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

Sunday, September 23

Fall Movies: Part 1

Before the fall season really kicks in, a quick look at what I've seen these past couple of weeks...

Probably the biggest hit for my I guess somewhat nerdy daughters was In the Shadow of the Moon, the documentary about America's early space program in general and the Apollo moon landings—especially, and naturally, the first, Apollo 11—in particular. Alternating between still-goose-bumpy archival footage and engaging, informative and often funny interviews with all of the astronauts (save for the reclusive Neil Armstrong), this is an entertaining, briskly-paced film that does an great job of selling the now-forgotten thrill and wonder of space travel.

Maybe my expectations were a little too high for David Cronenberg's thriller about the Russian mob and an English midwife, but I thought Eastern Promises was a little slight, and a little slack, feeling like a much longer movie than its 100-minute running time. That said, there are some terrific performances here, especially Viggo Mortensen—so cool, so menacing, so in control of everyone even though he's just a chauffeur—and Armin Mueller-Stahl as the crimelord. And the naked, unbelievably painful fight scene in the sauna is as brilliantly choreographed, shot and edited as everyone says. And I loved the glimpses into the more epic story of the Russian mafia as a whole. And, yeah, this was actually a pretty excellent movie.

Who knew I could ever get Evan Rachel Wood's version of Hold Me Tight stuck in my head for days? Too long by about 20 minutes, but still far too visually creative and hopelessly romantic to miss, Across the Universe is Julie Taymor's musical homage to the sixties, told almost entirely through the songs of the Beatles. Although it can't seem to decide whether it's a narrative-driven or a more impressionistic piece (acid trips make for a good excuse to digress with lots of very cool, very Taymor touches, like puppetry and collages), the setting is (to some, including me) nearly endlessly fascinating, the cast is entirely appealing, and they deliver mostly credible covers of some of the best songs ever written.

My giggly daughters and I were thoroughly charmed last Friday night by the new Amanda Bynes vehicle Sydney White, a for-no-particular-reason retelling of Snow White, set in the deliberately generic Southern American University. Here the Seven Dwarves are recast as seven ultra-nerds, the Evil Witch is the campus sorority queen, the Prince... well you get the idea. (The updated poisoned apple was actually pretty clever, though, I thought). Anyway, it's too bad the filmmakers didn't trust their audience more, instead turning everyone into broad, unrealistic caricatures, but overall this is a cute movie that knows what to do with Bynes's considerable adoreableness.

I laughed quite a bit through the first half of Ira & Abby, a small film about love, relationships, heartbreak, and trying to deal with it all through therapy (these sessions, whether individual, couple's, or round-robin free-for-all, consistently delivered a knowing parodic punch). And the two leads are enormously likeable: Chris Messina as the neurotic, Woody Allen-ish Ira; Jennifer Westfeldt as the open-hearted, free-spirited Abby. And writer Westfeldt did an excellent job of shifting my allegiances throughout. However, I thought the film's final act became too much about the young couple's parents (who, despite being relatively bigger stars, I found far less interesting), with too much infidelity, and the movie's moral—all relationships fail in one or another—too depressing to really believe.

If you haven't seen the trailer for I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, you're lucky: put the movie on your Netflix queue, or, better yet, watch it tonight at IFC on demand. I went in cold to this meandering comedy—written, directed and starring Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin—about an overweight actor struggling with his career, with his love life, with buying candy in a supermarket, and I laughed so hard in parts (especially those involving Sarah Silverman) that I couldn't breathe. Apparently, however, the trailer gives away all the best jokes, and they are considerably less funny the second time around.

I thought The Nanny Diaries would be far too zany for my tastes, but Bo and Co wanted to see it, so we went... and it was actually far too depressing for my tastes. Seriously. Though Scarlett Johansson acquits herself well as Annie the Nanny, and Laura Linney manages to bring some depth to the clueless, self-absorbed Mrs. X, and Paul Giamatti plays the unbearably cruel Mr. X with glee, these Upper East Siders are all so horrible to their nannies, to their children, to their spouses, to themselves, that I just found the whole thing too disheartening to bear. Bo and Co, however, did laugh throughout.

As the Times put it, Daniel Radcliffe makes for tempting audience-bait in the very small, very slow Australian flick December Boys. Our advice: resist. Radcliffe plays only a smallish part in this story of four tween-/teenage orphans sent on holiday to a seemingly magical beach town where, among the five or so homes, there lives not only a beautiful girl eager to teach Radcliffe how to kiss, and then shove his hand up her skirt (that always used to happen to me when I was 14), but also a kind, attractive couple who can't have children of their own, and so decide to adopt one of the boys. Bo, Co and I were bored, disbelieving, disengaged.



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