I’m back, baby, and for your reading (and possible future viewing) pleasure I have not one, not two, not three, not four… um, okay, NINE reviews of movies I’ve seen in recent weeks! Ready? GO!
SHUTTER ISLAND -- **SPOILER ALERT** Scorcese's latest is an early contender for most misunderstood movie of the year. So much has been said about the "twist" and how it is soooo obvious and soooo lame. But people don't seem to realize that the twist is not meant to be a twist at all -- we're SUPPOSED to figure out early, if not from the very beginning, that Leo DiCaprio is really a patient. I mean, if you’ve ever seen a movie before in your life, you can figure that out. The film's true focus is the journey that his character must take in order to figure this out for himself -- and even more than that, the radical psychological process that is meant to help him along. Fantastic film, tremendous performances, and yet another slice of genius from one of cinema's true masters.
COP OUT -- *sigh*... and then there’s Kevin Smith. First he pretty much kills the View-Askewniverse with the abysmal CLERKS 2, but then ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO felt like a return to form. And now this unholy turd of a film... granted, he didn’t write it, but still... wow. Part of me hoped that it wouldn’t be as bad as the trailers made it seem. “There has to be more than this,” I prayed. Then I heard that the working title was A COUPLE OF DICKS, which is pretty funny, and I thought, “Maybe THAT is more indicative of the kind of movie this really is.” But no. The movie is bad and powerfully unfunny. Not sure what the heck Kevin Smith should be doing at this point in his career, but this is not it. Maybe give him a comic book superhero and see what happens?
THE GHOST WRITER -- Man, it always infuriates me knowing that I paid good money to see a film made by a guy who should have been strung up by his balls years ago, if only I was in charge of the world. Instead, Roman Polanski is free to live the high life and even has big Hollywood stars rallying to support him. And the worst part of all? He’s still making great movies! His latest, starring Ewan McGregor as a ghost writer who gets more than he bargained for when he signs on to work with a controversial former British Prime Minister, is another one to add to the list -- taut, intense, expertly crafted and deftly acted. One of the better whammy endings I’ve seen in a while, too. Still hope Polanski someday gets what’s coming to him, though!
THE CRAZIES -- Disappointing remake of the George Romero ‘70s classic. The original was unique in that it was mainly from the perspective of the bumbling government agents who were trying to contain and cover up the epidemic that turned normal townsfolk into, well, a bunch of crazies. Lots of socio-political commentary there, obviously. The remake takes a far less interesting angle, basically turning it into a run-of-the-mill zombie flick. Some decent scares and kills manage to hold your interest for the most part, but then the ending comes and any semblance of goodwill that may have been generated is washed away. If you thought that the “nuking the fridge” incident in INDY 4 was bad... friends, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND -- Back to the subject of of filmmakers who are in danger of falling from grace, Tim Burton is just about teetering on the edge of oblivion, himself. His vision of the classic tale is a disaster of epic proportions. I got the impression that he really wanted to make a CHRONICLES OF NARNIA film, or maybe THE HOBBIT, but got stuck with Wonderland, and as a result tried to bizarrely combine them, complete with sword fights and epic battles and such. Mostly lame visuals (even the 3D was lame, thanks to a half-assed conversion from its original 2D; other filmmakers, take note, because we can tell the difference between good and bad 3D now!), plodding story and a complete waste of some tremendous actors -- for fuck’s sake, if you’re gonna have CHRISTOPHER LEE as the voice of the Jabberwocky, how about giving him more than two lines?! Frankly, I think it’s time for Burton and Johnny Depp to break up, because neither of them are doing the other any good anymore. Time to move on. But more than anything, Burton really just needs to do something completely original again -- no more shitty remakes/reboots -- I need another EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and I need it now! Unfortunately, I hear he’s in talks to do a remake of THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Let me guess… Depp as Gomez, Helena Bonham Carter as Morticia… *sigh*
GREEN ZONE -- I wonder how many people went into this movie thinking that it was the next chapter in the BOURNE saga? You've got the star of Bourne... the director of the last two Bournes... the same gritty, shaky, handheld camera technique as Bourne... yet it is NOT, in fact, Bourne. Seriously, though, this movie is very good. Matt Damon plays a U.S. soldier searching in vain for WMDs in Iraq, who begins to question the entire operation as he uncovers the unfathomable truth. It’s as intense as it is infuriating -- suffice to say, it’s loaded with raging commentary against the Bush administration, and if you weren’t already angry about that whole debacle, you will be after watching this. Of course, it's as much a fictional story as it is based on/inspired by what may or may not be fact... but I bet the truth is not too far off.
REPO MEN -- In the future, if you need a new heart, liver, knee or voice box, the Union will get you one.... but if you can't pay the bills, the repo men will come and take back what's theirs. So when the best repo man in the business becomes one of the hunted, all hell breaks loose. Granted, it's not exactly a good film, and the plot completely rips off the superior REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, but fine actors (Jude Law, Forrest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber), enjoyable tounge-in-cheekiness, and lots of over-the-top blood & violence make it watchable. There may also be some commentary about the health care situation and... ah, my head hurts.
GREENBERG -- I’m sure that lots of people will be crushing on indie darling Greta Gerwig after seeing this movie, but guess what, I called dibs a while ago! I discovered her micro-budget, mumblecore work via some random Netflix recommendation and quickly fell in love, despite the fact that the movies themselves (HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS, LOL, BAGHEAD, NIGHTS & WEEKENDS) are kind of hit-or-miss. (The fact that she is very frequently very nude probably didn’t hurt.) Well, she takes her game to a new level in Noah Baumbach’s latest study of the relationships between neurotic, self-absorbed, angst-ridden souls (which I mean in the best possible way), starring Ben Stiller as a forty-something jerk with all kinds of problems. The two of them meet and embark on an awkward courtship that helps them put their own stagnant lives into perspective. Baumbach juggles humor, drama and heartbreak with a kind of detached precision, and the result is one of the better films of the year so far. Fine performance by Rhys Ifans, too, as Stiller’s estranged friend and former bandmate.
THE RUNAWAYS -- It's hard to tell if this movie was meant to be a serious biopic of the revolutionary '70s girl band, or a so-bad-it's-good cult favorite. My guess is the former… but it has a much better shot at the latter. From horrible acting to laughable dialogue to atrocious singing, this movie is a massive train wreck. Ironically, the casting is actually pretty spot-on, looks-wise -- Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning really look like a young Joan Jett and Cherrie Curry, respectively. Unfortunately, Stewart continues to prove that she is quite possibly the worst actress alive, and she can't sing either (though I do give her props for learning to play the guitar). Fanning fares a little better, acting-wise, but she can't sing for shit, either. Incidentally, be warned that seeing this movie, which features 15-year-old Dakota Fanning in various states of undress, doing drugs and having all sorts of sex with both genders, will likely put you on several government lists. Creepy. Also, there is NO excuse to have Alia Shawkat (AKA Maeby from ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) in a movie and not give her a single speaking line! All in all, it's a pretty terrible biopic and an even worse porno... though it does have two saving graces: (1) Michael Shannon, who is awesome as producer Kim Fowley, and (2) It is freakin' hilarious!