Location: Los Angeles, California

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Recent Movies

I've seen a plethora of movies lately, and the marathon doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon. I'm seeing "Juno" tonight, "No Country for Old Men" tomorrow night, and "American Gangster" next week. I'll post my opinions of them in due time.

For now, here's what I've seen recently, with uber-brief reviews:

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Quite a perplexing film... I still don't know exactly where I stand on it. It's handsomely shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins, who is locked for an Oscar nomination and may finally win (although I got a feeling "Atonement" will offer serious competition).

"Jesse James" is an intriguing character study on the nature of celebrity and hero-worship, and it contains a bizarre but captivating performance from Brad Pitt and a remarkable performance by Casey Affleck. It's a movie that moves leisurely, taking its time to examine people's faces, the odd details in a landscape, the tangential characters who complete the whole picture.

And yet, at 160 minutes, it's a movie that's dying to lose 20 minutes. Especially during the middle act, the film loses its way by almost completely ignoring its title characters. Only during the last hour does the film pick up momentum, and the film's coda is a fascinating look at how fame evolves in unpredictable ways.

It really could be such a better movie, and yet, here I am still captivated by its guts, its pretensions, its refusal to play it easy. A 140-minute "Jesse James" would have been a masterpiece; as it stands today, it's a very good, sometimes great, sometimes silly, freak of nature.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

Lust, Caution

Strangely similar to "Jesse James," not in content but in its deliberate pace and 160-minute runtime. Yet, Ang Lee's Chinese espionage thriller is more gripping than the aforementioned western. The movie progresses effortlessly, as if Lee knows exactly when every transition should occur, exactly how every shot should be executed. And Wei Tang, making her screen debut, is a revelation. She deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, as does Alexandre Desplat's score.

As for that NC-17, it's questionable whether the film truly deserved the rating. Oh yes, there is sex, but I don't exactly think kids under 17 will be trying to get their nudity fix through a 2 1/2 hour Chinese Mandarin movie.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

Across the Universe

A misfire, to be sure, but one that occasionally dazzles. The first half of this musical works very well - the songs fit the script, there are scenes of (gasp!) dialogue, and the characters are fairly likable. But as soon as Bono appears in a hallucinogenic cameo, the film plummets into a series of inconsequential music videos. The dialogue scenes disappear as we are treated to contrived situations that exist only so more Beatles songs can be crammed into the narrative (hey, there's a plate of strawberries, well, yeah, let's sing "Strawberry Fields Forever" now).

And it hurts me to say it, but the Eddie Izzard segment ("Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite") is an appalling mess. Not only does it amount to nothing, but it's filled with digital backgrounds of astonishing crudity, and Izzard, who I love as a comedian, talks his way through the song as if he knows it's something worth getting done with as quickly as possible.

The most basic problem with "Across the Universe" is that there is only so much one can do with the Beatles catalogue. Unlike "Moulin Rouge," which sorted through decades of pop music to find the most applicable songs, "Universe" is stuck with a limited song set. You don't feel the strain during the first hour, but it soon becomes apparent that Julie Taymor ran out of ideas of how to incorporate the rest of the music.

Rating: **1/2 (out of ****)

Reservation Road

I'll have a review of this in the Daily Trojan, so until then, mum's the word.

3:10 to Yuma

An entertaining, gritty western with excellent turns by Bale, Crowe, and Ben Foster. That's really all that needs to be said.

Rating: *** (out of ****)

Eastern Promises

David Cronenberg is always an interesting director to watch, and there are individual scenes in "Eastern Promises" that are exciting for their audacity. Viggo Mortensen is, quite frankly, perfect.

The problem is the story, which expects us to believe that Naomi Watts' innocent character would actually get caught up in the Russian mafia world. She works as a hospital midwife, and when a young girl dies during childbirth, Watts steals the woman's diary so that she can track down the girl's relatives.

Are we to assume that there is not a standard protocol for how hospitals handle the possessions of someone who dies there? Clearly, the diary should have been turned over to the police. I just find it too hard to swallow that Watts would feel it was her personal responsibility, as midwife, to track down this girl's relatives, and as a result, get caught up in some very dirty business.

But the naked Viggo fight in the men's spa ... wow.

Rating: **1/2 (out of ****)


Blogger Kevin said...

Couldn't agree with you more on "Across the Universe"

Everything fell apart for me when they were watching Mr. Kite and suddenly someone exclaims, "Look! There's Prudence!" like it had some plot significance.

I was disappointed with Bono and Eddie, as well. Then again, "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" and "I Am the Walrus" are two of my least favorite Beatles songs.

Also, Philadelphia is cool. I'll catch up with you soon with everything. Good luck at EW!

10:13 AM  

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