Wednesday, February 05, 2014

January 2014

This month I finished my marathon viewing of Alfred Hitchcock Presents—268 half-hour episodes. (Time will tell if I leap into the three seasons of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which represents another 93 total hours of viewing.) Undeniably, all of this binge-watching has cut into my movie watching, but I did squeeze in a few feature films in January, as well as one digital download.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES (2014)—The ghost-story series that began with 2007's creepy original Paranormal Activity has been followed by several sequels, and now this offshoot series, which features a largely Latino cast. This movie, as we learn, runs more or less concurrently with the first film, except it isn't nearly as spooky or scary as that one. In The Marked Ones, a guy videotapes everything going on around him as evidence mounts that various people in the barrio—including his best friend—appear to become supernaturally possessed. It's a mild entertainment for diehard fans of the series. (7)

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013)—Prescription-drug addict Meryl Streep hosts various relatives and in-laws at her sweltering Oklahoma house after husband Sam Shepard has drowned. As the funeral comes and goes, the family—including daughters Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson—argue, curse, fight, hurl insults, spit vitriol and occasionally manage to eat what little food from plates that aren't thrown against the walls in bitter fits of rage. As you can imagine, it's a very dramatic movie, with some splendid acting from all concerned as many life-altering secrets emerge over the course of this shaky family reunion. Adapted from a play that apparently runs much longer than this two-hour version. I missed this movie at the end of 2013 and was glad to finally catch it in the theater before it left. Streep and Roberts have both been nominated for Oscars for their searing performances. Highly recommended. (9)

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)—I have no distinct memories of ever having seen a Jack Ryan movie, although it's likely I saw The Hunt for Red October when it was released in 1990. I'm not a fan of spy/CIA movies, as I find them fairly confusing and am prone to avoid them. (I don't generally follow James Bond for the same reason.) But this installment (based on Tom Clancy's character rather than one of his actual novels) was made by Paramount Pictures, and therefore a free screening at the studio was where I wound up. Turns out Jack Ryan, directed by Kenneth Branagh, isn't particularly hard to follow; its failure is that it's massively farfetched. The first in the series to feature Chris Pine as Ryan (he was also Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot), we see the character's origin story and follow him first on a mission that takes him to the Kremlin to thwart a kind of economic terrorist event, then back to the USA to stop a terrorist's bomb from going off. Ryan is almost supernatural in his ability to merely peer at a computer screen or a New York street and magically pinpoint where the evil is located. It's a total popcorn movie that is packaged with a pounding soundtrack that constantly screams: "THIS IS THE SUSPENSEFUL PART!" (7)

TOMORROW NIGHT (1998)—Produced 16 years ago, Louis C.K.'s pet project finally sees the light of day this month via digital download on Louie's web page. The low-budget effort, filmed in striking black and white, answers the question: "What if Woody Allen had directed Eraserhead?" Financed by, and featuring, many of Louie's standup-comedy buddies, it's a very bizarre and cringeworthy—yet occasionally hilarious—movie about the loathsome owner of a photo-processing store (Chuck Sklar) who has a sexual fetish involving ice cream. Some of the funny people who show up, at least briefly, include Robert Smigel, Steve Carell, Todd Barry, J.B. Smoove, Wanda Sykes, Conan O'Brien and, very briefly indeed, Louie himself. (Amy Poehler is also fleetingly viewed with Louie in their brief scene together, and it's one of the movie's true laugh-out-loud jokes.) Fans of writer-director Louis C.K. are encouraged to check it out; others are likely to find themselves scratching their heads. Wholly original but quite weird. (8)

LABOR DAY (2014)—This romantic drama could easily pass for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Hunky escaped convict Josh Brolin takes depressed single mom Kate Winslet hostage (kind of) and the two hit it off—as if that would ever happen in real life. While the film has received an avalanche of lukewarm notices, Joan and I accepted the implausibilities of the story and enjoyed it despite a pretty but ultimately distracting soundtrack. Acceptably entertaining, although it's advisable to not think too much about the storyline too closely afterwards. From a novel by Joyce Maynard, who is famous for once having an affair with reclusive writer J.D. Salinger. (8)