Thursday, February 4, 2010

Screening Log: January 2010

Apocalypto (Mel Gibson, 2006) (v) (r) **** - Mel Gibson's best movie and, I think, one of the key action movies of the aughts, if only because it bucked so many of the decade's trends.

Wanted (Timur Bekmambetov, 2008) (v)

Pandorum (Christian Alvart, 2009) (v) * - Effective, if derivative, videogame inspired sci-fi horror flick. Marks the first time I have liked Ben Foster in anything.

The Final Destination (David R. Ellis, 2009) (v) ** - Clunkier and not quite as imaginative as the earlier entries - maybe because of the added burden of 3D - but gains momentum as it goes along and turns into a nice & nasty little horror movie.

The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, 2009) (v) ***

Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper, 2009) (v) - I'm not inclined to say anything bad about this movie. It's well-intentioned and tasteful, but there aren't any surprises and none of the relationships are believable outside of the context of a conventional redemption story. Bridges is good, but no better than he was in any number of other movies. And I don't think this performance is up there with the ones in Fat City, Cutter's Way, Starman, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Fisher King, and, especialy, The Big Lebowski. This is a case of "mainstream" critical opinion being 10 to 20 years behind reality.

In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000) (v) ***

Gamer (Neveldine/Taylor, 2009) (v) * - Neveldine/Taylor play it safe and it backfires. The highlights are the gonzo elements - the live-action "Second Life"-type game "Society", Michael C. Hall's performance - which are sprinkled into an otherwise fairly conventional, Paul W.S. Anderson-like 80's-action movie update. Now, I like Anderson's movies - they're modest and effective - but I expect more from the guys who made Crank: High Voltage, currently the high-water mark of post-Matrix American action movies.

The Beaches of Agnes (Agnes Varda, 2008) (v) ** - Beautiful and touching, but also (and maybe I'm just being a cynic) a bit calculating in the way that Varda softens her ambitions and her possessiveness of Demy's legacy. Overall, doesn't reach The Gleaners & I's level of cultural and artistic criticism, but still very nice as a ciné-memoir.

Thirst (Park Chan-wook, 2009) (v) ** - Starts out as if it will be a piece of Cronenbergian body horror, but mutates into a meandering exploration of the vampire story as Park approaches the concept from four or five different directions. Because of this the movie doesn't build narrative or thematic momentum, but individual scenes and sequences are quite powerful and striking (my favorite is the final Mah Jong game).

Synecdoche, NY (Charlie Kaufman, 2008) (v) **** - Even the choices that at first don't seem to work (the perpetually burning house, for instance) end up paying off.

Yes Man (Peyton Reed, 2008) (v) * - I am a snob: I prefer Jim Carrey in high-brow movies (Eternal Sunshine) or ones where he talks out of his ass. This aspirational comedy is inoffensive and Peyton Reed is, at least, an actual filmmaker, but it still seems like everyone involved is slumming.

Avatar (James Cameron, 2009) *** - 21st Century Technology with a 19th Century sensibility. For me, the way the "Avatar" technology works in the fiction is a metaphor for how Cameron hopes his 3D technology will work in the real world: that it will create an enveloping experience that will radically shift the users/viewers point-of-view. His experiment isn't quite a success: his conception of the alien p.o.v. is too familiar, too conventional. But I still found the movie thrilling, moving, and interesting. Just not as transformative as it could have been.

The Proposal (Anne Fletcher, 2009) (v) - This is the kind of movie that makes me feel that I'm on the right track by taking an auteurist approach to cinema. Why? Because as much as anti-auteurists like to go on and on about the importance of writers, stories, etc., the reality is that this story is no more nonsensical than those of 90% of the classic screwball comedies. And in the hands of someone like Frank Capra or Leo McCarey or George Cukor, I can easily imagine just about everything here working perfectly. Not the bit with the eagle and the dog, though: that would have required at least a Chaplin to make it work.

A Perfect Getaway (David Twohy, 2009) (v) *** - I'm not joking when I compare this to Hitchcock.

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009) (v) ** - Solid action movie with a very good performance by Jeremy Renner.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009) (v) * - The key phrase for this set of capsule reviews is "I enjoyed this, but..." Here, the "but" leads to feelings that the middle-class striving and father/son issues are bizarrely out-of-place. Though they're obviously organic to Anderson and Baumbach, they feel crammed into Dahl's story as if any children's book could have given them the kind of vehicle they needed.

Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009) (v) ** - Good, solid sci-fi movie that ultimately can't quite keep up with its premise.

Invictus (Clint Eastwood, 2009) (v) *** - Understated and unconventional in the way that it looks at the sports underdog story through the lens of cultural & historical details that most movies of this sort gloss over or fudge (i.e. Miracle, Glory Road).

Flooding with Love for the Kid (Zach Oberzan, 2009) *** - A very moving experience, for me, partly because I was caught up in Oberzan's obvious passion for the material and partly because his approach brings out something truly profound in the material that the "Hollywood" approach would smother.

Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009) (v) - I had no trouble watching this and thought it was enjoyable enough for what it is, but "what it is" is a slick, slight movie with only a tangential and opportunistic relationship to reality. I'm more bugged by the idea that people are taking this seriously than by the movie itself, but it's crazy to be bugged by what other people think about movies, right?

Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2007) (v) ** - Each scene feels like a big slab of weirdness and, during the first half, the link between one scene and another, one character and another is so opaque that I got a sense of just sitting in this weirdness - not moving through it or able to make connections. A pattern does emerge, though, and the movie ends up, if not completely earning its "difficult" earlier half at least making up for it with some insightful and funny satirical vision of contemporary America.

The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson, 2008) (v) * - Hey Nick - you are absolutely right: Mark Ruffalo knows how to wear a hat.


(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


Sean T. Collins said...

"It's crazy to be bugged by what other people think about movies, right?"

Mmmmmmaybe? It's funny. Lately a particular strain of comics criticism has emerged from a newly prominent quarter that I feel needs to be strenuously argued against by someone. At the same time, I've been following some reactions to the Pazz & Jop poll this year, the idea being that it represents the Pitchforkification of music criticism and that that's obviously a bad thing. But when I look at most of the albums that such critics liked, I like them too. The idea of FOCUSING on those critics and what they think, rather than focusing on the albums and what YOU think of them, strikes me as kind of silly and gross. Yet at the same time there are cases where I want to see that happen with comics. I dunno.

Ed Howard said...

Lately a particular strain of comics criticism has emerged from a newly prominent quarter that I feel needs to be strenuously argued against by someone.

I'm curious: what strain of comics criticism are you referring to? Don't be so vague...

Anyway, I sometimes find myself slightly bugged by a movie being overhyped but then I remind myself that it's just the movie itself that matters, not what other people think of it. Jason Reitman seems to be a serial victim/beneficiary of hype, it seems to me. He makes these modest, enjoyable little comedies that are then blown up into Oscar contender "important" films. I think it'd be a lot easier to enjoy his films for what they are if not for all the attendant hype. It makes it almost impossible to simply take his films for what they are.

I loved Southland Tales. It was all over the place, but in a good way: bursting with ideas and striking images. And yes, it does all come together eventually into a surprisingly satisfying whole; it's amazing, considering the scatteredness of the film, that so many of the pieces actually do fit together.

Jon Hastings said...

Ed - Your review of Southland Tales was one of the two things that encouraged me to give it a look (the other was that I really liked The Box).

Sean - There's a whole insider/outsider status thing that makes it tricky. Like, The Hurt Locker is solid. But I think it also rehashes a lot of the thematic material Point Break and that those ideas about transcendence through action play a lot better in the context of a gonzo cops and robbers movie than they do in the conext of a purportedly realistic Iraq war movie. And the same kind of critics who ignored Point Break then and are praising The Hurt Locker now are also ignoring Crank: High Voltage now. But is all this just me trying to assert my "film buff" cred?

Also, I think it can be easy to mix up the story around the movie with the movie itself (which is something I should unpack a bit more when I have the time).

Sean T. Collins said...

Ed: I know, it's a total dick move of me! But I'm not comfortable doing so at this time. I feel like I've been a little too frequently critical of other critics over the past little while or so and I'd like to cool it. I'd also like to collect and organize my thoughts about it and keep my powder dry in the event that I would like to comment later on.

Jon: I too would comparatively ignore Point Break vs. The Hurt Locker because I think the latter is a much more effective, less stupid, and better acted action movie. Iraq doesn't enter into it for me--though obviously you're right and it enters into it for many critics. You could say the same of District 9, and all the genre films critics have championed primarily for their perceived sociopolitical relevance. And it should be said! But I find I already put in my two cents on this score back around the Hostel Part 2 days.