Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Across The Universe (2007)

The sixties in a glib nutshell set to the songs of The Beatles. While not as terrible as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" it has the same problem of trying to integrate their song catalog into a plot. And hearing some one else, particularly an actor, sing these songs just sounds, well, wrong. It does have an odd side effect; taken out of a Beatles context you do notice the song itself more and how extraordinary it truly is. By and large, these masterpieces are murdered by the cast, one notable exception being Joe Cocker (Bono, however, is excruciating). Boring, occasionally lit up by director Julie Taymor's flashy, plastic visuals and the best songs ever written.

Friday, December 24, 2010

In A Lonely Place (1950)

Re-watching an old favorite (Andrew hadn't seen it). It stars Humphrey Bogart as Hollywood screenwriter Dix Steele (who's the prime suspect in a murder investigation) and Gloria Grahame as his neighbor and alibi. Directed "through a glass darkly" by the tremendous Nicholas Ray, it is the ultimate gloomy romance. The performance of Bogart's career; a perfect encapsulation of the sour, romantic, tough loner persona that he embodies. Gloria Grahame, one of the most mysterious actresses of the golden age, has never been better or more beautiful. She's so good, you shake your head and wonder why more leading parts didn't come her way. This is Hollywood wet-dream territory, one of the loveliest films ever made.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Please Give (2010)

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener once again trots out a sharp indie comedy starring her muse, Catherine Keener. Keener and husband Oliver Platt own a high-end Manhattan used furniture store, the contents of which were obtained by scouring the obituaries and buying up the belongings of the recently deceased. They are once again on death watch when their 91 year old neighbor promises them her apartment when she dies. These endeavors start making everyone feel a little guilty and behave a little screwy; Keener starts handing out obscene amounts of money to panhandlers and Platt has an affair with Amanda Peet (only in the movies can a man as ugly as Oliver Platt have Catherine Keener for a wife and Amanda Peet for a mistress). There are lovely performances (particularly from Keener and Rebecca Hall) and a lot of interesting ideas. Basically, how do you remain a good person when you make a lot of money? Also, the old neighbor is a bitch, and when she's gone, what (besides her apartment) will be left behind that will have any value? It becomes clear that the title has many connotations.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Long term lesbian couple Julianne Moore and Annette Bening's teenage kids track down their biological father, sperm donor Mark Ruffalo. Soon he's infiltrating their perfect Hollywood lesbo lives, much to the chagrin of the dominant partner (Bening). The characters seem like "types", and they all come off one-dimensional despite a talented cast. I didn't laugh when I was supposed to, I didn't cry when I was supposed to, and I didn't learn anything about anyone here. This movie is all right, but only just. This has to be the most overrated film of the year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. (2010)

Documentary chronicling a year in the life of the foul-mouthed comedy dinosaur. Living life in "the business" and what that does to a person has rarely been displayed so vividly. At age seventy five, her mental sharpness and physical stamina are astounding: You can see her mind racing as she waits to go on stage, and later she disposes of a heckler like she's stamping a cockroach. Years of fighting to be heard and taken seriously have left her tough to a fault. What's left is what you see: her mask of a face, raspy voice, and eyes that shoot daggers. She may live well past one hundred.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Summer Storm (1944)

George Sanders and Linda Darnell star in this Chekov adaptation from director Douglas Sirk. It's elegant, beautiful, and so boring. I adore Sirk's justly famous, less respectable, and twice as brilliant later work. I don't see a Sirk film for a tasteful night at the movies. Give me Dorothy Malone rubbing a miniature oil derrick like it's a penis in "Written On the Wind" or Susan Koener throwing herself on her mother's coffin in "Imitation Of Life".

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Letters To Juliet (2010)

After suffering through shitty rom-com after shitty rom-com, I've begun to hate love itself. Low expectations are the key, and the key to enjoying this film. An unfulfilled writer goes to Verona with her fiance and ends up falling in love with a smug Englishman. He's there with his grandmother who's looking for the love she lost fifty years earlier. Amanda Seyfried is nicely understated, the liver lipped Christopher Egan is unappealing despite a sizable bulge, and Gael Garcia Bernal is so irritating he's worthy of a slow death. The best thing in this movie is seventy-three year-old Vanessa Redgrave. Her mere presence makes this not just watchable but even persuasive. God damn it, I ended up liking it. The first twenty minutes are rough, but once they get to Italy (all that scenery) and Miss Redgrave, it hits it's stride. By the way, whoever chose the insipid pop music soundtrack should be fisted without lube (it nearly ruins the movie). Corn, yes, but good corn.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

Casey Affleck is a sadistic Texas deputy in zig-zagging director Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Jim Thompson's pulp novel. Winterbottom seems on a mission to direct every kind of movie, and direct it well (what's next? A Bollywood musical? The new Garfield movie?). The only maniac cop movie that intertwines sex and violence as thoroughly is Nick Ray's "On Dangerous Ground". But the Robert Ryan character in that film was warped by the job and tormented by his own behavior. Affleck on the other hand is a tranquil sociopath. Plus, the Nick Ray film was made in the fifties, and nowadays you can show things that could only be hinted at then. This film is appallingly brutal at times, there is a scene near the beginning that hits a new low in violence. There are at least two scenes that contain shocking and heartbreaking violence towards women, even by today's standards. I'm recommending this only because it's directed with care, wonderfully acted, and the most acrid film I've seen in ages. I'll probably see Affleck's dead eyes and mask-like face when I close my eyes tonight.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Secret In Their Eyes (2009)

Winner of last year's Best Foreign Film Oscar. An Argentinian police detective is assigned a rape and murder case that quickly comes to nothing thanks to corruption and red tape. Years later and retired, he revisits the case as a possible subject for a novel. All the shitty memories that surrounded the case come back to the fore, including some unfinished personal business involving an unrequited love. Pretty great, despite a penchant in Spanish-speaking culture for melodramatics (the ending, while totally satisfying, is a little hard to believe). It chugs along with a nice mixture of action, romance, drama, and dark comedy.