Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Failed plots- the law of average

I had a friend tell me I was too tough on films in this blog. My response is that isn’t being critical the whole point here? I don’t think I am too critical; I just love good films and I’m here to save you time. When some fail or worse yet come out average, I have the time to sit through them and spare you. Obviously it’s only my opinion and there are thousands of other blogs and sources for you to look at if you disagree. Jessi also counters me sometimes, but she has her fingers in many creative pies and is currently saving our world and so she lets me ramble here. I always say it is somehow sadder for me when a film is just average. The ones that fail outright are at least adventurous and committed to a vision. The vast majority of films are just average (3 shakers) and so they are usually the result of compromise, playing it safe, or just telling a story that we’ve seen many times before without much originality. So in this post I’ll look at three such average Joes: a romcom, a crime story and a war flick.

Expecting nothing but a cute pic I saw “He’s Just Not That into You” with a female friend when it was still in theaters. The place was just packed with the females that were its target audience. I’m kind of glad my friend was with me because where I saw harmless fluff she was outraged by both the female characters onscreen and their live counterparts in our theater. The pic has interwoven stories featuring thirty-somethings coming to terms with their relationship status. Like most Hollywood films they all have perfect jobs, great clothes, beautiful homes and wonderful friends (hey just like the show “Friends” which also had Jennifer Anniston) but all they do is whine about their unhappy lives. Poor them!

The main character, Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) has been told since childhood that men act like jerks if they like you and she therefore continues to throw herself at douche yuppies with apropos names like Conor (Kevin Connolly). When the studly bar manager Alex (Justin Long of the Mac commercials) pities her and begins offering her detailed advice on male behavior, my friend and I wondered what was ridiculously obvious: “Gee I wonder if these two will fall in love?”

Meanwhile, Connor still has the hots for his girlfriend Anna (Scarlett Johansson) who is on the hunt for married man Ben (Bradley Cooper) whose friend Neil (Ben Affleck) has been dating Beth (Anniston) for seven years but she seems only now to be peer pressured to get married against his wishes. Ben’s wife Janine (Jennifer Connelly) is back at their townhouse doing extensive renovations. Probably a heavy-handed metaphor for all the wanna-be, nesting females here. You get the picture? As my friend pointed out all the females here cared about was the opposite sex, they seemed more like 16-year-olds than grown women. Goodwin’s character was an idiot and Johansson seemed sleepy. So how can a film for and about women be so misogynistic? Obviously the writers were just not that into you!

The crime film that averages out is one I thought might have some real grit since it was written and directed by a true life criminal. In “What Doesn’t Kill You” Brian Goodman plays a local Mafioso boss and wrote the screenplay based on his memories of life in the tough streets of south Boston. Brian (Mark Ruffalo) and Paulie (Ethan Hawke) are friends since childhood and do what they have to in order to survive. Petty crimes aren’t cutting it anymore and Brian needs to provide for his family, so tensions develop as the boys want to break out from under their boss's thumb. Brian then develops a (symptom free) coke habit but here the believability starts to strain. As Paulie plans for that one “big heist” that they need to retire both the film and his acting seems to become one big cliché. This film shot in stark winter is lean and mean and Ruffalo almost sells it, but for me it went nowhere, much like the lives of those it portrays.

Finally we have “Valkyrie” which has Tom Cruise playing beloved World War II German hero Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. Do I have to go on here? Tom Cruise is a crazy dude and watching him become more erratic and fanatically Scientologist has been kind of a sad thing. When an actor so obviously manic speaks against psychotherapy it’s just bizarre. When he acts mad in his films he just seems like a little boy stomping his foot for his blankie. Like Richard Gere I think he is best when he plays against type as the heavy. The supporting cast is strong although they all speak in different accents (Kenneth Brannaugh, Terrence Stamp, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkerson) which I know shouldn’t matter but between the star casting and the accents we already have more of a stagey less believable feel. Then there is the structure; it is played out in strict chronological order and played seemingly for suspense. This is odd since we obviously know Hitler was not assassinated and therefore it’s tough to get to that tension. I’ve seen many more effective films like this that would frame the film as the main characters are about to be executed and work it in flashbacks. The structure and lead can’t take away from the nice location shooting though; many scenes were shot in their actual locations. I can imagine an older Germans’ blood would run cold as they past a an old Nazi building again being filmed draped in Swastikas so perhaps this whole film was just a bad idea about a good idea.