Monthly Archives: January 2006

Just Friends

This seems to be a rare example of the “Romantic Comedy For Guys” sub-genre. Maybe it’s because the comedy is more strongly emphasized than the romance; maybe it’s because the protagonist Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds) is portrayed in a quite ambiguous way–he might actually still be a complete jerk, rather than the fully reformed character a romantic comedy would generally have the leading man become. Nor is it a sex-filled or gross-out comedy designed to appeal to Men’s lower-brainstem sense of humour. Sure, there are plenty of base laughs, but the film also has its share of subtlety.

The story is that Chris Brander was an overweight geek in high-school nerd, and madly in love with his best friend Jamie Palomino (Amy Smart). His confession of eternal love for her gets intercepted by a loutish classmate, and he ends up laughed out of Jamie’s graduation party. Now, ten years later, he is a good-looking, successful record producer in LA, and an accomplished ladies man. Under orders from his boss (a short, but funny turn from Stephen Root), he is courting talentless pin-up Samantha James (Anna Faris) to try and get her to sign to their label. A trip to Paris turns sour, and the two of them end up in Chris’s home town in New Jersey, which he hasn’t visisted leaving school. When he bumps into Jamie in a bar, he finds that he is still in love with her, and he is determined to pursue her. This is made difficult, however, by the spoiled, psychotic starlet on his arm.

With its themes of ambiguous homecoming and interrupted romance, it has touches of Grosse Pointe Blank to it, but Just Friends never tries to be that profound, or to explore the cognitive dissonance a ten-year gap can wreak. It takes a few key threads and plays them for laughs, but most of the story is about the here and now: Chris’s attempts to get Samantha out of his hair, his failed attempts to impress Jamie with the person he has become, and his clashes with a rival suitor.

I love Ryan Reynolds, but I think he’s at his best when he underplays his comedy. There are some scenes where he hams up his performance in a Jim Carrey/Ben Stiller style, and they just didn’t work for me. Amy Smart is more than equal to him as a romantic foil, and Anna Faris is splendidly disturbed. Overall, it’s a far better better and funnier film than I had been expecting based on the trailer. It’s not a classic, but I certainly walked out with a smile on my face.

Gangster No.1

In the late 1960s, Freddie Mays (David Thewlis) is the quintessential gentleman ganster. Ruthless, impeccably dressed, and with a reputation for style. The unnamed ganger of the title is played by Paul Bettany (as a young man) and Malcolm McDowell (as his older self, 30 years later). Freddie Mays takes on this gangster as a young thug, and crafts him into one of his sharp-dressed, tough-as-nails crew. But Gangster wants more than that–he craves the power that Freddie Mays has, his money, his lifestyle, his easy way with women. He burns himself up with this obsession. And when he is finally in a position to take it all for himself, he discoveres that the victory his hollow. It’s a powerful and brutal film, with a great–and highly disturbing–performance by Paul Bettany.

Underworld: Evolution

Well, that wasn’t offensively bad. Just lacking any kind of internal logic. And a sense of direction. And some idea of what the hell is going on with Marcus, and what Selene is “becoming”, and, oh, sod it. It’s a bit crap. It takes ages to warm up (although I suspect it would work better if viewed immediately after Underworld), the action sequences lack a sense of danger, and the whole thing is really dark. (I know it all takes place at night and in gloomy locations, but surely they could have added a bit of sparkle.)

Still, Kate Beckinsale looks nice, so the time wasn’t entirely wasted.

Open Water

While on a holiday diving trip, Susan and Daniel are accidentally left behind in the middle of the ocean. There are sharks. The film watches them as they start out hopeful that they’ve just drifted out of range of the boat, but gradually come to the realization that they have truly been left behind, with little hope of rescue. Despite the horrific situation, this isn’t horror as such. It’s a tense drama about two people in the most desperate of circumstances as they try to hold mind and body together. The digital video cinematography gives the feeling of holiday footage, which makes it all seem even more real. I thought it was a good film, but I found it very uncomfortable to watch.

Ripley’s Game

Portrait of a sociopath: Tom Ripley (John Malkovitch) takes umbrage at a drunken remark from his neighbour Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott), and convinces a former associate of his to recruit him as a hit man. Ripley manipulates people because he can, because it amuses him. Right and wrong don’t come into it, and yet he does live by a set of rules. These rules force him to intervene when Trevanny gets in over his head. Trevanny, a fundamentally honest and caring man and tragic figure, mistakes this intervention for compassion, and–tragically–acts according to his nature. In the end, the film leaves open the question of whether Trevanny’s actions have left Ripley a changed man, or if his new insights into human nature are merely fodder for further psychological games.

Cheaper By The Dozen 2

Cheaper By The Dozen had a strong story about shifting parental responsibilities in the modern world, while at the same time being a chaotic comedy about a household with twelve kids. This sequel is structured around an old rivalry between Tom Baker (Steve Martin) and rich over-achiever Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy), and a conflict over how they raise their kids. Whereas the first story felt relevant, and had original things to say, this one feels frivolous and absurdly obvious in its message. The funny bits aren’t quite as clever or as well observed. Overall, it just feels like a poor reflection of the first film. Amusing, but unnecessary.