Thursday, March 01, 2012

February 2012

Between a visit from my friend Fiona from China, a weekend jaunt to Palo Alto, a trip to the Miami International Boat Show and a Caribbean cruise on the NCL Epic, it was a challenge to devote any time to watching movies. I did manage to squeeze in two first-run features and a bunch of random titles on my iPad; in addition, Anna and I did a double-feature of movies I had previously seen—Hugo and The Artist, both nominees for the Best Oscar statue being given out that very night. It was my first time seeing Hugo in 3D, and I enjoyed it even more the second time around. Here's what I watched in February:


CHRONICLE (2012)—This is the latest "found footage" thriller, following in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and, most recently, Apollo 18. (I've seen every one of them.) Chronicle is more of a sci-fi adventure than a horror movie, and much of it is both stunning and thorougly engrossing. Three high-school kids mysteriously gain various superpowers, but this is no superhero story—the movie is more about how the kids use their newfound powers the way real kids would, which in the case of one of them, leads to some very Bad Behavior. It's a great ride until the last 20 minutes or so, when it goes completely off the rails with a lot of bombast and wreckage—and the idea that the characters are constantly filming the action becomes increasingly distracting. I think the film would have been far more effective had it used the "found footage" gimmick more sparingly, or not at all. Still, there are some unforgettable scenes, including one where Andrew (Dane DeHaan) destroys a spider (a subtle comment on the Spiderman film series?). (8)

WANDERLUST (2012)—This is one of those fish-out-of-water stories where ordinary "civilized" people find themselves being integrated into a commune enviornment—a throwback to the Peter Sellers film I Love You, Alice B. Toklas. In this one, a married couple played by Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston, having suffered a number of professional setbacks, join a group of wacky hippie types and realize the benefits of self-sufficiency and "free love." It's a consistently funny movie marred only by an overabundance of gross-out humor and one ridiculously stupid scene involving Rudd's bizarre inability to consummate an affair with super-hot Malin Akerman. Otherwise, writer/director David Wain keeps the laughs coming at a brisk pace, and Alan Alda steals virtually every scene he's in. It's also worth seeing for sexy Lauren Ambrose, who has become increasingly more beautiful since her days in the cast of Six Feet Under. (8)


DEATH AT A FUNERAL (2007)—Remade with a nearly all-black cast only three years after its release, this is the original British black comedy involving the farcical events surrounding the funeral of a businessman when his family discovers his deep, dark secret. A largely unknown cast keeps things moving in suitably hilarious fashion. (9)

BREAKDOWN (1997)—Driving through the desert in an SUV with his wife, Kurt Russell manages to piss off some ornery locals. Then his car breaks down, and the next thing you know, his wife has vanished and nobody seems to want to help him. Breakdown is a gripping thriller, full of relentless suspense and a satifying payoff. A second cousin to an old favorite TV movie, Dying Room Only, starring Cloris Leachman. (9)

APPOINTMENT WITH VENUS (1951)—As a fan of British actress Glynis Johns (having previously screened her films Encore, Personal Affair, Court Jester and Josephine and Men), I treated myself to a Glynis double-feature this month. We start with what must surely be the gentlest Nazi movie ever made, as David Niven joins forces with Glynis to rescue a prize cow from one of the Channel Islands after it is invaded and occupied by the Germans during WWII. There's not a lot to this picture (known in the U.S. as Island Rescue), but Glynis is always worth watching. (7)

ALL MINE TO GIVE (1957)—Scottish immigrants Glynis and Cameron Mitchell move to Wisconsin in the 1850s, find work, have a bunch of kids and face a variety of challenges out in the wilderness (most notably typhoid). The film strikes a nice balance between drama, comedy and sentimentality. Fun to see Alan Hale Jr. several years before his role as the Skipper on Gilligan's Island. (8)

DISAPPEARANCE (2002)—Hoping for some of that same Breakdown suspense, I turned to this TV film featuring two of my favorite stars from L.A. Law, Harry Hamlin and Susan Dey, who also find themselves in hot water driving through the desert and breaking down in the middle of nowhere. Although there are a number of creepy scares, the plot turns a bit supernaturnal, and the viewer is left with more questions than answers by the end of this Twlight Zone-ish outing. (6)

KEEPING MUM (2005)—Hoping for some of that same delicious British black humor of Death at a Funeral, I turned to this Rowan Atkinson comedy (he of Mr. Bean and Black Adder), in which he plays a pastor whose unsatisfied wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) has an affair with American Patrick Swayze...just as housekeeper Maggie Smith arrives on the scene to shake things up. And boy, does she ever! A delightfully naughty confection, in which Atkinson reins in his usual manic on-screen personality, to great effect. (9)

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