In the superhero caper The Green Hornet, there is a scene where Seth Rogen's hero, the slacker son of a newspaper mogul, takes a girl home after a night of carnage. He escorts her into his dad's classic cars garage and proceeds to get it on with her, and the film speeds up into comic fast-forward as they hop and frolic from one car to the next. The scene is an obvious nod to Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, but it is illustrative too: like most everything else in the film, there's little sense of the path untrod. But the film is such a giddy lark, and there is enough wit and whizz from the combined talents of actor/co-writer Rogen and the director Michel Gondry, that you're happy to go along for the ride.
Britt Read is classic Rogen— a garrulous, gregarious party animal who is forced to grow up. When his father dies from a bee sting, Britt inherits a newspaper and craves purpose in life. Let's see: he's rich, he's got lots of time on his hands and when he was a kid he tried to break up a few fights. He could be a crime fighter!
What a relief then that his father's mechanic Kato (Jay Chou), who has been making his morning coffee all these years, is something of a genius: the coffee machine he built is space-age, and when he gets going, he proves something of a one-man munitions factory and car plant. He is also a martial arts expert who has an ability to see in infra-red and move at lightning speed. This latter talent is never explained but it does give us something to look at with our 3D glasses.
All of this will become useful in the role of sidekick because the Green Hornet, after he has settled on a name ("How about The Green Bee?!") is a bumbling fool. The only idea he can contribute is that the Black Beauty, their battle car, should have ejector seats. When he proves useless in a brawl, Kato gives him a green gas gun. "This thing has no aim!" Britt yells during a melee. To which Kato shouts back, "you have to aim".
What Britt does have, though, is proprietorial influence at the upmarket Daily Sentinel, which he takes downmarket promoting the initially unserious crime antics of the Green Hornet. They pretend to be criminals in order to attract the attention of gangsters. And they hire a secretary to help them out. She's played by Cameron Diaz, who waltzes into the picture like a queen bee who's used to getting all the royal jelly. But her march is no match for Christopher Waltz, the Oscar-winning star of Inglourious Basterds, and his honeyed evil charm as Benjamin Chudnofsky, a Russian ganglord with a double-revolver, naff suits and an inferiority complex.
The Green Hornet character dates back to 1930s radio and the serials lent the name Kato to the Pink Panther films. Now the relationship is reciprocal. Rogen's Britt, with his huge ego, complete lack of self-awareness and rampant inability (but yet he gets things done) is Clouseau in another form. And Kato, increasingly fed up with the Green Hornet getting all the recognition, grows resentful. The brawl that ensues is one of those classic, house-trashing free-for-alls. Kato keeps hitting Britt, but Britt keeps getting up again.
Perhaps this is the key to why Seth Rogen's comedy is so winning, even if his scripts are flat. There's something in his bungling charm, the way his characters are so obviously incapable and normal, but they try their best anyway. Think of him in Knocked Up, where he was a stoner who had to grow up to be a dad, or in Pineapple Express where he was a stoner who became an action hero. He doesn't even look like a movie star lead but he is. He's the goof with heart. And Rogen takes these delicious ironies and expands them with wide-eyed enthusiasm, sounding more and more like an excitable Fozzie Bear.
You can see why Gondry would want to work with Rogen. The comedian exudes the same boyish enthusiasm the director exhibits in almost all his films. Gondry loves it when adults play at being children, and there is that sense of wonder as Kato and Britt play with their superhero toys. But where the director has a love for the lo-fi aesthetic, The Green Hornet is a slick affair. The film's energy is relentless, and Gondry directs with a dynamic rigour. It's never going to be The Dark Knight, though. I'd settle for 'Irony Man'.
In his 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gondry juxtaposed the sweet glow of first love with its faded bloom by erasing the minds of a couple and allowing them to fall in love again. In last year's Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami used play-acting to allow a couple, in the throes of early love, to act out an acknowledgement that their love affair would only end in disappointment, so we witnessed beginning and end at the same moment in time. In Blue Valentine, US director Derek Cianfrance keeps it simple: he uses flashback to contrast the decaying marriage of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) with the moments of their falling in love, when Dean, a then unbalding New York removal man courts the young Pennsylvania trainee doctor on the street with a ukulele, a tap dance and the song 'You Always Hurt the One You Love'.
In the present, Dean and Cindy leave their daughter with grandad to go to a tacky sex hotel to try and patch up their marriage. On the way, Cindy meets an ex-boyfriend in a supermarket, and the meeting uncorks a whole flood of memory and lingering resentments for the both of them. They're at the point in a relationship where each line of conversation can hinge into a row. And Cianfrance's sensitive and quiet camera teases out the complex nuances of their unravelling. We come to see that the invisible winds that shape their discontent are complex. So it makes you think deeper about their predicament, rather than quickly judging it. Both of them are at fault. No one is at fault.
The film works with restraint and we are denied a surge of pathos. Gosling and Williams, two of the best actors of their generation, work apparently without rehearsals, while most of the scenes were shot in one take. The pair are absorbing and equally calm. Gosling calls attention to himself without calling attention to himself. His Dean is a loving father but lost, awash in booze and feelings of inferiority. Williams wears that weary everyday face that's full of quiet suffering. She's no glamour puss and she's fearless in her choices, quietly assembling a remarkable slew of quality films on her CV.
Compare that to Hilary Swank, the two-time Oscar-winner, whose conservative nature leads her to the most hackneyed, seat-gnawing tripe. Freedom Writers anyone? The Reaping? PS I Love You? Her latest, Conviction, directed by Tony Goldwyn, continues that sweet tooth for wanton sentimentality. It's one of those by-the-numbers, look-how-courageous-she-is TV movies glossed up into Hollywood melodrama.
Swank's white-trash, bar-working, single mom endures all to go to college to be a lawyer. Her brother (Sam Rockwell) has a murder conviction. She has a conviction he's innocent. Do you see the word play in the title? The film reminds us that justice in the US has its many problems. I wonder if we should reopen Swank's own Oscar file. It's starting to look like there's a miscarriage of justice…
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