Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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The Good, the Bad, and the Meh

I watched a lot of really good movies in my last batch. I...did not this time.

Crazy, Stupid, Love: Steve Carell and Julianne Moore are getting divorced. His son is in love with the babysitter, and the babysitter is in love with him. Ryan Gosling wants to help him get his mojo back. Meanwhile, Emma Stone and Liza Lapira go around being sarcastic and hilarious in some other movie. Also, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon. With bonus Beth Littleford. I have not seen any of those holiday movies, but I think I can say with confidence that this movie makes much better use of its cast in telling a story of many interconnected relationships, some of them ill-advised. Perhaps most of them. It's a hard movie to sell; while the general hook is a young lothario teaching an older man how to pick up chicks (hijinks must ensue!), it is, in fact, a surprisingly mature romantic comedy with real emotion behind it. I have never in my life been brought closer to tears by a conversation about a water heater. It's clever and funny when it needs to be, but it rarely lets its characters become caricatures. It's always nice to come across a romantic comedy that treats its characters like people and doesn't rely on vapid clichés. B+/A-

50/50: Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam Lerner, a fictionalized version of screenwriter Will Reiser, who was diagnosed with cancer in his twenties. His chances of survival? The titular 50/50. How does a 27-year-old man deal with cancer? How about his best friend (Seth Rogen), his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his mother (Anjelica Huston), his therapist (Anna Kendrick)? The actual story being told is not exceptional; it's how it's told that makes this movie special. The movie has a healthy sense of humor, but it's far from a black comedy. It simply seeks to tell this story without schmaltz or false sentimentality, which makes the truly emotional moments feel earned rather than manipulative (and, of course, much credit to Gordon-Levitt's performance). I loved that it allowed all the characters to have a realistic mix of complicated feelings. The conversations between Adam and his mother sound almost exactly like the ones my mom and I would have if I had cancer. Seth Rogen's character, which is actually based on him, seems like kind of an asshole, but he genuinely cares for his best friend. Adam's girlfriend wants to be a supportive girlfriend but finds it difficult. Anna Kendrick describes her character as "the worst therapist ever"; she's as new to helping people deal with cancer as Adam is to dealing with it. It's a small, focused story, well executed. B+/A-

Drones: Amber Benson and Adam Busch co-directed this dry, droll office comedy with a twist: there are aliens! Jonathan Woodward, of Buffy and Angel fame, takes it in stride when he discovers his best friend, Samm Levine, is an alien, but it does kind of rock his world, so he goes ahead and asks out his long-time office crush, Amy. Guess what? Yeah, you didn't see that one coming, did you? (You did.) The movie isn't actually some sort of Who's an Alien? guessing game; it's more of an office rom-com where the fate of the planet happens to be at stake. What's really impressive is how the movie really makes you believe all these alien shenanigans with almost no special effects at all. The script is pretty clever, and it has a quirky feel to it that's not annoying, but I felt like there was something off the whole time, like everything could be a wee bit snappier; sometimes dry and droll can become dull. Despite the occasional lack of narrative momentum, it's got some good laughs, and it builds to a nice climax. The real highlight of the movie, though, is Angela Bettis as Amy, who's just wonderful to watch. B/B+

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil: It's a movie you've seen a hundred times before: a bunch of idiot college kids go off to a cabin in the woods and are attacked by murderous hillbillies. Except this time, the hillbillies are actually Good Samaritans mistaken for monsters, and the idiot college kids are the hapless villains. It's a hilarious trope subversion, and for most of the movie, it's basically the same joke over and over, but it's done so well that it doesn't matter, especially because you've got Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, who has a crush on Katrina Bowden, who learns a lesson in not being super judgmental about backwoods folk. It's a great gory farce that's destined to be a cult classic. B+

Young Adult: Or Charlize Theron Makes Bad Decisions. This is a hard movie to rate and discuss because it's so brazenly different from most movies. Mavis Gary is the author (well, ghostwriter) of a YA series, and we are introduced to her as sad and pathetic, a woman who wakes up looking like shit and drinks out of a liter Diet Coke bottle before making herself look like Charlize Theron and face the day. But then we discover that she is actually kind of awful and tactless, and as she drives back to her hometown to win back her high school sweetheart, who is married and just had a baby, we simultaneously pity her delusions and hate her intentions. She's an unsympathetic protagonist, but it's entirely possible I would have liked the character more if she were a man, sadly enough. Theron is great, though, and she doesn't try to make you feel sorry for her any more than the character's own actions do. Thankfully, Patton Oswalt is around to tell her what a nutcase she is. As we watch Mavis spiral downward, we maybe understand why she's become like this, but her journey of self-discovery ends on a bizarre note that sends a very strange message. It's not your typical story, and I have to respect Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman for telling it. This is not a bad movie. This is a good movie that I did not particularly enjoy watching. B

Duplicity: Recent discussion of Clive Owen and Julia Roberts inspired me to push up this film from Tony Gilroy of Michael Clayton fame in which Clive Owen and Julia Roberts play romantically entangled spies engaging in corporate espionage. Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti are the rival CEOs, the latter being particularly entertaining. At the crux of the movie is a relationship between two people who aren't sure whether they can trust each other since their jobs require them to trust no one, which is something we see in spy movies a lot, but...this time, it's the whole movie. On the one hand, good performances. On the other hand, they basically have the exact same conversation fourteen times during the movie. It's a breezy film with fun spy antics, but it feels kind of empty and lifeless, despite having a teensy bit of heart. B/B+

Haywire: MMA star Gina Carano is Mallory Kane, a private contractor who does...stuff for...people...or whatever. People try to kill her, and she's like, "Fuck that shit," and goes after them. It is far more dull than it sounds, plus: hard to follow! Steven Soderbergh appears to want to make the anti-thriller, in which action scenes aren't actually thrilling and seem almost blasé (and one switches between color and black-and-white for no apparent reason). The movie was built around Carano, but while she can obviously fight, she doesn't really create much of a character or display a wide range of emotions. The fight scenes are certainly different from most movie fight scenes in that they look like people actually beating the crap out of each other. While I respected Soderbergh's take on the genre, it failed to keep me engaged. B-/B

Take Shelter: Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain have a deaf daughter, which isn't actually relevant to the movie at all unless she's a metaphor or something, I don't know, but it's a nice touch. Michael Shannon is having nightmares about an oncoming, potentially apocalyptic storm, and he is compelled to build the titular shelter to protect his family. Also, he may actually be developing paranoid-schizophrenia. This movie is two hours of aggressive dullness and artsy portent. Michael Shannon was praised for his performance, but he basically seems to be doing the same thing he did in Bug, which is mumble and growl with a dead-eyed stare. I couldn't stay awake for most of the last half, and I didn't care, and Wikipedia tells me I didn't miss much. I honestly have no idea what the goddamn point of this movie was. C+

A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas: Believe it or not, the first Harold and Kumar movie is REALLY GOOD. It's incredibly funny and a smart commentary on racism in America. The second movie was generally good fun. With this third movie, however, it's time for me to accept that the first movie was some sort of beautiful anomaly, and the magic will not be recaptured. This movie finds Harold and Kumar having grown apart as Harold grew up and Kumar didn't, and they must of course rekindle their friendship by having all sorts of wacky Christmas adventures in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Also, THINGS FLY AT THE SCREEN CONSTANTLY. I'm sure this was fun in the theatres, but in 2D, the effect is just annoying and silly. There are some pretty funny things in this movie, but most of the movie is...not that funny. I mean, I love Kal Penn and John Cho and I'm happy that there's a comedy franchise with two Asian leads, but this movie doesn't really ever justify its existence. Still, though, if you want to see a baby on drugs, a waffle-making robot, and Santa getting high all in one movie...here you go! B

The Long Kiss Goodnight: In a deliberate attempt to break my streak of meh movies, I checked out Samuel L. Jackson's favorite movie with a female action hero. Geena Davis has been a mild-mannered schoolteacher since she woke up eight years ago with amnesia and a gestating daughter. Samuel L. Jackson is the private eye she's hired to find out who she was before. I'll bet you can't guess that she was a government assassin! I mean, what else would she be, have you ever seen a movie before. Needless to say, her past comes back to, you know, kill her, but, thankfully, her old personality is also beginning to resurface. So basically Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson go around being badass and shooting things. The movie doesn't go as in depth into the issues of identity as I would have hoped, but that's okay. Screenwriter Shane Black is best known for writing Lethal Weapon, but a look at his IMDb bio tells me that he has quite the pedigree, including The Monster Squad, The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, all of which I love! So I'll be interested to see what he does with Iron Man 3. Because this movie gives me everything I want out of an action movie. Guns! Explosions! Crunching metal! Plot twists! Quips! Plot-relevant callbacks to throwaway lines! Cheesy emotional moments! More explosions! B+/A-

In Time: In the future, you stop aging at 25, but then you only get one year to live, at which point time is your currency. That's right, someone made an entire movie out of the adage, "Time is money." But it's Andrew Niccol of Gattaca fame, so there's some interesting classism built into the premise, where the poor live day-by-day, barely scraping by with enough time to live, and the rich are effectively immortal. The time-currency idea is used pretty cleverly, although the pricing structure is ludicrous. But the idea that your money is your life is a neat one to play with. Unfortunately, after a promising start, the movie becomes strangely slow and boring despite consisting almost entirely of Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfreid running away from Cillian Murphy, interspersed with scenes of Vincent Kartheiser being a a dick. Perhaps it deserves the Sleepy Pass, but I expected more from Andrew Niccol. The movie promises a "Bring down the dystopia" story but doesn't really focus enough on the fact that all the time is in the hands of the rich. Because Timberlake and Seyfreid have to run and make out a lot. There is enough that's interesting about the worldbuilding to make it worth a look (and it's got a pretty good cast), but it does feel like a lot of wasted potential in the end. B/B+

Cowboys and Aliens: Too many cowboys, not enough aliens, basically. Daniel Craig wakes up with no memory of where he's been and a strange device attached to his wrist. Then aliens attack and abduct people and the strange device makes things go boom. So he teams up with Harrison Ford and Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde to go find their people and holy shit why is this movie so boring. It's just really, really dull, with no sense of pacing, and every now and then, something interesting happens or an alien attacks, but it is such a struggle to care about anyone or anything that's going on. It did not help that I was sleepy to begin with. On the upside, Olivia Wilde is really pretty. B-

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Too many spies, not enough tinkers, tailors, or soldiers! Gary Oldman, retired spy, investigates his former MI-6 cohorts (with the help of Benedict Gingerbatch) in order to find a mole. Is it Colin Firth? Or Toby Jones? Or one of the two actors I don't know from other things? Or is it someone else entirely...perhaps even Oldman himself? He interviews various other spies, including blond Tom Hardy, about what went down in Budapest with Mark Strong, who was also investigating a possible mole. It's a fine, fine cast, obviously, and everyone gives very subdued performances that carry the characterization more than the script does. The movie is not a thriller; few shots are fired, and there's really only one classic OMG SPY HIJINKS IS HE GOING TO GET CAUGHT scene. Instead, the thrills come as you put the pieces together. What's truly impressive about the storytelling is that it gives you all the information you need and nothing more. You have to pay attention to every scene, as every scene is telling you something. This can be a challenge because the characters use several codenames (the Circus, Control, Karla, etc) and because there are frequent flashbacks with no Lost-style whooshes to signal a time change. You can generally figure out what time you're in from context, however (usually whether Gary Oldman is working or retired or the temporal relationship to the Budapest incident). Every now and then, the movie does a little dance to tell you what you should have learned by now, expanding previous scenes or having a character state a conclusion or two. It's not easy to follow, but it's more accessible than I expected. B+/A-

The Woman in Black: Too many women, not enough black people? So let's get this part out of the way: the opening music reminded me of the Harry Potter theme; when Daniel Radcliffe was reading a newspaper, I expected the pictures to move; when he was on a train platform, I thought of Platform 9 3/4; I saw a redheaded boy and thought, oh, it's Ron! But the lingering Potterness soon goes away, giving way to a classic Gothic ghost story. Daniel Radcliffe is a widowed lawyer with a four-year-old son who goes to do...I'm not even really sure, examine some papers or whatever. Point is, he ends up in a small town terrorized by the titular Woman in Black. What this movie does best is atmosphere. It's got the feel of a ghost story down, and the way it handles the Woman in Black is the kind of scary I like, where you see things moving in the background that you're not sure you saw, or a figure appears for a split-second and isn't there when you look again. It doesn't really do any of the modern-horror things; it's more traditional. Although it's got the creepy horror down, that's pretty much all it's got, however, as there isn't really anything below the surface. The narrative itself didn't really pull me in. Maybe if the Woman in Black had been Bellatrix Lestrange... B/B+

That streak in the middle there was rough. I need to watch some better movies.
Tags: making the grade, movies
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