Monday, December 07, 2009

This Week In Tickets: 30 November 2009 to 6 December 2009

December is looking ridiculously busy - the watch-a-thon may be over, but I'm watching a ton of Sherlock Holmes for the eFilmCritic project: At some point about a week ago, when I got to the point where I needed to watch a movie and then write it up within 36 hours for the daily Holmes review to get posted at midnight, I thought, holy crap, that's a deadline. I hate deadlines. Why would I set myself up for a whole month of them? And that's before getting into what's going on at work, the Red Sox tickets going on sale on the 12th, the party for a cousin who has moved up to Maine, and Christmas shopping...

(Although I'm actually a bit ahead of where I usually am there; I found some neat stuff at Bazaar Bizarre. I'm not usually a craft faire sort of guy, but there were a couple guys there who did their thing with welding rather than knitting. So, if anybody asks, it was a Maker faire. The Boston one is over, but folks in Cleveland and San Francisco might want to check their local events out this weekend.)

I may have to take a day off work next week for opening day of Avatar. That counts as a floating holiday for me, right?

This Week In Tickets!

A reminder for those who might enjoy giving for the Holidays: Final tally for the 2009 Movie Watch-a-Thon is 5 at the Brattle, 25 elsewhere, and 2 screenings elsewhere which may or may not count. Donations go to this page.

Huh, weird sequence of (non-Sherlock) movies this week, unusually tied together even though I didn't really try to do so. It starts and ends with George Clooney doing good work for critical-darling directors, and in between has two stories about Middle East war widows/returnees. The old hand and rookie delivering bad news is central to both The Messenger and Up in the Air.

And then there's Armored, because sometimes it feels really good to knock some stuff around.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 November 2009 in Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run)

It's no secret that I've become disillusioned with Wes Anderson over the past few years. After finding Rushmore an exciting breath of fresh air, and giving a number of folks some of their best roles in The Royal Tennenbaums, there was something missing from The Life Aquatic that even some nifty visuals and Harry Selick creatures couldn't compensate for, and he followed that up with the terrible The Darjeeling Limited. There are two basic issues at work, I figure: One, a combination of success and hanging out with the Coppolas and Noah Baumbach has skewed his view of the world a bit; he's asking for sympathy for the woes of the privileged when the maker of Bottle Rocket and Rushmore might have told his later subjects to get over themselves.

Second, well, if Wes Anderson's father is still with us, could you go to Hollywood or Paris and give your son a hug? Maybe play a game of catch. He's crying for it, man!

Anderson's daddy issues are still front and center, but he, co-writer Baumbach, and animation director Mark Gustafson (who almost certainly will not get the level of credit he deserves) put together a duly whimsical adaptation of Roald Dahl's book, anchored by the note-perfect voice work of George Clooney as the title character. I'm not sure how much kids will like it - the humor is often dry and self-referential, and the Clooney fox's story is about settling down, though they may see themselves in the younger foxes. It is, overall, a fun movie, and even if one of the knocks on Anderson is that he often seems a bit too pleased with himself, he has made something to be proud of here.

The Messenger

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2009 in Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

The Messenger has no problem with making the audience a little uncomfortable. What might, in another movie, have been a bittersweet romance between Ben Foster's Will Montgomery (a wounded soldier serving the end of his hitch informing next of kin of death overseas) and Samantha Morton's Olivia Pitterson (a widow and mother who takes the news with surprising calm), feels an awful lot like stalking at first, and even when it starts to feel a little "right", acknowledges that it's not really healthy. Foster is exceptional, a young military man trying his best to hold in pain and confusion, just on the line between someone you root for and someone you worry about.

And then you've got Woody Harrelson, really knocking his supporting role out of the park. His Captain Stone tries to approach a job that is corrosive to the soul with precisely controlled professionalism and it leads him to reach out in ways that are both abortive and desperate. It's pretty close to perfect, a great variation on Foster's performance without duplicating or stealing the show.

Like a lot of movies more built on character and performance than story, writer/director Oren Moverman has a little trouble figuring out how to end things, but it doesn't come close to tarnishing what Foster and Harrelson do.

Brothers

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 5 December 2009 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run)

Another day, another movie about a young man returning from war, with another a great pair of performances, that stumbles a bit in the end. This time, it's Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire as a pair of brothers, one a habitual screw-up just getting out of jail, the other a golden-boy soldier gone to war, presumed dead, and eventually returned.

For all the big drama and story comes in the latter half of the movie, what I loved most was the beginning: Maguire's Sam picks Gyllenhaal's Tom up from jail, and on the ride home, without any grand speeches or overtly dramatic performances, they sell us on getting brothers, how they can disagree with each other and even disapprove of their respective choices, but find that such considerations fall away almost instantly. Then there's a family dinner scene where their father (Sam Shepard) just keeps needling away at Tom, and the moment when Tom learns that Sam is dead, and...

Jake Gyllenhaal is just really amazing in this. Not to take anything away from Tobey Maguire, who gets a lot of the big melodrama, but when the story shifts in the second half, and becomes about him coming home damaged, it becomes a little more familiar. And while it is making a more concerted effort to stamp scenes into one's memory, it winds up not being nearly so memorable as when it's about Tommy stepping up in his brother's absence. It will be interesting to see who gets pushed as lead and supporting actors here, because while it's probably easier to make an argument that Brothers is about Sam, Gyllenhaal just owns the first half or so.

Also: Jim Sheridan should make scripts that feature two little girls a priority. Just as the Bolger sisters were a huge part of what made In America so good, it's tough to imagine Brothers being as grounded and real without Bailee Madison's Isabelle and Taylor Geare's Maggie.

Armored

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 December 2009 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run)

I'm going to have to take another look at Kontroll. I saw Nimrod Antal's debut feature at the Boston Film Festival, and vaguely remember loving the style if not the story. Since then, he's returned to America and made a couple of genre movies that are far better than they had any right to be: Vacancy was a taut little slasher-thriller that was incredibly bloody effective at twisting the screws, and now Armored takes what starts out seeming like a B-movie that should go direct to video and makes it, well, a B-movie that deserves its time in theaters.

It is a rough start; it's the sort of movie where you feel kind of grateful for people wearing their names on uniforms and a multicultural cast, so you can keep a bunch of basically similar characters straight. Motivations are spelled out plainly, Milo Ventimiglia's cop gets a scene for the express purpose of establishing him early enough that he's not anonymous later on. And then, the heist goes down and things go wrong, and suddenly things get interesting.

Again, I need to re-view Kontroll to see it this is a real pattern or signature, but I think what makes Antal so interesting as a director of thrillers is that he doesn't feel compelled to top himself as the movie goes along. In fact, he seems to choose scripts where his characters wind up in boxes inside of figurative boxes (cars within the subway system in Kontroll, a motel room in Vacancy, an armored car in an abandoned industrial space in Armored). Maybe he just knows that he's good at cranking up the tension. Whatever it is, it works - Armored consistently got me to lean a little closer to the screen, eager to see just what he was going to do next.

Up in the Air

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 December 2009 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run)

This is getting mentioned on a lot of year-end awards lists as the best movie of the year, to which I have to say - really? Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty darn good movie, and looking over what I saw this year, I guess there aren't a whole lot of conventional movies to upset it - I loved Up, The Brothers Bloom, Sugar, Moon, and a few others more, but they're hardly typical nominees. And I won't lie; there were several points during the movie when I thought to myself that I was watching something special. In total, though, it doesn't quite merit "special". Very good, yes, but I have to hope that the top tier is a little higher.

And, one other note: It's pretty depressing. Not just the bit about it being about people losing their jobs, but look at the progression of George Clooney's character: He's happy, content, and comfortable as the film starts. He loves something about his job that many others would find incredibly stressful, he does that job better than almost anybody else, and the fact that he's not on a track to marriage, a house, and 2.4 kids doesn't upset him. So, of course, everybody treats him like a freak whose happiness can't possibly be real. Then, after dangling something that makes a conventional life seem worthwhile, he's given a crotch-kick in the sort of twist that is such a huge cliché that you think the movie can't possibly be going there, but oh yes, it does. And now he's miserable with nothing to show for it.

Maybe the end isn't quite a total sour note, but it is kind of a bummer - not just for the character, or the testimony from the laid-off workers shown in the film that seems like pandering, but because it's the sort of "serious movie" play that bugs me: It's saying something utterly conventional, but needs to prove its supposed maturity and sophistication by undercutting its message. Sure, Hollywood endings in real life are few and far between, but don't avoid it just to avoid it; do so because you've got a better ending for the story you want to tell.
Fantastic Mr. FoxThe MessengerBrothersArmoredUp in the Air

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

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http://www.variancepublishing.com/meg-hells-aquarium-contest.html

Meryl Streep Movies said...

Thanks for the Armored write up I will check it out this weekend :)