THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT
It would be both obnoxious and inaccurate to quip that The Five-Year Engagement feels as if it runs as long as the titular length, but there's no denying that this is one movie that would have benefitted from some judicious trimming in the editing room. At 125 minutes, the latest comedy from the director (Nicholas Stoller), star (Jason Segel) and producer (who else but Judd Apatow) of the superior Forgetting Sarah Marshall doesn't sound especially long - after all, it's the exact same running time as the Apatow-produced Bridesmaids, which was the perfect length.
Yet by unleashing most of its best gags during the first act, and by sprinkling its dramatic moments around like a sous chef adding just a soupcon of parsley to an order of grilled trout, that leaves plenty of time for the film to develop a noticeable sag around the middle.
Speaking of sous chefs, that's the role essayed by Segel in this picture: He plays Tom Solomon, a highly respected member of San Francisco's culinary scene. His girlfriend is Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt), and it's only after he pops the question and they're planning their nuptials that Violet is beckoned to the University of Michigan for a postdoctoral position. Deciding to put his own career on hold while she builds hers, Tom agrees with Violet that they should postpone the wedding for two years and move to Ann Arbor. Tom, who can only find work at a deli, hates living there, and when it looks like the two years might stretch into something longer, he loses it in rather imaginative fashion.
The late film critic Pauline Kael famously said of the popular Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers pairing, "He gave her class and she gave him sex." In this film, Blunt provides both the class and the sex, but Segel nevertheless brings enough easygoing charisma and sly wit to the table to make them a believable screen couple. While this is evident in the scenes in which they make doe eyes at each other, it's crucially also identifiable in the sequences in which their characters are at odds with each other. There's a terrific bit in which the two argue in bed, replete with the sort of acidic asides, frustrated exchanges and oddly understandable oxymorons ("I want to be alone ... with you here!" - a great line) that spring from real life.
Scenes like this make the lowbrow moments even more unworthy of inclusion here, whether it's the sight of Violet getting walloped by an opening car door or the increasingly tedious banter between Violet's colleagues at the university.
This isn't to suggest that all the comedic material fails (it would be a pretty sorry romcom if that were the case). Two TV stars, Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt and Community's Alison Brie, brighten two rather commonplace characters (the vulgar best friend and the snappy sister, respectively), and Tom's frightful facial hair during the film's midsection is almost worth the admission price alone.
If they had kept all the drama and halved the humor, The Five-Year Engagement would have truly distinguished itself. As it stands, it's engaging but hardly revelatory.
THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS
A different sort of booty call can be found in The Pirates! Band of Misfits, which sails the rough waters of a genre that's recently been overexposed due to at least one Pirates of the Caribbean sequel too many.
The latest effort from Aardman Animations, the outfit responsible for Chicken Run, Arthur Christmas and the wonderful Wallace & Gromit canon, this rollicking yarn feels far more conventional than the studio's previous efforts, trafficking in the same sorts of themes that have been the bread and butter of Disney for decades and every other studio's toon department in more recent times.
The story concerns the efforts of the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) to show that he deserves the title of Pirate of the Year, awarded to the seafaring scoundrel who accumulates the largest amount of loot. While such true terrors of the sea as Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) laugh at him, the hapless Pirate Captain tries his best to plunder and pillage, to no avail. It's only after he becomes involved with the duplicitous Charles Darwin (David Tennant), a scientist who realizes the value of the captain's pet Dodo bird, that matters begin to swing his way, at least temporarily.
The eye-pleasing claymation style revitalized by the studio remains front and center - the CGI work is mainly relegated to the background, literally (mostly for skies and other backdrops to the primary action) - and the film boasts an unusual villain in Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who loathes pirates and can hold her own in hand-to-hand combat (who knew?).
But the other characters are a rather blasé bunch (including the Pirate Captain's right-hand man, blandly characterized by Martin Freeman), and the usage of the tattered themes of family, loyalty and being happy with oneself is shockingly rote - the result, perhaps, of using existing source material (novels by Gideon Defoe, who also wrote the script) rather than employing the usual Aardman practice of building a work from scratch (where the filmmakers have never been held back by any narrative constraints).
The Pirates! Band of Misfits fares OK against most modern toon flicks, but pales next to other Aardman releases. How a person chooses to rate its success depends on whether one looks at a glass of water and views it as half-full or half-empty.