatow has ruled the comedy roost with nearly unmatched success. While even Apatow is subject to the periodic box office bomb, the films are at least compelling and funny (I'm thinking Funny People and Walk Hard in particular), but Year One is Apatow's first real out and out dud. The fim, which follows the exploits of slacker hunter/gathers Michael Cera and Jack Black is disjointed and poorly conceived. Sequences come and go with no rhyme and reason which COULD be excused if any of them were even remotely funny or creative. They aren't. Black and Cera's shtick works well against each other but at this point it has such a feel of been there done that. The rest of the cast barely overcomes the feeling of "earning a paycheck", even David Cross. Only Oliver Platt hits the glorious excess needed in a broad farce like this as a high priest for whom the phrase hedonist does not begin to describe. Even the unrated Blu-ray I watched didn't really yield any content that shocked or disturbed me. Ramis is just placing the camera and shooting giving none of the punch or keen eye for great comic moments thats shown up in earlier films. If I never think of this film again I won't be surprised. Save yourself the money and watch History of the World Part I.
The other film I saw was Sam Mendes Away We Go and it may be my favorite Mendes film. Its certainly his breeziest. I think this can be in part attributed to the airy, though not entirely weightless, script by real life couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. The film follows a young couple played by Maya Rudolph (who is something of a revelation in the film with a strong anchoring performance) and John Krasinski. Rudolph's character is pregnant and the film is in a place where they discover there's no reason for them to stay put (as his parents, the reason they moved, are going to be absent for their birth). It's a film that very adroitly captures the feeling of wanderlust and uncertainty that a couple that has hit a certain level of socio-economic comfort can face. In the couples odyssesy they come across a variety of family unit types in the form of relatives, friends and colleagues. The script reveals each family to be more than the broad types a lesser film would try to pigeon-hole them into being. Each sequence provides a good pair for our young, fun couple to play off of and Eggers and Vendela's script deserves kudos for sketching so many rich characters in such a short amount of time. For a quirky, but not too quirky, character piece about the challenges of finding your place in the world its well worth the rental.


Heather said...

Great review, Ramold.

El Gigante said...

Thanks. I am feeling it.