Monday, December 17, 2012

Review Snapshots December 11-17

Here’s what I watched in my spare time.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)- Eh, perfectly OK I guess. Strength of the cast/the gorgeous India locations are really the only points of interest here. Tom Wilkinson gives the best performance as a charming gay senior citizen, with Judi Dench being the next best as a widow in love with another one of the Hotel’s married residents (Bill Nighy). Maggie Smith also good but more or less doing what she’s been doing since Gosford Park. Her conversion from racist old biddy to gigantic sweetheart isn’t particularly convincing, but anyone going into this expecting realistic characters clearly showed up for the wrong movie. John Madden’s direction: just as undistinguished as it was for Shakespeare in Love. Grade: 56 (B-)

Chocolat (2000)- One of those prestige movies that feels like it was practically designed to be mediocre. Charming cast (Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp back when he still gave a damn) makes it watchable, but by this point Lasse Hallstrom had devolved into the middlebrow journeyman Miramax seemed so determined to turn him into. “Fable” narration doesn’t excuse how heavy-handed and unbelievable the dichotomy between the townspeople and Binoche’s chocolate shop is. I’m more prone to giving sweetness a pass than most, and even I felt diabetes coming. Grade: 38 (C)

I Love You, Man (2009)- Not as funny as Role Models, but still pretty damned funny. Occasionally goes too broad (projectile-vomit gag, most of the stuff involving Jon Favreau), and I wasn’t surprised to find that the writers of Meet the Parents (which everyone seems to love other than me), but the Paul Rudd-Jason Segel relationship is a pretty great push-pull between sensitive-guy awkwardness and regular-dude earnestness. “I’ll see you now or I’ll see you at another time” “That is so confusing, I don’t even know if we’re meeting”. Grade: 64 (B)

The Invisible War (2012)- Proof of Kirby Dick’s talent as a director. Tackles a subject that needs more attention (sex abuse of women in the military) without Dick resorting to the irritating stunts that nearly sank This Film Is Not Yet Rated. Cross-cutting between victim testimonies and bureaucrats felt a bit too manipulative, but essential nonetheless. Grade: 77 (B+)

Lockout (2012)- aka “Space Jail” or “Escape from Space”. The Luc Besson-factory doesn’t quite live up to the John Carpenter aspirations. A Carpenter version would have more entertaining supporting characters (the two Scotsmen playing the villains are good, but we needed more) and would have a bit more personality in it. That said, it’s pretty much a blast, with Guy Pearce owning the film with his impression of Kurt Russell’s tongue-in-cheek, I-don’t-give-a-shit John Wayne impression from the Carpenter Escape films. Grade: 69 (B)

Outrage (2009)- Just as worthwhile as The Invisible War, though here the misstep comes less from Dick and more from how uneasy the idea of outing closeted politicians is. The film makes a case for how damaging the closet is for gay Republicans, though, so it’s mostly a terrific film. Barney Frank- awesome. Grade: 77 (B+)

Who Am I This Time? (1982)- Minor Jonathan Demme work, but delightful nonetheless. The conceit of an actor who’s more comfortable in his roles onstage than in his own skin is done in pure Vonnegut-spirit (though I haven’t read the original short story and can’t say how close it is), but the way the film depicts the sweet-natured relationship between Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon is pure Demme. Kudos, also, to Demme casting Robert Ridgely in a key supporting role and opening up what could have felt just like a filmed-play on television (which it essentially is). It’s far more alive than that, particularly in the intimate lunch sequence between Walken and Sarandon. Grade: 75 (B+)

Wreck-it Ralph (2012)- Let’s get the qualms out of the way first: the film follows the Pixar model pretty closely, which is usually an asset but occasionally smacks too much of Toy Story (child playthings come to life). More notably, the big emotional moment near the end follows a certain Brad Bird movie way too closely. That said, it’s mostly terrific. Voice cast is phenomenal, particularly Reilly and Silverman, and the video-game in-jokes are pretty inspired. Best of all is the final third, where subplot-upon-subplot pile up and for a while it feels like anything could happen. Grade: 83 (A-)

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