Archive for December, 2008

Four Christmases

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

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Just in time for Christmas comes a holiday film so dismal, so unfunny, so bland, that it can make one question the very point of Christmas movies, or Christmas, or movies for that matter. Ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but this movie is pretty lame. I sat in my seat after the film a little depressed, a little tired, a little less confident in the films of Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon.

Looking on the IMDB box office chart this morning, I see that this film is number 5 at the box office right now. Ugh. I understand that audiences want to see a Christmas film in the theaters this time of year, but, c’mon, this is crap. I’m getting really tired of Vince Vaughn appearing in films that are way, way, way beyond his talent and range. He’s a very funny guy, but recently, I wonder about his film choices.

It’s also odd that a film this bad could round up five (count ’em, five) Oscar winning actors: Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spaceck, Mary Steenburgen and Jon Voight. I hate to be cynical, but maybe it was the big paycheck. This movie is about a couple (Vaughn and Witherspoon) who wind up having to spend Christmas with all of their parents (since both sets of parents are divorced, guess how many Christmases that makes). Oh, the hilarity!!!

Another surprising thing about this film is that it’s directed by Seth Gordon, who helmed the excellent documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (which was one of the best films of 2007). Why he chose a stinker like this for his first foray in live-action films, only he and his hopefully-soon-to-be-fired agent know for sure. Again, ugh.

There are a lot of poop jokes in this, and puke jokes. There’s also a extended sequence where Witherspoon is attacked by a gang of six year olds in an inflated fun house. I guess that’s supposed to be funny. Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw show up as Vaughn’s violent brothers, and Dwight Yoakam is here too as a sleazy preacher. Tee hee.

This movie probably cost millions of dollars to make. It also probably made millions of dollars. I don’t know which statement is more depressing.

Man on Wire

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

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What a spellbinding movie this is! A documentary that is richer in plot, character and thrills than many fiction films. It works as both a testament to the triumph of the human spirit, and as a tribute to one of America’s great, long gone landmarks. The true story of French acrobat Phillipe Petit’s struggles to walk a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center could have made a fine, maybe even terrific, Hollywood big-buget, but director James Marsh wisely told the best way to tell this story was as a documentary.

Like another terrific documentary, Grizzly Man, Man on Wire centers on a man consumed by his obsession, although it worked out better for Petit than it did for Timothy Treadwell. One of the key elements that makes the film work is the interviews with Petit himself. Phillipe Petit is a highly animated, cheerful, curious fellow and his energy and good humor seem to be contagious. He was able to convince an extended group of friends and associates to join him in his dangerous, illegal quest to tightrope walk between the towers.

Petit and Co. devised a plan to break in to the towers, and in fact, this film plays a bit like a heist film in that regard. A group of motivated individuals, each with a unique skill, using false identities and forged documents, break into a seemingly impenetrable building. Only here the eventual goal is nothing harmful or dastardly, rather a man expressing himself through his chosen form of expression.

I found Man on Wire to be a though-provoking and compelling documentary feature. It’s thrilling in a way very few movies now days seem to be.