Monday, January 18, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 11 January 2010 to 17 January 2010

What you see below is, in part, an example of me not learning certain lessons well enough. The "don't treat moviegoing as homework" lesson, for instance; just because something stands a good chance of being nominated for awards isn't sufficient reason to see it. The "use free tickets from theater-rewards programs as soon as you can" lesson, because then you wind up looking up at a marquee the day they expire, wondering whether you'd prefer seeing Sherlock Holmes again or something that doesn't hugely excite you (perhaps causing you to break that first lesson, although I don't think Youth in Revolt is going to capture much buzz). Of course, using them right off may lead you to doing something stupid like watching Nine and thus showing that I didn't sufficiently learn the "don't watch anything directed by Rob Marshall" lesson from Chicago.

That gave me a chance to actually use one of those gift certificates I picked up cheap last July/August, as I had a few hours between the end of Book of Eli and Nine. I don't eat out much, so they kind of wound up gathering space in a drawer, or, well, being shuffled between a backpack and my kitchen table and random spots in my living room. I really should find a way to use one of these every couple of weeks.

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: The Book of Eli (17 January 2010).

You know, I'm kind of surprised that in fifty-odd weeks of doing this, The Book of Eli is the first stub I've lost. I'm almost certain that I know when and where, too, because I know I had it when I was in Nine, but I had to dig through my pocket for change when getting a Sunday paper. So, it's probably in some dumpster behind the CVS in Central Square, Cambridge, after being swept up.

L'argent de poche (Small Change)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 January 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement)

I bumped into Gil & Amanda after the movie, where they gave me the usual ribbing about me being at a movie about people's ordinary lives. That's not the sort of thing I have problems with; it's the ones where ordinary lives involve doing nothing other than feeling sorry for oneself. The kids and adults in Small Change, though, are active, good-natured people, and though their stories are small in scale, they're charming and entertaining.

The other topic of conversation, of course, was "good lord, look at how kids ran around back then without much in the way of supervision". And it's not even about how it's hard to believe that they/we didn't get killed; just that the culture seems to have changed so much in just a generation and a half. I blame that Adam TV-movie.

But I digress. Enjoyable little film, occasionally somewhat heavy-handed, but it does a fine job of getting out the paradoxical but true messages that children are sturdier than they appear, and that protecting them is an adult's greatest duty.

Youth in Revolt

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 January 2010 at Regal Fenway #5 (first-run)

The night I saw this, I tweeted that I wasn't sure whether Youth in Revolt was more amusingly or annoyingly mannered, and I still haven't decided. It is, frequently, very funny, with great combinations of slapstick, wordplay, situations spiraling out of control, and quirky characters. The latter is where things start to get out of hand, because while quirky is one thing, there comes a point where it's tough not to think that, no matter how unusual they may be, no sixteen-year-old has ever spoken like Michael Cera's Nicholas Twisp or Portia Doubleday's Sheeni Saunders. Not even me, and I was a weird kid.

This is actually a chance for Michael Cera to show a little range, and he does.. show a little range. Nick Twisp isn't that far from George Michael Bluth, but Twisp's alter ego Francois Dillinger is an amusing (if one-note) creation. Part of the reason why Michael Cera's been able to get away with playing the same basic character for so long, aside from having it licked, is that he manages to do it as part of excellent ensembles, and that's the case here, as he gets to play against Fred Willard, Jean Smart, Ray Liotta, Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, Justin Long, M. Emmet Walsh, Mary Kay Place, and a whole bunch of talented, if less well-known, people. You get that many good, potentially funny actors in the same picture, and comedy is going to happen, if only by accident.

Not as much as it could, but enough to get a couple of big laughs and a fair number of smaller ones from an hour and a half

Crazy Heart

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 January 2010 at AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run)

There are some fantastic scenes in Crazy Heart. Pretty much any where you have Jeff Bridges and Robert Duvall together, for instance. Not much of great import happens during those, but you've got two great pros who seem to know their characters inside-out working off each other. Early scenes with Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The ones featuring an unbilled Colin Farrell as a country star who got his start with Bridges's down-on-his-luck Bad Blake are excellent: There's a great one where Farrell's Tom Sweet comes on stage during Blake's opening set that tells the pair's whole history just by the way the camera shows them trying to crowd the microphone.

Great stuff. And what is it leading up to? A kid getting lost in a mall, and then some sincere and utterly standard-issue twelve-step stuff as Bad Blake realizes he really, truly has a problem with alcohol and should seek help. Which is nice, and I don't mean to diminish what an accomplishment getting sober is, but the fact that Bad Blake is a drunk is the least interesting thing about him. Yes, it's likely the root of all his other issues, and I'm not saying that I liked him better when he drank, but for the first three quarters of the movie, Bad's issues are fairly unique to him, and seeing that pushed aside for the ending of every story about alcoholism is kind of a letdown.

La Dolce Vita

N/A (though somewhere around 2.5-3 out of four stars)
Seen 16 January 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement)

I had a lot of dozing-off moments during La Dolce Vita, which surprised me a bit; it's beautiful, it's full of interesting segments and sexy women. It didn't start that late (8pm). And yet, call it a fault in the film or the viewer, it utterly failed to create the desire in me to find out what was going to happen next. It just played like a series of similar anthology segments, impeccably designed and charming, but not really building on each other. I would fall asleep, jerk awake certain that not more than a couple of minutes had passed, and feel like I was watching a different movie, albeit one with the same main character.

(Of course, it appears that I missed the scene where something shocking does happen, reading the synopses on IMDB. Typical. Maybe in a year or so, I'll give it another three hours.)

(Aside - the movie kind of has an insufferable main character. Marcello Mastraianni's title character takes it a step further than the usual guy who has it pretty good but complains about his life's emptiness; you can't cavort in that fountain with Anita Ekberg and then be complaining that your job is without rewards beyond the monetary in the next scene!)

The Book of Eli

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2010 at AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run)

There's a couple of things that could be considered spoilers that it's difficult to properly talk about Eli without. I'll sidestep the one that serves as the big gotcha toward the end, cannily constructed to urge audiences to give the movie a second viewing, other than to say I suspected it in the very beginning but discounted it because it didn't seem possible. But the other one.

So, (minor spoiler!) the book Eli is carrying is a Bible. And that's fine in some ways, especially the way Gary Oldman's villain sees it as a weapon to control people. The Hughes Brothers and writer Gary Whitta are at least trying to be a little subversive there. But it becomes a case of being a little smart about one thing highlighting just how stupid you're being about something bigger - to wit, that after whatever apocalyptic event left America a barren wasteland, all the Bibles were rounded up and burned, because people blamed that for their problems. Because, honestly, does that sound like how the country would act after that sort of thing? Nope, you'd totally have people doing what Oldman's Carnegie was planning thirty years earlier, some with actual sincerity.

Nice try, and the Hugheses (who really have been far too little-seen over the past dozen or so years for guys of their talent) soak the movie with devastated atmosphere, making good use of their effects to make their post-apocalyptic America look like a real place rather than the digital construction that large parts of it must be. Some of the action is very well choreographed as well, really the best that Denzel Washington has looked at this sort of thing in his career. Hopefully then don't let the better part of another decade pass before their next film.


* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2010 at AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run)

Daniel Day-Lewis being in a movie is genuinely a good sign - since The Boxer in 1997 he's done a mere four, only signing on when there seems to be something worth doing. And he's got a fantastic cast of women working opposite him - Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Mario Cotillard, NIcole Kidman, Sophia Loren. Unforunately, this comes from the guy who directed Chicago. And it's even worse.

Now, I don't particularly like musicals, but Rob Marshall's method of putting them on is incredibly irritating: He can't just have characters burst into song; there's got to be a "safe area" where we can understand that it's part of the character's imagination. So, every time the story is going to get into emotional territory - because that's what songs are for in musicals, heightened emotion - we have to go somewhere else. Apparently, he figures that modern audiences just won't accept or comprehend that, within the story, people aren't really singing and dancing, and it's just a form of communication with the audience. Basically, he seems to think his audience is composed of idiots.

But even without that, Nine feels terribly cut down, reliant on the audience's familiarity with the original play, Fellini, and/or his film , and lacking a story. Despite the effort made by some of his performers, there's just no real movie here. The only things that manage to be really enjoyable are Judi Dench (who is lucky to have a supporting character that just needs personality, rather than motivation and story; otherwise she'd probably be as lost and wasted as everybody else), a couple early scenes with Lewis, before we really get to know and disdain his character, and maybe a late-film appearance by Nicole Kidman. Well, and Penelope Cruz spending a lot of time in lacy underthings; that kind of goes without saying.

But, man, am I glad to see that Marshall's next project is the fourth Pirates of the Caribean movie. Even if I weren't tired of that franchise, that's going to make it that much easier to ignore.
L'argent de pocheYouth in RevoltCrazy HeartLa Dolce VitaNine


Aiden R. said...

Liked Crazy Heart a little more than you did, but aside from Bridges' performance and the music, there's not much else to remember. Storyline is pretty much exactly the same as The Wrestler, and The Wrestler didn't have a very good storyline to begin with anyway. Could have been better, but not bad either way. Good review though, man, I dig your style. Keep up the good work.

stork club said...

I like Jeff Bridges performance in Crazy Heart and he did his own singing too.