Fall Movies: Part 5
It's Thanksgiving weekend, so fall is officially over. (Yes, I just made that up.) But before we move on to the "Holiday Movie Season", here's a look at what I saw last week...
Keep your expectations appropriate—it is a James Bond movie, after all—and you're sure to have a great time at Casino Royale, by far the best installment in the series in a decade or more. Much has been made, and rightly so, of Daniel Craig's tortured turn as 007, and it is definitely satisfying to have a Bond that's more loose cannon than suave playboy... though Craig, of course, does look totally hot in a tux (not to mention naked), and he still does get the woman. But the whole movie also just feels smarter (the solid script helps), more contemporary, more relevant than its recent predecessors. Just using parkour* in the big opening stunt added immediate credibility in my mind. And that ending... talk about turning your back on Bond clichés!
I took Bo and Co to Stranger Than Fiction last weekend and it was a huge hit with all three of us. We were cracking up many times in the movie's first half, as Will Farrell beautifully underplays an IRS agent who suddenly—and alarmingly—tunes into a voice in his head narrating his every move. The funniest scene may have been with Dustin Hoffman, again nicely (and, for him, surprisingly) underplaying his role as a literature "expert" who tries to help Farrell figure out whether he's been somehow thrust into a comedy, or a tragedy. And then there's the very sweet romance between Farrell and the always adorable Maggie Gyllennhaal, which totally made me cry and, if you have any heart, will send you straight to iTunes when you get home to download that (for me) long-forgotten Wreckless Eric ditty "Whole Wide World". This was definitely the best movie I saw with my kids this fall.
The plot of Fast Food Nation is thin, to say the least, and most of the dialogue functions not so much to build characters, or drive a narrative, but more as a vehicle to indict the meatpacking industry (both for the appalling, unsanitary conditions of its plants and its predatory hiring practices of illegal immigrants), as well as the fast-food marketing machines, lazy consumers, and the strip-malling and chain-storing of America. I'm tempted to suggest skipping the flick and reading Eric Schlosser's excellent book by the same name (which you should do no matter what), but even at its nearly 2.5 hours running time, I found Richard Linklater's film actively engaging throughout, no doubt helped by a superb cast led by Catalina Sandino Moreno, Greg Kinnear and an uncredited Bruce Willis.
An admirable failure is perhaps the best way to describe Bobby, Emilio Estevez's Altman-wannabe portrait of the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated, right after winning the California primary, at L.A.'s grand old Ambassador Hotel. The movie tries to show the awful effect of the killing from a dozen or more points of view—two Bobby volunteers who drop acid; an alcoholic lounge singer and her heartbroken husband; a young couple getting married just to keep the boy from going to Vietnam; the hotel's manager, caught having an affair with a switchboard operator; the Mexican and Negro kitchen staff; and on and on—but the inane, patronizing script hamstrings Estevez's ambition at every turn. And because the huge all-star cast is given nothing to work with, the whole thing ultimately feels more like a 2006 celebrity get-together than a bittersweet slice of 1968.
Last, and definitely least, there's the Jerry Bruckheimer, Tony Scott, Denzel Washington time-traveling mess of a thriller Deja Vu, which is actually more entertaining than it has any right to be, but unless you've run out of options, certainly skippable.
* Sometimes called "free running." For more, here's Wikipedia, and one of thousands of videos on YouTube.