Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

06 January 2008

Two Movies for Three Dollars and The Savages

Went to the dollar theatre last night and saw Dan in Real Life. I had heard that this movie wasn't really a comedy, that it was more of a heartfelt family drama. Don't believe a word of it. I thought Dan in Real Life was hilarious. It's mostly situation-style comedy and farce, but Steve Carrell is so good that he sells the whole thing. The family dynamics between Carrell and his two brothers in the movie, Dane Cook and Norbert Leo Butz, also create lots of good laughs. My favorite moment in the film is when Cook and Butz improvise a song about Ruthie "Pigface" Draper. It's absolutely hilarious. I thought the whole thing was a blast, to be honest. The plot is that Carrell, who is a widower and devoted to his three daughters, but altogether too uptight, falls for his brother's girlfriend (Juliette Binoche). Hilarity ensues. My favorite performance in the film, though, has got to be young actress Brittany Robertson, who plays Carrell's middle daughter. She's hysterically funny in the movie.

And then today I returned to the dollar theatre to see Ridley Scott's American Gangster, which—truth be told—I had been avoiding. It's two hour and forty minute length made me wary. And the reviews weren't exactly exuberant. But American Gangster is good times. It occasionally rips off The Godfather more than it ought to, but the whole thing is enjoyable, and tightly wound. I didn't feel like it took any really weird wrong turns or anything, and I was never bored. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It's very violent, of course, and Denzel Washington doesn't give a performance any more exciting than his typical work, but American Gangster is definitely work checking out if you like Russell Crowe. He does his usual strong work, and his performance is enormously engaging. Josh Brolin turns in a good performance, too. Ruby Dee has one really important scene near the end that has been garnering her a lot of awards buzz. It'd be nice if she got recognized; she is Ruby Dee, after all, and her work is excellent, especially in her early scenes, but I think the role is a little too small to really gain traction. We'll see.

I liked Tamara Jenkins' The Savages, and I thought it was occasionally funny, but I had a lot of beefs with it. The acting is uniformly good. Laura Linney (who I usually find rather bland) was interesting and exciting, and Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a rather beautiful, sad performance. The best performance in the film is by Peter Friedman, who plays Linney's married lover. He's an intriguing, rather desperate character and Friedman is note-perfect. The thing is, The Savages, like it's characters, is rather a self-involved, bourgeois little thing. Academics—especially failed academics—are a very easy target for satirical skewering, and after a while, watching these pathetic people try to squeeze by is not really that fun. The Savages is also hampered by a clichéd, almost nonsensical ending. It's a kind of freakish deus ex machina kind of device, where the screenwriter magically erases two hours of carefully crafted character work and tells us that the people we think we know have changed their ways overnight.

And for a little Christmas cheer, I watched the classic Barbara Stanwyck romance Christmas in Connecticut from 1945. It's an adorable, completely enjoyable farce/romantic comedy. If you haven't seen it, put it in your Netflix queue and watch it next Christmas with your sweetheart.