Wednesday, February 01, 2012

January 2012

Overall, January was a pretty slipshod movie month for me—not one of the 14 pictures I saw were truly extraordinary. I suppose that's to be expected, as this time of the year is generally considered to be the doldrums when it comes to film releases. Here's a rundown on what I saw.


MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE—GHOST PROTOCOL (2011)—I endured the original in the new franchise, but none of the sequels. I am hopelessly confused by any and all spy and secret-agent stories (including the original Mission: Impossible TV series), so I try to avoid them. But great reviews attracted me to this adventure, which is jam-packed with suspense and impressive stunt work. The actual story evaporated from my mind almost as soon as I paid for the parking. (7)

CONTRABAND (2012)—Here's one of my classic "accidental movie" stories. I intended to see Joyful Noise (already gone from theaters as of this writing), but apparently I got the movie times wrong and the only thing playing within the hour was this Mark Wahlberg vehicle. So I sucked it up and paid for a ticket, figuring that my low expectations might yield in something entertaining. And sure enough, I wasn't terribly disappointed. Wahlberg plays a former smuggler who's forced to do "one last job" to get some crime-lord heat off of his ne'er-do-well brother-in-law. Kate Beckinsale is mediocre at best in the thankless role of Wahlberg's wife, but Giovanni Ribisi is extremely effective as a scary bad guy. (8)

ALBERT NOBBS (2011)—The somewhat less than ravishing Glenn Close is the ideal actress to portray a woman disguised as a male hotel butler—a role she originated onstage decades ago. Unfortunately, there's very little story here, and the film contains scene after excruciating scene in which nothing of interest actually happens. One of the dullest movies I've seen in recent memory—at the closing credits, Joan and I were practically petrified with boredom. (3)

THE GREY (2012)—While this is not destined to win any Oscars, at least it wasn't boring! This year's Liam Neeson action thriller finds him one of a handful of survivors in an Alaskan plane crash; together they must brave the relentless blizzard and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ravenous killer wolves, against all odds. Basically, the film becomes And Then There Were None played out in the snow—there are some decent jump scenes and a reasonable amount of suspense. My only major problem was that you could never see fog on anybody's breath, which automatically demolishes my suspension of disbelief—it just reminds us that it's all so much phony snow. (8)


AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970)—Remade a couple of years ago, this is the original mystery-thriller that unfolds on the French countryside, where a couple of young women on a biking holiday run afoul of a serial killer. The film starts out entertainingly, introducing a male character who may or may not be behind one of the girls' mysterious disappearance, but the second half grows increasingly less suspenseful. (5)

FINIAN'S RAINBOW (1968)—Since I'm going to be seeing the stage version of this 1940s musical next month (starring my pal Jay Steele), I thought I'd check out the 141-minute feature film version, which stars Fred Astaire and Petula Clark. I have been listening to the original cast album for several weeks and really enjoying it, and knowing the score beforehand helped my enjoyment of the movie. It goes on a bit too long, but it's a charming romp with a strong anti-racist message. (8)

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)—Unlike Finian's Rainbow, this is not a musical. Amazingly, I missed this freak hit from—my God, was it really 13 years ago? This is the picture that kicked off the current "found footage" horror movie fad, and I must admit I was curious to check it out with the success of the Paranormal Activity franchise. It's a creepy, sometimes harrowing chiller, obviously largely improvised. (8)

THE HOUSE ON GREENAPPLE ROAD (1970)—I was a TV-movie addict back in the Seventies, and I loved so many of the cheesy thrillers they'd show (mostly on ABC) that I collect all the ones I missed and occasionally watch one out of pure nostalgia's sake. Unfortunately, I am rarely blown away when I catch one of the ones that "got away," and this is no exception. It's a totally by-the-numbers detective story about a missing mom (Janet Leigh) that plays like a TV pilot (which it was—it's a Quinn Martin production). (5)

ZODIAC (2007)—Unnecessarily long mystery about the real-life investigation of a serial killer whose identity has never been definitively established. The film is told from the point of view of a newspaper staff reporting about the string of killings in San Francisco; the actual murders are pretty scary, but the journalism angle left me feeling restless. (6)

A PERFECT WORLD (1993)—I'm a Clint Eastwood fan, and I'm trying to watch all the ones I've missed over the years. Clint isn't really the star of this, but he did direct it and has a strong supporting role as a cop who's on the trail of escaped convict Kevin Costner and the little boy he's kidnapped. The relationship Costner and the boy, who's desperate for a strong male role model in his life, is the selling point of this otherwise rambling drama. (6)

KEANE (2004)—Here's an indie flick whose unusual tale and gritty characters have continued to linger in my memory. Damian Lewis—so perfect as the star of Showtime's Homeland—plays the title character, an increasingly unglued man searching for the daughter who was abducted from New York City's Port Authority bus terminal. The semi-homeless Lewis, who spends a lot of time obsessing and muttering to himself, meets a down-on-her-luck woman (Amy Ryan) who has a small daughter, and it's their uneasy alliance that becomes the center of this small but unforgettable film—nothing about it is remotely Hollywood, from Lewis's unpleasantly incoherent monologues to the somewhat downbeat denouement. But I thoroughly enjoyed this involving thriller from writer-director Lodge Kerrigan. (8)

IMITATION OF LIFE (1959)—Ordinarily I enjoy soapers, and this remake of the 1934 film has plenty to go around. Lana Turner is a rising stage star who's raising a daughter, juggling various lovers and forging a friendship with her black maid, who herself is raising a troubled daughter. This is the kind of movie where the kids grow up before our eyes (played by several actresses, including Sandra Dee), but Turner and her cronies never age a day. Sadly, the movie never really clicked for me, although there are a number of decent scenes. (6)

GOSFORD PARK (2001)—Robert Altman's variation of an Agatha Christie drawing-room murder mystery is full of the Altman signature bits—dozens of characters, all reciting their overlapping and extraneous dialogue. The murder doesn't even happen until about 90 minutes into the movie, which gives us a fair amount of time to meet the myriad cast of characters, some of whom are interesting (i.e., Maggie Smith) and many whom are not. Scripted by Julian Fellowes, this period drama is not unlike the setup of his later extraordinaryTV series Downton Abbey, but not nearly as elegant, involving or witty (although both feature Maggie Smith and her deliciously poisonous barbs). (7)

I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING (1945)—I started watching this oldie a month or two or go, got sidetracked, and finally finished it up this month. Wendy Hiller—perhaps best known for playing Eliza Doolittle in the 1938 version of Pygmalion—stars as a woman travelling from Manchester, England, to Scotland for a "marriage of convenience with a rich, middle-aged industrialst. But poor weather conditions trap her temporarily on the Isle of Mull, where she meets charming Roger Livesey...and for the first time in her life, Hiller suddenly has no idea where she's really going. This might have been more effective as a short story than a full-length feature, but it has some nice moments, including 12-year-old Petula Clark in a small role. (8)

THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT (1964)—This was a recommendation from my dear friend Merf, although it's been on my radar for many years. It's the story of two high-school girls, one of whom, Val (Tippy Walker), is a bit troubled and develops a crush on a pianist played by Peter Sellers. When the focus is on the girls' coming of age, the movie is delightful, but when Sellers is onscreen, it devolves into less-interesting slapstick. Despite the title, Sellers' Henry character isn't the star of the movie; although Sellers can be devastatingly funny as Inspector Clouseau, his manic presence here works against what is otherwise a delightful and charming film. Hypocritical Angela Lansbury and kind Tom Bosley are perfect as Val's largely absentee parents, and Merrie Spaeth is quite good as Val's partner in crime. Val and her eventual maturation reminded me a bit of Hayley Mills' character in the excellent Chalk Garden, released the same year as this. (Mills was offered a role in this movie, but eventually turned it down.) (8)

1 comment:

Trystan said...