Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Vacation review catch-up: 127 Hours and then some

I may be on vacation this week, but I never take a vacation from movies. Too often, though, I take vacations from writing about them and I aim to rectify that with another of my patented catch-up posts.

On the BIG screen

Enter the Void: I went into this film by maverick director Gaspar Noe (Irreversible) expecting a memorable experience. I got one, all right. Just not the one I wanted. The movie begins fascinatingly, with Noe using hypnotic visuals and/or an almost entirely subjective camera to explore life after death. At first, the approach is intriguing and enthralling, but gradually it wears out its welcome. For one thing, the characters he focuses on are dull. Then the visuals become repetitive, climaxing with the camera tracking in and out of a hotel as it explores several couples having explicit sex, complete with psychedelically glowing groins.  I left the film with a giant headache - and the conviction that I had just watched the work of a visually talented pervert. GRADE: D+

Fair Game: This dramatization of the Valerie Plame story is one of those solid, straight-ahead films that doesn't do anything particularly wrong, but doesn't do anything particularly noteworthy either. Doug Liman's film starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts smartly goes behind the scenes of an oft-told story, but with this kind of pedigree, I was hoping for something a little better than "fine." GRADE: B

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest: Most critics seem to think this is the weakest of the trilogy based on Stieg Larsson's books, but I disagree. I think that distinction belongs to the second film, The Girl Who Played with Fire, which seems rather ordinary compared to its bookends. What's remarkable about the series is that each film has such a distinct tone. While the first was a mystery and the second was an action movie, this one is a courtroom drama. Most impressively of all, the movie remains gripping, even though the dynamic lead, Noomi Rapace, spends most of the film in the hospital. GRADE: A

127 Hours: Danny Boyle's films tackle a variety of subjects in a variety of styles, but through most of them, there is a common thread: celebrating the vitality of the human spirit through dynamic visuals. This time, Boyle's achievement is particularly impressive, considering the limited setting. It's a true story about a devil-may-care young man, Aaron Ralston, who becomes trapped in a narrow canyon after a boulder pins his arm. That Boyle gets so much mileage out of such a confined space is impressive, but what truly elevates the movie is the extraordinary lead performance by James Franco. Only some unclear storytelling towards the end keeps this from getting highest marks. GRADE: A


American Grindhouse: This documentary about the grindhouse/exploitation scene made for a fascinating companion piece to the Moguls and Movie Stars series now playing on TCM. If the TCM series is about the glossy exterior of Hollywood, this film is about the sordid underbelly. Since it's only about 90 minutes long, it's a little shy on depth, but it has great archival clips and some fascinating interviews. My favorite tidbit: One interviewee's contention that the most recent grindhouse movie was not actually the Rodriguez/Tarantinio Grindhouse, but The Passion of the Christ. Available on Netflix streaming. GRADE: B+

Calamity Jane: I rented this movie expecting something of a retread of Annie Get Your Gun, but what I got was a movie that's actually even better than the MGM film of Annie. Doris Day is a delight as the ultimate singing tomboy, this may be my favorite of her musicals. Great song score too. GRADE: A-

She's Out of My League: Even though this looked like a knock-off of Knocked Up (geeky guy scores gorgeous chick), I found myself strangely drawn to it. I soon figured out why: the leads, played by Jay Barcuchel and Alice Eve, are very appealing and make a believable couple. Too bad everything surrounding them, particularly their one-dimensional buddies, is out of their league. GRADE: C+

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