Funny People: Where are we on Judd Apatow? Is it cool to like him again? Are we stuck on backlash, or did that not actually start in full swing yet? Did we get to backlash-to-the-backlash? Even I, an avowed fan, can forget how much I actually like the guy when wading through his sea of collaborators and the resulting movies, including stuff he produced that’s actually better than his own personal projects (Superbad); stuff he produced but fewer people associate with him (the Ferrell-McKay comedies); and movies he had nothing to do with but everyone assumes he did (I Love You, Man). Maybe this is why the ads confirm that Funny People is, in fact, the third film from Judd Apatow — as opposed, presumably, to the thirtieth or three-hundredth. I’m especially interested in two of its presumed themes: (1.) the neuroses and mechanics of professional and aspiring comedians; and (2.) the use of Adam Sandler in serious movies to ground his broad-comedy persona in real-life dysfunction. The latter works when the movie itself isn’t very good (Reign Over Me; Spanglish) and even better, obviously, when it is (Punch-Drunk Love). Having Sandler play a comedian who’s logged time in countless crummy movies? Icing on the meta-cake.
Thirst: Reasons Park Chan-wook’s Thirst is a better movie than Park Chan-wook’s Old Boy: (1.) Vampires. (2.) Vampires portrayed with, on the balance, a lot more empathy than the vengeance-seeking humans of Old Boy. (3.) The lack of emphasis on vengeance in general, which gives the story a twisty unpredictability rather than a twisty sense of melodrama. (4.) It’s way funnier. I won’t even get into the dozens of reasons it’s better than Twilight, or the reasons it would make a fine double feature with Let the Right One In. Just go in with the vague knowledge that it’s about a meek, well-meaning priest who accidentally goes all vampiric, and the various squishy complications that ensue. This is easily the most accomplished horror movie of the year.
Aliens in the Attic: Even I, a fan of the Spy Kids movies and aliens in general, have no interest in this kid movie junk, so instead I’ll use it to raise a question about stupid titles. This movie was originally called “They Came from Upstairs.” Not great, but not without a certain retro charm. But I guess it wasn’t quite on-the-nose enough — “They”? They who? And what’s upstairs? Like the second floor? Or the roof? — so it got switched to the stupidly descriptive Aliens in the Attic. This has been happening with alarming frequency. The upcoming Ricky Gervais comedy that once bore the rather nice This Side of the Truth is now called The Invention of Lying, because it’s about, like, this guy who invents lying. This fall’s Cirque du Freak, based on a popular YA novel, is now The Vampire’s Assistant. Besides being a horrible, horrible title that makes me want to see the movie less, doesn’t that also violate some kind of branding rule? 2009 is well on its way to winning the It Could Happen to You Memorial Award for awful, remedial-grade titling.
Adam: Speaking of bad titles, beware any movie about a “special,” gifted, quirky, or in any way afflicted character that takes its name from said character. If you don’t believe me, watch the trailer without throwing up, I dare you. Also, can we invalidate Hugh Dancy’s passport or something? He’s one of those boring Brit actors who gets like eight chances to develop a personality, and never takes it. This is a Fox Searchlight festival pickup, and Searchlight usually has pretty good taste in this kind of thing. Even their overrated Oscar grabs (Little Miss Sunshine) tend to be watchable. [Your film editor wishes to interject here that calling a movie “watchable” is kinda like calling a beer “drinkable.” —Ed.] So maybe Adam is eighty percent less twinkly than the trailer implies.
The Collector: Every once in awhile, geek websites champion some little horror movie hardly anyone has heard of; even less often, said movie turns out to be actually really cool (May) and not a grotesque instance of stylish ante-upping (High Tension; Wolf Creek). That is, if said movie even gets released rather than shelved indefinitely; I’m still waiting to check the hype on All the Boys Love Mandy Lane or Trick ‘r Treat. The Collector is one such horror-geek picture and I have to admit, this premise is pretty neat: a thief breaks into a house only to find that it’s already been hit by a trap-setting serial killer in the Jigsaw mode. Indeed, the filmmakers did their time in the Saw mines, so there’s probably more emphasis on gore than scares, but hey, it’s almost certainly better than your average Platinum Dunes remake. I didn’t make it to a screening of The Collector, but they actually had screenings, which is getting to be the horror-movie equivalent of a December release date: they may not have the goods, but they at least think they might be able to fake it.