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Jim Carrey returns to- funnyman form- with Yes Man A little more than a decade ago, comedy superstar Jim Carrey mugged his way through a hit fracas called Liar Liar as a slippery attorney suddenly hit by a magic spell that forced him always to tell the truth. Since then, the Carrey fan base (the ones who know all of Ace Ventura's catchphrases by heart, brrr) have had to endure their shtickmeister bidding for serious-thespian cred with ostensibly straight roles in The Majestic, Man in the Moon and others. No shame in watching a comedian show that sort of depth and range - the late clown Jim "Ernest" Varney was, in reality, Shakespeare-trained, knowhutImean? But Carrey's box-office earnings plummeted as result.

Carrey's new Yes Man is pretty much a return to Carrey-okie form for the funnyman and should please the hoi-polloi demographic, even if on a relative scale. Once again it's a high-concept gimmick, but thankfully free of magic spells. Carrey plays Carl, a Los Angeles bank-loan officer in a personal and professional slump since the end of his six-month-old marriage. Shunning commitments to friends and family, and glumly stamping "declined" on all his clients' applications, Carl is finally persuaded to attend a feel-good seminar led by a self-help guru (Terence Stamp, who had a similar role as a quasi-Scientologist in Bowfinger). There, Carl is admonished to turn his life around by saying "yes" to everything asked of him. Reluctantly at first, then with ever greater enthusiasm and joie de vivre, Carl finds himself unconditionally saying yes, giving cash to panhandlers, planning his future sister-in-law's wedding shower, accepting unwanted party invites, opting to read Internet-spam ads and, most crucially, getting over his ex-wife and starting a new relationship with a free-spirited West-Coast Boho chick (Zooey Deschanel). Some third-act complications arise, mostly to satisfy a facile demand for third-act complications. But all ends happily, in an if-only-life-were-like-this fashion.

Interesting to note that while Yes Man claims foundation in some novel I'd never heard of, it looks like a rewrite of Joe Somebody, the divorced-schlub-gives-life-a-makeover script Carrey turned down that went on to become a Tim Allen vehicle. The setting feeds into our frozen-midwesterner's escapist-fantasy notion of L.A. as a crazy-quilt multicultural wonderland where the sun always shines, anything is possible and even being homeless can be loads of fun. That said, the subplot about a converted Carl happily doling out loan approvals looks especially outdated in the current credit crunch. Reality sucks, but easy uplifters like Yes Man demonstrate why the movie business tends to thrive during depressions. -Charles Cassady Jr.

Yes Man Opens Friday areawide

The Animation Show Year 4

While Spike and Mike have the market on sick and twisted toons, Mike Judge's semi-regular series is a close runner-up. Judge, the man responsible for unleashing Beavis and Butt-head upon the world, has compiled his favorite short animated films into one program simply called The Animation Show. This year's wildly eclectic program, which includes films from all over the globe (Japan's crazed "Usavich" is one of the collection's best shorts), commences with an untitled clip by Joel Trussell. In it, a bunch of crudely drawn figures are on a cruise when a group of heavy-metal-loving pirates ambushes them and starts lighting everything on fire with their Flying V guitars. That's just the opening sequence on this animated joyride.

Next up, a couple of chaps start slapping each together sideways in a made-up game of "Oranges" in one of three episodes from Dave Carter's very funny "Psychotown" series. And then there''s "Angry Unpaid Hooker," a clip in which a poor schlep's girlfriend shows up from a weekend out of town to find a prostitute demanding her boyfriend pay her for the "backdoor action" she provided. Elsewhere, a man calls 411 to see if he can get a number for God in the British short "Operator," and film noir is satirized in the dark and spooky "Key Lime Pie." The look of the films ranges from the claymation of "Yompi the Crotch-biting Sloop" to the sophisticated computer-generated graphics of "Burning Safari" and the Atari-like retro look of the minimalist "Love Sport: Paintballing." To Judge's credit, there's not a dud in the bunch. And that's not something the less consistent Spike and Mike can claim. - Jeff Niesel Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19 and 9:35 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Released in 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the few science-fiction films from the era that still plays to modern audiences as something other than camp. In that film, director Robert Wise exercised subtlety and taste, putting story and character ahead of special effects and action. It's a movie with a strong message, yet it's always entertaining. Sadly, none of that can be said about Scott Derrickson's remake. The storyline is the same: Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) has been sent to Earth by a coalition of alien races to save the planet. Whether that includes saving human beings as well is of considerably less importance. It certainly doesn't argue in humanity's favor when Klaatu steps off his glowing space orb only to be greeted by unprovoked gunfire and imprisonment. But not everyone is so judgmental. The alien finds an ally in scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), who helps him escape. At this point, the movie turns into a fairly typical action/chase film, with a useless subplot about Benson's stepson (Jaden Smith) coping with the death of his father.

Almost no time is spent developing characters or themes. Instead, Derrickson tries to cover up the essential emptiness of his film with noise and spectacle. It's not enough just to have Earth stand still; there has to be mass CGI death and destruction. It's not enough for the robot Gort to be 10 feet tall and shoot lasers from his eyes; he has to be 20 or 30 feet tall and able to split into millions of little space bugs too. We know Klaatu and his fellow aliens think humanity is unfit to inhabit Earth, but the movie lacks the courage to get into the specifics of why. Maybe the filmmakers were worried about offending some of the big corporations (like McDonald's) that paid for product placement. Regardless, the result is a film that acts like it's about something, but upon closer examination proves to be just another pointless special-effects showcase. Stay home and rent the original instead. - Robert Ignizio

The Romance of Astrea and Celadon

A new movie by French Nouvelle Vague master Eric Rohmer is always a cause for celebration. And since the 88-year-old Rohmer has intimated The Romance of Astrea and Celadon may be his final work, there's even more reason to cheer. Based on a 17th-century novel by Honoré d'Urfé, Astrea and Celadon has more in common with such previous Rohmer literary adaptations as The Lady and the Duke, Perceval and The Marquise of O than it does with contemporary pieces like Boyfriends and Girlfriends or Claire's Knee. A fairy-tale bauble with playful allusions to both Shakespeare (particularly A Midsummer Night's Dream) and Greek mythology, Rohmer's delicious one-off is less dependent upon theatrical artifice than some of his other period films.

In Astrea and Celadon, nature, in all its glorious, bountiful splendor, reigns supreme. The story has the gossamer feel of something that might have served as the basis for an operetta (in fact, there are a few madrigal-style songs here). Astrea (Stéphanie Crayencour) and Celadon (Andy Gillet) are shepherds in fifth-century Gaul whose purity and love are jeopardized over a silly misunderstanding (Astrea thinks Celadon has flirted with another girl). Because this is an enchanted fable in which love is the most magical spell of all, it will take the intervention of nymphs, a druid and sundry other fantastical types to restore order and harmony. The happily-ever-after ending is never in doubt, even when one of the titular lovers attempts suicide. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon isn't for all tastes, of course; none of Rohmer's films are. But for anyone who counts Ingmar Bergman's The Magic Flute and Jacques Demy's Donkey Skin among their favorite cinematic bonbons, this is a movie you can't afford to pass up. -Milan Paurich Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque At 8:45 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18 and 7:25 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20

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