Monday, July 02, 2012

June 2012

Now that the 2011-2012 TV season is over, I'm able to draw more heavily from my bottomless archive of old flicks. This month I was, however, able to squeeze in all 10 half-hour episodes of HBO's "Girls," which I watched while sick in one five-hour block. This month, I also dragged my friend Anna to see a Woody Allen double feature of Love and Death and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. Here's my report on what I watched in June.


SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)—Comparisons to the year's first live-action Snow White movie, Mirror Mirror, are inevitable. While I wasn't 100 percent enchanted by that retelling of the famous fairy tale, the sweet personality of Lily Allen as the sweet heroine enhances the earlier film's stature in my mind. Kristen Stewart, who hit just the right note of sullen teenage angst in the original Twilight, is completely without charm. That's no doubt because Huntsman’s filmmakers are going after the existing Twilight audience, and the cynical calculatedness of it all detracts from the movie. Pulling ideas and special effects from seemingly dozens of other films and TV series, from Braveheart to Lord of the Rings, and ultimately hobbles itself from a distinct lack of originality—I really don't need to see another magical person sucking the life force out of a victim's mouth (à la The Green Mile and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) one more time. Show us something new, for God's sake! It's unlikely, though, as producers are reportedly hoping to turn this into a franchise as well. What this Snow White needs is more Bashful, which is why I couldn't resist inserting him into the poster. (6)

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012)—Good reviews got me interested in this offbeat story of a weirdo (Mark Duplass) who places an odd classified ad looking for someone to time-travel with him. A pretty young reporter answers the ad, intending to write up his story in her newspaper. What's that? Someone lies to another person, falls in love and then the lie is revealed? Yes, God help me, it's THAT plot again. The film is virtually carried on the shoulders of star Aubrey Plaza (of "Parks and Recreation" fame), but it proves to be too much for her—it all starts off a little too silly and ends up beyond preposterous. (4)

PROMETHEUS (2012)—A semi-prequel to the Alien series, this is another scary, suspenseful space epic with some multidimensional human characters and some very nasty extraterrestrials. Add to the mix a splendid Michael Fassbender as an android with unknown motives, and Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (of the European Dragon Tattoo films) doing a convincing British accent and essentially filling the shoes of Alien's Ripley character. The movie was impressive, mysterious and downright scary enough to warrant my seeing it twice—once alone, once with Joan. (9)

TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012)—The latest from Woody Allen's "Let's film in Europe!" tour. It's been a bumpy ride, with an output that has been alternately derivative (Match Point), smoldering (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), silly (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), forgettable (Scoop) and surprisingly profitable (Midnight in Paris). But for my money, the funniest is Woody's latest, which sews together four different tales, one starring the writer-director himself and two of them performed in Italian. I am admittedly a fan of portmanteau films, having devoted a large part of my movie-watching time in the last three or four years to chasing down as many old ones as I can find. This one makes a terrific addition to Love, Actually and Paris Je T’aime, two splendid examples from modern times. I liked To Rome With Love even more than the mega-popular Midnight in Paris, my only slight quibble being that the segment featuring Allen belabors its modest punchline. Still, it's a very enjoyable piece of work. (9)

SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (2012)—Not a very enjoyable piece of work is this apocalyptic romance, its plot having been virtually lifted from the 1998 Canadian film Last Night, featuring Don McKellar and Sandra Oh as people discovering true love in the final hours of the planet's existence. This version starts the normally reliable Steve Carell (Crazy, Stupid, Love) and Keira Knightley (from the aforementioned Love, Actually) as mismatched strangers whose unsteady union may be the most boring romance ever captured on celluloid. In this movie, scenes of rioting and desperation alternate with others in which people carry on in ordinary fashion, cutting the grass or going to work as usual. Amid the dullness, there's one very funny joke involving a spider bite, but that was about it for me. Amazingly, Joan liked the movie a lot—one of the rare times she has enjoyed something considerably more than I did. (2)

YOUR SISTER'S SISTER (2012)—Largely improvised (or so I read), here's an adult romcom that in turns surprises, moves and amuses. Jack (Mark Duplass, so annoying in this month's Safety Not Guaranteed) plays a fellow still grieving after his brother's death. His best friend Iris (beautiful Emily Blunt), who had dated the brother, offers up her Puget Sound cabin as a way for Duplass to decompress. There he finds Iris's sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), and the movie takes off. Doesn't sound like much, but what follows is a sheer delight. At times, director Lynn Shelton's three-character comedy-drama seems like a filmed stage play, but the three leads are so likable that you never find yourself wanting more. (9)

TED (2012)—Mark Wahlberg (age 41) plays a Bostonian (age 35) who still loves his childhood teddy bear named Ted. The gimmick here is that Ted is inexplicably alive—and exhibiting all of the traits a regular Joe from Boston might have (smokes pot, makes lewd comments, is a bad driver, etc.). The film's basic conflict is that Mark can’t bear to sever ties with his best friend, grow up and be a responsible mate to his beautiful girlfriend, who's understandably growing tired of playing second fiddle to a stuffed animal. The special effects are extremely impressive, but not as impressive as the fact that by halfway through the movie, the audience has virtually stopped thinking of Ted as a special effect and has accepted him as a real character. There's lots of great jokes in writer-director Seth MacFarlane's shaggy-bear story, many of them of the pop-culture-reference variety that happen work very well on me; MacFarlane also provides the voice of Ted. I could have done with about three-quarters of the scatological jokes, but they’re worth putting up with for the rest. (8)


SINGAPORE (1947)—A VHS gift from Nancy (sister of Joan, my constant movie companion). In this noirish romance, Fred MacMurray plays a diamond smuggler in the titular country; during the war, he flees after his girlfriend (Ava Gardner) is apparently killed. Returning some years later to retrieve some jewels he left behind, he accidentally discovers that Gardner is still alive, but suffering from amnesia. Should MacMurray try to win her back from her new flame? The stars are all very watchable and the scenery is fun to watch, but the stars wear nothing like the costumes they've donned for the movie poster! Featuring U.S.-born actress Maylia in a role where she does a laughably bad Chinese accident. (8)

TOBY TYLER (1960)—A boy (Kevin Corcoran) whose adoptive parents treat him rather poorly runs away and joins the circus. There he meets a lovable chimp and adults who both protect him and try to take advantage of him. Based on a beloved children's book by James Otis Kaler, this Disney production of Toby Tyler is the quintessential movie about running away and joining the circus. (8)

ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939)——I was thinking of seeing this at the local revival cinema during their recent Cary Grant film festival, but then I realized that I already had it on my hard drive. So instead of driving out and seeing it on the big screen, I lazily sat on my ass and watched it on my computer. Ha! It's the classic Howard Hawks-directed story of a small air freight company being run out of a bar and grill owned by Sig Ruman, delivering mail from an unmade South American country. Cary is in charge, and in between losing planes in bad weather and trying to recruit new pilots, he meets a pretty tourist (Jean Arthur) and deals with various staffing issues. It doesn't sound particularly enthralling, but the film is quite gripping and throws in some nice doses of comedy along with the drama. (9)

BROTHER ORCHID (1940)—It starts out like a typical Edward G. Robinson gangster movie, but after doing battle with a rival crime gang, Ed hides out in a monastery and actually starts to grow a soul. It takes a mighty long while to get to the point, but there's pleasures to be had along the way, including some enjoyable comedy bits. (One line about a vibrator had me doing a double-take—funny how slang changes over the years.) As Joan pointed out, the 1955 movie We’re No Angels (remade with Sean Penn in 1989) has some similar themes. (8)

LADIES IN RETIREMENT (1941)—Ida Lupino has a great job as head housekeeper in a lovely mansion owned by wealthy former actress (Isobel Elsom). Unfortunately, Lupino also has two crazily daffy sisters who are being ousted from their current digs. Desperate not to see them put in an asylum, she begs her employer to let them stay temporarily at the mansion. But the nutty sisters soon outwear their welcome, and are instructed by Elsom to leave. What to do? How about...MURDER? Based on the 1940 Broadway thriller, the film version is fun and kept me guessing till the end. And even after the film has ending, I'm still guessing about the somewhat ambiguous resolution. (9)

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)—I am determined to see The Avengers, but I hate seeing serials out of sequence. Unfortunately, I was only familiar with one of the superheroes' backstories (Iron Man), and The Avengers is about a whole bunch of superheroes. That means that in order to completely understand and appreciate The Avengers, I must get up to speed with the other characters in the "Marvel Universe." Step One was to view Captain America, starring Chris Evans as an aspiring WWII soldier who gets the laboratory treatment (by military scientist Stanley Tucci) that turns him into a super-strong soldier. He fights and of course defeats the very, very mean Nazi villain, who has some sort of otherworldly glowing cube that's right out of an Indiana Jones flick. The movie eventually explains how a guy from the 1940s can find his way into the present day in order to team up with the other superheroes. (8)

IRON MAN 2 (2010)—I greatly enjoyed 2008’s Iron Man, which succeeded largely because of Robert Downey Jr.'s delightfully comic performance as Tony Stark. Mediocre reviews kept me away from the sequel, but it turns out to be more of the same fun formula, with another despicable baddie (Mickey Rourke), this one in his own weaponized metal suit. Fortunately, I've already seen (and loved) 2011's Thor, so all that's left is The Incredible Hulk, which I'm about halfway done watching as of this writing. I sure hope all of this legwork was worth it for The Avengers! (9)

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