Saturday, June 05, 2010

May 2010


Of the five new movies I saw in May, two will undoubtedly make my top-five list of 2010. While created by entirely different production teams, the two are "twinned" in my mind as both are independent, adult comedies with a few dramatic undertones. Both are intelligent, unpredictable and quite satisfying.

The first of these was Please Give, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. It's her fourth feature, and after having seen it, I immediately ordered her three earlier pictures on DVD (Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing and Friends With Money). New York City-based Please Give centers on married used-furniture dealers Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt), along with their teenage daughter Abby, elderly neighbor Andra, and Andra's granddaughters (stunning Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet). How their lives intertwine forms the basis of the story, and it's a total winner—I saw the movie both at the beginning of the month and then again at the end of May with Joan.

Its spiritual cousin is City Island, another movie about a New York City family, this one headed by bickering Andy Garcia and Julianna Marguiles and their bickering children. Everybody in the family has a Big Secret, and when Garcia's son (by another woman) enters the picture, the lies gradually become exposed like falling dominoes. Directed by Raymond De Felitta, the movie took awhile to win me over, but it did, completely.

As a fan of vigilante movies, Harry Brown (starring Michael Caine) seemed like it would be an exciting British variation on the Death Wish formula, and while most of the same basic elements are there, it doesn't have quite as much suspense as most of the movies in the genre. Although this is far from Caine's best movie, it's probably farther from his worst. He's always worth watching.

Joan invited me to the Paramount Theatre to see Shrek Forever After, the fourth installment in what is purportedly the last picture in the animated franchise. What began as a fun novelty has lost a great deal of its charm, and the movie seems to be aware of this, incorporating the idea of staleness into a story that features Shrek growing bored with his life. Through a magical conceit, he is transported to a world where he was never born, a plot shamelessly ripped off from It's a Wonderful Life, and in the spirit of that movie, he comes to realize everything he has taken for granted. Fortunately, the movie is not without humor: when Eddie Murphy's Donkey delivers the line "What are you talking about, cracker?" to the Gingerbread Man, that's a gag that kids and adults laugh at for different reasons. Although this installment of Shrek relies way too heavily on popular songs—a hit tune is trotted out dutifully every 10 minutes or so—the voice cast is excellent, as usual. Even if the series has worn out its welcome, it's been a fun ride.

Joan and I were also curious to check out Letters to Juliet, apparently to confirm that it would be a slightly longer version of its own trailer—which, as it turns out, it most certainly is. Juliet is an entertaining, utterly predictable and shamelessly by-the-numbers romcom that plays like Mamma Mia without all the ABBA music. (The fact that both movies star gorgeous Amanda Seyfried as a girl named Sophie is only where the similarities begin.) Vanessa Redgrave, looking handsome but acting alarmingly frail, searches for her long-lost love with her grandson, cocky Christopher Egan, in tow. If you spend more than a moment wondering if Seyfried will dump her neglectful fiance for Egan in the film's climax, well, this must be your first romcom.

Footnote: I like to give small-budget independent movies a chance whenever I can, but the horrific acting (by star Dario Deak) in Dreamkiller drove me from the screening about halfway through.


While visiting Jay in Palo Alto (to see him star in the musical Hello Dolly), we caught a double feature at the local revival cinema: Love Me Tonight and Trouble in Paradise. The two films had more in common than their 1932 release year—both are variations of the old "Big Lie" romance formula that has been inflicted upon the general public presumably since the dawn of time. In Love Me Tonight, Maurice Chevalier plays a tailor who falls for a young princess while disguising himself as a baron; Trouble in Paradise, meanwhile, stars Herbert Marshall as a con artist who captures the heart of the woman he's trying to steal from. Both movies are consistently funny, and Love Me Tonight has the good sense to contain several excellent Rodgers and Hart songs, including the very popular "Isn't it Romantic?" Jay and I were amused by the fact that although the movie takes place in Paris, Chevalier is the only actor who talks in a French accent.

Apparently I watched only one movie on DVD this month, which was American Psycho, a favorite movie of my friend Anna. She is obsessed with serial killers, which makes this a natural choice; sadly, barely a month after viewing it, I find it difficult to remember very much about it.

THE FINAL TALLY (with 1-10 ratings)

Please Give (10)
Harry Brown (6)
City Island (10)
Love Me Tonight (8)
Trouble in Paradise (8)
Shrek Forever After (7)
Letters to Juliet (8)
American Psycho (4)

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