Saturday, October 9, 2010

Chrisicisms: Catching Up

Wow, I'm behind in my reviews. Pretty much everything I've written for the paper is posted on here but there's a lot I've caught up with on my own both in theaters and on DVD/On Demand that I haven't had a chance to write about. I'm hoping to be better about that as we go on, but for right now I really just need to get the reviews out of of the way so we can be up to date. So they're going to be quick, bulleted reviews. The only movie I've seen that I'm hoping to write up a full review on later is Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go," which deserves to be dealt with in its own separate entry. But this should bring us full circle and ready for the future.

Let's jump in:

  • For many people, Rob Reiner's cameo on this week's "30 Rock" was as funny as he's been in years. Part of that is because the director of "This Is Spinal Tap," "The Princess Bride" and "When Harry Met Sally" has spent recent years directing swill like "North," "Rumor Has It" and "The Bucket List." But another part is because the majority of people didn't get the chance to see his charming coming-of-age comedy Flipped, which was dumped unceremoniously in theaters at the end of the summer. A he said/she said teenage romance about a young boy (Callan McAuliffe) and girl (Madeleine Carroll) who have a love/hate relationship in the early 1960s, "Flipped" is a gentle, kind-hearted love story that remembers more innocent times, when the biggest scandal was throwing out a neighbor's gift and the biggest tensions involved matters of the heart. It doesn't reinvent the genre, but by playing with perspective and telling the story from both protagonists' points of view, it feels fresher than it probably has any right to. Carroll is the refreshingly smart and energetic girl next door and steals the film and I also loved how the adults in the film--most notably John Mahoney as the boy's grandfather--showcase the role parents play in how their children develop their personalities and temperaments. It's a sweet, clean and funny movie, worth a look for those wanting something to put a smile on their face.
  • It took more than twenty years, but Gordon Gekko is back in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Oliver Stone revisits the world of corporate trading and professional greed with this timely drama, following a young broker (Shia LaBeouf) as he navigates the corporate world in the time just before the recent financial collapse. LaBeouf has his first truly grown-up role in the film, looking to exact financial vengeance on the trader (Josh Brolin) who ruined his mentor (an excellent as always Frank Langella). Michael Douglas is as winningly slimy as ever as Gekko, fresh out of prison and hoping to reconnect with his daughter (Carey Mulligan), who is engaged to LaBeouf's character. The masterstroke with Douglas here is that Stone keeps us in the dark for most of the movie as to whether Gekko has truly reformed or if he has ulterior motives. The director's anger over the recent financial disaster is palpable and, as always, Stone doesn't hide his rage. He throws a number of flashy effects at the screen and presents the film with all the subtlety of the sledgehammer...he all but has Brolin twirl a mustache to show how evil he is. Still, the film largely works because we're just as angry as Stone is and it's a bit invigorating to see Wall Street's greedy honchos get lambasted for our entertainment. It's not the great, slick drama that the 1988 original was, but it's great fun to revisit Gekko again. Stone missteps at the ending though, with his anger seemingly replaced by a defanged climax that throws up its hands and goes soft instead of jabbing us in the gut like Stone has promised all movie long.
  • You can count me as one of the people who was angered at the mere mention of an American remake of the brilliant Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In. I was convinced that an American director would take everything beautiful, edgy and disturbing about this friendship between two children--one of whom's a vampire--and turn it into another "Twilight"-type disaster. But Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield") has proven me wrong with Let Me In, possibly the best horror movie to hit theaters since "The Descent." "The Road's" Kodi Smit-Mcphee and "Kick Ass'" Chloe Moretz deliver solid, devastating performances as a bullied boy and a vampire girl who befriend each other on a snowy Los Alamos playground. Reeves makes the story his own, giving increased richness to the boy's isolation and a sadness to the relationship between Moretz and her caretaker (a fantastic Richard Jenkins). The film keeps the themes of loneliness, identity and a world without adult supervision that made the Swedish film so haunting and adds in a gripping subplot about a detective (Elias Koteas) investigating a grim series of murders that connects back to the children. Haunting, beautiful and poetic, "Let Me In" is a worthy take on the material and just as gripping. Unfortunately, it also joins "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" as the best movie that audiences chose to ignore this year.
  • As Halloween approaches, so does my love for great horror movies. I recently had the chance to rent Adam Green's Frozen On Demand and can highly recommend it for those planning to never go skiing again. In the same vein as "Open Water" and "The Blair Witch Project," it's one of those great never-go-into-nature-because-it-will-kill-you movies. Three friends go away on a skiing trip and manage to finagle themselves onto one last run before the weekend's over. Thanks to a series of carefully explained events, the three find themselves left on the ski lift when the resort closes for the weekend. It's Sunday night. It's cold and there's an ice storm coming. There are wolves below. And no one's coming until Friday. Despite some implausibilities (I doubt that many wolves would congregate near a ski resort), the film is sickeningly suspenseful and terrifying. The three leads are believable and Green milks just as much suspense from their internal conflicts as he does the life-threatening situation they find themselves in. It's one of those movies that ask the audience to think what they would do in a similar situation...and then takes each one of those solutions and shows just how horribly it could go. Grim, taut and gripping, it's worth a look for those who love their horror without a supernatural bent.
  • I was one of the millions caught up in Steig Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I read over the summer. I'm excited to see what David Fincher does with his version of the story, but in the mean time Niel Opley's Swedish take on the material will suffice. The film follows the first novel fairly closely, as Mikael Blomkvist (Neil Nyqvist) investigates the 40 year old disappearance of a teenager girl on an isolated island. Opley makes the investigation--which involves much use of computer databases and photos--surprisingly watchable and cuts enough fat--such as the backstage intrigue with Blomkvist's magazine--out of the film to streamline the story, although I feel that he shortshrifts all the rich history of the Vanger family that made the mystery so resonant in the novel. Still, it works for a 2.5 hour thriller, and Noomi Rapace is utterly perfect as the troubled but brilliant hacker Lisbeth Salander. Newcomers will appreciate the suspenseful and beautifully-photographed thrillers but I think fans of Larsson's trilogy may find it a tad too abridged to fully embrace.
  • This weekend while I had some time to myself I also finally caught up with David Gordon Green's All the Real Girls, a quiet little romance he made a few years back. The story of a womanizer (Paul Schneider) who falls for his best friend's virginal sister (Zooey Deschanel), the movie is a quiet, deliberately-paced drama about growing up, maturing and navigating this whole labyrinth of love and relationships. I still have trouble reconciling that the same director who made this and the meditative "George Washington" and "Snow Angels" is the man who went on to helm "Pineapple Express" and some of the raunchier episodes of "Eastbound and Down." But Green's direction here is just as delicate as in his best films, capturing the slow rhythms of life in a small town and the gentleness with which we live alongside each other. The story is minor but beautiful and Schneider and Deschanel ably capture the insecurity, fear, thrill and danger of falling in love. Definitely a beautiful little movie.

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30s, engaged and living in Motown. Wrestling with life, love, faith, art, film, culture and everything in between.