Movie reviews

Here’s a film that makes you realise how little it is that we see one of its kind - a film where ordinary people live ordinary lives...

Written by Shalini Langer | New Delhi | Published: February 7, 2009 12:43 am

MARLEY & ME
CAST: Jennifer Aniston,Owen Wilson,Alan Arkin,Kathleen Turner
DIRECTOR: David Frankel

Here’s a film that makes you realise how little it is that we see one of its kind – a film where ordinary people live ordinary lives,with ordinary problems and find ordinary solutions. Where 13 years go by and all that changes in the lives of John Grogan,his wife and their dog is the size of their family. It’s not exciting,but it is life. It’s not much of a tale,but that doesn’t make it less of a story.

What holds it together is a Labrador Retriever named Marley,after the singer. Director Frankel sticks to a bestselling autographical book by John Grogan of the same name to make him the centre of this family’s story.

John and Jenny (Aniston) bring him in as a pup basically to cement their marriage as a serious relationship. Endlessly energetic and ravenous,he is hard to control and takes up all of their time. But before John and Jen realise this,he is filling in the gaps in their relationship so they never feel it. He fulfills Jen’s need for caring,and John’s need for a listening ear. Marley also prepares them to take the next step,parenthood.

At times he is an over-bearing presence,butting in on their private moments,and sometimes he is exasperating. He is also horribly destructive,chewing up almost everything in sight. However,what’s a family without a few of those moments? Also,the film remembers that he is not a superhuman pet,just a dog. And what’s a dog without a few of those moments?

The real Grogan too wrote columns,like his character in the movie,based on real life and centred on Marley,which became a huge hit with readers. The book was a tribute to all that the dog taught and meant to him and his family. Watching the film,that’s evident.

While it may be a bit too stretched towards the end – especially the self-congratulatory tone for Grogan’s work as a journalist,and his bouts of self-pity at what could have been with his bachelor,hot-footing journalist friend – there’s no mistaking the love this family shares.

Wilson and Aniston too do a fine job of not overpowering the real hero of this story. While Wilson has always excelled at ordinary man roles and can pull off the corniest of situations with unusual ease,it’s Aniston who really surprises by keeping it plain and low,even a little shabby,unlike her glamorous persona.

One complaint though: why isn’t there more of Kathleen Turner? She makes a brief appearance as a dog trainer,but from her bark to her bite,is every bit worth it.

HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE
CAST: Kirsten Dunst,Simon Pegg,Megan Fox,Gillian Anderson
DIRECTOR: Robert B Weide

Another film based on a book and centred around a journalist,How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is quite the opposite. It places a British celebrity journalist with his sense of irony and proportion at the centre of a Hollywood that looks the other way when confronted with either.

He is Simon Young (Pegg),who earlier worked for a magazine called Post-Modern Review in London that basically involved him trying to break into celebrity parties passing off a pig as the one from Babe. Then,the editor of one of America’s most reputed magazines on high-life,Sharps,hires him.

Young finds that suddenly from the outsider looking in – the “Looky-Loos” as he calls them – he is required to be an insider keeping it all within. It’s a dilemma,particularly as he fancies a beautiful starlet (Fox),“revealed” to the world when she casually walks through a swimming pool at a celeb party in a see-through dress just to make her way to the other side of the room.

It’s a brilliantly executed scene – here’s what we all want to see,combined with what we all choose to overlook. The director,who was behind the marvelously-understated TV series Curb Your Enthusiasm,has many such up his sleeve.

It doesn’t help that Young refuses to play safe,play polite or play diplomatic,in an industry which rests on journalists treating stars as “starlight”,as one character says. He also routinely speaks when he isn’t required to,refuses to take hints,vomits on the boss’s wife,sends him a transsexual stripper and almost wrecks the office party. His real-life counterpart,Toby Young,who wrote the book,has an equally colourful past.

Given where Young’s heart really lies and that he has a pretty colleague (Dunst) who is the only one who gives him the time of day and wants to be a serious writer,there are really no surprises as to how the film ends.

However,in his choice of actors,Weide keeps our interest piqued. If Jeff Bridges is a delight as Sharps’s sold-out editor who somewhere deep down holds his principles dear,it’s Anderson who threatens to walk away with the film as the Queen Bee who takes new stars under her wings as “clients” but who deigns not to be called the “publicist”. Fox is sizzling,and Dunst can do little but unfortunately pale. Hers is the most thankless role,and it remains so.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Voices of Christian Slater,Alfred Molina,Ben Kingsley
DIRECTOR: Bill Boyce,John Stronach
Telling the story of the deliverance of Hebrews from Egypt to the Promised Land,this is Moses for Dummies. The Egyptians are all bad,snarling men,and God reveals Himself to Moses as an admonishing know-all who brooks little dissidence. The Hebrews,in contrast,just complain all the time and are unthankful of God’s benevolence. The result is that when God chances on them having a little fun after months walking through the hot desert,with some women covered in less than the usual long robes,He frowns.

The dialogue is pedestrian and the animation uninteresting and stiff. Plus,the people look all the same. Strictly for toddlers,and there are better mythological sources even for them.

shalini.langer@expressindia.com

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