Archive for the ‘Friday Movies’ Category

Friday Movies:

Thursday, June 10th, 2010


Killers is one of those brightly entertaining movies that reveal their charms — or the lack thereof — in repeated viewings. It’s impossible to tell, the first time, whether Katherine Heigl is credible as Jen, the dumped fiancée of a computer geek, a shy girl who is so taken with Ashton Kutcher’s smirking abs that she “follows” him to the beach by inferring his destination from his shirtlessness and heading in that direction a few paces ahead. Is Mr Kutcher credible as Spencer, a top assassin who has tired of his profession and wants only to put down roots? Only time will tell. The meet-cute prologue to the movie, set in lovely and luxurious Nice, France, is not difficult to sit through, but Killers might have been a better movie without it.

Once Killers settles down to business, we discover that it is a new kind of screwball comedy. In the standard screwball, two people who are clearly made for one another are obliged to overcome stiff resistance to acknowledging that fact. In Killers, the quarrel lies not between the lovers but between Spencer and his father-in-law (Tom Selleck). This is not immediately apparent, but its eventual inevitability overcomes its improbability. The movie’s argument is that Spencer will have a hard time walking away from his past, even though he and Jen have enjoyed three years of marital bliss and, more to the point, Spencer has adapted to a career as a residential developer. When Spencer gets a call from his former boss (Martin Mull), he naturally begins acting nervous, and a suspicious postcard that falls into his father-in-law’s hands makes it seems that he has not been true to Jen.

The trouble begins the morning after a birthday party for Spencer that Jen — she all unaware of his past life (and the associated déformation professionelle that would contra-indicate events beginning with totally unexpected crowds shouting “Surprise!”) — has managed to pull off. Spencer is thinking about breakfast when an overly hearty colleague who seems to have passed out in the living room after the party lunges at Spencer with a knife — and he is not joking! Other friends and neighbors morph into unneighborly enemies. What’s going on? And who is offering them so much money to kill Spencer that they’ll kill each other for the chance?

Miss Heigl is a very attractive young woman, not least because she seems to be unaware of just how attractive she is. Her Jen is the opposite of a femme fatale: someone who intends to earn her way through life. Someone who worries that she is so happy in her marriage that her husband might be getting a little bored with her. When she confesses to having been wearing her “fat jeans” for the past few weeks, she convinces you that even knockouts have beauty problems. Without going too far in the Margaret Dumont direction, Ms Heigl knows how to make the lack of imagination funny. Jen clearly has no idea why anyone would take up espionage as a line of work, to the extent that she doesn’t really grasp why it’s dangerous. I can’t think of another actress who could have pulled off Jen’s need, at the end, for a “trust circle” with her husband and her parents, all of whom are not quite whom she thought they were. We can understand Jen’s not grasping her father’s true identity, but surely she ought to realize that her mother (the killingly funny Catherine O’Hara) can’t have a good reason for drinking Bloody Marys straight from the pitcher. Ms Heigl’s way of looking past her mother’s drinking problem is really rather sweet. What may be at work here is the revival of an old, suffragette-era charm: this actress is game. And when the game is over, she really wants to go home.

Mr Kutcher is also winning and sweet, especially as action heroes go. His fight scenes are filmed in a mercifully incoherent blur by director Robert Luketic. Some might find his way with badinage a trifle unconstructed, if you know what I mean; and I for one find heavy bangs even less attractive on men than on women. But the actor never looks out of place in this film. Not the first time, anyway.

The Joneses

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010


The other night, on my way home from Avenue C, I stopped in at the Village VII theatre for the 5:45 showing of  The Joneses, largely because the timing was right and there was nothing in the neighborhood that I particularly wanted to see. I was ready for a less-than-satisfying moviegoing experience, but The Jones turned out to be a very interesting disappointment — a disappointment to think about, perhaps, but not to watch. I was often reminded, in fact, of John Frankenheimer’s 1966 nightmare, Seconds. It took hours for the film’s affect to wear off — no surprise, I suppose, given that, as I understand, Derrick Borte, who co-wrote and directed The Joneses, is handy at shooting television commercials.

The Joneses, at Portico.

Friday Movies:
Paper Man

Friday, April 23rd, 2010


It’s a sign of my age that I can remember when madness and breakdown were widely thought to be dramatic and interesting. In those far more discreet times, when few people had any actual contact with deranged and disturbed persons, mental illness was indeed quite exotic, and we were free to dwell on the presumed spiciness of bizarre states of mind. Decades of de-institutionalization, SSRI prescriptions, and celebrity rehab have put an end to all that. There is no romance in madness and breakdown anymore. They are simply varieties of self-destructive behavior. They are also — in most cases, we believe — treatable. As a result, we are probably less patient with troubled minds than people have ever been.

Kieran and Michelle Mulroney, the writers and directors of Paper Man, are certainly aware of this trend. They have created a strong part for Lisa Kudrow that is founded on impatience. As Claire Dunn, Ms Kudrow banks this prevailing emotion skillfully enough to hold our sympathy, but it’s clear at the very start of the film that Claire, a top surgeon, has been down a very long and winding road with her husband, Richard. As the titles roll, the Dunns drive out the Long Island Expressway all the way to Montauk, where Richard plans to work on his second book in weekday seclusion. When Richard moves to kiss Claire goodbye, she pulls back with a wary question, to which Richard responds with what we know to be a lie. Claire’s life, however privileged, isn’t easy.

I can’t think of an actor who could have made the boy-man Richard less dislikable than Jeff Daniels. Mr Daniels’s outsized goofiness (brilliantly highlighted by Richard’s dependence on a nine year-old’s bicycle for transportation) deflects our judgment. Criticism is also pre-empted by Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds), an “imaginary friend,” who reminds Richard of his tendency to make foolish choices. I won’t go so far as to say Ryan Reynolds makes Paper Man worth seeing all by himself, but those foolish choices would be pretty tiresome without Captain Excellent’s acerbic, slightly campy commentary. Despite having been Richard’s friend since the second grade, Captain Excellent is powerless to prevent Richard’s frequent inappropriatenesses. It’s a pity that he appears only when Richard is alone, because he might have saved the almost unwatchable scene in which Richard hosts a kegger for teenaged louts. Did I mention that Captain Excellent is dressed up like Superman, in primary-colored tights, with a cape? Mr Reynolds is to be commended for the ease and grace with which he inhabits this ridiculous costume.

Richard’s link to the teenagers is Abby (Emma Stone), a wounded, good-hearted beauty whose boyfriend is, in her own words, “chickenshit.” After an odd introductory encounter, Richard helplessly follows Abby through the back alleys of the village. If you think that his denying that this is what he’s doing is trouble, wait till you hear him hire Abby as a babysitter: a very inappropriate stab at appropriateness. When Abby accepts the engagement, we can only guess at the extent of the inevitable disaster, but, perhaps because she is wounded — she lost a twin sister in a dreadful pact when she was eight years old — Abby’s response to discovering that there is no baby to be sat for is to shrug and say that her job will be so much the easier. If Paper Man is evidence in support of the proposition that a terrific cast can save a movie from itself — and it is — Ms Stone’s performance is the sine qua non. She brings Abby’s confused teenager sharply and endearingly to life. (It helps that, never having seen her before, we forget that an actress is involved.) What might be cloyingly quirky comes across instead as painfully honest.

Just like the good people who are sure that they can save a loved one from some newly-discovered addiction, we used to believe (back in the Sixties) that gestures of wild imprudence could at least occasionally lead to happiness; but now we know that throwing your house open to underage drinkers can lead only to tears. (I was rather surprised that the local constabulary didn’t show up, but that particular development, as it turned out, would have ruined a big scene for Ms Kudrow.) Telling young women that they’re beautiful when you’re standing too close to them because you’re drunk is rarely redeemable. And scenes of writer’s block, repeated like flash cards — did I mention Richard’s determination to write his book on a portable electric typewriter? — are never funny anymore. The Mulroneys’ mistake, in writing Paper Man, lies in assuming that the audience will see the movie from Richard’s point of view. They save the film by making us wish that we could see it from Abby’s point of view. But the only thing that distinguishes our response from Claire’s point of view is that we get to see Captain Excellent.

Dear Diary:

Thursday, May 14th, 2009


This diary entry is being written at great personal cost: I could be reading the further adventures of Eilis in Brooklyn. Correction: Eilis in Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín’s magnificent new novel.

It was a disappointment to find that Sara O, the Irish nurse at the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Infusion Therapy Unit, where I get my (now quarterly) fix of Remicade, was off duty today, because I was hoping to talk about Brooklyn with her. I have no idea if she’s a reader, or interested in novels with Irish themes — God knows I used not to be — but I wanted nonetheless, almost desperately, to converse with someone about Ireland, especially the old Ireland of Mr Tóibín’s novel, which is set four years before his own birth. The Ireland that I suspect Sara fled.

Because it was my fourth day with out-of-the-house business, I very nearly canceled the infusion. Instead, I had the (much) better idea of seeing a movie this evening, thus leaving tomorrow entirely free for work. Glorious work — or at least the glory of getting things done.

I went to see Goodbye Solo. A good friend strongly recommended it to me at lunch the other day, and then repeated the recommendation on the telephone whilst thanking me for picking up the check. I had never heard  of the film, which is a bit strange given the weighage and considerage that goes into my Friday-movie choices. Little did I know what a critics’ darling it is, with a stratospheric Metacritic score of 88. I learned about that later, after scratching my head during the credits. Goodbye Solo is a very powerful film in its way, but it taught me how important production values are to this bourgeois soul of mine.

(The curious thing about the “production values” thing is that I’m just the opposite about opera. All I ask of an opera production is that the singers stand center stage, directly over the orchestra, and belt. I loathe complicated sets and crowds of extras. In fact I’ve come to prefer concert performances, simply because they avoid the production-values problem altogether. But if opera is about hearing, movies are about looking. If I don’t want visual clutter to interfere with the auditory pleasure of opera, I’m also unhappy with home-movie aesthetics that deprive my eyes of a feast.) 

(And who is Red West? A bit player who has been given an extraordinary break, that’s who. Vivat!)

Just for the record, I read Kathleen to sleep with the following passages from Brooklyn: the Bartocci “Famous Nylon Sale,” the visit to the law-book store on West Twenty-Third Street, and, at full length, the scene in which Eilis’ landlady pre-emptively awards her the best room in the house. “You are the only one of them with any manners.”

Blogging has taught me that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks. Arf! But it’s odd nonetheless to feel that I’m being made to feel proud, by these books of Colm Tóibín‘s, of being Irish.

Friday Movies:
Confessions of a Shopaholic

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009


Jerry Bruckheimer meets Isla Fisher. Who wins? In the long term, I think that the actress will be bringing audiences to this movie years and years past its sell-by date.

Friday Movies:
The International

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009


Nothing like so stylized a scene as the one above occurs in The International. Naomi Watts’s character isn’t even on the premises. But what a day at the museum will be yours to remember if you see Tom Tykwer’s cinematically accomplished thriller. Already popular with young people, The International will have kids begging to be taken to the Guggenheim. Which really is the perfect setting for a shoot-out. FLW’s helix makes sense at last!

Friday Movies:

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009


Of all the movies about movie theatres — Cinema Paradiso most eminently — Serbis is the one that never let me forget that I was in a movie theatre. Although it’s a great film in many ways, it’s one that every regular moviegoer really must see.

Friday Movies:

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009


Wowser! Is Taken ever the film to see in a dark and cold season. There was applause at the showing that Quatorze and I attended, and a woman in the audience hailed Liam Neeson’s character as “the new James Bond!” I think it just came out.

Friday Movies:

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009


It’s what the audience brings to the theatre that makes Defiance the very powerful picture that most people are going to find it to be.

Friday Movies:
Revolutionary Road

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009


Revolutionary Road is about as scary a movie as I’d want to see. But it’s what the French call incontournable — unavoidable, but in a positive sense. Leonardo di Caprio is at the top of his form, but Kate Winslet is (yet again) altogether beyond hers.

April Wheeler (Ms Winslet) passes an incredibly terse judgment on herself, in a scene with the neighbor who’s hopelessly in love with her (David Harbour). I struggled to memorize it, to no avail (and no surprise). Hopes that I would find the line in Richard Yates’s novel were also disappointed.

What impression is this movie making on young people? I thought that it captured the dead-zone quality of suburban life in the Fifties (the film is set in 1955), but it also seemed to me that the Wheelers’ dreams would have come undone in any setting. I look forward to hearing the thoughts of viewers without any personal experience of the era.

Friday Movies:
The Reader

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009


Stephen Daldry’s The Reader really surprised me. I had found the book more of an object lesson than a novel. The movie is an admirable English-language addition to the shelf of recent films that take off on tangents from the Holocaust (or, as in the case of Das Leben des Andern, its aftermath).

Friday Movies:
Last Chance Harvey

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009


Last Chance Harvey is a “small” film that is going to have a very large number of very intense fans.

Friday Movies:
Quantum of Solace

Friday, December 19th, 2008


As story goes, Quantum of Solace is something of a subprime mortgage. But as long as Daniel Craig parkours about the concrete and indulges in all the other Bond 2.0 pursuits, default is always a touchscreen away. And, for once, a Bond with chemistry! I don’t mean with the girl. I mean with M! I can’t help wondering what The Mother would have been like if Dame Judi had taken Anne Reid’s role.

Maybe I’ll understand it the second time.

Friday Movies:
Slumdog Millionaire

Friday, December 12th, 2008


To be perfectly honest, I was spurred to see Slumdog Millionaire because of the recent massacre in Mumbai, where most of the film is set. But I lost all sense of investigative agenda almost immediately. Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Vikas Swarup’s Q & A (now for sale under the movie’s title) is a smashingly engaging film. The only thing that could have made it seem bigger would have been to see it at Radio City Music Hall in a holiday extravaganza.

Friday Movies:
Role Models

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008


If the election had gone the other way, Role Models would be unwatchably pathetic, and this picture more or less shows why. As it is, the re-enactors lost, and Role Models is only mildly depressive.

That’s not a motto. That’s just you saying a bunch of things.” Paul Rudd rules.

Friday Movies:

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008


Clint Eastwood’s Changeling turns out to be a lot more interesting than the trailer. The trailer reels off the film’s relatively few moments of cliché dismay — Angelina Jolie gets firehosed by a sadistic matron! John Malkovich looks evil! — with a trite glibness that makes you wonder if Mr Eastwood has gone soft. Well, he hasn’t.

Friday Movies:
Il y a longtemps que je t’aime

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008


This film needs no prod from me. It’s one of the greats.

Friday Movies:

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008


Ed Harris and his co-writer, Robert Knott, have taken Robert B Parker’s novel and whipped up an unusually entertaining Western, one that I expect will become a beloved favorite over time. Comparisons to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven turn out to be as inevitable as they are inapt — which makes things interesting. But then, Appaloosa is a genuine Western.

Friday Movies:
The Duchess

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008


Keira Knightley plays a proxy for Lady Di in The Duchess. Won’t it be fun if, when she’s all grown up, Ms Knightley gets to play the Duchess — of Cornwall, the Prince’s second wife.

Friday Movies:
Rachel Getting Married

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008


I’m very glad that Rachel Getting Married came out when it did, because I learned a lot about weddings that I hope doesn’t happen at Megan and Ryan’s wedding party in November. (A) Potpourri of World Music. (B) Excessive toasting. I want to go to a party, not a spectacle.