“I’m a psychiatrist, Miss Taylor. Normally, when people hit things with their car, there are skidmarks on the pavement. A brick wall is a pretty good reason to use the brakes, turn the wheel. You didn’t do that.” — Jude Law as Dr. Jonathan Banks in Side Effects
|Side Effects (2013, USA)
A subtle mystery movie with an interesting twist. It’s mostly psychological, but there are one or two action scenes that will make you jump. When you start to see, about halfway through, more of what’s going on, don’t think you’ve got it all figured out … the revelations keep coming. A tense and very satisfying mystery, and I was pleasantly surprised. I would watch this again.
|Quartet (2012, UK)
Geriatric romance done up in standard tug-the-heartstrings schlock-a-rama style. Nothing new here but the music, which is wonderful to listen to if you don’t mind hearing only the first few bars of your favorite pieces, never anything all the way through (wouldn’t want to bore the rubes, I guess). Maggie Smith plays every Maggie Smith character rolled into one; the whole thing, despite it’s British lineage, is so Hollywood you expect to see George Burns somewhere in the background. The one brilliant touch? The inmates of the Beecham Home for Retired Musicians are played by actual retired musicians and opera singers, some of them quite well known during their performing years. That right there gives the movie half a star I wouldn’t give it otherwise.
|The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, USA/New Zealand)
There are two possible explanations why they made this movie right on the heels of The Lord of the Rings trilogy: one, Tolkien did write The Hobbit and thus fans probably wouldn’t rest until there was a movie; two, it was a surefire way to make additional millions, a money tree waiting to be shaken. The entire exercise felt like exploitation to me, especially when I realized, nearly three hours into the movie, that this was just part of the story and that one or more sequels will follow. Everything felt derivative: bits seemed copied from The Matrix, Indiana Jones, even Star Wars. The battle scenes are incomprehensible, something I noticed in the LOTR movies as well … too many figures are crammed into the computer-generated melees; one can’t focus on or follow the action. Also, why is it that dwarves are all funny looking except for their leader, who is totally human in appearance? Also, how is it that thirteen dwarves can consistently defeat tens of thousands of orcs, trolls, and goblins? Also, what the hell was that at the end … Scrooge McDuck’s vault?
|Upstream Color (2013, USA)
The summary, from IMDB: “A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.”I was befuddled from beginning to end, yet couldn’t tear myself away. Upstream Color is difficult to categorize: it’s science fiction, mystery, love story all at once. It feels experimental, but not in an artsy-fartsy way. I fully engaged with the couple at the center of the story, but could not penetrate the other characters at all, especially the man who fed the woman the alien worm at the beginning and the man called “the Sampler.” This movie simply has to be seen and experienced. I recommend watching it alone, and sober. There … if that doesn’t scare you off, you’ll probably love it as much as I did.
|Savages (2012, USA)
You can see the hand of Oliver Stone at work here: violence served up in a flashy, stylish way. And I guess if you just go to movies to see flashy, stylish violence, Savages will be right up your alley. But I didn’t buy the notion that the protagonists, two marijuana growers and their mutual girlfriend, and the villain, a woman who runs a Tijuana drug cartel, would be beautiful and young, and I did not sympathize with any of them. I also didn’t buy the idea of two young growers taking on a major Mexican cartel and besting it: that just ain’t what happens in the real world. Untimately, the movie celebrates crime and criminals and has nothing else to offer.
|The Intouchables (2011, France)
A heartwarming movie about a warm relationship between a paralyzed man and his unlikely caregiver, in the spirit of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Whoever had the rental DVD before us turned the English subtitles off and we watched the first 20 minutes in French: I finally found the menu and turned the subtitles back on, but really, we could have watched the whole movie in French and gotten just as much pleasure out of it. It’s a happy-making movie, and it does its job well. The Intouchables is more schmaltzy than most movies of its type, glossing over the unpleasant realities of life with an unresponsive body and showing only the good parts of the pair’s relationship. My heart melts like anyone else’s, but what I take away from these movies is that if you’re paralyzed it’s good to have lots of money … you never see movies about the indigent paralyzed.
|The Bourne Legacy (2012, USA)
I guess I wasn’t interested enough in the Bourne movies to have realized this was a “sidequel,” a story meant to be concurrent with but separate from the story in the last of the series. Until about halfway through, in fact, I thought they’d changed lead actors! Did that hamper my understanding of what was going on? I doubt it, because as with all the Bourne movies, it’s all twists and turns and you don’t really know what’s going on anyway, you just sit back and enjoy the adventure. As entertainment, it was all right. As visual eye candy, it was also all right. As something to remember, something to waste more than a moment’s thought on, it’s nothing … just another fast-paced international thriller with lots of action, better than some and worse than others.
|Now Is Good (2012, UK)
Watchable but mawkish tearjerker about a cute teenaged girl dying of leukemia. Spoiler: she dies in the end, and what do you know, she dies cute, sparing tender audiences the unpleasantness of seeing what dying of leukemia really looks like … Death Lite, if you will. I haven’t researched it, but the movie must be based on a young adult novel. There’s a nice love story built into the plot, and some charming British scenery, but nothing to lift it above similar youth audience death dramas. Unrelated to anything, I’m still scratching my head wondering why they chose an American to play the lead role.
|Lore (2012, Germany/Australia)
Very good drama about displaced people in Germany immediately after the Allied victory in WWII. Very good, that is, if you don’t think about it too deeply. The situation for DPs in occupied Germany was more dire than that depicted in this film … though far from being Disneyfied, the story of 14-year-old Hannelore leading her younger siblings to safety across war-ravaged Germany shies away from the brutality experienced by many in those grim times. Well, maybe a more realistic movie would have been too heartbreaking. Lore, despite her fervent Nazi and racist belifefs, is quite sympathetic, and there’s a great plot twist toward the end. Well worth watching.
|Promised Land (2012, USA/UAE)
Eco-drama about fracking and a man growing a conscience, set in American farm country in recessionary times. The elemental conflict revolves around a giant corporation leasing drilling rights to produce natural gas by fracking, a way for broke farmers to make some money at the likely destruction of their land and way of life. The central characters are closers for the company, and one, the character played by Matt Damon, is beginning to question whether he’s in the right line of work. The denouement is a little sappy, but overall this was a very interesting movie with great performances by Matt Damon, John Krasinski, and Frances McDormand.
Can’t Believe I Watched the Whole Thing
|A Good Day to Die Hard (2013, USA)
What a POS. Just coincidentally TMC ran the original Die Hard last month, so it was fresh in my mind as I watched this travesty. Die Hard was entertaining and remotely believable. AGDTDH is its exact opposite: a gratuitous, mindless, product placement money-grab sequel that might as well be a Transformers movie or a violent kids’ cartoon on TV. It’s not even good to look at: the director used some sort of filter to make the film look dark and grainy, like a 1950s B-movie. The only thing tying this sequel to the original is the casting of Bruce Willis … seriously, is he hard up for money or something? The reason I gave it as high a rating as I did was to acknowledge the fleets of innocent cars and trucks destroyed in its making, and to give a shout-out to the hard-working stuntmen and stuntwomen who risked their necks for our casual amusement.
© 2013, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.