Meet the Fockers film review

January 9, 2011

With the new film Little Fockers, it is time to re-publish my Meet the Fockers film review (below), which opened in 2005.

Directed by Jay Roach

Starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Teri Polo and Blythe Danner

The film “Meet the Parents” took a simple idea – mild-mannered guy meets his girlfriend’s scary parents – and turned it into a great hit comedy.  Much of the humour came from the match-up between Ben Stiller as Greg Focker the Jewish nurse and Robert De Niro as Jack Byrnes the retired and suspicious CIA agent.  “Meet the Fockers” is an unashamed sequel, this time bringing Jack, his wife Dina (Blythe Danner) and their Greg’s now-finance Pam (Teri Polo) to meet Greg’s parents in their Florida island retreat.

“Meet the Fockers” operates as something as a “Jewish high concept” film, if there can be such a thing.  In the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger paired up with Danny DeVito in “Twins”, the producers of “Fockers” plucked two ultimate Jewish parents for Ben Stiller’s character:  Dustin Hoffman as dad Bernie and Barbra Streisand as mom Roz.  As their only son, Greg (who we now learn is named Gaylord) is put upon by these two expressive Jewish parents in numerous embarrassing ways.  My personal favourite is shrine which they have built to Greg’s achievements, including ninth-place ribbons, his bar mitzvah tallis and kippah and other artifacts too hilarious to summarise here.

Roz is a couples sex therapist, catering to the mostly Jewish ageing but spry couples populating their part of the world, and Bernie was a lawyer who retired when Greg was born to become a full-time dad.  Was it his parents’ over-attention that has now driven Greg/Gaylord into the arms of a woman from a truly uptight WASP family?  (I guess we don’t want to go there; be assured that the film does not.)  Where “Meet the Parents” was primarily a Stiller/De Niro pairing, after a bit of initial prancing around, Hoffman and Streisand get to do the major comedy (and steal the film) in “Meet the Fockers”, with Hoffman’s character probably his best acting (and certainly his most exuberant) in many years.  Watching these two on-screen is worth the price of admission alone.  Stiller, by contrast is left with relatively little to do – although he plays “discomfort” very well, and gets to be pretty uncomfortable around his on-screen parents.  Polo and Danner, both excellent actors, are no more than window dressing for the main action.

As for De Niro, his self-parody routine of his classic tough guy image brings nothing new, but consider this:  for whatever reason, his primary foils in these types of comedies are Jewish – Billy Crystal (“Analyze This” and “Analyze That”), Stiller in “Parents” and now Hoffman/Streisand in “Fockers” (which is much more up front about Greg’s being Jewish).  What interesting cultural stereotypes we are watching to unfold.

This is not great film-making (and reinforces some interesting notions about Jewish assimilation and intermarriage – check out the wedding scene with a cameo from Owen Wilson), but I confess to enjoying “Fockers” enormously.  There are great comic bits with the Jack and Dina’s year-old grandson – along for the ride with some great comic acting (how did he do it?).  The Focker family dog “Moses” meets the Byrnes family cat Jinx, with an obligatory flushing scene that most people have probably seen in the previews by now.  There are a couple of sidelights which don’t work (notably with a former Hispanic maid of the Fockers), but I forgave this film its many faults just to be able to watch some of my favourite Jewish actors – Stiller, Hoffman and Streisand – play Jewish roles in a funny film.

Morning Glory: New Jersey movies take 33

January 9, 2011

Again, for fans and afcionados of New Jersey film: about the first ten minutes of the new film Morning Glory are set in New Jersey, with our heroine Becky Fuller (played by Rachel McAdams) a producer for a morning television show “Good Morning New Jersey” in the opening scenes – for a local TV station which appears to be located not far from Asbury Park.  Uncertain as to if those scenes were actually shot in New Jersey, but Becky follows the dreams of many before her and crosses the Hudson River (in this case on a ferry, apparently from Jersey City, but my geography could be a bit wrong here) when she lands a great new job (after being ingnominously fired from her New Jersey one) as an executive producer with an under-performing TV network based in Manhattan.  What comes next is authority (she fires a badly performing presenter and makes characters played by Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford shape up, albeit painfully, and convinces the Jeff Goldblum character to keep her show on air) and even a boyfriend.  Just going to show us who grew up in New Jersey again that New York is the key to all success.

New Jersey movies continued – the Highland Park movie theatre

January 9, 2011

Continuing my series on New Jersey and movies.  Now for the historical.  Highland Park, New Jersey – my home town – had an RKO Cinema (known as the “Park” or the “Reade”), at number 2 Woodbridge Avenue, right near the “triangle”.  You can see a photo of the cinema here in Google Books.  You can also see the same image on page 92 in that book (photo was taken in 1952 and you can clearly see what two films were playing at the time:  Clark Gable and Eva Gardner in Lone Star and Ethel Barrymore in It’s A Big Country).  And then go to page 121 for more details about the cinema, which formally opened (with almost 1400 seats) on November 21, 1927.  The first film screened was Clancy’s Kosher Wedding, a black and white silent film in the style of Abie’s Irish Rose and The Cohens and the Kelleys:  all of them Jewish-Christian romance precursors to the Meet the Parents series.  The movie theatre was demolished in 1961, although I do not know the date of the last screening.

Best films of 2010

January 1, 2011

It’s January 1st 2011, and time for me to post my “best films of 2010”.  This list is based on films which I have truly enjoyed and have “stuck” with me.  Additionally, films that seem to represent our time make this list.  The list is also films which have been released in Australia over the last twelve months:  a number were actually released in North America in late 2009 (and were duly considered in last year’s Oscars), so apologies to any North American readers for the confusion.

Film of the year:  The Social Network.  I saw it twice in rapid succession.  Superb writing by the master Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) with astonishing direction by David Fincher, who successfully adapted his dark style (Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Zodiac) to a film essentially about twentysomething computer nerds.  If you read Lev Grossman’s story in Time magazine about Mark Zuckerberg (Time’s person of the year!) and compare it to The Social Network, it’s like you are reading/seeing two totally different stories with almost no similarity.  But that’s part of the point:  Zuckerberg’s story is so rich that it is already open to so many interpretations.  I loved the Harvard stuff, I loved the young characters, and almost every scene is a gem in some way.  What amazing balls the film-makers had to put this on screen.  I am not certain how many lawyers are credited in the film, but there must have been many.  And are you wondering whose perspective The Social Network is?  Eduardo Saverin – he was the primary source for the book The Accidental Billionaires (by Ben Mezrich), on which The Social Network is based.  Jesse Eisenberg stars – he is on his way to great success now.

Scariest movie I have seen in recent memory:  The Road.  I read the book in January 2010 and saw the film in February 2010, and it took me a full six months to stop having bad dreams and images from the book and the film.  How could Cormac McCarthy capture my elemental bad dreams about the end of the world so completely?  He did, and I am haunted still.

Best political thriller:  The Ghost Writer, directed by Roman Polanski.  Shot in Germany (standing in for Massachusetts), Polanski brings us more “dark side” masquerading as art.  Or is it the other way around?

Best political thriller runner-ups:

Fair Game, directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) about the life of unmasked CIA agent Valerie Plame, with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn giving the performances of a lifetime.

Green Zone, directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Matt Damon.  A strong Iraq-based thriller, with not a moment to catch your breath.

Many people assumed that the events of 11 September 2001 – the hijackings and the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. – would affect American film production, distribution, marketing and reception by promoting a return to patriotism: films that were “righteously patriotic, confident in American might, and freighted with old-fashioned archetypes” (writes Ross Douhat in the Atlantic in the April 2008 issue). An often quoted Vanity Fair article by Graydon Carter predicted that, “There’s going to be a seismic change. I think it’s the end of the age of irony…. Things that were considered fringe and frivolous are going to disappear.”  As Douhat points out, “We expected John Wayne; we got Jason Bourne instead.” In other words, the immediate years since 2001 have been characterised in film not by rousing patriotic films but by what he calls a return to the 1970s paranoid pessimism and paranoid style of film-making.  Fair Game and Green Zone are good descendants of films like The Conversation (1974), The Parallax View (1974) and Three Days of the Condor (1975), and fit in squarely with the post-September 11th period of paranoia typified by the remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004), Syriana (2005), The Constant Gardener (2005), The Good Shepherd (2006), V for Vendetta (2006), the Jason Bourne trilogy, Michael Clayton (2007), Traitor (2008), Body of Lies (2008) and Burn After Reading (2008).

Best war film in years:  The Hurt Locker, last year’s Oscar winner for Best film (opened 2010 in Australia).  Good runner-up war film:  Lebanon, an Israeli film about the invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Best Australian films of the year:

–          Animal Kingdom, which already swept the recent Australian Film Institute Awards.

–          Beneath Hill 60, World War I trench warfare shot in Queensland, tense and exciting with great acting.

–          Bran Nue Dae, a slight story, but a great Aboriginal musical entertainment.

–          Tomorrow When the War Began, not a piece of art but the most entertaining Australian film in ages, worth seeing and proving that Australian action stories are interesting and will get big audiences if the film-makers remember they are making their films with the audience in mind.

–          The Loved Ones, a sick horror film for older teenagers which has been under-appreciated but is extraordinary and heralds a new talent, writer/director Sean Byrne.  This film has one of the best critics ratings on the Rotten Tomatoes websites of any film this year.

Best politically aware romantic comedy-dramas:  These two both kept the corporate world fully in mind and made great films:  Up in the Air (Can Clooney do no wrong?) and Love & Other Drugs (pharma industry beware!  Wow, Pfizer is named), with great on-screen chemistry between Anne Hathaway and Jack Gyllenhaal.

Best historical British film in ages:  The King’s Speech (which I am told is not an official Australian co-production) is jolly good.  Colin Firth astounds again, Geoffrey Rush was made for the role and Guy Pearce plays his first bit of English royalty.

Best layered special effects and psychological thriller, really a simple trumped up scam film, but boy was it worth seeing on the big screen:  Christopher Nolan‘s Inception.

Two sports films that matter, both based on real stories:

–          Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in a Clint Eastwood directed film about how South African Rugby brought the country together.  The best filmic representation of emotional intelligence in a feature film in many many years.  Matt Damon again.

–          The Blind Side, Sandra Bullock plays a white woman who adopts an African American homeless boy and it changes all of their lives.  American, hokey and thoroughly moving.

Best animation:  Toy Story 3.  How do they do it?

Great quality dramas I totally loved:

–          The Town, co-written, directed and starring Ben Affleck.

–          Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.  I loved Oliver Stone’s pyrotechnics.

Honourable mentions of films I really enjoyed:

–          A Single Man, LA and gay love in the 1960s. Colin Firth.

–          Agora, a Spanish film about intellectual and religious ferment in Alexandria in the 4th century (actually first released in 2009).  And certainly the most anti-Christian film in many years.  Almost no controversy about it, probably because it had such limited releases in English-speaking countries.