Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Film Week

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

THE LEGO MOVIE (2014)
Easily the most fun movie of the year so far. I like this movie's twist on the "chosen one" trope, and the way it addresses some topics (like the uncertainty of growing up and being a parent) with a subtlety that's totally beyond most animated films (and often ruins them; see most of what DreamWorks has ever made for some choice examples). The animation is fantastic; I love how the film doesn't break the physics of Lego minifigure movement. It gives the film a feel of stop-motion animation, even though it's computer-generated. Clever and wonderful. ****

THE MENTOR (2014)
Give me a break, Lifetime. Pick a tone. The grief involved in losing a child doesn't mix with the exploitative thriller you're making. It doesn't help if you approach both plots with equal earnestness. *

ROBOCOP (2014)
With some rewriting, it really could have worked. It starts off as a smart and interesting film that has some interesting commentary to make about the morality of drone warfare, America's place in a global theater, our seemingly inexhaustible capacity for war, the rights of victims, the ethics of medical experimentation, and the way technology can dehumanize us. Then it turns into an action movie and is more or less what you expect. As soon as they start laying in the action plot, it loses what made it such an interesting take on Paul Verhoeven's classic 1987 flick. It doesn't have the wit and satire of that film, either, except in interstitial scenes with Samuel L. Jackson. So close, you guys. You were so close, but then everyone becomes puppets of an action plot. Still, it's a more or less enjoyable action flick that abandons a lot of what makes it so interesting halfway through. ***

ENOUGH SAID (2013)
I really liked this movie. It's just a story about two people who have been hurt and who are trying to do right by their kids while also finding some happiness for themselves. I find smaller stories like this very compelling at this point in my life. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a divorced massage technician who meets and falls for a divorced man (the late James Gandolfini). But she soon realizes one of her clients (Catherine Keener) is actually his ex-wife, and her observations begin poisoning the relationship. It's interesting how other people can alter our perceptions of our own happiness and make us second guess ourselves. Lovely movie, and Dreyfus and Gandolfini are very good in it. ****

SALESMAN (1969)
Engrossing Maysles Brothers documentary about traveling bible salesmen. The film is a social document, and simply watches these people rather than shaping a narrative, creating an interesting cinematic mural of people engaging in capitalism and not really getting anywhere in its framework. I'm not sure if that's the point--the filmmakers refrain from judging or influencing your perception--but that's what I got out of it. ****

THE HUNT (2012)
This was a hard one to watch. Mads Mikkelsen starts as a kindergarten teacher who is wrongly suspected to have molested one of his students. After the accusation, the entire thing spins out of control into a witch hunt; the accusation is enough. This could so easily have disintegrated into an apologia for people who have been accused, but this tense drama instead argues for more sensitivity in the investigation of these matters. As a teacher, I was especially horrified; this kind of thing and the ease with which nothing can become something is a thing you're always aware of as a male teacher. It's a hard movie, but a vital one. ****

THE SECRET CINEMA (1968)
Paul Bartel's debut short film, in which a woman suspects that her paranoia is justified and people are making a fool out of her by filming her life. Great twists, wit and style. Paul Bartel later remade this as an episode of Amazing Stories. ****

ABOUT LAST NIGHT (2014)
This is more of a remake of the 1984 movie than a version of David Mamet's play, and that's fine; I never cared for the original About Last Night..., but something about this one came across as more genuine to me. I was just a little bummed out that it's set in LA instead of Chicago, but LA looks good on film here. All four leads (Michael Ealy, Joy Bryant, Kevin Hart and Regina Hall) are engaging and it's a funny, smart movie about falling in love and maintaining a relationship among professionals. ****

THE WOLVERINE (2013)
Look, all of these X-Men movies are a mess, the continuity is indecipherable, and they're really not all that good. This one was more coherent than most of them, and even though I think they went way too big with it, it skates by--like most of them--on the limitless charm of the very personable Hugh Jackman. And the supporting characters (particularly Yukio and Mariko) were interesting. I would've preferred if it were more intimate and less caught up in the epic love story of Logan and Jean Grey, which really barely exists in these movies, but it was pretty good. ***

THE LAST WAVE (1977)
Peter Weir tends to lose me in the symbolism, but I found this movie fascinating. I'm not sure I understood all of it, and there were draggy stretches, but it was a very interesting movie. Richard Chamberlain, a pragmatic lawyer, takes on a murder case involving Australian Aborigines. He begins to feel a connection with some of their ancient ways, and begins experiencing premonitions of a coming apocalypse. There are a lot of interesting discussions about Dreamtime and parallel realities, among the backdrop of racial tension and a deluge. The ending is open to interpretation. Disturbing, dreamlike, and hard to forget. David Gulpilil is very good as the Aborigine man who opens his past to Richard Chamberlain. ***

THINK LIKE A MAN (2012)
This showed up on TV right after I saw About Last Night, and I was more than ready for more of the delicious Regina Hall. Cute movie with a likable cast that includes Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, and Gabrielle Union. Basically a group of guy friends find themselves in relationships with women who are reading Steve Harvey's relationship guide Act Like a Woman, Think Like a Man, and... you know what? Who cares. It's one of those movies about relationships where things would be over faster if everyone just actually told their partners how they felt and what they wanted, but no one does, and then things get complicated, and they learn that happiness is the most important thing and they should have been upfront all along. Nothing you haven't seen before, but it's cute and the cast is engaging and it's fun, even if it's completely predictable. It's not Love Actually, but it's not He's Just Not That Into You, either. It's cute. ***

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

I'm always fascinated to see what I wrote about movies you like. I liked the LEGO Movie quite a bit, but I think it took me a bit to warm to it. Oh, and I LOVED the surprise, which I WILL NOT tell The Daughter.