Friday, October 03, 2014

September 2014

Of the ten movies I'm about to report on, nine were viewed in September. (Somehow I forgot to include Happy Christmas in a recent month—it wasn't that memorable.) September was also the month I made my way through the run of Frasier (just finished Season Two), binged on the hilarious 2005 HBO series The Comeback, starring Lisa Kudrow, and finally watched The Chisholms, an outstanding 1979 Western miniseries starring Robert Preston of The Music Man fame. Also, a number of my regular current TV series (Simpsons, SVU, Modern Family, South Park) returned for their fall premieres this month. In other news, I finished listening to the 15th Travis McGee audiobook by John D. MacDonald (Pale Grey for Guilt) and started reading the print version of Children of Light by H.L. Lawrence. It was also the month that the staff of my magazine traveled to Lake Havasu City, AZ, for our latest series of boat tests. Here were the movies I saw:

HAPPY CHRISTMAS (2014)—Happily married new parents Kelly and Kevin (Melanie Lynskey and Mark Webber) welcome his irresponsible, self-centered sister (Anna Kendrick) into their home, and come to regret it—although likeable enough as a person, she makes a horrific roommate. I wish I could say that this is a redemption story, but she doesn't grow up as much as I would have liked in the course of the movie. Melanie Lynskey is the film's best asset. (7)

HE LOVES ME...HE LOVES ME NOT (2002)—My friend Merf recommended this, as we're both fans of Audrey Tautou's Amélie. This was her follow-up movie from the following year, an intriguing thriller from two different perspectives involving a married man's involvement with a pretty young woman. Very well done, although the ending seemed very rushed—it should actually have been about 10-15 minutes longer! (9)

IN SECRET (2013)—Although Émile Zola's 1867 novel Thérèse Raquin has been filmed numerous times, this was my first encounter with the story, which involves an extramarital affair, betrayal, murder, insanity...those kinds of things. It's enjoyable enough, but evidently there was quite a bit more to the original story (which I'd like to experience via the 1980 BBC adaptation starring Kate Nelligan, which I subsequently downloaded). Elizabeth Olsen is fine as Thérèse, but it's Jessica Lange who really shines as her mother-in-law. Very good costumes, sets, makeup, etc. (8)

MY OLD LADY (2014)—This one seemed like a surefire winner for me. With a stellar cast (Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas) and a promising story (Kline inherits an apartment building from his father, but can't do anything about it until tenant Maggie Smith dies), I was expecting a light, possibly even moving comedy-drama. Alas, the movie is a bit of a plodding, unfocused mess. It has its modest charms, but overall I found it mostly forgettable, although the performers try. Kristin Scott Thomas is always very lovely to look at. (6)

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (2014)—I had the opposite problem with Woody Allen's latest comedy; critics roundly dismissed Magic in the Moonlight, so I was prepared for one of his fourth-rate efforts (Hollywood Ending, Anything Else). Though it isn't quite as strong as some of his recent efforts (Blue Jasmine, To Rome With Love), it's a perfectly enjoyable, if lightweight, comedy-romance featuring Emma Stone and Colin Firth. (8)

THE GUEST (2014)—What an astonishing transformation Dan Stevens has made since starring in Downton Abbey! Ripped and amazingly buff, Stevens plays a soldier back from Afghanistan who visits the parents of a slain buddy of his. They open their house to him and...well, let's just say this fellow isn't all he appears to be. Most of this movie is extremely absorbing and exciting...but the last 20 minutes disappoints as it gradually veers off into Friday the 13th territory. Very hard to grade this, as I would award the first 80-90 minutes a 9, and the last 20 get a 4. So...I guess I'll grade this a (7) overall.

DOPAMINE (2003)—I was interested in this because its lovely female star, Sabrina Lloyd, appeared in my all-time favorite TV series, the romantic Sports Night, created by Aaron Sorkin. Here she plays a schoolteacher who finds love with a computer-animation expert played by John Livingston. It's sort of a Sundance Channel quasi-alternative version of a romcom; it doesn't have much to recommend it aside from the good performances. Not bad, but could have been much better. (7)

THE SACRAMENT (2013)—This found-footage horror movie is about a trio of documentary filmmakers who attempt to film the goings-on at a remote jungle community headed up by a religious fanatic with a Southern drawl and a bit of a God complex. Things go very, very badly in a Jonestown way. The movie often moves at a snail's pace, which caused me to watch a sizable portion at 1.5x speed—how I wish there were a 3x speed on my iPad). Some of it is thrilling and suspenseful, but not nearly enough. Having the principals all cast as documentary filmmakers solves the problem of so many of these found-footage films, where you're wondering why ordinary people would continue filming when their lives are in danger...but this movie seems to throw away the conceit in the last 15 or so minutes altogether. Weird. Another movie that's very hard to grade, as it's all over the map. (6)

RUSH (2013)—Finally, after suffering through numerous so-so movies, I finally got to preview a genuine winner. Ron Howard's biographical movie focuses on the real-life rivalry of race-car drivers James Hunt (Chris "Thor" Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (terrific Daniel Brühl), who both vie for the 1976 Formula One championship across Europe. Supposedly the rivalry was exaggerated a bit for the silver screen, but it doesn't matter—it's a very lively and involving drama, and mostly true (according to the real-life Lauda). (9)

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