Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009)

alone, on DVD at 1681 3rd Ave., 2/23/10


An especially dark and creepy kids’ movie, but a kids’ movie all the same.  Coraline has some clever touches and some adult themes, but it never transcends the fairy-tale genre, and its climactic sequences have some of the “insert task here” repetitiveness of a video game.  On the plus side, the animation is cool, and the lead character (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is charming and believable.  Coraline Jones is capable of swinging between wide-eyed wonder and surly cynicism in an instant — just like real children.

Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 8:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)

alone, on DVD at 1681 3rd Ave., 2/20/10


Clever, dark sci-fi chamber piece, with tinges of horror and echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with a tone and storyline all its own.  Sam Rockwell, practically the only actor we see, carries the film with an easy magnetism, proving once again that he’s an actor’s actor with the charisma of a movie star.  There’s an existential dimension to Moon, as well as a subtle current of black humor, but mostly it’s just an intriguing, original story, deftly told, with a wonderfully haunting piano theme.

Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Crazy Heart, Brüno, Faces

Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper, 2009)

with Robb Stey, UA East (89th and 1st), 2/15/10


A mellow, graceful, not-too-ambitious movie, full of good music, beautiful landscapes, and a rueful sense of wisdom hard-earned.  Jeff Bridges’ performance has a throwaway perfection to it; he’s not so much playing Bad Blake as just being him for a spell.

Brüno (Larry Charles, 2009)

with Devin, on DVD in barn, 2/16/10


Not an easy film to watch — full of situations so painfully, protractedly awkward that it’s all you can do not to look away.  There are more cringes than laughs in Brüno, but when the laughs come, they’re big.  More than anything, watch it to be floored by the extraordinary courage it took for Sacha Baron Cohen to put himself in these situations — and stay there.  In addition to being a certified comic genius, the man has balls of iron.  Granted, Brüno isn’t as compelling a character as Borat; then again, is it possible to imagine a character as compelling as Borat?

Faces (John Cassavetes, 1968)

with Mike Lavoie, Clint Byrne, Alexis MacDonald, and Brandt Shandera, 378 Bond St., 2/17/10


“If they took out all the singing, dancing, laughing, and limericking in this movie, it’d be ten minutes long.”  -Mike Lavoie

Alas, our esteemed curator Mr. Lavoie is right.  Faces is the kind of brave, iconoclastic film that dares to turn its back on fusty Hollywood conventions like plot, pacing, entertainment, and likable characters.  Mostly, it’s a lot of coarse, braying laughter and sudden mood swings.  Is this satire?  An unsparing depiction of existential crisis?  Melodrama?  Farce?  Who knows?  Faces won’t say.  The shooting is interesting — loose and fresh-feeling, with lots of wide lenses and foreground obstructions.  Beyond that, there’s not much to hold your attention; John Marley is charismatic in the lead (I guess he’s the lead), but his character is impossible to grab hold of — just like the film.

Published in: on February 19, 2010 at 8:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Man with Two Brains, Sullivan’s Travels, Shadow of the Thin Man

The Man with Two Brains (Carl Reiner, 1983)

with Dad and Devin, on DVD in carriage house, 2/6/10


Like Airplane!, this is a comedy with no inviolable baseline reality — in other words, anything for a gag.  But it lacks the sheer density of jokes that makes a ZAZ movie work, and besides, a lot of the jokes aren’t all that funny.  The longer it goes on, the more The Man with Two Brains seems to take its ludicrous plot semi-seriously, which is kind of embarrassing.  To be fair, there are some good moments here — particularly the big reveal of the Elevator Killer’s identity.  Genius.

Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)

alone, on DVD in farm house, 2/9/10


Oh, my word.

A preachy comedy about the virtues of comedy and the pitfalls of preachiness.  A Hollywood satire, a frantic farce, a romance, a noir, a message movie — Sullivan’s Travels is all of these occasionally, but none of them consistently, which makes it a strange, piebald sort of object, a curiosity more than a convincing whole.  But there’s much to admire here, especially the many wonderful character actors who populate the film’s corners with eccentric benevolence, and the lush, dark cinematography of the “Cool Hand Luke” section, and Veronica Lake.  Oh my word, Veronica Lake.  Until seeing this film, I knew her only as the beautiful blonde actress that Kim Basinger was meant to resemble in L.A. Confidential; I had no idea how breathtakingly, girlishly sexy she really was.  In this film, she’s an absolute fantasy woman — game, leggy, and adoring, with a winning blend of sarcasm and innocence.  Is having such an idealized female character a strength of the movie’s, or a weakness?  I leave you to decide.

Yep, even in this outfit.

Shadow of the Thin Man (W. S. Van Dyke, 1941)

with Dad, Devin, and Christine Gray, on DVD in carriage house, 2/10/10


The fourth film in the Thin Man series, and very much of a piece with the first three.  The dog is precocious but cowardly, the mystery is tangled but perfunctory, William Powell is hammy but appealing, Myrna Loy is a tart delight.  The child is cute enough, but I wouldn’t say he adds much to the movie — in fact, he does little but distract Mr. and Mrs. Charles from each other, which is a pity, because Nick’s cases tend to do that anyway.  (Notable: a young Donna Reed is in this one, and a young Jimmy Stewart was in the second.  It’s like a sort of training ground for future It’s a Wonderful Life stars!)

Jack Goes Boating

Jack Goes Boating (Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2010)

with Brooke Brown, Eccles Theatre, 1/30/2010


Amiable tragicomedy about two couples negotiating love, friendship, and fidelity in an unsentimentalized New York.  Hoffman’s shambling charm is on full-blast, and John Ortiz is winning and poignant as a sweet man whose carefree smile hides a thousand dark doubts.  The stilted dialogue brands Jack Goes Boating as the work of a playwright, but it doesn’t feel stagebound or hemmed-in the way plays-turned-movies sometimes do; in fact, it has a quiet lyricism to go along with its droll sense of humor.  I’d say Hoffman has a future as a film director, if he wants it.

Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 8:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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