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Saturday, July 17, 2010

In a theater or on a plane....

As my summer break schedule has been very conducive to movie-watching, I've got lots to catch up on. Here's a couple in the theaters, and a few from international plane travel. Coming soon will be quick notes on many that I've seen on video recently!

In the Theater

The Kids Are All Right

This movie definitely aims at genres that I like, family dramas filled with moments of warmth and comedy. The cast could not be any better. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a long-married couple whose lives are turned upside down when their children seek out their sperm donor from long ago (Mark Ruffalo). First and foremost, a word on the acting. Ever since You Can Count on Me, I have loved Mark Ruffalo. I think he is possibly even better in this movie. I can't think of another actor who is as natural and relaxed at portraying a complex character as Ruffalo is. You can't help but be charmed by his gardener/restaurateur character while simultaneously while questioning some of his choices. Annette Bening is better than I have ever seen her portraying the more uptight and controlling partner in the relationship. Her facial expressions and body language tell volumes about how her character is feeling. I'll be very surprised if she doesn't get an Oscar nod for this role. And Julianne Moore can portray just about anything. Here she is the more free-spirited end of the partnership, and her character has to make a major arc in the movie.

The movie is filled with many wonderful scenes that illustrate how all five characters are feeling. Besides the three adults, the movie takes very seriously the feelings of the two teenagers as well. While I had unfortunately seen the preview a few too many times and known some of the direction of the movie, it still managed to surprise me at several moments. I only have one minor quibble with the movie-it's treatment of the Mexican gardener, which feels tone-deaf and borderline racist. Just a quick word about the movie as a "gay movie." This is, first and foremost, a movie about relationships and their problems, and two main characters happen to be a lesbian couple. It's not played for obvious laughs or shock value, it just is, and what a wonderful thing that is. If it has a message it's that families are families, and they're full of both love and problems, no matter their makeup.

Grade: A-

Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize last year, and it's a very worthy and original winner. The movie sort of takes a film noirish mystery and sets it in the backwoods of the Ozarks in Missouri. I absolutely loved the texture of this movie. It never felt like it was preaching about poverty, but you are so entrenched in the day-to-day struggles of these characters, you can't help but be moved. Jennifer Lawrence stars, in a great performance, as Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old who cares for a mentally ill mother, two younger siblings, and whose father is gone, and possibly dead.

The movie mostly concerns Ree's search for her father. If she can't find him, the bond agency will take her house. As she walks the backwoods of the Ozarks, we see that many are making their living from producing and dealing meth, and most people are connected to one another. One thing I loved about this movie is its absence of clear villains. There is one character who you think is terrible who ends up being a caretaker, and others who do terrible things but also play with a certain sense of fairness. Kudos to director Debra Granik who, like Kathryn Bigelow in last year's The Hurt Locker, shows that a female director can create a movie every bit as tough and hardhitting as any male director. See it now.

Grade: A-


I love John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, and Catherine Keener. I also think Jonah Hill can be very funny. So ever since I saw the previews for Cyrus, I was excited to see it. Unfortunately, I don't think the movie lives up to its very talented actors, who all do a great job. It's about John (Reilly), who falls in love with the beautiful and charming Molly (Tomei), who just happens to be still living with, and having an incredibly close relationship with, her odd son (Hill).

The movie starts out very strong, as we gradually begin to figure out the nuances of each of the characters. After that, the audience anxiously awaits for more hilarity and hijinks to ensue. Unfortunately, they really don't. The movie sort of meanders with along with the similar scenes. I'm not usually one to pull for mainstream movie making, but in this case Cyrus could actually use a little more over-the-top humor. The Duplass brothers, who directed a few "mumblecore" movies before this, seem almost determined to not push this funny situation too far. Not a bad movie, but nothing I really want to see again.

Grade: C+

On a plane.....

On my recent international flights to and from Peru, I was treated to my first time with a personal TV screen with several choices of movies..... Even on my overnight flight back, I managed to fit in two movies. I was inspired by my good friend (and frequent international traveller) Erik, who always makes the most of his plane trips. Here were my choices, for better or worse.....

A Single Man (2009)

Colin Firth is absolutely stunning as George, a gay British professor living in 1960s Los Angeles who is mourning the loss of his partner and contemplating suicide. The movie basically runs through a tough day in his life, including his visit to his good friend and former lover Charley (the always stunning Julianne Moore). The movie is beautifully shot, beautifully acted, and filled with gorgeous music. It has obviously been made with great care by first-time director (and noted fashion designer) Tom Ford. While I enjoyed the movie, it felt a little too focused on physical beauty, to the point where it seemed to snuff out some real emotion. Perhaps that's what you get with a fashion designer director. I also had some issues with the ending, which I don't want to discuss as it is a major spoiler. Nevertheless, everyone should definitely see this for Firth's awesome performance.

Grade: B

It's Complicated (2009)

So I'd never see this movie in a theater, or probably even get it from Netflix. But it seemed like a good pick to pass a couple hours on a plane. And in many ways it was. Meryl Streep is terrific, as always, as a character torn between a rekindled affair with her somewhat slimy ex-husband (Alec Baldwin), and a sweet romance with a nerdy architect (Steve Martin). For the first hour or so, this movie moved quickly and was actually very enjoyable. And, I have to say, it's a huge improvement for director Nancy Myers over the terrible Something's Gotta Give. My biggest problem with this movie is that it kept going. Really, we do not need more than 2 hours to tell such a simple story. As a rule, I think comedies are best when they stick pretty close to the 90 minute mark. Still, I'd have to say this was a tad better than I expected.

Grade: C+

Date Night (2010)

Watching this movie reminded me of why I avoid movies when people say things like, "It wasn't that great, but it was a lot of fun ." (Or, worse yet, "cute"). I love Steve Carell and Tina Fey. 30 Rock is easily my favorite comedy on TV right now. How in God's name can Tina Fey be made so unfunny?? This movie was absolutely terrible. The concept is halfway OK in principal (suburban couple gets mistaken for someone else and has to evade some criminals), but it just gets more and more stupid as the movie progresses. It's like someone took a discarded script from 1983 and decided to put two big stars in it. Carell had a few funny moments, but absolutely nothing Tina Fey did was funny. Bring me back Liz Lemon!

Grade: D

The Young Victoria (2009)

Emily Blunt was lovely and wonderful in this opulent costume drama as the title character, and the love story between her and Prince Albert was very nicely portrayed. I always enjoy tales of royal intrigue, even if the intrigue in this story wasn't particularly earth-shattering. Nevertheless, this movie was a lot of fun to watch. I don't think it will stick with me for a long time, but I really enjoyed watching it.

Grade: B

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your thoughts on Inception

    If you liked Mark Ruffalo in "kids are alright" + "You can count on me", you should watch "My life without me"(2003), one of my favourite films.