Monday, July 6, 2009

In Theaters Now

Here are some thoughts on current movies out right now.

1. "Up"-The older I get, the more interested I am in the raw materials of cinema. Contrasts of light, color combinations, movement and stillness, sounds and silence--these things are the component parts of cinema but we rarely stop to consider them as such. A good place to stop and observe them at work is in the new Pixar movie, Up, directed by Pete Docter. Now, I'm not normally an animation enthusiast, but something about Up caught my eye. I am here to report that it is a complete delight, a hugely entertaining movie with big laughs, eye-candy visuals of thrilling scope and accomplishment, and a few scenes of real emotional impact (there's a death near the beginning of the film that is as touching as anything I've seen at a movie in a while). The story of an elderly man and small boy who float to South America in a house hoisted by hundreds of balloons, Up is a capital-G Great film. Here's the trailer.

2. "Public Enemies"-I've waited a few days to write about this film because my feelings about it are unresolved. The story of John Dillinger as told by director Michael Mann, Public Enemies is well acted (for the most part) and sharply made, but I feel like there's something of an emotional disconnect at the center of it. Johnny Depp is charismatic as Dillinger but the character remains an enigma. Who is this guy? I'm not sure if Mann and Depp want us to think of him as a master thief or a self-deluded idiot. Maybe both. The cast around Depp is mostly effective--Marion Cotillard and Billy Crudup are particularly good--but I do not know what has happened to Christian Bale. His emotional intensity seems to have imploded, sucking in all his personality as an actor. He plays Melvin Purvis, a fascinating figure who was eventually double-crossed by J. Edgar Hoover and took his own life, but Bale's take on the character baffled me. He mostly scowls. Bale's a talented performer, but he needs...something. I could say the same thing about the movie. Here's the trailer.

3. "Whatever Works"-I remain an unreconstructed Woody Allen fanatic. It's become fashionable to flog the old boy, but he remains one of my favorite filmmakers. He's turned out a film every year--more or less--since 1969. Some of them are numbered among my favorite movies. Some of them are excellent, some are strong, some are weak, some are terrible. I'll concede some things: Allen has made a higher percentage of poor films in the last fifteen years than at anytime in his career, and two of these films--Hollywood Ending and Scoop--are the two worst films he's ever made. God, I hate Scoop. Having said that, Sweet and Lowdown ranks among his best work, Melinda and Melinda is an interesting film, and Match Point is a terrific neonoir, the best non-comedy he's made. To this list of good films, I would add Whatever Works, a comedy starring Larry David. The film has gotten mixed reviews, but, in America anyway, Woody Allen always gets mixed reviews. Critics often break down three ways: those who love Allen, those who think he's just repeating himself, those who think he's just repeating himself and hate him for it (this last group tends to strongly overlap with those who hate him for marrying his adoptive daughter). I'm an Allen lover, a fanatic really. I look forward to his yearly releases the same way I eagerly await the yearly release of a Robert B. Parker Spenser novel. So, granted, I'm inclined to like this movie. And I laughed all the way through it--and so did the audience I saw it with. When it was over, we walked out of the theater with silly smiles on our faces. It's a happy film about a nihilist, and I love nothing so much as happy films about nihilists. Here's the trailer.

4. "The Thin Man"-In the retrospective category of current releases, the AFI in Silver Spring (one of the greatest movie theaters in the world) is showing all six Thin Man films. The comedy/mystery series starred William Powell and Myrna Loy as the wisecracking alcoholic duo, Nick and Nora Charles. It's the 75th (!!!) anniversary of the first film and it is extraordinary how well it holds up. The charm of the film is the pairing of Powell and Loy. Powell delivered one-liners better than anyone in movies, and Myrna Loy is so damn adorable I don't have words for it. The series stayed strong through the second, third, and forth films, started to flag with the fifth, and puttered out with the sixth. Still, Powell and Loy never lost their chemistry. Here's the AFI's page on the series.

Things I Might See:

"The Hangover"-It's doubtful I'll commit a trip to the theater to see this film, but I've only heard it's hilarious from people whose definition of hilarious conforms to my own. So maybe it's a Netflix.

"The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3"-I'll be honest, if someone else had played the bad guy here I might have gone to see this movie. Denzel Washington is one of our most consistently effective actors, but Travolta is a long way from Pulp Fiction has his credits aren't pretty.

Things I'd Rather Drink Vomit Than Watch:

"Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen"-Michael Bay should be put on trial for crimes against humanity. It depresses me to think that parents might take their kids to see this shit when they could take them to see Up, instead.

"Bruno"-I don't know. I thought Borat was funny, very funny actually, but something about Sasha Baron Cohen feels one-trick pony to me. This new film looks awful.

Coming Up:

"500 Days Of Summer"-I'm in love with Zooey Deschanel. If you know her, tell her. The trailer to this is terrific. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favorite up and coming actors (if you haven't see Brick, you should), and waching Zooey charm him and then break his heart seems like a good way to spend a hot July afternoon.

"GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra"- Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also in this. Hey, a man has to eat. I understand. But I can't give my money to this thing.

"Inglourious Basterds"-It's a funny thing: I never like Tarantino's trailers, and I always like his films. This spaghetti western meets the Dirty Dozen flick is thus far holding true to form. The trailer is less than appetizing, but I can't wait to see the film. Part of my enthusiasm comes from having read the first few pages of the script, which are pretty damn great.

And Looking Forward:

"Shutter Island"-This new Scorsese flick looks like a maybe. It has a tense trailer, but DiCaprio looks...goofy, like a kid playing dress up. I haven't been a big fan of his work with Scorsese, either. The Departed was a good thriller (though Scorsese should have reined in Jack), but Gangs of New York was saved only by Daniel Day-Lewis. The Aviator is a film that becomes worse and worse the more you know about what a misogynistic asshole Howard Hughes was in real life. That film is a glorification of a real world-class shithead.

"Surrogates"-Another maybe. This sci-fi mystery stars Bruce Willis and has a neonoir feel to it. The trailer has a lot of explosions--a bad sign--but it also has a intriguing set-up: a future world in which no one leaves their homes is unbalanced when the first murder in years occurs and a cop must force himself to go out into the world. Agoraphobia meets 12 Monkeys?

"The Road"-Cormac McCarthy's novel is a masterpiece of coming-Apocalypse paranoia and father-son love story, but I'm skeptical about this adaptation. The trailer looks like a fundamental misunderstanding of McCarthy's text. Normally, I wouldn't lodge such a complaint--movies are not novels, after all, and filmmakers don't owe the author any fidelity--but this has "the book is a lot better" written all over it.

"Sherlock Holmes"-Nothing can ever match Jeremy Brett's interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. The BBC show in which he starred remains one of televisions authentic triumphs. The new movie from Guy Ritchie, alas, is a big budget action flick with lots of shit exploding. I'm more of a "quiet charms" man than a fan of kinetic action, but the film might find its own kind of charm. Here's the trailer for the movie.