Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review Catch-Up: Green Zone, The African Queen, etc.

Time for an extensive review catch up, on all fronts

In theaters now

Green Zone: Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass' latest collaboration isn't the great film I hoped it would be. By now, a look at malfeasance in Iraq feels like old news, and this was the first time it seemed like Greengrass was repeating himself. I found myself thinking"OK, we know you can do hyperkinetic action (Bourne) and mix it with contemporary history very well (United 93) - what else is in your arsenal?"  Slight staleness aside, Green Zone is still a gripping and extremely well-made thriller, with a terrific performance by Damon.  Many reasons have been bandied about for its underperformance at the box office, but people are missing a good story well told - and that's a shame, whatever the reasons are.  GRADE: B+

DVDs out today

The African Queen: Bogie and Kate. Simply put, no self-respecting movie fan has any excuse not to see this classic now that its finally out on DVD, in a newly restored edition. I'm getting the Blu-Ray box that comes with Kate's memoir about the making of the movie. GRADE: A+

Bigger Than Life: I first discovered this Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause) film courtesy of Martin Scorsese's Personal Journey Through American Movies. In a way, it's very much of its 1950s era, but it was also ahead of its time in even daring to tackle the dangers of prescription drugs. James Mason, whose talents history still has not fully appreciated, powers the film with an unforgettable performance.  GRADE: A-

Brothers: This drama about a military man's presumed death in Afghanistan has a rather large plot hole, in that the military would never lead a family to believe their loved one was dead, as this movie tells it. Regardless, powerful performances by Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and (in a small but key role) Carey Mulligan make up for any lack of credibility. GRADE: B+

The Blind Side: I can understand why people loved this movie, even if it never struck me as anything more than well-made hokum. Like so many films about the disadvantaged, it pats itself on the back too hard for being noble, but the story remains affecting, thanks in no small part to Sandra Bullock's Oscar-winning performance. GRADE: B+

Fantastic Mr. Fox: Think Wes Anderson's indie sensibilities wouldn't be entertaining for kids? Give this one a try and you might be surprised. His quirkiness meshes rather well with Roald Dahl's mordant humor. Great fun - and as an added bonus, it features one of the year's coolest soundtracks. Full review - GRADE: A-

The Men Who Stare at Goats: If this movie were as goofy as its title, it would have been one of the funniest films of last year; as it is, it feels curiously restrained. I wanted it to cut loose more. It's an amusing goof of a movie, no more, no less. Full review - GRADE: B

DVDs out now 

Astro Boy: Is it just me, or did this look like Frisch's Big Boy became an animated superhero movie?

Broken Embraces: Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz are always worth seeing, even if this one doesn't have the reputation of Volver.

Did You Hear About the Morgans?: Yes, and I heard they sucked, thank you very much.

The Fourth Kind: Hm, strange, I can't find much to say about this Milla Jovovich sci-fi thriller. Even people who saw it can't seem to find much to say about it, best I can tell.

The Princess and the Frog: Better than even Disney thinks it is, given all the Rapunzel/Tangled foolishness. Full review - GRADE: A.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon: The very fact that there are dolls that show Pattinson's/Lautner's ripped physiques is enough to make me reject this franchise altogether. For a series that supposedly caters to teen girls, it's uncomfortably close to Playgirl territory.

Small-screen viewing

The Confederate States of America: Clever idea for a satire: what if the South had won? There's just one teensy problem with the faux documentary - it's not funny. GRADE: C-

The Diary of Anne Frank: Here is the very model of how to turn a stage play into a movie - George Stevens' insightful direction conveys the claustrophobia of the Franks' hideaway, yet very cleverly and cinematically opens up the action with skillful editing and camera moves. Some of the dramatics, especially the romance between Anne (Millie Perkins) and Peter (Russ Beymer) feel a little too "Hollywood,"  but the film is still very moving on the whole. GRADE :A-

Lady for a Day: One of Frank Capra's earlier films is also one of his lesser known works, and that's a shame - it's a very charming fable about a band of hoods who tries to pass off a beggar as an aristocrat to please her long-lost daughter. The story doesn't stand up to scrutiny if one thinks about it too hard, so it's best to just go with the improbable flow. GRADE: A-

Seven Days in May: When this political thriller was remade for cable in the 1990s as The Enemy Within, my best friend who once managed a video store told me a story about a guy who asked to rent the original. He promptly returned it saying "I don't like black and white movies." (Facepalm) That guy missed an excellent drama. Maybe it's a little dry in places, but powerhouse acting by Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Fredric March carries the film. GRADE: A-

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