Monday, May 06, 2013

April 2013

Only six movies this month! This is owing to a variety of factors, starting with the fact that I had a houseguest for a couple of days. Then I was distracted by the third appropriation of my debit card by identity thieves. Then I had to organize and conduct an out-of-town photo shoot. There were a couple of Randy Newman-related events I attended. Then I housesat for my friend Cindy for a couple of nights. These things add up! But trumping all of those excuses is the fact that I suddenly and quite unexpectedly got an opportunity to move into a new apartment—one farther away from my rude, obnoxious noisy neighbors—and spent the better part of a week moving. But now that I'm settled into my new place, I'm going to try to make a better effort in May.

SAFE HAVEN (2013)—The latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel (following The Lucky One, The Last Song, Dear John, Nights in Rodanthe and The Notebook, the undisputed best of the lot) is the usual corny, old-fashioned love story scenario (which is just fine with me). This one brings together a heartbroken widower (impossibly hunky Josh Duhamel) and a fresh-faced but aloof woman (impossibly cute Julianne Hough). They fall in love…but there's a conflict, and this one is represented by a mean detective played by David Lyons, who fits into the story in an unexpected and satisfying way. I enjoyed the romance between Duhamel and Hough, as well as the way their lives intersect with Lyons…but the film's resolution contains a twist so incredibly unfitting the rest of the movie that you walk out of the theater with your jaw hanging open in utter bafflement. (8)

42 (2013)—Here's a movie I either didn't know about or didn't care about at the beginning of the year, but it's a big hit now, deservedly so. It's the true story of baseball star Jackie Robinson, the first black athlete to break into Major League Baseball, who endured plenty of racism on and off the diamond. Racial intolerance obviously still exists today, but 42 paints such an ugly picture of it that at times it's cringe-inducing. At times "42" resembles a TV-movie, which is not helped by the fact that so many familiar television actors populate the cast, including John C. McGinley (Scrubs), Max Gail (Barney Miller), Christopher Meloni (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) and T.R. Knight and James Pickens Jr. (Grey's Anatomy), and those are just the ones from TV series I am personally familiar with. So it's all very black and white with few shades of grey...and yet, you can't deny its power. Acting is uniformly fine throughout, and though Harrison Ford's growly manager character often verges on caricature, it's a fun performance. (9)

OBLIVION (2013)—Great special effects and lots of imaginative set designs notwithstanding, this is a shameless ripoff of 2009's Moon starring Sam Rockwell, which cost about what 1 percent of what Oblivion cost, and yet it's much better movie. Tom Cruise is always dynamic, and his co-stars Andrea Riseborough and drop-dead-gorgeous Olga Kurylenko are superb—they make the movie endurable. But Oblivion just made me want to watch Moon again. And I saw Moon twice! (7)

TRANCE (2013)—Danny Boyle's latest is one of those brain-teasing pictures that keeps you guessing through numerous twists and turns. Although it's a much different kind of movie than Oblivion, there are also several similarities that kept poking at my mind as I sat through it (the day after I saw Oblivion, in fact)—both films, for example, ostensibly kill off characters that we later come to find alive and well, and there's some major memory-altering concepts in both as well. Another huge similarity is that there's an enormously beautiful and sexy star in each movie: this one features Rosario Dawson, one of cinema's most alluring actresses, and she all but stole the movie away from male costars James McAvoy and Vincent Cassel. If you're in the mood for a good mindfuck, you can do worse than Trance, although much of it stretches credulity. (7)

UNFORGIVEN (1992)—I have wanted to see this Clint Eastwood Western since it came out. Only took me 21 years to finally sit down and watch it! The story is simple enough: prostitutes in a Wyoming brothel hire a trio of cowboys to hunt and kill two johns who attacked and disfigured one of their own. Which they do. The end. Clint is very good as the quiet and somber sort-of-rehabilitated killer who says, "I guess" a lot. (He's no longer the Man With No Name, but still a Man of Few Words.) Like Oblivion, Morgan Freeman co-stars. (8)

SMASHED (2012)—I am still catching up on some of last year's critically acclaimed films; this one features Aaron Paul (star of TV's Breaking Bad) as the husband of alcoholic Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who's trying valiantly to get off the sauce, despite major roadblocks. I happen to be the ideal audience for substance-abuse pictures—I can't explain why, but I always dig films about people battling addiction. This film's screenplay falls short of truly extraordinary, and the story is one I've seen before, but I still found myself completely drawn in to the story of Winstead's character; she is terrific in this. (I have apparently enjoyed her in at least two other movies, Grindhouse and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, but I have no specific memory of her; I will, however, definitely remember her in Smashed.)  It's a very good effort. (9)

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