Wednesday, July 18, 2012

a fan's notes: catching up

France's "Une vie de chat" preserved the fleeting, precious felicity of modern-day moviegoing - a rarity these days

I'm back!

Having exhausted all mental energy in April with my (admittedly self-indulgent) tribute to movie dance sequences that no one else cares about, I decided that I needed a respite from the sound of my own voice reverberating in my head.

But that didn't stop me from keeping up with what is euphemistically referred to these days as popular culture. So here are twenty thumbnails of what I saw...

"Snow White and the Huntsman" - A prime example of the aggressive masculinization of modern movies. Even fairy tales aren't safe from testosterone poisoning. Exacerbating matters is Charlize Theron's one-note performance of the wicked queen who intones ad infinitum "Bring her to me!"

"Bernie" - Delicious. The ever-evolving Richard Linklater brings the best of juicy fiction to the sordid true story of an awful woman and the sweet guy she nags into murdering her. Jack Black, Matthew MacConaughey and Shirley MacLaine, as the wealthy old shrew, turn in companionable performances, and isn't it fascinating how, in her career, Shirl has gone from victim to victimizer?

"Modern Family"/"Keeping Up with the Kardashians" - The enthusiasm for ABC's most beloved possession, "Modern Family," evades me. It's strictly a conventional sitcom (boob dad, smart wife, chauvinist granddad, bratty kids) with a new paint job (a couple gays, plus a Latina) for the illusion of topicality. No, the real "modern family" is E!'s "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," a lively sitcom (with Scott and Kourtney playing role-reversed Lucy and Ricky, respectively), disguised as Reality TV. It's the best guilty pleasure going.

"Dark Shadows" - Johnny Depp was once a singlar fringe actor who lived in France and made alt films with intriguing filmmakers. Then, he became a pirate, moved to L.A. and sold out. He's entertaining as hell (and as game as ever) in Tim Burton's take on the cult '70s soap opera, but he's given one gimmicky performance too many (and always for Burton). I just wish he'd go away.

"A Cat in Paris"/"Une vie de chat"- A cat burglar who's literally a cat (actually, he's the feline sidekick of the human thief). Très charmant.

"Magic Mike" - If Burt Reynolds made a male-stripper flick in the 1970s, it would look like this affable Steven Soderbergh concoction. (It even comes replete with the much-reviled Warner logo from the '70s.) Star Channing Tatum, apparently playing himself, is all charisma, and Matthew MacConaughey (again) throws himself with gusto into the role Reynolds might have played.

"Rock of Ages" - Talk about throwing oneself into a role, catch Tom Cruise's revelatory turn in Adam Shankman's musical, a kinda update of "42nd Street." Ditto for Alec Baldwin. Anthony Lane, who is paid by The New Yorker to review movies, complained about the film's characters breaking into song. With influence peddlers so lame, it's no surprise the film musical is stone cold dead.

Lena Dunham- Like most Flavors of the Month, Dunham has been wildly overrated. HBO's recent "Girls," her edgy take on clueless young women of the new millenium who don't even get pleasure from sex, had its moments but, if I absolutely have to watch people having sex, can't they be remotely attractive?

"Moonrise Kingdom"- Wes Anderson being Wes Anderson (read: arch and precious). The critics felt obliged to love it, sight unseen, with the result being a bunch of reviews that make even less sense than the movie itself which (for all its archness and preciousness) is curiously watchable and enjoyable.

"The Amazing Spider-Man"- Amazing? Hardly. It's the same joyless superhero film that Hollywood feels compelled to make for its braindead core audience every few months. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are adorable (up to a point), but once the talented Rhys Ifans was turned into a reptile, I walked out.

"Savages"- Oliver Stone returns to form - impressively - with this sumptuous film lumiere, a delirious, sun-struck stoner film crossed with drug-war darkness. Game performances from Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta and particulary Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch. A movie this good deserves the two socko endings that Stone playfully devised for it.

"The Newsroom"- Aaron Sorkin's witty and urbane dialogue, as alert as ever, is trumped by the bloated, pervading self-importance here. I worked with journalists for 30 years and this HBO series captures them accurately, inadvertently illustrating exactly why I personally liked so few of them.

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"- Like taking a tiny vacation with terrific companions (Dench! Wilton! Smith! Wilkinson! Imrie! Nighy! Pickup!).

"Darling Companion"- Lawrence Kasdan has made his first "old man's" film, a listless ensemble piece in which Kevin Kline trots out his imperious Fraiser Crane schtick (he isn't very good) and in which Elizabeth Moss's trademark odd line readings are revealed to be simply bad line readings (she isn't very good either). But Diane Keaton, as always, is like an old, reliable friend. She redeems the film.

"The Five-Year Engagement"- One those titles you enjoy and then immediately forget. Actually, there are a lot of films like this these days.

"Take This Waltz"- A naggingly flirtatious affair is finally consummated, but is it all a fantasy? We'll never know. This Sarah Polley-directed film benefits mightily from star Michelle Williams' seductive, playful otherness.

"Ted"- Genuinely hilarious and, for once, the token female character (played by Mila Kunis who makes the most of it) is no token. Mark Wahlberg is slyly funny here the way he was in "I ♥ Huckabees," for which he deserved more acclaim.

"To Rome with Love"- Minor but enjoyable. Woody Allen on autopilot. Am I the only one who thinks the Alec Baldwin character makes no sense whatsoever?

"Your Sister’s Sister"- Lynn Shelton's novel take on the ménage à trois. Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt play the (they-don't-)lookalike sisters, one a widow, the other a lesbian; Mark Duplass is the guy who sleeps with both. Yeah, novel.

"The Dictator" - All I remember about this nonentity from provocateur Sasha Baron Cohen is a birth sequence as disgustingly unfunny as it is gratuitous.


Moira Finnie said...

I liked your rundown of films and would love to see "A Cat in Paris" though I agree about Wes Anderson's movies, (except for Rushmore) they seem to be home movies for his cool friends, not for peasants like me. "Snow White and the Huntsman" looked terribly brutal to me in the previews I saw, though I am willing to like the girl power Pixar movie, "Brave", though its reviews seem decidedly mixed, with a problematical heroine though the visuals look glorious. Maybe that means it is "beautiful but dumb?"

Speaking of blogging, I have always been interested in your pointed remarks about newspapers, especially when you write about the differences between movies and reality based on your own work experiences. Have you ever thought of writing a series on newspaper films? I would love to read your comments on such movies as Five Star Final, Blessed Event, Picture Snatcher, Nothing Sacred, Northside 777, Ace in the Hole, -30-, Deadline USA, Scandal Sheet, Come Fill the Cup, Teacher's Pet, Absence of Malice, and The Paper. I'm sure that you could deconstruct the myths and truths in these movies in an insightful and entertaining way. It's just a thought!


joe baltake said...

Thanks, Moira! Yes, someone should do a book of newspaper films, preferrably someone with newspaper experience. It's something to think about. Re such films, I particularly like George Seaton's "Teacher's Pet," featuring Doris Day at her most feminist, and Ron Howard's woefully underrated "The Paper." That film really rang true, particularly the bit about the malcontent newsman stealing the new guy's desk chair. So true! David Fincher's "Zodiac" also has some potent, recognizable newsroom sequences.

Alex said...

Some really acute observations here. I particularly like your description of the "testosterone poisoning that afflicts "Snow White and the Huntsman," a film that I wisely avoided.

Jen said...

Thank you for the outstanding posts!