Monday, January 17, 2011

"TrueGrit", "Piranha", "MacGruber", "Somewhere", "Straight Outta LA": Catching Up on 2010 (Part 1) - January 17, 2011

Weeellllll... I need to stick to my guns and keep up with my writing. One way I'm gonna do that is by talking about all the stuff I missed in 2010, which, as of my top 10 article, was still plenty. The reality is that I would love to have had a concise, well-informed top 10, after seeing everything that was released in the 365-day span of 2010. But that, for countless reasons, including the fact that I don't get PAID to do this and just this all day long, wasn't gonna happen. So today I begin a series where I will discuss the stuff from 2010 that I have been catching up on. Hence, the title.

First up, a movie I did catch in 2010, but about a day after I wrote my wrap up and a day away from the New Year. The Coen Bros.' version of true Grit really needs no introduction, especially not this late in the game. It's made, for a Coen's movie, a shit ton of money and has had favorable reviews from 95% of the critical community. Good for it. Good for them. Far be it for me to be a dissenting voice. However, my only real complaint has more to do with the fact that, again, 2010 was such a shit year for movies that really good movies like True Grit are being called masterpieces and given top honors all around. Is it a masterpiece? No. Is it really good and worth the price of a ticket? Yes. Moving on.

Next, two movies I would have seen in the theater, but just did not get around to because, well, 9.99 times out of 10 when I see a movie in the theater I go with my girlfriend and she just wasn't into these flicks when they were in their first-run theatrical release. So lucky me, the other day I got food poisoning, stayed home, and rented "Piranha" and "MacGruber" for a double feature of what I was sure was going to be just over 180 minutes of sheer inanity. And I wasn't let down. Piranha, shitty CGI aside, was okay. I love the first film and was ready to be disappointed, but wanted to remain positive. Big thumbs up to the lovely Kelly Brook. She's much smarter and charming than the average pretty face cast in shit like this and she does a great job. Also, a big congrats to Alexander Aja; this is the first film of his that I liked 100%. Finally, nice ending, i.e. lead-in for the sequel. Very funny.

MacGruber shouldn't have been half as funny as it is, but it's still not classic funny. (Sorry Devin.) Kristen Wiig feels wasted about 90% of the time, but still shines through in the handful of moments where her character really works. Ryan Philippe has the thankless straight man gig and plays it perfectly. MacGruber is really about how far Will Forte is willing to take this one-note TV character into hyper-hard-R-rated comedy and on that note the film doesn't fail. Some of the jokes are beyond the threshold of uncomfortable and that is where the best laughs come into play. The problem is that between all that is a lot of action movie parody that has been handled better by the likes of Hot fuzz and even some of the more ridiculous film in Stallone's own catalog.

Thank goodness for friends with Academy screeners, because some thing tells me that if I hadn't gotten a copy of Somewhere in such a manner I probably wouldn't have seen it for a long, long time. The only way I can describe this film is quaint. The story is small, personal and told in a minimal, cinema verite fashion that keeps all of the focus on the relationship at the center of the film. Though there are moments where the films feels like its languishing out of sheer malaise, you get that Coppola's is using this as shorthand for the life of Stephen Dorff's character. As for Dorff, well, it isn't the strong comeback performance every one was making it out to be, but he's really good and plays every scene consistently. Not as good as Virgin Suicides, not as pandering, elitist and xenophobic as Lost in Translation, Somewhere feels like Coppola in a holding pattern, waiting for someone to give her more money again after the failure of Marie Antoinette.

Finally, one of my best friends gave me my Christmas gifts two weeks after the fact. Hey, ballyhoo for him, because I still need to give him his and it's mid-January. One of the gifts was a DVD of Ice Cube's recent ESPN documentary "Straight Outta LA", which details the transplant LA Raiders' effect on hip-hop culture and the minority culture at large in that city's sprawling landscape. Now, I'm younger than Cube, but not so much so that I don't remember these times. I am a Raiders fan and I am a hip-hop fan. (Just the other day at the NAMM convention I met Chuck D, looked him in the eye and told him "Fear of a Black Planet was MY punk rock!".) Any way, quaint is also a good way to describe Cube's doc. Much like Somewhere it's a little film, made for little money, by some one who is deeply connected to the material at hand. Cube could have painted on a much larger canvas than he did, but that would defeat the point of his making the film. He's giving you his own take on the subject, while filling out the rest of the story with interviews with the people a 14 or 15 year-old O'Shea Jackson could never imagine talking to at the time, including Raiders Howie Long and Marcus Allen, many of the city officials who were part of the team's move to and life at the Coliseum and, amazingly, a very rare interview with elusive Raider owner Al Davis. Great if you're a Raiders, NWA/Ice Cube fan, or LA native, but might not appeal across the board. Hence, I liked it, but I'm not giving it the strongest recommendation.

True Grit - 8.5/10
Piranha - 6/10
MacGruber - 6/10
Somewhere - 7/10
Straight Outta LA - 7/10


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