“You’re not gonna blame me because the phone went dead. I’m not the phone company. Nobody’s the phone company anymore!” — Kelli Maroney as Samantha in Night of the Comet
|Farewell (2009, France)
Really good cold war spy story in the Frederick Forsythe/John Le Carré tradition, made even better by being based on real events. Theatrics and physical derring-do are kept to a minimum but the tension is high throughout, culminating in a night-time border crossing that’ll make you hyperventilate. If one-tenth of the things this movie relates happened as depicted, everyone in the West … and arguably the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries … owes a lot to one very brave, foolhardy KGB colonel. Probably director Christian Carion’s best decision was to include the families of the KGB colonel and his French contact in the story. Not only does much of the tension come from the incredible pressures the amateur spies put on their families, the family lives of the two main characters make the story relatable. This really is an excellent film, and I wish there were more like it.
|Trust (2010, USA)
Clive Owen certainly does some great acting in this movie, as does the young Liana Liberato, but no parent could watch Trust without squirming. It’s a horrifying, pull-the-rug-right-out-from-under-you movie, and I know the minute I suggest it sensationalizes the dangers of kids getting involved with strangers on the internet a million well-meaning people will start telling all the scare stories they’ve heard, but still … Trust comes across as exploitative, dirty-minded, slightly dishonest, and religious in an irritatingly pushy way, like the people who come knocking on your door. Whatever your reaction to the motivations behind this movie, if you have preteens and teens at home, watching Trust will scare the hell out of you, because it depicts a really solid mom and dad powerless to prevent their little 14-year-old girl from falling into the clutches of an older man. If you do decide to watch Trust, look out for the brief home movie snippet at the very end, just before the credits … it is one of the creepiest things you will ever see.
|Conviction (2010, USA)
Does Hilary Swank ever not play extraordinary women? It’s getting to where whenever I see her in a movie, I expect her to do something inspirational. Seems to me that’s a dangerous role to become typecast in. This is a straightforward crusading attorney story in the Erin Brokovich mold, and also, like that earlier movie, based on a true story. Probably because the director and producers stick so close to the truth, this movie lacks some of the gee-whiz glory and impact of Erin Brokovich … it’s ordinary and everyday in the way it comes across. There aren’t many fireworks, but it’s solid and workmanlike, well worth your time.
|Blue Valentine (2010, USA)
Thoroughly depressing movie about trashy stupid lowlife types trapped in a bad marriage. Good acting, but the characters are so goddamn awful I can’t generate an ounce of sympathy for either one of them. People paid money to watch this in theaters? I paid money to rent the DVD? Gah.
|I Saw the Devil (2010, Korea)
I posted two comments to Facebook, one during the movie and one after. First comment: “Watching Korean crime flick, I Saw the Devil. Damn this is hard core. Drove my wife right out of the room.” Second comment: “Makes the dude from Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like a little girl at her first Sparkle Pony party.” Seriously, this film about a serial killer cannibal and his relentless undercover secret agent cop nemesis is so violent and depraved it almost deserves an X rating. I Saw the Devil is pure revenge porn. Like other Korean films I’ve seen, it’s extremely good … but hella violent and bloody. Some will find art in it, much as Americans fell head over heels for the violent movies of Sam Peckinpah back in the day. As good as it is, it’s a disturbing, evil movie, far more so than other Korean films I’ve enjoyed.
|Vanishing on 7th Street (2010, USA)
So all of a sudden everyone is gone, leaving clothes and shoes crumpled on the ground where they were. Except for a few people. But it’s not the rapture. Shadowy figures loom in the darkness. It’s all very supernatural, and by supernatural I mean the rules of the natural universe have been suspended. Nothing in this movie makes rational sense. If you try to figure out what’s happening, you’ll be wasting your time. The shadowy forces toy with the few remaining people and vanish them one by one. Why? Who knows? Is this a religion flick? Who knows? Is this a horror flick? Who knows? Does this movie have anything to say? Well, I know the answer to that one, at least: no.
|The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011, USA)
This is a funny documentary about product placement in the movies, as well as a piece of performance art: it was actually made and financed through product placement. It’s quite an education. We see Spurlock pitching his idea to potential corporate sponsors, the ensuing negotiations, the cover-their-ass contracts sponsors force upon the producers, and, in the course of the movie, innumerable examples of product placement. After watching The Greatest Movie Ever Sold you will forevermore be attuned to who’s determining what you see in the movies and TV shows you watch. But here’s the deal. With Morgan Spurlock’s more famous documentary, Super Size Me, you could use the knowledge you gained to change your life … or at least your diet. What can you do with the knowledge you gain from watching The Greatest Movie Ever Sold? We’re inundated with product placement no matter what we do … we almost literally cannot get away from it. The only way you can change that is to go live in a cabin and become the next Ted Kaczynski.
|My Dog Tulip (2009, USA)
What a pleasant surprise this was, an animated film for adults, and thankfully not a pretentious, arty exercise like The Illusionist. It’s about a single British man in his 50s who adopts a dog and has a wonderful 14-year relationship with it. It’s very frank about the details of life with a dog, from peeing and pooping to worms, vets, and mating, and it’s lovingly told. The animation will make you think of Thurber’s old cartoons in The New Yorker of the 1930s and 40s, and the voiceover by Christopher Plummer is just perfect. We were glued to the screen throughout. It should come as no surprise that we too got a dog in our 50s, and are somewhere in the middle of our wonderful relationship with her. This is a dog lover’s movie, through and through.
|Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010, USA)
Another comic book/graphic novel franchise brought to the screen. Dylan Dog’s business card reads “No pulse? No Problem.” Turns out, though, when a movie has no pulse it’s a problem. Utterly forgettable.
|Night of the Comet (1984, USA)
I remembered watching and enjoying Night of the Comet when it was new. I wondered if it had held up against the passing of time, so I ordered it from Netflix. Aside from the 1980s hairdos and clothing, the movie stands up well. It’s a spoofy sci-fi end-of-the-world B-movie with a nice twist or two (especially the evil scientists), and the actors all seem to have enjoyed themselves. It has the same light-hearted feel as the more recent Galaxy Quest … I like it, and probably still will ten years from now.