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

Thursday, June 28

Summer Movies: Part 3

There's some good, grown-up movies out there, no? Here's a quick look at my last six trips to the theater. OK, it's not all so grown up...

Yes, Angelina Jolie is very good in A Mighty Heart, giving a dignified, at times gut-wrenchingly hysterical performance as Mariane Pearl, the French journalist whose husband Danny—a fellow reporter who worked for the Wall Street Journal—was kidnapped in early 2002 while the two of them were working in Pakistan. But honestly, I thought it was director Michael Winterbottom who stole the show. Because although Jolie is stellar as the story's crucial emotional core, this is also an extremely adept thriller from start to finish: complicated, fast, smart, sprawling, tense, visually—and politically—striking, and filled with a top-notch supporting cast who are as much the stars of the movie as Jolie. Also excellent I thought was Winterbottom's portrait of chaotic, frightening Karachi, the Pakistani megalopolis where the action takes place. And the love between Danny and Mariane, seen in flashback, and beautifully played by the two actors with longing looks, and secret smiles. And the movie's ending, which you know is coming, but which breaks your heart nonetheless.

I took Bo and Co to see Manufactured Landscapes a couple of weeks ago, when it played at the Walter Reade Theater as part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. I say that only because I was glad we saw this visually amazing documentary on a relatively large screen, because unlike, say, The Inconvenient Truth, there is a frustrating lack of background, and context, provided by the filmmakers. The subject of the movie is Edward Burtynsky, a photographer who specializes in massive shots of industrial landscapes, focusing here on environmental devastation in China and Bangladesh, wrought by our addiction to consumerism. The images are indelible: of the factory in China that seemingly produces every clothes iron in the world, and employs more than 23,000 people; of the building of the Yangtze's Three Gorges Dam, the largest single construction project in history—by 40%!—for which more than a million people have been displaced, after they were paid to destroy their homes; of the ocean-going tanker graveyard in Bangladesh, where thousands of men, women and children slog around in the sludge scavenging scrap from these behemoths. It's all provocative to say the least, and the three of us had a great conversation on our way home.

Emma Roberts is adorable as Nancy Drew—the way she carries herself, that voice, and especially the way she says "sleuthing"—and totally saved, for me, what is a pretty pedestrian (though refreshingly earnest) story in which the buttoned-up Drew gets the fish-out-of-water treatment in contemporary L.A., only to win everyone over by solving a famous Hollywood murder mystery. Bo and Co thought different: both loved the plot machinations, the goofy high school scenes, the humor, and, especially, the tension as Drew unravels the crime... Co, in fact, said: "That was the scariest [read: most suspenseful] movie I've ever seen!" A total hit.

No surprise that opening night of Live Free or Die Hard on 34th Street would feature a loud, appreciative audience, yelling "oh... shit!" at every slick car-chase maneuver, and cracking up at all the crazy ways Bruce Willis comes up with to kill people. And really? There no better way to see a movie like this, the first hardcore actioner of the summer. Although the two best stunts are given away in the trailer, for two plus hours, Willis and company definitely deliver the goods: millions of rounds of bullets are fired from nasty-looking guns, a thousand cars are smashed, the whole country is on the brink of disaster, and every death deserves a clever joke from our smirking hero. But the shrewdest move here might be the casting of the charming Justin Long—you know him as the Mac guy from the commercials—as the hacker-turned-Willis-sidekick, giving the franchise an instant update.

Less cute and romantic (my expectation) than sad and slightly bitter, Broken English—writer/director Zoe Cassevates's take on the woes of a single woman who makes poor choices, in this case Parker Posey—is nonetheless a fairly engaging tale of modern New York City relationships... that, ummm, can sometimes end up in Paris. There's a few laughs to be had here, and Posey is lovely as always, and Melvil Poupaud is cute as her French fling, and who can argue with the moral, which can be summed up by my friend Rebekah's email signature, "Love is not finding the right person, it is being the right person"?

Finally, the only real dud of the past two weeks has to be the pointless 1408—about a travel/ghost-story writer whose gimmick is that he spends the night in the world's most haunted places—and even it wasn't as bad as it could have been, redeemed mostly because of John Cusack's charisma, a relatively interesting backstory, and a few genuinely freaky moments. But as an aside to the filmmaker? Ambiguous endings in psychological horror films can be creepy... or they can say "we have no cool idea how to explain all this, so we're just going to stop now."



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