Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Movie Review: Gone Baby Gone

November 19, 2008

gonebabygone

I was surprised to learn that Dennis Lehane is a Dorchester native because the dialogue in the film adaptations of his books reads like it was written by a non-local enamored with Boston stereotypes. As in Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone made me wince and cringe as the actors “wikkid pissa’d” their way through a klutzy third-grade-level script. Hollywood needs to take a lesson fron George Clooney in The Perfect Storm and realize that a bad accent causes more distractive harm than good and stresses out the audience.

But what’s most shocking about this film is that, in his directorial debut, Ben Affleck directs circles around Martin Scorsese’s ridiculous attempt to make Boston into NYC with The Departed (known in my house as The Retahdid). Affleck is lucky he’s got such an ace in the hole with his charming, accessible brother Casey, who carries the film gracefully over troubled waters.

Gone Baby Gone‘s not half bad but it does play into a classic Lehane cliché: an endangered child gives a protagonist license to do whatever s/he wants. It’s boring watching characters go all high and mighty; poor Michelle Monaghan gets stuck with the worst and weepiest role in the pic. But she’s just a symptom of another Lehane cliché: sucky female characters. As in Mystic River, none of the female characters are truly strong, likable, or smart. Amy Ryan rightfully earned herself an Oscar nod with her portrayal of a working-class slag whose daughter goes missing but the film leaves her without an ounce of humanity: It’s a fine line between gritty writing and misogyny.

While this film is a much closer vision of Boston than Scorsese’s, its incredulous portrayal of tough neighborhood bars, drug dealers, and police work might have you on the floor laughing. Missing kid causes characters to re-exmaine their moral fiber: It ain’t Shakepeare but at least it ain’t Scorsese.

Grade: C+

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Movie Review: Kontroll

November 19, 2008

kontroll

Film entirely in the Budapest subway system, Kontroll follows several quirky characters through one night spent subterranean. Plot aside, this film is really about the chic design and modern beauty of the subway tunnels and station.

As the evening progresses and commuters fling themselves in front of the trains, our protagonist must confront a demon and be delivered by a girl in a bear suit. It’s all very pretty but the symbolism and metaphors are so freaking film school that it’s hard to appreciate it beyond a superficial level.

Grade: C.

Movie Review: Casino Royale

November 19, 2008

casinoroyale

As a dedicated Bond fan, I must espouse the virtues of this excellent return to the true Bond character as Ian Fleming wrote him, a thankful eschewing of the bizarrely fey spy presented by Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, and others. Casino Royale is the best Bond film since Dr. No.

 

Here we find a Bond with a thug’s body and temperament: He’s impulsive, passionate, and prone to rash decisions that cram his impressive assets into dangerous situations. The techno toys, snarky quips, and product-placement cars are noticeably absent as we are treated to the Bond that Sean Connery originated: a house-broken hooligan in testosterone overdrive whose main concerns are bare-handed killing and bare-assed screwing.

 

The casting director earned a place in heaven with the smoldering combination of the luscious Daniel Craig and the non-blonde Eva Green. Toss in a perfect villain who cries tears of blood, high-stakes poker (the literary Bond played Baccarat but we can forgive this inaccuracy), a heart-pounding opening sequence, the right Aston-Martin, and a climax in Venice, and you’ve got a brilliantly fun film.

 

Oh, and Daniel Craig walks out of the ocean. Twice.

 

Grade: A

Movie Review: Control

November 19, 2008

control

An ultimate example of beauty cut down and the effects of stress on bodies in motion, Joy Division burst upon the UK music scene in a melancholy fog, slouched on the brink of greatness, and crumbled to pieces. Anton Corbijn’s gorgeously shot Control details the later life of haunted frontman Ian Curtis, portrayed with astounding realism by Sam Riley.

 

Based on Curtis’ widow’s biography, the film nails a desolate, bleak Manchester, where punk rock and Bowie records offer the only respite from depressive boredom and unyielding domestic obligations. Corbijn complicates his protagonist’s immense talent with human nature: Curtis is beguiling onstage but a lousy husband/father/lover/friend. It’s a portrait of a real person, refreshing lacking in cliché and schmaltz. But it’s hard to watch Curtis’ self-indulgent histrionics as epilepsy engulfs him, gorging himself on hedonism at the expense of everyone close to him. And we all know how it ends.

 

Corbijn’s gamble to have the actors recreate Joy Division’s iconic sound pays off with shocking success. But the film can’t get past its own infatuation with Curtis, even as he’s dashing the dreams of his bandmates. Narcissistic with a strong prick streak is tough to take in a protagonist. I wish Corbijn had devoted a bit more time to the band dynamic and less to watching Curtis fling himself tragically hither and yon. Perhaps more interest could have been invested in the band that mourned, regrouped, and survived, becoming New Order. The film is a must for any Joy Division fan but a real downer for those unfamiliar with the band.

Grade: B-

Movie Review: In Bruges

August 15, 2008

Two Irish hitmen accidentally kill an innocent boy and are sent to Belgian postcard town of Bruges to hide out in this fun dark comedy. At times a semi-predictable action-packed film noir, at others a hilarious dark comedy, this film serves as the most glamorous travel campaign for Belgium since…well…since ever.

In a traditional odd couple pairing, Brendan Gleeson plays the somewhat straight man/heavy to Colin Farrell’s goofy bratty simpleton. The two have great chemistry as they careen through medieval canals and churchtowers, ordering “fag beer” in pubs, hysterically trying to blend in but unable to quell their rowdy ways. When they stumble upon a film set, we get introduced to a hot Belgian drug dealer, her nihilistic boyfriend, and a racist dwarf. And everyone’s having a quirky not-quite-brilliantly-written time until mob boss Ralph Fiennes comes to town.

In Bruges boasts a splashy candy-coating over a refreshing philosophical heart: Each hitman has their own tweaked code of principles that are constantly interfering with how they do their job. And everyone seems to be infatuated with the city of Bruges, which truly steals the show as the film’s most glamorous castmember. Ribbons of grief, regret, humor, atonement, and honor lace themselves throughout the film, ultimately ending in a giant bow on this imperfectly madcap love letter to Bruges.

Grade: B+

Movie Review: The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

August 15, 2008

Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby suffers a brain hemorrhage resulting in “shut-in syndrome,” wherein he can control only the blinking of one eye. A seemingly endless gaggle of hot young nurses help him communicate and he eventually dictates his autobiography, from which the film takes its title. The real lesson: Get sick in France.

 

Director Julian Schnabel takes a great risk by presenting the majority of this true story from Bauby’s perspective, relying on voiceover to convey his thoughts. But these potential gimmicks work beautifully, as Bauby’s focus shifts from mourning to appreciation of beauty and the exploration of his imagination and memory. Schnabel’s painterly nature comes through in pretty but very unnecessary montages of garden landscapes, butterflies, glaciers melting, women’s hair in the wind. These chunks of visuality lend nothing to the story and detract from the ironic real action: the guy who can’t move. The soundtrack too feels mix-tapey and dominant, much like Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette; as if Schnabel had the songs picked out before he ever started filming.

 

Luckily, Schnabel’s brilliant casting compensates for his shortcomings. In the very definition of a nuanced performance, Mathieu Amalric is truly moving as Bauby. Emmanuelle Seigner is wonderful as Bauby’s estranged wife; she is at once sympathetic but maintains a pettiness and jealous nature that collides with the saintliness that typically comes with roles such as hers. Max von Sydow lends subtle power to his role as Bauby’s father, himself on the brink of senility. But the real breakout star here is Marie-Josee Croze as the speech therapist who gets Bauby talking and keeps him going. She is charming, endearing, and strong: More, please.

 

Grade: A

Movie Review: Into The Wild

August 15, 2008

Based on Jon Krakauer’s biography of Christopher McCandless, a rich white Atlanta college grad who eschewed all comforts in favor of flinging himself into a great roadtrip adventure, Sean Penn directs this tale of what happens to idealism when reality comes crashing in.

 

Filmed with a speedy sun-drenched dreaminess and a collection of cameos, Into The Wild provokes thought but ultimately leaves the viewer empty. The film never sold me on why I should care about this spoiled brat so arrogant that he enters the Alaskan wilderness totally unprepared, without so much as a proper pair of boots. And he is inexplicably treated as a prophet everywhere he goes, whether sanctimoniously helping two haggard hippies heal their broken relationship, opportunistically inserting himself into the life of an elderly widower, or hopping on his high moral horse and patronizingly refusing the advances of a trailer-park Lolita. All the while, McCandless wags his finger at his monstrous parents for wrecking him for life…and yet he selfishly leaves his little sister in their evil clutches.

 

The protagonist is so painfully self-obsessed that, in a particularly frightening scene, he taunts the brilliant Hal Holbrook into greatly endangering his hips as well as his life by climbing a precarious rockface. In another scene which got me yelling at the screen, he shoots a moose with lunatic faith that not only does he have the skills and facilities to preserve it, but that he as one man could possibly transport and consume such an enormous beast.

 

It comes as no surprise when McCandless’ arrogance brings about his ugly demise, presented with obligatory weight loss by Emile Hirsch (the real McCandless’ corpse supposed weighed less than 70 pounds). But Penn seems enamored with painting his hero as a natural, a visionary, an example of the triumph of curiosity and freedom. It’s not a bad film per se, it’s just a lousy protagonist.

 

Krakauer’s original title, Death Of An Innocent, begs the question, was McCandless truly innocent? Or was he naïve? Or was he, as I believe, a callous, wasteful, bourgeois egomaniac? There’s an undue mythology that people like McCandless have applied to personalities such as Henry David Thoreau as pillars of self-reliance and autonomy within nature: they fail to realize that Thoreau went home every day and had his mother make him lunch. Self-reliance, indeed.

Grade: C

Movie Review: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

May 31, 2008

I saw this flick last weekend at the Somerville Theater…where they serve beer…but it didn’t make the movie any better. George Lucas should have handed over writing abilities to someone much younger than himself who loved Raiders Of The Lost Ark. His moldy, cliched, unsuspenseful writing totally fails his actors, who are trying really effing hard and deliver almost universally strong performances. Lucas’ perspective on mid-century America seems to be gleaned solely from cheesy newsreels depicting greasers, drag racing, Atomic blasts, and trenchcoated G-Men. If Lucas wanted Indiana Jones to be a cartoon superhero, he shouldn’t have let him age.

You know the drill: academic/archeologist Indiana Jones goes on a wacky adventure with a band of zany sidekicks under the guise of fetching something for a museum while simultaenously triumphing over Nazis. Except in this movie, it’s Russians. And that’s just the start of its problems. While charmingly cartoonish, Russians are inherently not as hateable nor as hilarious as Nazis. Cate Blanchett leads the non-Nazi Russians as a fencing bobbed nasty girl with much-touted psychic abilitied that never materialize. Shia LeBoeuf plays the stooge role as a greaser with information. He’s also the source of one of Lucas’ many totally obvious plot twists: Guess who his mother is! Guess who his father is!

Harrison Ford is…I mean he’s good but…I don’t quite know how to tell you this…the man has AGED. He’s good and he tried but it’s ledd Indianan Jones and more president from Air Force One. And Karen Allen has completely forgotten the raw grit that made us all love Marion Ravenwood because she’s channellling sappy soggy Katie from Animal House here.

This movie is fun if you go into it with low (and i mean LOW) expectations. I wanted to revisit the joy I felt when my dad took me to see the first installment back in 1981. There are fun moments and great performances but the script, direction, and unbearable presence of monkeys and groundhogs brings it down.

Grade: C-

Movie Review: In The Valley Of Elah

May 21, 2008

Based on true events, a young soldier returns from a tour in Iraq and disappears. His worried parents (Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon) begin their own investigation and enlist the help of police detective Charlize Theron to untangle the briar patch of military silence. The film borrows heavily from the legend of David and Goliath as Jones takes on the closed structure of army bureaucracy while Theron fights her way through a hateful, sexist work environment.

Truly excellent performances meld with a bleak production design amid shades of olive drab and gunmetal gray to form a wonderful portrait of a family in crisis and the search for truth. Jones’ military dad is onscreen magic, at once mesmerizing and complex, clinging to the rituals oof discipline while undergoing a raucous disillusionment. In a supporting role, Sarandon delivers the realistic mother so lacking from films: vulnerable, tough as nails, moody, dissatisfied, supportive. Theron wisely slips into the second fiddle role and lets Jones drive, but she’s still very good as the kicked-around single-mother still clinging to a few shredded ideals.

My favorite aspect of this movie however was its visionary Coen-like style: stuck in the 70s, faded, and real, what homes/offices/people actually look like. Occasionally predictable, always focused on the costs of war on the soldiers and their families, In The Valley Of Elah is a great character study on an important timely topic. Grade: B+

Movie Review: Juno

May 6, 2008

Academy-Award-winning Juno is the story of a wise-cracking pregnant teen who decides to give the baby up for adoption. Lauded by critics and hailed as original and thought-provoking, this was last year’s little film that could. I have no idea what people enjoyed about this painfully precious, clangingly written, bizarrely plotted piece of faux indie garbage.

Bankrolled by Fox, bursting with a tired “new” lexicon, and featuring the single most offensive portrait of a women’s clinic ever committed to film, Juno is a thinly veiled hunk of pro-life propaganda so in love with its own cleverness that it’s like watching someone practice making out with their hand. There’s so much terribleness in this attempt to capitalize on new-school feminism, I hardly know where to begin.

Written by Diablo “I’m a stripper so I have street cred” Cody and featuring Ellen “Couldn’t pass for 16 even in a blackout at a nursing home” Page, Juno reads like the diary of a woman who desperately wishes she could relive her teens knowing what she knows now…and who has no concept of what teens are actually into today. If you want to see a decent (albeit imperfect) representation of teen life, rent Thirteen.

Everything from dialogue to set design to costumes is so riddled with historically too-early pop culture references that the protagonist maintains zero credibility. Couple this with her much vocalized love of punk music amid a soundtrack consisting solely of twee folksy crap from Moldy Peaches’ Kimya Dawson, and you’ve got one big empty facade. Plus, the subtle mentions of Jesus and the aforementioned clinic portrait meld into a candy-coated pro-life pill aimed squarely down the throats of Bust Magazine‘s readership. Juno: For poseurs, by poseurs. 

Grade: D.