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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

my week at the movies: ‘Knocked Up,’ ‘Once,’ ‘Away from Her,’ ‘Memories of Tomorrow,’ ‘Fay Grim,’ ‘1408,’ ‘Evening’

I hate, hate, hate this poster! What if this guy got you pregnant? I hate to sound like one of those awful anti-sex, anti-woman prudes, but just the concept of this flick is enough to make me concede they might have a point: If the idea of “this guy” fathering your child makes you want to hurl, then what the hell were you doing in bed with him in the first place? Maybe that’s the idea: maybe there’s a virulent conservative mean streak a mile wide running through Knocked Up. (Oh, man, do I hate the crudity of that title, too.) Maybe cloaked in the “comedy” is a vicious object lesson for women: get pregnant by “this guy,” and you’ll have no choice but to get tethered to him for the rest of your life. Cuz it’s not like there are other options when a woman finds herself unexpectedly and unwantedly in a family way… at least none that this flick will broach, I’m sure. I’ll find out tonight. I’m going to torture myself by sitting through this. I am not looking forward to it. [opens June 1]

A couple films are already playing in New York City that I missed at press screenings, but must catch this week — the buzz on them has been amazing. Once [now playing in limited release; expands June 1] is the Irish musical romance that all my critic friends are raving over, so I’ve got to see what all the fuss is about. Away from Her is from actor-turned-director Sarah Polley, and stars Julie Christie as a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s… and that seems like the perfect partner for the Japanese film Memories of Tomorrow, which stars Ken Watanabe as a man struck by early onset Alzheimer’s; the film is traveling to different cities around North America this summer. I’ve had a DVD screener of that one for a while, and it’s about time I finally watched it.
Speaking of DVD… Fay Grim is Hal Hartley’s new comedy — Parker Posey stars as a housewife who gets caught up in international espionage — and I’ve got a screener of that one that I really should get around to watching this week. [now on DVD]

The movie I’m most looking forward to seeing this week is 1408. It’s based on a short story by Stephen King, and it’s directed by Mikael Håfström, who made the underrated Derailed a couple years back. But mostly I’m looking forward to it because it stars John Cusack, who can Do No Wrong, and Samuel Jackson, who can Do No Wrong, and Tony Shalhoub, who — yup — can Do No Wrong. Even when they’re in bad movies, they’re good, and I’m not entirely sure this one won’t be bad: Cusack’s character plays a skeptical writer who stays in a supposedly haunted hotel room — No. 1408 — and gets his mind blown, or something. [opens June 22]

I’m also hoping to get to a screening this week of Evening, which looks like it might be the goopiest chick flick of the summer. It’s got a great cast — Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Claire Danes, Toni Collette — but it’s about a dying mom and secrets she doesn’t tell her daughters and lost romance and the potential for major melodrama seems unavoidable. I’m putting great hope in director Lajos Koltai: this is the second film since he turned from cinematography to directing, and his first, Fateless, did avoid sticky sentiment. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed. [opens June 29]

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  • Watched Fay Grim when it aired on HDNet Movies earlier this month. It was a fun film, with some pretty good verbal interplay between the characters, but it’s kind of obvious that Hal Hartley has bigger ideas than he’s really capable of directing. Maybe it’s just budget constraints, I dunno. (For example, a gun fight is shown as a series of still images. Other action is implied or half-shown.) Parker Posey is really good in this film, as she usually is… her range of facial expressions is just incredible, and the bit with her cellphone is priceless. Jeff Goldblum plays, well, Jeff Goldblum. I wouldn’t have paid movie theatre prices to see this, but seeing it free on HDNM or a DVD rental would be worthwhile.

    1408 looks like it will be really good. (At least the premise is good; how well it’s executed is another story entirely.) I will definitely be seeing it when it hits theatres.

    I really liked The 40-Year-Old Virgin, so I’ll probably go see Knocked Up this weekend.

  • JoshDM

    Marketing is a crappy entity. They always screw things up just to get noticed.

    “Knocked Up” is from the guys who gave us “Freaks and Geeks”, “Undeclared” and “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, and those three are excellent reasons to go SEE the movie before tossing it straight into a funeral pyre.

    I wonder how you’ll handle the forthcoming “Superbad” and the in-development “Pineapple Express”, both also from the same Apataw production company.

  • nerdycellist

    I saw Knocked Up a few months ago, and it is the most sexist, offensive film I’ve seen – and what’s worse, it’s no particularly funny. What we learn from the film is that all women are shrill harridan bitches, and men are selfish doofuses. With the added bonus of several gags (“oh no! I went into the delivery room and saw a woman giving birth!” and “ZOMG! You’re having a baby and you’re not married?!?”) that have been done funnier on most low-level sitcoms. I have to admit, the two leads had enough charisma and likeability that I kept hoping the movie would get better, but nope…

    In short, I’m sorry you have to sit through the thing, but I look forward to your review!

  • MaryAnn

    “Knocked Up” is from the guys who gave us “Freaks and Geeks”, “Undeclared” and “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, and those three are excellent reasons to go SEE the movie before tossing it straight into a funeral pyre.

    Actually, no, the fact that this is from the same guys who gave us *The 40-Year-Old Virgin* is an EXCELLENT reason to hate *Knocked Up* before I’ve even seen it. Apatow has come far down from the good stuff he was doing on TV.

    And, now that I’ve seen the movie, I can say that it is EXACTLY what I thought it would be: a horrible rubber-stamp on the most retrograde expression of American pop culture’s idea of a supposed barely acknowledged ceasefire in the war between the sexes. I wanted to scream with rage through most of the film, and then I was horribly depressed.

    I wonder how you’ll handle the forthcoming “Superbad”

    Not well at all, I imagine.

  • JT

    I’m really glad to hear you hated Knocked Up. The trend I’ve noticed is that critics will generally like a movie (Anchorman, The 40-Year Old Virgin), but you will hate it because you think it’s sexist, then I’ll go watch it and find it hilarious. So far, reviews are 90% on the Tomatometer with very positive reactions. I’m going to go on Friday and hope it’s 3/3.

  • MaryAnn

    So 90 percent of critics are idiots, or — more likely — juvenile “men” themselves.

    I’m delighted there are movies like *Knocked Up* around. I can use them to weed out potential mates: any adult man who finds this film hilarious I can automatically cross off my list.

    And I don’t “think” *Knocked Up* is sexist — it *is* sexist, and the gender that comes off the worst, by far, is the male. So few men seem to appreciate that feminism is about freeing men from gender stereotypes, too.

  • MBI

    Fuck freeing men from gender stereotypes. I demand stereotypes. Stereotype me!

  • MBI

    “Actually, no, the fact that this is from the same guys who gave us *The 40-Year-Old Virgin* is an EXCELLENT reason to hate *Knocked Up* before I’ve even seen it.”

    I know you’ve already reviewed *40-Year-Old Virgin*, but I’m not sure I understood your complaints. It’s much less mean-spirited than the fairly similar *Napoleon Dynamite*, certainly. It’s definitely not beyond criticism (that scene where Catherine Keener finds his porn is just awful), but I thought it deserved more than the short blurb you gave it.

  • MaryAnn

    I demand stereotypes. Stereotype me!

    Care to explain what you mean by this?

    I know you’ve already reviewed *40-Year-Old Virgin*, but I’m not sure I understood your complaints. It’s much less mean-spirited than the fairly similar *Napoleon Dynamite*, certainly.

    I don’t think it’s similar to *Napoleon Dynamite* at all. It’s all about tone… and this is the problem with the subgenre of humiliation comedy as Hollywood approaches it. Movies like 40YOV want us to feel sympathy toward the very characters they brutalize: they’re sentimental and degrading at the same time. But there’s not one whit of phony sentiment in *Napoleon Dynamite,* which, ironically makes Napoleon a far more sympathetic character in the long run. We may find him funny, but he doesn’t find himself funny — he’s not a joke to himself, and the movie doesn’t treat him as less than human. But 40YOV’s Andy is the butt of the film’s joke, and so he becomes a cartoon — he’s not a real human being, and certain aspects of the film that are attempting to make him such (like Carell’s performance) are at war with the other aspects that just want to use him as a punching bag.

  • “Movies like 40YOV want us to feel sympathy toward the very characters they brutalize…”

    I would argue that such a tactic actually makes the characters less cartoony. Having a character you can both sympathise with and mock suggests they are relatively well-rounded. And I do think the word “brutalize” is a bit strong. Andy’s friends find his situation strange and amusing, but in their own (relatively incompetent) ways they do try to help.

    On the other hand, I found Napoleon Dynamtie to be much more mean-spirited. It was “here’s a complete loser, he doesn’t even know he’s a loser, so laugh at him”. It’s pointing the nerd at us and saying “mock him!”.

    Well that’s how I saw ’em anyway… :)

  • MBI

    Napoleon doesn’t consider himself funny because, like ants and other lower creatures, he doesn’t seem to have any awareness of his own existence. You may be the only person in the universe who would try to argue that Napoleon isn’t a cartoon. (I also consider the ending of ND the very definition of condescending and phony.)

    Your points about the humiliation subgenre are well-taken, though. Wouldn’t call the sentiment “phony” but it certainly sits very uncomfortably next to the humiliation parts. I think it applies less to 40YOV and more towards Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson’s barrage of endlessly similar movies; hell, “There’s Something About Mary” is practically the genre’s progenitor.

  • Scott P.

    “I’m delighted there are movies like *Knocked Up* around. I can use them to weed out potential mates: any adult man who finds this film hilarious I can automatically cross off my list.”

    Looks like I will have to add Mary Ann to the constantly-expanding list of women who have rejected me. :(

  • Phil Urich

    While I disagree in several ways with your negative reactions to the movies in question (I find it somewhat hilarious how you hated Anchorman but loved Talladegga Nights, while a critic in my city’s main paper thought the opposite and you both gave nearly identical rationales, definitely a tale of perspective), I do nonetheless agree that Judd Apatow’s works have gone downhill since his television days (and myself I wasn’t really looking forward to Knocked Up at all, despite how much I like Seth Rogen and many of his old co-stars).

    Have you listened to the commentary tracks on the Undeclared DVDs? Besides being entertaining, they’re also quite enlightening. Judd Apatow would certainly *like* to make TV shows in the way that he had before . . .

  • MaryAnn

    Have you listened to the commentary tracks on the Undeclared DVDs?

    Yup.

  • I’m so not surprised Knocked Up was bad. I figured it would be an hour of unfunny sexist slapstick, and then a shoehorned sappy ending about how love and family conquer all. Bleh. I’ll be happy to skip it.

  • MaryAnn

    You’ve pretty much pegged it, BZero.

  • Phil Urich

    “Yup.”

    Ah, good, good. It would have been a shame for you of all people to have missed it! (But stranger and more tragic things have happened, naturally).

  • Danielle

    I would really, really, REALLY love it if Once came to my town, but we only have two theatres, and right now they’re both jam-packed with the May blockbusters. And now add Knocked Up to the mix, yech.

    Waitress was here last weekend, and like a dummy I didn’t go see it. I doubt it’s stuck around this weekend.

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