Film Roundup XVII

Shrek 2 – 74%

When last we left him, Shrek the Ogre (Mike Myers) had rescued Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a dragon and the two had gotten married (with Fiona discovering her own inner ogre). But before they can live happily ever after, Shrek has to meet the parents, who happen to be the rulers of Far Far Away. And, as if in-law troubles weren’t enough, the stunningly good-looking Prince Charming and his mother are not happy that Fiona has broken off the arranged marriage to Charming. They’ll do anything to throw a kink in the works. All of the surviving characters from the first Shrek return, most notably Donkey (Eddie Murphy), for this latest adventure.

Shrek 2 scored big with audiences, becoming the highest-grossing animated movie of all time. Its immense popularity however, is no indication of quality. Lacking the fresh originality of its predecessor, Shrek 2 opted for a bedazzling display of crowd-pleasing maneuvers: more celebrity voices (including John Cleese, Julie Andrews, and Rupert Everett), more overtly adult humor, and a non-stop barrage of pop culture references. The result is an unmistakably entertaining but undeniably soulless display of marketing elan. Enjoyable but forgettable, in another decade or two no one will understand the jokes anymore and Shrek 2 will fade quietly into the vast dark of cultural irrelevance.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie – 91%

Perhaps the greatest TV show concept in history journeyed to the big screen for a single outing after eight years on the air (it would continue for another three). A hapless average guy (Mike Nelson) is trapped aboard an orbiting satellite by an evil scientist, who monitors his brainwaves while forcing him to watch the most awful movies ever filmed. In an effort to retain his sanity, Mike hauls his robot buddies, Crow and Tom Servo, into the theater with him each week and the three mock these stinkers mercilessly for our amusement. “The Movie” is merely an episode of the television show produced with a much higher budget. The film under consideration is 1955 sci-fi cheese-fest This Island Earth, and the boys are in rare form, offering a consistently hilarious commentary track with breaks for the occasional wacky skit. Fans of the show won’t want to miss this, and non-fans will experience an excellent introduction to the series here, so that they may join the rest of us as soon as possible.

Gunga Din – 80%

Loosely based on the poem by Rudyard Kipling, Gunga Din stars Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as three mischievous British sergeants stationed in India. The three are alerted to an uprising of the dangerous Thuggee cult by the loyal Indian Gunga Din, and must stop it single-handedly in their last great adventure together before one of them goes off to get married. If they play their cards right, they might just get rich off the deal, as well. This is a classic, much-beloved swashbuckling adventure flick from the late-1930s, but I feel that it has at least somewhat outlived its appeal. The film is frequently rather dull, and Grant’s Cockney (despite his being a native Brit) is jarringly painful to listen to. Nevertheless, it certainly has its moments of both high adventure and chuckle-worthy humor, and its status isn’t accidental.

The Muppets Take Manhattan – 86%

Jim Henson’s beloved Muppets crash Broadway in their third screen outing, but can’t find anyone who will agree to put on their show. Forced to separate and find real jobs, trouble arises when Kermit is hit by a car and develops amnesia, but you can be sure that everything will work out in the end. There’s no reason to skip this movie if you appreciate the Muppet oeuvre, all the more so as it was the final Muppet outing before the death of their creator, and the difference is pretty clear. The Muppets are frequently bizarre and occasionally cheesy, but always enjoyable.

Primer – 78%

A couple of whip-smart engineers accidentally design a time machine while experimenting with superconductors. The catch: You can only travel backwards, and only to the point where you first turned the machine on. The two initially exploit their new technology to play the stock market, but soon become inextricably enmeshed in a trackless labyrinth of paranoia and obsession thanks to their lack of scruples. Primer is an interesting study; a low-budget, small-scale independent production which certainly breaks the mold of traditional storytelling. Its downfall is in its inaccessibility: good luck figuring any of it out after just one viewing. There is certainly something to be said for refusing to concede to the audience, but any movie that requires an enormous multi-layered diagram to understand should really consider simplifying.

~ by Jared on November 14, 2008.

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