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October movie roundup

I watched movies with regularity in the first half of the month, before Natasha and I resumed our almost-nightly routine of catching up with the latest episodes of our favorite American TV dramas. I guess I’m finding myself with a bit more spare time than usual these days.

Several of the movie sessions were devoted to repeat viewings of recent instant favorites such as Ocean’s Thirteen or The Incredibles (both of which I briefly discussed last month). On other occasions, I watched recorded movies that I have seen in the past, for instance, the violently hilarious Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Of the new – for me – movies discussed herein, a couple, Chocolat and 2 Days in Paris came to the fore via “Honey, do you want to watch this together?” inquiry from my lovely wife, and one more, Run, Fatboy, Run, via a rarely-seen desire of my elder daughter to watch something with her old father. Three other movies, The Hunt for Red October, Support Your Local Sheriff and Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer, were semi-arbitrarily selected from the PVR queue as usual.

I recorded Run, Fatboy, Run because I like Simon Pegg, and when Becky mentioned that she watched parts of it and wouldn’t mind watching it with me, the movie catapulted to the top of the queue. After all, I don’t get these types of offers from my teen very frequently. It turns out that there are several brief scenes in the movie that in my prudish opinion put it beyond what is appropriate for a young woman, but I guess I need to get used to her being exposed to occasional raunchiness.

In this David Schwimmer-directed romcom, Dennis Doyle, played by Pegg, leaves his pregnant girlfriend Libby (Thandie Newton) at the altar. Five years hence, Dennis is an out-of-shape security guard at a lingerie shop, and being a doting – if quite irresponsible – father to his son Jake, who lives with Libby, seems to be his only redeeming quality. Libby, meanwhile, meets a successful banker Whit, played by Hank Azaria, who runs marathons for charity. Dennis, who wants to prove to Libby that he can change and to recapture her heart before Whit steals her away forever, sets his eyes on running in the upcoming marathon as well. Which happens to be in three weeks!

The movie is sweet and uproarious at times, Pegg’s blend of angst and physical comedy is as always entertaining, and Dylan Moran as his best friend Gordon is plain hilarious. But the characterization of Whit is way too silly. He appeared from the start on narcissistic side, but he sounded unflinchingly friendly towards increasingly hostile Dennis and perfectly gentle with Libby and the little Jake. There was a model boat scene that offered a glimpse of a person who cannot tolerate an even the most minuscule challenge to his self-absorbed perfection, but Whit still did not come across as a bad guy until the actual marathon, when he suddenly lost his mind at the possibility that his rival in love could actually run his very first 26 miles of marathon at the neck-breaking pace of a sprint homestretch. Yeah, some sort of device was needed to fully unmask Whit’s artifice and give Dennis a chance to do heroically better, but it was just a bit unfounded. Unrealistically convenient turns of behavior usually get thumbs-down from me.

Natasha, meanwhile, had a bunch of French-themed movies in her Blockbuster rental queue. She is especially keen on watching movies with French-language dialogues in them, as it gives her an obvious opportunity to practice a bit. With that reason in mind, she ordered 2 Days in Paris and suggested that I joined her in watching. A neurotic romantic comedy in the mold of Woody Allen, this Julie Delpy-written and -directed film does a good job of exploring Parisian culture and the clash of French and American sensibilities. Adam Goldberg is excellent in projecting the fish-out-of-the-water anguish of an American in Paris and the city street scenes are delightful, but overall the movie left a middling impression.

Another one of Natasha’s selections, Chocolat, is a different kind of romantic comedy. Tinted with fantasy, it tells a story of a free spirit breaking through the closed-off and dull existence of a community heretofore driven by dogma and piety. I am indifferent to the concept of chocolate being the tool of choice, but any movie that celebrates the notion that life should be enjoyed to the fullest is likely to appeal to me.

Or, maybe, it’s the actors. I’ve never seen another movie with her, but I like Juliette Binoche and her performance in Chocolat. I like Johnny Depp, and I think he wasn’t bad either. I like the performances of a number of other actors in this movie. When a good story is combined with good acting, it’s a winner, plain and simple.

(After having come up with that nugget of wisdom, I feel compelled to regulate myself a little, by sticking to my original intention for this blog feature, namely, stating my impressions of every movie that I’ve seen for the first time during the reportable month. In that, I have to admit to watching God-awful Mr Bean’s Holiday in October. Online compilations of travel movies mentioned spectacular French scenery in that flick, and we decided to check that out. We appreciated quite a number of sights, including the Millau Bridge, which is actually in a slightly wrong part of France for the trip that the hero is taking. The scenery was spectacular, but the movie was barely watchable otherwise.)

Speaking of when liking an actor cannot make a movie enjoyable, Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer offers such a unconvincing take on a global destruction which is averted at the last moment, that even the presence of Jessica Alba, who has headlined since her Dark Angel days my Friends-inspired list of celebrities whom my wife would allow me to date, could not help. Actually, I think that the Invisible Girl portrayal is the worst of the bunch, but it matters little in this case. There are a few nifty special effects, but no standout performances, and the story is by turns bland, predictable or disembodied.

The token “oldie” this month was Support Your Local Sheriff, which turned out to be a fun viewing. James Garner is perfect for his role, the dialogues are top-notch and the reserved slapstick is greatly amusing.

I enjoyed The Hunt for Red October well enough, too. It’s a well-executed and suspenseful political thriller. While it takes shortcuts with some characterizations, it makes up for it with intelligent action. Most of which is expressed through dialogue, making it a cerebral adventure as much as an adrenaline-driven one.

I was lukewarm towards Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan – something about the way he looks does not fit with the notion of an intellectual reluctantly thrown into live-or-death action. But my biggest complaint about this movie is entirely in the usage of the Russian language.

I realize that it is important to have American actors utter a few Russian words to establish their on-screen characters. And I know well enough that Russian is a very hard language to learn for a foreign speaker, so I don’t begrudge Sean Connery and Sam Neill their mispronunciations. But what happens time and again in movies is the Russian lines that are either literal translations from English that have nothing to do with how Russian is spoken or simple-to-pronounce short phrases that have little to do with what is meant to be said. For a spectator who does not understand Russian, the actors could, of course, be making monkey sounds – the English subtitles are all that matters. Me, when I hear a Russian word, mentally adjust it to a proper pronunciation, and then attempt to reconcile it with what my eyes register in subtitles, my brain often overheats and short-circuits.

With Russian-speaking actors in the cast, I’d thought it an easy task to proof the dialogue. I suppose nobody cares much about authenticity of foreign speech in an American movie – even though I want to think that it might make a difference for the movie’s success in overseas runs – but it annoys me to no end. (It occurs to me that this particular case may be the fault of Tom Clancy – I’ve never read the book and I don’t know if Russian dialogue was not lifted verbatim for the adaptation.)

Anyway, those were my cinema-viewing exploits in October. The last day of the month heralded the release of one movie that I’d normally be very keen to go and watch in a theater – Quantum of Solace – but I don’t want to go alone and it seems unlikely that I’d find the opportunity to go with either Natasha or Becky. I heard it’s really good. A future PVR-queue-jumping occasion, no doubt.


  1. kisintin

    I always find it hilarious when Americans are speaking Russian, in a good nature way. I don’t laugh at them, I laugh at how the language gets mangled, with usual literal translations.

    However, i do find it enjoyable when Russian extras are being taken for the Russian roles, and are given the freedom to express the sentiment exactly as a Russian would.

    Pleasant surprise occurred a week ago when i was watching My Own Worst Enemy show. There were couple of FSB operatives in Mexico (OK, this is a stretch) hunting for Christian Slater’s character. And the phrases they used and the vocalization of them were pretty spot-on.

    Anyways, with the amount of Russian immigrants living all over US and Canada, one would think it would be pretty easy to find a language consultant.

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