Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cruel Intentions (1999)

This is an impossible movie to do with teenage characters. There's a sophisticated (albeit perverse) edge to all these sexual hijinks, and high school and college students just don't seem to fit in. Sebastian and Kathryn are too grown-up, too coolly aware of the damage they are causing. There are no simmering hormonal emotions. This was a nice attempt at translating a very adult story into a high school flick, but it fails to be convincing, especially in its awkward ending, which tries to fit this movie into a very different genre. Sarah MIchelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe do their best with this material and ALMOST pull it off, but they're trapped having to play a character that simply shouldn't be the age they're supposed to play. I'm interested now in seeing Dangerous Liaisons - with an adult cast, this could be rather intriguing. With this younger cast, it comes off as just a series of sex scenes with some dramatic music in between. Nice try, but not nearly good enough. 2 stars.

American Psycho (2000)

I've been a fan of Christian Bale's work for a long time, whether he was singing and dancing on the streets of New York or saving Gotham City from Heath Ledger. This is by far his most impressive role. He is *fascinating* as Patrick Bateman. I have now tried three or four times to put in writing what I liked so much about his performance and I haven't figured out how to say it yet. He is unreadable. He is unpredictable. In one of the final scenes, I found myself saying out loud, "He's crazy. He is literally insane." I'm pretty sure I have never been so convinced by someone in that kind of insane role. Not a lot of people can be that captivating in ANY role. The movie would be a very, very different one without him in it.

As far as the movie as a whole goes, it's intriguing and surprising and sometimes darkly hilarious. (The first death in the apartment made me laugh out loud.) I have never read the book, but much of the screenplay for this movie *felt* like book dialogue. It was superbly written. It could have delved too deeply into Bateman's mind or left us with nothing known about him at all, and it struck a beautiful balance.

I enjoyed this movie FAR more than I thought I would when I first began watching it. I'd watch it again someday. Honestly, Christian Bale is too interesting in this film NOT to watch it again. 4 stars.

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008)

As a fan of the original book series, I was extremely disappointed by this. Part of the charm of the books is that they DON'T neatly come together at the end and teach lessons and have characters grow. There's something very satisfying about knowing that whether I pick up book six or book one, Georgia will still be self-absorbed, annoyed with her parents, pushy with Jas, and prone to end up in hilariously awkward situations. She's NOT a terribly pleasant character, though, and this was clearly unsuitable for the audience they needed here, so they softened her up, gave her a happier relationship with parents, and ended it all in an odd, sappy sequence that very much belonged in another movie. This took away everything I loved about the books and made it just like every other cutesy teenage story. Very disappointing, considering what hilarious source material they had to work with. 2.5 stars.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

About 20 minutes into the movie, I wasn't sure whether to be repulsed or amused by it. It walks a very fine line between creepy and hilarious, and, surprisingly, ends up being sweet. Ryan Gosling is the glue that holds this movie together. He doesn't milk his role for either laughs or sentimentality. He simply plays him as is. While overall the film was too unevenly paced for me to love it or want to watch it again, it ended up being very satisfying. Not at all what I thought it would be... but good nonetheless. 4 stars.

Son of Rambow (2007)

This movie has huge spurts of imagination that it sometimes doesn't COMPLETELY follow through on, and some of the characters are a bit inconsistent, but that doesn't stop the movie from being completely charming. The characters are likeable, and the ending is thoroughly satisfying. No huge surprises here as to where it's going, but it's a joy getting there. 3.5 stars.

August Rush (2007)

I should definitely not have waited as long as I did to see this. The usually-annoying Freddie Highmore is very believable and ever so sincere in his role as a young child looking for his parents. But where this movie stands out in showing us the pure delight he has in discovering this new world of music. In an absolutely enthralling scene where he comes to New York City for the first time, he stands on a park fountain and hears all the potential music around him, in cars honking, birds squawking, tires squealing... He gets lost in the music and rhythm and begins to intently conduct the symphony in his head, focusing on all the beauty he can hear around him. Movies about prodigies are frequently a stretch of the imagination, but here it doesn't even matter because the fantastical tone of the movie leads us into a world where anything is possible - even his music bringing his parents back to him. Beautiful film. 4 stars.

Mockingbird Don't Sing (2001)

Where this movie succeeds, it does it mostly by accident. The source material itself is an incredibly compelling story, and Tarra Steele is rather amazing as Katie. However, everything around her seems to play out like an absurd melodrama, and a preachy one at that. The adult actors mostly seem to be sleepwalking through their roles, which is extremely disappointing, because some quality acting could have made a huge difference in this.

It's very difficult to portray atrocities like this seriously on the screen without verging over into melodrama, and, unfortunately, this doesn't quite make the cut. The ultra-religious foster home may very well have been like that in real life, but on the screen it translates into a darkly comedic stereotype, and it was only through suspending disbelief to a ridiculous level that I could make it through those scenes without laughing.

This movie COULD have been excellent. Unfortunately, the acting and writing was not up to the challenge of adapting the material they had. 2.5 stars.

Julie & Julia (2009)

This film version of two separate memoirs is charming, interesting, and perfectly cast. Meryl Streep is brilliant as Julia Child, and Amy Adams is always likable as Julie Powell, who attempts to cook her way through Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in a year. It's pretty much exactly what it promises - sweet and fun as it follows both women's triumphs in their personal endeavors. 4 stars.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Whatever Works (2009)

Wow. I think Woody Allen was really angry when he wrote this screenplay. His characters are usually cynical and pretty pretentious, but Boris, his main character here, is clearly also angry at everyone in the world, and wants to make everyone else he meets angry at the world too. Because of how thoroughly unpleasant his character was, I had great trouble enjoying Allen's witty dialogue as much as I usually do. Evan Rachel Wood is completely charming in her role, however, and makes this otherwise very disappointing movie worth watching. Not Allen's best effort. 2.5 stars.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Love You, Man (2009)

Paul Rudd and Jason Segel play awesomely off each other in the best male-bonding movie I've ever seen. It's funny, honest and charming. Had me laughing out loud quite a few times, and it managed to be a silly guy comedy without making the main characters either stupid or jerks. Although there were also a few moments that didn't work at all, for the most part it was thoroughly enjoyable. Much better than I had anticipated. 4 stars.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Munich (2005)

This is one of those movies I could admire, but not enjoy. I was impressed with Eric Bana in this role - he carried the weight of his position in the story very well. The movie as a whole was well-crafted, but the emotional investment didn't really last as the film credits rolled. I found it easy to detach from and observe very objectively. One or two nice scenes kept my interest for the most part, but at no point did I feel much concern or care for this character or his dilemma. In fact, I can't at this moment remember exactly what happened in it.

This genre of movie tends to lose my interest fast, and, unfortunately, Munich did not do quite enough to hold it. 3 stars.

No Reservations (2007)

I expected much more than I got here with this cast. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, and Abigail Breslin? Those are all very good actors. And yet, in the end, they all let me down. Aaron Eckhart is completely bland, with no defining characteristics other than "carefree and exactly what the main girl needs". Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the stereotyped cold-hearted businesswoman. Abigail Breslin is the way-too-precocious child that brings them together. Somewhere along the way, cooking's involved, but we don't really care about that either. There's no creativity, no surprises, no charisma, no nothing that makes this movie stand out. (If I were a real movie critic I'd be connecting all those "no"s to the title of this movie. But I'm not.) Even as far as romantic comedies go, this one is unmemorable. 2 stars.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

This movie has made me change my mind about Hilary Swank. I was unimpressed with her acting abilities up until this point and considered her capable but far from stellar. But in this movie she so fully captures her character and made her a joy to watch. I loved watching her climb to the top of her game. I don't even like boxing movies, but I enjoyed this one.

(Some spoilers ahead.) Then the big accident happens, and the momentum of the movie takes a HUGE turn. We're given no hint that this is where it's heading (unless we already know the general plot of the movie, which I did) and the sudden switch of atmosphere is a little bit disconcerting, although probably an accurate emotional track to take us on. The pacing is also slightly off at the end. Clint Eastwood's decision seems to be made too quickly. I saw him wrestling with it but never felt that he came to a conclusion, until suddenly the job was done and he left. (Spoilers end.)

Overall, the movie is very well-crafted, and deserved most of its acclamations. I just wonder how I would have taken it had I not known the overall arc of the story. And the best thing about this movie is Hilary Swank's performance. The rest is excellent, but she rises above and beyond. 3.5 stars.

Star Trek (2009)

Nobody thought a Star Trek reboot would work, even those who already liked J. J. Abrams. You can reboot Bond, Superman, or Batman... But the Star Trek characters were forever solidified in the original actors' performances. And yet it somehow was a very good movie. It remains faithful to the original (although - spoilers - it doesn't have to now that they're apparently all set in a parallel universe, so we'll see how THAT works out). At the same time, it's very mainstream and very accessible to even those who aren't familiar with the Star Trek universe. Good action sequences, good character-driven moments, and the casting is excellent. Simon Pegg as Scotty was the highlight, but every one of them does a good job in their roles. Overall, a very good addition to the series. 4 stars.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Disney hasn't had a decent traditionally animated movie since The Emperor's New Groove in 1999. It's been a flurry of straight-to-DVD sequels, as well as the odd original movie nobody saw (*cough* Home on the Range *cough*). This movie has a few rough moments, an occasional joke that broke the movie. Disney has always excelled, however, at telling a story rather than just tossing wisecracks into the mouths of anthropomorphic animals, and here the story comes through loud and clear. Although none of the songs are phenomenal, they all add something to the movie's atmosphere and work well.

This movie doesn't stand out as anything special, and is certainly not going to go down in the annals of history as anything spectacular, but it is a step up for Disney. We'll have to see where it goes from here. 3.5 stars.