Sunday, December 21, 2008

What to rent, what to rent ...

The last piece of turkey has finally been devoured by the dog; the dishes have been crammed into the dishwasher; and the last house guests have taken their gifts and gone home. You can finally change into the jammies your mom bought you and plop yourself down in front of the TV for some much needed and well deserved down time. Luckily for you, there are plenty of great releases available to rent just in time for precisely this moment in time. You’re even luckier still because Black Sheep is make sure that moment isn’t followed by a bad movie.

If you're in the mood for entirely off the cuff, whacked out comedy, plenty of A-list celebs and hearty laughs on top of it all, then the Coen Brothers' BURN AFTER READING is perfect for you. The premise itself is certainly amusing, if not a little scattered, but it is the top-notch ensemble that solidifies this work as quintessentially Coen-esque. Regulars like George Clooney and Frances McDormand return as two particularly kooky people who find each other online while pretending to be different versions of themselves. Tilda Swinton and John Malkovich are a married couple on the way to divorce. Both are, to a fault, cold and crazed respectively, as well as formidable performers. Richard Jenkins turns in another self-effacing, understated performance (after this year’s THE VISITOR) that should nab him more work with high profile directors. And while all of these performances are top notch and so delightfully exaggerated, it is Brad Pitt that shines brightest for the simple reason that he is entirely ridiculous. Pitt plays Chad Feldheimer, a fitness trainer who has perhaps been running on endorphins for one too many laps, and the only character in this film who isn’t pretending to be anything he isn’t. This could have a lot to do with his character not being smart enough to pull off disguise but Pitt himself is more than capable. We never quite forget that we’re watching Pitt but that’s what makes his unbridled exuberance as he bounces around to the music in his headphones so darn funny.

Now I know that when it comes to famliy film, I can clearly not say enough aout WALL-E, but I actually have an alternative for you that you may have forgotten about considering it took from March until now for this film to finally get its home release. HORTON HEARS A WHO! is by far the funniest big screen Dr. Seuss adaptation I've ever seen and plenty of great lessons for the kids to learn while you leave them to watch for hours on end in front of the TV. When the book was originally published in 1954, Dr. Seuss gave his young readers an important lesson about how any voice, no matter how small it may appear to be, can change the world. Screenwriters, Ken Dario and Cinco Paul, have developed the confidence-boosting tale into a much grander take on societal hierarchies, the power of the imagination and the possibility that we are not alone in this universe. The very big elephant, Horton (voiced in a lovably whimsical fashion of fancy by Jim Carrey), randomly finds the tiniest world in the most unexpected of places, a spec of dust that has flown past him to eventually rest comfortably on a clover. It turns out that this world is known as Whoville. It plays home to hundreds if not thousands of Who’s and is run by a Who known only as The Mayor. You can only imagine The Mayor’s surprise when Horton finally makes contact with him. Now imagine that surprise voiced by the self-deprecating, neurotic genius of Steve Carrell. Together, Carell and Carey play perfectly off each other as their performances are based in the knowledge that Horton and The Mayor are not nearly as different as they initially appear. Though one is huge and one is small, they both know the meaning of responsibility and importance of helping all who need.

And for all you Christmas matriarchs out there, I have just the thing for you. Sure, you could rent MAMMA MIA! and sing along with your girlfriends one night but when you want a good, deep cry, pick up the underrated period piece, THE DUCHESS. Keira Knightly carries the weight of this film on her shoulders while carrying the weight of the wigs on her head with poise and prominence. Her big brown eyes go from playful to shy to distraught and defeated. When we first meet her, she is free and seemingly unaware of the heavier world outside of her backyard games. Before long though, she is face to face with adulthood. This particular face belongs to Ralph Fiennes as the Duke of Devonshire. It is here that director, Saul Dibb steps in to add another layer to the played out trajectory. With an age difference that is only matched in vastness by the distance between them, the Duke undresses his Duchess and asks why women’s clothing must be so complicated. There is no better occasion for small talk than before two practical strangers go to bed for the first time. Knightly, trying desperately to hide her nervousness, replies to the obviously rhetorical question though, claiming that this is the only way for women to express themselves in the times they live in. It is clear she is not sure that a reply is necessary or even allowed but it is also clear that she speaks to ensure that she is seen, that her person is present. Her clothing falls to the floor and the imprints of her corset can still be seen on the smooth of her back. THE DUCHESS is shocking on many levels but perhaps mostly in how harsh it is underneath its polished finish and how new this old tale feels.

Now, get out there and rent, rent, rent!

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