Monday, June 03, 2013

May 2013

This month was highlighted by a trip to Florida, where my nephew Joshua had his Bar Mitzvah ceremony and celebration (including numerous parties and his unrelated violin performance in a middle-school orchestra recital). It is the first time in decades that all of my immediate family members have been in the same room together. Here are the movies I chose for this month:

LOLA VERSUS (2012)—Greta Gerwig, so wonderful as the solemnly goofy heroine of 2012's Damsels in Distress, appeared the same year playing a woman desperately trying to cope with having been jilted (nearly) at the alter. Little about it has stuck with me over the ensuing weeks; Gerwig deals with the betrayal of a female best friend, the burgeoning romance of a male best friend, and the looming prospect of reuniting with her former fiancé. There's not much more to it than that—she gets confused, she gets frustrated, she gets laid. Gerwig is fine, but the film pales in comparison to Damsels. Next up is her turn in the current release Frances Ha. (7)

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (2003)—Here's a movie with a novel twist: What if there were a personal dispute between two people in which both parties could be viewed as sympathetic…but that had catastrophic, even tragic consequences? The titular House is one snatched away from rightful owner Jennifer Connelly (due to a clerical glitch) and purchased by Ben Kingsley. Both have a right to the dwelling, and we feel for everybody concerned…and then police officer Ron Eldard tries to "help" Connelly. All of the performances are first rate, especially Shohreh Aghdashloo as Kingsley's wife. I found myself drawn in to the story, which demonstrates how hard simple diplomacy can sometimes be. A comedy this is not. (8)

ON BORROWED TIME (1939)—Returning to the classics is pure bliss. This is the famous film in which Lionel "Mr. Potter" Barrymore (playing another character stuck in a wheelchair) is visited by the personification of Death shortly after claiming his wife. But Barrymore has an ace up his sleeve, and manages to trap Death up in a tree. The latter part of this fantasy movie deals with this apparent stalemate, during which only Barrymore can communicate with this ominous entity. It's a light but entertaining film, on the level of Harvey. Interesting to see Barrymore teaming with Henry Travers and Beulah Bondi, his future It's a Wonderful Life costars from 1946. (8)

HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (2012)—I may be accused of slumming by choosing to watch this garden-variety horror movie over a well-regarded classic….but surely Jennifer Lawrence, who starred in it, must join me among the accused. The actress who headlined the low-budget (but potent) 2010 film Winter's Bone immediately went on to make this schlock, as well as the low-rated, Jodie Foster-directed The Beaver before rebounding with The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook. I was a visitor to this House less than a month ago, and remember very little about it, other than the story was similar to the recent Texas Chainsaw 3D sequel. It's such a challenge to discover a modern horror movie that's worth its salt, but lord knows, I keep trying and trying. (5)

DISCONNECT (2013)—This movie interweaves somewhat related stories, putting it in the sort-of-anthology genre with 2004's Crash and 2012's Cloud Atlas. The theme in this picture is how technology adversely affects our interpersonal relationships, illustrated by boy whose world is shattered in a sexting/catfish prank; a couple who find themselves victims of identity/credit card theft; and a female TV reporter who capitalizes on a sexy male webcam operator for the sake of a story. While the first of these stories is very compelling, the trio of tales culminates in a harrowingly contrived "slow-motion" crescendo of violence that had me rolling my eyes. However, my eyes were greatly pleased by the sight of lovely Paula Patton, playing the wife of Alexander Skarsgård (whom I recently caught in What Maisie Knew; see next month's blog for more on him). (7)

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2013)—A crime thriller that's divided into three sections. The first, involving a loose-cannon motorcycle impresario-turned-bank-robber, played by Ryan Gosling, is riveting. The second section, about a cop played by Bradley Cooper, is interesting but not nearly as electrifying. The final section, which centers on the respective children of Gosling and Cooper, is flat, boring and not at all believable. How do you grade a movie like this? Like 1987's Full Metal Jacket, better to just watch the first terrific third and then go home. (6)

PAIN & GAIN (2013)—Based on a true story, Mark Wahlberg plays a scumbag con man who teams with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to do a bit of extortion and kidnapping. When their schemes go awry, things get very ugly and bloody, and although a fair amount of it is intended as black comedy, I found it brutal, disgusting and a major turnoff. It's always a joy to see Tony Shaloub, though. (4)

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)—Like the 2009 reboot film, this is a straightforward action flick, with little of the intellectualism or symbolism of the classic Trek series. Still, it's great fun—more like the original Star Wars than the original Star Trek. (9)

THE HORSE WITHOUT A HEAD (1963)—Here's a Disney movie that was shown theatrically overseas but only on Disney's Wonderful World of Color TV show in the States. Based on the book A Hundred Million Francs by Paul Berna, the story is about how a group of slum children with a headless toy horse run afoul of some train robbers. It's an enchanting family picture that I reckon few people have seen. That's a genuine pity, because it does not deserve to be so shrouded in obscurity. Yet this is one of the biggest kicks I have in my movie odyssey: discovering truly entertaining titles that few people actually know about. (9)

IRON MAN 3 (2013)—I adored the original Iron Man, but passed on the theatrical run of Iron Man 2 because of mediocre reviews. I finally caught it, however, in anticipation of last year's Avengers (along with a bunch of other Marvel superhero movies I'd missed) and found that IM2 was enjoyable from start to finish (especially compared to the relatively weak Avengers!). Critics seem to enjoy all of the superhero pictures I hate (i.e., Dark Knight) and hate all the ones I love, so I should probably stop paying attention to anything they say. That being said, reviews for the delightful Iron Man 3 have been surprisingly positive. This one has a great villain, fantastic effects, and the typically hilarious Robert Downey Jr., who is so massively engaging in this series that I'm already breathlessly anticipating the next in the series—it's a shame they haven't used him to such good effect in the Sherlock Holmes films. Caught this one in South Florida with Connie Ogle, whose thumb was raised skyward as well. (10)

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