Wednesday, March 03, 2010

February 2010

This was a relatively light movie month, owing to my trip back to Florida for the Miami Boat Show and other activities (Randy Newman concert, Ayckbourn play with Su, et al.). Still, I managed to squeeze in some celluloid's just too bad I didn't choose a few more winners.


Three big-screen features were enjoyed by Joan and me in February, although audience members seem to be getting ruder by the minute, texting with their distractingly bright cell phones and hauling in their wailing and inappropriately underage kids. First up was Dear John, a very familiar but still entertaining wartime romance story based on a novel by The Notebook author Nicholas Sparks (whose bestseller The Last Song gets the movie treatment this March). The big draw for me was pixieish cutie-pie Amanda Seyfried, who (along with co-lead Channing Tatum) gave the movie some real heart. Unfortunately, our enjoyment of this movie was severely tested by a woman who decided to turn the theater into her own personal day-care center with numerous loud kids, one of whom was a toddler who kept trying to crawl toward the exit. (Note to self: See if they sell Tasers on eBay.)

Next up was Crazy Heart, the 2009 Oscar nominee for Best Actor (Jeff Bridges) and Best Supporting Actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal), as well as a Best Song bid. It's an involving character study about an alcoholic country-music performer whose career has seen better days...when a new romance and the prospect of a professional resurgence suddenly turn up. It's an excellent vehicle for Bridges, whom I've long admired; while the movie doesn't break any new ground, it's a decent character study, and it kept me interested throughout.

Finally, we had Shutter Island, originally set for release last fall but inexplicably pushed back to 2010. The movie is based on a Dennis Lehane novel I'd read a couple of years ago at Connie's suggestion. Since I already knew the plot (and plot twists) of the book, there was comparatively little suspense for me, although I was keen to see how well director Martin Scorsese was able to translate page to screen. With a great cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow, it turns out to be a creepy, old-fashioned thriller every bit as involving as the novel it's based on.


During my trip to Florida, my friend Michael wanted to show me an obscure comedy-sci-fi sendup called Alien Trespass, whose satirical approach to the material reminded me vaguely of the explosively hilarious Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, only not nearly as funny. The 2009 feature features luscious Jenni Baird and a plot involving a wrecked spaceship and an escaped alien. Some of the movie is fun, some of it plodding, but it was a fine way to pass a couple of hours with a similar-minded, genre-loving friend.

On the plane ride back to L.A., I selected Woody Allen's 2004 comedy-drama Melinda and Melinda, a willfully schizophrenic film that attempts to show two sides (comic and tragic) of the same story with the same central character (Radha Mitchell). Will Ferrell and Amanda Peet star in the funnier of the two stories, which I'd frankly wished were the basis of the whole movie; still, it was an interesting experiment, not the best Woody by a four-minute mile, but mostly enjoyable.

I began watching the 1941 comedy The Lady Eve late last year (on Su's recommendation) but got distracted for some reason and never finished it. On Feb. 22, I finally sat down and watched the whole movie, written and directed by famed screenwriter Preston Sturges, whom Su strongly admires. It stars Henry Fonda as a naive heir to an ale fortune who meets and falls in love with a con artist (Barbara Stanwyck) on an ocean cruise. When he learns the truth about her scam and dumps her, she decides to make him fall in love with her all over again by re-introducing herself to him in a disguise. This contrivance is about as easy to swallow as Lois Lane's inability to recognize Clark Kent in spectacles (Stanwyck's new persona seems to involve wearing a different brand of eyeliner). But the movie is so diverting and funny that it doesn't really matter. It's a fun romp for lovers of screwball-type comedies.

Anna wanted to watch 1993's The Joy Luck Club together—pretty much to watch one scene she had already described—but as I had it in my inventory already, I was keen to check it out. Based on the 1989 novel by Amy Tan, JLC unfolds as a series of related short tales detailing the relationship between four older women, all Chinese immigrants, and their daughters. The backstories are all more interesting (by design, I suppose) than the modern-day action, with many scenes of unimaginable hardship and brutality that was, at times, difficult for me to watch. Still, it's an enlightening and mostly compelling ride, with some of the stories understandably more effective than the others.


On Feb. 20, I was lucky (?) enough to catch a feature movie that is basically unreleased, having only been screened at a handful of conventions and film festivals. It's a lurid thriller made last year called The Human Centipede, about a mad German doctor who kidnaps an Asian guy and two American girls and connects them surgically, mouth to anus, to create the titular creature. Needless to say, numerous things go wrong (as they had with his first attempt, which involved sewing together his three rottweilers to form "3-Dog"), and part of the fun is anticipating the inevitable fall of the gruesome house of cards created by this horrific experiment. Though not a great movie by anybody's standards, Human Centipede was shown at a nearby revival house with a whooping and cackling audience primed to enjoy this kind of stuff, so it probably seemed a lot better as a result. And as I am perversely intrigued by the ass-to-mouth theme—as no doubt many in my audience was—it made for an enjoyably sick ride.


The last official movie I saw in February was 1950's Born Yesterday, which I dragged Anna to. Based on the hit Garson Kanin play from 1946, it stars Judy Holliday, William Holden and Broderick Crawford. The political satire is sharp, the performances are first-rate, and the dialogue is never less than brilliant. I saw this for the first time (on DVD) last year, and it has quickly become one of my favorite comedies of all time!

THE FINAL TALLY (with 1-10 ratings)

Dear John (8)
Crazy Heart (8)
Alien Trespass (6)
Melinda & Melinda (7)
Shutter Island (7)
The Human Centipede (8)
The Lady Eve (9)
The Joy Luck Club (7)

1 comment:

Anna Ngo said...

I wish I'd gotten to see Human Centipede with you! Your review of JLC was kinder than your reaction seemed to indicate. (Sittin' on tha toilet!) I could tell as I was watching it that Born Yesterday was a play, given that most of the action is set in their hotel suite and it's mostly dialogue-driven. As a modern cynic, I found the stuff about democracy and the power of the people hard to swallow, given that I have zero faith in our political system. Or should I say "your"? I guess I am a citizen now. Or I am. What (other) political satire were you alluding to?