Friday, February 6, 2009

Screening Log: January 2009

Screening Log

[Note: This is a new feature, inspired by similar things done here and here, but my version is much less ambitious (notes only when I feel like it, for example). Eventually, I'm going to set up a dedicated page for these (and my top ten lists), but for now a blog entry will have to do. The most recently watched movies are at the top. The star system is borrowed from the Chicago Reader (i.e. Jonathan Rosenbaum): anything that gets a star is recommended to one degree or another. Stuff without a star is not recommended. I'm more interested in differentiating between the very good and the great than between the mediocre and the horrible.]

January 2009

The Wackness (Jonathan Levine, 2008) (v) *

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, 2008) ****

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (Patricia Rozema, 2008) (v)

RocknRolla (Guy Ritchie, 2008) (v) * - It looks drab, there are some rough edges that get in the way of it feeling like a perfectly clockwork caper movie, Jeremy Piven phones in his performance, its gestures towards some kind of emotional resonance are overshadowed (for me) by In Bruges and The Bank Job, and it really bungles just about everything having to do with its single female character. But I still liked it: Mark Strong and Gerard Butler both give strong performances and Ritchie has an Elmore Leonard-esque flair for controlled chaos.

High and Dizzy (Hal Roach, 1920) (s) (v) *** - Harold Lloyd plays drunk for most of this movie.

Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, 2007) (v) *

Eye in the Sky (Nai-Hoi Yau, 2007) (v) **

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) (v) (r) *** - On home video, this lacks the intensity of the "IMAX Experience", but maybe because it isn't as overwhelming, the filmmaking seems tighter. A wash, in other words.

Baghead (The Duplass Bros., 2008) (v) **

The Tracey Fragments (Bruce McDonald, 2007) (v) *

Stop-Loss (Kimberly Pierce, 2008) (v) - The underlying outrage - over why the soldiers are in Iraq in the first place and what they're doing there - never really comes into focus, so the surface outrage over the stop-loss order itself seems legalistic, the premise of an absurd, blackly comic joke that the movie is too earnest to tell.

The Unborn (David S. Goyer, 2009) - Doesn't survive the move from effective generalized creepiness to cliched specifities. Not everything needs to be explained. Especially the stuff that doesn't make any sense to begin with.

Street Kings (David Ayer, 2008) (v) ** - No surprises in this One Good Bad Cop movie: at this point I'm not even sure if any of the filmmakers even expect us to be surprised, despite the nominal twists. Still: good performances (esp. from the underrated Keanue Reeves and Chris Evans) and witty action editing.

Cleaner (Renny Harlin, 2007) (v) *

A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, 2007) (v) **** - After one viewing felt like I had taken a bite out of this meaty, sprawling family drama-comedy, but was already looking forward to going back for the leftovers. In other words: part of what I liked about it is that I don't have the sense that I figured it all out or connected all the dots - there's still more to go back for.

Ballast (Lance Hammer, 2008) (v) ***

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008) (v) ***

Before I Forget (Jacques Nolot, 2007) (v) ***

The Witnesses (v) (Andre Techine, 2007) **

Wendy and Lucy (v) (Kelly Reichardt, 2008) **

Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008) (v) - Kind of like the anti-Naked.

Step Brothers (Adam McKay, 2008) (v) * - McKay - a multiplex surrealist - is my favorite of Ferrell's collaborators, but the appealing ludicrousness of the first hour mostly evaporates after the obligatory aspirational storyline kicks in. Although the Billy Joel bit near the end is pretty great.

Cadillac Records (Darnell Martin, 2008) (v)

Traitor (Jeffrey Nachmanoff, 2008) (v)

I've Loved You So Long (Philippe Claudel, 2008) (v)

Get Smart (Peter Segal, 2008) (v) - Not necessarily terrible, but depressing in the way it plugs the Mel Brooks/Buck Henry concepts into a standard 2000s action/comedy, with a mostly-played-straight aspirational character arc and romantic interest for our hero.

Changeling (Clint Eastwood, 2008) (v) *

Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008) (v) *** - 10 years ago I thought that someone could make the perfect Batman movie by putting Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and turning it into a Clint Eastwood vehicle. Alas, those ships have sailed, but this will do just fine.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (Chris Carter, 2008) (v) * - Professionally done mystery movie: major gripe against it (with which I agree) is that nothing in it seems to demand the theatrical feature treatment.


(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon


David Fiore said...


have you written anything on Benjamin Button?
(I can always just scroll down and look, of course!)

I've liked some Fincher in the past, but BB almost killed me. I liked one scene (the submarine attack--a really stylish jolt of cinematic invention), but that's it. I'd be very interested to see how it put those four stars in your eyes!

(on the other hand--I liked Stop-Loss a fair bit--I take your point about Pierce's refusal to engage the question of the war-qua-war, but isn't that what's good about the film? It deals specifically with a group of people who--for a variety of socio-economic and cultural reasons--have agreed to put their lives on the line for a certain period of time... and who then find that they've signed on for more than they bargained for... it IS a legalistic--rather than a moral/political--analysis...which I found quite interesting and unexpected!)


Jon Hastings said...

Hi Dave -

I haven't written anything about Button, and I have to admit I'm having a hard time coming up writing up a coherent response to your question. It's one of those cases, though, where I feel sure that I could get it across if we were talking face-to-face. Trying to write it up, it comes out like a jumble, but...

I love the way that it plays with the perspectives on telling a story. It does this in a lot of ways, but centrally of course, through Benjamin's predicament. In one sense, Benjamin faces the same kinds of issues anyone would face: he deals with unexpected circumstances, he ages, he misses opportunities, he ends up in a position where he's lived a full life but can't remember any of it (i.e. a position that someone aging "normally" would face). But his reverse-aging acts as a fantastical element that pops all of these things into sharp relief. So that the image near the end of old Cate Blanchett walking down a street with toddler-Benjamin is, to me, moving and devastating because of its uncanny context.

We get a sense of this play with perspective in other ways to: the way that the movie is told from Benjamin's journal, but we get commentary from dying Cate, for instance.

And I think the movie approaches, in certain scenes, a Welles-like take on the passage of time through space. I'm thinking especially of the way Fincher poeticizes the Hotel set in the scenes with Swinton.

Re: Stop-Loss - I guess I mean that I think Pierce's moral outrage really isn't legalistic, so her trying to fit it into this legalistic story, using her bordering-on-sensationalism melodramatic style feels off to me. I mean, basically everything bad that can happen to returning vets happens to these guys in like a 3 day period. That's (to me) a perfectly acceptable thing in the context of an outraged melodrama, but it makes the whole stop-loss issue seem tiny in comparison. I think, for example, its a mistake for Timothy Olypahnt to play that officer as a Major Dick and a Bad Guy, because the REAL bad guy is the fucked up bureaucracy and the idiots at the Pentagon/White House. (Just like it was a mistake for Steve Spielberg to portray Stanley Tucci's character as a Major Dick in The Terminal).

David Fiore said...

interesting--Button has elicited some of the most disparate responses (from "I-want-those-three-hours-back!" to "Fincher-has-reached-a-new-and-exhilarating-level-of-maturity) I've ever seen!

Stop-Loss--oh sure, I got that you were implying that Pierce was being disingenuous in eschewing any overt critique of the way... Although I'd say that what she does offer is, instead, a critique of professional military service in toto...(dealing with the Iraq vets not as WWII style patriot-conscripts nor as Vietnam style canon fodder-conscripts but as very modern "temps" who kill and "keep order" instead of running a machine or sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours day...)

Regarded in that light, it comes by its melodramatic character very naturally... and its legalistic bent brings the ultra-cynical basis of 21st century "recruitment" into sharp focus!


David Fiore said...

"overt critique of the WAR" I mean!

Jon Hastings said...

David -

Well, to be clear, I don't like Button any more than I like Zodiac (which I also find kind of devastating: Mike Mageau at the end of the movie, aged and worn down, while Darlene Ferrin is - horribly - forever young).

And I very much like your soldiers-as-temps take on Stop-Loss.

David Fiore said...

cool--I actually want to write something on Stop-Loss at some point!

I did really like Zodiac (not to mention The Game, Se7en and, to a certain extent, Panic Room... Fight Club drives me bonkers, but I did get a lot of mileage out of it in a classroom situation, so that must mean something!)