In Christgauian spirit, instead of full reviews here are some quick and dirty opinions on the latest cinematic fare:
The Fall: Brilliant, original film-making and an excellent juxtaposition of the dark side of film: a suicidal actor (Lee Pace) with fantastical escapism narrates a story about a motley crew of outcasts taking on an evil governor to an idealistic young girl (Catinca Untaru). The performances are pitch perfect and the visuals, filmed on location in a variety of breathtaking locales, house an epic adventure, which form an improbable yet highly effective contrast to the interior struggle of Pace’s paralyzed actor with his condition and his failed romantic relationship. This unique film, helmed by the Indian film director Tarsem Singh (who often goes by just Tarsem) and “presented” by David Fincher and Spike Jonze fuses various genres and ideas so seamlessly that it demands to be seen and enjoyed.
R.H. on The Fall: Beautiful, beautiful film. Breathtaking, visually. The story is a bit weak. But being such a visually stunning film, you want to forgive the movie of all its missteps.
Savage Grace: A highly controversial movie that one cannot help but have an opinion about. The incestuous and extremely unsettling relationship between a divorced mother (Julianne Moore) and her son (Eddie Redmayne) is based on a true story and is likely to dominate the coverage of the film. This development, though expected, is highly unfortunate in that it precludes notice of Moore and Redmayne’s excellent performances. The queasy chemistry they establish, though not something to be relished, is certainly something to be admired as an excellent exercise in craft. Stephen Dillane turns in another disturbing performance as Moore’s estragned alpha male, explorer husband. Director Tom Kalin, imbues the movie with easily overlooked subtext concerning the nature of masculinity and sexuality. Again, the issue of the affair between Moore’s character and her gay son, ultimately grabs much of the attention and overshadows the careful character studies at play in this movie. That is why, I, your humble reviewer, ask that you put aside your own trepidations regarding incest and give this stylish and perfectly made movie a chance.
Wanted: James McAvoy brings his own charm to this film, mainly in that he cannot act without bringing out the humanity in his characters, whether it was as a half-goat, half-man in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or a working class young man in over his head in 2007’s Atonement. Predictably enough, McAvoy cannot “make an action movie that’s actually good” as he told Jon Stewart he aimed to do. The sheer ridiculousness of the plot inspired stifled laughter among my movie watching mate and your humble narrator. Of course, all action movies are ridiculous but Wanted takes it to such high levels and sorely lacks any of the philosophy that made the outrageous stunts of The Matrix so worthwhile that one is left with a naked Angelina Jolie, a sleepwalking Morgan Freeman and lots of bendy bullets but not much of a film.
R.H. on Wanted: Surprisingly, this film is pretty entertaining. The first half is fairly action-packed and funny. It’s a good summer popcorn flick. Very profane and bloody. Is the plot ridiculous? A society of killers worships a loom. You tell me. A fun movie, though.
Hancock: Many viewers, critics included went into the film expecting another pleasing but not excessively demanding genre film from Will Smith. Disappointment set in as they realized that Peter Berg, with his handheld camera close ups and focus on character, is trying to do more with the story than create a few huge digital action set pieces and collect his paycheck. Hancock is easily one of the most severely underrated and exceptionally good superhero movies ever made. This is a movie, that although will clearly make ridiculous amounts of money, will not be fully appreciated by its current audience. Perhaps filmgoers in the future, free from the expectations of viewers today, will be able to appreciate the way Berg makes a character-based superhero movie. Will Smith refuses to rehash the cocky smartass protagonists he has been asked to portray so frequently in films such as Wild Wild West and Men in Black and plays Hancock with the sense of melancholy, turmoil and even humor that the material requires. Sure, there are tonal shifts but such is life; it can be a Shakespearean comedy and a Greek Myth at the same time. Hancock has strains of both and emerges as a severely under-appreciated, very good film that asks the viewer to take a leap of faith into experimental superhero film territory in its finale, those who do will surely be rewarded.
R.H. on Hancock: The critics were mostly right. The first two acts are pretty entertaining. The third though… a wee bit weird. The third act introduces a concept that could easily carry its own full-length, sci-fi/fantasy film. But the ferocious speed at which silly ideas are catapulted at the audience boggles the mind. Even the “villain” that reappears later in the film… Not creepy or disturbing. Just plain annoying. Blame the writers, but blame “actor” Eddie Marsan, as well. Hancock is not as horrendous as the mass of reviews would have you believe. It’s good. But it could have been much, much better.
Get Smart: It’s a funny, mainstream comedy with excellent comic performances from all the players. It is a consistent laugh-maker. Thank whoever (Get Smart TV series co-creator Mel Brooks?) that these type of movies (funny films that are actually good) still exist. – R.H.
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army: Meh. It’s entertaining. But nothing really that great.
The Incredible Hulk: This movie was made to make money. According to press reports, Edward Norton wished to do more with it but was severely limited in his attempts to flesh out the character by Marvel Studios (trying to match their recent success with May’s classy action film Iron Man) who correctly guessed that the average moviegoer would rather see the Hulk smash rather than Bruce Banner brood over his tragic condition. Ang Lee’s original Hulk (2003) was a mixed bag but there was a great film in there somewhere. This iteration of the Hulk story wishes to show you flashy special effects and I suppose, “entertain” the average viewer, which it manages to do to a large degree. Still, one cannot help but wish that the studio bigwigs had given Norton a little bit more freedom to truly show us who Bruce Banner was and not just give the director of The Transporter 2, Louis Letterier, lots of money to blow lots of stuff up.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Continuing the trend of movies simply made to make a buck, this series of reviews shall be concluded with the latest Indiana Jones movie. Harrison Ford is back, the fedora is back and so is the iconic John Williams score. Indy is fighting the communists, represented by Cate Blanchett, who although mired in a quest for world domination are in an odd Plato-like quest to attain ultimate knowledge. There is an unintended tragic nobleness about the culmination of Blanchett’s evil Communist’s quest to solve the mystery of the crystal skulls that led me to care a bit more than your humble reviewer should have, considering that this film featured an action sequence in which the chief protagonists were friendly commie-hating monkeys and then commie-hating ants. Clearly, everyone here is mailing it in, but the movie is not without its small pleasures, such as a bar fight between the greasers and the socs. Shia LeBeouf is an actor that continues to inspire indifference and a stray chuckle or two. The latest Indiana Jones movie accomplishes the goals of its creators, to replicate the adventure films of Spielberg’s earlier days, and more importantly, make everyone a lot of money.
On that slightly depressing and cynical note, I bid you adieu and sincerely hope that you can process the flood of movie criticism unleashed by your humble narrator.