Page 2 of 2
Liberal Arts: Apparently, these days what most sitcom stars really want be is Woody Allen. Zach Braff's maligned-in-retrospect Garden State fed the occasional surrealism and melancholy of Scrubs through a more grounded romantic filter; it wasn't straight up Woody, but it did have his mix of wistfulness and psychoanalysis. Josh Radnor goes the full Braff by writing, directing, and starring in Liberal Arts (following happythankyoumoreplease, same hat-trick deal) and touching upon issues also addressed in his career as sitcom lead of How I Met Your Mother—and he hews way closer to Woody by making his character a New York-based intellectual sadsack who is also irresistible to women everywhere. Liberal Arts is too gentle and polite to be the full-fledged wank that description implies; Radnor's Jesse (a depressed admissions counselor) connects with Elizabeth Olsen's Zibby (an undergraduate at his alma mater) in the most chaste, cautious, and nauseatingly romantic fashion. They talk, they hug, they handwrite letters back and forth about classical music... okay, yeah, maybe this movie is kind of a wank. But it's not insufferable so much as terminally low-key and joke-averse. Say what you want about Zach Braff, but I laughed quite a bit during Garden State (it's suspect as a generational statement; charming as a romantic comedy). Radnor also doesn't have Braff's eye for off-kilter visual gags and pretty compositions; two movies in a row, his scripts have been more wanly pleasant than actually, you know, funny. Radnor obviously has plenty on his mind about the aging process and what we do with our ideals when we're out in the world —very Woody-ish, as are his leafy walk-and-talks, as is the faux-sophisticated dinner scene early in the film, as is the 16-year age difference between its two principle characters—but his work as a dramatist and a visual artist could use some extra course work. I'd rather watch Garden State than three episodes of Scrubs strung together; I can't really say the same about Liberal Arts and How I Met Your Mother.
Finding Nemo 3D: To be honest, I've always placed Finding Nemo toward the bottom of my Pixar list; I like it more than either Cars movie, it's more technologically advanced than the first Toy Story, and I'm pretty sure it made my 10 best list for 2003, but I prefer their sterling 2007-2009 run of Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up, as well as the Toy Story trilogy, The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc. and probably even the less-loved A Bug's Life and Brave. I just don't find fish super-expressive, and there isn't as much stand-out comedy (Dory the fish is sweet, but she doesn't make me laugh as hard as Buzz Lightyear or the triplets in Brave or the dogs in Up). It's probably the apex of Pixar's movies that are really about parenting in that it is more directly and uniformly about parenting than Toy Story, The Incredibles, or Monsters, Inc. Still, of all the Pixar movies retrofitted for 3D, this one probably makes the most sense, with its beautiful and depth-friendly underwater environments. A 3D-ification beats the recent news that Andrew Stanton was returning to the Pixar fold in order to explore a sequel option, at least: I'm not sure if there's a Pixar story less demanding of a follow-up story, and the pure character-revival enjoyment I got out of the Toy Story sequels (on top of their thematic resonance and ace joke-writing) and hope to get out of Monsters University isn't really a factor here. I guess I've always seen Marlin the Clownfish as an obvious stand-in for worried parents more than a truly lovable character whose further adventures I'd delight to follow. But after the Monsters prequel next year, we should have a solid three years of Pixar originals about dinosaurs, the brain, and dia de los muertos before Finding Nemo 2 becomes something to think about.
Stolen: Actually, I can't find any verification that the third movie in Nic Cage's Make Three Shitty Thrillers Near New Orleans trilogy is actually going to open in New York City this weekend. Maybe the theaters that played Trespass and Seeking Justice feel burned—or maybe they didn't book this one because when they heard it was a Louisiana-set movie starring Cage as a guy named Will Montgomery, they understandably assumed they had already booked that movie, not remembering the nuances separating classic Cage characters Kyle Miller and Will Gerard. As recently as 2010, Cage was alternating low-rent junk with (a) high-rent junk and (b) artistically ambitious movies, but he's gone into pulp overdrive for the past two years. Stolen illustrates the bizarre parallel universe Cage has willed into existence: one where he's a D-list direct-to-video action hero churning out seedy crime thrillers every few months, such that Simon West can make movies as stupid and low-rent-looking as When a Stranger Calls and, just last month, The Expendables 2, yet when he reteams with his Con Air star, the result barely gets released. At any time between 1993 and 2010, a West-directed, Cage-starring thriller co-starring Josh Lucas and Malin Akerman would've been out on at least 2,000 screens, the only difference being that in the 90s, Akerman would've played the kidnapped daughter rather than the love interest. And now, I can't even go see Stolen in the greatest city in the world! (Another theory: this kicks off a new New York City arts campaign: "Come to New York City! We didn't play Stolen!") I guess this makes it easier for me to keep my head down and wait for The Frozen Ground (another Con Air re-team, this time pitting Cage against Cusack) or Joe (Cage's proposed teaming with David Gordon Green) or even Kick-Ass 2 to bring Cage back into interesting territory. Right now, he's the worst of late-period Pacino and late-period De Niro rolled into one.