Friday, October 19, 2007

Top to bottom

Various gigs (like a lengthy interview, one that came up unexpectedly, with Brian De Palma that will appear in the Winter issue of Cineaste) have kept me from my post, and my screenings have been sporadic. Time, then, for one of my lists, starred for the insta-comprehension that everyone expects on blogs.


Gone Baby Gone (opens today)
Good endings make up for a lot. Ben Affleck's career-rehabbing directorial debut, based on a Dennis Lehane movel, has a doozy, one that I still think about two months after seeing the film, after I'd put the few jarring notes (like the stars, Casey Affleck, pictured, and Michelle Monaghan, seeming too young to play hardened detectives) out of my head. And the gifted Amy Ryan is truly outstanding as the damaged mother at the center of the case--a less compromised, more original performance I'm unlikely to see again this year, and I hope awards nominators feel the same.


Across the Universe
Julie Taymor's Beatlemaniac romp through the late Sixties has a genuine visionary quality. It got me through the thinness of the storyline, which peters out at about the midpoint, and dissolves into jangly, eye-catching setpieces (some of them, spotlighting guest stars Joe Cocker and Bono, quite good). The quieter, more cohesive first half, with its plaintive song renditions, is actually the best, and the parallels to our own time effectively drawn. Our song-and-dance man neighbor, Patrick O'Neill, is in there somewhere, maybe under one or more of the many masks.

I Just Didn't Do It (New York Film Festival)
An intriguing turnabout from the director of the 1996 hit Shall We Dance, exhaustively detailing what happens when a falsely accused "predator" is caught in the Japanese legal system, which would rather process than adjudicate.

Into the Wild
The book is terrific journalism; Sean Penn's film, a nicely impressionistic rendering. Emile Hirsch's wide-eyed portrayal is basically a mirror, reflecting what you might think of, or read into, his character's journey. The strongest point of view comes from late-arriving co-star Hal Holbrook, another solid gold contender for end-of-year honors.

A fine portrait of publisher Barney Rosset, who bought Grove Press in the Fifties, and steered it through headline-making censorship trials of Lady Chatterley's Lover, Tropic of Cancer, Naked Lunch, and others, making and losing fortunes several times in the process as he put our First Amendment rights to the test. (Grove also distributed the groundbreaking adult film I Am Curious Yellow). I trust this documentary will itself find release. My friend Rosemary Rotondi did the archival research.

Redacted (opens Nov. 16)
Flawed but fascinating, Brian De Palma's multimedia take on the Iraq war is bound to be the most interesting of the films spawned by the conflict. Look for much more about it in Cineaste.

Wristcutters: A Love Story (opens today)
Droll and funny, with Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) as a suicide who finds empty-lot purgatory so dull he thinks about offing himself again, finding new purpose on a road trip through the terrain. Low-key, disarming, and very Euro-feeling, and beautifully shot in a purposefully indistinct style.


Lake of Fire
Tony Kaye's abortion documentary is thoughtful, measured...and a little out of time. He's not big on the time-and-dates typical of documentaries, which is fine, but much of his long-in-the-making film (including a sympathetic, step-by-step look at an abortion) seems to be taking place in the Clinton era, a different epoch for Roe. vs. Wade. Essential, but more history than here-and-now, a feeling reinforced by the stately black-and-white cinematography.

For the Bible Tells Me So
In the opposite direction is this takedown of clerics who use the good book to bash homosexuality. It's a more artless, talking heads approach to the problem, but undeniably vital.

3:10 to Yuma
Hard times out there: The most profitable picture of Hollywood's lackluster fall season is pretty much off to DVD prep. It was a good idea to remake this kind of foursquare, respected but not beloved remnant of 50 years ago, and it's not a bad picture. It's just not terribly distinctive on its own terms, which comes down to adding explosions and mild psychosexual undercurrents to the old story. No one will be remaking it 50 years from now.


The Darjeeling Limited
Limited indeed, as the wunderkind of quirk, Wes Anderson, continues to tread water after the failed Life Aquatic. He needs to adapt something, or wait to have a fleshier, more intriguing idea than this threadbare train-set story, which goes nowhere for 90 minutes.


The Brave One
A career low for director Neil Jordan, who tilts the camera this way and that for a semblance of movement, and close to it (Flightplan, her last starring role, is worse) for Jodie Foster, who as always brings class and dignity. Her gifts, however, are squandered on a poorly plotted and opportunistic vigilante storyline; a terrible park crime would be front page news in New York, but the film treats it as strictly routine, one more ill in post-9/11 society that Foster alone (with vacillating help from cop Terrence Howard, also wasted) has to correct. These days, movies like this are better set in rust belt environs where meth use and petty crime are epidemic; the Seventies-style content is a poor fit for today's New York, even the film's Washington Heights, which as depicted is crawling with evildoers.

The Kingdom
Anxiety over our Mideast allies poorly fit into an action movie frame, resulting in hand-wringing over Saudi sins and the actors staring, CSI-like, into a bombed-out cesspit until it's time to get medieval on Arab ass. TV stars Jason Bateman and Jeremy Piven are unwisely cast, reminding you how much better the best of the tube is than bad movies like the one you're stuck watching.


Finishing the Game
A rock-bottom indie comedy. The pits. And we are finished with this round.

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