This Week in Film: The Okay, the Bad, and the Worse

By , Columnist

Well, I hope you weren’t desperately hoping to see a movie this weekend. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you really don’t have much to look forward to this week at the movies.

The best movie is the tragic rom-com Celeste and Jesse Forever that’s filled with its own problems, while Hollywood is unloading a pretty dreadful Total Recall rehash, and we’re also getting “treated” to the rough (to say the least) tapestry movie 360.

You might want to dedicate the civic holiday to catching up with blockbusters you missed over the last couple of weeks or re-acquainting yourself with your DVD player. Sadly, the theater won’t be offering you much.

The Okay: Jesse and Celeste Forever

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Jesse and Celeste Forever offers us one of those ho-hum "love stinks" experiences to make the summer that much less romantic. Parks and Recreation’s Rashida Jones (who also co-wrote) stars alongside Andy Samberg as the titular unhappy couple. They were together since high school before she became a career-driven success and he became a lazy artist. They broke up, but Jesse stayed in the guest house carrying a torch while Celeste encouraged the daily routine of a relationship without all the sex stuff. It’s weird, but they seem to like it. Then Jesse knocks up a girl, takes responsibility, and suddenly Celeste wants him back. Obviously, that ain’t going to happen. So Celeste spirals into a hilariously drunken tailspin.

As you may have gathered, this is a melancholic relationship comedy and unfortunately it’s neither as funny as it should be or as insightful as it thinks it is. To make matters worse, director Lee Toland Krieger lays on the indie shaky-cam cinematography, quickly creating an irritating aesthetic that seems to scream at the audience, “Look! This is realistic and serious! Appreciate, damn it! Appreciate!”

Thankfully it’s not all bad. While the visual style and “cold career woman discovers her heart through heartbreak” and “lazy artist makes good” plotlines are the stuff of indie comedy cliché, the central performances are strong enough to carry the material above the embarrassment. Samberg has only really done broad sketch comedy before, but shows surprising depth here, suggesting a leading man future that never seemed possible before now (and might not be if he keeps sticking with Sandler).

Jones has been wasted as the serious girlfriend in comedies for too long and clearly wrote the script as a means to show off her acting skillz (yes, with a “z”  — that’s the only way they pay the billz). She’s able to mine her character’s sadness and regret for deadpan laughs and tear-tugging drama easily, often in the same scene.

Together Jones and Samberg have surprising chemistry and feel like a genuine couple. The pair is so good, they’ll often make you forget the creaky script because, let’s face it, character-driven comedy/dramas are acting showcases more than anything else. Viewed on that level, Celeste and Jesse Forever qualifies as a pleasant surprise. Let’s just hope Jones gets more work as an actress out of it and will get to leave the screenwriting behind.

The Bad: Total Recall

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The world didn’t need a new Total Recall. We already have one with Arnold Schwarzenegger and it’s great. Sure, it may not have exactly been a brain-tingling masterpiece but at least it was clever, featured Arnie at the peak of his cheesy powers, boasted some stunning makeup effects work by Rob Bottin, and was enlivened by director Paul Verhoeven’s patented campy tone and love of over-the-top ultra violence.

The new version, on the other hand, has Colin Farrell at his most disinterested, standard issue CGI, and director Len Wiseman’s usual bland and overly frenetic PG-13 action. All of the rough edges and oddball ideas that made the last Total Recall such a beloved trash-classic have been smoothed over in favor of generic Hollywood sheen. There’s nothing special or unique about this movie. Even the opportunity to honor Dick’s original bizarre concept with more mind-trip sci-fi was set aside in favor of additional indistinguishable action scenes. Sigh…this is sadly where blockbuster filmmaking has gone in the 22 years since Arnold was first flashed by a three-boobed alien on Mars.

This new movie doesn’t even take place on Mars, but Earth, the first of many changes that add nothing to the material and only serve as a distraction. None of the actors add any personality to the roles and while Wiseman has the resources at hand to pull off some impressive set pieces, he has no sense of pacing whatsoever. Frenetic action scenes pile on top of each other without rhyme, reason, or humor. The final effect is exhausting rather than exhilarating and none of iconic sci-fi author Philip K Dick’s ideas get more than a fleeting flicker of screen time.

The lone moments of subversion and excitement are either references to the last Total Recall or other, better action movies. I’d call it a total disaster were it not for the fact that the movie does pretty well exactly what it’s expected to do. Let’s be honest, how high were the expectations for this Total Recall? It provides all the explosions and special effects promised in the trailer and has pretty people doing it. I suppose if all you’re looking for is mindless action, you could do worse. We just should be able to expect better. Especially since, you know, there’s already a pretty great action movie called Total Recall that does everything better with a few laughs and less brooding-as-importance indulgence.

The Worse: 360

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Hey kids, did you know that even though it feels like we live in a bubble, all of humanity is actually interconnected? In fact, every little decision we make can actually have an impact across the globe. Mercifully, the deeply disappointing, multi-character mosaic movie 360 stops short of actually saying that regurgitated nonsense out loud, though sadly the well-worn theme is hammered home so hard that it might be a good idea for theater owners to hand out vomit bags and sleep masks with each purchased ticket.

So many great movies have been made about the beautiful and ugly ways that strangers' lives intertwine and bounce off of each other (mostly by Robert Altman) that you have to wonder why City of God director Fernando Meirelles would even bother to try and add his stamp to the almost-genre, especially when he’s stuck with such a nauseatingly melodramatic and clichéd script. Adding Russian prostitutes and possible sex offenders to this type of movie doesn’t make it original. It just mindlessly pushes buttons in a sad and failed attempt to create something verging on profundity.

The international all-star cast, including Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, and Ben Foster, ultimately add nothing other than famous window dressing. All that good will that Meirelles built up amongst film fans with the genuinely enthralling City of God and the under-appreciated thriller The Constant Gardner is going to disappear quickly following the wannabe art house swill of Blindness and 360. I’m still holding out hope that the terrible screenplays the director was saddled with on his last two movies are to blame, but I can’t imagine that anything better is going to fall into his lap after two consecutive failures. Maybe it’s time for the director to return to Brazil for his next feature in the hopes of recapturing the spirit that made his first movies so compelling. Meirelles definitely needs to try something different because whatever it is that he thinks he’s doing now sure as hell isn’t working.

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Phil Brown was born years ago. He then grew up, went to university, and now reviews movies, interviews people and writes comedy. He writes for a number of websites and publications including the one you are currently reading. Phil can be found haunting movie theatres around Toronto. He isn't dangerous,…

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