The Week in Film by Robert Mann – Week Starting 28/8/09

Funny People **

Adam Sandler in serious acting roles. It’s a concept that has never really caught on, with films that showed Sandler’s more serious side such as Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish and Reign Over Me being almost unanimously ignored by moviegoers in favour of such mainstream comedies as the (extremely mediocre) I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. It’s a shame really as Sandler is actually pretty good with serious material and for this reason he is undoubtedly one of the things that his latest star vehicle Funny People has in its favour. Unfortunately, though, his co-star is Seth Rogen, who just a couple of years ago was being hailed as the next big thing in comedy (something that this critic never understood – he isn’t funny) but now seems to be deterring moviegoers in droves. Also, despite this only being the third film featuring Judd Apatow as writer and director, he too isn’t quite the draw he once was, having produced such mediocre comedies as this year’s Year One. And, with mixed reviews and poor box office numbers across the pond the question has to be asked as to whether these really are Funny People anymore.

George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a very successful yet self-involved stand-up comedian turned movie star who learns that he has leukemia and is given less than a year to live. Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) is a struggling up-and-coming stand-up comedian who works at a deli and has yet to figure out his onstage persona, and whose successful roommates Leo Koenig (Jonah Hill) and Mark Taylor Jackson (Jason Schwartzman) like nothing more than to rub their success in his face. One thing these different men have in common is that neither of them have any close friends. One night, George takes notice of Ira when they perform at the same club and he hires him to be his semi-personal assistant and opening act at his performances. George and Ira form a close bond as George teaches Ira how to win the crowd and Ira helps the dying George find closure in his legacy. However, when George learns that his disease has gone into remission and old flame Laura (Leslie Mann) re-enters his life, his recent near death experience inspires him to reevaluate what is important to him and what truly gives meaning to his life. However, a number of obstacles stand in his way, among them Laura’s tough Australian husband Clarke (Eric Bana) who is none too happy about George’s connection with his wife.

There are two sides to Funny People. The first and perhaps the most prominent is the serious side. In this area the film does have some genuine substance. The story of a big star who seemingly has everything, but is really missing the most important things in life, who faces death right in the face only to be given a chance for redemption is both interesting and quite compelling. In this regard the film does succeed, with a great performance from Adam Sandler, who convinces in a role that is greatly removed from the usual comic characters he plays. He handles the serious aspect extremely well, believably portraying a man who knows that his death is near and is struggling to comes to term with the fact that he has pretty much wasted his life, then gets the chance to change his ways and rekindle a long lost relationship only to realise that he is not really deserving of the second chance he has been given. Sadly, we as viewers do lose sympathy for the character towards the end but this is due to the way the character is written not the way it is played and is more than likely intentional anyway. Regardless, the film is bolstered by this performance which really makes the serious parts work but regrettably it’s in the film’s other side that the film fails. While Apatow has had a degree of success combining serious and comic elements in the past, here the unusual mix of serious elements with crude gags doesn’t really work. Please bear in mind that that comedy really is a matter of taste and what one person likes another cannot stand but personally I found most of the gags to be completely unfunny and while it is great to see a film that features so much stand up comedy as this does, the humour being presented by Sandler (returning to his stand up roots) and the other comics really wasn’t to this critic’s taste. Much of the humour is quite vulgar and it certainly won’t be enjoyed by anyone with a sophisticated taste in comedy. The casting of Seth Rogen and also Superbad star Jonah Hill doesn’t help matters either. While both play far more sympathetic characters than in previous films neither is very funny, something that really lets down the film as a whole. The protégé-mentor dynamic that Rogen has with Sandler is good but this really works more in the serious aspects than the comic ones. On the plus side, however, there are amusing performances from (director Judd Apatow’s wife) Leslie Mann (whose real life daughters appear in the film as her character’s children), Eric Bana – in his third screen role this summer – who sports his native Australian accent for a change, and Torsten Voges as a very game doctor. There are also a number of star cameos including such people as Ray Romano, Eminem, Andy Dick and Sarah Silverman among quite a few others. These are strong points but sadly they are not enough to make the film as a whole funny. Ultimately what really lets the film down is the fact that is way too long, without a truly satisfying conclusion the story kind of falls apart towards the end – and that it attempts to combine elements that simply don’t go together. Played completely seriously (and without Rogen and Hill among the cast) Funny People could have been a really good film but as it stands it is a film that has great moments but getting to these moments is such hard work that it isn’t quite worth the effort.


The Final Destination 3D **
The Final Destination 2D *

The 3D revolution is now in full swing but despite all the buzz thus far cinemas have been greatly lacking in 3D releases aimed at anyone other than the family movie-going audience, the only exceptions being horror flicks such as January’s My Bloody Valentine and now The Final Destination, the fourth entry in the highly resilient ‘Final Destination’ film series. Unlike most of the 3D family films released this year, however, these horror flicks don’t seem to use 3D technology as anything more than a gimmick to attract viewers, as opposed to many films that use it as a means of enhancing the viewing experience, and it is a gimmick that seems to come at the cost of any other redeeming features the films could possibly have. In this regard The Final Destination is no different to My Bloody Valentine.

On what should have been a fun-filled day at the races, Nick O’Bannon (Bobby Campo) has a horrific premonition in which a bizarre sequence of events causes multiple race cars to crash, sending flaming debris into the stands, brutally killing his friends and causing the upper deck of the stands to collapse on him. When he comes out of this grisly nightmare Nick panics, persuading his girlfriend Lori (Shantel VanSanten), and their friends Janet (Haley Webb) and Hunt (Nick Zano) to leave, escaping seconds before Nick’s frightening vision becomes a terrible reality. Thinking they’ve cheated death, the group has a new lease on life, but unfortunately for Nick and Lori, it is only the beginning. As his premonitions continue and the crash survivors begin to die one by one in increasingly gruesome ways Nick must figure out how to cheat death once and for all before he too reaches his final destination.

The Final Destination is a 3D movie in the old fashioned sense, with the 3D serving as a gimmick to attract viewers, based around throwing stuff at the audience, and little more. The fact that the producers decided to take the 3D route suggests that there is probably little life left in the Final Destination franchise (or at least that they are running low on ideas – no doubt we will be seeing more sequels in the future) as this film’s predecessors certainly didn’t 3D to attract an audience. In fact early on all it took was a then intriguing concept and storylines that actually had some depth and that incorporated some smart touches, but the only thing this film has going for it is 3D. As far as the use of 3D is concerned, the technology is used reasonably well in some of the death sequences, although less so others, but serves no purpose in any of the interceding scenes. The deaths on show this time are much bigger and more elaborate than in previous films but bigger is not necessarily better and here only a few death sequences actually provide any scares – mainly the opening sequence at the race course, a sequence in a cinema auditorium and a sequence on an escalator. Sadly, for the most part, more effort seems to have been put into making the film gory than scary and an overuse of CGI, which looks very cheaply done for the most part, means that even those who actually like their horror films gory may well be disappointed. And if the only version of the film being shown in your cinema is the 2D version of the film you may as well not bother at all as without the 3D the impact will only be diminished further, and it is clear that the emphasis on 3D has meant that no attention has been paid to such elements as good acting or decent scriptwriting, with a virtually non-existent plot, the film mainly being just a string of death scenes with little to link them together. The story lacks any of the smart touches that were present in the other films and only briefly acknowledges the events of them. These aspects are probably not going to concern much of the target audience but the fact as a whole the film isn’t very scary is certainly a major negative factor. So, all in all, The Final Destination is one film too many for the franchise and while there are undoubtedly people who will enjoy seeing it this critic certainly wasn’t one of them and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Hopefully this is the final destination for the Final Destination franchise.


Reviews by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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