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Non-Review Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is, at its core, a story of authenticity.

It is the tale of Lee Israel, the noted biographer who hit a bit a creative and economic snag in the early nineties. Unable to shop around her planned biography of Fanny Brice, Israel instead decided to market forgeries; type-written letters offered up in the voices of famous writers, auctioned on the collector’s circuit. Israel had a knack for capturing the voices of her subjects, from Noel Coward to Dorothy Parker. In fact, Israel’s work was often deemed indistinguishable from the real thing, at least in an abstract and narrative manner.

Forging ahead.

There is something very timely in this premise, in the blurred boundaries between the real and the fake. Of course, this has been an aspect of the American character for well over a century, with P.T. Barnum famously advertising an obvious phony as “a genuine fake.” However, Can You Ever Forgive Me? arrives at a moment in time where the real and the fake seem to have collapsed into one another, where reality is often indistinguishable from fantasy, populated by people who will often happily accept a heartwarming fake over cold reality.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is largely an unshowy piece of awards fare. The film is never self-consciously stylised and never overly aggressive. Can You Ever Forgive Me? never seems sure how thrilling or how funny or how dramatic it should be, and so tries to split the difference between those three extremes. The result is a very broad film with a very familiar central arc. However, Can You Ever Forgive Me? very insistently avoids getting in its own way, which allows its two central leads room within which they might work their magic.

“Gee, Richard E. Grant sure plays a good drunk.”

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Non-Review Review: The Happytime Murders

The Happytime Murders may be the worst film of the year.

There are any number of issues with The Happytime Murders. The film is only ninety one minutes long, but feels interminable. The film has no idea what it is about in any meaningful sense, beyond assembling a number of familiar tropes in a very familiar way. Beyond that, the film seems to believe that rehashing familiar clichés is amusing of itself, some sort of self-aware postmodern ironic anti-comedy where the reference to the thing is enough of itself to become a joke.

It really blows.

A larger problem is that the film assumes that seeing puppets do “adult” things has greater novelty than it does. The Happytime Murders is a film that is consciously powered by the juvenile thrill of watching beloved children’s characters caught in inappropriate situations – swearing at one another, smoking cigarettes, engaging in vigorous sexual activity. This glosses over the fact that there are plenty of other media that has already covered this ground. The Happytime Murders runs on a joke that has already been repeated and rehashed several times.

However, all of these concerns distract from the biggest issue with The Happytime Murders. It is just not funny.

The boy in blue.

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Non-Review Review: Spy

Spy is broad, but it is funny. It might just be the best collaboration between director Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy.

Feig reteams with McCarthy following on from the critical and commercial successes of Bridesmaids and The Heat. Both films were frequently cited as leading a new wave in female-led comedy, proving that audiences and critics would respond to classic comedy movie tropes executed with a largely female cast. Although Spy features an ensemble that is more gender-balanced, it remains a feminist comedy. Feig’s screenplay is never heavy-handed in its gender politics, but it wryly aware of how its female characters are wading into a traditionally masculine space.

I spy a winner...

I spy a winner…

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Non-Review Review: The Heat

At one point in The Heat, Officer Mullins offers her new partner a sandwich. It’s been there all week, but it’s okay. “It’s cheese,” Mullins asserts. “It never goes off.” In a single line, Mullins accounts for the strange charm of The Heat, a film that isn’t consistently hilarious or shockingly innovative, but manages to pack a reasonable number of laughs into an admittedly overlong runtime. The Heat feels like a nostalgic trip back to the era of the buddy comedy.

The soundtrack is saturated with hits of the early nineties – at one point Mullins and Ashburn dance to Groove is in the Heart, while at another the duo bust a party boat (the “U.S.S. Tanked”) as it plays We Like to Party (The Vengabus). The Heat is pretty much the most stereotypical police buddy comedy you could imagine, with only the novelty of being headlined by two well-respect female comedians to distinguish it.

That’s not a bad thing. There are worse comedic combinations than Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. The problem is that The Heat never challenges the duo. There’s a sense the pair could have made the film in their sleep.

Never mind the Bullock...

Never mind the Bullock…

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Non-Review Review: Identity Thief

It must be very difficult to balance the demands of a road-trip comedy. You need two solid leads with a definite sense fo chemistry, but with enough conflict between them to keep things interesting. You need a compelling objective for at least one of the characters to strive towards. You need a tightly-constructed scenario which rules out any easy use of mass-transit. You need a cast of quirky supporting characters to give the movie a distinct flavour, and to occasionally do a bit of heavy-lifting if you decide to develop your leads.

Identity Thief seems to realise this, but it fumbles a bit in the execution. Too many plot points and characters feel too convenient, inserted to either pad out the movie’s runtime or to construct a reasonably believable set of statistics to force the plot into motion. Identity Thief almost seems to try too hard to justify itself and to meet those requirements of a road movie. It’s best when it focuses on the two lead characters, even if it does overplay its hand slightly. It’s not a bad little comedy, but it’s not an especially strong one either. There are a few light chuckles, bu the film mostly runs on the charm of its two leading characters.

Not quite a breakout hit...

Not quite a breakout hit…

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Academy Awards 2012: The Insiders’ Oscars…

That was… underwhelming. I mean, I think I’m relatively happy with most of the nominees, and there’s very little I can vehemently object to as completely unworthy in yesterday’s Oscar nominations, but still… Yesterday’s Oscar nominations felt decidedly insular, as if the Academy had taken a complete U-turn on any of the amendments that had recently been made in an attempt to broaden the Academy’s horizons. The Oscars have always been a party thrown by the movie industry to celebrate themselves, but this year’s nominations feel increasingly isolated, with nominations and lists populated with the safest and most predictable choices. This is the first year in quite some time that there hasn’t been anything as pleasantly refreshing as the Best Picture nomination for District 9 or Toy Story 3.

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Non-Review Review: Bridesmaids

It’s kinda interesting. Bridesmaids opens over here a month or so after it does in the States, so I’ve had the opportunity to pick up quite a significant amount of chatter on the film, as a good film tends to attract on the information super highway. Most of the discussion around the film has been centred around the movie’s gross-out humour, with reviews branding it as The Hangover in heels”or some such, and a great deal of discussion focusing on the fact that it demonstrates women can do that sort of disgusting and crass physical comedy. Such a discussion seems to be just a little bit over-the-top, as the movie really only features three absurdly crass set pieces (one of which admittedly opens the film, another competes with anything else in a comedy this year, and the third is tucked away in the credits) – so much so I doubt anyone would bat their eye if the same level of juvenile conduct were contained in a film about a bunch of dudes. It’s a damn shame that this seems to monopolise the conversation on Bridesmaids, because it’s actually just a really good film.

Maids of honour?

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