Sunday, November 7, 2010

First runs: Due Date misses the deadline

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Studios.

This is one of these films where I came out of the theater, went home, sat in front my laptop and ran my fingers through my hair because I really don't know where to start with this one. It's not as bad as the Clash of the Titans remake, of course watching bread rise is better than that.

Due Date, simply put, is a weird film. It actually made me nervous. Like, oh my god, oh my god, what horrible thing is going to happen next kind of nervous. I'm not sure that's really how you are supposed to feel during a comedy. Director Todd Phillips, who did amazing work with The Hangover, is known for his extreme, over-the-top gags. But in that film, you had four, fine comedic actors (not to mention the ever-foxy Bradley Cooper) that each brought something fresh to each scene and to one another. Having a full-force of Zach Galifianakis, trotting out again his weirdo-loser persona from The Hangover, is just a bit too much, thank you very much.

The premise is a clear riff on the "buddy" comedies of old featuring Dean Martin (sexy straight man) and Jerry Lewis (doofy goofball) carrying on together through wacky hijinx and despite being polar opposites, learning to love one another in the end. Or at least mostly tolerate. This time around, Robert Downey Jr. plays the Dean Martin type whereas Galifianakis is Jerry Lewis, but both are on a far more dangerous and yes, on occasion, actually SCARY road trip after they are thrown together under the most unusual circumstances.

The gist: Peter (Downey) ends up losing his wallet and getting kicked off a plane with Tremblay (Galifianakis) and Peter needs to make it home, doing whatever it takes, to witness the birth of his first child. The film did have some very funny moments. But it also had some moments that were supposed to be funny and just ended up being close to frightening. There was not much you had to tweak about this film to make it some kind of psycho thriller because basically, Tremblay is the devil incarnate. Props for Galifianakis for trying so hard to make this completely awful human being a poor, well-meaning dope, but every time you start to get warm fuzzies for this guy, he does something so hideous, so unbelievable, and so insanely selfish that you are just as happy when SPOILER poor Peter finally loses it and decks him.

It reminds me of an even worse film that came out years ago with Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Pullman called Mr. Wrong. Touted as a comedy, it is actually an extremely disturbing film about a woman who falls in love with a guy and then finds out he's actually a possessive wacko who ends up kidnapping her and taking her to Mexico. And this is supposed to be funny?

SPOILERS AHEAD just FYI, in case you actually want to pay money to see this. (For reals yo? Believe me, wait and Netflix it.)

For instance, there is a touching moment near the end when Tremblay spreads his father's ashes across the Grand Canyon, which Peter is generously taking time out to let him do even though the clock is ticking. Immediately afterwards, there is a jaw-dropping revelation that Tremblay has had Peter's wallet, with all the IDs, money, EVERYTHING in it, in his pocket the whole time. The lack of a proper ID and money is, of course, one of the reasons why Peter is stuck on this road trip from hell with this guy. Tremblay's excuse for putting this poor, decent man through hell? He's lonely.

And yet, after all this, they end up being the best of friends and everything works out. No consequences, no worries, just a nice, happy ending. I'm not sure what kind of message this film is putting out. So we should be kind to the people that treat us like total shit and put us through unimaginable anguish for days on end because they have "issues" and are "lonely?"

Nice try, Mr. Phillips, but I think I'll hold out for Hangover II to come out on Netflix next time. I think I've had enough Tremblay for a long while to come.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Rare beauty is found in Sita Sings the Blues

Image downloaded courtesy of

Every once in awhile one gets a chance to experience a film that's truly rare and compelling. I had such an experience this past weekend while attending MangaNEXT, a Japanese anime convention held in East Brunswick, N.J.

There are several things that are downright awesome about Sita Sings the Blues. First off, New York City resident Nina Paley created this movie on her home computer over the course of five years. Secondly, this film is free for anyone to watch by clicking here. My advice: go watch it now and have the next hour and a half of your life illuminated. Read the rest of this review afterwards. This is the stuff that Disney wishes it could aspire to. I found myself in tears at the end of the viewing because due to the fact that for reasons I will get to later, this film has never had a commercial release and therefore will never be able to win an Oscar, although it is utterly deserving of one.

The movie is based on the tales about Rama and Sita from the Ramayana (all Indian folklore, fyi). Sita is at first embraced by her husband, but after a series of misfortunes, is shunned, and then ultimately redeemed by the gods (and goddesses). Woven within the story is Nina's own tale of how her marriage dissolved but ultimately led to her doing this very film. What is so captivating is Nina uses four different animation styles to tell various parts of her stories. The funniest parts of the film go to the three narrators of the stories of Rama and Sita, whom Nina recorded and then animated based on their conversations, which often involve them arguing about "what really happened."

What you get is an exquisite tapestry of color, animation, and humor, as well as music! Sita indeed does sing the blues (1930s and 40s blues sung by Annette Hanshaw, in fact, to add a twist) in various montages that reflect her current situation.

Having Nina actually there to answer questions about her fabulous work was a real treat. She's an incredibly kind and patient person who also happens to be a super genius when it comes to animation. In Nina's own words: "I'm just an ordinary human, who also can't make her marriage work. And the way that it fails is uncannily similar to the way Rama and Sita's [relationship fails]. Inexplicable yet so familiar. And the question that I asked and the question people still ask is, "Why"? Why did Rama reject Sita? Why did my husband reject me? We don't know why, and we didn't know 3,000 years ago. I like that there's really no way to answer the question, that you have to accept that this is something that happens to a lot of humans." (quoted from the movie website with permission.)

Having the film completely free to watch was something that Nina decided after she found out how expensive it would be to buy the rights to use the music in a commercial setting, and that it would take her years to earn back the money. As it is, Nina explained at her panel she is making more money having the film - and everything about it - free and open to the public. In a sense, we are all giving her free publicity, myself included, and I'm proud of that because it's a damn good movie.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is is Sita. And I dare you to find a more exhilarating and soul-filling moment than the sequence that comes at the end of the "intermission", which is a treat all by itself. Look for Ravana wandering off with several cokes for each of his several heads.

Well, what are you waiting for? Be inspired!