Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Film Week

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

CENTURION (2009)
Neil Marshall directed this movie about a Roman soldier (Michael Fassbender) stuck behind enemy lines, trying to lead a group of survivors back to Hadrian's Wall. It's like a pulp adventure--painted in broad strokes of life and death, very gory, with a group of likable characters in peril. Not quite the equal of the director's The Descent, but very, very entertaining. I especially dug David Morrissey and Liam Cunningham as two of the Roman soldiers, and Olga Kurylenko is surprisingly badass as the Brigantine tracker hunting them down. ***1/2 stars.

DORIAN GRAY (2009)
Very engrossing take on Oscar Wilde's novel, which turns the original story into something of a horror movie, but grabbed my attention and never let go of it. Ben Barnes is very good as Dorian--he seems all too happy to sink into moral decay--but the real star of the movie is Colin Firth as the friend who leads him there. Firth is perfect in this movie; deceptively casual when discussing what one should experience, then locking those eyes on Dorian in a commanding way that's almost terrifying. He can be a riveting actor when given a meaty role, and here is at his best. Good acting turns also from Ben Chaplin and my always lovely Rachel Hurd-Wood. A very atmospheric movie that's one of the best modern gothic horror movies I've seen in a while. **** stars.

EASY VIRTUE (2008)
Colin Firth again, this time as the bored patriarch of a very frivolous family in this adaptation of Noel Coward. I'm not the world's biggest Coward fan, but this movie really worked for me because, despite all of the farcical humor and bouncy editing--creative use of music, too--it took the characters and their concerns seriously. Jessica Biel is the best I've ever seen her as the American widow who shockingly marries--on impulse--a younger, immature man (Ben Barnes) who is supposed to take over the running of a crumbling estate. Kristen Scott Thomas has fun as the boy's horrified mother. Beautiful costumes. ***1/2 stars.

HEIDI (1937)
This is only the second movie I've seen with a non-teenage Shirley Temple, but I've liked them both (the other was Wee Willie Winkie, by John Ford). Granted, I haven't seen any of her full-blown musicals, but I'm surprised by how much I like her as a screen presence. Also, after watching this movie, I'm surprised I never noticed before how many elements are shared by Heidi and The Secret Garden. This is a handsome movie about a likable child played by a likable actor. ***1/2 stars.

MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA (2008)
This is a prime example of the kind of DreamWorks movie I tend to hate--built around the unfunny comic persona of an unfunny comic actor (Ben Stiller here), coupled with references to other movies, a midlife crisis and incredibly ugly character design. I've seen some of the concept art for the Madagascar characters, and it is surprisingly delightful; in action, in blocky computer animation, it's hard to look at for too long. Like the first movie, the only real laughs come from the lemurs and the penguins, who have a bigger role here. I don't like these movies. I just don't. * star.

TINKER BELL AND THE GREAT FAIRY RESCUE (2010)
Pretty, gentle, and nice, like the first two. Great character design, and here the other fairies get more to do than in the last one. I don't have much to say about it--these movies don't inspire much comment. They're just enjoyable and pleasant and then they're gone. *** stars.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)
Supremely boring remake of a horror classic. Typically, it's just an action movie with no characterization, no crescendos, and no tone. It's just there and it is fucking tedious. No stars.

PIRANHA 3D (2010)
Okay, this movie starts with Richard Dreyfuss in a cap and denim jacket, fishing in a boat and singing "Show Me the Way to Go Home" before being killed by a school of prehistoric piranha. Yeah, it's that kind of movie, and it is awesome. I loved this flick. It just unselfconsciously embraces what it is: a goofy, bloody horror pic with nudity and kids in peril and lots and lots of creative gore (KNB outdoes itself here). And finally, a filmmaker who appreciates Kelly Brook's body as much as I do. About damn time. I almost didn't want this movie to end, I was enjoying it so much. Based purely on how much fun I was having, **** stars.

RAMONA AND BEEZUS (2010)
A sweet movie that updates Ramona's world, but not her outlook on life. It's interesting to see a movie about kids that can be emotionally genuine without having to drag it down to the obvious and vulgar. It's not earthshaking, but it's so pleasant and reassuring, even as Ramona is dealing with being an outsider, making mistakes, nearly losing her home, and worrying about her parents' jobs and marriage. A great deal of this is due to Joey King, the little girl who plays Ramona. She is just wonderful. She's so good in this movie that I will be seriously miffed if they don't find a way to adapt other Ramona novels for her. She's so natural and charming, not at all the annoying little monster that could so easily be plugged into the role. The supporting cast is pretty charming, too, especially John Corbett (who I don't always like) as Ramona's father, and the wonderful Selena Gomez as her older sister Beezus. *** stars.

MACHETE (2010)
At one point in his career, Robert Rodriguez would've knocked this out of the park. Now, it's just another one of his throwaways that isn't as much fun as it should be, seems to have no real effort put into it, and tries too hard to be cool without earning it. And it's also a good reminder of just how bad an actress Jessica Alba really is. Anyway, I love Danny Trejo, and he was fun as hell as Machete Cortez, but... hell, it's not even really worth talking about, is it? Some of the cast is pretty good--Jeff Fahey, in particular--and some of the cast really sucks. Lindsay Lohan? Please. It's another pathetic reminder that all of her talent went up her nose and that her only great role was completely due to Tina Fey's writing. Lindsay plays a strung out wannabe nude model--basically, herself. I wonder if she even remembers she made this movie, or if they just dragged her around and told her what to say. Good gore, and Tom Savini's role isn't nearly big enough, but Rodriguez doesn't know how to pull off a third act anymore. Nice to see the Crazy Babysitter Twins, but most of the stunt casting is just distracting. **1/2 stars.

4 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

I'll always have a warm spot in my heart for Ramona and Beezus because it was the 1st movie I took my daughter to that we BOTH actually liked! As I described HERE.

Kal said...

I liked Dorian Gray very much too. It was terrific watching it all fall apart for him and played up the horror angle more than most of the adaptations do. If you like that I would recommend 'Franklyn' which for some reason I think of when I think of 'Dorian Gray'

I adored Ramona and Beezus because of Joey King. It was sweet and real and she didn't have all the answers like all child characters seem to have these days.

You were dead on about Pirahna and Machete. I enjoyed them both but the latter left my brain the minute I left the theatre.

another good week of reviews.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I've always thought DORIAN GRAY was a horror story. The first time I ever saw a version of it, a TV adaptation in the late 1950s with a horror make-up by Dick Smith, it scared the crap out of me. I included an essay on the 1945 movie version in my book, THE Q GUIDE TO CLASSIC MONSTER MOVIES.

I'm glad to hear the new version is good. I'll check it out. I've been rereading the book, since someone gave me a copy for my birthday. Mind you, as a 60th birthday present, it's kind of like: "What are they trying to tell me?"

If you've never been a big fan of Sir Noel Coward, then you haven't seen his work done right. He was a genius, the master of everything. Seeing the mediocre movie of Private Lives doesn't communicate how great the play is. But seeing Maggie Smith star in it on stage, as I did back in 1974, let's you see how brilliant it is. His play Hay Fever is one of the great comedies.

Or watch his film In Which We Serve, which is certainly not a comedy, but shows his command as an actor, as a writer, and as a director. Coward requires an absolute mastery of a very strict style, which is often beyond American performers. And no one, not even Tom Lehrer, wrote better comedy songs. And his ballads, like "I'll See You Again" and "Someday I'll Find You" are great.

When Coward played Vegas in the 1950s, Frank Sinatra told every one: "You want to see how a song should be sung, go see Noel Coward." I have CDs of Coward singing his own songs that I love.

The day Noel Coward died, I was at a college friend's home. While she was in the kitchen, a news break came on announcing his death. When my friend returned from the kitchen, she found me in tears. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"Noel Coward just died." I replied.

She then said: "Who's Noel Coward?" That was pretty much the end of that relationship.

SamuraiFrog said...

Roger: I remember reading the post when you first had it up; it made me more resolved to see the movie, knowing someone who enjoyed it.

Kal: I'll have to check out Franklyn; I've not heard of it.

I look very much forward to seeing Joey King in more movies (and Selena, of course).

You know, I've never read a Beverly Cleary book, but now I want to...

Tallulah: That does explain a lot; I thought the movie of Private Lives was dreadfully dull. I've not had the opportunity to see his work performed. I'll have to start, I think, with reading some of his works. It's a step. And I'm due for a trip to the library this weekend.