Posts Tagged ‘Steve Carell’

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HORTON HEARS A WHO! (2008)

April 17, 2008

Horton Hears a Who! Review


Matt:

Length: 88 min

Taglines:
One Elephant One World One Story.
Who-mongous!
The Next Big Comedy Event.
A person’s a person no matter how small!

Précis: Charming and clever adaptation of Dr Seuss’s story that is actually a great laugh for adults too.

Review by Matt:

Horton Hears a Who! is another big budget, star-ridden, animated kids’ blockbuster. As an embellished adaptation of Dr Seuss’s famous children’s rhyme of the same name, Horton Hears a Who! has really got it going on for the kids. It’s imaginative, colourful, funny and friendly. But whether a film like this is truly high quality or not, it sometimes seems its target age group will always scream with delight, do some cartwheels, eat the happy meal, and then fall asleep on the way home. The true contest is: can it also appeal to you, the more discerning adult viewer?

The answer is a joyous ‘yes’. And unexpectedly so. I saw Horton Hears a Who! with some trepidation. Firstly, I’m not a kid. But secondly, I’m also not really a fan of Twentieth Century Fox Animations’ previous efforts, Robots and the Ice Age films. They seemed to lack the clever sparkle that made some of the Pixar hits – such as The Incredibles and Ratatouille – a hoot for adults as well. But, with Horton Hears a Who!, Fox found the sparkle. It is a frenzied delight, both clever and slapstick-funny, resulting in one of the most entertaining movies around at the moment for viewers of all ages.

Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey) is an affable jungle elephant who one day hears tiny voices emanating from a speck of dust. He’s not crazy – his elephant ears have detected the sounds of an infinitesimal, fun-loving civilization called “Whos”. The Whos, led by their loveable Mayor (voiced by Steve Carrell), are cheerful oddballs and they love “Whoville”, a place of curves and contraptions that is quintessentially Seussian (and that could lead to a whole new wave of ‘sea-monkey’ sales). But in the world outside their world, the Whos’ speck-sized planet has been dislodged. Lucky thing Horton has nestled it safely in a flower so that he can find a place for safe resettlement. Unfortunately, Horton’s mission is impeded by the Jungle’s waspish matriarch (voiced by Carol Burnett), a kangaroo who surely would be out of a job if her name didn’t rhyme with “who”. Unable to hear the tiny Whos, Kangaroo is incensed at Horton’s imagination, insisting (rather fanatically) that imagination leads to rebellion and rebellion to anarchy. Meanwhile down in Whoville, the poor Mayor is the only one who can hear Horton, and he struggles to convince the inhabitants of a world where nothing has ever gone wrong, that something is about to go spectacularly wrong.

Horton Hears a Who! is tightly packed with action and movement – there are things flying around all over the place. As you’d expect, the animation is top-quality, but it is also directed smartly and a couple of the elaborate action sequences are great. But best of all, the film has a sense of humour with a taste for the absurd (the sudden ridiculous pop-song tickled me just right) and it is often, surprisingly, uproarious. Like many modern animations, it is also self-aware, which allows for a few smart anti‑climax jokes and a great parody sequence of the animated style. Maybe kids these days are getting used to post-modern animations (is post-post-modern on the way?) but I still love it when cartoons make jokes by defying genre conventions.

Using quality comedic actors for the voices also pays off. Steve Carrell plays a combination of his other “loveable doofus” characters, giving the Mayor a klutzy charm. Jim Carey uses just about the right balance of comedic wackiness for Horton, keeping the volume well below his maximum setting of “Ace Ventura”. Will Arnett gives an amusing exaggerated evil to Vlad, a vampiric vulture who sounds exactly as you would expect an evil character called Vlad to sound. With two evil vulture roles in a row (he was also the evil vulture in Ice Age 2) Will Arnett also cements himself as the number one vulture-voice guy in town.

Inside its zany shell, Horton Hears a Who! tells a pretty simple moral tale, championing Dr Seuss’s worthy maxim of universal humanity: “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” The characters do seem a bit representational; Kangaroo is especially extreme – and kind of irritating – in all her imagination-crushing authority. The willingness of the jungle folk to be moulded into a lynch mob is also a bit disheartening. The film’s decrying of the “it doesn’t exist if you can’t see it” attitude could easily be interpreted as a religious comment, but thankfully it doesn’t really push this at us. In fact, the only pushing is saved for better messages: that we should stand up to the dream-crushers and that we should care for everyone, even the little folks. It’s a nice message to teach the little folks watching Horton Hears a Who. Of course, it doesn’t go astray on the big folks either (Dr Seuss’s original story was apparently a parable about the US occupation of Japan). But, the best bit of all is that it comes in a consistently hilarious and fun package.

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DAN IN REAL LIFE (2007)

April 3, 2008

Dan in Real Life Review
Dan in Real Life Screenshot

Matt:

Length: 98 min

Tagline:
Something’s happening to Dan. It’s confusing. It’s awkward. It’s family.

Précis: Likeable, but run-of-the-mill romantic comedy emerges as a puff of family fluff.

Review by Matt:

Poor Dan (Steve Carrell). He’s the protagonist in one of those conventional Hollywood family romantic comedies. That means that he is a good, middleclass, middle-aged father and a nice guy, but he’s a widower raising three young daughters alone. The daughters are typically unimpressed with their Dad – he is embarrassingly overprotective, uncool etc – so when the whole extended family gather for Thanksgiving at the Rhode Island lodge belonging to Dan’s parents (John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest), Dan wanders into town to give them some girl-time. Browsing in a bookshop, Dan miraculously meets, chats to, and *snap* falls in love, with a charming stranger, Marie (Juliette Binoche). She’s in a relationship, but he scores her number anyway. Later back at the lodge, the new girlfriend of Dan’s brother Mitch (Dane Cook) arrives. Oh, guess who it is? Yep. Marie from the bookshop. The sparks in Dan’s heart turn to needles. He’s going to need to keep this whole thing a secret from his large and inquisitional family.

After its setup, Dan in Real Life carries on in the key of “unrequited love” a bit too long and loudly. For most of its length we watch as Dan pulls his hair out and a waterfall of ironic and frustrating events pour over him: Dan stuck behind jazzercising Marie; Dan trapped in close quarters with Marie; Mitch and Marie crawling over each other in a (poorly executed) yoga pose while Dan looks on. Etc. Dan’s frustration leads to foolish, jealous behaviour which earns the scorn and concern of his omnipresent family and, according to the movie poster, can be relieved by laying one’s head down onto a stack of pancakes. Problem is, we get it after the first ten minutes. Each new frustration doesn’t vary the melody, it just amplifies it.

Perhaps these standard romantic comedy plotlines are revisited so often because they really do echo the trials we all face in real life. But in real life we don’t actually know what is going to happen. Here we do. We’re also catapulted to this ending so suddenly that messy streaks of pretence are left all over. In real life we also don’t speak in Hollywood or sit-com platitudes, as they do in this film. The levels of cliché are occasionally so elevated that you may find yourself cringing and saying out loud “No, don’t say tha – ohh, I can’t believe they just said that.” Screenwriter Peter Hedges was lauded for his earlier work About a Boy. Admittedly I was irked by the trite sentimentality in that film too. Dan in Real Life has about the same level. Just to fully make this point: the romantic compliment “I thought I died because an angel just walked in to the room” is pitched to us as a serious line. Try saying that to someone in real life and see how it goes.

The offset to all this is, of course, that Dan in Real Life is actually a pretty nice and likeable film (in my opinion, a lot more likeable than About a Boy). It has humour and romance and a whole lot of sit-com ‘Christmas-special’ style sentimentality (thoughtless comments from rude uncles, family talent shows etc). It’s a comedy, obviously, but it’s a featherweight one. There are funny moments, but nothing to really surprise you, prick you, or make you laugh too heartily. Steve Carrell is the best part of the film; he has a comic spark that lets him overclock the meagre humour in not-so-funny lines and situations. But inevitably Dan in Real Life resides somewhere in the bland no-man’s land of standard Hollywood fare. It’s not that it’s bad. It’s ok. It’s just that it’s so dulled by convention and niceness that it emerges as a big puff of family fluff.