Monday, October 03, 2011

September 2011

As the summer rocketed to a close, so did my ability to watch nearly a movie a day, as my work obligations and the new TV season pulled me away from film. Of the eight movies viewed last month, only three were new. Here's what went down.

APOLLO 18 (2011)—The "found footage" horror genre that began with The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity continues with this lunar edition, which purports to tell of a secret U.S. moon landing some 40 years ago—as well as a secret USSR mission to boot. Both, as it turns out, ended extremely badly, thanks to some wicket creatures that are somehow living on our beloved satellite. While there are a few scares to be had here, most of the time you find yourself wondering (a) how and why they were filming all of this stuff (and from so many different angles), and (b) how any of the footage could have possibly been discovered. (7)

CONTAGION (2011)—Gwyneth Paltrow somehow contracts a mysterious virus that ends up killing millions of people all over the world. Her husband (Matt Damon) struggles to keep their daughter safe from both the disease and the marauding hordes who are stalking the streets and forcing the country into marshall law. The film adopts the interesting gimmick of introducing the action at Day #2 of the crisis, then letting the story unfold to its conclusion before flashing back to Day #1, where we find out how the virus got created in the first place. It's a compelling and nerve-wracking film with some nicely drawn characters, but without a truly touching and captivating human story. For me, the most moving sequence involves the fate of a scientist played by Kate Winslet. (8)

DRIVE (2011)—A man with no name, few words and excellent fighting skills helps a pretty woman who is threatened by a scary bad guy. Paging Clint Eastwood! Ryan Gosling is the modern-day antihero—a mechanic instead of a cowboy—who excels at fast getaways and kicking villains to death in elevators. Albert Brooks is a Jewish gangster who likes to slice people open with a switchblade. The two men cross paths in a dangerous ways. The pretty girl is played by talented British actress Carey Mulligan, who is totally wasted here playing a character who is sketchily written, to say the least. The film, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, contains enough action to keep men everywhere intrigued, but by the end you're still hungry for a movie. (8)

PICNIC (1955)—A watchable but at times embarrassingly dated adaptation of William Inge's hit play, featuring William Holden as a down-on-his-luck drifter who takes his shirt off a lot, arousing the carnal desires of a variety of women in a small town (notably Kim Novak). Holden is entirely too old to play the handsome young drifter, but apparently female audiences of the mid-1950s didn't agree. Susan Strasberg, as Kim's kid sister, has a very nice bit as an underage semi-tomboy. (7)

WOLF CREEK (2005)—I heard this Aussie horror flick described as "torture porn," and that's as apt a description as any. Three young attractive people on a road trip through the Australian countryside experience car trouble and get help from an affable trucker…who turns out to be a very, very bad man. The filmmakers turn the typical horror cliches on their heads, defying expectations and taking the characters' destinies in directions you haven't seen a million times before. This results in a scary but ultimately brutally sad denouement. Supposedly "based on actual events," but that's a bit of a stretch. (6)

A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948)—If I accomplished nothing else this month, it was to scratch yet another Billy Wilder movie off my list. This post-WWII comedy takes us to war-torn Berlin, where an Army captain finds himself torn between an attractive visiting Congresswoman (Jean Arthur) and a ex-Nazi nightclub singer (Marlene Dietrich). There's a generous helping of humor, but it's not top-tier Wilder; still, Wilder at his most mediocre is better than most directors at their very best. (8)

RASCAL (1969)—I was in the mood to watch a wholesome Disney flick, the likes of which the Mouse churned out for decades. This one features Bill Mumy (the kid from Lost in Space) as a boy who adopts a pet raccoon whose mischievous nature gets both of them in predicament after predicament. Harmless family fun based on Sterling North's autobiographical book. (7)

A CRY FROM THE STREETS (1958)—Well-made, terrifically acted British drama (in beautiful B&W) about a female social worker whose job finding homes for orphans—and reuniting kids with their runaway parents—impacts her new romance with a young suitor in many ways. Featuring a bunch of very talented child actors between 5 and 8 years old. Only debit: a totally out-of-place musical sequence halfway through the film. (8)

CRY TERROR (1958)—Nifty thriller starring James Mason and Inger Stevens as a couple who, along with their child, are kidnapped by villains Rod Steiger (menacing as ever), Jack Klugman, Angie Dickinson and Neville Brand in an elaborate terrorism plot. Quite suspenseful for its time. (8)