Sunday, June 01, 2014

May 2014

It was time to start binge-watching another TV series, and this month I finally succumbed to Parks and Recreation after a massive recommendation by Connie. (I am currently halfway through Season 3, and enjoying it immensely.) Into all this binging I crammed eight movies, half of which are first-run. We'll start with those. I'm happy to report that this was a far more successful movie-choosing month than April!

DOM HEMINGWAY (2014)—Jude Law plays against type in this black comedy about an tough, safe-cracking ex-con who served time in jail after refusing to rat out his gangster boss. Once free, he and his friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant) pay a visit to the big boss (Demián Bichir) to get his reward. It's a mesmerizing tale, aided tremendously by Law's tour-de-force performance—and it even turns into a bit of a redemption story to boot. No two ways about it...this was electrifying! (10)

DRAFT DAY (2014)—I'm not a big sports fan, but even so, this story of how the general manager of the Cleveland Browns chooses and shapes his forthcoming season's team is a wildly entertaining one. The dream cast includes Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Sam Elliott and Ellen Burstyn. The movie is like watching a wonderfully intense chess game, and there's a delightfully satisfying conclusion. For my money, this was even better than the baseball-themed Moneyball, a similar film that downplays the on-field action and focuses on the game behind the scenes. (10)

CHEF (2014)—Halfway through Chef, about the journey the title character takes as he sets out to reinvent himself from kitchen chef to food-truck hotshot, I braced myself for the big conflict I knew would be coming. Surprisingly, none comes. By the time Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) gets his rusty old food truck and starts about refurbishing it and inventing his menu of Cuban sandwiches, any big conflicts are taken off the table, and the audience is left with the energy, enthusiasm and star power of the great cast, which includes a miscast but still impossibly sexy Sofia Vergara. Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr., Oliver Platt, Scarlett Johansson and John Leguizamo are some of the other superb performers in this fun, ramshackle comedy—which is also a wonderful advertisement for the closest available restaurant. (9)

GODZILLA (2014)—Viewers looking for an excellent horror flick about a city-destroying monster are urged to check out Cloverfield. I saw the updated Godzilla only a couple of weeks ago, and already I remember almost nothing about it. Undaunted, I remain excited for next year's Jurassic World! (4)

GIMME SHELTER (2014)—Here's one that came and went pretty quickly through theaters back in January. Apple Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical) proves she's got outstanding acting chops in this film about the mistreated daughter of a drug-addled prostitute (Rosario Dawson) who tries to connect with the father she never knew (Brendan Fraser) and ultimately connects with members of a home for pregnant teenage girls. This is the kind of setup we've seen in Lifetime TV movies, but it gets big-screen credibility from actors like the great James Earl Jones. I was quite moved by Apple's harrowing plight and life decisions—this is a movie about growing up and coming through hard times, and you'd have to have a heart of stone if it doens't resonate with you. (9)

GONE (2012)—This thriller casts Amanda Seyfried as a former kidnap victim whose sister is spirited away by the same nutcase. Or is Seyfried the real nutcase? That's what detectives suspect. A neat, twisty drama that's pretty high on far-fetchedness, but fairly suspenseful at the same time. An acceptable time-killer. (8)

ADORE (2013)—No matter what you think about this weird, soapy melodrama, you have to admit few other filmmakers would attempt to tell a story quite like it. Friends since childhood, Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) live on the coast of Australia; they both have young, strapping sons who by turns take a romantic shine to each other's mums...and that's putting it as politely as possible. The sort-of incestuous plot may turn some viewers' stomachs—or at least strike most people as laughably inane. The movie really divided critics, half of whom loved the gorgeous scenery and provocative story, while half though it was cheesy and preposterous. In the word of my friend Joan, I "just kind of went along with it." (8)

HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953)—It's the fifties, and everybody is smoking cigarettes like crazy, baby! Ugh, get me out of this smokestack. Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe look lovely in a trifle about how three models (including Betty Grable, a little long in the tooth by 1953) rent a luxury flat in Manhattan to help them lure rich husbands. Pleasant, dated and predictable, with a couple of ingenious in-jokes, including Bacall's hilarious reference to her then-husband ("I've always liked older men... Look at that old fellow what's-his-name in The African Queen. Absolutely crazy about him"). This would have undoubtedly played better on the big screen. (8)

THE BAND WAGON (1953)—Speaking of seeing old movies on the big screen, Jay and I caught this chestnut at Palo Alto's Stanford Theatre revival house (very likely the last time we'll ever see a film there, as he just moved to San Jose). Fred Astaire plays a washed-up movie actor who accepts an opportunity to headline a Broadway musical along with an up-and-coming ballet dancer (Cyd Charisse), and the sparks start to fly. After the musical-within-the-movie flops, the cast pulls itself together for a major rewrite and hits big with its second effort. There's some good comedy and several wonderful songs, but the movie goes into a tailspin with an interminable Mickey Spillane spoof that bored me to tears. Fortunately, as soon as that's over, the film regains its footing; even so, I was left feeling more than a little off-put by the idea that the cast's reconstructed musical could have ever been such a colossal hit, given its flimsy excuse for a story. However, in a month where Godzilla is poised to become one of the year's biggest moneymakers, I suppose audiences don't really give a damn about great stories. (8)