I have a lot of catching up to do! So here are my quick thoughts on some of the big summer releases and quieter fall films, current releases and Netflix picks.
Burn After Reading: Boring. What a surprise! Great cast (Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins–who is so lovely in The Visitor, and is wonderful in a doomed role here), playing really pretty stupid, uninteresting characters. Oh, well.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona: This is such a pleasure to watch; it’s an essay film in the classic Chris Marker sense: one proposition explored via the stories of two characters. I found the conclusion (no one can change; love is doomed; etc) ultimately a little depressing, but still: Barcelona, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, and the fabulous Rebecca Hall–I’ll spend two hours in their company any day.
Conversations with Other Women: Riveting. A ninety-minute conversation between a man (Aaron Eckhart) and woman (Helena Bonham Carter) who meet up at a wedding, about fidelity, friendship, and love. Best declaration of love: “I am available to tolerate you in your golden years.” The only thing that bugged me was the split screen: the entire movie is shown in two side-by-side squares. Sometimes the characters move from one into the other, sometimes they don’t. I understand that it’s a Very Significant Metaphor, but it started to wear thin.
Sex & The City: Eye candy. It’s not nearly so well-written or satisfying as the series, but I went with a group of friends and the movie theater served cocktails, so I have no real complaints.
The Women: Not even decent eye candy. The mothers (Debra Messing and Meg Ryan) are all flowy dresses, messy hair and long scarves, the others (Annette Benning and Jada Pinkett Smith) are too buttoned-up and skinny and fierce. This remake bothered me in so many ways, but it’s not worth detailing them; just go rent the original instead.
The Visitor: An “unlikely friendship” movie, this time between a weary economics professor and the young Syrian man he finds squatting in his apartment. I didn’t love this, though it’s very well-intentioned and has two wonderful performances by the male leads (Richard Jenkins and Haaz Sleiman). There was an earnest inevitability to the story that distracted me.
Frozen River: Oh, this is a very good, very sad movie. It’s the story of a mother who gets involved smuggling illegal Chinese and Pakistani immigrants over the Canadian border into New York and (again) the unlikely friendship she develops with a young Mohawk woman who lives on the reservation. The performances — from the two women and the children–are heart-breaking. Best bit of dialogue:
Son: “There’s nothing to eat.”
Mom: “There’s food!”
Son: “Popcorn and Tang?!”
Murderball: A documentary about paraplegic men who play wheelchair rugby. Fascinating. A little uneven–the film digs into the details of some of the men’s lives and leaves others unexplored–but I learned a lot.
Iron Man: If you like Robert Downey, Jr, you will enjoy this movie, a politically savvy spy/action movie about what happens when a weapons manufacturer has a change of heart. Smart and fun.
Then She Found Me: Loved Bette Midler. Didn’t love the assumption–which drives the second half of the movie– that if you want a baby you can just go pick one up in China (that snarky line from Juno is still resonating).
Tropic of Thunder: More Robert Downey, Jr, this time with Ben Stiller and Jack Black, too! A wicked satire about the Hollywood production of a Vietnam War movie. Brilliant.
Infamous: This came out about the same time as Tru, and with its smaller budget and less famous actors, got overlooked. But Sandra Bullock is wonderful as Harper Lee, and the portrayal of her complicated writing friendship with Truman Capote had me engrossed.
The Swimming Pool: Charlotte Rampling as a frustrated novelist with an overactive imagination and Ludivine Sagnier as her frequently-topless muse. I watched this around the same time as Infamous, and so can’t help comparing them. Infamous is more interesting, and less clichéd about women writers.
Helvetica: A documentary about the font. I enjoyed it for a while–I do love listening to people who are passionate about their interests–and then I confess I fell asleep.
The Counterfeiters: A terrific movie about an expert forger who’s imprisoned in a concentration camp and enlisted to make counterfeit British and American currency in order to destablize their economies and support the Nazi war effort. The main character, played by the incredible Karl Markovics, is a thief but also an artist, and it’s interesting to watch him wrestle with the ethical questions raised by his situation.