Random Factoid #544

23 01 2011

The seriocomedy is probably one of my favorite sub-genres.  Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it to?  The seriocomedy lets you have the sweetness of the icing (comedy) with all the bulk and substance of the cake itself (drama).

But name the last really good one produced inside of the studio system in the last ten years or so.  (“The Kids Are All Right” was independent, so try again.)  It’s hard because so many of them miss the mark.  “Love & Other Drugs” and “How Do You Know” both could have been so good but wound up falling short.

Here’s The Los Angeles Times on what could be a dying genre after “The Dilemma” flopped:

“The seriocomedy has never been easy creative ground for directors. To make a good one you need to be proficient at constructing both laughs and drama, and have the dexterity to switch between them. From a business standpoint it’s even dicier: How, in this age of marketing, do you retail these tweeners?

Movie-making these days seems to have calcified into genres. Dramas are intense and serious, like ‘The Social Network,’ or weepie and inspirational, like ‘The Blind Side’ or ‘Secretariat.’ Comedies are  broader and more gross-out, like the best of Adam Sandler or Apatow.

‘The problem is trailers,’ said James Schamus, the Focus Features chief who released “The Kids Are All Right.” ‘These days with the Internet, it’s more important than ever, and it’s very hard to cut a good trailer for [seriocomedies]. If you go for the laugh you never get the full laugh because the humor is situational, and you can’t play the drama because then you kill the comedy vibe.'”

I think the death is due to two things: the declining quality of studio output and the hyperfocused nature of the American moviegoing audience.  We want straight drama or straight comedy when we go to the movies; a hybrid just doesn’t satisfy much as it often feels like a muddled mess.  That’s partially the fault of filmmakers, but I think that most moviegoers nowadays can’t handle them both together.

So, is the seriocomedy DEAD?  Sound off!

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REVIEW: The Dilemma

12 01 2011

The whole premise of deciding whether or not to tell a friend that their wife is cheating on them sounds like something that would make a good episode of “Full House” or “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  The whole thought process is something perfectly suited to sustain a 22-minute sitcom episode.  However, “The Dilemma” takes that setup and stretches it out to nearly two hours, and all it does is prolong the pain.

Ronny (Vince Vaughn) catches Geneva (Winona Ryder) two-timing her husband and his best friend Nick (Kevin James).  Unsure of whether to meddle or not, he weighs his options carefully but finds physical pain instead of answers and decisions.  The choice is harder to make since the two buddies are business partners under a great deal of stress to deliver big and Ronny is also wrestling with proposing to his girlfiend Beth (Jennifer Connelly).

The longer he delays, the harder it gets to make the decision.  It ultimately results in all four parties revealing and uncovering long-held secrets, which are of course nothing surprising or profound to viewers.  For this reason, “The Dilemma” is quite a bit darker and more solemn than most comedies hitting theaters nowadays.  Perhaps the strange tone is what attracted Ron Howard to direct the film, an Academy Award winner with a curious fascination at having a versatile resumé.  He’s much better at directing such unremarkable and controlled period pieces, where he’s actually capable of making a decent connection with the audience, than he is at directing comedy.

Both Vaughn and James bring a game face to the movie, but their physical and vocal humor is ultimately stifled by an artificial layer of dramatic importance and a poor script.  They get into it, sure, yet they are undermined by either poor dialogue or ridiculous situations.  It’s like these two dynamite comedic forces are trapped in sitcom reruns and aren’t sure whether to escape or adjust their acting style.  The duo desperately needs to return to the R-rated comedy genre which is perfectly able to harness their energy and turn it into side-splitting laughter.  (And, for that matter, Channing Tatum needs to leave acting altogether and just go back to modeling.)

It’s pretty sad for any movie when its legacy will ultimately be not what’s on film, but the fuss over an unsavory epithet for homosexuals in the trailer will likely be the only thing worth remembering about the movie in the years to come.  Ron Howard and Universal gave us a conversation topic in October 2010, yet in January 2011, they didn’t follow up by delivering a quality movie.  By the time you escape from the tepid grasp of “The Dilemma,” you’ll feel as if you’ve watched a highlight reel of failed jokes and cringe-worthy moments.  C-





What To Look Forward To in … January 2011

13 12 2010

Hard to believe we are just around the corner from a new year!  2011, here we come … er, here we enjoy 2010’s movies a little while longer until the new year offers us something good.  Here are January’s sincerest efforts!

January 7

Nicolas Cage just keeps distancing himself further and further from his Oscar win for “Leaving Las Vegas” back in 1995.  He kicks off another disappointing year of quirky movie selection with “Season of the Witch,” originally slated for release about 9 months ago.  This supernatural thriller where he plays a 1300s Crusader and gets involved in some sort of black magic.  Needless to say, go see “Little Fockers” again.

Speaking of 2010, most theaters will finally be receiving “Country Strong” this week; whether it comes with any sort of awards season heat though is yet to be seen.  Gwenyth Paltrow’s vehicle as a fading country music star in desperate need of rehab looks a little corny and cliched, but would you rather see “Season of the Witch?”  My guess is no.

January 14

“The Green Hornet” was going to be a fanboy favorite, despite the casting of Seth Rogen as the title character.  Then some footage was released at Comic-Con, and everyone saw that it was just a typical Rogen slacker humor-a-thon.  They got angry, but I got happy.  I love Seth Rogen’s shenanigans, and I’m happy to see him move them to some genre other than gross-out comedy.

Is it possible for a movie’s trailer to get more coverage than the movie itself?  That’s likely the case for “The Dilemma,” a comedy of best friends, secrets, and infidelity strangely directed by Academy Award-winner Ron Howard.  With the use of the word gay, the trailer sparked an uproar and plenty of discussion on the power of words in society.  Apparently the joke stayed in the movie, and while I won’t head to the movie just to see that, I’ll probably hit it some other time once I’ve knocked out my mandatory 2010 viewing.

Also worth noting: “Rabbit Hole” should be getting a wide expansion this weekend.  If you haven’t seen it, SEE IT!  As for other 2010 movies just seeing release in the new year, there’s also “Barney’s Version,” the dramedy starring Paul Giamatti, Minnie Driver, Rosamund Pike, and Dustin Hoffman.  All those names together can’t be too bad.

Opening as well is “Every Day” with Liev Schrieber, Carla Gugino, and Helen Hunt in a rare appearance.  But given the no-name distributors, it’s going to be a while before it hits anywhere other than New York or Los Angeles.  And for all environmentalists out there, “Plastic Planet” looks at how safe plastic really is.

January 21

“No Strings Attached” looks like a suitable romantic comedy.  Starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, the movie tells the story of two lovers who only want a physical connection – in other words, the flip side of the coin of “When Harry Met Sally.”  It’s directed by Ivan Reitman, who helmed old classics like “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters” but also new stinkers like “Evolution” and “My Super-Ex Girlfriend.”  All I can say is that this had better not be for Natalie Portman what “Norbit” was for Eddie Murphy.

If “The Way Back” didn’t look interesting and gritty as you-know-what, I’d probably joke that it’s the “Defiance” of 2010/2011.  But alas, I can’t poke fun at this trailer.

And for the third time, “The Company Men” has been moved, this time to 2011 and out of Oscar contention.  So now everyone can safely stop worrying about Tommy Lee Jones pulling another “In the Valley of Elah” and get back to writing this movie off.

January 28

Hey, look!  It’s another movie starring Jason Statham and a gun!  In other words, you’ve probably seen “The Mechanic” before.  As for other retreads, there’s another Catholic Church conspiracy theory movie combined with an exorcism movie.  Top it off with a little creepy Anthony Hopkins, and you get “The Rite!”

From Prada to Nada” opens also in limited release, but this Jane Austen wannabe tale looks entirely dismissable.  Unless, of course, you want to see Carmen from “Spy Kids” all grown up.

So, what’s the verdict on January?  Are you going to don the glasses for “The Green Hornet” or just see “TRON: Legacy” again?






Random Factoid #446

17 10 2010

Hollywood has an interesting dilemma on its hands.

It’s hardly news to anyone who follows film news that the trailer for Ron Howard’s “The Dilemma” has come under heavy fire for using a phrase that might be offensive to some.  For those who didn’t see the trailer attached to “The Social Network,” here it is:

“Electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay.”

Within a week, the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) was demanding that the trailer be removed from theaters.  This came as a shock to the studio, according to The Los Angeles Times, who “not only tested the trailer with rank-and-file moviegoers but also submitted it to a number of gay rights watchdog groups. According to Universal, no one complained.”

I’ll admit that I was a little surprised to hear the word in a trailer at a PG-13 movie, but considering all the jokes I had heard in R-rated movies, I wasn’t shocked.  I’ve read plenty of satire and seen plenty of comedic movies and plays to know that writers have to have no mercy if they must resort to insulting.  Everyone is fair game, although sometimes there are some low blows.  Compared to the some of the pejoratives thrown around in R-rated movies nowadays, the joke from “The Dilemma” falls somewhere between a low blow and mild name-calling.

I guess the biggest thing about the whole dilemma here is the fact that this is a trailer, not a movie.  People who might be offended by the word could avoid a movie that used it if they were well-informed; they could get totally blindsided by it when the trailer just plays before another movie they want to see.  The fact that GLAAD is insisting that Universal take the joke out of the movie seems a little ridiculous.  It’s not just that I’m a huge proponent of free speech, but they are picking the wrong movie to go after if they want to make a serious change in the way writers toss around terms describing homosexuals.

If their long-term goal is to get the word out of the vernacular as a synonym for stupid, they should have gone full throttle on the offensive against “The Hangover.”  Yes, the word gay has come to take on a despicable meaning, but so has lame.  How many times do we use that word and not realize that it is making fun of mentally challenged people?  And there’s never any uproar when you hear lame used in a movie.

But the fact that Vaughn’s line acknowledges that they don’t mean to make homosexuals the butt of the joke should make this a little bit less of a hot-button issue.  It’s wrong that the other context exists, but it’s a heck of a lot better than just throwing the word out there and making fun of homosexuals.  Compared to “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and the banter between Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen calling each other gay based on things that they like, this is child’s play.

Of course, I have to take into account the recent suicides linked to homophobic bullying.  This trailer could send the wrong message to those willing to interpret the nature of the joke in a certain way.  The suicides have lent the joke some very dark undertones, ones that weren’t intended to be there, but now they are very present.  Given the nature of the times, perhaps it is for the better that the line was removed.  The unfortunate events cannot be changed, but Universal may have played a part in preventing some further grief and distress.

Had these events not occurred, I would be in support of keeping the joke in the trailer and in the film because it would be hypocritical to grant one group immunity from comedic effects.

As Patrick Goldstein of The Los Angeles Times said, “Comedy is a lot like free speech — sometimes you have to hold your nose to support it. If you don’t stick up for the flimsiest kind of humor, then you can’t protect the most important kind either.”  This whole situation is a hard one to take a stance on, but there is a way to handle this that can preserve the integrity of all people and comedy.

I mean no disrespect towards GLAAD or Universal with this post, and I hope that I have treated this sensitive subject with the care and respect it is due.  I have nothing but sympathy towards all those affected by the suicides, and I sincerely regret any pain that the trailer for “The Dilemma” might have caused.  In these sensitive times, I hope I have provided a commentary based in reason and a response not heightened by the hysteria of the current events.