22 November, 2009

Sink me! Two great comedies, one monstrous intolerable!

I recently watched two great comedies from across the pond. The first is a French film, The Dinner Game. Netflix describes it thusly,

Writer-director Francis Veber's clever comedy shadows a group of French intellectuals who gather each Wednesday night for a dinner game, in which the challenge is to bring along the most idiotic guest. Pierre (Thierry Lhermitte) thinks he's found a ringer in François (Jacques Villeret), a civil servant whose passion is making architectural models out of matchsticks. But Pierre gets more than he bargained for when François becomes his houseguest.
This is an example of what we call misdirection. Admittedly I'm not the brightest fellow, but I had a completely different notion of how the film might go. Without giving the game away, I'll simply say that I expected to see the dinner: but the two main characters never actually go there.

The other is The Scarlet Pimpernel, which introduced me to Anthony Andrews, who as the title character in this 1982 retelling of Baroness Orczy's novel outshone Ian McKellen. Let me repeat that in case you missed it: there is a living actor who outshines Gandalf/Magneto/Richard III, and it wasn't as if McKellen was doing less than his best; one review of the movie puts it this way: young actors should be forced to study McKellen's facial expressions in this film.

Andrews, however, goes over the top as the foolishly foppish, snuff-sniffing, ruinously rhyming Scarlet Pimpernel. (You could say he inspired my abysmal alliteration in the previous sentence.) I loved it. My wife loved it. My 13 year-old son loved it, saying something to this effect: That's pretty good for an old movie.

Old?!? It dates only from 1982!!!

Up, by contrast, has a superb opening, but slides downhill from there into a huge disappointment. It's worth watching for those first 5–10 minutes, where so much more is told without words than in the remaining hour and a half or so. I really thought I was going to love the (Squirrel! …) film at the outset, but then it lost its novelty.

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