Monday, November 29, 2004

They're Incredible!

Lately, I just don't want to turn on the news anymore. I hate getting news from Iraq, and in the last couple of weeks there have been some local sad stories about messed-up families that have left me depressed.

So when I asked a committee of twenty-somethings what movie I should see Thanksgiving weekend, I was glad they suggested something light: they said I should see The Incredibles. Mind you, these are the same sages who thought I'd like Memento (shudder) but usually they read my taste pretty well, and I'll save you the suspense: Incredibles is a big ol' thumbs up. Pixar has done it again.

Take the Jetsons, throw in some Superheroes, a liberated stay-at-home mom (think about it, that's actually a pretty 21st century concept at the movies), some very entertaining machinery, and a bad guy who for sheer petty creepy badness tops most of the over-the-top baddies on screen this year, and shake, don't stir (yes, there's a whiff of James Bond in there too). That's The Incredibles, a frothy broth of pop culture with enough grown-up fun for the grownups, but without a lot of wink-wink-nudge-nudge humor that makes the parent of an eight year old wonder if they really want to answer the question the joke will produce. (You parents out there, you know what I mean.)

If you hate superheroes, cartoons, happy endings, and fun, by all means, give this movie a miss. But otherwise, cheer yourself up this holiday season by trading Christmas at the mall for the Incredibles in the cineplex.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

White Chicks smacked me up the side o' the head

I walked into White Chicks expecting to see some really gross humor which I wouldn't appreciate -- you know, the toilet humor the Wayans brothers were so famous for in Living Color -- but I also expected to find some really funny moments, situational humor and bright, edgy dialogue. I got both, but not necessarily in the best proportion.

You meet the two FBI agents in the middle of a drug bust at the beginning of the film. These are the most unprofessional, outright BAD FBI agents you've ever seen. (I don't mean BAD in a good way, just in an inept way.) But the beginning sequence is nicely done, and sets up the rest of the film. They're educated, they're dangerous, they're....badly trained and mostly stupid, but they hope they'll get that break and show their boss just what they're made of. They get the chance to substitute for two young socially climbing women in the Hamptons, and...okay, the movie lost me right there. REASON smacked me up the side of the head and yelled at me, DAMN! THERE IS NO WAY THESE TWO GUYS ARE GONNA LOOK LIKE TWO WHITE WOMEN!

They don't. They can't. Even if you manage to suspend disbelief, it really doesn't work. Yet the movie insists on it. There are some funny gags built around what they have to wear, and especially what they imagine upper crust white chicks to be all about. The sequence around white vs. black music is quite good.

A few funny moments, however, do not a comedy make. The premise doesn't work, and the framework around which the comedy is built is flimsy. This is a situational comedy where the situation doesn't matter. There are a couple of supporting actors who are very good with the small amount of material they have, but it's not enough to sustain this movie for two hours. I think ten minutes would have been enough. Why can't we just have 10-minute movies and forget the rest of the formula?

There are some homages here, if you can stop gagging enough to appreciate them. A not-so-veiled attempt to duplicate moments of Some Like It Hot plus the dog sight gag from There's Something About Mary, although recognizable, are pathetic ways of telling us we're in the wrong movie.

If you want to see the funny parts of this movie, watch the trailer. Those guys who put trailers together are geniuses. They should get an award for making this movie seem like the comedy of the year, convincing me to put my $10 down to go into the theatre.

Thumbs down for White Chicks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Shall We Dance? is a delightful waltz

As we began to watch the newest version of Shall We Dance? (a remake of the 1997 Japanese movie), my friend in the movie theatre whispered to me, "Do you like to dance?" I immediately whispered back a fervent, "No!"

This is the tale of a man bored with his job as an estate planner, who knows exactly what he will say to each client at various stages of the legal process. He knows the route the train takes, he even seems to know the people who accompany him although he never looks at them. He can't connect with his children, who seem to be quickly pulling away from him. His wife, Susan Sarandon, even seems too busy to notice that his flame is slowly fading.

But one day while riding on that same commuter train, he notices a beautiful woman sitting in the 2nd story windowsill of an old brick building. She looks so sad. He sees her a second time. He finally exits the train, seemingly seeking her out, and wanders into a dance studio. He joins the other two men there in their beginning dance class.

The movie is an exploration of his journey to figure out why this woman is so sad, not of his attraction to her (although that immediately appears to be some of the force pulling him through that dance studio door). He wants to know the why and how to this question, as her sad and sullen face is a mirror of his own empty soul.

I did not want to see this movie. Of all the movies out there, I rated "Shall We Dance?" at the bottom, even below "Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie." I thought I knew what it was all about, having seen an overly long preview a few months ago. I was quietly surprised, though. I truly enjoyed this movie. Yes, it has too many characters, and, yes, it has too many little subplots involving these people. But the characters are engaging, the music is infectious, and the dancing is exquisitely choreographed. Who could know that a waltz could look so damned sexy?

The answer to the question I was asked was "no," but that's only because I wish I could dance like that, beautifully, Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire. Only I'd have to be able to dance terrifically immediately, without blundering through the learning stages. So I completely got it when Richard Gere goes for lessons without telling his family, coworkers or friends, and that he found the experience the catalyst he needed to break through his own lethargy and unhappiness. The idea that we would all find the "meaning of life" through ballroom dancing is just a little far-fetched....but just a little.

I give "Shall We Dance?" a thumb's up, much to my surprise.