Monday, May 9, 2011

Three Movies

Three movies that got bad reviews that I more or less liked: The Green Hornet (Michel Gondry, 2011), The Dilemma (Ron Howard, 2011), and (especially) How Do You Know (James L. Brooks, 2010):

THE GREEN HORNET: Aside from not having Robert Downey it (granted, a big aside from) this is superior to Iron Man in just about every way. Clever action sequences, good chemistry between Rogen and Jay Chou, imaginative visual touches, great 'scope framing throughout, good twists on both the bad guy character and the girl Friday character are the positives. Main negative is the clumsy (lazy?) plotting, but, to be fair, I can't think of many super-hero movies that have really sharp plotting.

THE DILEMMA: Not a great movie, but interesting and engaging for how far it follows its premise into darker territory than expected (not unlike The Break-Up in that sense). The cast is good (esp. liked Channing Tatum: endearingly dopey). Ultimately suffers from clumsy plotting, too: there's a whole B plot (will they get the deal with Chrysler?) that's just there to put the A plot (the stuff about Vince Vaughn not knowing whether to tell Kevin James about his cheating wife) under some pressure, and I could have done without it. It seems like it's there because it's the kind of thing screenplays are supposed to need (per Robert McKee or whomever) rather than something that grows out of the characters/situation. In general, there's a struggle between the way the movie wants to/tries to deal with issues of honesty and betrayal and the narrative conventions of the 21st Century Hollywood comedy that requires certain kinds of closure and certain kinds of characters. The struggle is not resolved satisfactorily.

Which brings me to:

HOW DO YOU KNOW: Again, I could quibble with some plot stuff, but I won't because (a) overall I liked this and (b) I think Brooks is trying to (and mostly succeeds at) making a kind of movie that for the most part doesn't exist anymore. Back in the Hollywood comedies of the 1930s there was a unity of narrative convention, character, genre convention, and acting style that went hand in hand with these movie's unity of space. That is, even if the situations were exaggerated and the plots were more elaborate than what we'd see in real life, the characters and the places they lived in/moved through were recognizable. But that unity was chipped away at by stuff like Mad Magazine, the genre revisionism of the 60s/70s, the rise of irony, etc. Actually, this applies to all genres, probably, not just comedies, but it seems to me that comedies were particularly hard hit. That is, the Hollywood comedy, aimed at a mass audience of adults was particularly hard hit. But I think HOW DO YOU KNOW is that kind of "old fashioned" comedy, that still manages to speak to contemporary audiences, without dealing in irony and without feeling like its struggling against its narrative conventions: rather, it seems to unfold naturally.

I'm not sure why these movies got drubbed by the critics, but I do suspect it has to do with the movie critic herd mind deciding what the "story" of these movies was going to be before many people had actually seen these movies.