Short Cuts: An Oscar contender, one that should’ve been and one that most definitely shouldn’t have been“Short Cuts” are expedient, pretension-free movie reviews. This installment tackles the hilarious “In the Loop,” the exhilarating “50 Dead Men Walking” and the by-the-books rom-com “I Hate Valentine’s Day.”
“In the Loop”
WHAT IT IS: A fast-paced, buzz-worthy comedy — “In the Loop” was recently nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Adapted Screenplay category — about British government officials, American government officials and how they interact with one another when duty calls. In this transatlantic tour de force set on the eve of a war in the Middle East, fierce one-liners reign supreme as cultures collide and big decisions are made. In other words, think the original BBC incarnation of “The Office” meets its American counterpart in a workplace much more vital to the future of the world than some random set of cubicles.
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: Drop all your preconceived notions about British humour — that’s right, humour — being “dry” or “too subtle for my tastes,” because “In the Loop” is the funniest, most accessible thing to come out of England since the aforementioned BBC series Americanized by NBC. While there’s no Ricky Gervais or Stephen Merchant here, “In the Loop” does introduce such talented U.K. inhabitants as Peter Capaldi and Steve Coogan to America’s somewhat-xenophobic audiences. Plus, James Gandolfini, fresh off a heartwarming turn in “Where the Wild Things Are,” has a pretty big role in this flick, so at least anyone familiar with “The Sopranos” will have a built-in starting point here. Oh, and this whole production needs its mouth washed out with soap, so fans of profanity-laden jokes will also have something to look forward to here.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Buy it! “In the Loop” has so many levels, it requires at least a few viewings to catch it all. No, I didn’t mean this film is “deep” by any means; there’s just so much going on and the writing is so rapid-fire that it’s quite possible you’ll catch only a third of the pants-wetting lines upon first viewing. Really, it’s that funny.
Learn more about “In the Loop” at www.intheloopmovie.co.uk.
“50 Dead Men Walking”
WHAT IT IS: There was nothing safe or “Family Ties” about Martin McGartland’s Irish upbringing. As a Belfast youth, he made his living peddling stolen clothes. Before long, however, his aptitude for walking on the mild side became significantly more wild when he was approached by British authorities to infiltrate and spy on the volatile Irish Republican Army. For whatever reason, McGartland — who is played by burgeoning talent Jim Sturgess in this Kari Skogland-directed adaption of his book-cum-screenplay — accepts, and a rollercoaster life (and viewing experience) ensues.
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: I immediately feel the urge to draw parallels to Martin Scorsese’s 2006 masterwork “The Departed,” another potentially confusing film in which a mafia member joins the Massachusetts State Police (and vice versa). While the pace of the editing isn’t as sharp as that Best Picture winner’s, a lot of what makes “50 Dead Men Walking” such a thrilling piece of cinema is just as strong. Of particular interest is the awe-inspiring acting prowess of lead Sturgess, who has proven his merit in such films as the entertaining-as-can-be Vegas-scam flick “21” and the aurally and visually triumphant “Across the Universe.” While the crisscrossed storylines in “50 Dead Men Walking” become a little convoluted at times — an issue many had with “The Departed” upon first viewing — there’s definitely enough to love here that you never feel overwhelmingly frustrated.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Rent it. While it’s not the type of light fare you’ll want to watch time and again, its masterful direction and stable of competent actors (joining Sturgess are Sir Ben Kingsley and the always-stunning Rose McGowan) makes for a piece of cinema you won’t want to miss.
Learn more about “50 Dead Men Walking” at www.fiftydeadmenwalkingmovie.com.
“I Hate Valentine’s Day”
WHAT IT IS: A romantic comedy reuniting John Corbett and Nia Vardalos, the principal stars of the 2002 runaway hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Vardalos, who wrote and directed “I Hate Valentine’s Day,” plays Genevieve, a florist who limits all romantic entanglements to five dates. One day Corbett’s Greg comes into her shop in search of some flowers for his stewardess girlfriend — who, it turns out, is as faithful to him as a certain professional golfer. Once the infidelities are witnessed firsthand, Greg goes it alone, concentrating his efforts on opening up a restaurant in the same neighborhood as Genevieve’s shop. She suggests a floral treatment to keep customers around longer, he agrees and, while working together, they fall for each other. (Surprise, surprise.) Then there’s the little problem with Genevieve’s five-dates-and-it’s-over rule and … well, since it’s a romantic comedy, you can just about guess how this one ends up.
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: Two words: audible groan. Per usual, Corbett oozes unflinching charm, but nowhere does he even approach the level of authentic likability he achieved as Aidan Shaw on TV’s “Sex and the City” — and he was this film’s saving grace for me, as I’ve always found Vardalos to be obnoxiously run-of-the-mill. (Next to her body of work, Julia Roberts’ canon could be considered avant garde….) Sure, there is some comic relief in Genevieve’s circle of friends — most noteworthy being Judah Friedlander (“30 Rock”) and “Saturday Night Live” alumna Rachel Dratch — but, considering how formulaic this big piece of pap is, they’re not allowed to flex their comedic muscles by any means.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Suggest it if mandatory “cuddle time” is ever in your foreseeable future. Predictable as it may be — and despite what I wrote above — it’s not that bad for a romantic comedy….
Learn more about “I Hate Valentine’s Day” at www.ifcfilms.com/films/i-hate-valentines-day.
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