The Woman in Black

(James Watkins, 2012)

with Devin and Christine Gray, Barn Screening Room, 10/26/12


Creepy, focused, and effective chiller, with plenty of good scares and a protagonist we root for – even if his propensity for working alone at night in an obviously haunted mansion does make us doubt his intelligence from time to time.  Daniel Radcliffe’s performance is simple and restrained; it’s not the kind of showy star turn that guarantees a glowing post-Potter career, but he does carry the movie, and that can’t be a bad sign.

Published in: on November 1, 2012 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  

The Brothers Bloom

(Rian Johnson, 2009)

alone, Emirates Airlines flight to New York, 3/17/10



A light, whimsical con-man fable, full of appealing performances and a certain amiable daffiness.  The Brothers Bloom is nostalgic for a bygone era of grand, bold, operatic swindles — the kind that pretended to, and perhaps achieved, the timeless resonance of true art.  The film itself is far from a masterpiece, but it has the courage of its own offbeat convictions, and it’s difficult not to like.

Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Invention of Lying

(Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, 2009)

alone, Emirates Airlines flight to Dubai, 3/10/10


Oh, how I was rooting for this movie!  It’s ambitious, it’s got an intriguing premise, and it’s Ricky Gervais’s baby; I was hoping to love it.  And it starts out promisingly enough, with a series of clever jokes fleshing out the concept of a world without lying.  (Well, supposedly it’s a world without lying; it seems more like a world where people are compelled to blurt out the truth, no matter what.  Isn’t that, in effect, a world without free will?)  Then Gervais’s character makes his breakthrough, and there are more funny scenes, and we’re waiting for people to catch on to what’s he’s doing, prompting world-wide chaos and transformation.  After all, isn’t that the whole point of an invention — spreading it around?

Instead, the movie becomes a somewhat labored commentary on religion, and then takes a darker turn, as Gervais grows bitter and disillusioned, depressed by the fact that Jennifer Garner still rejects his romantic advances.  She’s concerned, apparently, that if she marries Gervais, her children will be pudgy.  That’s fair enough on a first date, but as their relationship deepens into profound mutual respect and friendship, her concern with genetics begins to seem like some kind of twisted eugenic obsession.  Also, she offers him sex as a birthday present — say what now?  Clearly, her character has much deeper problems than an inability to lie.  And even after she’s figured out that Gervais is lying — near the end of the film — she still can’t do it herself.  But why on Earth not?

There’s a lot of good stuff here — not just good jokes, but truly moving moments, like the scene where Gervais lies to his dying mother to ease her pain.  An astonishing number of famous actors and comedians make minor appearances — Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Christopher Guest, etc. — testifying to Gervais’s immense popularity among his fellow entertainers.  It’s an admiration he richly deserves, but alas, this time, his screenplay lets him down.

Published in: on March 19, 2010 at 2:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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