Fall Movies: Part 2
I'm falling behind in my fall movies! Luckily, there's a bunch of unschedulked nights coming up in my near future. But before that, there are these:
I feel like In the Valley of Elah got unfairly overlooked during its early fall season run (is it even in theaters anymore?). This is a good, solid, grown-up movie about a former marine who partners up with a reluctant local sheriff to find out what happened to his son, gone AWOL from his base in the California dessert after returning from the front lines in Iraq. Starring Tommy Lee Jones (nicely toning down his usual competent-loose-cannon shtick) and Charlize Theron (in a quiet but key role)—both are excellent—the mystery here is intriguing enough to propel the narrative; the intelligent script and direction give the story a welcome, honestly earned emotional depth. The message may not be revelatory, but it resonates nonetheless: war destroys many different people in many different ways.
My expectations were so low for The Darjeeling Limited, and I must say I was pretty stunned by how much I enjoyed this undeniably ridiculous film... by how genuinely happy it made me. It wasn't so much that I laughed out loud (as usual, the trailer ruined most of the best lines), or that it's a particularly heartwarming story (it's totally not)... but rather, it was Wes Anderson's remarkable ability to fill the screen at all times with something that's interesting to look at... and it was Adam Brody, Owen Wilson (whom I normally can't abide) and Jason Schwartzman admirable ability to stay completely in deadpan character the whole way through—there's not an inconsistent note among them... and, mostly, it was living in Anderson's world for a 90 minutes, a place where nothing ever hurts too badly, either physically or emotionally; and no one ever sweats or feels uncomfortable, even while hauling large suitcases through the dessert; and where it's OK to lose things and even people because there will always be plenty more, if you're willing to accept what's given to you.
Unashamedly mushy and emotional, totally unbelievable, definitely lots of fun, The Jane Austen Book Club is that too-rare movie type: a successful, adult romantic comedy in which a happy ending is a foregone conclusion because, as we all know, love always saves the day. The story, taken from the underwhelming novel of the same name, is based on a somewhat clever premise—life for our heroes revolves around the reading of all six Jane Austen novels for a monthly bookclub, and the lessons learned therein—but the real appeal here lies with the winning cast, led by the the surprisingly, subtly dynamic Hugh Dancy (last seen as the alcoholic Buddy in the disappointing Evening) and the lovely Maria Bello. If you're in the mood for this sort of thing, you won't be disappointed.
If you're like me, the news of a faithful reworking of a classic western provokes about zero excitement. And yet, when scheduling and logistics made 3:10 to Yuma my best movie option for the night, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this simple story: tough, honest farmer escorts charming, notorious thief to prison; they bond along the way. The credit goes to the cast, especially the always-reliable Christian Bale, the usually annoying but here restrained Russel Crowe, and the scene-stealing Ben Foster, who knows what to do with the good lines he's been given, as well as director James Mangold, whose choreography and patient set-up makes the long final shootout genuinely tense, rather than simply loud.
There's no question that Into the Wild is a well-crafted film, and that its camera understands how to romanticize the natural world, and that lead Emile Hirsch is more than just a poor-man's Leonardo DiCaprio. But I don't know... I found it really difficult to like this movie, mostly because I found it impossible to like Hirsch's Christopher McCandless—arrogant, hypocritical, smug, self-absorbed—which, in fact, was the same problem I found with Jon Krakauer's way over-acclaimed book Into the Wild, though his Into Thin Air is a total must-read.