Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Misery (1990)

An effective thriller based on a Stephen King novel. The sense of claustrophobia is almost palpable. James Caan plays an intelligent protagonist, who figures out how to appease the woman holding him hostage. Kathy Bates is fairly chilling as she switches between violent rages and calm maternal tones. It plays out fairly straightforwardly, but has a good build-up and a satisfying ending. Not blow-my-mind stellar, but well done. 4 stars.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Waiting Game (1999)

This was almost certainly done by a writer/director who had a great deal of love for Woody Allen. His influence is everywhere - in the familiar New York City sidewalk shots, in the witty dialogue about sexual games, in the dramatic situations constantly leading to infidelity...But this man is far inferior to Allen. He doesn't have a sense of character or intelligent dialogue, and the soundtrack he chose for this is beyond terrible. Will Arnett is the only decent actor in this sad attempt at an Allenesque drama. It could have been so much better, but it never took off. Wasted potential. 2 stars.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Children of a Lesser God (1986)

Not only was this a good romance, it was actually a very good teacher movie. William Hurt is very interesting as the male lead and Marlee Matlin is absolutely superb as his deaf girlfriend. It felt like it lost a little steam near the end, however, it goes pretty solidly until then. Well worth the watch! 4 stars.

He's Just Not That Into You (2009)

While Ginnifer Goodwin's story is enchanting, the rest of these women seem to be not worth caring about. They are filled with negative, unpleasant character traits or, worse, void of personality altogether. Jennifer Connolly plays an uptight housewife who does not want to let her emotional guard down. She plays her part too well, though, and we never get a chance to see inside her mind and sympathize along with her. The best we can give her is an outside, objective "That's a sad situation" reaction, without feeling anything for her ourselves. There are much better movies along these lines. This is not one to keep around. 2 stars.

Definitely, Maybe (2008)

The premise is a bit cheesy, but somehow works in this little romantic comedy. Abigail Breslin is a precocious but interesting child actress, and Ryan Reynolds can be very charming in the right sorts of roles. As he tells the story of the women he encountered, I found myself somewhat interested in them and wanting to know what happened. It took a turn I didn't expect toward the end, turning it from what could have been a silly, sappy romance into a much subtler look at how our memories feed into our perception of today. Except it wasn't nearly as artsy as that sentence makes it sound. Very watchable, nothing to write home about. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Equus (1977)

I read the play script for this just a day or two before seeing it, and I must say the movie is a bit of a disappointment with that in mind. I'd like to see it on stage some day - somehow the actual live horses took away a lot of the power of the story. The moments where Dysart addresses the audience also don't work at all in film. I was reminded of nothing more than the terrible opening to Plan 9 From Outer Space. Although the dialogue and acting was, of course, FAR better, I kept expecting him to end with, "Can your heart stand the terrifying story of grave robbers from outer space?"

However, the shortcomings aside, this remains a brilliant play. Peter Firth and Richard Burton are both very good actors who pull off this difficult story to tell. This is not going to be a story for everyone - it's a disturbing story about suffering, passion, worship, love, sex, and terror. When I first finished reading the script, I just sat there with the script in my hand for a long time, letting it all soak in. Watching the movie is a step down from that experience, but still a phenomenal script that deserved an attempt at translation to film. 4 stars.

Blow (2001)

This is a very slow-moving film. Although the story is well told and Johnny Depp is a very good actor, not very much seems to happen. Characters appear and disappear, love and betray, but somehow none if it really reaches us. The most moving moment of the film is the final monologue by Jung. I was struck by the way he counters the mantra of so many party movies and even serious dramas of the day. He indicates he's lived life, he's taken chances, he's not let life pass him by... but then he looks at the place those chances have brought him, and it wasn't worth it. When the message of the era is "do whatever you want, as long as you're living your life to the fullest," it was a surprising and poignant response to that. Overall, however, the movie is just too flat to make much of an impression. A disappointment. 2.5 stars.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)

I was all prepared for an idiotic romantic comedy about a girl who bonds with a guy over their mutual hobby of shopping. What I got was a fairly clever, fairly likable romantic comedy with a serious undertone of the difficulties of shopping addiction. When Isla Fisher confesses to Hugh Dancy the reason why she shops, it is heartbreaking and rings true. Now, does it all turn out right (somewhat miraculously) at the end? Of course, but it also is fair to its characters and its audience. Much more interesting a movie than I gave it credit for. 3.5 stars.