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Life is a playground – Comedies come out to play during economic tough times

January 22, 2009

yes-manLuis Guzman has a small cameo in one of the worst scenes of the movie, “Yes Man.”. It is tolerable only because of him. See Guzman at the Oxford Film Fest in 2 weeks in the hilarious short film, “I Kicked Luis Guzman in the Face.”

As Published in the Oxford Town

I haven’t spent a lot of time in the theater recently but this weekend, I decided to hide out in the dark and catch up on some releases. First up was “Yes Man” starring Jim Carrey as his usual silly self that learns a heartwarming lesson.

You have seen him do it in “Liar, Liar” and “Bruce Almighty,” but while the lesson remains the same, the plot and cast of characters are new. The film starts with Carrey being a naysayer to most of life, likely due to his divorce three years prior which we are introduced to within the first ten minutes. Then he loses his job promotion after five years at the same dead end bank job.

His boss Norman is a strange bird reminiscent of Michael Scott of “The Office” and Jemaine of “Flight of the Conchords.” He is an utter nerd that just wants to be liked and in a way he is somewhat adorable in his oddities. The other odd bird is the doe-eyed blue-eyed Zooey Deschanel as Alison, the love interest. She manages an average performance but gets to utter one of the best lines in the film: “the world is a playground, we know that as kids, but somewhere along the way you forget.”

Writer Nicholas Stoller has a way with interesting characters but I was less impressed with his work here than with his directing of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

But Carrey’s character always seems a light sketch of what we could see underneath. He uses his typical squishy face to twist into every emotion a lonely man who is a shell of a life could have. Then, as the light dawns on him, he uses his wonder and awe look to show understanding. Between this and his constant use of the word yes we know he is developing.

But we can connect with him in a way. His fear of stepping out into life after a heartbreak is something with which we all are familiar. And that is where a generic film such as “Yes Man” ensnares you. Everyone can find a way to relate to such a general character, a typical guy who may a little down on his life and needs a boost to get back to living.

Is it worth a theatrical viewing? Maybe not, but a rental – sure. “Yes Man” is rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor and is playing now at The Amp.

I wouldn’t say I loved “Yes Man,” but it sure beat the rest of the day I had. Sitting comfortably by myself in The Amp, Oxford’s newest movie theater, I enjoyed the luxury of a comfortable chair and side table and a theater all to myself. But being the only one in the theater concerned me. Are we really going to let our chance to have choice between theaters and films disappear once again? I admit, I was as much to blame last time as everyone else, but this time around we have the opportunity to see films such as Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”

Two months ago I would never have believed it possible in Oxford, but on Friday I saw “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” While the film didn’t live up to quite the hype I had expected, I actually got the chance to find out for myself!

Starring Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johannson, Rebecca Hall and Penelope Cruz, the sexy comedy was a weak characterization of women (it’s Woody Allen, whaddya expect?) but a lovely romp through a summer fling. Bardem stars as Juan Antonio, the sexy Spaniard who attracts both Vicky (Hall) and Cristina (Johannson).

While both experience their own intimacies with him, it is the troubled ex-wife Maria (Cruz) that sparks life into the film. Her passionate artistic sensibilities flair and create a movie worth seeing.

Best thing about the film is discovering cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe. The beauty of Barcelona and sensuality of several scenes was heightened by his work. I look forward to seeing his next cinematography in “The Road” later this year.

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexuality and smoking. It is now playing at The Amp.

On Saturday, I decided to balance my theater experience by hitting up my old friend, The Malco. I took my 11-year-old on a movie date and we settled in to watch his choices, strangely both Happy Madison Productions.

First up was “Bedtime Stories,” the Adam Sandler fantasy-comedy about stories that come true in real life. It is hard to even write a review of the film as it was the most unmemorable experience I have had at a theater. Some attempts at humor with gumballs, horses and midgets are about all I can remember.

But, much like “Yes Man” the story is one of enjoying the playground of life and never forgetting to dream. Problem was, “Yes Man” did it better.

Two major problems with the film was the absolute waste of talent including comedian Russell Brand as the friend and Courtney Cox as the sister who has a bland personality and is stuffed in a corner of the film to be forgotten. The other problem is the half-hearted attempt to explain away the magical occurrences in the beginning of the film and then giving up on any explanations as it continued.

To be fair, my 11-year-old found it hilarious.

“Bedtime Stories” is rated PG for some mild rude humor and mild language. The film is now playing in Malco (but may be gone by Friday!)

A friend of mine once said that January is where movies go to die. With so-so comedies such as “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” as one of the big releases, I am beginning to believe it. Also a Happy Gilmore Production (Sandler’s company), the film stars and is written by Kevin James.

And as much as I hate to say it, the movie is not half bad. I laughed occasionally, if not as much as the rest of the audience, and didn’t roll my eyes like in “Bedtime Stories” or “Yes Man.”

The film stars James as Paul Blart, a mall cop that can’t become an officer due to his hypoglycemia. He is also a single father who falls for Amy, played by the always funny Jayma Mays (redhead in “Epic Movie”). Due to his devotion to her, instead of escaping the mall after robbers take over, he chooses to stay behind and fight, singlehandingly taking down all the bad guys.

Mall Cop is the perfect film for a bad economy, the average Joe taking on corrupt forces and becoming the hero. With a lesser comedian, the movie would be nothing, but with James at the helm writing and delivering the lines, his comic timing helps things along.

Feel good comedies with little danger of unpredictability will be releasing by the dozens over the next couple of years. And why not? We all need to laugh a little these days.

“Paul Blart: Mall Cop” is rated PG for some violence, mild crude and suggestive humor and language. It is playing now at Malco. For showtimes at The Amp visit http://www.novacinemas.com. For Malco showtimes, visit http://www.malco.com. —melanie@oxfordeagle.com

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