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MRQE Top Critic

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Pic of the Week

Each week we pick a recommended "Pic" from our archives. Below are our most recent picks.

The Lighthouse

***1/22019, Robert Eggers

Think about how the filmmaking and presentation choices impact the material.

The Lighthouse is a fever dream of cinema that’s worth a look despite some narrative challenges.

Meet the Parents

***2000, Jay Roach

An extremely well-made comedy

In the wake of another summer of schlocky, raunchy comedies that saw Scary Movie hit box office pay dirt and Me, Myself and Irene stumble, Meet the Parents comes as a surprising, pleasant change of pace.

Director Jay Roach, who helmed both Austin Powers adventures, at times covers some of the same raunchy territory. But in a nice twist, Meet the Parents steers back toward more good-natured (if somewhat predictable) humor and through it all Roach shows he has a heart for his main characters.

Ben Stiller meets the future father-in-law

The movie takes its time setting up the characters and the situations. Greg Focker (Ben Stiller, There’s Something About Mary, Keeping the Faith) flies off to New York with his girlfriend, Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo, from TV’s Felicity and Sports Night) to visit her parents and, he hopes, get their blessing for marriage.

Of course, nothing will come easily when the father to impress is played by Robert De Niro. He seems at ease playing Jack Byrnes, a retired dealer in rare flowers, but his history of playing heavies in movies like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull also lends credibility to the father’s “double life”.

Further aggravating the situation, the two are polar opposites when it comes to pets. Jack is a cat person (with a “trained” cat, Mr. Jinx) and Greg is a dog person. Trying to reconcile the two proves to be no small feat. As Jack says, “Cats make you work for their affection, they don’t sell out like dogs.”

The setup is well done as the awkwardness and tension of that first parental meeting is played out. At first, things are so awkward and the humor so sluggish that the direction of the movie comes into question.

Just relax; everything falls apart nicely.

Greg is the quintessential Average Joe; he’s smart and has a good job (male nurse), he’s sensitive, and he’s not terribly coordinated, especially when it comes to playing sports or climbing rooftops.

There’s something about Ben Stiller that makes him immediately likeable. He creates extremely sympathetic characters, and you want to see him win. The movie uses this to tremendous effect as it piles on the insults, physical harm, and other embarrassments. Watching Stiller, the de facto poster boy for today’s emasculated society, go through the wringer is almost like therapy for the modern average male.

The family Greg wants to marry into is tight-knit and loving, only helping to make him feel all the more like an outsider. There’s also a bit of a class war to deal with as Greg faces the daunting challenge of impressing his girlfriend’s wealthy and talented social circles on their home turf, Oyster Bay, Long Island.

For example, Pam’s ex-fiancée, Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson, Shanghai Noon, Armageddon), is the quintessential Golden Boy. He’s so perfect he’d make Martha Stewart blush with envy.

Kevin’s house is decorated with pictures of him and Pam together in their glory days: Swimming in the tropics, skiing, horseback riding, and even skydiving. He’s also a master craftsman, an artist at carving wood into beautiful objects, and he’s a wealthy, sensitive guy. In short, he’s every Ordinary Joe’s worst nightmare.

Taking a cue from Murphy’s Law, the story delights in seeing Greg suffer through everything that could possibly go wrong on a simple weekend trip. From water volleyball to a house afire, opportunities for slapstick are to be found at every turn.

But, after Greg paints himself into one outrageous corner after another (mostly because of his own good intentions), the movie finds its way back to matters of the heart. Too often romantic comedies turn sappy and pull on the heartstrings, but Meet the Parents manages to find a satisfying balance between heart and humor.

After a slow and (intentionally) awkward setup, the laughs start to flow more freely and the pace builds to a crescendo of hearty laughs. There are plenty of comedic set pieces along the way and most of the jokes work quite well, covering the gamut from milking cats on a Motown farm to what could be considered the last word on “potty humor”.

Thanks to smart casting and a desire to please as large an audience as possible, Meet the Parents hits enough laugh buttons to be considered a visit worth making.

Matthew Barney: No Restraint

***2007

An essential companion piece for anyone who feels like they didn’t get Drawing Restraint 9

By the time I had heard enough about artist and filmmaker Matthew Barney to be intrigued by his work, I had missed the chance to see it (Barney is notorious for not allowing his movies to be released on DVD.) So when Drawing Restraint 9 came to theaters, I jumped at the chance.

Chicago

****2002, Rob Marshall

Not a must-buy for owners of the original, but a better package than the previous release

Having debuted on DVD two years ago, Chicago blows in with a jazzed-up edition in time for holiday giving. The big question is: Why wasn’t this released two years ago, instead of the merely decent one-disc edition?

Shadowlands

***1/21993, Richard Attenborough

One of Hopkins’ best performances as forlorn author C.S. Lewis

The Muppet Show Season Three

***2008

The extras are more substantial than those on the first- or second-season sets

Muppets fans should be satisfied with the The Muppet Show’s Season 3 DVD set. As with the DVDs for the first two seasons, the bonus features are a little sparse, given the wealth of material featuring the famous puppets. But these extras are more substantial than those on the second season set and are a must-see for longtime Muppets fans. As for the show, it’s still fresh and funny 30 years later.

Lost Boys of Sudan

***2004, Megan Mylan, and Jon Shenk

In spite of their streets-paved-with-gold expectations, there is no Heaven on Earth

Shot on video and in a widescreen format, Lost Boys of Sudan follows two African immigrants to the United States. The documentary is interesting on many levels, not the least of which is an outsider’s view of our own country.

Curse of the Jade Scorpion

***2001, Woody Allen

Good lines, familiar faces, and a funny story. What more could you ask from Woody Allen?

Woody Allen is coasting. Ever since the mid 1990s, his films have seemed like easy, fun little throwaway trinkets. Then again, it’s not surprising that after thirty films in as many years his style should become facile.

The Wolverine

***2013

The Wolverine feels more like a James Bond thriller than a true-blue comic book movie.

The Wolverine claws its way to a very mild recommendation.

49 Up

***1/22006, Michael Apted

“Every seven years, it’s like a little pill of poison that is injected into my life”

As soon as Tony starts talking, I am hooked. I want to hear every detail about his life and relationship with his wife and family, how they’ve balanced their hard work and marriage. I am impressed with what they’ve built for themselves, a comfortable spot in the city and a retirement house in Spain where they were shown frolicking with their kids and grandkids. When Tony says, “Being married isn’t easy,” it’s like listening to a friend over dinner.

Confidence

***2003, James Foley

So fun and well paced that you’ll be caught in its web before long

A good con movie is like an optical illusion. The moment when the cube pops out instead of in and the moment when the con is revealed are accompanied by a laugh of amazement. We know our brains have been fooled by a careful designer, but our senses don’t quite believe it.

The Tempest

***1/2Julie Taymor

The impeccable cast alone makes this version of The Tempest a pleasure well worth watching.

The impeccable cast alone makes this version of The Tempest a pleasure well worth watching.