Monday, September 06, 2010

Coupla recent movies

Cemetery Junction (2010) - I rented this because it was written and directed by Gervais and Merchant, and for the time being I'll watch anything they do (despite the disappointment that was The Invention of Lying).

This movie is like a good cover song. The words and melody are very familiar, but it brings enough of its own style and little flourishes to make it enjoyable. And if the original song was good, then a good cover should be able to live off that goodness. Cemetery Junction has a wholly unoriginal story, and you can tell the arc of the main character as soon as the movie is set up. But the performances, dialogue, humor, and heart of the story are good enough to make it a worthwhile ride.

The story is about three friends at a crossroads of life in 70s England. None of them have major ambitions, though they all know they don't want to work menial jobs forever. The movie begins with the main character, played by Christian Cooke, getting a job selling life insurance for a cold Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes has an adorable daughter (played by Felicity Jones) who was childhood friends with Cooke, but is now engaged to a jerk working for Fiennes. (Can you figure out where this is going? If you guessed, "Cooke realizes he loves Jones and doesn't want to sell insurance and be a sleaze like Fiennes and his underling," well . . . I don't want to spoil it.) (But that's where it goes.)

As I mentioned, the actors carry the movie. The three friends have a great brotherhood, and made me wish I could spend an evening with them at the pub; Jones, with her delightful buck teeth, is almost too cute for words; Fiennes is an a-hole par excellence; Gervais shows up as Cooke's dad; Emily Watson has a small role as Fiennes ignored wife (nice to see her again -- she'd disappeared from my radar for years).

The 70s setting provides an excuse to have a great rock soundtrack and a brownish faded filter over the photography, and nothing else.

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) - This one gets my respect for no other reason than it completely avoided the "if you do this, you're no better than he is" speech that any other movie would have included in the end.

This is an unusual animated feature because it utilizes none of the fan-favorite voice actors from the 90s animated series. The casting choices all work (though it could be argued that it's only because they sound so much like their 90s casting counterparts). Bruce Greenwood, of recent Star Trek fame, is a great Batman choice. I read one reviewer complaining about John Di Maggio (Bender from "Futurama," in addition to million other roles) doing the Joker, but aside from reminding me of Mark Hamill's Joker, it worked just fine.

The story is nothing special until the very end. It opens with the murder of Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker. Several years later, a new villain has appeared calling himself the Red Hood. Anyone who doesn't guess that Jason Todd is the Red Hood from the moment he appears must have never watched a movie. Sure enough, it's revealed about 1/2 way in, though fortunately doesn't kid itself by selling it like the end of the Sixth Sense ("Is your mind BLOWN???"). The Red Hood is taking over all the drug trade in Gotham and eliminating competition. He has no problem killing criminals, though he never harms the innocent (hint). He also seems to have a problem with Batman (hint) and has a pretty amazing set of acrobat skills (hint hint).


By the end we see that Red Hood's whole plan was to get at the Joker and confront Batman about why he's never killed the Joker. Now this is interesting! I thought the movie was going to be a pat exercise in revenge, a simple "don't you see, Jason? You're no better than him!" But thank God the writers decided to get into that age-old moral question first posed (to my knowledge) in 1985's The Dark Knight Returns.

Jason Todd: Ignoring what he's done in the past. Blindly, stupid, disregarding the entire graveyards he's filled, the thousands of who have suffered, the friends he's crippled. You know, I thought... I thought I'd be the last person you'd ever let him hurt. If it had been you that he beat to a bloody pulp, if he had taken you from this world, I would've done nothing but search the planet for this pathetic pile of evil death-worshiping garbage and sent him off to hell.
Batman: You don't understand. I don't think you'd ever understood.
Jason Todd: What? What, your moral code just won't allow for that? It's too hard to cross that line?
Batman: No. God Almighty, no. It'd be too damned easy. All I've ever wanted to do is kill him. A day doesn't go by I don't think about subjecting him to every horrendous torture he's dealt out to others and them end him.
Joker: Aw. So you do think about me.
Batman: But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place, I'll never come back.
Jason Todd: Why? I'm not talking about killing Penguin or Scarecrow or Dent. I'm talking about him. Just him. And doing it because... Because he took me away from you.
Batman: I can't. I'm sorry.
Good stuff! Interesting dialogue and questions! Can we get more of this in our movies, please? Especially our super-hero stuff?

**end spoilers**

Also included on the disc is a Jonah Hex animated short, which was the entire reason I rented the thing in the first place. Unfortunately, it's just OK.

I have some of my usual gun complaints. The way the revolvers are illustrated and animated is weird. Pay attention when there's a close-up of a hammer being cocked. Watch the cylinder. There's all kinds of movement on screen, but none of it is logical or connected. And the hammer is a weird shape and lacks a firing pin. Later, a woman shoots a Derringer three times without reloading. A Derringer is a tiny two-barreled gun that obviously only holds two shots.

Aside from those, the story is fine, typical of one you'd find in the current series, but it's nothing particularly interesting. The animation is "good" modern-style anime-ish animation. Not my cup of tea, but not bad. The action is pretty good.