Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ten Word Movie Reviews: On Steroids

I really, really liked condensing my movie thoughts into ten words. When I write about movies, one of my negative tendencies is to bloat things out too much with unnecessary words, and at times I lose track of what I'm trying to say. At times, movies bring out the poet in me, and I may be many things as a writer, but I suuuuuuck as a poet. The ten-word format really forces me to boil my thoughts down to their most simple and direct, and I like that a great deal. So rest assured that I have every intention of sticking with the format.

That being said, we're well into October and almost all the movies I'll be seeing from now until February are going to be . . . not necessarily better (although after the dismal first half of the year, I damn well hope so) but certainly worthy of a deeper discussion. So for the time being, I'm going to write capsule reviews of the fall/winter movies, just so I can say a little more.

This week: A History of Violence; Corpse Bride; Serenity; In Her Shoes; and Proof.

Movie: A History of Violence (2005)
Director/Studio: David Cronenberg / New Line
10 Word Review: Probing, lean, expertly acted. Makes its insights without loud declarations.
Best Thing About It: The editing and pacing. Cronenberg really makes this thing move, without making it feel like it's racing along. Scenes are allowed to play themselves out at their leisure, but there is so little fat on this film that the scenes strung together end up forming a bullet train.
Worst Thing About It: It's not really bad, per se, but I was expecting something more out of the much-buzzed William Hurt cameo. To me, there just didn't seem to be all that much going on. Maybe I'm missing the boat.
Best Performance: Viggo Mortenson completely rocks his role as the small-town diner owner who finds his (or someone's) past has come back to haunt him. It's quiet, but it's quite complex. Honorable mentions to Maria Bello as Viggo's sexy, loyal wife, and young Ashton Holmes as a son coming to his own terms with violence.
Grade: A-

Movie: Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005)
Director/Studio: Tim Burton / Warner Bros.
10 Word Review: Beautifully animated stop-motion gothic folk tale. Distant, but sparklingly voiced.
Best Thing About It: The animation. It's so pretty to look at. Burton paints in grays as well as anyone I've seen (see also: Ed Wood; Sleepy Hollow). The characters are vividly drawn at varying degrees of roundness/angularity, and are all quite expressive.
Worst Thing About It: I just . . . couldn't connect with it. Burton's films have always had a heart buried beneath all the artifice that would draw me in, and I just wasn't feeling it here. The exception would be Helena Bonham Carter's Emily (the Corpse Bride herself), but the pair voiced by Johnny Depp and Emily Watson just don't do enough for me to make me care.
Best Performance: Aside from Bonham-Carter's charming turn, Christopher Lee makes his imperious presence felt in a big way.
Grade: B-

Movie: Serenity (2005)
Director/Studio: Joss Whedon / Universal
10 Word Review: Unsuccessful TV series makes for unsuccessful movie. Financially speaking, natch.
Best Thing About It: Full disclosure: I liked the Firefly TV series when I caught it on DVD. And maybe some of my dissatisfaction with the movie is borne out of a fan's futile desire to see all the loose ends and possible plot lines addressed in one two-hour movie. I will say, however, that the action scenes are very skillfully done, ranging from exciting to artful. And, dammit, I still have a soft spot for Whedon's quippy dialogue.
Worst Thing About It: I will brush past the numerous issues I have with the film itself (clunky, overly-expository dialogue; inability to make Mal an effective hero or antihero; anticlimactic plot twists; and unearned character deaths) here and point a finger at Joss and the fandom for a moment. Because the "Browncoats" have been downright obnoxious during the hype for Serenity, and especially during the aftermath of its box-office underperformance. And Joss, much as I've loved him, really needs to get over himself a bit. Sniping back at Internet columnists in "defense" of your loyal cabal of worshipers? Come on, dude.
Best Performance: Summer Glau, no contest. She really comes into her own as River Tam, although if they'd actually used Gina Torres and Alan Tudyk to their full potential, maybe Summer would have had a run for her money.
Grade: B-

Movie: In Her Shoes (2005)
Director/Studio: Curtis Hanson / 20th Century Fox
10 Word Review: Mostly successful "chick flick" that allows Toni Collete to shine.
Best Thing About It: I really enjoyed the film's commitment to making Cameron Diaz difficult to like. I come by my distaste for Cameron honestly, but I will accept that she is able to curry favor with a good chunk of the audience by flashing that coat-hanger smile and goofily shaking her ass. She doesn't do that here. She could have taken any number of routes in her performance that would have softened Maggie, but she didn't, and the film is all the better for it.
Worst Thing About It: I'm not sure if I want to blame the source material (Jennifer Weiner's novel of the same name) or the screenwriter (Erin Brockovich's Susannah Grant), but the script – while well-plotted and put together – is rather pedestrian when it comes to dialogue. I was expecting something with a little more snap to it. The performers certainly could have handled it. Also, there's a fairly wide streak of Old-Jewish-Lady-humor, whose amusement/annoyance factor will likely depend on your tolerance for such humor, or your mood at the time. Me, I didn't mind so much.
Best Performance: Toni Collette, who remains one of my very favorite actresses, and who certainly came to play. She's endlessly likeable, she's charming, she's funny in a way that can come out of nowhere at any time. And she's of an unconventional beauty that I, for one, think the filmmakers knew exactly what to do with the entire time. Which must have been nice.
Grade: B (bordering on a B+)

Movie: Proof
Director/Studio: John Madden / Miramax
10 Word Review: Sharply written, strong performances. Could have been . . . more, directorially speaking.
Best Thing About It: The acting is just superb. I've loved Gwyneth a grand total of twice in her entire career (Royal Tenenbaums and Shakespeare in Love, and really that second one is pushing it), but she is on her game in this movie. Jake Gyllenhaal and Hope Davis are brilliant and the best things about the movie. And Anthony Hopkins uses his stagy bellow to excellent effect.
Worst Thing About It: I was about two steps ahead of the plot the entire time, not having read or seen the play its based on before. And John Madden doesn't do a whole lot as a director, beyond creating a kind of displacement in which every scene begins without giving the viewers many clues as to when in the timeline it's occurring. Which is, admittedly, a nice touch.
Best Performance: It's a three horse race between Paltrow, Gyllenhaal, and Davis, but I think I'm going to give it to Jake, who fluctuates between levity and urgent drama with a skill beyond his years.
Grade: B

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