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Mini-Reviews: Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2, Don Jon, Enough Said

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2:

The first Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs film, brought to life by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (better known by the masses as the writers/directors of 21 Jump Street), grows tastier with each watch. It’s packed to the brim with visual gags, puns, inventive and colorful animation, and characters with heart. It’s not just one of the best animated films of the last half-decade, but one of the best comedies of the last half-decade, period. That creates unfortunate expectations for the Lord-and-Miller-less sequel, and the first act seems to signify a pretty massive disappointment. The characters are removed from their home island, which had been trashed by food, and they go to work in America. Our hero Flint (Bill Hader) works for his childhood idol, the Steve Jobs-esque Chester V (Will Forte), and for a stretch, we get a lot of set-up and exploration of Chester V’s world, which simply isn’t as interesting as the food-infested island that awaits. Thankfully, they head to the island eventually, and once we arrive, the movie kicks into gear with puns galore (“there’s a leek in the boat!”), cleverly designed “foodimals,” and the characters we love have much more to do. It falls short of the bliss generated by the first film, but I’d be hard-pressed to find anything wrong with the last 45 minutes of this sequel. Excluding the first half-hour or so, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 is probably the best animated film of 2013. Including it, it’s an uneven affair with rewards laying in wait for those with patience… especially for those of you who love puns.

Note: stick around for the end credits, among the best of the year as well.

Don Jon:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut as a writer/director, Don Jon, boasts a confident visual style. However, that’s the only real positive I can give it, as the story itself is laden with one-note characters and bizarre views on women and porn. The story follows Jon (Gordon-Levitt), a Italian Jersey stereotype, as he cruises the nightclubs looking for girls to sleep with. He has a “streak” of getting laid every night he goes to the club that is a source of pride. However, as he confesses to the camera in a series of voiceover narrations, he prefers porn to sex. Sex with women is a lot of work, it’s disappointing, and it doesn’t engage the fantasy the way porn does. When he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, perpetually dressed in tight outfits hugging her curves), he puts away his playboy tendencies… but his love of porn remains.

This raised five questions in my mind: 1. Jon states as fact that women don’t enjoy giving oral sex or any position other than missionary. What planet does this film take place on? 2. For a movie that takes a seemingly liberal stance on porn enjoyment, why does it have such an awful depiction on women and, by the end, such a conservative view on why people enjoy porn? 3. Every character is a one-note Italian stereotype, from Jon to Barbara to Jon’s parents and on down the line, yet there is an air of presumed artfulness to its execution — is this supposed to be a crazy broad comedy, or are we actually supposed to feel life in these people? 4. What movie did Julianne Moore wander away from to end up here? Her character and her performance are both subtle, a welcome relief but way out of place. 5. When Gordon-Levitt has starred in two recent movies with unfortunate misogyny, and then his writer/director debut is an exercise with unfortunate misogyny (and a much worse film to boot), is it a coincidence or (I hope not) art imitating life? These are unpleasant questions… but Don Jon is a thoroughly unpleasant movie. Hopefully next time Gordon-Levitt lets someone else write.

Enough Said:

Nicole Holofcener’s newest film, Enough Said, doesn’t contain action or on-screen sex or melodrama. It’s a series of conversations. Holofcener creates wonderful conversations, and charmingly unique characters, most notably played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and, in his final major film role, James Gandolfini. The first thirty minutes or so charmed me to no end… but then a damn plot had to work its way into the mix and muck everything up. Louis-Dreyfus plays a woman who makes two friends at a party: a poet (Catherine Keener) and a good-natured slob (James Gandolfini). She inexplicably grows quite fond of the slob, entering a relationship with him, only to discover the poet’s loathed ex-husband is in fact the slob. This complication colors the next half hour of the movie with what Ebert used to call an Idiot Plot, in which the plot relies on contrivances that would easily have been resolved had Louis-Dreyfus simply mentioned to one or both of them that she knew the other. The script gets overly cute with these awkward “close calls” as she tries to keep the other from finding out… but what’s her end game? Enough Said’s characters are so lived in and fully realized that to narrow them down to contrived plot gimmicks saddened me. It also saddened me that this was Gandolfini’s last role, as it plays so beautifully against his type and reveals such a soulful sweetness that it almost instantly makes you mourn his loss with every lovely line read or silent glance. He and Louis-Dreyfus generate better chemistry than most rom-coms do nowadays, undoubtedly aided by the dialogue, also a notable improvement over the usual fare. By film’s end, Enough Said is worth seeing, with plenty of terrific performances, lines, moments, etc. However, I can’t help but wish it could’ve just been ninety minutes of these characters sitting on porches and talking. It could’ve been one of my favorites of the year.

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~ by russellhainline on October 2, 2013.

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