Here's the dirty secret about 1981's Arthur: It's no classic. While a gargantuan box office hit and a double Oscar winner, it hasn't exactly entered the annals as an equal compatriot of, say, Some Like It Hot or Annie Hall -- in retrospect, this likable lark wasn't even the funniest film of its year (both Blake Edwards' S.O.B. and Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I offer more laughs per square footage of film). So the fact that Hollywood has dared to serve up a remake is hardly a earthshaking scandal; after all, it's not like somebody foolishly decided to remake Citizen Kane or The Godfather or Psycho (oops; scratch that last one).
The result is that the new Arthur is a minor guilty pleasure, a freewheeling comedy that offers a fair number of laughs for those who haven't yet grown tired of Russell Brand (a rapidly shrinking demographic, admittedly). Brand is (dare I say it?) the equal of Dudley Moore, who enjoyed a career high mark (and an Oscar nomination) for the original but whose luster dimmed once it became apparent that he tackled every role as if he were portraying a drunk.
For his part, Brand draws upon his own party-animal status to play the childlike millionaire, a perpetually inebriated ne'er-do-well who's blackmailed into agreeing to marry the strong-willed daughter (Jennifer Garner) of a ruthless businessman (Nick Nolte) but instead finds love with a sweet girl (Greta Gerwig) from the wrong side of the tracks.
Certainly, the best component of the original was John Gielgud's hilarious, Oscar-winning turn as Arthur's droll butler, Hobson. Here, the character has been reconfigured as Arthur's long-suffering nanny, and while Helen Mirren conveys the role's requisite bite, she simply doesn't make the same impact as her predecessor.
Also detrimental to the film is its lurch toward contemporary political correctness (the '81 model was cheerfully, unapologetically rude), most obvious in the dreary attempts (particularly toward the end) to show Arthur learning about the dangers of alcoholism and the joys of a day's hard work. These sequences prove to be a real drag; like its protagonist, Arthur is at its best when making a spectacle of itself.
If life is indeed about enjoying the little things, then it's entirely appropriate that the best scenes in Win Win are the little slice-of-life ones. Writer-director Tom McCarthy is a master at making movies that tap into instantly recognizable emotions and experiences -- his previous pictures were 2003's superb The Station Agent (Netflix that one ASAP) and 2007's The Visitor -- and this unassuming picture is at its finest when it follows that rule.
Coming off a great performance in Barney's Version, Paul Giamatti again works wonders with his sad-sack routine -- here, he's Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer and high-school wrestling coach whose backhanded dealing with a dementia-afflicted client (Burt Young) eventually leads to the elderly man's grandson, a troubled runaway named Kyle (Alex Shaffer), entering his life. Mike and his wife Jackie (a terrific turn by Gone Baby Gone's Amy Ryan) reluctantly decide to help Kyle out, only to grow genuinely attached to him. But this bond gets threatened when Kyle's irresponsible mother (Melanie Lynskey) turns up, just out of rehab and ready to drag her unwilling son home.
An early slapstick gag set on a jogging path seems to owe its allegiance to the Inspector Clouseau outing The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Kyle conveniently turns out to be a champion wrestler who can assist in turning around Mike's team, and the punishment for Mike's early deceit is handled in a predictable manner -- yes, McCarthy occasionally stumbles into unlikely scenarios that generally exist only in the movies. But he makes such slip-ups easy to ignore (or excuse) because the vast majority of the picture strikes the right notes in terms of its characters and the ways in which they interact with each other.
Even Mike's odd-couple assistant coaches, played by Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale, are allowed to rise above their expected standing as comic foils to emerge as believable individuals with their own quirks and problems. Win Win is by no means a perfect movie, but it's a lovely one that deserves its designation as one of the top-seeded films currently in theaters.
With a young girl as its steely-eyed, bloodletting protagonist, Hanna can't help but be compared to Kick-Ass, what with its steely-eyed, bloodletting Hit Girl. Bring it on: This is one film that can take down its competition.
While Kick-Ass was criticized in many circles for glorifying the mayhem exacted by its pint-sized heroine, director Joe Wright is careful not to allow the same charges to be hurled against his new picture. As ably portrayed by Atonement's Saoirse Ronan, Hanna likewise is out to avenge a dead mother, but Wright and his three writers treat her cat-and-mouse game against the person responsible -- a hissable CIA operative played by Cate Blanchett -- with a hardcore efficiency that eschews any sops toward gorehounds.
But that's not to say the film is cuddly within the confines of its PG-13 rating. With even Hanna's dad (Eric Bana), the ex-agent who teaches her how to survive at all costs, opting for tough love instead of tender moments, this is a brutal and uncompromising motion picture -- at least for the most part, until it cowardly tries to sidestep the obvious fate of some of its most likable characters, hoping that audience members won't remember to question it afterward.
The choppy denouement could stand to be longer -- the film wraps up even as we're still trying to process new information and fill in the blanks (some of which remain glaringly empty) -- but with its crisp action sequences and unfussy acting, Hanna is a chase flick that on balance is worth catching.
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