Good


Good

Viggo Mortensen has to keep telling himself he's not in Mordor anymore...it's worse!

(2008) Drama (THINKfilm) Viggo Mortensen, Jason Isaacs, Jodie Whittaker, Mark Strong, Steven Mackintosh, Gemma Jones, Anastasia Hille, Ruth Gemmell, Ralph Riach, Steven Elder, Kevin Doyle, David de Keyser, Guy Henry, Adrian Schiller, Tallulah Boote Bond. Directed by Vicente Amorim

 

We like to think we know the difference between right and wrong and given the choice between the two, will choose the former. That is the definition of a good person, isn’t it? Someone who always chooses the right thing over the wrong thing? Sometimes, the definitions aren’t so clear-cut.

John Halder (Mortensen) is a literature professor in Berlin in the late 1930s as the Nazi party is rising to power. He has written a book in which euthanasia was a theme and the higher-ups in the Party have taken it as a means of excusing the Final Solution, not that John knows any of this. What he dos know is that joining the Party – whose politics he objects to and disagrees with – can mean comfort and safety for his family. So he joins.

His best friend, Maurice Gluckstein (Isaacs) who happens to be Jewish, sees the inherent evil in Nazism that his friend John (shouldn’t it be Johann if this is in Germany?) obviously has turned a blind eye to. And John isn’t a bad man, he’s just doing right by his family?

But when you take one step down the rotten path, sometimes it becomes easier to take other steps. He leaves his neurotic brunette wife (Hille) for a blonde, Aryan student (Whittaker) who the party approves of. She is much more in tune with Party politics than his wife, who like her parents and his, see the transformation Germany is undergoing with horror. It isn’t until it is much too late that John realizes the evil he has bought into and for that kind of mistake the price is very high indeed.

This is based on a 1982 play by John Wrathall which I understand was staged in a very stream-of-consciousness, minimalist way. The storytelling is a little more conventional here (with a subplot about John’s abominable treatment of his mother (Jones) thrown in for good measure) but there are still holes in it. Part of what should make this an excellent subject for a movie is that there really isn’t much exploration as to why John turned such a blind eye to what his country was becoming. It seemed to be out of almost convenience – it was simply easier to go with the flow. It seems to be an over-simplified explanation from what I know of Germany from that era.

Also, the characters (other than Gluckstein, who is portrayed with marvelous zest by Isaacs) are mostly bland and somewhat  without much personality. John is supposed to be a brilliant man who is motivated out of expedience to care for his family, but what we get is a man who doesn’t much care about what is going on around him – neither do we, then.

To be honest, I’m probably a little bit harsher on the film than I might ordinarily be. If I am, it’s because the potential here is so wasted – this is a wonderful and important idea for a movie. It’s just not executed very well. There are parallels to what went on in Nazi Germany to how America responded after 9-11, so this is certainly something worth exploring, especially now. I just wish they’d explored it a little more thoroughly.

WHY RENT THIS: A very interesting discussion about good and evil and how sometimes the line between the two can be very thin.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Underdeveloped characterization and some shoddy plot development.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of bad language and some adult themes which smaller children might not yet be prepared for.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Romola Garai was originally cast as Anne but withdrew in order to concentrate on her university studies. Jodie Whittaker took the part instead.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Rather than having a commentary track, there is an interview segment that is nearly an hour long and includes many of the film’s cast and crew.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.6M on an unreported production budget; at best I think the movie broke even.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: For the Love of the Game

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MegaMind


MegaMind

If nothing else, MegaMind sure knows how to make an entrance.

(2010) Animated Superhero Feature (DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt, David Cross, J.K. Simmons, Ben Stiller, Stephen Kearin, Justin Theroux, Jessica Schulte, Tom McGrath. Directed by Tom McGrath

It is a bit of an existential quandary that without evil, good cannot exist. In order to be good, there has to be a comparison point; if we don’t know what evil is, how do we know we’re good?

Evil itself can be environmental. MegaMind (Ferrell) comes to Earth as a baby escaping the destruction of his home planet. His escape pod lands in a prison for the criminally gifted where he is raised to believe that the right thing to do is steal and avoid being caught. His nemesis, Metro Man (Pitt) is also from a doomed planet in the same quadrant as MegaMind’s former home; however, whereas MegaMind lands among the scum of the earth, baby Metro Man lands in the lap of luxury.

Curiously, both of them wind up at the same school (which MegaMind pronounces as “shool”; it is a running gag throughout the movie that Mega has difficulty pronouncing certain words correctly) where Metro Man is well on the road to being a hero, admired by all his classmates who are amazed at the superpowers of flight, super strength and heat vision that Metro Man possesses. Mega unfortunately has none of these, only a genuine desire to be liked which is virtually impossible given the shadow he must labor in. He resolves that if he can’t do the right thing properly, he is at least good at doing the wrong thing and maybe that’s his destiny.

He becomes a super villain, an inventor of extraordinary weapons and machines. His modus operandi is very similar; he kidnaps Metro Man’s girlfriend newscaster Roxanne Richi (Fey), Metro Man comes to rescue her, MegaMind springs a trap but his plans ultimately fail and Metro Man sends him back to prison.

However, this one time, Mega and his faithful Minion (Cross), a kind of goldfish in a gorilla robot suit (don’t ask), actually do defeat the good guy – they disintegrate him with their death ray, as a matter of fact. Much to Mega’s surprise, they rule Metro City – which Mega, true to form, pronounces as Metrosity, which rhymes with atrocity.

He has it all now; power, wealth, the ability to do whatever he wants whenever he wants but it is curiously empty. He has discovered that without good to oppose him, evil is meaningless. With Metro Man gone, he needs another nemesis, so he sets out to create one. Using the DNA of Metro Man (taken from the dandruff on his cape), he uses Roxanne’s cameraman Hal (Hill) as the subject (quite accidentally) and, in the guise of space father (a very funny homage to Marlon Brando as Jor-El in Superman: The Movie) trains the former cameraman (who had a huge but unrequited crush on Roxanne) as a hero (look for a very amusing Donkey Kong reference here). However, Titan (or, Tighten as Hal spells it) has other plans, plans that will require Mega to find his inner hero and save Metro City. Holy Role Reversal, Batman!

The movie is very amusing and has some unexpected touches in various locations, some obvious and some not – for example, Roxanne is very plainly based on Lois Lane, whereas the Metro Man museum where much of the action takes place has the Image Comics logo just as plainly a part of the building’s overall design, which should make many a geeky fanboy happy as a clam. Just as an aside, where the heck did that old saw come from? Are clams really happy? Is their life’s ambition to make it into a really nice chowder? Inquiring minds want to know.

Be that as it may, everyone (fanboy or not) will get a kick out of Ferrell’s performance. It is truly unique and quirky and Ferrell at his best. Perhaps I’m a little bit out of line, but I think it’s some of his best work since Anchorman. Yeah, I know it’s a cartoon.

The movie’s plot is a bit simplistic, but the underlying message is quite surprisingly sophisticated, taking a fresh view of the nature of evil and its need for a counterbalance. That one may go over the heads of younger kids who are more interested in the toys and Mega’s pet robots (think mechanical Minions from Despicable Me only without the charm), which are the latest in a long line of obvious merchandising ploys from recent animated features. They are more annoying than cute, however.

While this year’s animated feature derby hasn’t turned up anything on the level of Up or Ponyo, there have still been some solid quality movies out there like the aforementioned Despicable Me, Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon. MegaMind is at least as good as any of those, which is good news for parents weary of recent kidflicks that haven’t measured up.

REASONS TO GO: Plays plenty of homage to the comic book superheroes. Plenty of humor for big kids as well as small fries. Ferrell is fabulous as the malapropism-prone MegaMind.

REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a bit on the simplistic side and the robot pets are annoying after awhile.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few mildly naughty words but probably not words you haven’t said in front of the kids before, accidentally or otherwise. Yeah, let the whole fam damily go out and see this one.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In order to promote the movie, Will Ferrell gathered 1580 of his friends and their acquaintances in superhero costumes to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for most superheroes gathered in one place.

HOME OR THEATER: Oh c’mon; you know the kids won’t give you a moment’s peace until you take them to see this in the theater three or four times.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: I Remember