Saturday, October 02, 2010

Whole Lotta Reviews

The Town

Desperate to be a muscular, modern take on “Heat”, Ben Affleck’s sophomore film suffers from many of the same faults as his debut “Gone Baby Gone”…. except this time he doesn’t have the nuanced acting graces of brother Casey Affleck and Michelle Monahan. Working in the Boston crime milieu (which, by the way, is getting old reeeaaly fast), the problem with “The Town” is twofold. First, the aforementioned acting nuance is gone, replaced by over the top performances of first rate actors like Jeremy Renner and Pete Postelwaithe who emphatically carry their dialogue. By the time Affleck and Renner come to blows in front of graveyard, in broad daylight with guns blazing, my interest checked out. Secondly, the script by Affleck and fellow writers Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard attempt to create empathy for the criminals, while the inherently more calculating character of Jon Hamm (as the FBI agent tracking the crew) is treated as a bumbling key stone cop, full of taunting letters left on his car and an interrogation that plays up Affleck’s smarter-than-thou attitude. One thing can be said for “Heat”- Michael Mann understands how to create multi-faceted characters on both sides of the law. With “The Town”, I was rooting against Affleck and his crew. Even more narcissistic is the film’s stance on a believable relationship between kidnapper and victim (the beautiful Rebecca Hall who is wasted here), morphing into some kind of longing romance complete with a bittersweet Julia Roberts-like ending. All around, just a confused, terrible mess.

Spring Fever

“Sushou River”. “Purple Butterfly”. “Summer Palace”. Three straight up masterpieces from Sixth Generation filmmaker Lou Ye. While “Spring Fever” doesn’t quite reach that status, it’s still a terrifically moving revolving door of romance, both straight and gay. Hired to spy on a woman’s cheating husband, a photographer (Wei Wu) becomes involved in the relationship as well. Consistent with his other films, it takes a while to smooth into the flow of Le’s crash cutting and cavalcade of men and women, but once one gets their bearings, “Spring Fever” continually energizes and excites. Banned from filmmaking due to his smuggling of “Summer Palace” into the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago, “Spring Fever‘s” jittery, dash-and-go cinematography perfectly syncs up with the unfettered sways of emotion between his characters. And the final third of the film, when Le jettisons any real narrative thrust and focuses his camera on the lackadaisical meanderings of his three central characters as they dance, take a boat ride and wait for the inevitable, really soars.

The Social Network

I guess “The Social Network” is this year’s “The Hurt Locker” for me. Solidly made, sharply edited, well acted, but it just never really takes off. There are moments of brilliance- the score by Trent Reznor, the role of Andrew Garfield whose character actually has an arch and feeling behind the icy facade of zeitgeist that burden the others- yet these are few and far between and the film lags quite a bit in the middle.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Oliver Stone’s rich-and-powerful fairy tale sequel tosses out head-spinning phrases about hedge funds, derivatives and bail outs with an alarming frequency… at times making “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” a perfect companion piece to Alan Pakula’s great but little seen 1981 film “Rollover”. Stone’s direction is crisp and unassuming- a bit of old school mastery in an increasingly amped up world of filmmaking- and one scene that features couple Shia Lebouf and Carey Mulligan walking and talking in a single, slow zoom take is every bit as exciting as the compulsory evil turn by Michael Douglas reprising his role of Gordon Gekko. Still, while the ambitious screenplay tries to peel away the ugly veneer of just exactly how our current economy was bamboozled by inflated loans and invisible money, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is a largely dry affair. It also features an unnecessarily cute and tidy ending that doesn’t gel with the heated emotions surfaced between father (Douglas) and daughter (Mulligan in another great performance). I admire “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” more than I like it.


Yes, Ryan Reynolds is trapped in a box for the entirety of “Buried” and its 105 minute run time. Where most directors would look for ways to open up the action, director Rodrigo Cortes has the courage to stay burrowed with his confused protagonist as he makes phone calls and tries to piece together the circumstances that put him there. It’s a strong performance by Reynolds, holding the one man act together as Cortes slowly builds the tension to a finale that feels unbearable. Recently, the Alamo Drafthouse screened this film to six ‘winners’ who watched “Buried” encapsulated in a coffin, and that’s exactly the stifling atmosphere “Buried” achieves outside a coffin as well. It may be looked upon as a gimmick, but “Buried” is a very good film that deserves a reputation as extreme entertainment as well.

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