“And will you, for the love of God, put on a fucking shirt?” — Steve Carell as Phil Foster in Date Night.
A cheesy movie with a made-for-TV feel. Two of its central gimmicks, in fact, are lifted directly from popular TV shows. From Law & Order: the cop characters, a US marshal and a “UN investigator,” within seconds of coming upon a crime scene, without any legwork or investigation, figure out what happened, accompanied by a sepia-toned video reenactment of the crime as the characters provide voice-over commentary. From Bones (also NCIS): the camera lingers over an abundance of mangled corpses, lovingly zooming in on horrid wounds. I sat through this because I’m a sucker for movies about scientists working in extreme conditions, but the producers make so many mistakes it almost isn’t worth the watching. Examples: people walking around in howling winds at 80 below with their faces exposed; typhoons at the South Pole, Kate Beckinsale enduring the amputation of two fingers and almost immediately venturing back out onto the ice, grasping lifelines and swinging picks … I could go on and on, but this ridiculous and melodramatic movie just isn’t worth the effort.
|The Square (2008)
Right brilliant, this one. No bells and whistles in this Australian film: no Hollywood stars, no supernatural shit, no plot elements ripped from the headlines, no exploding cars … just a good story, simply told. At the heart of the story is a pair of suburban adulterers who gradually fall in with criminal types. The ensuing disaster is predictable but rivetingly shown. Is getting some strange ever worth the trouble it brings on? The Square, without in any way being a copycat effort, will made you think of Fargo and the Coen brothers. And I mean that as a compliment.
|Solitary Man (2009)
This was an okay movie, but I didn’t see anything special about it. It’s a story that’s been told many times, the older man trying to pretend he isn’t, grafted onto another oft-told tale, the one about the guy who destroys his personal and professional life but finds redemption at the end. Too easy, too pat. Though I really like seeing Jenna Fischer in a non-comedic role, this movie is just so-so.
Couldn’t hack it. Cliches, stereotypes, utterly predictable situations. But the deal-breaker, for me, was when Toby Maguire’s character, after minimal provocation, buckles to his Taliban captors and murders a fellow American soldier. Up to that point, Captain Sam Cahill had been portrayed as a Marine with integrity. Suddenly he loses it all, and he hasn’t even been tortured yet. What, is he upset his dinner’s cold? The situation is so contrived and unlikely I gave up on the movie and watched TIVO’d episodes of The Office instead. Michael Scott, at least, is consistent.
|Date Night (2010)
Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but I laughed out loud at Date Night, and I don’t care what the critics say, it was done just right for what it was, a light comedy of errors with just enough sex and violence to keep the youngsters entertained. Steve Carell and Tina Fey can be awfully charming when they want to be, they work well together, and they’re funny. What more could you ask?
I stumbled upon this new release on a pay-per-view channel. It’s sort of Cloverfield-ish in that it was done on a small budget (just $15K, I understand), with the monsters (100-meter tall octopus-like aliens) only occasionally seen, but unlike Cloverfield the production values are high and the camera work steady. Much of the action occurs in Mexico, and the depictions of the quarantined “infection zone” bring District 9 to mind. Of all the little details casually shown and not dwelt upon (a temptation I’m glad Gareth Edwards resisted), the vision of a walled-off USA is worth the price of admission alone. The plot is gripping and the suspense taut. McNairy and Able, two lesser-known faces, are outstanding. This sci-fi thriller is right up there with the best — I loved it.
If you like movies with a sci-fi theme, you will probably like Surrogates. I did, even though I found plenty to quibble about. My biggest quibble? The sci-fi takes a back seat to Bruce Willis’ standard action schtick. Promising speculative ideas introduced in the movie are left unexplored. Like, who feeds people when they’re plugged into their surrogates? Who takes care of their squalid human needs? But as I said, these are quibbles. It’s a better than okay movie, well worth renting, and, frankly, at least as entertaining (and believable) as Inception.
|Hachiko: a Dog’s Tale (2009)
Don’t get me wrong. The true story of Hachiko, the dog who waited for his deceased master outside a train station in Japan for nine years, is sad, sweet, and uplifting. This movie, though, lays it on a little thick. Imagine the ending of Old Yeller stretched out for an hour and a half. Oh, well, at least my G-rated movie quota is filled for another year.
|Winter’s Bone (2010)
Ozark gothic. As a Missourian, I felt right at home. I could see it, hear it, almost smell and feel it. And the acting is superb, particularly Jennifer Lawrence as Ree. I didn’t really need to be reminded why I — like so many others — turned my back on rural poverty at the first opportunity, but grim though this story is, the characters are fascinating and the hunt for Ree’s low-life dad gripping. I couldn’t stop watching, and I cared about Ree. If this one doesn’t win a few Oscars, something’s wrong (update: it did, but not nearly as many as it deserved, and Jennifer Lawrence was robbed).
|The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
I love this Argentinian film. Like foreign films in general, it’s a solid meat & potatoes meal. It isn’t spiced up with frantic action scenes, CGI special effects, or physically impossible derring-do; it isn’t over-sauced with contrived and unnecessary plot twists; it isn’t smothered in the American gravy of sentiment and prudery. Juan José Campanella sets out to tell a story: he sticks to the plot and leaves you feeling satisfied and full. Have I mentioned yet that I love this movie? Perhaps you have deduced that on your own. Treat yourself to this three-course meal of a movie. You’ll be glad you did.
© 2011, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.