The SmarK DVD Rant – "Interpersonal Conflict Management"

Problem: There’s no honesty in our relationship!

Solution: Duplicity, with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts

duplicity

It’s been a while since Roberts was any kind of a leading lady (you could probably make a case for Erin Brockovich being her last big role) but this is a pretty good return to form for her. Clive Owen, still hurting from the snub of being left out of the James Bond sweepstakes, continues to play spies and tough guys until someone makes him Bond, DAMMIT. But that’s OK, because it’s a role that he excels at anyway. It’s actually a really interesting idea behind the romantic comedy-tinged stuff, as the conceit is that two giganto soap companies (based loosely on Procter & Gamble and Unilever) are at corporate war with each other over a super-secret new product about to be launched. This aspect really fascinated me, as you just know that these companies spend millions going through each other’s garbage to find the next innovation in shampoo or razor blades (SIX BLADES!). And in this case, they hire former government operatives Ray (Clive Owen) and Claire (Julia Roberts) to spy on each other and spy on the other company and whatever else is needed. Paul Giamatti as Equikron’s frazzled CEO ("Was it a cream or a lotion? Because a lot of people confuse the two") just oozes corporate desperation, the kind you only get from people who make 5 billion dollars a year and are afraid of taking a hit down to 4 billion. Of course you know they’re going to do a big con on the money guys, but as is the norm with these sorts of movies, after the double-cross becomes a triple-cross, it gets kind of hard to care about the people involved. Still, the leads are entertaining and the story held my attention well enough, so call it a decent rental. Video-wise, the trend of Universal paying less attention to standard DVDs continues, as the transfer is very soft, with a kind of haze around everything, and some compression problems. Audio is solid, presented in Dolby 5.1, but there’s not much going on outside of the dialog anyway. Extras are bare-bones at best, featuring only a commentary from the director.

Problem: I’ve got anger issues!

Solution: Fighting, with Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard

fighting

Ah yes, another movie about an underground sensation that’s so secretive, they made a major motion picture about it. I bet you can recite the plot without even seeing the movie, but here goes anyway. Shawn (Channing Tatum) is living on the mean streets of New York and selling knockoff iPods, but deep down he’s a Nice Boy who holds open the emergency exit for old women. One day he gets ripped off by con artist Harvey (Terrence Howard), but holds his own in the ensuing brawl so well that Harvey decides to make him into a big star in the underground streetfighting scene. $5000 a fight, apparently. And oh hey, wouldn’t you know he falls in love with the only beautiful woman who hangs around this scummy scene (Zulay Heneo, who plays the only other woman in the world named Zulay) but she doesn’t want anything to do with him at first, and then she’s charmed by his small town attitude, and blah blah blah. The movie is really made or broken on the fighting (hence the title) and if you’ve seen more than 5 minutes of UFC in your life you’ll immediately be bugged by the bizarre alternate universe this movie exists in, whereby people punching each other with no gloves never suffer broken fingers and are never so much as bruised the next morning. Not to mention that it’s incredibly difficult to actually follow the fights when the camera is whip-panning around constantly and doing a weird motion-blur thing. Obviously Channing Tatum can’t really fight, but there’s ways to not be so obvious about cutting around his deficiencies. By the way, this movie actually features someone reversing a triangle choke into a slam in the context of a "street fight" (and it’s Cung Le taking the fall no less) so be aware of what you’re getting into here if you’re actually a fight fan expecting something realistic. Tatum himself does not in the least look like a credible fighter, and I’m not even talking about Vince McMahon steroid-muscle "look", I’m just talking about basic muscle definition. And really there’s just way too much talking in this movie. I know it wants to be Midnight Cowboy, but it’s not, and it would have been better served to stop trying to make us care about the motivations of these impossibly beautiful people and just focus on the fights instead. Like really, we KNOW that the movie is going to climax with Shawn fighting his evil former high school rival Evan for all the marbles, it doesn’t need 100 minutes to get there. Here’s another weird thing about the movie: The box art is almost identical to that of Duplicity. Is Universal cutting costs by using the same DVD design team or something? Extras are nothing, with an "unrated" version of the film that only runs 3 minutes longer, plus 8 minutes of deleted scenes. Definitely another rental-only choice.

Problem: My emotional needs aren’t being met by my girlfriend alone!

Solution: I Love You, Man with Paul Rudd and Jason Segal.

iloveyouman

Man, Paul Rudd has carved out quite the niche for himself, hasn’t he? Much like last year’s surprise hit Role Models, Rudd returns to the "bromantic-comedy" genre in a movie that owes a lot to Judd Apatow and uses much of his crew. Rudd plays Peter Klaven, in his usual form as an uptight real estate agent who proposes to girlfriend Zooey (uber-cute Rashida Jones) and then realizes he has no real male friends in his life to be his best man. I was actually just at a wedding where the best man was the groom’s sister, so this situation isn’t as rare as you’d think. He appeals to his gay brother (Andy Samburg in a role that was begging for more screen time) for help in meeting friends, because really making platonic friends isn’t as far removed from making romantic ones as you’d think, and goes through a series of hilarious missteps (including secret comedy weapon Thomas Lennon) before finally meeting Sydney (Jason Segal, one of my new favourite actors) and going through some truly uncomfortable and true-to-life worries about how to ask another man out on a man-date and what to say to them on the phone. Here’s where the movie really took off for me, because where you’d normally have a script that delves into farce, this one actually has Sydney asking hard questions about why there’s a double-standard between men and women over what sex issues can be discussed between friends. Peter actually grows and changes as a person, because Sydney meets the emotional needs that Zooey alone can’t meet, and it’s really cool to see a movie actually delving into that particular facet of relationships. Peter is all tightly-wound Freudian ego and Sydney is free-wheeling id with his "man shack" and Rush jams. Yeah, they still follow the same basic beats as a standard romantic comedy, but that’s the cool thing about the movie. After years of romantic comedies beating those plots into the ground and telling us that cutesy love is all-important, it’s refreshing to see a mainstream movie telling us that it’s equally important for men to have some bonding time, too. Extras include the usual roll call for these Apatow-esque movies, with actor commentary, deleted scenes, making-of, and gag reel. I saw this one several times in the theater and will probably continue to watch it on DVD as well, so I’m going with a strong recommendation to buy this one and it’s easily the winner of the week.

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