So, I’ve been home recovering from having my gallbladder yanked out last week.  I am climbing the walls, but alas I am too exhausted to really do anything productive with myself.

But what a good opportunity to watch some movies!

This month, I beg your indulgence with any typos in the brief reviews. Some may have been keyed under the influence of Percocet, making them no less righteous but perhaps a bit less comprehensible.  Since I’m getting nearly nothing productive done on any other front, I refuse to proofread them any further. It’s just how I’m rolling right now.

It was not a bad movie-watching month at all, with a couple of notable exceptions.  What’s different about the report card below is that, due to the number of films, I’ve placed them in alpha order rather than my usual order-in-which-I-watched-them.  Enjoy!  And, as always, let me know what you think of these movies and others that you’ve been watching in this lion and lamb’s month.

Film Grade Comment
Anatomy of a Murder (1959) B+  

Engrossing Otto Preminger murder mystery with a stellar cast led by James Stewart as a straight-talking UP lawyer outsmarting both his clients and the legal geniuses from Lansing. Great old drama that will restore your faith in film entertainment after watching something like The Mutant Chronicles or Paris, Je T’aime. (You’ll see what I mean when you get to those.)
Bitter Feast (2010) B-  

Not bad for a low-budget horror flick. Although there is a smorgasbord of ingredients from other horror films, this movie has a delicious premise that’s fully baked in imagination! A restaurateur and TV cooking show host loses everything after a scathing review from a popular caustic foodie blogger.  Aside from that, we find out the blogger is a victim of self-loathing, brought on by tragedy in his own life. The chef kidnaps the critic and tortures him with a series of brutally inventive food-based devices, having to escalate his strategy as the critic proves fairly unflappable.
Dark City (1998) A  

One of my favorite atmospheric and mind-boggling sci-fi films, and a fave performance of Kiefer Sutherland’s. Though I have seen this movie dozens of times, it never fails to impress and entertain.

 

Dear Frankie (2004) B+  

Emily Mortimer makes this film wonderful to watch. At its core, it’s the story of a mother wanting to protect the child she loves, even if her decisions about how to do that turn out not to be the best. A one-hanky charming little film.
Easy A (2010) A  

I never planned on seeing this movie, as it looked like just another stupid teen comedy. Luckily a trusted fellow movie viewer recommended it. Hilarious! There is not a poorly executed moment – and Emma Stone is flawless.
Hamlet 2 (2008) B
 

This is the silly stuff that cult favorites are made of. Steve Coogan and Catherine Keener lead a cast of unlikely wunderkinds toward a finale musical in which the Danish prince and Jesus travel in a time machine to save the characters who all died in the first Hamlet. Hysterical fun.
I’ll Be There (2003) C-  

Another goofy after-school special from funny-man Craig Ferguson (Saving Grace, The Big Tease), this time starring crooner Charlotte Church. Nothing to write home about, but a serviceable comedy for a night when nothing else is on, especially if you’re a fan of the late-night talk show host.
Just Buried (2007) B-  

Dark comedy that’s not completely predictable, which makes it all right in my book. The cast, headed by Jay Baruchel and Rose Byrne, makes it even more than all right. Great funerary double-feature pairing: Elvis & Anabelle (2007).
The Mutant Chronicles (2008) D-  

With a cast like this (Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Sean Pertwee, Benno Fürmann, John Malkovich), I expected at least some redeeming qualities. What I am discovering, though, is that, while I tend to love films adapted from comics and graphic novels, I am ready to shy away from those adapted from role-playing games (as this one was).  The plot is muddled and nearly unintelligible, the effects are  decent but seem to have little to do with the plot, and none of the performances can save this mess from the writing, directing, and editing. A definite “don’t bother” unless you’re a fan of the game.
The Other Guys (2010) C  

Believe it or not, I just had to see this overloaded train wreck for myself, even though it stars two of my least-favorite actors in the world: Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell.  It does have some good gags, but overall I’d definitely recommend it only to the true and loyal fans of Farrell’s sophomoric comedies. And what was the movie trying to be besides that, with its end-credits tutorial about the cost of recent bailouts, a learning-annex course for uneducated comedy-watchers because otherwise we don’t get the news?  Baffling.  Most fun were the almost-like-a-real-movie first few scenes with Samuel Jackson and Dwayne Johnson … and then they die and Farrell and Wahlberg take over. Best reason to watch the movie? The few scenes featuring Michael Keaton – just wish he’d had a much bigger role.
Paris, Je T’aime (2006) D+  

People have crowed about this spliced-together film of twenty vignettes, each by a different director (all big names too), so I finally watched the whole thing, expecting something akin to Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) – no such luck. Maybe it’s not meant to be viewed all at once, because by the end I thought I’d claw out my eyes. It’s like a film school assignment with high production values but which still makes no sense when put together (despite a clumsy attempt at the end to link some of the characters) and with only a few of the five-minute films having enough substance to be enjoyable. Additionally, I couldn’t understand how this was about Paris, save each segment being named for a neighborhood of the city; Paris is never shown in any flattering way and in fact seems ugly, industrialized, and just like any other big city (which mostly it is, but then why the title that means “Paris, I love you”)? All of the stories could have taken place anywhere, like Detroit even.  It left me disgruntled and wanting back the time I spent watching it, and that’s not what I seek in my film entertainment. A few of the vignettes (three or four, tops – hence the plus on the D rating) are interesting and I’d actually watch them again, but this monstrosity in its entirely is just painful. If you like watching experimental cinema or seeing favorite actors in unusual roles, you might enjoy parts of this mélange.  Otherwise, skip it.
Pontypool (2008) C
 

Rather uneventful horror film, standing on the cusp between psychological thriller, pseudo-docudrama like Paranormal Activity, and radio play brought to film akin to War of the Worlds. It’s hard to know what to make of it at times, but the performances (Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak) make it worth watching. An interesting study of characters under pressure, though I liked what The Mist (2007) did with that angle better.
Righteous Kill (2008) C+
 

For the heavy-hitter combo of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, I expected more. It’s not a bad film: good premise, interesting twists, great cast. There are some hmm moments, like believing a hottie like Carla Gugino is sleeping with a septuagenarian. But overall, it mostly works. So, why not a better grade? If you’re going to the state fair, your expectations are not high about the main attraction, but if you’re promised Cirque du Soleil, you expect to be dazzled … I wasn’t.
Stone (2010) B
 

Excellent performances from Norton and DeNiro, but it may seem to most viewers to be a bit pointless.  Something seems to be “coming around the corner” all along yet nothing really happens in this tense psychological film that, on the surface, is about an inmate and his parole-eligibility counselor and yet opens questions about self-awareness, karma, faith, and cosmic interconnectedness. After pondering, I realized that Jack (DeNiro) and Stone (Norton) traded positions — or switched souls, if you will — as the film progressed. A fascinating study in the fact that no one is all good or all bad, and basically a testament to “there but for the grace of God go I,” this movie is worth seeing once.
The TV Set (2006) B+
 

Terrific satire about the inner workings of television programming, with a super cast including David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver, Ioan Gruffudd, Justine Bateman, and many more. If you liked Soapdish (1991), you might like this slightly toned-down tale about showbiz.
Waste Land (2010) A
 

Excellent documentary about artist Vik Muniz and his late-2000s trip to his native Brazil to create portraits with trash of Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Gramacho landfill recyclables pickers (yup, they’re human recycling sorters), outcasts of society, yet still proud that they are not prostituting or dealing drugs instead. Directed by the talented Lucy Walker (Devil’s Playground).
Winter’s Bone (2010) B+  

Fascinating picture of desperation and pride in a backwoods community as a 17-year-old girl searches for her missing meth-cooking dad before the family she heads is run out of the house he put up for his bail. Gritty and uncomfortable at times, it ends up affirming that there are good people in the worst places. Excellent double feature would be Animal Kingdom (2010), about a similar family in Australia.
You Don’t Know Jack (2010) A-  

Al Pacino is excellent as the recalcitrant Dr. Death, and the supporting cast is seamless. A wonderful aspect of this film is that it has the audience (if they already are not 100 percent against him) understanding Kevorkian’s arguments and eventually pulling for him as the underdog, until the eloquent speech about how we should oppose laws that we do not agree with (and it’s not by breaking them), delivered by the judge at the doctor’s trial for murder.
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