Sunday, July 3, 2011

Monte Carlo

Sometimes, the studios get things right. I watched Monte Carlo with a smile on my face for almost the entire length of the movie. It is warm, it is fun, and it is my official selection as the feel-good movie of the year so far.

A recent high school graduate and two friends go to Paris where the grad is mistaken for a runaway heiress. She reluctantly carpes the diem and steps in to the heiress' life. This is hardly a new formula but Monte Carlo does it with style, never getting too sentimental or slapstick. Many things could have gone wrong making Monte Carlo, but it seems none of them did.

Selena Gomez plays the doppelganger/gangee, and was in last summer's feel good movie, Ramona and Beezus. Selena would appear to have a great future in romantic comedies. Her friends are played by Katie Cassidy, whom I've only seen in one other thing, and Leighton Meester, who seems to appear in every movie that Natalie Portman isn't in. Slow down, kid. They are both refreshing as the polar opposites who have their own adventures while participating in the impersonation. Again, they could have easily gone over the top, but showed restraint and elegance to help us take the movie seriously.

All-in-all, Monte Carlo - the movie - looks like a nice place to visit.

The enjoyment quotient of Monte Carlo might have been helped by one of the previews before the show.*  It was promoting a drama about a romance between Amy Adams and Jason Segal gone awry. Or did it? It's really a preview for a new Muppets movie and after Segal looks at the audience and asks in disbelief, "Are there Muppets in this movie?" all heck breaks loose. Could be fun. Definitely a good warm up for Monte Carlo.


* Yes, I realize that's redundant.

Midnight in Paris

I used to have a rule about Woody Allen movies. It was "Don't go see them." The rule was instituted while watching Deconstructing Harry in 1997, and it took years for me to go see another one. Several more years passed before I actually enjoyed one. Midnight in Paris more than makes up for all the Woody Allen dogs I've sat through over the years.

Owen Wilson plays a writer who doesn't realize he's going through a mid-life crisis. He's engaged to a woman of extremely limited vision, played to a T by Rachel McAdams. Her parents, extremely wealthy but infinitely declasse, have dragged the couple to Paris. He goes for a walk one night and - avoiding spoilers - stumbles into what can only be described as an adult Narnia. As his relationship whithers, his horizons expand.

Midnight in Paris could have been sponsored by the Paris Tourism Bureau, as the city is photographed in the best possible light and looks just gorgeous. There were many literary and cultural references that went over my head, but I caught enough to enjoy. I especially liked a scene where the writer, fiance and some friends are discussing something trivial, like wine or whatever, and when the camera pans around, you see they are standing in the front lawn of Versailles like it was the most ordinary place in the world.

Midnight in Paris is the antidote to the plethora of brainless movies we've seen lately. It is the best movie of the year, so far, for the thinking person.


Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher looks like it will be a typical redemption comedy. You know, somebody is on the wrong path, they hit rock bottom then get redeemed, usually with some public display of contrition and a happily ever after moment at the end. It's a genre; it's a formula.  Bad Teacher has none of it.

Cameron Diaz is amazing as a slacker with a teacher's license looking for a sugar daddy. She's shallow, insensitive, lazy and manipulative. And those are her good points. What I liked is that - I'll do this without a spoiler - she doesn't change over the course of the movie. It's more like she runs out of energy looking for what she desires and finds that what she has isn't so bad. Watching her go through the motions, being a jerk and making bad decisions is hilarious. But what I just described is only what makes Bad Teacher a good movie. What makes it a great movie is...

Lucy Punch. Lucy is an amazing comic sidekick. You've seen her before as the wicked stepsister in Ella Enchanted, the hapless lifestyle reporter on the short-lived TV show The Class or any of dozens of bit parts in TV and movies. Not really destined to be a lead actor, she dived into the part of the neurotically competitive straight-arrow teacher across the hall with gusto, not afraid to make with the crazy. And make with the crazy she does, giving us sight gags and punch lines in every scene. I am in awe.

Bad Teacher could easily get lost amidst all the other movies released in the summer season because it doesn't look like anything special, but if you're looking for some subversive laughs and nothing sweet or redemptive, seek out Bad Teacher.


Transformers 3

I don't know where to start on Transformers 3. I have so few good things to say about it but it seems rude to start with the bad. Hmm...

Let's start with the length. Transformers 3 is two hours and twenty six minutes long. Really. I suspect that every human being that made the decision to see the movie was not influenced at all by running time, so they could have saved a third or a quarter of the budget by making it 30-45 minutes shorter. Simple economics. And much more merciful to the viewer.

How about product placement? Every computer shown was a Lenovo; every router was a Cisco. Every beverage had a brand name showing and they even took us to the Mercedes Benz website. Enough.

The major badbots have a case of talking-villain syndrome. They each say too much of their plans to the good guys, to their henchbots or even when they talk to themselves. It's laughable. The screenwriter needs to take a remedial course in exposition. Oh, and who thought it was a good idea to have the badbot voiced by Leonard Nimoy quote dialog by Mr Spock?  Campy...

Then, there's Chicago. The last 45 minutes or so was an extended battle scene that essentially destroys downtown Chicago. The bad guys were implementing their final plan and could have set up shop anywhere on the planet, an unpopulated, defensible area maybe, but no, they chose Chicago for no apparent reason. Most of the sequence was just explosion-porn, which is fine, but too much is too much.

Here's something neither good nor bad. The leading lady, replacing Megan Fox, is basically a lookalike for Megan Fox. Since she's not playing the same character, they really didn't have to stick with the same image, but it's fine that they did. During the destroy-Chicago sequence, the leading lady went from wearing 4" heels to flats and back to heels sometimes in the same scene. The fact that I had enough time to focus on her footware says a little something about the Chicago sequence.

How about some good?  There is some good in Transformers 3.  The same leading lady with the heels does more to win the battle with her brain than all of the autobots and Army guys combined. The cheesecake in a Transformers movie turns out to be a good role model for young girls. Whoda thunk?

All-in-all, Transformers 3 is pretty much the movie that you have already imagined it to be, only longer, louder and less coherent. There is a place for such movies, but be cautious if you think this is the blow-'em-up movie for you.  It has none of the heart of the first one and might not even be as good as the second one (and the second one wasn't very good at all).

2:26; released in 3D; viewed in 2D