What We’re Watching – 7/27/11
In the theater:
I said good-bye to my beloved Harry Potter franchise, declining to see the press screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and review it here, in favor of seeing the midnight show with my friends, one last time. I had absolutely loved Part 1, which I felt was the only film in the series not to be marred by distracting pacing problems. Besides that, the effects and the acting had only gotten better over the years, to the point where I saw little room for improvement in the film. Part 2 didn’t quite live up to Part 1 for me, but it was still a very satisfying ending to the adaptations. We got some lovely moments of glory for key supporting characters, including actually getting an adequate amount of Snape time. It also seemed like the filmmakers finally heard fans’ loud grumbling about the serious lack of Neville in previous films; we probably got more screentime for him here than in the previous three films combined. (And welcome it was. To get a little inside baseball for a moment: I will always believe that the biggest mistake made with the adaptations was how they jettisoned Neville’s family’s backstory and how it ties into the ideas of Voldemort and the prophecy. This parallel with Harry’s life is one of the most emotionally resonant parts of the novels for me, and easily worth expanding the length of film five to get the foundation in. Alas.)
I look forward to watching this film back-to-back-to-back with Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows Part 1; it actually seems to me like they’re a trilogy, providing the main payoff for the story and world laid out by the first five films.
I’m almost more sad about the films coming to an end than I was about the books, because the act of reading them is such a solitary thing, and easy to go back to whenever I want. But those opening nights for the films are not so easy to recreate. Here’s hoping The Hunger Games will fill the void in the future…
Before we did the roundtable for Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law, I hadn’t seen any of his earlier films except Stranger Than Paradise, which I watched specifically because I knew we’d be discussing him. Both of those films are ones I’ve been mulling over, and while I did enjoy them both, I think I’ll appreciate them more fully on future viewings. Continuing on with going through Jarmusch’s catalogue, I recently watched his 1991 film Night on Earth. The film consists of five vignettes in taxi cabs, taking place in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki, so perhaps a better name for it would have been “Night in Major Cities of Contemporary Western Civilization,” but since that’s not nearly as catchy, I’ll forgive it.
The different scenarios all have an undercurrent of comedy, but of different types. We get some “odd couple” dynamics in the Los Angeles and New York pieces, with LA featuring Gena Rowlands as an upscale Hollywood agent, and young alabaster Winona Ryder as her punk rock, foul-mouthed, but good-hearted driver, and New York showing the contrast between a new immigrant (Armin Mueller-Stahl) starting his job and the most stereotypically brash, street-smart, 90s Brooklyn passenger one could imagine (Giancarlo Esposito). We get some over-the-top monologuing in Rome from Roberto Benigni using his cab as a confessional when he picks up a priest, antics that almost reach the point of verbal slapstick. In Paris, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast picks up a blind woman, and what results is an exercise in irony.
My favorite of the segments, though, is the last one, which is really only funny in a black, “well that’s life, isn’t it?” kind of way. In Helsinki, a cab picks up three very drunk men, one of whom is passed out. His friends explain that it was been the worst day of his life, and tell his story to the cabbie. The cabbie agrees that it is sad, but then he tells them his story. Of course, it trumps the passenger’s. But there’s nothing to be done about it. Life is life.
I enjoyed watching this film, but with the possible exception of the Helsinki segment, I didn’t feel much of a connection with any of the characters. The whole thing played a bit too much like a one-act play festival for my liking—not that one-acts aren’t great, but movies are best when you feel like there’s a reason the story is being told as a movie, and not in some other medium. We get to ride around in the cities, but that’s not enough to really make me feel like the segments and characters themselves were intrinsic to their locations. I wanted more depth than was given to me, but I can still see where someone would really appreciate the tone of the film, and the offbeat, mini-archetype vibe the characters all give off. It’s worth checking out if anything I’ve said here intrigues you.
If you get BBC America, you need to start looking out for reruns of The Inbetweeners. They’ve just finished running the show’s third and final six-episode season. The show is a high school comedy centered around four boys who are each awful in their own way: Will, the stick-in-the-mud; Simon, never without something awkward to say; Jay, the crass, compulsive liar; and Neil, the complete idiot. This rag-tag band gets into all manner of hideous hijinks, often in the pursuit of girls, popularity, and/or alcohol. They spout vulgarities, commit random acts of vandalism, and often try to humiliate each other (well, Will often protests these behaviors). Everything they do is absolutely hilarious.
The “everything that can go wrong, will go wrong” plotlines and clever dialogue provide the core of the comedy here, but the thing that made me such a fan of the show was the acting. These four young actors are absolutely pitch-perfect, especially Simon Bird as Will, who has the tough job of making the straight man of the group just as funny as the others, and succeeds. (Sitcoms so rarely do this well—the only other example I can think of for shows on the air right now is Britta on Community.)
The show has ended its run, but a film version is being released in the UK next month. The plot revolves around the gang going on holiday to Crete, in the grand tradition of sitcoms taking things on a very special sunny vacation adventure. The show is also, unfortunately, due for an MTV remake. I’m hoping that after their version of Skins was less than successful, the executives there will change their mind on this one.