Friday, November 18, 2005

Not so much the lightning round anymore

I found myself with more to say about Zorro than I expected, so it's back to the full reviews. Which was easier, since I wasn't seeing quite so many movies the last couple days. It sort of balances out: I saw Raja on Wednesday despite not, perhaps, feeling my best - one of the pizzas the office ordered from Bertucci's was bacon & scallops, which I thought is a brilliant idea until the throwing up. I am going to attribute that more to the amount eaten than the toppings and try again next time I'm in Bertucci's. And then, last night, I tried to see In Her Shoes at the Belmont Studio only to find it closed for a private screening. I must say, for a theater that plans to provide wireless access when they open their "cinema café" and has spots to surf the net in the lobby, their website is pretty bad; I really couldn't tell that there were no shows.

The recap:

Movie seen Wednesday at the Brattle: (11/16) Raja.
Movies seen elsewhere: N/A
Money pledged so far: $50 entry fee + $50 flat donations + $9 x (7 Brattle Films + .5 * 3 other films) = $176.50
Why the Brattle Theater Matters
Details on the Movie Watch-a-Thon
Where to send you cash in support
Mail me if you'd like to pledge some dollar amount per movie

And now, yet more capsule/longer reviews:

Good Night, and Good Luck

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 October 2005 at AMC Fenway #12 (first-run)

It's not hard to become a fan of George Clooney, is it? I once read that he took what he got paid for Batman & Robin, used it to pay off his house, and decided that from then on, he'd just do projects that interested him. The latest project to interest him, apparently, is directing a film about Edward R. Murrow's jousts with Senator Joseph McCarthy.

It's a fascinating watch, both for the actual story and how it's told. The style of the movie is clipped and matter-of-fact, feeling very much like the live television or news specials of the 1950s. No excessive sentimentality here; just an attempt to communicate clearly and without embellishment that is so earnest that it becomes its own style. David Strathairn's Murrow is exactly like every clip of him I've ever seen. The script by Clooney and Grant Heslov offers a great deal of procedural detail, while still taking plenty of time for small character moments.

The story is bookended by a speech Murrow would give later, and maybe drives home its present-day relevence a bit more forcefully than necessary. Of course, if one is inclined to agree that the news media (television in particular) is doing a poor job of keeping an eye on the government, it may not seem like enough.


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 October 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run)

How do tedious movies like Thumbsucker attract such a noteworthy cast? I notice that Tilda Swinton is credited as a co-executive producer; and I wonder if that's her contribution: Convincing the likes of Vince Vaughn, Keanu Reeves, and Vincent D'Onofrio that they can squeeze this in between other projects, and then have a chance to look cool at festivals ("yeah, I could have taken a ten million dollar paycheck instead, but I was so excited by the script and want to do more challenging blah blah blah..."). It just seems that there are much better movies in need of big-star boosts every year, and which ones get it seems pretty random.

Anyway, the important part of the previous paragraph is "tedious movies like Thumbsucker". It's the type that makes me wonder "why this guy?" Certainly, Justin Cobb (Lou Taylor Pucci) has more of a unique hook than the leads of most teen dramas in that he's still sucking his thumb at the age of seventeen, but once you get past that, it starts to seem pretty standard-issue: He's intimidated by a pretty girl; he's vulgar to cover for it. One parent is too friendly; another can't connect. He's obsessed with seeming normal; perscription and illicit drugs are used to achieve it. Eventually, he'll go off to college and all this high school stuff won't seem like so big a deal in retrospect.

I mean, who cares? What new or at least entertaining things does this have to say about being a teenager? There doesn't seem to be much more to Justin than just alternating "unpleasant" and "insecure" moods. I just don't see much reason to spend time with the likes of him for an hour and a half or more if all I'm getting out of it is that the guy's a jerk.

The Legend of Zorro

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 October 2005 at AMC Fewnway #9 (first-run)

The popular knock on The Legend of Zorro, it seems, has been that it's an "unnecessary" sequel. I get that, especially given the amount of time that has passed since The Mask of Zorro; Columbia and Amblin aren't exactly striking while the iron is hot here. And yet, it seems to me, that for Zorro to be successful and not have follow-ups would be somehow inappropriate; whether in the pulps, on the radio, in comics, or in Saturday morning cartoons, Zorro has always been a vehicle for multiple adventures, not just one. The problem is that if you're only going to do a new one every seven years or so, it would be nice if it were a bit better than this.

The story seems solid enough, and in line with the previous film: Armand (Rufus Sewell), a charming but dastardly member of a European secret society, seeks to stem the growing influence of the United States by sabotaging California's entry as a free state and igniting a civil war (the year is 1850; presumably a civil war ten years earlier would have been even more crippling). To make matters worse, he's romancing Elena de la Vega (Catherine Zeta-Jones), after arguments with husband Alejandro (Antonio Banderas) over how much time he spends as Zorro and how much he spends with their ten-year-old son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso) creates a rift in their marriage.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 October 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #2 (first-run)

I always get a little excited when a movie about mathematicians or scientists comes out and actually seems to display some interest in or affinity for math and science. Proof isn't about the actual nuts and bolts of mathematics, but it gets the terminology and mindset mostly right, and never goes the route of suggesting that knowledge is dangerous or something humanity can't be trusted with. Indeed, it shows characters excited and even giddy at the prospect of learning and discovery, even if their personal stories aren't always so happy.

Take Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow). A potentially brilliant mathematical mind in her own right, she has spent the past few years caring for her father (Anthony Hopkins), who was brilliant in his younger days but who has paid the karmic price that drama demands of genius, and has spent the past twenty years at the mercy of compulsion and dementia. After his death, his former grad student Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to their house to see if he left anything interesting behind, while older daughter Claire (Hope Davis) arrives to take care of funeral arrangements and look after Claire, whose fragility suggests that she might have inherited their father's instability along with his genius. Catherine points Hal to a notebook containing an extraordinary proof, but also claims that she, rather than her father, had worked it out.

Read the rest at HBS.

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