Saturday, May 22, 2010

April 2010


Four of the new films I saw this month are ones I'll remember fondly for many years—and one was so good, I was happy to see it twice (once in 2-D, once in 3-D, mirroring the way I saw and enjoyed Avatar).

The first of the first-runs was Repo Men, a violent sci-fi thriller that combined elements from numerous futuristic actioners I've seen over the years. Since it's about a person in authority whose job it is to run after wrongdoers—and who ultimately finds himself the hunted rather than the hunter—it bore more than a passing resemblance to 1976's Logan's Run. Naturally, this version of the tale is vastly more grisly and shocking, and although I had a few problems with the narrative, it moved along at quite a clip and was never dull for a moment. The twist ending didn't make a massive amount of sense, but it did take me by surprise, and that's the important thing.

Next up was How to Train Your Dragon, the 3-D animated adventure that I first saw in 2-D (I always seem to enjoy the traditional configuration better). This is my favorite Dreamworks picture so far—a grand, funny, moving and very human story about a boy and his, dragon. It's jam-packed with thrills and quotable lines, and it appealed to both the adult and the kid in me.

The beautiful Carey Mulligan (from last year's An Education) returns to the big screen with shorter hair in The Greatest as a pregnant girl who moves in with the family of her recently killed boyfriend. As the still-grieving parents, Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon perform very well, capably and below par, depending on the scene and the actor. But the overall film is still wonderful, a nice companion piece to 1980's Ordinary People. It's a great chick flick; not for every taste, but I enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

Un Prophète (A Prophet) is a French picture with subtitles, released in 2009 but only now getting around to the local art houses in L.A. It's about an Arab man sent to a French prison, the suffering and traumas he endures, and ultimately the story of how he slowly gains power and momentum there. It's a very cool idea for a movie, but because there's a fair amount in here about organized crime and such, I got a bit lost in those complicated machinations, as I tend to do. About half of the time, I was mesmerized, but much of the time I was bored and/or confused.

Joan had suggested The Joneses, a movie I'd heard or read nothing about, and I was extremely pleased by its fresh, satirical and amusing story about an upscale neighborhood that gets some new neighbors who appear to be a traditional family...but who are anything but. Demi Moore and David Duchovny are outstanding in this very original film.

I had been looking forward to Kick-Ass, which had been touted as a comic-book superhero movie with an edgy twist, and there was a lot of truth in that advertising. Filled with comically gruesome violence, the film is about a ragtag group of makeshift, costumed "superheroes" who are ordinary humans, but with some tricks up their sleeve. My favorite was the 11-year-old Hit Girl, a cute but dangerous child with an arsenal of killer moves who isn't afraid to unleash a deadly blow or a shocking cuss word. Director Matthew Vaughn keeps things moving at an exciting clip. Can't wait for the sequel!

Joan invited me to Paramount for a special screening of The Ghost Writer, starring Ewan McGregor as the unnamed title character, who is hired to complete work on the autobiography of the former Prime Minister, played by Pierce Brosnan. It's the latest directorial effort of Roman Polanski, who finished editing the picture in Switzerland after his detainment on his sexual-abuse charges. Much of the movie is an absorbing, somewhat claustrophobic thriller, but to my mind, too much of it (including the "shocking" twist ending) is completely implausible and nonsensical.

Two movies I saw toward the end of the month were my least-favorites: The Runaways, a repellent version of Joan Jett's early career, and Greenberg, a "comedy" featuring Ben Stiller as an incredible asshole who somehow attracts the younger and immeasurably more lovely Greta Gerwig. The two films are somehow linked in my mind because I couldn't have cared less about the heroes of either movie—both were crass and charmless.


Things got off to a good start on the old movies, as I'd recently acquired a copy of The Intruder, a 1962 Roger Corman-directed drama starring William Shatner as a "professional bigot" who moves from town to town trying to get the locals to reject racial integration. It's based on a novel by Charles Beaumont, who wrote several of the great Twilight Zone episodes. It's a little-seen but imaginative little movie—the only "serious" one in Corman's ouevre.

I finally broke out my copy of How Green Was My Valley, the famous, Oscar-winning 1941 version of the Richard Llewellyn novel. Young Roddy McDowall stars as Huw Morgan, whose early life growing up in a Welsh coal-mining village is recounted with much drama as the work starts to dry up, the community starts to face unbearable hardship, and his own family starts to disintegrate. There's menace and death at every corner. I can't deny that John Ford's classic film is entertaining, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

More disappointing was Artificial Intelligence: AI from 2001, a sci-fi film directed by Stephen Spielberg that I'd missed. It's one of those android stories where we're supposed to have feelings for the robot (here played by Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense). But although they've created a machine that can convincingly express feelings, I couldn't bring myself to truly care about this glorified toy. And the ending was an insult to my very non-artificial intelligence.


I managed to inflict several of my all-time favorite movies on my friend Anna, including 1967's Bedazzled (Dudley Moore), 1979's Real Life (Albert Brooks), 1980's The Stunt Man (Peter O'Toole) and 1983's Zelig (Woody Allen). I think she enjoyed most of them. I was delighted, as I always am, to re-view these classics. Meanwhile, as part of Paramount's revival series, I accompanied Joan to a screening of the original version of The Bad News Bears (1976), starring Walter Matthau as a drunken former baseball player who coaches a hopeless little-league team...and becomes a better person for doing so. Sorry to say that Joan didn't enjoy it, but she was most assuredly the only person in the theater who didn't.

THE FINAL TALLY (with 1-10 ratings)

The Intruder (8)
AI: Artificial Intelligence (6)
Repo Men (8)
How to Train Your Dragon (10)
The Greatest (9)
A Prophet (4)
The Joneses (8)
Kick-Ass (9)
The Runaways (3)
Greenberg (4)
The Ghost Writer (5)
How Green Was My Valley (7)