A dad and his daughters, loving life in New York City

Saturday, May 5

Spring Movies: Part 3

I've seen a boatload of movies this past week. Here's a few quick thoughts...

Yes it's bloated and corny and obvious, but what do you expect from the most expensive movie ever made? Risks? No, if you're going to bother seeing Spiderman 3, I would suggest you take it for what it is: a huge Hollywood blockbuster, stuffed with earnest lines and cheap laughs; genuinely freaky villains (the Sandman honestly creeped me out); love, forgiveness and redemption; and, of course, the most dazzling state-of-the-art CGI $250 million can buy. This was their first Spiderman experience, and Bo and Co loved everything about it... sat there wide-eyed and jaw-dropped for 180 minutes. I'm a sucker for all of the above, and, yeah, I guess I sort of loved it, too, though it definitely helped that the screen was massive, the sound roaring, the packed house shrieking and cheering throughout. A fun night out for Scoboco.

Adam Brody deserves to be a star. Because although Debbie and I enjoyed the entire cast of In the Land of Women—especially Olympia Dukakis as the crass, delusional grandmother and the scene-stealing Makenzie Vega as the precocious, pre-adolescent kid sister—it was Brody that carried the film, using his terrific timing, his geeky likeability, his charismatic lankiness to great effect. The story is slight: L.A. Brody gets dumped by his movie star girlfriend and moves to a Michigan suburb to take care of his doddering but lovable grandma. Once there, he meets, and is transformed by, his new neighbors: mom Meg Ryan (slightly scary with all her plastic surgery, but still spunky enough to pull off this role); and angry, confused, beautiful teenager Kristen Stewart. But this movie isn't about the plot. It's about feelings, and laughter, and, most of all, about watching good-looking people crank up their considerable charm.

Debbie didn't agree, but I thought Diggers was squarely in Edward Burns territory, in a good way: four early-30s working-class guys (specifically, clam diggers) on Long Island grappling with life's challenges, like thwarted ambition, lack of emotional security, mortality, overwhelming responsibility, fear of growing up. Not much really happens here. It's 1976. A father dies. A big corporation threatens the independent diggers' way of life. One guy sleeps with another's sister (the always welcome Maura Tierney). Everyone drinks a lot of shots, smokes a lot of weed, and talks a lot about their problems. But the script is first-rate, the performances solid all around, the art direction lovingly obsessive in the period details, the emotion and humor both honestly earned.

I saw the upcoming Coen brothers movie No Country for Old Men—based on the Cormac McCarthy novel; starring Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, and an outstanding Javier Bardem as a matter-of-fact psychopath—at a screening, and signed an agreement not to talk about it online. So I won't. Except to say that I thought the first part was funny, riveting, and the best thing the Coens have ever done... and the second part featured everything I dislike about their work. If you set up your movie as a cat-and-mouse game, then kill off either the cat or the mouse halfway through, you don't really have much of a story left, right? Nothing except a big shaggy dog one, anyway.

Much more gentle and sweet than the trailer would have you believe—yes "secrets are spilled", but they're kind of nice secrets—After the Wedding isn't nearly as deep or as twisty as I wanted it to be, but Mads Mikkelson (best known, to me, as the blood-crying villain in Casino Royale) puts in a fine performance as a bitter do-gooder working in an orphanage in India who, through a series of mostly unbelievable machinations, basically has all of his dreams come true. It's an appealing fantasy: to be handed, out of nowhere, all the material, emotional and spiritual security you could ever want... but in this case it doesn't make for a consistently compelling movie.

TimeOut New York nailed it when they likened Fracture to such "goofy" '80s courtroom dramas as Jagged Edge and Presumed Innocent. Problem is, whereas those films seemed exciting and fresh at the time, this just feels all-around stale, with a script that runs out of ideas about a third of the way in. Much has been made of the two co-stars' antagonist chemistry, but make no mistake: Ryan Gosling (hot-shot public prosecutor looking to cash in by going corporate) is the true star here, outshining his dramatic foil Anthony Hopkins (cuckolded aero-engineer who shoots his wife in the face, in full whispery Hannibal Lector mode) by many megawatts.

I'd been on the fence for a few weeks about Private Fears in Public Places. It seemed like it might have what I like—interconnected love stories, a magical feeling, Parisian setting—but somehow I wasn't totally convinced. Then David Denby of New York magazine called it something like "the best movie in theaters, you must see it now!" So I did. And it was okay, in an old-fashioned, va-va-voom kind of way. But, really, this film is more about desperation, despair and loneliness than it is about love. Prepare to leave depressed.

Finally, after Disturbia hit the number one box-office spot three weeks in a row, I figured: how bad could it be? Ummmm.... how about very? While the last 20 minutes or so offer some genuine tension, the script is so flat, the internal logic so lame, the acting so obvious (though everyone does look pretty), that I can't even recommend putting this on your Netflix queue.



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