Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Film Week

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

Surprising and wonderful. Like Melancholia, it's another film that uses a science fiction idea (in this case, the discovery of a second Earth) to quietly explore ideas of connection and loneliness. Brit Marling is excellent as a girl who has served time for accidental manslaughter; she killed a child and a pregnant woman in a car accident, and now finds herself unable and unwilling to live up to her once-promising potential. She purposefully puts herself in a position to become part of the life of the man whose family she destroyed (a very good performance by William Mapother, who I'd like to see in a lot more movies), hoping to make things better for him and maybe redeem herself, but without owning up to her identity (her records were sealed because she was underage when the accident occurred, so he never found out who she was). The way they come together is understated and beautiful; what happens after is perhaps inevitable, but I really respect the way the movie approaches its major confrontation and the main points I took away from it--that you can't run away and hide from your problems, and that redemption only begins when we can forgive ourselves--without once lapsing into sentimentality. The haunting image of a second Earth always in the sky beautifully underscores the film's urgency. One of the year's best movies. **** stars.

Woody Allen succeeds here in making a somewhat obvious observation about nostalgia and romanticism, but in a whimsical sort of way. I like that Woody Allen is one of a very few directors who can handle magic realism anymore (less of the audience seems to understand it with each passing year), and the device of a frustrated writer entering a cab and going back in time to meet the luminaries he so adores is an interesting idea; it's sort of the reverse of The Purple Rose of Cairo. Not one of Allen's best (what is, anymore?), but very likable. *** stars.

I ultimately found this movie unsatisfying. Elizabeth Olsen is excellent as a woman who has lived with a cult up in the Catskills, and retreats to her sister and brother-in-law but cannot shake the feeling that somewhere, somehow, the cult is going to find her and steal her back. We see two narrative tracks--Martha's attempt to rejoin society, where she is not met with the most loving reception; and her time with the cult, where they renamed her Marcy May. Ultimately, the movie is about a young woman who is lost between two worlds. In the cult, she was abused and witnessed a murder, but she was also cared for and part of what she sees as a positive attempt to live off the land without modern society dictating her life. She obviously needed to feel she belonged somewhere, and this cult and its charismatic leader (compellingly played by John Hawkes) fulfilled that need before going too far for her to go along with them. She misses them as much as she fears being brought back. Meanwhile, in the world of her sister's materialism, she's cut off. Her sister is only willing to put up with so much, only willing to go so far to help her, not willing to truly inconvenience herself in the name of family. What do you do when one family is doing something truly wrong but loves you, and the other family is emotionally distant? Still, I wish the movie had dug deeper into Martha's psyche; Elizabeth Olsen plays her well, but I wanted to know more about the cult and about what she was going through. It doesn't really commit to being either a character drama or a thriller, and as a result I think it's just too understated for its own good. **1/2 stars.

HALL PASS (2011)
You remember how bad the trailers were? It's even more annoying than that. Two schlubs (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) get a week off from marriage from their shrew wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate), with predictable, unfunny results. Owen Wilson's whole role is basically "Waaah! My wife won't have sex with me! Waaah! I can't get laid by anyone else because I'm such a loser! Waaah! I want my comfortable routine back! Waaah! I learned nothing but I'm not going to complain and be a stereotype anymore, or something!" No stars. Not only shit, but pointless shit. Why did anyone even bother making this?

Lifetime movie about the bitchiest students you'd ever want to punch in the neck. I basically watched it because Ashley Benson is the ringleader of the girls, who basically run rampant over the school, terrorizing anyone and doing what they want, simply because her mother (Tatum O'Neal) is the principal. Typically overdramatic, but surprisingly more realistic than Mean Girls about how bitchy teenage girls can be. It also made me wish teachers could still use corporal punishment. ** stars.

THE A-TEAM (2010)
Meh. A very boring movie with a likable cast (even Bradley Cooper McConaughey wasn't as typically irritating as I tend to find him). Kind of a wasted opportunity; its attempts at pathos are laughable, its plot twists are predictable, and its interest in big set pieces shot completely without clarity or purpose is disappointing. Still, that sequence with the parachuting tank is awesome. That's the kind of demented abandon the movie should have gone for the whole way through; it didn't even bother trying to be believable and instead went for fun instead of being smarmy and cool. ** stars.

I fucking hate Lee Evans. Tedious, tedious, unwatchable movie. No stars.

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