Saturday, March 21, 2009

The View from the Tank: Multi-Pak: I Love You, Man; Monsters vs. Aliens; E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial

I Love You, Man (2009)

The relentless stream of production out of Apatown became absurd a little while ago. Happily, Seth Rogen is not in this film -- but what hasn't he been in over the last two years? He popped up in last year’s Kung Fu Panda, and is in two new movies, Monsters vs. Aliens and Observe and Report.

Paul Rudd is pretty good here, but I had a hard time believing Jason Segel’s character. Segel seemed unsure how to play the laid-back, weed-smoking “successful investor” living in Venice Beach. (Also, when was this film made? Rudd’s character is a real estate agent, and Segel’s character is an investor; there’s no mention of any recession, probably because it’s currently boomtime in Apatown.) There’s some weirdness with Segel going on walks along the beach in Uggs, with his small dog in tow, allowing his dog to poop everywhere. Some stupid jokes involving pissed off bodybuilders ensue.

All of these Apatow-influenced films have started to blur together for me. This was fine, but nothing great. I laughed here and there, but often found myself feeling stupid for doing so, especially when my laugh was prompted by, for example, projectile vomiting. I got the sense that Rudd and Segel were making a lot of this stuff up as they went along, which worked sometimes, but often didn’t (see, e.g., their exchange of variations on ways to say “I love you, man” near the end of the film). These movies out of the Apatow universe have become sort of like blog posts: rushed out, largely improvisational, containing glimmers of inspiration here and there, but unlikely to be returned to. Two tentacles.

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

Further evidence that all 3-D will soon be mandatory for all animated movies. The opening shot, going from the Dreamworks logo to outer space, demonstrates the new use of 3-D: as in the excellent Coraline, the filmmakers here use 3-D most often not to pop objects out at the viewer (although they do that once or twice), but to give the screen a dizzying depth. The story itself is pretty formulaic and not that convincing; it does little to engage any emotion. However, the visual details are smart and witty, and I spent most of my time marveling at the beautiful rendering of the secret government monster-compound, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. Stephen Colbert has a few good scenes as the President, but I thought they could have used him to better effect. Three tentacles.

E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial (1982)

Still pretty excellent. We have some movie channels now, and Mrs. Octopus and I watched this the other weekend. Everything moves much faster than I remember – the menacing astronaut is at the front door before you know it. Spielberg’s overarching theme of communication is brought out wonderfully; the climactic scene for this theme being, of course, the operation of E.T.’s wind-powered Speak –and-Spell communicator as crickets and birds call out to each other in the forest night. Watching this decades later, as an adult, I could appreciate the setting and the circumstances of the film a bit more; in a new housing development on the edge of L.A., Elliott’s parents recently separated. Spielberg’s own parents divorced when he was young; E.T. was apparently inspired by an imaginary friend Spielberg created to help him through the trauma of his parents’ divorce. There’s something interesting going on with the setting of Elliott’s house, on the edge of a new housing development, with land cleared, new homes going up all around -- perhaps suggesting that the new “homes” here are a bit alien and out of place, just landed in these new territories out on the edge of wilderness; indeed, the whole concept of “home” and “family” seems to be thrown into question -- alienated -- with the recent separation of Elliott’s parents, which is the real emotional center of the film.

When I was a kid, I had no idea that the scenes featuring the redwood forest were filmed hundreds of miles away from the scenes at and around Elliott’s house. Elliott’s house was in the Valley; the redwood scenes were filmed up in Northern California, in Crescent City. Also, the version we saw still had the federal agents holding shotguns, not walkie talkies, which they were holding in the revised version released a few years ago. Four and a half tentacles.

1 comment:

chanchow said...

I Love You, Man was good. 3 stars.
Monster vs. Aliens bad. 2 stars.