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Non-Review Review: The Night Before

The Night Before does not always work well, but it works hard.

The tale of three unlikely best friends embarking on one final Christmas bender runs through the checklist of the modern “overgrown manchild” comedy genre elements. There is arrested development. There is adulthood beaconing. There is responsibility to be claimed. There is friendship to be fractured and ultimately strengthened. There is a great supporting cast and a number of very effectively employed cameos. All The Night Before does is to apply a layer of festive frosting atop a familiar recipe.

A star performance...?

A star performance…?

The formula has been dulled somewhat by the frequency with which it has been deployed. A lot of The Night Before feels familiar and even rote. However, there are moments of absurd clarity. The Night Before puts a surprising amount of effort into some of its more effective gags, painstakingly setting up the pins so that they might be knocked down at a later date. In particular, one of the climactic gags is the result of a great deal of careful alignment over the preceding nineties minutes, a laugh that looks cheap but is as intricately crafted as a fancy tree ornament.

The Night Before is not the most hilarious or memorable or definitive of these sorts of Apatow-esque comedies, but there is an endearing effort to it all. There is never a sense of coasting, even at points where the film leans towards the nostalgia and arrested development that it spends so much effort trying to escape.

You take my elf...  You take my elf-control.

You take my elf…
You take my elf-control.

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Non-Review Review: The Walk

“It is not real,” Philippe Petit reflects quite early in The Walk.

Resting his chin against one of the steel supports running the height of the World Trade Centre, Philippe stares upwards into infinity. Up until that moment, the Twin Towers had existed as a conceptual object for the young French tightrope artist; he had only seen them in photographs and sketches, framed in comparison to the Eiffel Tower to afford them a sense of scale. Appreciating the majesty of the World Trade Centre in the flesh is almost too much to process. Making them more real has somehow made them less real.

Walk on the wild side...

Walk on the wild side…

Philippe could just as easily be talking about the film that surrounds him. Director Robert Zemeckis might be best known for his work on Back to the Future, but a lot of his twenty-first century filmography has been fixated upon the unreal; Zemeckis has become known for his fascination with motion-capture and computer-generated imagery, the illusive pursuit of verisimilitude through the uncanny valley. The special effects used to realise The Walk are superb and top of the line, but there remains a feeling of unreality to the whole film.

It would be impossible to film The Walk in a real location using real stunts. The Walk is an ode to New York City, but to a version of New York City that no longer exists. Tourists cannot visit it, although perhaps it might be found on a postcard or trapped in a photo. The Walk cleverly and consciously refuses to downplay that feeling of unreality, feeling almost like a nostalgic memory recalled through the fog of time. Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers was so effective because it was real; The Walk is so effective precisely because it is unreal.

Stepping out...

Stepping out…

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Non-Review Review: Don Jon

Don Jon is a confident directorial debut from actor and write Joseph Gordon Levitt. Levitt himself stars as the eponymous “Don”, a stereotypically macho young man from New Jersey, who splits his time between nightclubs, churches, the gym, his car and his pornography addiction. Written and directed by Levitt, Don Jon has a charming lightness that allows the movie to play with some pretty heavy subject matter. (After all, the last major film to explore sex addiction was Shame, which was as brilliant as it was harrowing.)

Don Jon is perhaps the sweetest movie ever made about porn addiction. A superb demonstration of Levitt’s already enviable talents, and a confident and slick feature film directorial debut.

Toast of the town...

Toast of the town…

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About Time: Time Travel Logic, Paradoxes and Looper…

I watched Looper again at the weekend. It’s still a pretty great movie, well-constructed and thoughtful. Of course, it still doesn’t feel like a proper “time travel” movie, because the time travel element doesn’t logically gel as easily as it otherwise would. After all, the original time line sees young!Joe kill old!Joe as soon as he appears. Therefore, old!Joe can’t logically kill Sara. If old!Joe doesn’t kill Sara, then why does Cyd become the Rainmaker? After all, we’re told (or it’s heavily implied) that young!Joe killing himself (and old!Joe) prevented Cyd from becoming the Rainmaker. So if this never happened in the time line where young!Joe grows into old!Joe, how did the Rainmaker come to be?

Oh no, I’ve gone cross-eyed.

This is the thing with time travel movies, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about. How important is internal consistency to a time travel movie? How necessary is it for a time travel movie to flow relatively logically from its own premise? At what point do we just stop trying to apply rules of logic and just enjoy the movie for what it is?

looper4

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: Chris Cooper Raps (The Muppets)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #1

If you ever need proof of how delightfully absurd The Muppets was, the sight of Oscar-winner Chris Cooper dancing and rapping across his desk, only to unleash a storeroom full of chorus girls while Jason Segel looks on in confusion should do the trick. It’s a fantastic moment because it’s so ridiculously surreal. Cooper is rapping for about a minute of screen-time, meaning that it’s over before it has really begun – leaving both the characters and the audience wondering what the hell just happened.

In a great way.

themuppets10

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: Dancing (Monsieur Lahzar)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #5

Sometimes it’s the simplest moments that stick in the memory. Monsieur Lahzar was a superb little French-Canadian film that went under the radar last year. It’s a film that I really recommend. Comedian Mohamed Fellag gives a wonderfully moving central performance as a replacement teacher helping his class deal with the suicide of his predecessor. The eponymous Lahzar is so buttoned down that it’s oddly affecting to watch him interact with the children, but it’s the smaller private moments that allow Fellag to really craft and define his character.

lezhar

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Makes It Big (The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Looper)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #10

I know that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been around a while. I was fond of the actor back when he was appearing on Third Rock From the Sun, which already seems like a lifetime ago. More recently, he appeared in perhaps the best romantic comedy of the last decade, (500) Days of Summer. He has been running his own production company, hitRECordjoe since 2009. Even last year the actor was headlining movies like 50/50. As such, it feels a bit disingenuous to suggest that he really burst on to the scene this year, but 2012 has been a great year for the actor, and it’s always great to see a deserving young talent emerge.

premiumrush2

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