Egad, only seven movies this month. Well, that's still a better showing than March. And while I did poorly in quantity, I seem to have made up for it in quality. Excuses: Have been distracted by too much TV. Lately I have been re-watching favorites The West Wing with Joan and The Larry Sanders Show by myself, as well as burning through the entire first season of Downton Abbey with Jay during my visit to Palo Alto in May. This is all in addition to the regular TV series I watch, which include Modern Family, The Office, 30 Rock, Desperate Housewives, Law and O:der: Special Victims Unit, American Idol, The Simpsons, Grey's Anatomy, House, South Park and Saturday Night Live, to say nothing of Letterman, Leno and Jimmy Kimmel on late night. Fortunately, all but the talk shows have wrapped up for the season, which should leave more time for movies over the summer. Here's what I managed to squeeze in to my busy schedule during May, starting with the first-run flickers.
RABBIT HOLE (2011)—Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, devastated by the death of their young son a year or so earlier in a car accident, are still trying to put their lives back together, albeit in drastically different ways. Eckhart still clings desperately any and all memories of the boy, including video clips. Kidman can't bear to even live in their house anymore, as it's full of haunting memories she'd rather put out of her mind. She rejects their therapy sessions, while he is attracted to a woman (Sandra Oh) who attends them. Meanwhile, he's freaked out when she begins to develop a friendship with the teen who ran over their son. Will they be able to pull themselves out of the abyss? What sounds like a dreary story never truly depresses—it's actually quite compelling material, and has a hopeful resolution. (9)
RIO (2011)—It's so wonderful to see a fun movie with somebody you love. One of my all-time movie highlights will be attending an afternoon screening of this animated charmer with my niece, Emma. Both of us really enjoyed its good humor (and each other's company, of course). Lots of cool bird characters, voice characterizations and colorful animation—the only debit is the gross depiction of a continually drooling bulldog voiced by Tracy Morgan. Otherwise, a grand piece of entertainment suitable for kids and adults alike. (8)
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)—This is one of Woody Allen's more enjoyable efforts from the past 15 or so years, and it has become his biggest box-office hit. Harkening back to the fantastical time-continuum themes present in The Purple Rose of Cairo, Woody gives us an ill-suited engaged couple (idealistic Hollywood screenwriter Owen Wilson and bitchy Rachel McAdams) pursue markedly different paths in the City of Love. Nothing in the film matches Woody at his humorous best—those days are long over—but it's a lightly entertaining yarn, with flashes of sparkling wit. Although she has a small role in this, the character I remember most fondly is the drop-dead gorgeous Léa Seydoux, a fashion model turned actress. (8)
THOR (2011)—A rip-roaring action superhero treat for boys of all ages. The mythological God of Thunder, who naturally lives on another planet, is exiled on Earth and undergoes a standard movie redemption story that's nonetheless a sheer delight, with a deliciously nasty villain, lots of comic-book suspense and Natalie Portman, freed of her Black Swan leotard. I'm already anxious for the sequel! (9)
SHIP OF FOOLS (1965)—I suppose I was drawn to the idea of a cruise-ship movie, as I become more obsessed with ocean liners as I get older. Like the title suggests, this ship's passengers are a pathetic lot—more racists, Nazis, boors, dumkopfs, cowards, drunks, bickering lovers and self-absorbed ninnies than you can shake a stick at. The closest thing to a sympathetic character is dwarf Michael Dunn (evil Dr. Loveless from The Wild Wild West), who breaks the fourth wall at the beginning and end of the picture to remind us that the ship is basically a metaphor for the world—we're all basically assholes. Based on the bestseller by Katherine Anne Porter, who was bummed by how much of her story got left out of the movie. (6)
ACE IN THE HOLE (1951)—One of the rituals of my movie obsession is trying to work through the remaining filmography of Billy Wilder, who is probably my very favorite director of the past. His catalog is limited but truly astonishing: Sunset Blvd., Stalag 17, Witness for the Prosecution, The Apartment, One, Two Three, Irma La Douce, Kiss Me Stupid and The Fortune Cookie are all huge favorites of mine. Originally released as The Big Carnival (against Wilder's wishes), this was one of the director's rare flops. Kirk Douglas plays a boozing, immoral journalist who capitalizes on a cave-in victim's crisis to his own advantage, with disastrous results. Although it's a decent depiction of the dangers of blind self-servitude and corruption, the journalist in me couldn't help rolling his eyes at some of the more farfetched aspects of the story. Not among Wilder's best, but still an interesting piece of work. Later re-released with its original title. Still gotta watch Emperor Waltz, Spirit of St. Louis, Love in the Afternoon and The Front Page, and I suppose I should give The Seven Year Itch another try. (8)
WAKING NED DEVINE (1998)—The titular Irishman wins the Lotto, and promptly drops dead from shock. This exceedingly gentle comedy involves the subterfuge undertaken by the rest of his tiny village (population: 52) who attempt to hide Ned's death and share in the winnings. There's a microscopic romantic subplot about a pig farmer who has eyes for a single mom and an even more microscopic twist involving a scary-looking old bitch who throws a monkey wrench into the village's plan. The film is lighter than air, but genial enough, with a satisfying (and surprisingly dark) conclusion; at a scant 90 minutes, it still feels overlong. (7)