Three quick moviebriefs for the holiday weekend.
Directed by Ben Falcone
There was a significant amount of laughter during the pre-screening of “Tammy” but I wasn’t contributing to it (except in one single scene – and it’s always a bad sign when you can remember the precise moment you laughed once in a comedy). Most seemed to be coming from younger audience members and they’re the target here. Which is odd, because the content doesn’t seem that appealing to them, or anybody for that matter.
Melissa McCarthy plays Tammy, a clumsy and somewhat dim-witted fast food worker who loses her job and her husband and ends up on a road trip with her grandmother. She’s basically playing the same part we’ve seen her play in other films and skits, except this time that’s pretty much the whole premise of the movie. It would probably be funnier if you’d never seen her before.
The rest of the cast seems great for a comedy, at first glance, but the shame of it is that there are enough talented people here with nothing to do that you can’t help but think they could have wandered away from the set and made a better movie in their collective downtime. Dan Aykroyd, Alison Janney, Nat Faxon, Sandra Oh, and Toni Collette share approximately one supporting character’s worth of screentime and dialog. And it’s distracting to watch McCarthy’s Mom being played by Allison Janney and her grandmother by Susan Sarandon, when the three of them are 43, 54, and 67 respectively. Wait for it to come to Netflix and then play it in the background while you’re vacuuming.
Earth to Echo
Directed by Dave Green
This is a derivative retread of multiple kids’ films from prior decades, many of which may be old enough that the new audience might not be very familiar with them. The obvious starting point is “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” but there are elements of “Wall-E,” “Iron Giant,” and group adventures like “Stand by Me.” Those may sound appealing but “Earth to Echo” doesn’t manage to capture the charm of any of them.
It’s a kid’s film that borrows the ‘point of view’ camera style common in more adult oriented content, including ‘found footage’ horror films. In other words, the entire film is supposed to look like the central group of kids filmed it themselves on a video camera, cell phones, and a pair of spy glasses. The three boys all live in the same area and are being displaced from their homes by a mysterious construction project. But when all of the cell phones in their neighborhood start to display weird shapes, they decide to follow what appear to be clues and they discover an alien visitor who needs their help.
That’s a somewhat promising premise, but this is like the sanitized later version of “E.T.” with government agents who don’t seem especially threatening. And the oddest part of all is that there’s never any real emotional connection with the alien. The boys, and a girl from their school, seem to want to help it but it never seems to do anything very worthy of the loyalty they display. It actually seems to behave in a very self-serving way, largely disinterested manner, often causing the danger that they then have to escape. It’s the kind of disappointing film with no heart that you’re likely to hope won’t become a kids’ classic – and kids would be better off with one or two of the films that inspired it.
Directed by Joon-ho Bong
The most interesting film of the week is Joon-ho Bong’s “Snowpiercer” – a film that starts by explaining its high-concept premise: The world has been plunged into a deep freeze after chemicals sprayed into the atmosphere to combat global warming work too well. The only survivors of this planetary disaster live aboard a train that a rich industrialist had previously built as a luxury, round the world, rail-based cruiseline.
The train is divided into a classist society, much like in many post-apocalytic or dystopian fictional futures, with the industrialist himself driving the train, rich people living a life of pampered luxury at the front, and poor people living in squalor at the back. It’s like a traveling version of Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic ”Metropolis.” Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with the poor folks, despite an ongoing program of propaganda about maintaining one’s place in life.
It’s a decent film (if you ignore the train’s logistics) with a solid cast (including Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Kang-ho Song, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer) and it explores concepts that have been common in literature and film fairly well – although few of the surprises will be surprising if you’ve encountered similar content before. What’s most surprising about it is that it seems to be getting an “artsy” or literary kind of film release, playing at the art house Tower Theatre in Sacramento for example, when it could probably sustain a successful wider release, based on the action-oriented content alone. This is a very violent film and will be upsetting to some – but it’s also one that could prompt those “What would you do?” conversations or moral debates afterwards.