Sunday, May 3, 2009

DVD Reviews

Because I assume most people caught these movies upon initial release, I'm going to keep the reviews short. Thoughts on "The Apartment" and "Chinatown" coming in the next few days. Enjoy!


Yes, I'm as surprised as anyone that they made a third entry in Jason Statham's "Transporter" franchise. But as long as the series' success spares us a third "Crank" or second "Death Race," I'm fine.

Statham returns once again as Frank Martin, the titular Transporter who has a knack for getting in over his head and having to karate-kick his way out. As the film opens he's supposedly retired but reeled back in when one of his friends dies on a mission gone wrong. Martin is locked into a car with some top-secret bags, a mysterious Russian woman who he may or may not fall in love with and a bracelet that will cause him to blow up if he goes more than 25 feet from the car.

The first "Transporter" film, produced by Luc Besson, was an absurdly fun martial-arts, cars and bullet caper that succeeded because it never admired to greatness; it simply wanted to be a fun little action film and a showcase for Statham, who I may add has never gotten the break-out success he deserves. "Transporter 2" was a cartoony bit of fluff that didn't so much bend the laws of physics as break them over Martin's knees.

The third entry keeps the proceedings a bit more down-to-Earth, focusing on fun physical stunts and effects that may have been practical or CGI, but it's hard to tell which. Statham's charisma goes a long way and he's always fun to watch. The martial arts sequences are a blast and never go too over-the-top or venture into absurdity; even an extended car chase flirts with ludicrousness when Frank takes his vehicle on two wheels,but still maintains its suspension of disbelief. And I haven't even mentioned the sequence where Frank chases a car through an alley and a warehouse...while he's on a bicycle. Unlike the latest in the "Fast and Furious" franchise, none of the computer-effects are overly distracting and the film keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek at all times, winking at the audience that Statham and the director, Louis Megaton, know just how silly this all is. When the filmmakers give you permission to laugh at the insanity of it all, it's a bit more enjoyable.

Which is necessary, because without the action this film would be utterly forgettable. The plot is needlessly complex (when the twist of Frank's cargo is revealed, ask yourselves why everything else was necessary) and the characters are so thin that Frank could drive a truck through them. But for action fans, there's some true cleverness at work, held together by Statham's likability. It's a rainy-day DVD at best but sometimes there's nothing wrong with that.


I may have to turn in my man card after this.

The truth is that I picked up "Marley and Me" at my local Blockbuster only after hearing raves about it from critics and family. I thought the trailers made the film look like a cliched family comedy and had no intention of enjoying it; the positive response encouraged me to give it a chance.

The fact that I found myself with tears rolling down my cheeks in the film's final moments is what makes me think I may have to relinquish that "Y" chromosome.

Based on the best-selling book, the film tells the story of John (Owen Wilson) and Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston) Grogan, a newlywed couple who move to Florida to pursue careers as journalists and adopt the "world's worst dog" in preparation for children. As often happens in these films, Marley (named after Bob Marley) trashes their home, embarrasses the Grogans in front of company and destroys anything nice they may have (his treatment of a necklace is particularly disgusting). But, as is wont to happen in these films, Marley is also a beloved family friend who is loved in spite of his flaws.

While "Marley and Me" has a plot that we've seen in films from "Beethoven" to "Turner and Hooch" (masterpieces all, I'm sure), director David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada"), working from an honest and heartfelt script by Scott Frank and Don Roos, avoids the pitfalls of family comedy hell by keeping the movie grounded in reality and focused on John and Jennifer, with Marley as a catalyst in their lives. Thankfully, there are no attempts to personify Marley and give him human-like reaction shots...he's a dog and much of the movie's humor comes from the fact that Marley isn't really a bad dog--he's just a normal dog who refuses to be thoroughly domesticated.

Aniston and Wilson give solid performances in this film and the movie's success actually hinges on them portraying a likable couple. This isn't just a movie about two adults learning how to handle a dog. It's a story about a couple trying to navigate the big decisions of life--having children, moving, careers and the sacrifices that all entails--while they also happen to have an unruly dog at home. This is a family movie in the most literal sense--despite its PG-moments kids may be a bit bored when Marley's antics don't take center stage, but families will likely be moved at the honesty (sometimes brutally so) with which the life of an American family is portrayed. John and Jennifer are not perfect people and they wrestle with resignation, fear and contentment like anyone else. They struggle with the fact that life with three kids makes them deviate from their carefully planned lives. And they admit frustration when a hectic day is made even more difficult because of a dog who just can't sit still.

Yes, Marley's a fun dog to watch and there are several big laughs in the film. And no, the movie isn't perfect--particularly in the third act when the honesty of the film seems to be replaced by moving the family to Pennsylvania and to a lifestyle that is just a little too perfect, more like an LL Bean catalogue than anything we'd recognize as suburbia. But those who, like me, struggle with contentent and complacency and those, unlike me, who struggle with family and the choices of being a parent will find a surprisingly emotional resonance with this film, anchored by the joy, frustration, humor and warmth of having a family dog nearby.

The family genre has fallen on tough times lately, with every PG rated film either a smart alec cartoon or sugary, jittery kids' movie. "Marley and Me" is the exception-- a warm-hearted film that works because it dares to be about something more than just a dog.

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30s, engaged and living in Motown. Wrestling with life, love, faith, art, film, culture and everything in between.