October 18, 2011

So Many Movies, So Little Time

This is movie season. You know: end of the year, so films are being released in order to get Oscar consideration. And, if that's not enough, the Chicago Film Festival is in progress. Whew, it's tough to keep up. But I'm making a valiant effort.
I don't have time to write reviews of them all (have to keep moving forward on my new book: The Ones You Left Behind - yes, a shameless plug), so I'm doing a mass movie review: a quick synopsis of the films I've seen in the past month. (Probably more like three weeks but that's just embarrassing.) Okay, let's start with
Moneyball ***** Great baseball film, excellent acting-Brad Pitt is great. Jonah Hill is fantastic - he has such a great face that tells the whole story. If you like rooting for the underdog you'll love this film. I did.
50/50 **** Based on a true story about a young man with a rare form of cancer. The script is a little heavy-handed but it's basically an engaging story told with humor and poignancy. There's nothing funny about cancer but I believe that finding humor in life helps us with the tough times. So does this film.
The Ides of March ***1/2 How bad can it be with George Clooney and Ryan Gosling in it? Also Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood. Good cast, interesting story, acting/directing very solid (Clooney directs this film). My problem is with the script and the way it deals with the central theme of idealism vs. realism vs. corruptibility - just doesn't quite work for me, especially the ending.
Toast ** This could have been a sweet film about a young English boy who develops a love for cooking and becomes an accomplished chef. But the characters are so poorly written (except for the boy) that it's hard to get involved. The mother can't be characterized as a lousy cook - there are no words to describe a woman who boils cans unopened. Stupid, right? And the father is implausibly cruel. And then the mother dies and a caricature of a housekeeper (soon to turn evil stepmother) comes on board (Helena Bonham Carter) but there's no saving that role the way it's written. It was written by the screenwriter of Billy Elliott which was a very sweet film. This one is not.
My Afternoons With Margueritte ****1/2 Okay, now THIS is a sweet film. It's about an unlikely friendship between Germain (a super-sized Gerard Depardieu) and 90 year old Margueritte who meet in a park. The relationship is lovely and as we learn more about the characters we grow to love them. Beautifully told.
Contagion ***1/2 Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law. Story about a rampant virus that crosses the globe at the speed of light and the people trying to figure out where it came from and how to stop it. Pretty good story that pulls you in.
Without ***1/2 This is a film festival film about a young woman who takes a job in a remote location caring for a catatonic old man while his family takes a vacation. The man is in a wheelchair and cannot speak. We're told that he makes his needs known but we never see evidence of it and we don't know how aware he is of what's going on. The young woman slowly unravels in her solitude, alone with thoughts of an event that we slowly learn about. Really well done and beautifully acted, and I'd have given it more stars if parts of it hadn't been so difficult to watch.
What Love May Bring *1/2 Claude Lelouche's (a Man and a Woman) 43rd film about a woman on trial for murdering her husband, and the lawyer who defends her. Very self-indulgent film that repeats itself throughout and seems like a compilation of his (and others') previous films. I was bored to tears and annoyed by all the repetition and the songs we had to sit through for no reason. And then people clapped when it was over. Go figure.
Fireflies in the Garden **1/2 Great cast: Willem Dafoe, Julie Roberts, Ryan Reynolds, Emily Watson. Again, could have been a good story with better characterizations and more subtlety. Another implausibly cruel father. I'm sure there are cruel parents in this world (hard for me to imagine) but I have a difficult time believing that a mother would allow the kind of abuse that's depicted in this film. Michael (Ryan Reynolds), an adult now who has somehow survived his childhood, has turned into a fish-bludgeoning, firefly smashing role-model for his niece and nephew. Nice.

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