Saturday, January 19, 2008

Film 2007: Overrated

Don't get me wrong: There was nothing terrible about these films, except that they were hyped beyond their actual achievement, and let me down as surely as air from car tires that have sprung a leak. Exercise critical caution and scale back expectations accordingly when encountering them.

In alphabetical order:

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I'm glad this went out uncut but I'd like to see a 100-minute version; the cutting might force an actual theme to emerge from all that gauzy period recreation.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Rambunctious as all get out for a while, then a slide into contrivance and silliness with an unhinged Albert Finney that mitigates the hosannas.

Black Snake Moan. Extravagant claims were made for this in Esquire, not unlike its championing of the cult flop Two Lane Blacktop in 1971. The heavy-breathing grindhouse aesthetic (barely) masks a race-conscious gloss on Pygmalion, an old-school chestnut if there ever was one.

The Bourne Ultimatum. I gor the DVD for Christmas, and like it just fine. But the need to crystallize the action into relentless packets of activity wore on the human factor of the piece; a key emotional component is missing, and the ending (Albert Finney again) was a letdown. I enjoy the messier first installment best.

Control. Two long hours on suicide watch with Ian Curtis. And I felt every minute.

The Darjeeling Limited. Wes Anderson in a creative cul-de-sac. So cute, so precisely calibrated, so instantly forgettable. Suggestion: Think outside the box and adapt something next.

Disturbia. A modest mystery, a star turn. And an endorsement for increased surveillance straight from Big Brother. What concept of privacy do kids today have? What are the adults who made this film marketing to them?

Grindhouse. This very nearly went into the dumper. The enjoyable faux trailers, outshining the dreadful Robert Rodriguez segment, and the Quentin Tarantino portion once it revs up provided a stay of execution. I can't imagine slogging through the longer-version DVDs of the separate films again, nor for that matter the whole enchilada once it becomes available, but for sheer ambiance that is the way to experience it. Its chief utility is as a way into the films it is imitating/venerating, so I guess it has an actual cinephiliac purpose.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Blessedly shorter than its brethren, but no more memorable. The ecstatic reviews these deadening pictures muster in certain quarters flummox me. I'm just not wild about Harry, and feel the same way about him as his Muggles family (pictured) does. Two more to go.

Knocked Up. It's hard to imagine that a comedy about pregnancy, a movie subject since about D.W. Griffith, was hailed as some sort of breakthrough. Laughs and stifled yawns in equal measure for a patience-stretching 132 minutes.

La Vie en Rose. A great portrait in search of a coherent frame. An uneasy biopic botch but for the spectacular Marion Cotillard.

The Orphanage. I've seen Pan's Labyrinth, and, you, sir, are no Pan's Labyrinth. Not a bad ghost story but more a matter of coattail riding than anything substantive on its own.

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