Tuesday, March 13, 2012

10 More Movie Reviews

Game Change: Game Change joins the ranks of unnecessary made-for-TV movies about contemporary political events. Today, every public move and speech by a political figure is already on YouTube, individually or in compilation. We can hope to gain from a movie like this insight or revelation about their private life, behind-the-scenes; Game Change gives us some of this, but it's hard to know how seriously to take it since it's all one person's point of view (it's based on a book about the experience, but based on the experience).

This is the story of Sarah Palin's move from obscure Alaskan governor onto the national stage, the controversy and ridicule that attended her apparent lack of preparation and knowledge, and her eventual shift toward independence. The movie paints Sarah as truly ignorant and incapable, just as the left supposed her to be, while also humanizing her as deeply hurt by the mockery she endures for it. She was apparently well-loved in her home state; it's hard to understand how a governor could be as absurdly ignorant and incapable as this movie portrays; then again, it was just as hard to understand it in real life.

Julianne Moore is very good and very Sarah-like, of course, while Ed Harris is not very McCain-like at all. The rest of the people were unknown to me, so I couldn't say if they were accurately depicted. What I can say is that investigative journalism would have served us much better than this movie, and have been just as interesting and entertaining. Don't go out of your way.

The Descendants: Yet another in a series of George Clooney set pieces (Up in the Air, Michael Clayton, The American) with a simple story and little in the way of anything important to say. These films are entertaining, well-acted, and even artful and thoughtful. But at the end of each one I thought, "That's it?" They're like TV dramas.

George plays a guy returning to his family on Hawaii to deal with his wife who was in a boat accident and is now in a coma and to settle the immanent sale of a piece of family property. There is a little surprise early on, but none by the end. The eldest daughter is a movie-cliche: our first scene with her is "Miss Rebel", drugged up, sexed up, and rebellious, but this first scene is used only as a foil for the main character; for the rest of the movie she's the dutiful tag-along daughter and her rebellion is apparently forgotten. George is in fine form, as usual. Worth watching on an airplane ride. The score will make you fall in love with Hawaiian music.

The Decoy Bride: A small, low-budget Scottish-made formulaic sitcom, cute as these local low-budget movies tend to be. Famous bride and groom escape to Scotland to try to hold a wedding away from the press, and a local pretty but down-on-her-luck girl is used as a "decoy" bride to deceive the press. She ends up spending a lot of time with the groom, arguing with him (she thinks he's stuck up, he thinks she's low brow), etc, etc. Works, but barely.

Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen cannot cast anyone but himself as a protagonist in his movies, even when it's not him. Owen Wilson plays ... Woody Allen in Paris, trying to write a book while his rich pretentious fiance, her friends, and his soon-to-be in-laws make plans and go shopping and touring. While wandering Paris late at night, he catches a midnight car that takes him back into the early twenties and into conversation with his favorite famous authors ... not the authors, actually, but people with the names of famous authors who act like the books they wrote: a Hemingway who acts like a Hemingway novel, F Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, etc. This happens every night, while serving as a muse and revelatory process for him.

It's not a grand sweeping movie like some of his major movies, and we're all tired of Woody as protagonist. It's pretty clear where his relationship with his fiance and her pretentious friends is headed. But it's still fun to watch the caricatures on the way. It's best if you know at least something of the people being caricatured.

My Week with Marilyn: The story of Marylin Monroe's shoot in England with Laurence Olivier, which was a disaster from beginning to end - apparently Marylin couldn't act worth a damn, was always late for shooting, and suffered from a severe (and justified) lack of self-confidence, and Olivier was so appalled that he blew up constantly and wouldn't shoot movies again for a long period after. The story actually focuses on one of the minor directors (the "Third") involved with the shoot, who becomes Marylin's plaything and confidant during the shooting, much to his star-struck bemusement.

Michelle Williams doesn't quite look like Marylin, but she plays what seems to be a near enough approximation. It's fun to see a little behind-the-scenes about people you kind of know about, but again, it's hard to know how much is true. It's a fine movie, in particular Kenneth Branagh as the pateince-tested Olivier.

The Vow: A romantic comedy regarding memory loss with Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum. Rachel is fetching as usual. An accident robs Rachel of her memories of her marriage and her flight from her family, returning her brain to the middle of her youth where she was still living with her family and engaged to someone else. And so she is now - again - still in love with this someone else and has no recollection of why she fled her family; her family are overjoyed about this, and the loser is her husband, who struggles between trying to help her get her memories back and having to let her go. Meanwhile, the past may just repeat itself.

This is actually based on a true story. It's well done, nice and romantic, and sweet in the right places. I think this movie continues a pattern of artist wives with hard-working sensitive husbands (c.f. The Time Traveler's Wife also starring McAdams, Ghost, etc)

Young Adult: Charlize Theron plays a formerly popular, now spoiled brat, who graduated high school some time ago and who, when she hears that a formerly popular high-school buddy has had a new baby, decides that what she needs in her life is him. So she goes back to her home town to destroy his marriage and win him over.

Having described the plot, I can't tell you if there's much more to the movie than you can get from the synopsis on IMDB. I read it because I got bored about half-way through the movie, as there was nobody to root for and not very engaging.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Hugo Morris Lessmore: This short won an Oscar for short animation; the link is to the entire movie on YouTube. Do you remember the opening montage scenes from Up? It's a little like that, but without the woman. It's a silent film, beautifully crafted.

Inception: I resisted watching this for some time because I'm tired of movies that suddenly reveal to you that what you thought was reality was actually a dream (within a dream). Dreamscape said all there was to say about this, or perhaps Waking Life, or any horror movie ever written.

Which is why I thought the beginning of the movie was boring. To my happy surprise, there is none of that nonsense in the rest of the movie, which, assuming you can follow it, let's us know in exactly what level of dreaming we are at all times. I admit that I cheated: I read the excellent synopsis on IMDB first, and thus found it very easy to follow the story. And what a fantastic story and movie it is.

It borrows some elements from other movies: Dreamscape, assembling the team scenes from Ocean's 11, coming to term with your wife's loss from just about any movie dealing with the subject. But most of the movie, and the way it's assembled, breaks new ground. The film is tight, the acting superb, the cinematography perfect. This ranks up with the best sci-fi movies of all time.

Withnail & I: This 1987 black comedy is widely regarded as a cult classic in Britain. It's the story of starving actors waiting for some good calls to come in, disgusted with life, and disgusting in habits, who head out to a vacation home of one an uncle for a change of scenery. Of course, they can't escape themselves, their poverty, nor their flagrantly gay uncle.

It's nearly all pointless and plot-less, and filled with what the British confusingly consider to be funny scenes, such as being disgusted, being disgusting, and being pursued by a pathetic middle-aged gay and portly uncle in the middle of the night. For all that, it's wonderfully acted and contains quotable lines nearly every minute. I didn't consider it entertainment, exactly, but it was interesting. More theater than movie material.
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