Film Roundup II

House, M.D. – 87%

I don’t do TV very much, but occasionally someone brings a show to my attention. Generally a dramatic show’s pilot episode will function more or less as a complete story, and of course it has a listing at IMDb, so I add it to the list . . . particularly if I go on to watch the entire first season of the show in question. House is now in its 4th season, and only time will tell how much longer viewers will keep coming back for Hugh Laurie’s magnificent curmudgeon shtick, but this is just about the opening episode. Laurie plays Dr. Gregory House, a character who is reverse-engineered from Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (the inspiration for the character was a doctor Doyle knew) with a hefty dose of snide, bitter cynicism. House is a brilliant diagnostic specialist at a hospital in New Jersey with a team of 3 fresh-faced, not-quite-as-brilliant interns at his beck and call, and their only job is to diagnose and treat the medical cases that no one else can figure out. In this episode, a kindergarten teacher suddenly begins spouting gobblety-gook before collapsing in her classroom, and House is on the case.

The show gets pretty formulaic during its first season, but its not a bad formula. There’s drama, suspense, emotion, and most importantly, comedy. The verbal wit regularly on display is second to none, and watching Laurie employ it is what keeps me coming back. It will ultimately come down, really, to whether viewers find themselves put off by his demeanor. I, for one, love it, just as I love Dr. Cox (John McGinley) from T.V.’s Scrubs.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs – 56%

This is a very forgettable romantic comedy that functions as a sort of reverse (and reverse-gender) Cyrano de Bergerac. Abby (Janeane Garofalo) is a successful veterinarian with her own radio talk show in which she counsels pet owners who call in for advice. Brian is a new dog owner who tunes in to the show and soon falls in love with Abby’s voice. When he arrives at the studio he runs into Abby’s friend Noelle (Uma Thurman) and mistakes her for Abby. Abby is rather self-conscious about her appearance (she needn’t be) and so convinces Noelle to stand in for her in person while she handles the relationship over the phone.

Hilarity is supposed to ensue, followed by the obvious ending. Aside from being an elongated sitcom episode, and generally becoming very tiresome very quickly when no one behaves in a way that makes sense, I suppose it has its charms. Garofalo is a fun performer, and she brightens up the screen, but overall there is little to be said about the movie. Everyone already knows whether or not they like this sort of thing before it begins, and I hardly need to say that I didn’t choose to watch it or watch it alone, or that my companion was thoroughly charmed.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story – 94%

Tristram Shandy is such a hard movie to pin down. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a movie that is about making a movie about a novel that is about writing a novel. As a result, not much happens, but lots seems to happen. Steve Coogan plays the title character, as well as the title character’s father, as well as himself, and there are smaller roles filled by Gillian Anderson and Stephen Fry and Jeremy Northam and various other people. The cast moves from scene to scene, totally out of order, of course, of the bizarre story of the life of an 18th century Englishman which in actuality never quite manages to get past the day of his birth.

Meanwhile, the main actors argue about who should have top billing, give on-set interviews, and endure last-minute script re-writes. Coogan juggles a visiting girlfriend who has their newborn son in tow and his personal assistant, who he feels just a little attracted to, and all around them is the delightful chaos and quirkiness of a group of people trying to make a successful and coherent film out of an obscure and incoherent book that none of them has read. It’s the sort of spectacle that suffers a bit on repeated viewings, when the sheer originality has worn off a bit, but mostly it’s colorful fun with an off-beat brilliance that I find it difficult not to appreciate.

The Pacifier – 34%

When you come right down to it, I don’t really know which I hate more: movies starring Vin Diesel or low-grade family movies that children enjoy and the adults that brought them suffer through. The Pacifier manages to combine them both into a single stink-tastic package of bad . . . and it’s not even a movie that hasn’t already been made a few dozen times. Diesel plays Shane Wolfe, a consummate Navy SEAL whose mission to protect a government scientist ended in failure and disgrace. Now, while the scientist’s wife is flown to a Swiss bank to help retrieve a secret formula, Wolfe will attempt to redeem himself by protecting the scientist’s five children from foreign operatives. Start plugging in the cliches and go.

Wolfe is a hardened special-ops type who approaches this mission as he would any other, in a completely businesslike fashion. Of course at first he finds things getting a bit out of control (queue slapstick, out-of-your-element fun), and his relationship with the children is non-existent. Slowly, the kids and the soldier start to thaw, he gets the hang of suburban life and starts a little romance with the kids’ principal (Lauren Graham). Ultimately, he not only masters the nanny job and solves the kids’ various major problems, but also discovers that the secret formula has been hidden in the house all along, allowing for a little more genuine action at the climax before the heartwarming conclusion rolls in. Vin Diesel doesn’t take himself very seriously in this film, which is all to the good (because, seriously . . .) and allows for a few moments of solid movie. Other than that and a few mediocre plot twists to keep things interesting, The Pacifier is pure boilerplate.

Big – 78%

I remember first enjoying Big as a kid . . . and I was definitely in the target audience. This was Tom Hanks’ first major success and it’s been mostly uphill from here. Josh, a 12-year-old boy, ages 18 years over night when he makes a wish to be bigger at a mysterious fortune-telling machine in a traveling carnival. Kicked out of the house by his own mother (who doesn’t recognize him) he heads for the big city. Uncertain how to act like an adult, he naturally gets a job at a toy company and manages to impress the CEO with his childlike spirit and his ability to both pick and design successful toys. Meanwhile, a co-worker (Elizabeth Perkins) is falling in love with him. But how long will he have to keep pretending to be grown-up when inside he still feels like a kid?

Clocking in at over 2 hours, it is definitely too long, and more than a little depressing from time to time (again, partially thanks to the length). But Hanks completely sells the idea that he is 12 even though he looks 30. Never for a moment do you doubt that this is just a really adult kid, or remember that you’re only watching a movie and this is really a grown-up pretending to be young. It’s a great feat and a great gag that keeps things going even when you know it’s time for it all to be over.

~ by Jared on November 5, 2007.

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