Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Capsule Reviews of Olderish Films I've Recently Watched

Welcome back to my blog. I typically take a two-three month hiatus after the New Year and now I'm back with some new content. 

Here are some films that I've recently watched that are at least a couple or more years old:

The Reader (2008)-It's difficult to separate this from the knowledge that it's inclusion as a best picture nominee got everyone in a tizzy and led to the expanded Best Picture field. I had a friend in film school in 2008 who said on Facebook "guys, Reader is the best film of the year!" so I know it had at least one educated fan and I tried to like this film and not think about how it bumped out other films for BP (I didn't even love Dark Knight anyway), but the film just didn't do itself any favors. I love a good courtroom drama as much as the next guy but the film tried to combine three or four Oscar baity genres in one. I still love Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet in anything.

The Kids are All Right (2010)-The high expectations of knowing it was a best picture nominee made me feel a little disappointed. Other character-based dramedies that have gotten BP noms like Lost in Translation or Juno have richer and more defined characters whereas Annette Bening and the younger kid was a bit stereotypical as characters. On the other hand, there was something admirable in the script about being unapologetic about the characters. Bening's character on the outside was a bit unpleasant and phony but Julianne Moore's character loved her for who she was.

Certain character relations weren't developed enough to be impactful. Did the overachieving daughter over achieve because of her family conditions? Because of a nature vs. nurture thing. Moore's attraction to Ruffalo's character wasn't delved into much either. She was confronted and had an explanation for it, but I would have liked to be shown more than told. Julianne Moore's speech at the end tied up loose plot threads extremely well.

A Dangerous Method (2011)-My favorite of this recent batch of films. The film centers around the life of psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his relationship to two foils during a make-or-break-it phase of his career (as well as the future of psychiatry, supposedly): Kiera Knightley plays the trifecta of lover, patient and intellectual peer Sabina Spielman and Viggo Mortensen plays mentor Sigmund Freud (who you might know from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures as well as, you know, actual history). The film is tightly-scripted, demonstrates a clear interest in its subjects, and has some character work that puts nearly everything else on this list to shame.

Black Snake Moan (2008)-A bit of a bizarre film and one that probably is lightyears away from today's standards of political correctness. As long as it's interesting and can keep the mood and tone engaging, I don't mind a film that's a bit outside the norm and this film certainly qualified. Christina Ricci gives one of those "I didn't know she can act" performances for me. The film is made by film maker Craig Brewer who established himself as a distinctive new voice in 2005 with Hustle and Flow and some of that vision is still there, but his career (which has yet to flourish as far as the general public is concerned) could have used a better sophomore effort.

Cocoon (1985)-A reminder that in the 1980s, comedies had an easier time getting greenlit. I doubt you could get any bizarre idea you want greenlit today if your name isn't Todd Phillips, Judd Apatow, Edgar Wright, or Adam McKay. It was pleasant enough, some of it was very weird in a way that's specific to the 80s: Extraterrestrial fascination and subsequent extraterrestrial kissing/sex, a strong desire for a happy ending, clueless protagonist characters moddled after Ted McGinley, etc. The idea of Wilford Brimley acting rather than being an internet meme of geriatric humor is pretty funny in retrospect. Even funnier, Don Ameche won a freaking Academy Aawrd for best supporting actor. His screen time in this film is close to nil.

Bridges of Madison County (1995)-Very emotional and moving film. Romantic films aren't necessarily my genre, but Clint Eastwood gives the film a sort of masculine touch. Meryl Streep kills it and half the reason I watched it was to see her play an alluring Italian ingenue. Clint Eastwood said that this role was the closest to his real-life self, but I have a feeling "Play Misty for Me" hits the mark better. In that film, he sleeps with Jessica Walters then tries to get rid of her so he can move onto a cuter woman and well, I imagine Sandra Locke would agree that that's what Clint Eastwood did to her.

Battle of Shaker Heights (2003)-From the point of view of someone who never watched the season of Project Greenlight that resulted in this film, it seems like a fine film with good front-loading of the action. Shia LaBeouf plays an interesting kind of antihero and there's a certain Wes Anderson theme underlying the film where this is just an outkast trying to belong. The reviews were hard on this because they watched the Project Greenlight Season and felt the director messed up or was arrogant or probably had too noble a vision. Watching it in a vacuum has its advantages

Waitress (2007)-A very sweet film. This and another 2007 film, August Rush, was Keri Russell's big one-two punch to try to get her back on the acting scene to reinvent herself post-Felicity. Tragically the director Adrienne Shelly (one of the few female directors in Hollywood, too) was murdered. Maybe Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings can avenge her.

The Apt Pupil (1998)-One of the rare instances in which I've seen Ian McKellen act not as a superhero or gay pride icon and he doesn't disappoint (not that he was any less impressive in Gods and Monsters which came out the same year). McKellen plays an ex-Nazi riddled with the preoccupations of being super-old and Brad Renfro plays his neighbor Todd. Todd is struggling in school and full of adolescent angst and blackmails his Nazi neighbor into a variety of activities that can best be described as weird. The two form a makeshift relationship marked by a foreboding tension that you can easily identify because it's backed by the same kind of orchestral swelling that marked late 90's young adult films like Cruel Intentions, Teaching Mrs Tingle, and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Because it's adapted from a Stephen King book, this is a film that feels more adult and the best thing I can say about this failure of a film is that at least it treats its central character as an adult rather than a high school stereotype. Other than that it's not something that's particularly well-translated to screen.

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