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Films I Neglected To Review: Sometimes It Isn't That Good To Be The Queen!
by Peter Sobczynski

In this round-up of films currently in release that I didn't get a chance to write about at length, Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy atempt to debunk fake spirits, some of the Broken Lizard gang try to rob a sperm bank, Marie Antoinette holds court over Versailles and a nouveau-riche couple attempt to build their own version of that stately palace in Florida. Spoiler Alert--things don't quite work out for any of them.

In the new comedy "The Babymakers," Paul Schneider and Olivia Munn play a young couple whose dreams of starting a family are thwarted when they learn that his sperm are no longer swimming correctly thanks to one too many shots to the crotch over the years. The good news--a few years earlier, he made some surreptitious donations to a sperm bank in order to pay for her engagement ring and it turns out that there is still one sample left. The bad news--another couple has already claimed it and they refuse to give it up for any price. As a result, Schneider, along with his wacky best pal (Kevin Heffernan) and an Indian master criminal (Jay Chandrasekhar), contrives a plan to break into the facility in order to steal the sample back and live happily ever after. Why yes, things don't go exactly according to plan and yes, there is at least one sequence in which one of the guys makes a false move and finds himself sliding around on the floor while thoroughly coated in baby batter. In the words of the immortal Don Lockwood, "Dignity, Always Dignity."

Those of you with a taste for crazy comedy may recognize Chandrasekhar and Heffernan as members of Broken Lizard, the guys responsible for such cult classics as "Super Troopers," "Club Dread" and "Beerfest" but while the two appear in the film and Chandrasekhar also takes on the directorial duties, this is not an official Broken Lizard film by any means. Unlike their self-generated films, which at their best offer viewers a refreshing blend of the smart, the stupid and the downright strange while expertly skewering any number of cinematic subgenres, this is a largely aimless farce in which screenwriters Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow struggle to combine outrageous gross-out humor with moments of sentiment that never really manage to work for the most part. However, I must confess that while there are long periods of time in which there is not a laugh to be had, there are some moments in the middle that are actually pretty hilarious, mostly once Chandrasekhar comes on the scene as the criminal mastermind who proves to be anything but, especially in regard to his lock-picking skills. Sadly, there are not enough of these moments to make it worth schlepping off to the multiplex or even to order it up on VOD (where it will also be appearing starting this weekend) but as something to zone out in front of during one of what is sure to be an endless string of future airings on Comedy Central, it might be worth a look until the next official Broken Lizard film comes along.

In his latest film, "Farewell My Queen," French filmmaker Benoit Jacquot does the seemingly impossible: he takes a story that most viewers will be familiar with--the end days of the the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and the dawn of the French Revolution--and finds a new angle at which to approach it. Utilizing a take that will remind some of the likes of "Upstairs Downstairs" or "Gosford Park," Jacquot takes us on a tour of Versailles through the eyes of Sidonie (Lea Seydoux), a servant who has earned herself a certain position of privilege as the favorite reader of Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) herself. However, despite her relative prominence among her fellow workers, Versailles isn't all that it is cracked up to be--the furnishing are getting a bit on the tatty side and a gondola trip is likely to unveil dead rats in the water--and as the film opens, rumors begin to sweep the palace about some sort of unpleasantness at the Bastille. Shooting on location at Versailles itself, Jacquot does an excellent job of recreating those confused final days as rumors make the rounds, subjects and employees alike flee in droves and Sidonie rudely discovers just how important and valuable she is to the Queen for whom she has pledged her love and loyalty. In addition, there are excellent performances to be had from rising star Seydoux (whom you may recognize as the sexy killer in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), Kruger and Virginie Ledoyene (as a duchess who shares a special and much-rumored friendship with Marie) and you have a fascinating inside look at the collapse of an empire of privileged excess of the likes that may never be seen again.

Okay, as the new documentary "Queen of Versailles" proves, that last analysis might have been a little hasty. This film by Lauren Greenfield originally began as a look at the Siegel family--billionaire time-share condo merchant David, shopaholic wife Jackie and their eight kids--as they started construction in 2006 on a 90,0000-square-foot mansion in Florida inspired by Versailles itself that would be the largest private residence in America. However, things took an unexpected turn in 2008 thanks to the collapse of the financial market and construction is halted roughly halfway through as David's entire empire teeters on the edge of collapse. While he desperately tries to find a way out of his predicament even as everything is imploding around him, Jackie struggles to adjust to their newly reduced circumstances--her shopping sprees are now reduced to the local Wal-Mart and instead of round-the-clock limo service, she is forced to rent a car at one point and is stunned to discover that it doesn't come with a driver. Unable to unload the half-built home, David winds up losing the Vegas high-rise that was his pride and joy, Jackie tries to keep everyone together despite the increasing likeliness that instead of a lifetime of obscene comfort, her kids might actually have to work for a living.

The film is being pitched for the most part as a chance for the 99% to laugh at the miseries of a couple of prominent members of the 1% as the luxuries that have defined their lives are methodically stripped away from them one by one. That may be the lure but the interesting thing about it is that while Greenfield does a good job of capturing the excess in jaw-dropping detail without pushing it too hard (there are times when the approach is as dry and low-key as a Christopher Guest film), she nevertheless retains a certain fondness for the Siegels despite everything they represent. Jackie is exceptionally fascinating because on the surface, she looks like a caricature of a gold-digging bimbo with her implants, bottle-blonde hair and her complete disassociation with the trappings of everyday life. However, she turns out to be smarter and more sympathetic than one might expect and fiercely loyal and dedicated to her husband and her family no matter what the future may hold. David is a little less sympathetic (in one aside that is maddeningly not followed up on, he says that he helped elect George W. Bush to the presidency through means that, by his own admission, may not have been entirely legal) but even his plight is strangely touching as well as it turns out that even an alleged financial wizard like him could get ensnared in the same predatory business practices that helped bankrupt so many others who took out loans they couldn't afford to pay back once the bubble burst. "Queen of Versailles" runs on a little too long for its own good and has a tendency to repeat itself at times but for the most part, it present a fascinating inside look at the collapse of an empire of privileged excess of the likes that may never be seen again--this time for sure!

When it comes to dealing with films involving the paranormal, I think that we are all in agreement that the more realistic the set-up, the more effective the payoff, correct? Although there are many problems with the inept new thriller "Red Lights," the absolute lack of believability is the one that sinks it completely. Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy stars as a couple of experts in the paranormal who go around exposing fraudulent claims of hauntings, possessions and the like. All goes well until internationally famous and reclusive psychic Robert De Niro (in full-out ham mode) comes out of hiding for a series of comeback performances and Weaver, who tried debunking him decades earlier with ugly results, is determined to prove him to be a fake once and for all. The premise sounds interesting, I suppose, but the execution by writer-director Rodrigo Cortes (whose previous film was the far better thriller "Buried") couldn't be worse. The screenplay seems weirdly out of date (if Uri Gellar were around today, do you think he would honestly be selling out auditoriums for what appears to be weeks on end?) and the promise of the early scenes is squandered through too many extraneous secondary characters (including a wasted Elisabeth Olsen as a grad student and Toby Jones as a crafty rival of Weaver's) and a confused narrative that will leave most viewers struggling to figure out exactly what the hell it was that they just saw. The end result is a waste of time for all involved and the only real mystery about it is what it was that convinced so many smart and talented people that taking part in it would be a good idea for their careers.

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originally posted: 08/03/12 23:54:40
last updated: 08/04/12 00:33:40
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