The Lives of Others

Mark Palermo runs the gamut.

German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's debut beat Pan's Labyrinth for the foreign language Oscar in a reversal of the Academy's usual avoidance of movies about complex world issues.

The Lives of Others is an indictment of adhering morals to political-doctrine shortcuts. Until its dissolution in 1989, the Stasi secret police ensured East Germany was free from subversives. Stasi member Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) is asked to spy on acclaimed playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his wife (Martina Gedeck). Wiesler's covert action is mirrored by the Dreymans' own secrets. Slowly, Wiesler develops empathy for their lives. Wiesler's change in perspective is his new secret—he's as vulnerable to exposure as those he's asked to expose. Von Donnersmarck moves certain sequences too slowly, but matches his tightest suspense with human intrigue. "How can anybody really listen to this and be a bad person?" Dreyman asks, responding to a piece of music. The populist unity he finds in an artwork undercuts human difference with shared need. The Lives of Others takes the stand that legitimate politics must adhere to morality.

Blades of Glory

Good idiot-comedies only appear stupid. In Blades of Glory, Will Ferrell gets lazy. Yes, the movie has its laughs, but most could be left-over improv from Anchorman and Talladega Nights. The familiar act isn't a satiric jab at a sport: Ferrell's gotten so comfortable with his aggressive-imbecile routine, it's stopped reflecting anything larger than himself. The comedy is disposable because Ferrell and co-star Jon Heder don't bother being recognizably human.

The joke of famed figure skater Chazz (Ferrell) radiating brute hetero-desirability meets the next level when he's given male skating partner Jimmy (Heder). Trained by Craig T. Nelson, their expected medal-winning move is the infamous Iron Lotus, which has previously only ended in decapitation. That's funny, but like Chazz and Jimmy's crotch proximity on the ice and impossible stuntwork, it has nothing really to say about the industry it's targeting. The familiarity of Blades of Glory showcases SNL alum too confident of their success. It's less a full-blooded comedy than it is indulgent comic actors given free reign to do their thing.

Meet the Robinsons

The clatter of Meet the Robinsons isn't without charm, but the humour is more charming than the characters. The computer-animated feature aims to be reputable sci-fi, a hip kid comedy, a reference-laden laugh-riot and an ode to the legacy of Disney.

Reaching for everything, Meet the Robinsons has moments but not an assured tone or identity. For a children's fantasy, the escapist potential is harmed because school-science-fair whiz and orphan Lewis is a grating dork. Once Lewis hits the future via a strange peer's time machine, his desire to find out why he was put up for adoption hasn't real human engagement behind it. The motto "Keep Moving Forward" (attributed in the movie to Walt Disney himself) inspires the characters to rise above their self-perceived failures. Despite occasionally clever details, the sheer weight of "stuff" holds it from the comic levity of The Emperor's New Groove and the uneven but energized Chicken Little.

This shrine to Disney is really the world's most overstuffed Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Not moving forward isn't Meet the Robinsons' problem. It should put more effort into watching its step.


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