In Her Shoes
dir. Curtis Hanson
After his adaptation of L.A. Confidential assured his spot in tough guy Valhalla, director Curtis Hanson has delighted in tackling a variety of subjects, from the dope-smoking academia of Wonder Boys to 8 Mile's thuglife biopic. However disparate the content, what united these projects was Hanson's keen sense of character and tone—somehow he always found a smooth vector through the material. Riding a wave of Oscar buzz, In Her Shoes finds Hanson tackling the dreaded women's picture, with remarkably palatable results. He can't avoid all the weepy pitfalls, but his essential decency makes the copious tears and cute dogs and group hugs feel justified.
Based on Jennifer Weiner's bestseller, the premise quickly sets up its basic conflict: Introduced with a lulu of a thong shot, Cameron Diaz's barely literate Philly party girl clashes with her type-A attorney sister (Toni Collette), as she lifts cash, boyfriends, and clothes at every opportunity. After a final transgression banishes Diaz to the Florida doorstep of her estranged grandmother (Shirley MacLaine, still possessing atomic-clock timing), the irradiated family unit must find a way to reunite.
Susannah (Erin Brockovich) Grant's script takes its sweet time cranking up the final resolution, but it sports enough unusual character beats to offset the lengthy running time. (The riffing between MacLaine and her fellow retirees would be worthy of a spin-off, if Golden Girls hadn't already scorched that respective earth.) The punchlines and reaction shots may occasionally veer off into sitcom land, but Hanson and company consistently win points by playing fair with the audience. Character arcs are broad but reasoned, plot devices are conveniently timed, yet never annoyingly so, and there isn't a single damned group sing-a-long to be found. ANDREW WRIGHT
dir. Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau
There's something sad about a title sequence more vivacious than anything in the sex farce it precedes. Côte d'Azur, the new movie by the writing/directing team behind The Adventures of Felix, opens with a silly song about the hazards of aphrodisiac shellfish (the film's French title is Crustacés et coquillages, or, roughly, Shellfish and Another Kind of Shellfish). The chorus to the song goes something like "Fruit of the sea, fruit of the sea, warning! Fruit of the sea, mysterious fruit, confusion!" It also rhymes. All too soon, however, the giddy animated squiggles and pastel starfish give way to the movie's labored plot.
Marc and Béatrix (Gilbert Melki and the always-radiant Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) are gay husband and oblivious straight wife on vacation at Marc's childhood home on the French Riviera. Their kids, a squirmy teen named Laura (Sabrina Seyvecou) and a pale Caravaggio type named Charly (Romain Torres), are flush with hormones—Laura quickly speeds off to Portugal with her biker boyfriend, and Charly spends all of his time jerking off in the shower. Meanwhile, Marc and Béatrix have athletic but perfunctory sex and stuff themselves with violets, the amatory shellfish of the title sequence. Then trouble comes along, in the form of Charly's homosexually active best friend. Béatrix decides that her pretty son is gay, goes off to hump her revolting faun of a lover, and remains utterly clueless as to her husband's sexual orientation.
Slammed doors and several disquieting intimations of incestuous desire ensue. Unfortunately, none of the pansexual hijinks is particularly funny. The score has a distressing tendency to accelerando whenever a character is nearing climax, the cinematographer can't even make the Mediterranean Sea look blue, and the halftime musical number is more awkward than cute. And did I mention Béatrix's lover is the ugliest human being I've ever seen? ANNIE WAGNER
Wallace & Gromit:The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
dir. Steve Box and Nick Park
It should be known that until seeing Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I was never privy to the light-hearted goofiness of these Wallace and Gromit claymation characters. One is a goofy-looking Brit (Wallace), the other is a too-smart dog (Gromit), and together they invent elaborate and weird contraptions and get into all kinds of quirky trouble. Who knew?
So this time around, it's almost time for the annual vegetable fair, and the whole town has been taking great care in growing the very best produce possible. Problem is, a bunch of ravaging rabbits have been eating up as much of the harvest as their bunny faces can fit. This would be a problem, but luckily for everyone, Wallace and Gromit have invented the Bunny Vac 6000, a large vacuum that humanely sucks up the cutest frickin' bunnies in the whole wide world, and safely releases them to another location. Hooray! But you know how bunnies like to, ahem, breed, so of course the rabbit population keeps rising and rising despite Wallace's efforts. And in the meantime, the whole town, including the wealthy and highly sought-after Lady Tottington, is turning to Wallace and Gromit to find a more permanent solution to the problem.
Pressured by everyone in existence, Wallace and Gromit search for an answer. But in the midst of an experiment to reverse-engineer the bunnies' veggie-craving brains, they end up creating the biggest and most beastly bunny you've ever seen: the Were-Rabbit! Oh no!
The humor is just as funny as the classic Loony Tunes (which were funny!) but even smarter because it's not actually American-made. Which isn't to say Americans are stupid... ahem. MEGAN SELING
dir. Rob McKittrick
As any kid who has ever shot dairy products through his nasal passages can testify, the key to a great dirty gag isn't so much the content as the presentation. (See also: The Aristocrats, or just about any joke involving a truckload of dead babies.) Set within a bric-a-brac-studded theme restaurant, Waiting... aspires to be the grand champeen of the vulgar workplace comedy pioneered by Clerks, but the all-important rhythm between cast and script feels miserably off. Not to get all Joel Siegel-y or anything, but the delivery sucks.
Unaccountably, first-time director Rob McKittrick's script strands an awful lot of talented folks within his tired Kevin Smith–aping framework. (For what it's worth, best-of-show honors go to Alanna Ubach, who makes the most out of her lifer waitress stuck in a permanent state of high piss-off.) As the lead horndog, Ryan Reynolds seems visibly embarrassed by the quality of his quips, which must be a first. The director reportedly spent almost a decade as a server, which makes the various stale shenanigans of his characters—drunk line cooks, sexed-up waiters, booger-related acts of revenge against fussy customers—seem even less inspired. As far as the strangely hostile cheerfulness of chain eateries goes, Office Space did more with a single throwaway joke than McKittrick musters in three acts.
There's a lot to be said for gratuitous raunch, of course, especially in these overly sanitized days. Still, even graded on a generous lowbrow curve, Waiting... falls into the dreaded comedic dead zone—far from inspired, but not quite lousy enough to be train-wreck memorable, either. When the sight of venerable character actor Luis Guzman's scrotum causes nothing more than a mild uneasiness, something just ain't right. ANDREW WRIGHT
dir. Dave McKean
Artist Dave McKean's status as preferred wallpaperer to the goths is well deserved. Working as a cover artist for, among others, writer Neil Gaiman's legendary Sandman comic series, McKean's compositions incorporate bones, splinters, and junk-store detritus into a darkly creepy whole. At their best, his painted/photographed images carry a uniquely tactile vibe.
MirrorMask, McKean's much-anticipated feature-length directorial debut, shows that whatever his gifts, moving pictures may not yet be his medium. Taken on a shot-by-shot basis, McKean's talents for design are more than evident, with bizarro cityscapes and oddball characters rendered even more impressive by the miniscule $4 million budget. On a whole, however, the results are less Lewis Carroll and more Labyrinth. Working again with Gaiman, McKean has crafted a curious oddity: a unique new world, crammed to the gills with invention, which comes off as almost completely static. A fantasy can be a lot of things, but dull shouldn't be one of them.
Beginning at a tiny family-run circus, the premise comes dangerously close to overdosing on clowns and jugglers (be warned, Fellini-phobes) before settling down to the story proper: Faced with a sick mum, a precocious teen wakes up in a world of her drawings, with a mission to recover a magic talisman from a strangely familiar Dark Queen. Any Alice or Oz similarities are clearly intentional, which is part of the problem. Although studded with distracting bits—winged fish, giant conjoined twins, man-faced sphinxes with a literal taste for books—Gaiman's script seems rather too pleased by its own cleverness to bother doing much with the form. Despite the visual novelty, it seems there's still no place like home. ANDREW WRIGHT