Monday, October 15, 2007

Weekend movie report: Two out of three ain't bad

Man, do I love the fall. So far, three new movies watched (two good, one pretty darn awful) and one more to go today, "Elizabeth," which I'm cautiously optomistic will be better than it's rather harsh reviews. Today I'll deal with the two winners since, after all, Monday's always just a little better with some good news.

We'll start with "Michael Clayton," which, only surprising me a little bit, got absolutely clobbered at the box office by "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married," $21.5 million to $12.1 million.

Now, I can take or leave George Clooney, frankly. Often, especially with "Syriana," he just seems so smug that I want to smack him until he cries. In "Michael Clayton," however, maybe because he's playing a character who's already been pretty beaten-down by life, I found him to be much more bearable.

In Tony Gilroy's unconventional legal thriller he plays the titular character, a "fixer" who's already pretty broken himself. Think of Mr. Wolf from "Pulp Fiction" at the end of a three-day bender and you're in the right ballpark. It's a performance that just worked for me, but most of the credit for "Michael Clayton" being such a satisfying flick goes to Mr. Gilroy and a supporting player to be named later.

Gilroy, who also wrote the screenplay for this summer's smartest thriller, "The Bourne Ultimatum," makes this rather familiar story about a high-powered law firm defending an unsavory chemical company feel fresh mostly by what he leaves out. There's not, at least that I can remember, one courtroom scene, and therefore any way-too-dramatic speeches are kept to the very end. And though there is a "smoking gun" in the form of an incriminating document, it isn't overexposed.

What Gilroy delivers instead is a solid character study, of Clooney's Clayton and even moreso of the lawyer he's sent to "fix," played by the always-welcome Tom Wilkinson. The movie opens with one of his possibly insane monologues, and it's the trajectory of Wilkinson's Arthur Edens that keeps this flick moving at a briskly entertaining pace. I'm almost certain you'll be hearing his name on Oscar night in the supporting category, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he's a winner.

My only beef with Mr. Gilroy's movie is that Tilda Swinton is rather criminally underused as the main attorney for the bad guys, as is The White Shadow as the bad guy in chief. But these are really just quibbles about a movie that deserves to be seen by many, many more people in week two.

Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married

First of all, a hearty huzzah to Mr. Perry on his box-office triumph. I had an inkling that, since my Sunday evening showing - at a time when much of his target audience might still be just returning home from church - was packed, he would come out on top for the weekend. But I had no idea he would clobber Clooney so soundly.

I've been a Tyler Perry supporter (as if he needs me) ever since "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" because he makes movies that are, although clearly flawed, like nothing else you'll see on the big screen now. And while "Why Did I Get Married" represents a real step forward in both star power and mainstream appeal, it retains the magic formula that makes his movies so enjoyable: Self-help mojo just a few degrees removed from "Oprah" but repackaged with real characters and a compelling story.

And, I'm gonna go ahead and open myself to all kinds of fire and compare him favorably to two of my favorite directors, Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar. Yes, that Woody Allen. The comparison works for me because Perry writes characters that - though they still appeal mainly to people with skin the same color as theirs - are universal in their neuroses (or, in Mr. Perry's hands, "drama.")

In the case of "Why Did I Get Married," the characters are eight college friends - four married couples - who are now approaching middle age and dealing with all kinds of issues. When "Married" works best, they handle these problems with as much humor as tears.

And, with "Married" even more than his other flicks so far, the Almodovar comparison is very strong. Here, he writes four solid female characters, and lets his top two break down in a very similar way to last year's "Dreamgirls."

The glamour girl, Janet Jackson rather than Beyonce, tops the bill but loses much of the spotlight to the big girl, here Jill Scott rather than Jennifer Hudson. And Scott steals the show because she knows that what Perry requires from her - even as she plays a very vulnerable character more than a little prone to crying - is to never forget she's a diva. It's a tremendously likable performance from a new face I think you'll be seeing a lot more of in the future. Rounding out the women are Sharon Leal as a career-minded attorney (and, in the flick, Mr. Perry's wife) and Perry regular Tasha Smith as essentially the Id, as usual the character most likely to provoke outbursts of something along the lines of "You go girl!" from the audience.

This being a Tyler Perry movie, the men get short-shrift by design, but so what? "Why Did I Get Married" isn't a perfect movie by any stretch. The story loses more than a little bit of steam once the four couples leave the Colorado mountain cabin where they go to work out their problems and return to the real world. But overall it's another successful flick that follows the Perry formula that I - and apparently more than a few other people - have grown to love.


Ian said...

Don't keep us in suspense. Enquiring minds need to know what was the "awful" movie of the three that you mentioned in your intro?

Kimberly Nichols said...

Yes, yes...I need to know what the awful movie was this weekend!

Neel Mehta said...

I'm guessing the "pretty darn awful" movie was We Own the Night, the only other new release last weekend not named Elizabeth.

Reel Fanatic said...

You're right at that, Neel ... I should have mentioned "We Own the Night" was just a tired, tired movie from start to finish .. I'll have full review up tomorrow, but that pretty much sums up my disappointment with it

Bob said...

Thanks for the warning on "We Own the Night." Glad to hear "Michael Clayton" is good. I wish Tilda Swinton had a bigger part though (she's the main reason I want to see it actually). I only made it to one movie this weekend, but it was "The Darjeeling Limited" so I can't complain. :)
I think you'll be very happy with it. I posted a review on my page if you want to check it out.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'll check that out when I have more time tomorrow, Bob, but I'm glad to hear it didn't disappoint .. I've had an inkling from the criticism I've read of it so far that it will still be pretty much perfect for me

Marina said...

I had a feeling about "We Own the Night". Oh well. One more I don't need to worry about - I'll add it to the rental list.

As for "Why Did I Get Married" I'm curious about Perry. Darn!

Reel Fanatic said...

I hope I'm not misleading anyone by singing the praises, Marina ... He's still definitely an acquired taste, but one I've definitely developed a liking for

Mercurie said...

I'll say it again. I do think Tyler Perry is a genius. He saw a niche and he has sought to fill it. I think he's going to be around for a long time to come!

Sachin G. said...

Hey Keith,

Do you know if Why Did I get married? has only gotten a limited release yet? I know it has only opened in a few Canadian cities and I have not seen too many reviews of it yet online. In fact, metacritic is showing no reviews against it.

And this is not a coincedence I am sure. Diary of a Mad Black woman hardly opened up in Canadian theaters. Hmm..

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm not sure how widely and quickly they distribute Tyler Perry's movies outside the U.S., Sachin .. There's probably an automatic bias against doing so because the suits just assume it won't do well, but since this one clobbered Clooney so soundly in week one, I'd hope it gets around pretty quickly

Sachin G. said...

I really found it amusing how this movie easily crushed the competition. And it didn't open on as many screens either. As per,

Perry's movie opened on "2,600 screens at 2,011 theaters"

"We Own the Night claimed $10.8 million on 2,700 screens at 2,362 theaters"


Michael Clayton "logged a pallid $10.4 million on 2,800 screens at 2,511 theaters"


Reel Fanatic said...

From what I've been reading after this last weekend, Sachin, it does seem that studio heads will finally open their eyes to this phenomenon .. Also. judging from the trailers that proceeded Mr. Perry's new flick, I fear there will be warmed-over versions coming out en masse soon, but I guess even baby steps should be welcomed at least a little bit

Adleane said...

I think those are great comparisons to make of Perry. I honestly believe that only time will tell how Perry will be able to hone his craft and ultimately make a statement that is enduring whether you absolutely love it or whether you absolutely hate it.

Reel Fanatic said...

I really feel that Mr. Perry's movies will stand up well over time too, Adleane ... While I'm fairly certain they'll never be the subject of scholarly study, I'd certainly put in the time to attend a Tyler Perry film fest sometime down the road