Monday, January 11, 2010

Recent Reviews--Reader Beware (Extremely Stream of Conscious) Part 2

Here we go again. I've recovered from thinking about Invictus.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Um...what do I even say about this? It's certainly never boring. Nicholas Cage is more watchable than he's been in years. Jennifer Coolidge turns in a specifically plucky and in-your-face supporting turn that, were it any other actress performing in any other film, would surely garner some awards attention. This is a film that commences, already in realms of Bjork eccentricity and crescendoes gradually into full-tilt Brian Wilson insanity. For that, I've got to respect it and I kind of expect no less than Werner Herzog, who I had the pleasure of hearing speak in person after a screening of this film.
Grade: B-

The Road
Gorgeously shot, necessarily slow paced and well-acted. This is a film that was made with such a full understanding of its almost unfilmable source material. I believe that this is the best film that could have been made based on Cormac McCarthy's staggering and beautiful novel. If it can't be my beloved Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) who grabs that fifth best actor slot that seems to be up for grabs, then I'm totally pulling for Viggo Mortensen who is wonderful here. Kodi Smit-McPhee also impresses, sidestepping the usual cliches of child acting. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis's dark, foreboding score brought tears to my eyes. Is this a perfect film? No. Far from it. I could have done without the beefing up of Charlize Theron's part, not because I have anything against her, nor because it's so untrue to the novel, but because it's so unnecessary. It is, however, a solid film. Certainly more worthy of the zero conversation its generating.
Grade: B+

While not terrible, it stinks to high heaven of unrealized potential, even if you don't hold it up against the beautiful Danish original. It's on Netflix watch instantly. Check it out. I'm not a Tobey Maguire fan. At all. I find him to be incredibly blank and corpse-like as an actor. That being said, I'm fully willing to admit that my bias against him may be clouding my judgment, but I did not understand one note of his performance here. He's so shrill on one end and vacant on the other, beyond the requirements of the role in both cases. Natalie Portman is already behind an 8 ball, miscast as a small town, all-American former cheerleader/ war widow. I'll give her that. But she brings few notes to the table. Jake Gyllenhaal tries his best, but ultimately suffers from lack of a good script/good screen partners to play off of. Props to young Bailee Madison, who plays Portman and Maguire's oldest daughter with shocking aplomb and believability. But she's not enough to save the film.
Grade: C+

Up in the Air
I've already spoken about this film briefly. It's very well-made. Polished seems to be the word that comes to mind. It's also superbly acted. This is one of the few cases in recent memory where I'm legitimately behind the Oscar buzz for every performer. Especially the women. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are fantastic. But the best of the year talk...I'm just not there. Sorry. I enjoyed it, certainly. But it's not a game-changer by any stretch of the imagination. Outside of the aforementioned performances, I seldom think about any specific aspects of Up in the Air less than two months later. The way it sidesteps addressing job loss and the recession in any sort of meaningful way is a bit of a headscratcher, as is its need to spend some twenty minutes at the wedding of two characters who we don't know or care anything about. That being said, it's a good, if over-praised film. Not nearly as great as its lovers would have you believe. Not nearly as bad as its haters would have you believe. A very pleasant movie-going experience. I certainly smiled.
Grade: B

Paranormal Activity
Grade: D

Julie & Julia
What a complete trifle of a film, even when you take into account Streep's enjoyable and overly praised performance. I cannot even remember the last time I violently disliked such a seemingly innocuous film. The Julia Child portion of the film is fine (and that's being generous). Streep is good (as usual) and she has some seriously heartwarming chemistry with Stanley Tucci. If Tucci's getting Oscar buzz, fine but why couldn't it have been for this instead of The Lovely Bones? The Julie Powell portion of the film is absolutely atrocious in a way that every review that says so can't possibly prepare you for. Seriously, Nora curse my beloved Amy Adams with a character and direction as needlessly hostile as her haircut, force me to watch her be mean to Chris Messina for two hours and then expect me NOT to react with vitriol? Nope. Not going to happen.
Grade: C

Tilda Swinton is absolutely fearless. Only she could take a completely, almost cartoonishly unlikeable character who makes obvious mistake after obvious mistake and make it layered, interesting and modulated. There are so many notes in her performance as the title character that it's practically a symphony. The film is exciting too, if a bit overlong. I leaned forward, I held my breath and I gasped more times than I can remember. Tilda Swinton is exactly the type of actress that we need more of. Someone who doesn't take a project unless she sees that there is something interesting, peculiar and spectacular to do. I said it before and I'll say it again. Tilda Swinton is absolutely, 100% fearless and the fact that she already has an Oscar makes me think the AMPAS voters must have been whacked out on cough-medicine that year or something. Actresses as specifically and startlingly talented as her often go without big laurels. I pray she continues to make movies like this until she's 95.
Grade: B

Capitalism: A Love Story
Michael Moore doesn't make documentaries. Let's drop that pretense now. He makes film editorials. But his films are (usually) so well-made and entertaining that one can often forgive the shaky facts and misleading interviews. Capitalism: A Love Story is (mostly) no exception. It ranks somewhere in the middle of his films. Better than the middling Sicko and the almost abysmal Fahrenheit 9/11, but not quite as good as the wonderful Roger n' Me and the iconic Bowling for Columbine.
Grade: B

District 9

I certainly enjoyed this more when I first saw it, but it has experienced somewhat of a fast fade in my memory. Its allusions to apartheid feel more heavy-handed and obvious in retrospect, but its scenes of well choreographed action still remain a vivid and positive memory. There was certainly no other film like it in 2009 and I'm excited to see what Neil Blomkamp comes up with next.


Part 3 is coming up soon...

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