For no particular reason, reviews of some of the movies I’ve seen in the last few months. Some are still in theaters, some are in 2nd run theaters like the Elmwood, some on video. Roughly, in order of how much I liked them.
Update: added some I’d forgotten about which critics’ end-of-the-year round-ups reminded me of, some I’ve seen more recently.
Into the Wild – Terrific. Stunning movie. I had read and liked the book, so I was afraid I’d find the movie not interesting, since I knew what happened. But it was wonderful. The protagonist’s time alone in the wilds of Alaska intercut with his travels getting there. We end up really liking and admiring him, and understanding why he wanted to go into the wild. He just didn’t know that where he was going was inaccessible when the water rose. (I did a river trip in Alaska on the Tatsenshini, a very large river, and the water rose 6 inches overnight due to glacier melt upstream.) Still around, at the Shattuck right now.
Away from Her – Julie Christie as a woman slipping into dementia, and Gordon Pinsent as her loving husband, reduced to a tiresome (to her) stranger who keeps visiting her as she falls in love with a fellow-patient . Beautifully done, wonderful characters and relationships, with the added plus of being in beautiful country in rural Canada, on a lake, mostly in the snow. The care facility she went into was unbelievably good — with the head nurse spending hours hanging out with Christie’s character’s husband. But the movie is so rich and complex, the characters so real and sympathetic, the movie is stunning. Now on DVD.
The Wind That Shook the Barley – Moving, tragic story of the Irish resistance during the time that they managed to throw off much of the British occupation. But we see what the violence of the resistance does to the people who take part in it. in video stores.
Across the Universe – Fun, especially for those of us who lived through the 60s, which are idealized and sanitized in the movie, but still, it’s fun. I was surprised at how much I liked the music and the way they use it: all Beatles songs, sung by the cast of the movie. What, the Beatles songs not sung by the Beatles? But hearing different people sing them brings new meaning, plus they’re used to further the story. Not all sweetness and light: one of the protagonists fights in Vietnam. Still around in 2nd release theaters. At the Elmwood right now.
Stardust – Surprisingly good. A fantasy romance, but much better done than usual. It had gotten good reviews but I didn’t see it for a long time, until one day I really wanted to go to a movie and nothing that I wanted to see was playing. May be worth seeing just for its limp-wristed, cross-dressing, musical-theater-loving Robert DeNiro. Some parts aren’t as funny as the filmmakers intended them to be, but very enjoyable. Now on DVD.
Rescue Dawn – chilling. I’m glad I saw it on DVD — I fast-forwarded through some of it because it was so unendurably depressing. I was expecting this, though, since it’s Herzog. But I think movies have gotten too realistic — people have accused older war movies of being unrealistic, with everyone looking so healthy. In this case, the actors who played the protagonist’s fellow-captives, who had been in a small jungle prison for 2 years and more when we meet them, were so thin they truly had to have starved for the roles and were painful to watch. The star, Christian Bale, lost weight, too, but since he wasn’t in prison as long, his weight loss didn’t have to be as extreme. (Queasy stomachs will want to look away when they dinner is worms.) Which reminds me to throw in a recommendation for Herzog’s Grizzly Man — a documentary about an idiot who was eaten by his beloved grizzly bears, and a terrific movie.
Live Free or Die Hard – I started watching this on a plane with individual movies on demand too late to see the whole movie, and the beginning hooked me enough to go out and rent it. Hackers innocently combine to bring down the US network, beginning with traffic and finance and heading toward the power grid. Fun; gripping. Unrealistic but entertaining special effects, e.g., bringing down a low-flying helicopter with a car flying through the air.
Once – I almost walked out of this movie because nothing happened. But once I decided nothing was going to happen, I liked it. I loved the music — bought the CD and have been playing it since. If you think you can’t sit through a movie where nothing happens, skip the movie and buy the CD. Now on DVD.
Mr. Brooks – added 12/30 – Very good, and fairly suspenseful. Kevin Costner as a mass murderer, with William Hurt as his — ah — anti-conscience? Murder as an addiction, for which he goes to 12-step meetings. But ah, if he managed to stay “straight,” there’d be no movie. Unfortunately, the reviews gave away far too much of this movie, including ruining what could have been a fairly suspenseful sub-plot. Demi Moore is good as a hard-assed police officer, on the trail of the murderer. Many plot holes for the viewer who thinks about them — but enjoyable.
The Golden Compass – I really liked Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, so I was looking forward to this movie, and went to see it even though the reviews were not great. It was, well, fine. Not sure I would have understood, or cared, had I not read the book. It’s pretty faithful to the book, except of course missing big chunks of it. A thoroughly-botoxed Nicole Kidman is chilling.
Ratatouille – Way overrated. Pleasant, cute, good animation. But — a new classic? Only insofar as lots of kids/family movies last because there are always new kids coming along. On video.
How to Cook Your Life – Documentary about cook, cookbook author, and Zen teacher Ed Brown. Was in theaters briefly, probably nowhere to be found now. Interesting but disappointing. Brown is not a good advertisement for the practice he teaches, since he clearly (still) has extreme problems with anger. The movie is too long and too didactic. But interesting for both Brown talking about cooking, and Brown talking about Dogen’s Lessons for the Cook. Better: the same filmmaker’s (Doris Dörrie’s) Enlightenment Guaranteed. Two German men go to Japan to practice in a Zen temple there, and before they get to the temple they have the Western tourist’s nightmare experience of travel in Japan. When they finally get to the temple, the non-Zen student, without expectations, does much better than the Zen student. The film crew moved into the temple to film there, and it’s genuine.
Knocked Up – added 12/30 — also on some 10-best lists. NOT! Mildly amusing, once we get around the idea that (1) she would have slept with him in the first place, and (2) she immediately assumes that, though he was a one-night stand, since he’s the father, he should now be a part of her life, (3) it’s somehow a good thing that this professional woman sees the light and starts hanging out with this loser and his friends, helping them find the bare breasted scenes in movies so they can create a website of them. As I say, mildly amusing, but certainly not a 10-best candidate.
The Savages – added 12/30 – Saw this last night. On NYT’s AO Scott’s 10 best list. NOT. I had the added reason for not liking it that it was way too close to home — I’ve been going through with my father the stuff the protagonists are going through here. But they actually get off easy in the movie, the kids get off way too easy, with their father dying relatively soon though he was by no means close to death. In sum, it’s just overall depressing, and the characters are not very engaging. Laura Linney’s portrayal is uneven, so some of her character’s actions seem to come from left field. Nice to see Philip Seymour Hoffman as an ordinary guy, but — does he have to be a semi-failed academic living in a bare house with books strewn around? Both kids are failures, who of course find professional success when their father dies. Huh? My companion, who didn’t have the personal stake in the movie that I did, also said it wasn’t good. Bad story, bad acting.