Tuesday, November 01, 2011

October 2011

With the new TV season in full swing, most of my movie viewing has been relegated to weekends in the theater, and my attention to archival films has been regrettably lacking. Overall it was a rather disappointing crop this month, but there were three delightful highlights.


THE IDES OF MARCH (2011)—A political thriller involving Governor George Clooney's presidential campaign, which is being run by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ryan Gosling, the latter of which takes a lunch meeting with a rival campaign manager (Paul Giamatti) and starts to see his career unravel as a result; there's a subplot about a scandal involving Clooney and a pretty young girl (Evan Rachel Wood) he has slept with. The movie moves along nicely, with a few cool twists, but there are a few perplexingly illogical plot points that mar the film's overall flavor (spoilers ahead!). I found it absurd that Wood would commit suicide in the wake of an abortion to avoid dragging her religious family through a scandal—wouldn't that itself create a scandal?—and it doesn't make any sense that a simple lunch meeting would qualify Gosling for dismissal from the campaign. An interesting but flawed movie with one of those infuriatingly ambiguous endings. (7)

DIRTY GIRL (2011)—Juno Temple stars as a pretty but obnoxious high-school slut who's paired up with an introverted homosexual classmate (Jeremy Dozier)...and this odd-couple pairing results in an unlikely friendship as they both rebel against their respective unsavory family members. The leads to a good job, but too many dumb/silly conceits subtract from the narrative, especially a scene where tubby Dozier mesmerizes in a striptease competition. Dwight Yoakam appears as Dozier's father as a despicable character indistinguishable from the one he played in Sling Blade, and there's no sense of why Mary Steenburgen would ever have been attracted to this earthworm. This should have been a nice redemption story involving Temple, but the movie unfortunately settles for being less than it should have been. (6)

MARGIN CALL (2011)—A decent fictionalized account of the sort of greed-fueled behavior on Wall Street that led to this country's current financial crisis, although the filmmakers unfortunately don't attempt to dumb down the details so that birdbrains like me can understand the machinations of how worthless stocks get sold in the first place. (In one of the film's more memorable scenes, the trading firm's CEO (Jeremy Irons) implores the super-smart junior employee (Star Trek's Zachary Quinto) to recount what has happened in terms that even a dog could understand, yet I still didn't quite understand the explanation. Even so, the performances by Quinto and the always-dependable Kevin Spacey are first-rate. (7)

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (2011)—I am a major fan of the first two "found footage" horror films in this series; the third is basically the same gimmick, the only twist being that it's a prequel to the first two and filmed using somewhat more archaic recording equipment. But the gimmick of putting one of the cameras on an oscillating fan is brilliant. I felt incredibly cheated that 90 percent of the footage in the movie's trailer inexplicably failed to make it onscreen, and I lost patience with the plot about 10 minutes before the end. Still entertaining and creepy, but not as good as its predecessors. (8)

MONEYBALL (2011)—A consistently absorbing drama about real-life baseball GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and how he hooks up with a young whiz-kid to build a winning Oakland A's team based on statistical data, to the consternation of the team's professional scouts. This is a terrific sports movie for people who aren't necessarily sports fans—it's entertaining, suspenseful and even moving. (9)

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2: FULL SEQUENCE (2011)—Writer/director Tom Six's original horror flick had some nice dark humor and an unthinkably perverse plot; in this "meta sequel," Part 1 becomes the "film within" Part 2, and eliminates any semblance of rational plot—it just strives to be brutal and ugly, and push the tastelessness envelope. It's got a wonderfully grotesque villain named Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) and is filmed in stark, striking black-and-white...but despite all of the torture and killing, there's none of the humor, suspense and drama that the first Centipede had. Six delights in throwing stuff at us that's patently implausible: for example, how does Martin, who is evidently mute, successfully ensnare the actress from Part 1 to fly from the U.S. to England for an audition (supposedly for a Quentin Tarantino film)? And stapling people together instead of using surgery is just preposterous. (5)

TAKE SHELTER (2011)—Suffering through this interminable movie makes me want to ignore good critical reviews for the rest of eternity; how did so many of them get hoodwinked by such a nothing of a film? At its center is a husband and father played by Michael Shannon, a simple guy who starts to suffer symptoms of schizophrenia. After he begins to hallucinate and have apocalyptic dreams involving storms, he gets a loan from the bank to rebuild his storm shelter, and begins behaving more and more erratically. Over and over, the viewer is shown bizarre things that turn out to be only another one of his troubling dreams. By the time we get to the movie's climactic "punch line," I no longer cared about the protagonist or anybody else in the movie. (5)

REAL STEEL (2011)—Hilariously, while I didn't care much for the previous film (which somehow racked up many excellent reviews), I absolutely loved this critically maligned popcorn movie, which is 100 percent pure (albeit predictable) entertainment, a cross between Rocky and Robocop. In the not-too-distant future, people attend fights between large robots of the rock 'em, sock 'em variety; the special effects on display here are positively outstanding. I felt like a kid watching a monster movie. Recommended for little boys of all ages. (10)

50/50 (2011)—Occasionally entertaining comedy-drama about an ordinary twentysomething (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who gets cancer, and the best friend (Seth Rogen) who provides a measure of comic relief and genuine support as he navigates his way toward recovery. There are some slow patches, to be sure—this film needs some real tightening up—but it's not a bad effort. I just wish the filmmakers had made me care more about their protagonist; Rogen pretty much carries the film on his shoulders. (7)


KIND LADY (1951)—This is actually a remake of a 1935 Basil Rathbone thriller about a con man who enters the life of a kind, wealthy elderly woman and ends up holding her hostage in her own home while he and his criminal buddies proceed to rob her blind. Maurice Evans (who would go on to play Dr. Zaius in Planet of the Apes almost 20 years hence) is outstanding as the charming but sinister artist who has big plans for poor, dear Ethel Barrymore. (9)

THE GREENGAGE SUMMER (1961)—Stylish and imaginative drama of a group of British children who arrive in France on a holiday with the mother, who suddenly falls ill and must recover at a nearby hospital while the kids stay at a local hotel. Taken under their wing by the hotel's sole guest (fellow Britisher Kenneth More, who's having a fling with the hotel's proprietor), the children start to view their savior as kind of a father figure...except that he starts to develop a sexual attraction to the eldest girl (Susannah York), who is about to turn 17 and is blossoming into a lovely young woman. If this sounds like a recipe for disaster, it gets worse—turns out More may also be hiding from the cops. This film, based on a novel by Rumer Godden, was retitled Loss of Innocence for U.S. viewers and is a true gem, a forgotten classic that truly deserves to find a new audience. (10)

1 comment:

Mardi's Madness said...

You now have me excited for the 2012 Movie Year!