Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (2010)
Slightly disappointing (though I recognize that I'm willing to forgive Oliver Stone a lot). Stone spends the first hour meticulously setting up an interesting revenge/redemption drama set against the beginning of the economic collapse in 2008. Shia LaBeouf is better than usual (damn you, DreamWorks, for killing this boy's talent--oh, and alcohol, too) as a young trader whose mentor (Frank Langella, excellent in a small role) loses everything in a bubble burst engineered by an old enemy (Josh Brolin). LaBeouf is also engaged to an activist (Carey Mulligan, whose appeal in roles not written by Stephen Moffat I still don't see) whose father, the legendary Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, still got it when he wants to use it), has just gotten out of prison and is looking in from the outside. Gekko is out for revenge, too, and he and LaBeouf find themselves with a common purpose and the right economic climate to make it work. Unfortunately, the movie then becomes a melodrama that's less interested in giving our economic system the savage exposing it desperately needs, and more interested in family drama and identifying villains instead of hacking at the root of a systemic problem. Either Stone's not as sharp as he was 20 years ago, or he's less interested. The best scene in the movie is an uncredited cameo by Charlie Sheen, reprising his role from the original. That's the real commentary: Gordon Gekko went to prison, and Bud Fox got rich doing the same thing he helped bust Gekko for. The real comment on the original Wall Street is that young people took away the wrong message; instead of heeding Stone's warnings about economic ruin, they made Gordon Gekko a hero and tried to emulate him. There's a movie to be made there that's sharper than this one. Still, *** stars. Stone uses lots of David Byrne music, it's beautifully photographed, the cast is mostly good (I still love seeing Eli Wallach when I do), and it's entertaining enough.

THE STEPFATHER (2009)
Like the original, what might have been an interesting premise is hampered by weak scripting and lots of padding. The original only kept me watching through it because Terry O'Quinn, in the lead role, was compelling and endlessly watchable. This one had Amber Heard in a lot of different bikinis. Maybe I'm getting old, but great acting is more exciting to me. Dylan Walsh, as this movie's stepfather, is actually not bad--he's not O'Quinn, but he's serviceable--but the movie starts playing with the "something's off about this guy" feeling way, way too early to make anything that happens surprising or exciting. ** stars.

JUST THE TWO OF US (1975)
This film is awful, dull, badly-acted, stupidly-handled, and is not the exploitation flick it claims to be. It's heavy-handed about lesbianism, it's not fun to watch, and even at 74 minutes it feels incredibly long. But the real horror? The 1970s home decor. That was just a nightmare to look at. No stars. Barely a movie.

AVALON HIGH (2010)
A girl with Arthurian scholar parents becomes convinced that her new school's star football player is the reincarnation of King Arthur. Cute movie with a pretty cast (Molly Quinn, from Castle, is absolutely made for close-ups) and some fun misdirection; not a classic, but for a Disney Channel movie, it's pretty good. Forgettable, as it turns out, and totally inconsequential, but pretty good. **1/2 stars.

THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES (1969)
From the long, long Disney era when every amazing thing that ever happens is used to either thwart gamblers or aid a school somehow. This one does both, as college student Kurt Russell gets a computerized brain, goes on a college quiz show, and is kidnapped by gambler Cesar Romero. Always nice to see William Schallert! But this movie, ouch. ** stars.

LITTLE DARLINGS (1980)
Surprising. Two teenage girls (Kristy McNichol and Tatum O'Neal) go to camp and, desperate to fit in with a gaggle of girls who have frivolous, silly ideas about how casual sex is, end up in a contest to see who can lose their virginity first. It suffers from an uncertainty about the approach; the filmmakers feel compelled to try and make it a goofy camp comedy a la Meatballs, and at the same time clearly want the film to be even more exploitative than they can get away with in a movie about 15 year-old girls. But there are some later scenes which are excellent and well-acted, in which both of the girls reach the culmination of their bet and react in surprising ways. Kristy McNichol's journey into womanhood is fascinating, as is her reaction to losing her virginity and realizing just how incredibly frivolous those girls who think sex is no big deal really are. If the movie had coupled its refreshing frankness about teen sexuality with a more organic approach to the story and less forced comedy, it really would've been an excellent movie about coming of age. What a missed opportunity. **1/2 stars.

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