Archive for the ‘Friday Movies’ Category

The Mechanic

Friday, February 4th, 2011

The Mechanic is a bouncy film about a hit man. You wouldn’t think to call him a killer, really, because killing implies passion and hit men are, apparently, all business. Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is one of the best: he can make a death seem accidental, or he can “send a message.” He develops his fastidious plans in a modernist aerie lost in the Louisiana bayous, and likes to listen to Schubert on a very high-end LP player. (For fun, he soups up an old Corvette.) Determined to have none but satisfied customers, Bishop is perhaps overly inclined to believe what his paymasters tell him. Even though anyone in the audience over the age of ten can see that Tony Goldwyn is the bad guy, we have to admire Bishop’s ability to put assignment ahead of sentiment.

At the burial of Bishop’s mentor, McKenna (Donald Sutherland), our hero runs into  McKenna’s ne’er-do-well son (Ben Foster), who has so many issues that he can’t hold a job — but he can shoot. Bishop adopts him as a partner while Junior (his actual name is Steve) thinks about how to run down the man who killed his father — who is of course &c. Hair-raising adventures climax in the only possible way, and then go onto climax, once and for all, from there.

The Mechanic is not a mannered movie, but it is all about style — the masculine style of speaking softly while carrying deadly weapons. For that reason, it’s good to get Donald Sutherland out of the way early, just as it was in the remake of The Italian Job; Mr Sutherland has always been a scarily expressive actor and is not about to retire as such. And, again as in that film, he is once again closer to one of his colleagues in crime than he is to his own flesh and blood. Steve McKenna’s sulking is tolerable because it’s laced with astringent and even cocky self-hatred. Also, unlike his father, he is not wheelchair-bound. Mr Statham inhabits a role that was obviously conceived with him in mind — brooding, stoic, afflicted with painfully good mental health, and impressively articulate at those times when he has something to say. If Jason Statham is a favorite actor of mine, it’s precisely because he is able to make this bundle of masculine attributes interesting, and I admire his director, Simon West, for creating a film in which swaggering would be in bad taste. Mr West is also to be applauded for deploying the story’s weaponry and other matériel without showing off.

I had the feeling of watching a James Bond movie in 3-D, for full-dimensional characters. Even Bishop’s targets, odious as they may be, come to us as fully realized human beings. They don’t “deserve to die,” and there is nothing cartoonish about their deaths. (Their bodyguards are of course another matter.) Only an odd person would call The Mechanic a “feel-good” film, but its pieces come together with a very satisfying click — even if it’s a click that goes “boom.”

Lisa Chodolenko’s The Kids Are All Right

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Lisa Chodolenko’s California comedy, The Kids Are All Right, runs a crack express train through a series of predictable plot points in order to delight us with some of the most extraordinary theatre that I’ve ever seen at the movies. She does not allow her film to clutter with questions about what’s going to happen next; she wants to create a stage on which to make us wonder what it feels like to be someone else when the usual things happen. If we’re sophisticated theatregoers, we may be forgiven for wondering just how Julianne Moore or Annette Bening will negotiate a sharp turn ahead, but both actresses do such a good job that it’s really very difficult to imagine them in other roles. Not that I didn’t try: I summoned Ms Moore’s quiet housewife in Far From Heaven, and Ms Bening’s exuberant actress in Being Julia, but all I got were ghosts. I had to forget about Moore and Bening and focus instead on Jules and Nic, the lesbian couple at the center of the movie, with their two children and some unexpected business with the man hitherto referred to as “our sperm donor.”

Jules and Nic are like any married people — different from one another. The fact that they’re both women means nothing, a point that this movie never lets us forget. People don’t come together and settle down because they have common interests, or because they share a common temperament, or for any other characteristic similarity. That’s not how love works. Over time, people rather helplessly grow, sometimes in painfully different directions; sometimes, as here, in an unconscious harmony that seems, in unforeseen crisis, both inexplicable and unlikely. People become middle-aged: tired of themselves, terrified by the collapsed panorama of the future, and desperate for reinvigoration. People make mistakes. In The Kids Are All Right, Jules makes a terrible mistake. It’s such a common human mistake that Ms Chodolenko is able to present it as a comic pratfall, and we laugh when it happens. But we’re not conspirators. The mistake has no importance aside from being a mistake. Thereafter, the movie becomes grave about the consequences of mistakes, and the difficulty of cleaning up after them. The triumph of it all is that we don’t mind this shift from laughter to gravity.

Jules and Nic are not even similarly sympathetic. We don’t side with either one of them when Jules’s mistake comes to light — a triumph for the actors and the director. Sure, we’re going to see Nic as a pain. But we’ll see Jules as a passive and irresponsible person as well. Because the women are so clearly presented as different people, we’re no more sure that they ought to stay together than they are. Atg no point does Ms Chodolenko allow us to root for “the couple,” that invisible third party to every marriage. It’s very clear that Jules’s mistake has destroyed “the couple,” so that if she and Nic do stay together, they’ll have to grow a new one. Which is just as well: “the couple” is what middle-aged married people are usually tired of most of all.

Jules and Nic are also “the parents,” but the permanence of this more material relationship is also opened to question. What does parenthood mean, exactly? Jules is the mother of Laser, a gawky fifteen year-old of whom she says at one point that it would be nice if he were gay, because then he’d be more sensitive. Nic’s daughter, Joni, is a bright but serious girl who is the film’s one unfailingly attractive character. But what about their father? Is a sperm donor a father? Perhaps. But the real question is this: does a sperm donor get a quick pass to join the family that wouldn’t exist without him? The film answers this question with a very firm negative.

Paul, the sperm donor, is of course the man with whom Jules makes her mistake. He’s a nice guy, but the sudden longing for personal wisdom that’s kindled by meeting his children does not mean that Paul can grow up fast enough to assume a place at the family table. He may have good advice for his kids, and they may take it to their advantage, but all the well-meaning in the world can’t compensate for Paul’s violation of the family’s integrity. It’s pretty clear that Paul doesn’t think much of lesbian relationships; he’s not offended by them, but he clearly believes that Jules’s demonstration of a taste for having sex with him means that she is ready to ground herself in a real relationship, with a man. This misconception does not make Paul a bad person, but it renders him a lousy family member, and we know what Joni means when, at the end, she says that she wishes that he had been “better.”

Mark Ruffalo is magnificently credible as a decent man who has committed a gross indecency. Perhaps it would be better to charge him with participating in one; it is always plain as day that Jules has succumbed to his charms without the benefit of overt invitations to do so. Certainly Paul sees himself as fundamentally innocent; he really believes that the four people whose lives he has derailed will accept his heartfelt apology and absolve him. Again, Ms Chodolenko shoots down the nascent ghost of the “couple” that Paul feels to be enveloping him with Jules. We are strongly discouraged from hoping that any relationships will survive simply because they have persisted for a time or, more germanely in a movie theatre, because they appealed to our ideas of what good relationships look like.

Because Ms Moore plays the sinning partner, we wouldn’t be surprised if she were otherwise perfect, the better to highlight her guilt. But Jules is actually something of an idiot. Whether or not there is justice to her complaint that Nic thwarted her career (whatever that might have been) because she wanted Jules to stay at home with the children, Jules is certainly a woman who has become unfamiliar with the kind of rigorous thinking that makes Nic a successfully obstetrician. Jules knows how to cajole approval out of Nic, but this doesn’t mean that she actually deserves it. She buys a truck for her new landscaping business (complete with handsomely signed doors) before she has any actual clients, and she fires a steady worker because she has embarrassed herself in front of him. Jules is also something of a slob, and like slobs generally, unaware of her personal carelessness. Nic tut tuts, plucking hair from their bathtub drain. It never seems to cross Jules’s mind to make sure that Nic won’t find her hair in places where it doesn’t belong.

Annette Bening fights very hard for Nic, just as Nic would fight hard for anything that she really believed in, and that’s what seals the success of Ms Bening’s amazing performance. We are always aware of Nic’s packeted consciousness: when she’s not entirely interested in what people are talking about, she tries, unsuccessfully, to hide her ennui; but when she is interested in the conversation at hand, she is, scarily, much too interested. Ms Bening gives us a woman whose belief that she doesn’t have to worry too much about what others think of her is an unholy compound of self-righteousness and contempt. Nobody — certainly nobody at home — is, in Nic’s view, entitled to have an opinion about her. And this turns out to be the strength that enables her to save her marriage. She is convinced that the world that she has built with her lover and her children is paramount, and it’s the force of this conviction that keeps Paul beyond the pale. Paul may be momentarily attractive, but that does not make him good or right — not for Nic’s family, anyway.

The scene in which Nic tries to digest what she has just discovered about her lover’s infidelity will have a permanent place in the gallery of great movie scenes. While Ms Chodolenko embalms Nic in a windy roar that blocks out what everyone else is saying at the dinner table, Ms Bening looks this way and that, and you hope that she is not going to stop and stare at you, because that would be a Medea moment. Without looking devastated or “old,” the actress gives us a middle-aged woman who has just suffered a terrible blow and doesn’t know how to respond. Will she expire on the spot, in apoplectic despair? Or will she rage ruinously with the crockery? It is wonderfully, horrifyingly open to question what she will do in this, the film’s one and only moment of unpredictability. Then the bubble bursts, and Nic is clinking glasses in a toast with everyone else. Whatever Nic is going to do about her fresh hell, she is not going to do it in front of Paul.

The full power of the scene will not be visible, however, when it is excerpted, for quite aside from what happens to Nic in this nightmarish minute, or what happens to everyone else as a result, there is the miracle of what happens to us. As I say, the scene transforms us from a laughing audience into a grave one. By taking us deep inside Nic’s furious confusion, Ms Chodolenko not only makes the very idea of comedy seem inappropriate but opens up the larger vistas of tragedy and redemption without making us feel that she has changed the rules. Rueful comedies often collapse into “serious” finales, which we endure with the grudging reluctance of a child being given a dose of something unpleasant. In The Kids Are All Right, Lisa Chodolenko transubstantiates that medicine into theatrical nectar.

Friday Movies:
Coco and Igor

Friday, June 18th, 2010


Jan Kounen’s Coco and Igor is a superb homage to modernism at its zenith, and ought to be seen by anyone with the faintest interest in cultural history. (Which ought to be everybody!) Deploying two such iconic figures in the movement that it is hard to say which of them, in the end, amounts to the bigger hill of beans, the film underscores the pre-eminence in modern art of surface and style, its conviction that the best surfaces and styles hide nothing that’s important. In the process, this tale of a little-known amour demonstrates the connection between wilful candor and cruelty. The two protagonists, who believe in themselves as absolutely as it is given to human beings to believe in anything, are certainly aware of their impact upon public life, but that is not their primary consideration. They’re remaking the world to suit themselves, and the better they get at this, the worse it is for the people around them. It is almost ridiculous to speak of love between them.

Mr Kounen has been blessed with three superb principals: Anna Mouglalis never stops reminding us that Coco Chanel inaugurated an entirely new way of being a woman (which is why I’m inclined to award the palm to her character). The story adds that Chanel figured out how to make this new manner accessible to women who weren’t rich enough to be fashionable. That is the whole point of Chanel Nº 5, the promotion of which is nicely staged for us. (Not the discovery, by any means: the toiling of Dr Beaux and his staff at their airy laboratory in Grasse; that would detract from the toilings of Chanel in her Paris atelier, which are presented with an air of fey sorcery that breezes over the real designer’s hard work.)

Mads Mikkelsen is a touch too burly to be an altogether persuasive Stravinsky, but he certainly looks exotic in more or less the same way that the composer did. He is also a bit more sentimental around the edges than Stravinsky seems to have been. It’s hard to imagine Stravinsky’s having burst out, post-coitally, that his lover was only a “vendeuse” — a shopwoman. There’s a lèse-majesté in this insult, the majesty’s being Stravinsky’s own: what on earth would he be doing accepting the bounty of a shopwoman? The role of silently brooding musician is never lifted, here, out of its winding sheets of cliché, but, if we have to watch it, then watching Mr Mikkelsen’s screen presence causes the price to pay for this pleasure to evaporate.

The interesting role is the one that you think you’re going to dislike, that of Igor’s wife, Katarina. Yelena Morozova is the real reason to see Coco and Igor. The character of the wife who is not only wronged but forced to live under the same roof with her adulterous husband’s paramour is not perhaps such a cliché as we might think it to be, but one does dread the whining and the self-pity. Instead of which, Ms Morozova delivers a remonstrance to the couple’s amorality: she doesn’t just say that they’re wrong, she makes you agree. As the film rolls on, Ms Morozova’s forehead becomes higher and paler, to the point where she might sprout fiery wings and visit justice upon the sinners. Once Stravinsky has delivered that insult to Chanel, you have to wonder what the point of all this selfishness might be.

The scene which ends with this sour note is an interesting contrivance. We see, from above, the naked Mr Mikkelsen covering Ms Mouglalis, their brawny sinews constrasting sharply with the black-and-white and stylized floral décor of their lovenest. As the camera descends, the disorder of the actor’s hair strikes an ever blowsier contrast with the room. There appears to have been no way to modernize the surface of carnality — which may be why, after several decades of trying, the mandarins gave up hoping that it would make for a better world.

There is actually a second reason to see this film, and that is the opening episode, which, like so many opening episodes these days, isn’t at all essential to the story; powerful as it is, I’m not even sure that it sets a tone for what follows. The story of Coco and Igor takes place in 1920, when Chanel was becoming truly rich while Stravinsky was impoverished by the Russian Revolution. There is no need to recreate the premiere, seven years earlier, of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps, an enormously famous cultural event. But Mr Kounen has recreated it so well that it is more shocking that you expect it to be. The eerie music begins, and the odd choreography bewilders the audience; but gradually, and horribly, the action moves into the house, as partisans of and against modernism all but bring the gutter into the theatre. As a scene of social disaster, I have never seen the like. Tendentious as Mr Kounen’s narration might be, it impossible to come away without backdating the outbreak of World War I by a year.

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.

Moviegoing: 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: Eilis

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: Serbis

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: Taken

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: Defiance

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: Changeling

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.