Friday, April 23, 2010

Movies Which I Have Done Seen Recently

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A Serious Man

Here's the Coen brothers in full-on "weird" mode, as in more "Barton Fink" than "Raising Arizona." But what a strange, captivatingly weird one this is -- a kind of tangled meditation on fate, faith and the cruel whims of the universe, all cycling around one Larry Gopnik's tragic, slow downfall in 1960s Minnesota. Gopnik (a superb Michael Stuhlbarg) is a college professor who over the course of the movie battles infidelity, spoiled children, crazy neighbours and student blackmail. The theme is, as Roger Ebert says, "why, God, why?" It's the Coen brothers at their best -- comic in as black a fashion as possible, but also quizzical, with plenty to chew on afterwards. It may not have gotten quite as much acclaim, but in its wry way it's easily as good as "No Country For Old Men." It's also their most explicitly "Jewish" movie, meditating on whether God really cares. Stuhlbarg -- who looks like a nerdier Joaquin Phoenix -- is a marvel as Gopnik, who remains hopeful up to the very end of his trials. Of course if you're the kind of viewer who wants to shout at the television to characters "stop being such a doormat," you might find Gopnik's adventures irksome. But there's beauty, quirk and grace galore in this gem, particularly in its fragile, haunting ending. Grade: A


Where The Wild Things Are


It's a funny beast, this adaptation of Maurice Sendak's wonderful picture book. I'm a huge fan of director Spike Jonze, whose "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich" are in my top movies of recent years. Visually, this movie is a marvel -- lovely, textured beasts, a sun-burnished island paradise, and the kid who plays Max is just perfect -- but yet, while I liked it, I didn't quite get swept away by it. It's hard work spinning out a 12-page story or so into a full movie, but Jonze gets too carried away by the sadder undertones of the story and turns it all into a rather emo ode for lost childhood. I knew going in this wasn't one for kids, really, but I don't see why this movie had to be so darned melancholy, basically -- there's just not a lot of joy to it, and everyone is rather mopey. Yes, childhood ending is sad and we all have feelings we can't articulate, but I feel like "Wild Things" just wasn't quite wild enough, that it missed the colourful (if slightly disturbing) feeling of Sendak's works. A little solemnity goes an awful long way. The beasts look perfect, though -- they aren't some CGI monstrosities, but have real depth and soul.

Grade: B-


The Blind Side

A wealthy white Southern woman (Sandra Bullock) takes in and basically adopts a poor black kid -- who then goes on to become a college football superstar and changes everyone's lives. Yeah, it's another Saintly Black People Make Uptight White Folks Feel Good movie. Yet hang on, because it is based on a true story, so that takes some of the sanctimonious feeling away, at least for me. The tale of Mike Oher and his harsh upbringing rings true, as does Lee Ann Tuohy's (Bullock) unplanned intervention in his dead-end life. Sometimes people do just do good things, and in its way "The Blind Side" is predictable and yet kind of sweet. Bullock is quite good -- Oscar-deserving good, I don't really agree, but she does really make you believe she's a certain type of steely-yet-soft Southern matriarch. But she does show more acting chops than she's generally known for. But the kid, Oher, is a bit too much of an empty vessel. This is a hugely "American" movie with people glued to college football and eating huge Thanksgiving dinners and so forth; it made me a bit homesick for the South and it amused me to see a movie where the entire plot turns upon a fellow being accepted to my old alma mater, Ole Miss. It's a bit overlong, but while you know where it's going, it's an OK movie for the kind of movie it is.

Grade: B-

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