Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Movie Reviews: Post-Apocalypto

The Book of Eli
Actually not bad. More interesting than most Denzel Washington movies are, with a hint of depth regarding things like religion and, uh, blindness I guess. I don't know what it is about post-apocalyptic movies, but I have a super hard time accepting the premise if it doesn't feel right. That happened with The Road too, with its too-innocent kid and flip-flopped moral construct, and it happens here too. Apparently all the Bibles were burned after the Vaguely Defined Apocalypse, which A) is suuuuuper not likely but whatever, but B) is it believable that after 30 years, no one would know what a Bible even is? That 30-year gap kept plaguing me, in that it seemed to short to explain some things (the widespread illiteracy) and too long to explain other things (after 30 years there is NO sense of what exists in the world outside these small shantytowns?). But whatever, the movie's not bad, there's a improbably fun sequence in the middle (perk up when you get to Michael Gambon and Frances De La Tour) featuring an excellent music cue, and Jennifer Beals and Tom Waits show once again why they're among our most underused talents. Then there's the Mila Kunis thing. She's actually become a pretty good actress -- her performance here is quite fine -- but she's pretty severely miscast. With her big ol' eyes and "What's your deal?" demeanor, she's utterly scrubbed and contemporary in a world full of gross teeth and bartered handi-wipes. B-

This is an absorbing and unflashy story about a Dominican baseball prospect, working his way up from the minors and being confronted with how much this Great American Opportunity does, and often doesn't, offer him. Like directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's last movie, Half Nelson it keeps a tight grip on the mood; things never get too maudlin, but they also carefully dole out the sentimentality. There's is a also this heartbreaking recurring theme of language barriers that manifests itself in continually surprising ways. And oftentimes, it sets itself at the beginning of a path that will surely lead to cliches (his host family in Iowa; just the general baseball-hero's-arc) only to avoid almost all of them. A fine little movie. B

Despite the fact that dozens of people had recommended it, this movie still managed to sneak up on me. In the narrative sense, I mean. You think it's about one thing; then you think it's going to be about another thing on a metaphorical/spiritual/"I don't know what's real" level; then, before you even realize it, the movie IS about that second thing, on a very literal level. Just watch the movie, you'll get it. Anyway, Duncan Jones is a whiz with the pacing, Clint Mansell provides another great score, and Sam Rockwell is lively and fun (I don't want to give anything away, but there's a pop-music moment that just killed me). B+

What an oddly unpleasant movie. I guess I can appreciate that a purportedly romantic-comic movie about Asperger's would resist cutesiness and a predictably happy ending, but Rose Byrne's character just seemed straight-up heartless in some of the crucial scenes here, and when you're opposite Hugh Dancey, you can't afford to be such a bitch because I will hate your ass. Could have used some laughs. C+

Crazy Heart
A fairly modest indie movie raised considerably by the most excellent music (hottie du jour Ryan Bingham not only wrote "The Weary Kind," and performed it over the credits, but he also shows up as the lead singer of an opening act) and a performance by Jeff Bridges that should not have been surprising, but for the odd fact that he'd pretty much won the Oscar before anyone had seen the movie. Awards season is fucked up sometimes. But it would have been so easy to dismiss it as simple awards-grubbing. Thank god it's Jeff Bridges, then, and he totally came through with a carefully observed, unshowy performance that has only grown more impressive as I remember the movie.

Hrm. It's got problems. Like how, first of all, the songs aren't all that memorable, save for "Be Italian." Then there how Rob Marshall recycles the Chicago conceit, where every performance is a fantasy that takes place on a stage. Made sense there, given Roxy's fixation with a life on the stage. No earthly idea why he decides to use it again in a movie about 1960s Italian cinema. The bright side is that pretty much all the actresses to really well singing their super boring songs. Kate Hudson's the exception, but to be fair, her song is the total worst. Honestly, though, I want to give Fergie some kind of awesomeness award, because "Be Italian" kind of saved the movie. From a "D." C-


That Bootleg Guy said...

I think "Mila Kunis" and "miscast" should include your picture of her holding an automatic weapon, no matter what role we're talking about. In fact, it should become the universal symbol for miscasting.

JA said...

I usually very much like Rose Byrne, but I sorta wanted Hugh Dancy to push her down some stairs by the end of Adam.

jessica said...

Kate Hudson's song, "Cinema Italiano", was apparently an original written for the movie? Which somehow auto-qualifies it for those original song awards categories? It doesn't deserve it, because it is mondo stupido, but that's the only reason I remember its existence. "Be Italian" was the best, and only truly memorable, part of Nine, though I did think Marion Cotillard did a fine job with her role.

Stephanie said...

I was really impressed with "Crazy Heart". Jeff Bridges is always reliable but there were a lot of extra touches that made this performance really lived in. And colour me surprised: Colin Farrell can sing!

Rinaldo said...

It's probably a lost cause to try to convince anyone of this who has seen Nine only in movie form, but it is (was?) really a great stage score, of which "Be Italian" is in many ways the weakest song.

But as it is... you're right! "Be Italian" came off infinitely the best, and Fergie the best performance by a mile -- because she's really a musical performer (not one for whom I have any history of fandom, but she knows how to put a song over). The others avoided overt pain, they sing in tune and all; but they don't really know how to make songs their dramatic expression, and so their stuff does come out boring.

I could say "listen to the revival cast album with Antonio Banderas" (yes, really, he's amazing on it as are the ladies)... but I can't imagine anyone who knows the piece only from the movie being moved to make the effort. That's why these sorts of film versions really kill me, they spoil the original property in people's minds.

And you're so right, the stylistic premise that worked in the Chicago movie isn't at all integral here.

BeRightBack said...

I actually like Marion Cotillard's first song the best, probably because she played it like a scene and not a "number." Also, I just thought she was really good in general, and that song was an extension of her other scenes.

But yes, Fergie was kind of awesome - even (or, probably, because) she had absolutely no lines that weren't sung! And the Kate Hudson song was awful-awful, especially the line about Neo-Realism, which, considering what Italian Neo-Realism was actually about, struck me as almost offensive.

Deirdre said...

No letter grade for Crazy Heart?

I'm really looking forward to seeing it, largely because of Bridges and T-Bone Burnett. Otherwise it seems like a fairly generic old-burnout-meets-cute-young-thing story, but maybe there are nuances there that aren't being played up in the publicity.