Comedy

On-Flight Entertainment: The Big Year, 2011

The Big Year, David Frankel (2011) [100 minutes]

Hey there, guys! I have been traveling so much this summer. Whether it’s bus, car, plane, zeppelin, or whatever I have had a crazy but completely awesome time! That’s why it has been so quiet on here the last few weeks, but now that will be rectified.

I have seen a incredible amount of horrible movies on planes (most of them involving Jennifer Anniston or some wannabe, I’m not sure which is worse). So, when I put on my headphones on the airplane I was preparing for the worst. I had never heard of this movie they were showing, The Big Year, and I went into it rather begrudgingly. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Big Year is a movie about an annual birding competition, in which birders, or bird watchers, have one year to travel across the United States and see as many species of birds as possible. The film takes place over a year. These men, pictured above, compete for the title of best birder. The plot, I’ll admit, sounds a little silly. I knew nothing about birding. I mean, I had no idea a competition like that even existed! But I found it all really interesting. I acquired some interesting knowledge that I’ll probably never use again, but you never know. 😛

The birding competition makes the movie more interesting and unique, but this is really a story about three men. Owen Wilson plays the reigning champion of birding. He is an antagonist of sorts, but the film really succeeds in humanizing him. He is the best of the best, but we see the price he pays to keep that up. Steve Martin is a very successful business man who only wants to retire and enjoy a big year before it’s too late. He struggles with leaving behind his job and his family, fearing he is too old for this dream. Jack Black plays our hero. A man who is really down on his luck, he has failed at most everything in life. Birding is what he’s great at and what he really wants to do. He struggles immensely throughout the film, but never gives up. Honestly, I found the portrayals of these characters refreshing. They are not unfamiliar tropes, but the way they are approached is without any sort of prejudice. The film does not judge any of its characters. Their faults and strengths are laid out for the viewer to see, without glorifying or degrading anyone in the process.

By the stars in the film you would think that this movie is sidesplittingly hilarious, but that isn’t case. It is funny, don’t get me wrong, but that isn’t the point. It’s really a feel-good, inspirational and simply adorable film. It probably won’t change your life (I mean who knows maybe you’ll want to take up birding), but it is a very way enjoyable to spend 100 minutes.

Hey! I Know That Guy: There are many little cameos throughout the movie. I always like seeing people randomly pop up out of their usual context.

Low Scores:  This movie has surprisingly low scores from critics. I was not expecting 10/10, but it is really judged way too harshly. I think most of the problem lies with people going in a expecting a comedy à la The Hangover. It is most certainly not that.

How to Watch: However you like! It’s a great film to just play one night that you are needing a cute, feel-good movie.

Who to Watch With: Anyone really can watch this. If you know someone who is a nature enthusiast or loves birds, then obviously it’s is perfect for them.

Final Verdict: I am not going to list this amongst my top films of all time, but I really found it such a lovely experience. It just felt so sincere and unpretentious. The actors do a wonderful job and the scenery is lovely. The Big Year is completely different than the movies I usually write about, its not old, foreign or too odd or out there. I wanted to review it because I really think you guys will like it. I mean I really enjoyed it, so please give it a shot!

 

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! :D 

The Rules of the Game [La Règle du Jeu]

The Rules of the Game, Jean Renoir (1939) [110 minutes]

Renoir’s The Rules of the Game is the prototypical example of the critical darling. This film has a tumultuous history. It went from being hated (and when I say hated, I’m not kidding), to being seen as one of the greatest films ever made. Whenever such a big change in public opinion occurs, it always leaves me curious. Why did all those people hate it? Why did people then love it? And most importantly: Will I/my lovely readers enjoy it?

The Rules of the Game is a tragic comedy-of-manners set in France. There is a large ensemble of characters, which on a first viewing are difficult to keep track of. The plot revolves around a series of romantic entanglements that come to light while this group is on a hunting trip to the French countryside. There are several plots involving the upstairs crowd (the wealthy couples) and the downstairs one (the servants and groundsmen). If you’re a fan of those kinds of dual, complementary tales (à la Downton Abbey), this movie is definitely worth a shot.

For me the key to understanding this film was to really pay attention. I know that sounds pretty basic, but believe me it’s trickier than it sounds. Renoir has so much stuff happening in a single shot, the audience really has to know where to look (and sometimes it’s at like 3 places at once!). He uses deep depth of field, or deep focus, to show different characters/objects in the foreground and background simultaneously. You will have two men arguing over a woman in the foreground; while in the background, she is sneaking off into an empty bedroom with another.

The mis-en-scene is also very “cluttered.” I use quotes here because I don’t mean to use that term pejoratively. The rooms are filled to the brim with antiques and opulence,  it serves to further highlight the outrageous lifestyle of the characters. The movie is a farce, rather than a true-to-life depiction of 1930’s France. This satire underscores the fact that their world is barely being held together by a set of rules. These rules must be followed, by both the wealthy and their servants, to avoid chaos. Of course, once the rules are ignored we are left to watch the delicious disaster that ensues.

Man of Many Hats: Jean Renoir is the director, writer, producer and actor in this film. He plays a the role of the bumbling jester for this elite crowd. He is in the picture at the top of the post, holding onto Christine (the only woman in the still).

Firey Reception: So, you remember how earlier I said that people really hated this film when it was released? I meant it. At the premiere, which Renoir attended, people were extremely angry. There was yelling and throwing things at the screen. The worst offender was this one man who was sitting in the theater with a newspaper. At some point he calmly unfolded his paper, stood up, took out some matches, set the paper on fire and attempted to burn the theater to the ground! That’s a pretty extreme reaction… watching it today it’s hard to see what in the film would warrant such desperation, but if you put it in context it is a little easier (not really, but we can try :P). This was released right before WWII broke out, so tensions were very high. Also, this film is a pointed critique of the stupidity and vanity of french society’s rules, of all social/financial levels, so maybe it felt a bit to truthful for them to handle.

General Tip about French Films: These kinds of movies start off REALLY slow. It feels like nothing at all is happening. They tend to pickup the pace at about the 30 minute mark, and then all the crazy, intense stuff happens. Most people who say “all French movies are so friggin’ boring,” in my opinion, don’t make it past those first 30 minutes. Which is really their loss!

How to Watch: Just pay attention. On a first viewing, you won’t get every nuance and detail, but it’s still very funny and a good time. This film is perfect for repeat viewings, every time you watch The Rules of the Game it just gets better and better.

Who to Watch This With: This film isn’t for kids. It’s very dialogue heavy and there are many confusing love triangles, hexagons, and so on. Also, there is a rather intense hunting scene. It is a very famous scene, one of the most famous in cinema history, but it is hard to watch. 

Final Verdict: The Rules of the Game is a very intimidating film to watch. It is so heavily praised, loved and revered, but remember it’s just a comedy. It’s okay to laugh! Sometimes I feel that when we watch a fancy-sounding, famous, french film, we forget that these films are supposed to be fun.  This film is silly. There is slap-stick and silly jokes, as well as drama and wit. This was made for the general public, like you and me, not an elite group of academics. So, have fun while you watch. Just because it’s old and french doesn’t mean it’s going to put you to sleep! So, sit back with some popcorn (or maybe a baguette or a nice pain au chocolat?) and enjoy.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! 😀