Sunday, November 03, 2013

September 2013

By the end of September, I had finished watching the first two seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which represents 78 episodes, or roughly 34 hours—the equivalent of 17 two-hour movies. It's been a fun ride; obviously the time I would have spent watching older movies at home has been dramatically compromised. Other TV shows also proved to be a distraction, as Dexter and Breaking Bad wrapped up their final seasons and other current series (Modern Family, Law & Order: SVU, The Simpsons and South Park) made their fall debuts. The bottom line is that I "only" made it to the theater five times in September. Here's what I saw:

SHORT TERM 12 (2013)—Despite some totally unnecessarily scatological talk near the beginning (which almost had me bolting from the theater), this turns out to be a compelling drama about teens battling various demons, including drugs and parental abuse, and trying to come to terms with these issues in a facility for troubled youths. Director Destin Cretton has expanded and recast his 2008 short film to bring his story to a larger audience, and it's a good one. (8)

LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER (2013)—Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, a character based on the real-life story of Eugene Allen, who worked as a butler in the White House from 1952 to 1986, from Eisenhower to Reagan. The movie gives us a look at all the civil rights issues during these times, shows us glimpses of all the presidents during this time period, and provides a peek at Gaines' home life with wife Oprah Winfrey and two sons whose own lives are touched by racial tensions, politics and war. Some of it, like the actual goings-on in the White House, are interesting, but when the action shifts to Cecil's marriage with Winfrey, I got very bored. (6)

ENOUGH SAID (2013)—Writer-director Nicole Holofcener, who captured my attention with the 2010 sleeper Please Give, returns with a surprisingly conventional romantic comedy starring James Gandolfini (who died after filming) and Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Holofcener has a wonderful ear for dialogue, and her film contains an acceptable amount of comedy and good performances from the leads (as well as from Toni Collette and perpetual Holofcener actress Catherine Keener), but it doesn't have anything like the originality or freshness of Please Give. Even so, it's much better than the average Hollywood romcom, clever without being truly exceptional. (8)

DON JON (2013)—I have always enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an actor; he's very memorable in movies like 500 Days of Summer and Looper. Now he's back on screen as a triple threat—writing, directing and starring in Don Jon (originally titled Don Jon's Addiction), about a bartender who really enjoys watching porn on his computer. Even though Jon is fit and good-looking—and can get virtually any lady he sets his eyes on—for a variety of reasons he still prefers watching and masturbating to dirty movies over having sex with a woman. Then Scarlett Johansson enters his life. She's a beautiful blonde bombshell who becomes his first very real prospect for a long-term relationship. When she discovers his secret passion for all things X-rated, though, their relationship is threatened. Or did Jon just dodge a bullet? What's interesting about the film is where the story goes from that point forward, with the introduction of a character played by Julianne Moore (who is about 20 years older than Gordon-Levitt), and the revelation that aspects of Johannson's character may be more troublesome than Jon's interest in dirty movies. Don Jon held my interest throughout, and is one of the few mainstream movies that's honest about how and why men love to watch pornography without totally tsk-tsking it. Although she only has a small role, this is the third movie I've seen in the past two months to feature the gifted actress Brie Larson—although used sparingly in this film, she is remarkable in both The Spectacular Now and Short Term 12. Note to self: I still need to see Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush. (9)

PRISONERS (2013)—This 2½-hour-long movie about a cop (always reliable Jake Gyllenhaal) who tries to track down two kidnapped little girls feels like 3½ hours and needs to be much, much shorter. It contains a respectable amount of tension, suspense and action, but it also meanders and contains way too many super-slow parts for my liking. It doesn't help that I had basically figured out the solution to the mystery about halfway through. A fairly good thriller that could have and should have been much better with more editing. Some people were complaining about the somewhat sly and subtle ending, but I rather liked it. Melissa Leo is a standout. (8)

Currently playing in theaters that I hope to catch in October: Rush, The Dirties, Gravity, Elysium and You're Next. And opening in the weeks ahead: The Fifth Estate, Carrie, Great Expectations, Captain Phillips and Machete Kills. They're all on my to-do list.

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