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May 2, 2013 6:09 pm
Beware of film-makers who labour to explain their own films. They are like angels insisting on showing you their celestial passports. (If they’re real angels on real errands of grace, who needs convincing?) Pedro Almodóvar, in interviews, has been explaining I’m So Excited! to death. That, sadly, is unnecessary. It is already dead, this gorgeous-looking, overblown, rigor-mortised comedy about a planeful of ill-starred passengers. The film is actually an allegory (says its creator) about present-day Spain circling the airport of disaster or salvation before an emergency landing.
The maker of All About My Mother, Bad Education and Volver hasn’t made a comedy for years and it shows. Everyone in business class, as the Peninsula Airlines jumbo takes off for Mexico before succumbing to mysterious ailments and turning back to circle Madrid, is an overdone “character”. The snazzy actor, the top financier fleeing a fraud case, the glamorous dominatrix and hooker service madam (Cecilia Roth in an Anna Wintour wig), the sexy-beautiful newlyweds who graphically “get it on” – like everyone else in this cabin – after knocking back the Valencia cocktails (vodka, champagne, orange juice, mescaline). The “straight” captain is really bi. The crew performs a song-and-dance title number. Everything is bright, arch and kitschy, to the point where we think: does Almodóvar at his age and eminence need to imitate François Ozon in his glee-club style?
The messaging makes it worse. The economy cabin has been drugged into unconsciousness: a metaphor for the sedation of the working classes. The rich passengers, differently doped, expose their colours as corrupt masters of the universe. One of Spain’s actual white-elephant airports plays the ghostly hub of the last scenes, a vast, deserted vacancy crying out for use and purpose. Ah Spain. Ah Europe. Ah Almodóvar. You/we are all crying out right now. It makes for an urgent, clamorous, topically themed screen comedy, if not actually a good one.
For that you need Gimme the Loot. Isn’t cinema wonderful? The king is dead, long live the next king. Adam Leon may not be an Almodóvar in waiting, but this shaggy Bronx comedy – a kind of road movie without wheels – has all the profane freshness of the Spaniard’s early work. Two penniless teenage graffiti artists, bubbly-talking Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and quieter, tomboyish Sofia (Tashiana Washington), need $500 for a spray-paint stunt that will upstage and outmanoeuvre a gang vandalising their work. A picaresque quest ensues – the quest for ever-more-surreal scams as each mini-heist goes slightly, comically wrong.
The dialogue is scatty and funny. Moods and tones are as volatile as in life. Malcolm sets out to rob a blonde apartment dweller, but falls for her instead in a scene of fragile sexiness that sets up the next chapter of emotional expectation – only for that to be flipped or fractured in turn. You never know what will come next from Leon’s story palette. (The same girl is later seen climbing a vertiginous ladder to bathe in the water tower atop her building: a scene so surreal it is Vigo-worthy.) Earth and heaven are in constant contact in this world where hope and fear, romance and petty crime, dumbness and eloquence, art and survival are ever-jostling neighbours.
Even by the standards of sentimental nature documentaries, Disney’s Chimpanzee borders on the pathetic. Pathetic as in fallacy: anthropomorphism galore in Tim Allen’s folksy voiceover. Pathetic in the makers’ sanitised exercise in species observation. These chimps eat nonstop but never go to the bathroom, teem in number but never have sex. And their portrayers do nothing to offend creationists by suggesting – heaven forfend – an evolutionary link to humans. Instead little Oscar – what other name for a Hollywood simian? – learns to crack nuts, make goo-goo faces at the camera, lose his mother in a fictionalised plot twist (de rigueur since Bambi) and furnish other tritenesses explaining why a British-directed film has taken a year, since its US release, to reach Britain.
In the 21st century the only intelligent people who can be pardoned for questioning evolution are those watching films such as 21 and Over. Two hundred thousand years of human existence and this? Man emerges from bestiality and in 2013 he is still urinating over chums, projectile-vomiting and – this perhaps takes progress of a sort – eating tampons in a daze of stoned hunger. Women, in the same new comedy from Hangover originators Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, become either bimbo du jour (Sarah Wright) or members of a vindictive Amazonian sorority out to humble three college hell-raisers (Mike Teller, Skylar Astin, Justin Chon) one folly-ridden night.
Sometimes it’s funny, more often it’s not. Always it’s foreseeable. There is a Stations-of-the-Cross aspect to these coming-of-age fraternity romps. We know in advance each narrative staging point and we know the films will end, after crucifixion, with resurrection, as the stag-night slackers re-find their souls.
Dark-hued American thrillers have always been a touch European. (Refugees from Hitler brought film noir to Hollywood in the 1930s.) But even by that melting-pot measure Dead Man Down is a mite eccentric. Irishman Colin Farrell plays a Hungarian-American hit man blackmailed by Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, playing the French girl living with single mum Isabelle Huppert. Farrell and Rapace’s New York flats eyeball each other, so she knows he killed a man: she witnessed it. Now she can pressure him to kill one for her.
Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, who made The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, can do this stuff in his sleep and somnambulism is largely the style here. Anything more animated would have shown up the dottinesses of the screenplay, from the “chartreuse”-dyed rabbit’s foot Rapace presses on Farrell for luck to the casually clunky expositional dialogue. “I was involved in a car accident,” explains Rapace airily of the facial scars which have supposedly ruined her life but which have the teasing, delicate elegance – even a bit sexy – of crack-veined porcelain.
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