Andy Bockelman: Fall movie selections that aren’t quite so holiday
November 26, 2010
Fall 2010 movies
• “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” 3 out of 4 stars
• “Devil,” 1.5 out of 4 stars
• “Leaves of Grass,” 2.5 out of 4 stars
• “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” 2 out of 4 stars
• “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” 3 out of 4 stars
• “Nowhere Boy,” 3.5 out of 4 stars
• “Red,” 2 out of 4 stars
• “Hereafter,” 2.5 out of 4 stars
With the start of the holiday season, the name of the game is "feel-good," with plenty of films lined up to give audiences moments of motivation, touching sentiment, or just a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
But, for those who prefer material that has less of an intent of forceful happiness behind it, here's an overview of recently released movies — some of which are already on DVD — that focus on stories you generally wouldn't want to watch when the whole family is in town for Turkey Day.
But, that doesn't mean they don't make a good viewing experience. Well, some of them, anyway.
"The Girl Who Played with Fire" —After determinedly staying out of the public eye, Swedish computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) finds herself thrust into the spotlight when she is framed for a high-profile murder.
While old friend Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) does all he can to help prove her innocence, the ghosts of Lisbeth's past resurface, proving that nothing can stay buried for long.
The second in the trilogy of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is just as involving as the first, though with a noticeable slant away from the cringeworthy moments that made the original such a sensation.
Still, even without the desolate Scandinavian winter working as a character all its own, hulking Micke Spreitz is scary enough as an unstoppable lackey for the man (Georgi Staykov) pulling the strings in Lisbeth's latest predicament.
"Devil" — Five Philadelphia strangers are in for a thrill ride in the truest sense when they are locked in an elevator car. But, claustrophobia is the least of their worries when terrifying and unexplainable things begin happening in the tiny enclosed space.
Based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan, who also produced, this horror movie has a fascinating premise that is wasted in minutes as director John Erick Dowdle does little to theorize about the nature of humanity and concerns himself more with coming up with gruesome ways to kill off the passengers.
Admittedly, there is a little bit of a surprise in the conclusion, but assuming you even care by that point, it's not that amazing.
"Leaves of Grass" — Academic highbrow Bill (Edward Norton) reluctantly returns to his native Oklahoma to learn that his identical twin brother Brady — a redneck marijuana aficionado with a genius intellect — has gotten himself in deep trouble with the local drug lord (Richard Dreyfuss) and everyone working for him.
The story is a little bare in this black comedy from writer/director Tim Blake Nelson, who also plays Brady's good ol' boy best friend, but the cast fills in the weak spots, including Melanie Lynskey, Susan Sarandon and Keri Russell. The highlight is undoubtedly Norton, who, as Brady, proves that you can still be an idiot even when you have a staggeringly high IQ.
"You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" — When Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), the patriarch of a British family unexpectedly divorces his wife Helena (Gemma Jones), it sets off a chain reaction as his daughter (Naomi Watts) and her husband (Josh Brolin) begin to look elsewhere for relational satisfaction and Helena can only find solace in the advice of a charlatan fortune teller (Pauline Collins).
With a growing number of his movies taking place in Europe lately, Woody Allen at least has the courage to try new things after 40-some films. But, a new setting doesn't do much when the story is so derivative of better movies like "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors."
Plus, the humor of Allen's latest is so dry that you can scarcely tell it's intended to be a comedy.
Supporting cast members Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto and Lucy Punch are good, nonetheless, especially Punch as Alfie's newfound love, who has a history as a call girl and doesn't bother to hide her gold-digging habits.
"It's Kind of a Funny Story" — Fed up with all the pressure of his life, suicidal 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) checks himself into a mental hospital for a temporary stay. He quickly learns that his problems at school and with his parents (Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan) are small potatoes to many of his fellow patients.
As the sensitive son on Showtime's "The United States of Tara," Gilchrist has shown how pensive and angsty he can be, and here is no different. Except for the presence of Zach Galifianakis as Bobby, a happy-go-lucky patient with numerous suicide attempts under his belt who proves somewhat of a mentor to the confused teen. Emma Roberts is also fine as fragile Noelle, whom Craig falls for.
Although much lighter fare than something like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," this tale of psychiatric rebels is both funny and worthwhile, with a show-stopping version of "Under Pressure" with Gilchrist and Galifianakis dressed to the nines as Freddie Mercury and David Bowie.
"Nowhere Boy" — With his world rocked by the death of his beloved Uncle George (David Threlfall), troubled British teenager John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) copes with the reintroduction of his unstable mother (Anne-Maire Duff) into his life and his Aunt Mimi's (Kristin Scott Thomas) disciplinary habits by forming a skiffle band, eventually meeting a couple of blokes named Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and George Harrison (Sam Bell).
Looking at a time when The Beatles were still known as The Quarrymen and neither Pete Best nor Ringo Starr were in the picture, this biopic of one of the world's most profound musical personalities will strike a chord in anyone who has been told that they were nothing and would always be nothing by authorities and received mixed messages from parental figures.
Lennon comes off looking extremely immature, but then, all that rot was more or less sorted out by the time he stopped wearing his hair like Elvis Presley and popularized the mop top.
"Red" — Once living a life of nonstop danger, former CIA operative Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) only gets his thrills talking to the woman (Mary-Louise Parker) responsible for sending him his pension checks. But, when a team of killers starts trying to wipe him out by any means necessary, it's back to the old grind and the same old friends.
Willis is as good as ever, Parker is fine and John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren are all great as Frank's former cohorts, all of whom are "retired and extremely dangerous," hence the title.
However, despite a bullet count that would match up with the entirety of John Woo's filmography, the story is unbelievably long and tedious and even the action scenes aren't all that good.
A better acronym would have been "Retreaded and extremely dull."
"Hereafter" — George Lonnegan (Matt Damon) is a bona fide psychic medium who wants nothing more to do with the afterlife. All he wants is a normal life, though his brother (Jay Mohr) does all he can to convince him that he must do his part to help the grieving find closure with the dearly departed.
Meanwhile, people on the other side of the globe are trying to reach out to the other side of death, with a French journalist (Cécile de France) trying to sort out her life after surviving a tsunami in Thailand and an English boy (Frankie McLaren) finds his life in upheaval after the death of his twin (George McLaren).
Director Clint Eastwood's alleged swan song is well-acted by a capable cast and striking to look at and listen to, with cinematography that creates a world of shadows and a musical score composed by the filmmaker himself. But, the premise is vague, the plot is weak and you don't have to be in George's line of work to see what direction everything is headed.
It lacks the pathos of many of Eastwood's recent movies, and one would hope that he gets one more film in the can before calling it quits.