Monday, January 11, 2010

Recent Reviews--Reader Beware (Extremely Stream of Conscious) Part 3

Here we go. Last batch.

(500) Days of Summer
Almost an inverse reaction to District 9 in that I had a lot more reservations about this film on my initial viewing. I think I said something to the effect of "I don't want to see any more romcoms about white twenty-somethings that rely on their soundtrack as a plot device." That may still be a valid point, but upon subsequent returns, (500) Days of Summer actually continues to rise in my estimation, specifically its screenplay and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's wonderful lead performance. Zooey Deschanel, who I've heard referred to as "just okay" by even ardent fans of the film is quite good here in her role that's a delightful male fantasy. Certainly better than she's receiving credit for. Like Precious, it contains little experiments here and there that are hit or miss, but they add to the film's overall charm. I can't wait to see how Oscar treats it.
Grade: B

The Hurt Locker
Nothing would please me more than to see Kathryn Bigelow ride her legion of critics awards all the way to a best directing Oscar. It would be so satisfying, not only because she'd be the first woman to win but also because she so richly deserves it. The Hurt Locker remains one of my most vivid movie-watching experiences of 2009. After two viewings months apart, it still won't let go. The images, the sounds, the all just lingers with you for so long after you've left the theater. This is one of the best pictures of the year and of the decade.
Grade: A

Funny People
I enjoyed Judd Apatow's first two outings immensely, despite their flaws. Both 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up are funny and entertaining, while being too long, too unfocused and a tad too self-consciously heteronormative. The problem with Funny People is that it has all of the flaws of his earlier work and none of the virtues. I'll admit that I like my films to be on the shorter end (90 to 120 minutes unless they need to be longer). This film has NO business being only twenty minutes shorter than The English Patient. It's so unpleasantly and unevenly misanthropic, with Adam Sandler bearing the bulk of the blame. I get that he and Apatow are friends, but...Sandler is not nearly self-aware or endearing enough as an actor to be in on the joke that is himself. Sorry. The only reason why this film isn't an "F" is because it introduced the world to Raaaaaaaandy.
Grade: D

Whatever Works
So, okay. It's not as good as Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It's a little grating. Patricia Clarkson and Evan Rachel Wood are playing caricatures. But God help me, I didn't think this film was nearly as bad as everyone said it was. It's deeply flawed, even when you compare it to Woody Allen's recent uneven body of work. But I found it pretty damn entertaining. In a lot of ways, it almost felt like an extended episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and not just because of the presence of Larry David. It's not great. But the naysayers really went for the throat on this one and I don't understand all the rage.
Grade: B-

I would say that it's not as funny as Borat, but I'm not even sure that's the problem. Have you rewatched Borat? It doesn't really hold up. What made Borat funny was the fact that, with the exception of the fans of "The Ali G Show," most people were unfamiliar with Sacha Baron Cohen and his antics. It felt fresh and irreverent, where Bruno three years later feels boring and predictable in its attempts to offend. I knew every moment when I was supposed to laugh, but the film (with the exception of one sequence) never quite got me there. It would have probably been smarter to make this film a little sooner. The dust had settled on Borat long before this hit theaters.
Grade: D

An ambitious, meditative sci-fi film that really touches emotionally. Reminiscent of Silent Running, this film falls just short of being the masterpiece that many rabid fans declared it to be. It does boast an impressive, award-worthy turn from Sam Rockwell and left very few dry eyes in the theater by the time the credits were rolling. Oh, and can Kevin Spacey stick to voice acting from here on out? He's never been better.
Grade: B

I get that this documentary sparked a little bit of a celebration in the gay community. I understand that there's something satisfying about the outing of closeted conservative politicians who implement and support hateful, discriminatory legislation by day and suck dick by night. I read all of that. But I found this documentary to be an incredibly facile, reductive exercise in schadenfreude that left a very bad taste in my mouth. I'm against the idea of "outing" people on principle, even in this case and the fact that the film seems so fixated with hurting these men rather than bringing about any real change makes me unable to fully get behind it. It's very similar to how I feel about those who celebrated when Larry Craig got arrested. It's ironic, certainly. But Larry Craig's arrest is hardly a shot-in-the-arm for the gay rights movement.
Grade: C

The Girlfriend Experience
Steven Soderbergh is often more interesting when he's being experimental, with Erin Brockovich being the notable exception. I haven't seen The Informant! so I can't make that assessment this time around, but I found this to be a fascinating outing and one that generated one of the most heated post-movie discussions I've ever been involved in. Adult film star Sasha Grey proves to be little more than a cipher through which Soderbergh is expressing his ideas, but she still manages to eke out a respectable performance.
Grade: B

State of Play
I'm curious to see if the British miniseries is as interminably boring and forgettable as this. It's not a bad film, but I literally forgot that I saw it like a week later. Hasn't Russell Crowe been gaining weight for a role for the past fifteen years or something? Dude, wear it well and own it.
Grade: B-

I saw this in Atlanta on MLK weekend. The most fun I've ever had at the movies where the fun was not derived from the actual movie. Naturi Naughton's performance as Li'l Kim is, believe it or not, worth a revisit to this film. I kind of think she nails it. Too bad about the rest of the film, though.
Grade: C-

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