Monday, March 29, 2010

Back from a respite, with multiple reviews

Hello, all. I'm sorry for the gap in posts, but I was on vacation and for one reason or another, lacked the wherewithal to write. 

But did I still watch movies? Oh, sure. This post will catch you up with most everything I've seen lately, and then I'll take this blog in a somewhat new direction. More on that later.  

Big-screen viewing

How to Train Your Dragon: Hands down, this is the best picture DreamWorks has ever made. Do I consider it a coincidence that it just happens to be directed by two guys who used to work for Disney? Oh hell no. Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois made Lilo & Stitch, and some of the same "strange alien = endearing creature" sensibility reappears here, but this film is very much its own animal. While too many DreamWorks movies are iPod Shuffles of pop culture references, this one tells a story with real heart. Wall Street may say the movie underperformed at the box office last weekend, but I firmly believe the test of time will trump the test of short-sighted shareholders.  The animation is superb, both in its creative character design, and the absolutely breathtaking 3D visuals. It's the best use of the technique I've seen outside of Avatar.  Will young kids like it? Some scenes are intense, but the immensely charming 5-year-old I saw it with immediately started drawing dragons when she got home, if that's any indication. GRADE: A

Chloe: Pulpy sexual melodramas are director Atom Egoyan's stock in trade, and I liked this one better than most critics, thanks to excellent performances by the three leads: Julianne Moore as a woman who suspects her husband is cheating on her, Liam Neeson as the suspected philanderer, and especially Amanda Seyfried as the titular escort who taps into Moore's vulnerabilities. The climax felt a bit too much like it was drafted in from an Adrian Lyne film, but for the most part, the film works. GRADE: B+

The Ghost Writer: This film will forever be known as The Movie Roman Polanski was Making When he was Arrested, which is sort of a shame because it deserves notoriety for being pretty good. It takes perhaps a bit too long to get going and didn't feel very Polanski-esque in the first half, but the second half gains momentum as the director's knack for sinister mysteries takes hold. GRADE: B+

Small-screen viewing

American Pimp: I watched this documentary about pimps because it was directed by the Hughes brothers, who broke through with Menace II Society and most recently made The Book of Eli. The film doesn't do a lot more than say "Pimps are people too," but it does so in visually arresting fashion. 

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer: Solidly entertaining puffball of a comedy that's often mislabeled as a classic. It's not. Oh sure, it has classic stars in Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple, but let's face it - they're A-listers working with B material. If they weren't in the film, nobody would remember it today. But since they were, it still endures. And it stands as proof that even though Shirley lost her star power as she got older, she was still damn cute as a teen. GRADE: B

An Education: I didn't actually see this again on the small screen, but it is available on DVD today. Watch it and discover Carey Mulligan, AKA The Main Reason I am Jealous of Shia LeBeouf. If my vote were the only one in the Oscars, she would have won. GRADE: A

Where the Truth Lies: More Atom Egoyan, which I watched in preparation for Chloe. This look at a murder mystery between a Martin and Lewis-like team is not as good as it could have been, largely because it tries too hard to surprise with its twists and turns. Still, performances hold it together, although the best work coms from the least-known name. Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth are good, as one would expect, and even though Alison Lohman is slightly miscast as a naive book writer, she makes a valiant effort. Outshining them all is Rachel Blanchard as the murder victim, who is alternately touching and alluring. GRADE: B

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