Monday, September 13, 2010

Big ol' review catch-up

It's time to play catch-up with all the movies I've seen lately but not reviewed. And it's also time to make a fall resolution: to begin reviewing films as I watch them to generate more posts here and bring things back to life a bit.

On the Big Screen

I Am Love: I had heard many good things about this film, from Tilda Swinton's fine performances to the lush cinematography. Both are indeed pluses, but Luca Guadagnino's overly showy direction kept pushing me away from the story, making the film a near miss. GRADE: C+

The Kids are All Right: Outstanding performances from all five principals (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) combine with a canny, observant script to make this the indie film of the year. Attention, Academy: This is an EXCELLENT occasion to get Julianne Moore her Oscar. GRADE: A

Please Give: Nicole Holofcener's film about New Yorkers around an irascible old woman has many knowing moments and an excellent cast. but the screenplay is ambitious to a fault. Holofcener tries to cover so much ground, she doesn't find a shape for everything she has to say - but it connects often enough to work. GRADE: B

Restrepo:  This documentary about U.S. troops stationed at a particularlly deadly outpost in Afghanistan captures very well the mix of emotions involved in enduring such a place. I only wish it had devoted a little more time delving into the personalities of the individual soldiers. I would have liked to have known them better.GRADE: B+

Piranha: This goofy, lurid remake offers up a surprising number of genuine scares - and I would rate it even higher even if it didn't go for the sick gross-out gag a few times too often. This was shot in 3D, but I saw it flat at a drive-in, and I would say that I missed something - except I'm rather glad that a bloody dismembered penis didn't break the fourth wall. GRADE: B

Solitary Man: Note to filmmakers: When you make a movie about a completely irredeemable prick, you have to give the audience something to latch onto in the script or the direction. This movie fails to do that. A strong cast tries their best, but when I don't care if a terminally ill man lives or dies, something has failed to connect. GRADE: C-

Winter's Bone: Jennifer Lawrence's sensational performance as a young girl searching for her meth-head father has caused some people to mistake a very good film for a great one. The filmmaking is a bit too dry and ponderous, but Lawrence is a wonder. GRADE: B+

On the Small Screen

Following: Prototypical Christopher Nolan, which is to say that even in his early career, working in black and white with a shoestring budget, he was bending minds like no one else. I'd actually like to see him scale back and do something  more low-key again. GRADE: A

Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte: This high-camp follow-up to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, also starring Bette Davis and directed by Robert Aldrich, plays like a decent sequel - it's not as good as the original, but it's delerious enough to be effective. It's especially fun to see Olivia de Havilland chewing scenery. And gee, poor Bruce Dern - between this and Marnie, it appears his early career was devoted to being bloodily dispatched. GRADE: B

The Old Man and the Sea: The filming of Ernest Hemingway's classic novel unsurprisingly gets most of its power from Spencer Tracy's performance, but it tries too hard to maintain Heminway's prose in distrracting voice over narration. That narration breaks Billy Wilder's writing rule: When using voice-over narration, don't tell the audience what they already see. GRADE: B

Wild Boys of the Road: This is one of many very fine movies I discovered via  Martin Scorsese's Personal Journey Through American Movies. Directed by William Wellman, the film plays like a junior version of the seminal I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang. The story structure is a bit repetitive (kids get in trouble, escape, kids get in trouble, escape), but it packs a punch nonetheless. GRADE: B+

No comments: