Recap: 22 November 2009

Holy geez, I’ve got a lot of movies I haven’t posted here.  I blame NaNoWriMo (even though I’ve been slacking pretty hardcore this year compared to my normal pace).  Oh well.  Off we go.

What I Watched

From Hell (2½ stars): Simply put, there’s too much going on in this retelling of the Jack the Ripper legend.  It’s never really as horrific as it should be, and the confusing storylines make it hard to really invest in the characters.  That said, Johnny Depp looks great in it.  So there’s that.

The Strangers (3 stars): This would have been a 4-star movie had it not been for the let-down of an ending.  It starts as a thrilling psychological study of what fear causes people to do.  When it was operating on that premise, it was different and terrifying.  When it devolves to standard horror movie fare, it was just that: standard.

The Edge of Love (4 stars): This is the story of two women, played beautifully by Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller, and their unique relationship with each other, their children, and their significant others, all set in the backdrop of wartorn London in the 1940s.  This is sort of an ATONEMENT with a dose of personality, if you will.  It would have been easy to focus on the men’s version of this story, but, for me, the choice to focus on the women made it fascinating and compelling.

A Christmas Carol [2009] (3 stars): The first 10 minutes of this movie get five stars from me.  They are chilling and scary and spooky and amazing.  Sadly, once the Christmas ghosts show up, the story loses its charm.  It’s visually striking — no question about that.  But, for me, it’s emotionally empty. Scrooge’s conversion didn’t have the weight that it does in SCROOGE or THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL.  It was all OK, but there are simply much better versions out there.  Sadly, the film wasn’t able to sustain the energy of the first 10 minutes.

Whatever Works (4 stars): Woody Allen’s latest hearkens back to some of his ’70s films, like ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN, where bewilderment is the driving emotion.  The difference here is that Allen has lived quite a life in the 30-some-odd years since those films, and he’s less frustrated and more amused at his bewilderment.  At least that was my take.  I’m still working my way through the Woody Allen canon, but this ranks up there in at least my top three, I think, along with VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA and HUSBANDS & WIVES.

Blue Velvet (2 star): I didn’t get the point of this film.  Not at all.  The only reason it gets two stars instead of one is that there are some really great performances from Kyle MacLachlan and Isabella Rossellini.  But the way the film moves between serious and compelling character study and satirical, goofy parody means that it never fully achieves either one of those things.  It’s just a really frustrating film on a variety of levels.  Roger Ebert does a good job crystallizing the things that struck me as just plain wrong: “I was absorbed and convinced by the relationship between Rossellini and MacLachlan, and annoyed because the director kept placing himself between me and the material. After five or 10 minutes in which the screen reality was overwhelming, I didn’t need the director prancing on with a top hat and cane, whistling that it was all in fun.”

Christmas in Connecticut [1945] (3 stars): This is the cute if superficial story of a Martha Stewart-esque magazine writer who, in reality, is basically the opposite of the image she portrays.  She’s forced by her editor, who knows nothing about her deception, to host a soldier home from war for Christmas.  Chaos ensues.  It’s cute and fluffy and set at Christmas, so I liked it but didn’t love it.

Star in the Night [short film] (4 stars): This Oscar-winning short was included on the CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT DVD.  It’s a lovely retelling of the Christmas story set in a rundown inn in the American southwest.  Definitely worth checking out if you have the opportunity.

The Great Buck Howard (3½ stars): The always-likeable Colin Hanks (who continues to look just like his father, Tom) plays mildly and comedically abused road manager to a washed-up illusionist/magician, played amusingly by John Malkovich.  If that sounds like your cup of tea, it probably is.  If not, it probably isn’t.  I, for one, wasn’t completely charmed until the end, but I think I would watch Colin Hanks in anything.

Network (5 stars): I can’t say anything about this one that hasn’t already been said.  It lives up to its reputation, and it should be required viewing for all journalism students.  I’ll leave it at that.

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (2½ stars): This struck me as sort of a Woody Allen fever dream.  It’s amusing but all over the place, so, unless you’re a Woody Allen fan, it’s probably one that’s safe to skip.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2½ stars): I find Kevin James entirely likeable, and so I wasn’t all too surprised by how well this did at the box office when it came out amid a particularly lackluster schedule.  This is pretty cookie-cutter material here.  It delivers exactly what the trailer is selling you.  It’s cute, but that’s about it.

Christmas Story (3 stars): To be fair, I think there’s a good chance I would have rated this movie higher had I not been forced to watch a dubbed version.  It’s a Finnish film recounting the story of how St. Nickolas came to be.  It’s a captivating story, but, because of the poorly acted dubbing, I think much of the charm was lost.  I’d be willing to revisit this one if ever a version comes out in the original language.

We’re No Angels [1955] (4 stars): This film, starring Humphrey Bogart as one of three escaped convicts, manages to strike that hard-to-find balance between dark humor and sweetness.  The story follows these convicts to the home of a shop owner, whose business is about to go under.  They originally intend to swindle them, but then, due to the sad circumstances and the fact that the shop owner and his family actually seem to be good people, they decide to do what they can to help them.  Once again, chaos ensues.  And it’s hilarious and sentimental without being gooey.  This one’s going to be a new Ditty Christmas favorite.

Management (3 stars): Your typical sort of quirky indie romantic comedy.  Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn are cute but also what I’ve come to expect from this sort of movie.  And that’s OK; it just keeps it from rising above what’s expected.  It goes a little all over the place in the second act (as indie romantic comedies are wont to do), but it never veers so far off course that I was put off.  Enjoyable and sweet, but not anything particularly special.

The Way We Were (3 stars): If Carrie Bradshaw had come of age in the 1940s, she would have been Katie Morosky.  It’s a classic romance that in some ways reminds me of a more effective version of 2006’s THE BREAK-UP, in that it’s an objective if slightly heightened look at love in the real world.  Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand are captivating, even if the story itself left me feeling a bit cold. (And yes, I watched this because it was mentioned in that episode of SEX & THE CITY. So there.)

New Moon (3 stars): You can read more about my feelings on the whole Twilight phenomenon here.  As for the movie as a standalone piece of cinema, it’s entertaining enough.  It delivers what’s expected.  From what I’ve heard, fans of the books were happy.  As someone who has read the books but isn’t really a fan, the movies continue to be a better experience for me than the books.  For what it’s worth, I was in the mood for exactly this sort of movie when I went to see it: a melodramatic romance with a side of pecs and abs.  As I said, it delivered, but not anything more than that.

And that’s finally it.  This post was sponsored by Sunday Night Insomnia.  On that note, I will leave you with this:

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One thought on “Recap: 22 November 2009

  1. I can’t believe that you only gave The Way We Were 3 stars. Oh my gosh! It’s definitely a 4 star movie just if only because it’s Robert Redford in his prime and Barbra Streisand who is amazing in this movie! The scene at the end always brings me to tears. A love for the ages, but just not to be. Sniff, sniff!

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