Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Going Places

Run Fatboy Run: Better-than-expected Simon Pegg comedy, falling somewhere between the brilliance of Shaun of the Dead and the blatant catering to the Americans of How To Lose Friends and Irritate People. Pegg plays his stock character of the drifting underachieving male who is galvanized into action-- in this case, he resolves to run a thinly-disguised London Marathon (renamed the Nike River Run, presumably for product placement purposes) in order to win his estranged ex-girlfriend and the mother of his child back from an evil American financier. Although it's set in London it feels a bit aimed at the American market (although the American character is the baddie, it takes place in tourist-London rather than real London, and it carefully contains no cultural references that Americans are unlikely to get), but despite that it's cute and feelgood, and has two supporting characters, played by Dylan Moeran and Harish Patel, who have all the good lines.

Raising Arizona: Classic Cohen Brothers comedy about a Southern petty criminal who resolves to fly straight after marrying a policewoman, but, when they learn they can't have children, the couple find themselves drawn into crime through hatching a mad plot to kidnap one. My Name is Earl appears to have ripped off quite a lot from it (the protagonist even has a shaggy haircut, moustache, predilection for loud shirts, and idiot-savant sidekick, and narrates the whole thing in the same perplexed-but-dry tone as Jason Lee), though it also has a distinctly magic-realist aspect in the protagonist's prophetic dreams and the presence of a biker who represents the protagonist's shadow-self made real, and it also features a bank-heist subplot which views like a dry run for O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Syriana: Complicated film interweaving a series of seemingly disparate, but actually interconnected, stories revolving around the merger of two oil companies to take over a drilling operation in an unnamed Emirate, and the power struggle between the Emir's sons, both of which are shadowed and influenced by forces within the American government and business community. It's a story with no good or bad guys: Alexander Siddig's reforming prince is determined to help his country modernise and realise its potential outside of American control, but is a thoroughly unpleasant type with al-Quaeda connections, while George Clooney's sympathetic CIA agent engages in assassination attempts without so much as a moral qualm, the sweet, family-oriented young Pakistani immigrant workers are being groomed as suicide troops by their smiling and earnest imam, and there is a distinct question as to whether Matt Damon's international economist really is, as his estranged wife contends, profiting over his son's accidental death at a party thrown by the Emir. It's the sort of film Edge of Darkness should have been.

Young Frankenstein: Mel Brooks comedy made around the same time as Blazing Saddles, with some of the same people and a similar starting point, sending up the foibles and biases of the Universal horror films of the 1930s rather than Westerns. Very funny, but it doesn't have the same biting social commentary as Blazing Saddles-- although it does send up the sexual/gender subtext of horror films by having a priapic Frankenstein's Monster in pursuit of an ostensibly-fridgid, actually-rapacious woman, that side of it doesn't really come in until quite late in the story, and the complexities of sexuality in the genre, such as the gay subtexts that some have noted in James Whale's horror films, never really get explored. Perhaps it was a bit too early for all that. More puzzlingly given the team involved, the antisemitism angle seems to mostly get passed over. Still, lots of fun to be had, and see if you can Spot Gene Hackman.

Movie count for 2011: 31