Saturday, January 29, 2011

Big/small-screen catch-up

January 29, 2011

Time to do one of my periodic catch-ups before I see so many movies it becomes daunting to get to all of them in a timely fashion.

On the big screen

Burlesque: Entertaining in spurts and terrible and spurts, it benefits from high energy and a good cast. Christina Aguilera acquits herself well, Stanley Tucci is hilarious, and Cher is Cher. Unfortunately, writer director Steve simply doesn't have the skills even to pull off a goofball lark of a musical. GRADE: C

The Way Back: One of Peter Weir's strengths as a director is his ability to create environments and immerse viewers in those worlds. So that serves him well in this true story of several people who escape from a Russian gulag and trek across thousands of miles of foreboding terrain. I only wish the screenplay were as strong as the direction. Except for the people played by Ed Harris and Saoirse Ronan, the characters all mesh into an indistinct blur. GRADE: B

On the small screen 

Exit Through the Gift Shop: This documentary deserves its Oscar nomination for taking many surprising turns in a tale of a VERY amateur filmmaker turned into sought-after artist. I have a sneaking suspicion the whole thing is somewhat manufactured, but that may be part of its subversiveness. GRADE: A-

The Human Comedy: This slice of homefront Americana from 1943 tried to be The Best Years of Our Lives three years before The Best Years of Our Lives. It's not nearly as successful, because it's far too episodic and mawkish. What redeems it are the performances, including an Oscar-nominated turn by Mickey Rooney, who actually dials down his usual histrionics to good effect. GRADE: B

The Leopard Man: An underrated chiller from low-budget horror producer Val Lewton, this film had me wound up like a spring that jumped several times. The ending is a touch rushed, but the atmospherics make it almost as good as the much more famous Cat People. GRADE: A-

Lucas: It's a shame this film is chiefly remembered now as the shining moment in the troubled life and career of the late Corey Haim. It really should be remembered as one of the best high school comedies of the 1980s. It's every bit as good as what John Hughes was making elsewhere at the time. Writer-director David Seltzer takes your typical high school stereotypes and spins them into real human beings. And it's a kick to see comeback queen Winona Ryder looking impossibly young in her very first film role. Seek this one out. GRADE: A

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) : Speaking of impossibly young, here's Mickey Rooney again in one of his earliest roles playing the very mischievous Puck with perhaps too-wild abandon at the age of 15. As a whole, the film is overlong and has too many lulls, but it benefits from star turns by James Cagney, who's excellent as Bottom, and Olivia de Havilland, making her fetching film debut playing Hermia. GRADE: B+

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