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

Thursday, October 18

Fall Movies: Part 3

Boy, these movie posts sure can pile up! So, a quick look at what I've seen lately...

In addition to being enormously entertained throughout, I so admired Michael Clayton... such confident, grown-up filmmaking by Tony Gilroy, trusting that the audience will stay with him through this somewhat complex, slowly-revealed thriller about lawyers entangled on the same side of multi-billion-dollar lawsuit. And the cast is superb, led by George Clooney, playing the interestingly unsmooth title character; Tilda Swinton, in an extremely unattractive role; and Sidney Pollack as a corporate tiger with a decent heart. So far, this is the movie to beat this fall.

I can't believe they pulled it off... and, in fact, made a totally likable movie. You've undoubtedly heard the premise of Lars and the Real Girl: an emotionally shell-shocked Lars (an unsurprisingly excellent Ryan Gosling) orders a sex doll online—Bianca is her name—not for, ummm... physical relief, but rather for a woman to date, and bring to church, to introduce to all the other townsfolk, to fall in love with. I totally bought it—laughed and cried—and thought the acting was great from beginning to end, especially Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimor as Lars's initially baffled/embarrassed but quickly supportive brother and sister-in-law; the always-welcome Patricia Clarkson as the town doctor; and Kelli Garner as Lars's lovably nerdy office mate/crush.

I wondered as I watched the Ian Curtis biopic Control—he was the lead singer of the legendary band Joy Division who killed himself at the age of 23—how much would I like this movie if I didn't love the music... if it all wasn't so personally evocative? It is beautifully shot, and Sam Riley makes a credible Curtis—confused, romantic, cowardly, charismatic, epileptic, haunted, self-pitying, asshole-ish—but by far my favorite scenes were the songs, especially Transmission performed on the telly (it's like watching a dream take of this video), and She's Lost Control in the studio (so THAT'S how they made that rhythmic "tchee-tchee" sound!). Basically: if you're a fan, it's a must. If not, it's hard to say...

Make sure you sit way in the back for The Kingdom, which Peter Berg shoots almost entirely in that motion-sickness-inducing style that works so well in Peter Greengrass's work (Bourne Ultimatum, United 93), but I found overdone and simply gimmicky here. This isn't a bad movie at all—the plot involves the catastrophic bombing of an American compound in Saudi Arabia, and the subsequent, politically provocative FBI investigation on Saudi soil led by Jamie Fox, Jennifer Garner and Chris Cooper. In fact, I thought this was a solid thriller, filled with well-choreographed and genuinely tense action sequences, all, unfortunately, undermined by the aforementioned over-jitteryness, a ham-fisted message, and a really unfortunate ending.

Yes, of course, I cried during Feast of Love—I don't mind being manipulated by broken hearts, moments of great joy, and untimely deaths—but, really, this isn't that good a movie. I hear the book is amazing, but here there just seems to be too much going on; too many stories of love and sadness and betrayal and passion and tragedy for me to ever care too deeply about any single drama... although the cast is fine, I never got to know anyone well enough to feel too emotionally invested in their lives. And is Morgan Freeman ever going to play any other role besides the omniscient voice of wisdom?

We Own the Night was the big disappointment of the week. Not that my expectations were all that high to begin with, but I was surprised at how little, if anything, writer/director James Gray added to the already overdone brothers-at-odds/cop/'70s-'80s nostalgia movie. I guess I wanted to see Mark Wahlberg of The Departed, rather than the dreary do-gooder found here, and I wanted Robert Duvall to emote like he can do so well, and Joaquin Phoenix to use reptilian charm, and I wanted it all to be set against a wise-cracking background of hard-bitten cops and criminals.... But, no. The whole thing is irredeemably flat. You've seen this movie before, done much better.

Call me jaded, but is it really so interesting whether or not some wealthy Parisian lawyer has been more deeply, more intimately involved with the terrorists and other unsavory types he's defended—Carlos the Jackal, Klaus Barbie, various Palestinian and Algerian freedom fighters, evil African dictators, etc.—than he's letting on? Sure the subject of Terror's Advocate, Jacques Verges, has a certain slimy charisma, and director Barbet Schroeder does a nice job of taking us through, without overly explicating, a kind of Hall of Fame of 1970s and '80s European terrorist acts. But this is a long (160 mins) movie with no real answers on a subject that seems so small today.



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