Sunday, 24 January 2010

Today's Viewing & Reviews: Toy Story 2 + All About Steve + Brothers

Toy Story 2 (3D)

I won’t dwell on this. We all know how good it is; The Godfather Part II of animated sequels. It’s a step up on every front from the already masterful first entry in the series. While it’s not enough to warrant a subtraction from the rating, not only is there absolutely no benefit to seeing this in 3D, it actually detracts from the overall experience as a result of the finely honed colours being muted and deadened in the process.


All About Steve

I realise the reaction I’ll get to this is ‘why did you bother in the first place?’ My response to that would be that I’m not snobbish; I’ll give most flicks a chance. Every film deserves a fair trial and all that.

It’s almost a futile exercise picking a film like this apart. Almost. It’s so rare that a film gets it so wrong and so misjudges everything from the comedy, to the romance to the expectations of its audience.

Sandra Bullock (who I’ll admit I find entirely watchable and will further happily admit that I quite liked The Proposal) plays Mary, a crossword compiler(!), who struggles to find a man let alone hold one down. That’s why her parents set her up on a blind date with the titular Steve (Bradley Cooper). Within minutes she’s already exerted a number of character traits which mark her out as an annoyance of Purgatorial proportions. It’s de riguer for a romcom to have a zany lead female, it goes with the territory, but Mary’s quirks are borderline socially subnormal. She’s so ‘hyper-intelligent’ that she has seemingly lost all rational sense and displays enough cautionary tics that I’m pretty certain a psychological assessment would deem her certifiable. The film seems fixated on the fact that she incessantly wears red knee-high boots as if that were somehow more indicative of her maladjusted mental state than the fact she stalks a guy who she’s only just met across the country. It says a lot about her character that even when she’s in allegedly mortal danger, her parents watch her plight on telly from the comfort of their sofa.

For a romcom to succeed it requires at least one of the leads to be in some way likeable (preferably both) but here even the straight co-lead is so intensely detestable and dull that any potential emotional investment in the film falls by the wayside.

I’m giving the benefit of the doubt that the film is attempting satire on some level, otherwise lurching from 'extra-appendaged infant' to 'deaf children trapped down a mine' sub plots is as peripherally psychotic as its protagonist. An attempt to crowbar in a rival news reporters motif cries plagiarism, if nothing else, and a crossword metaphor-laden narration is a constant irritant.

From start to finish this is risible. When even a ‘don’t rape me’ gag levelled at a helpful stranger fails to get a rise, you know you’re in stormy waters indeed.

5 Down (5-3-4): metaphor for this film; complete canine faeces.



If there are two drama sub-genres more likely to make me instantly lose interest they are ‘dysfunctional family with a side of sibling rivalry’ and ‘The War On Terror’. It’s not damning with faint praise to say that Brothers managed to not only hold my interest but actually made me care about the characters.

Sam (Tobey Maguire) is the marine about to return to Afghanistan, coinciding with the release of his brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), from prison. When Sam is presumed KIA, a romance of sorts blossoms between Sam’s wife, Grace (Natalie Portman), and his sibling.

The film is more successful when it’s rooted in glacial New Mexico than it is during the Afghanistan segments but it’s not without its faults. For me, the main fault which kept taking me ‘out of’ the film was the casting of the three central characters. There comes a stage in every juvenile actor’s career where they have to make the transition from playing youngsters to playing proper, grown-up people. I’m not sure this was a success for any of the triumvirate in that respect. Tobey Maguire in particular never convinces as the hard-bitten marine or family man. There’s even a script acknowledgement of this in saying that he looks incongruous as a former high school football star. There’s an overriding sense from the leads that they’re playing dress-up rather than convincing as fully-rounded adults with their own families and failings. When Natalie Portman’s character says “I’ve loved you since I was 16 years old” I couldn’t help but think ‘how many weeks ago was that?’

To be completely fair the performances weren’t a dominant problem, just a niggling doubt which kept reappearing to remind me that this was all a contrivance. It works best when it’s a quiet, low-key drama before it errs towards the slightly bombastic. Two particular scenes set around dinner tables stand out as some of the most believably nerve-racking I’ve seen in a while. Never has the bursting of a balloon been wrung for so much tension.

The film’s ably handled by Jim Sheridan and, as is usually his way, never spectacular or grandiose. It’s workmanlike but it does the job. However, I have to hold him personally responsible for the nationalistic nepotism shown to U2. Not only does a new track get its own opening credits billing, and play out over the end credits, but an entire poignant scene is completely non-ironically constructed around the merits of listening to the Gaelic rockers.

I fear I may have come across too negative towards the film when I really did like it. It was more than I expected it to be and certainly more than the sum of its parts.


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