Rewind Review: Dinner for Schmucks

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Dinner for Schmucks

As per usual one thing you will not find in this review is a comparison to the original, The Dinner Game. It was a film I was unaware of before this release. I will be sure to look for it. Now for the film at hand.

One of the things that this film does rather effectively is that it puts its cast in a position to shine. Steve Carrell is at his Brick Tamland best in this part, though clearly brighter. Paul Rudd is most at home as a straight man and does a fine job here. Zach Galifianakis shows a different kind of character than he brought to the screen in The Hangover. Jemaine Clement brings his offbeat, irreverence in a role tailored for him and in an inspired piece of casting it was good to see Ron Livingston, of the soon-to-be-classic Office Space, play the kind of character he despised in that film
One great thing this film does is that it manages to avoid Sorry For Him Syndrome. This is a risk that comedies like this face and that Jay Roach has failed at on occasion. When dealing with a protagonist in a comedy who has the world come caving in on him usually through unfortunate coincidence there is a chance that it will be taken too far and thus you start to feel sorry for him and it ceases to be funny. It’s a bullet the director didn’t quite dodge in Meet the Parents but does here. How that happens is that ultimately you realize that Tim (Paul Rudd) is in the wrong for putting Barry (Steve Carell) in this situation.

dinner_for_schmucks_12

Another thing that is rather surprising is that even in a film that typically gravitates towards lowbrow humor it does manage to create a lovable loser and build his character through a few montages. It uses his unusual taxidermy art to show who he is. Which is crucial with a character who is so seemingly socially inept and unintelligent it is necessary to make the audience understand him and give him some dimension.

Similarly, the building of Barry’s nemesis is also deft as Therman (Zach Galifianakis) is first just his workplace nemesis and then permeates Barry’s whole existence.

The only danger the film ever really runs into is just becoming too convoluted in the number of ways Tim’s life gets messed up by this one chance encounter. However, the film does have the predictability that allows you to know that things will resolve themselves and all you’re really anticipating is the dinner itself which thankfully dominates the third act though it could’ve gone a bit longer.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS

With many technical positives going for it that brings us to the crux of the matter: How funny is it? It’s pretty funny, it’s not hysterical but definitely good for a laugh and worth checking out.
It is a film that may grow on replay value but is unlikely to ever reach any sort of classic status on that basis like Anchorman did.
In the end this is a return to form for Jay Roach as one of the better comedy directors around. It’s a funny, wacky good-natured romp.

7/10

Review- Men in Black 3

To be entirely honest, I was not planning on watching it but circumstance conspired such that I did. I, like most people I believe, did enjoy Men in Black when it first rolled around. As this latest installment was coming down the pike I was hearing chatter about it compared to Part II, and count me in the camp of those who have no recollection of Part II whatsoever, and based on what I’ve heard that’s all for the best. This is all a very long way of saying that this film wasn’t playing with house money with my being a fan. Conversely, it was also coming sixteen years after the last Men in Black that I do have some recollection of, so I was pretty much an open book.

The only news items I heard that made up my pre-life with this film were the ridiculously overblown reports of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber being aliens, which constitutes their likenesses appearing on background monitors in the beginning.

Ah, the beginning, what an ungodly mess it is. Apparently one of the old screenwriting axioms doesn’t really apply here; there’s nothing easy about getting through this first act. It is slow, stilted and uncertain of itself until the mission is embarked upon. What’s perhaps even more perplexing is that the film does get better but the beginning is slow and bad such that it makes recovery difficult. Needless to say that when I discovered, after having seeing it, that principal photography began and the script had not been finalized, I was not surprised in the slightest.

It’s also a bit like that half-baked ethos carried through post-production in regards to the edit. There are two neuralyzer scenes that make little to no sense, add no humor and do not really advance the plot in anyway. In fact, they’re so dubious that even Will Smith seems as if he’s just going through the motions in these sections. Whereas that doesn’t necessarily really ring true for the rest of the film. In a film that has such issues getting off the ground any other extraneous material’s impact is multiplied. Not even to mention the fact that there is a severe shortage of humor in this particular installment, there are chuckles to be had but there’s nowhere near the level of fun that these films are supposed to engender.

The more enjoyable moments in the film are provided by Josh Brolin’s hilariously deadpan take on Tommy Lee Jones and Michael Stuhlbarg’s wonderfully quirky Griffin. Jemaine Clement, who is usually hilarious here is more intent on being creepy as Boris the Animal, and while that succeeds the film could’ve benefitted from a bit more levity, especially given the ending.

When your film already has its issues and is only minimally interesting things like the nearly unavoidable time traveling paradoxes that arise are allowed to occupy more of your attention than they really ought to.

Given the fact that portions of the second and third did work on an intermittent basis, it’s really unfortunate that this film proceeded full speed ahead instead of righting the ship before they got rolling. As it stands, the film is an unfortunate mess that’s a waste of time and talent.

5/10

Review- Rio

Rio (20th Century Fox)

For any viewer, regardless of your experience, academic acumen or whatever other qualifications you may have, there will invariably be occasions where a film plays into a sensitive area for you where it’ll either excel with flying colors or fail miserably, perhaps to a greater degree than it would otherwise, due to your personal experience. In the case of Rio it was targeted on my radar early on for two reasons: first, and the lesser of the two reasons, for my love of birds and conversely my loathing of smuggling but it hit home more because it’s set in Brazil, a nation of which I am a dual citizen.

Having been one who grew up cinematically with only Carmen Miranda and the anti-Lambada propaganda film The Forbidden Dance as major reference of American interpretations of Brazil onscreen my apprehension is understandable. Not that there’s anything wrong with Carmen Miranda but any icon can be turned into a stereotype in the wrong hands.

Suffice it to say that most of my concerns are addressed by the fact that one of the film’s writers and its director is a Brazilian, Carlos Saldanha. Yet, you also do not get a Disney-fied Saludos Amigos or Three Cabelleros rendition of Latin America, you have in the narrative of this film a setting which actually plays a role, which is rare but also one that is presented without frills and bereft of commentary. You see the glitz and glamor of Rio, the natural beauty, the beach life, the skyline at night, carnaval but also the favelas and in a minor way, crime. It’s a subtle but accurate portrait that doesn’t impose itself above the story. It shows the good and the bad. So with that personal concern overcome I can begin to address the rest of the film.

When dealing with animation set overseas there are invariably headaches of logic. There’s always the minor bugaboo of when do you float a word in said foreign language that English speakers will readily recognize? How many Brazilians and/or actors of Hispanic descent do you include in the cast? Now, there’s only one Brazilian in the principal cast, however, considering that many Brazilian actors have recently been cast as either Hispanic or “Vaguely Foreign” characters (such as Rodrigo Santoro himself in Love Actually) it all comes out in the wash.

In fact, quite a lot the voice talent does quite well either toeing that line or just being convincing that it makes you forget. Jesse Eiesenberg conveys the stressed, caged bird in the wild well and also has the unexpected task of struggling/learning to embrace his newfound culture. Anne Hathaway, perhaps more than any other name actor in the cast, vanishes behind the veneer of her character. Thankfully she is given license to sing and the few seconds of Portuguese she’s asked to speak sounds good.

The rest of the voice cast does rather well as a whole also. One of the most distinctive and hardest voices to overcome is George Lopez’s but his shtick with his wife is funny enough such that you eventually forget. While Tracy Morgan always sounds like himself it works in tandem with his character so well that it doesn’t matter. Will i. am provides the most consistent comic relief and perhaps the most overlooked voice work belongs to Jake T. Austin, perhaps best known for his work on Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place, he convincingly comes across as not only a Brazilian kid but also one who’s younger than he is.

The story of this film resolves itself quite neatly. It gets just the right amount of complication what with the smuggling plots getting aided with a scene-stealing performance by a Cockatoo (Jemaine Clement, who thankfully is also allowed to sing). Events head for the collision course you hope they’ll have and while there are dueling love plots and a heist everything thing has its proper priority within the infrastructure of the narrative. There’s more going on here than meets the eye with many of the villains not willing to do their own dirty work, such that you can see how it may be described as a mess but it truly does all work towards one end.

And that end is truly one of the more graceful and visual I’ve seen in some time. You realize the film is all but over and there are at least three questions/open ends you’re wondering about that are addressed in a few shots and wordlessly, without any lengthy denouement. It’s a thing of beauty of behold.

Moreover, it’s a musical that’s actually musical, meaning there are a few musical numbers where characters breakout and sing but not once does it seem random and forced. The score is tremendous and very present and when it’s not there it’s replaced by source music, which is usually a new take on a Brazilian standard. It’s another example of the synergy of location. The score is indigenous without feeling forced or trite. Even incorporating Samba beats the score and source music still underscores the action tonally.

I typically leave the 3D commentary for near the end when I do see something in 3D. I did see it as such and my general feeling is that right now animation, specifically animation by the biggest studios (Disney/Pixar, DreamWorks, Fox/Blue Sky) is usually your best bet for getting the most bang for your buck 3D-wise.

The animated feature film has become more of a box office and aesthetic presence than it ever was. It has truly grown in leaps and bounds over the history of cinema as something that was virtually a one-studio specialty to a medium that has become, at long last, a bona fide Oscar category. Having said that the category has been virtually monopolized. It’ll be very hard to justify that this year with Rio entering the fray I think.

As I may have said before, I now treat sitting through the end credits like a standing ovation. Considering the fact that I was so apprehensive about seeing it in the first place, I truly did not expect to watch this film all the way to its literal conclusion. Rio is a tremendously effervescent film that actually manages to capture some of the spirit of the city in a very honest way.

10/10