March 29, 2008

Run, Fatboy, Run

A dull story and a bad ending make Run Fatboy Run a wait-for-the-DVD "chuck-flick".
Denis (Simon Pegg) leaves his fiancee Libby (Thandie Newton, luminous and boring) at the altar, in the midst of a panic attack. Five years later, he's slothful and directionless. Libby has finally moved on, and is nearly settling down with a new man, the tall, handsome, rich, and respectable Wit (Hank Azaria). Dennis' fantasy of "someday" getting Libby back is threatened, so in a ill-advised moment of male posturing, he attempts to challenge Wit by competing in his first-ever marathon. Can he prove to Libby that he can finally finish something that he sets out to do? Can Dennis finally become a man worth marrying, and not a aimless coward?
When American financing fell through, Simon Pegg was cast in the lead, and Pegg also revised the original screenplay (by obnoxious TV personality Michael Ian Black), to suit his sensibilities, and to move the action from New York to London.
I was a little frustrated at some of the rookie mistakes and budget-trimming compromises made by director David Schwimmer: the totally made-up "Nike River Run" is a all too obvious paid placement for Nike, and the locations used for the marathon course along the Thames look totally implausible for hundreds of marathoners. Finally, the most emotional and romantic scene in the movie was staged on a penthouse balcony high above London, and it's immediately obvious that it was too windy on the balcony to capture any of the dialog. All of the audio in the most important scene in the movie is looped in later. In an all-too-candid interview in the Onion A/V Club, Schwimmer confesses to some of the corner-cutting.
The London flavor and The Pegg make this movie better than mediocre. Pegg is as funny as ever, and brings some true heartache to the most emotional scenes in the film. Fans will notice he's also brought along some of his friends: Dylan Moran (David the jerk in Shaun of the Dead) is surprisingly well-drawn, funny, and eccentric in the "best friend" role. And fans of Pegg's TV show Spaced might spot performance artist "Vulva" (David Walliams) in the bakery scene.
It's a pretty lame story, and the ending is almost unwatchably predictable, overdone, and dull. Hank Azaria, stuck in the thankless role of the perfect "other man" who finally shows cracks in the veneer, nearly delivers the role with some humanity and complexity, before it all falls apart in the end. (Regal Fenway Stadium 13, with Adam)

March 15, 2008

Young At Heart

youngatheartOn our annual spring visit to Austin, Texas, we attended this screening at the Paramount Theater as part of the South by Southwest Film Festival. The movie tells the story of the Young At Heart Chorus, a group of 80-year-old retirees from Northampton, MA, who sing classic (James Brown, The Clash) and contemporary (Coldplay, Sonic Youth) rock songs, as chosen and directed by an aging hippie.

I saw the trailer for this movie 3 or 4 times over the previous few months, at every art house in town. Based on the trailer, I was worried that the movie would laugh at the seniors too much, but that was not a problem. In fact, the movie was wonderful both musically and emotionally. Musically, many of the songs were perfectly re-interpreted by senior citizens. Lyrically, songs like "Golden Years" and "I Wanna Be Sedated" make much more sense when sung by seniors, as opposed to men in their early twenties. Musically, the seniors singing voices add trememdous gravitas to the melodies. There's only so far a great set of pipes can take you. Sometimes, a world-weary, gravelly voice can make a much better impression. Chris Martin sings Coldplay's "Fix You" beautifully, but the retiree who sings it in the movie, two octaves lower, makes a great impression.

Emotionally, the stories of these seniors had me crying for the whole second half of the movie. Two of the singers struggle to stay healthy long enough to perform at an upcoming concert, but they don't make it. The movie's director, Brit documentarian Stephen Walker, captures heartfelt conversations with these men in the days before they pass away which simply break the heart. In fact, many of the chorus members are very engaged with the film's director, and I feel better having met them.