Monday, October 17, 2011

September Movie Sustenance, Part 2

More words about movies I saw way back in September. GO!

lion-king-3dTHE LION KING 3D -- For me, the biggest selling point for this highly-anticipated theatrical re-release was not the 3D conversion, but the mere fact that we would be able to see one of the all-time great Disney movies on the big screen once again. And indeed, it is just as magical now as it was 18 years ago (particularly at the hallowed Ziegfeld Theatre, where I saw it). The movie, of course, is pretty much cinematic perfection. Arguably one of the best collections of songs in any Disney movie. Featuring one of the most dastardly Disney villains and one of the single most devastating moments. The opening “Circle of Life” sequence remains the most majestic visual thing Disney has ever done. Happy to report that the 3D isn’t half bad, either -- Disney is one of the few companies who gets that technology right on a consistent basis -- though I’d be lying if I said that it added much to the film. Would have been very happy to see it in glorious 2D if it had been available. But since this re-release made a ton of money, it looks like we’ll be seeing a bunch more Disney films converted into 3D over the next few years, including MONSTERS INC., FINDING NEMO and my personal favorite, THE LITTLE MERMAID -- which, again, is fine with me since it means we get to see them on the big screen. Classic Disney rules!

driveDRIVE -- Ryan Gosling IS Driver. He drives Hollywood stunt cars for a living and moonlights as a wheelman for armed heists -- a job at which he particularly excels. He is a loner, an enigma, a man of few words. But when he gets involved with a pretty neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan, very pretty indeed), and her young son, he finds a new purpose. He agrees to help Irene’s ex-con husband pay off a debt to a local crime syndicate, but the heist goes horribly wrong, and suddenly, Irene is in danger and Driver is forced to take matters into his own hands. And that’s when shit really gets heavy. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has crafted a gripping cinematic experience, featuring a cluster of homages spanning several decades: There’s the pulsing retro soundtrack. The pink COCKTAIL-esque title font. A grittiness that invokes old-school Michael Mann. The obvious parallel to Eastwood’s Man With No Name trilogy. A slow-burning plot punctuated by moments of incredible, gory violence (not unlike the Coens’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). Intense car chases -- not so much because they are fast, but because of Driver’s calculated precision and knowledge of the terrain. Indeed, Gosling’s performance invokes stoic Eastwood and cool-as-hell Steve McQueen. In fact, “cool” may be the best word to describe this movie -- it just oozes coolness from every frame. Gosling has been on fire over the past few years (hell, he’s got three great performances this year alone) but this could and should be his real star-making turn. He’s backed up by a stellar supporting cast including Albert Brooks, Brian Cranston and Ron Perlman; Mulligan is also great if somewhat underused. This is the rare movie that lives up to all the hyperbole that inevitably surrounds it -- the kind of movie that sticks with you long after the credits roll. One of the year’s best and an absolute must-see, especially as Oscar season approaches.

restlessRESTLESS -- Here we have a morbidly sweet story of two teenagers who fall in love under the shroud of death. Enoch (played by Henry Hopper, son of Dennis) likes to attend funerals for kicks. He has an imaginary friend/fairy godfather, the ghost of a dead Japanese kamikaze pilot named Hiroshi. He is still reeling from the tragic deaths of his parents. Basically, he’s obsessed with death. At one of his funerals, he meets Annabel (the lovely Mia Wasikowska), who is dying of cancer. She tries to overlook her condition and enjoy her remaining days to the fullest. She has a breezy attitude and positive outlook. Plus she’s real pretty. Enoch and Annabel are instant kindred spirits, their relationship blossoms, and while her life cannot be saved, his lease on life is renewed. It’s all very precious and while I enjoy a good whimsical romance as much as the next guy, this one is just a bit TOO quirky for its own good. As usual, Gus van Sant coaxes excellent performances out of his actors -- Wasikowska is particularly luminous, giving her three great performances in a row, following THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT and JANE EYRE (note that I don’t count ALICE IN WONDERLAND, though she WAS the best part of that god-awful dreck). But in the end, the film suffers from a case of twee-overload and thus, is aptly named because “restless” is kind of how I felt while watching it.

Killer-EliteKILLER ELITE -- It’s been a while since Robert De Niro has been the best part of a movie, as the latter part of his illustrious career has been, shall we say, somewhat uneven. Well, he is most definitely the best part of this action thriller -- but that’s kind of like saying that the kernels of corn in your shit are the best part of the shit. In what will surely rank as one of the worst movies of the year, this film pits Jason Statham (as an ex-special ops agent who is drawn back into the game) against Clive Owen (as the leader of a secret military society and sporting a terrible mustache). I suppose this could have been a fun battle of bad-asses; unfortunately, the result is a convoluted, over-plotted, poorly-written, dull mess involving oil tycoons, secret societies, a tell-all book and various levels of deception. I generally like Statham, but he’s pretty much a one-trick pony; if the trick doesn’t work, then it’s a bad scene. As for Owen, the only reason I haven’t given up on him completely is because I recently watched a movie called TRUST in which he displays legit acting talent beyond his usual shtick (first time that’s happened since CLOSER; note that I’m one of the few who doesn’t worship at the altar of CHILDREN OF MEN); would love to see more of that and less of this bullshit. Apparently the story is inspired by real events -- clearly they should have just made something up.

moneyballMONEYBALL -- A movie that does for the business of baseball what THE SOCIAL NETWORK did for the creation of Facebook, which is to say, it takes a potentially dull subject and turns it into a riveting adventure with memorable characters, snappy dialogue and exhilarating situations. Of course, the great Aaron Sorkin is once again responsible for a fantastic screenplay -- an adaptation of the Michael Lewis book that rocked the baseball boat and introduced the world to a whole new mode of thought in which traditional scouting tactics (often based on intangible player characteristics like “scrappiness”) were eschewed for a focus on pure statistical analysis. This theory was first adopted by Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s (portrayed here by Brad Pitt, who does a fantastic job). After the A’s lost some of their best players to free agency before the 2002 season, Beane, with the help of his wunderkind assistant (Jonah Hill in his best performance since SUPERBAD) and strapped by the team’s piddling small-market payroll, put together a ragtag group of players that, to most of the baseball world, seemed like a joke. But naturally, in pure baseball movie style, they shocked everybody and made the playoffs in a remarkable season highlighted by a league-record 20-game winning streak. On an emotional level, it’s as effective as any baseball movie I’ve ever seen and may rank among the best of ‘em. An outstanding film that breathes life into a subject that was once (foolishly) thought to take the heart out of America’s pastime.

50-5050/50 -- Wow, second movie of the month about a character that has cancer! But this time, it’s not morbidly quirky but legitimately funny, heartfelt and poignant. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars is Adam, a twenty-something guy who is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. His mom freaks out. His girlfriend can’t deal with it. Fortunately, he has a best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen in a return to form), who rises to the occasion and gives Adam the support he needs. The film follows Adam as he goes through various stages of optimism and doubt, endures chemotherapy and attempts to live whatever life he may have left. There are some great episodic moments, such as Kyle coercing Adam to use his condition to get them both laid. Adam also develops relationships with a couple of Statler & Waldorf-esque fellow cancer patients, as well as a young, naive therapist (Anna Kendrick, great as always) who has been assigned to provide counsel. Characters are built nicely, setting the stage for a potent final act in which Adam learns that he must undergo potentially life-threatening surgery. Co-written by Rogen and Will Reiser, and based on Reiser’s real-life experience, the film toes the line between comedy and drama and packs an emotional punch -- at its core, it’s a story of true friendship and may well be the feel-good movie of the year.

By the way, gang, if you’ve seen any of these movies (or want to see them, or have zero interest in seeing them), please do share your thoughts, opinions, criticisms, etc. Movie discussion makes the world go ‘round!


  1. Ben, your blog makes me want to (have an income so I can) go to the movies. Let me know if you ever need a companion for a free screening!

    So, you're not a fan of Children of Men? For me, it's not really Clive Owen's (or anyone else's) performance in that movie that sticks with me as much as the story. And the atmosphere, but mostly the story.

  2. Well, I don't actively dislike CHILDREN OF MEN. The story is intriguing and the cinematography is great (that one really long tracking shot is particularly memorable)... but I was underwhelmed overall. And then lots of people put it on a pedestal which just ruffled my feathers.

    I'll totally let you know next time I have an extra screening pass! We're long overdue for some Potter discussion as it is.... :)