four six-minute reviews: in Houston airport

Can I write movie reviews while waiting in Houston Hobby airport for my flight (currently running 30 minutes late) to be called? Let’s find out. I have a list of movies I haven’t written about, and while I can’t randomize very well, or time myself, this will be the Airport Edition of six-minute movie reviews.
1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: 2005, dir. MIke Newell. Seen at Alamo Village.
I felt a bit sad because this is the first Harry Potter movie I saw alone. For the other three, I slipped out of work early and saw them with co-workers, hoping that the matinees would be less crowded. We saw the second and third movies at Alamo Village, because the pre-show stuff they play beforehand is agreeably silly.

I haven’t found any of the four Harry Potter movies to be particularly memorable, although they are generally fun to watch one time in the theater. The third movie has been my favorite: the characters had more depth, especially Hermione. (Chris Columbus, who directed the first two films, did not seem to understand how to direct or portray women … I will save my little rant on this for another time, since he’s not directly involved with the fourth film.)
Mike Newell, the director of the fourth film, is perhaps best known for light and witty British comedies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Enchanted April. I think he was a bit out of his depth here.
But I don’t think any director could have handled the situation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire well. It is a very long book that has to be compressed into an under-three-hours movie. Steve Kloves has adapted all four books, and I am sure he did his best, but it must be difficult with the book’s author breathing down your neck the whole time.
The movie is action-packed—it has to be, in order to get through the bare necessities of plot from the book. However, this means that the charming little details that are the best part of the books are neglected and missing. The characters are once again flat; except for Harry, they just do as they’re told. We see a little bit of everything and not enough of anything.
The book maybe should have been two movies, but that never seems to work well with audiences (see Kill Bill). Or really, the series would have been lovely for TV, with each year of a book being a season.
I will probably see the fifth movie, and all the other movies, because I”m a sucker (even though I hated the fifth book). I always fuss about people who continue to pay money to see mediocrity, such as the second trilogy of Star Wars movies. And here I am doing it, but the Harry Potter books aren’t mediocre. They just aren’t quite suitable for film adaptation.
(Why do airports have to have these TV monitors throughout the gate area, with nowhere to escape their loud blaring “news” and advertisements? It is almost as bad as pre-movie ads. I have headphones on and I can still hear this crap.)
2. Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit: 2005, dir. Nick Park. Seen at Alamo South Lamar.
I can’t believe I didn’t write a review immediately after seeing Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. That’s not true. I did write a review … of A Christmas Caper, the atrocious advertisement disguised as a short film that preceded this charming movie. The Dreamworks fans came out of the woodwork to tell me that I lack a sense of humor. Some also thought I was a prude, which made no sense at all, but whatever.
Anyway, while I had nothing nice to say about the little short before Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I have nothing bad to say about the feature film itself. I love Wallace and Gromit, and have enjoyed all three animated shorts featuring the characters that Aardman Animation has created in the past decade or so. My favorite is “The Wrong Trousers,” which has possibly the best penguin in film ever.
I am sure that I am going to buy the DVD of the movie as soon as it is released and I scrape up the cash. Okay, I may wait for it to go on sale, but not long.
What can I say? I am inordinately fond of jokes about cheese, rabbits flying around in the air, women dressed as produce, dogs who can say volumes by raising a single eyebrow …
There must be something I didn’t like about this movie, but it’s been awhile since I saw it and I can’t remember what it was. Oh, yeah. The lack of penguins.
3. The 40-Year-Old Virgin: 2005, dir. Judd Apatow. Seen at Alamo Lake Creek.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin did not seem like the kind of movie I would normally see. I do not like dumb sex comedies. However, people kept telling me that The 40-Year-Old Virgin was not a dumb sex comedy, that Catherine Keener and Steve Carell raised the level of humor considerably past, say, American Pie, and that I ought to give it a chance. Eventually, I did. Besides, I’d heard Judd Apatow speak at Austin Film Festival and he seemed like a pretty funny guy.
What I didn’t liike about The 40-Year-Old Virgin: all the guys are assholes and all the women are sex-hungry sleazy sluts, except for the two main characters. I suppose that’s the point; look at all these people who aren’t virgins, and why would you possibly want to mock Carell’s character compared to them?
However, I am noticing a trend in big dumb comedies in which all the guys are jerks and idiots, and delight in treating women badly, but we are supposed to forgive them because this is how guys act. After all, they do occasionally have their moments, and will do one redeeming thing in the third act. Maybe. (I am thinking of Anchorman here, which also involves Carell and Apatow, but I could rattle off a half-dozen other movies from Harold and Kumar to The Wedding Crashers.) I don’t much enjoy watching men or women act like assholes, even if they are being funny about it. All the male characters have a certain amount of charm along with their jerkiness. The women don’t, though.
My friends were right: The 40-Year-Old Virgin worked for me only because of the two main characters and the actor/actress portraying them. Despite all their well-meaning dumbass friends, they manage to get together and understand each other and fall in love.
The other thing I don’t like about this movie is that some of it is terribly contrived. For example, the bit in which Keener thinks that Cavell is a stalker was not convincing. She’s gotten to know him for awhile, so why would she think he’s a serial killer? Because it is necessary to propel the film towards its climactic ending (so to speak). The scene in which he decides she’s nagging him is weird, too, because she’s obviously not … she is not at all behaving like the stereotypical female shrew that seems to be so prevalent in movies these days, but he treats her as though she is. Maybe this is more accurate than I realize. Do guys really see us all as nagging shrews when we calmly support them and encourage them to do things they have said they want to do? Because that would say a lot about why I’m seeing all the shrews in film these days.
Still, The 40-Year-Old Virgin has many delightful and funny moments to make up for the occasional clunkers in the plot. It’s a cute dumb romantic comedy that is supposed to appeal to men and women alike, like There’s Something About Mary. I guess that would explain the urination jokes and the dog-humping jokes. Oh, and Paul Rudd was kinda cute.
(Hasn’t my flight been called yet? What do you mean, delayed yet another 15 minutes? Damn. I guess I should pick one more movie …)
4. Big Fish: 2003, dir. Tim Burton. Seen on DVD.
We had Big Fish from Netflix for a month before we watched it, and we only caved in and saw it because we cancelled Netflix and needed to send it back the next day. We didn’t realize it was more than 2 hours long before we rented it, and both of us are a little reluctant to jump into longer movies.
I was feeling divided about Big Fish anyway, even though I was the one to select it. I had heard the story that Spalding Gray had watched this movie with his kids … and shortly thereafter, jumped off a bridge to his death. That wasn’t going to make me feel very cheerful about the film.
After seeing the film, I kind of understood why, but that made it all even sadder.
Big Fish is a movie with a lot of flashback sequences. Albert Finney is dying, slowly, of cancer, and his son Billy Crudup visits him to attempt a reconcilation and to try to figure out who the hell his father really is, anyway. His dad has spent his entire life telling tall tales about his adventures, swearing every story is true. The son feels like even his wedding reception was upstaged by his dad’s oft-told tale about catching the biggest fish in the nearby lake.
So his dad tells story after story during the film, and we see the stories in flashback. In flashback, he gets to be Ewan McGregor, which is almost as good as getting to be a young Albert Finney. (Actually I think McGregor looks like a younger Kenneth Branagh.) I hoped this meant his character might sing and dance a bit, but no such luck.
The stories told by the dad are often very interesting and certainly are much better than the present-day segments of the film, which are rather dull. Helena Bonham-Carter gets to be a scary one-eyed witch, and later a less interesting woman from a strange small town. All kinds of odd and unusual people get quirky little roles in this movie: Steve Buscemi, Loudon Wainwright, Danny DeVito, and Robert Guillaume. Jessica Lange plays Albert Finney’s wife, which is difficult to believe because … Jessica Lange is old? She doesn’t look that old.
Big Fish didn’t quite gel for me. Some of it moved too slowly, and I can’t be the only person who wanted to give Billy Crudup a good smack on the side of the head. It’s a lovely looking movie, which is par for Tim Burton, but I felt that parts of the script were stronger than the film as a whole.
Okay, I suppose I should call my mom and let her know the flight has been delayed again. The plane isn’t here yet … and it’s coming from New Orleans, where the weather is gorgeous. So what’s the holdup? We may never know. If only airports had free wireless.

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