I’m going to stop doing the monthly recap posts and instead try to write reviews/reactions more consistently throughout the month. Since I haven’t actually posted on anything I’ve watched since February, I need to do a few catch-up posts, which I’ve decided to separate into film categories (New Releases, New DVDs, World Cinema, Great Directors, etc.) rather than by month. Honestly, the monthly format was more useful for me than it was for any of you – after all, you don’t care when I saw a film, so keeping everything as strictly chronological as I used to do is fairly pointless. A thematic arrangement makes more sense.
So with no further ado, here’s the first of several catch-up posts; this contains all the theatrical new releases I’ve seen since February: Penelope, Leatherheads, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Iron Man, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
AKA the movie about the girl with a pig’s nose which has been on the shelf for like two years. Undeservedly, I might say. Christina Ricci plays Penelope, a girl cursed with a pig’s snout because her snobbish ancestors refused to accept a lower-class girl (who also happened to be a gypsy, hence the cursing) into their family via marriage; the curse can only be broken when a true blue-blood accepts her as she is. This starts her parents on a quest to find an uppercrust boy for her to marry who won’t be repulsed by her appearance. There’s a bunch of zaniness, a good bit of heart, and a lovely performance, as per usual, from Ricci. As well as a pre-fame James McAvoy, who is for some reason sporting an American accent (though a perfect one). And Reese Witherspoon (who also produced) trying to be Ricci’s edgy urban friend, which is mostly just humorous.
USA 2007; dir: Mark Palansky; starring: Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O’Hara, Reese Witherspoon
IMDb | The Frame
Ah, back when pro football was in its infancy, playing with hand-me-down balls and uniforms and players culled from the mines and farms, to which they could easily have to go back when they ran out of money to rent the field for the next game. Clooney plays one of these footballers, trying to create a stable sport out of the only thing he knows how to do. So he convinces college football star and WWI hero Jon Krasinski to go pro and bring some much-needed publicity to his team. Meanwhile, Zellweger is a hotshot reporter trying to uncover the dirt on Krasinski, whose war heroism may be, shall we say, exaggerated. Conflicts break out over her (and can I just say, being fought over by John Krasinski and George Clooney? I have never wanted to be Renee Zellweger more IN MY LIFE) as well as over the way to play football. The film is a very enjoyable throwback to the 1920s-1930s, doesn’t try to be more than it is, and aside from wishing that Zellweger’s strength as a female character hadn’t been eroded in the end, I liked it quite a lot.
USA 2008; dir: George Clooney; starring: George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski
IMDb | The Frame
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
British nanny Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is unable to hold down a position, and finally steals an opportunity off her disgruntled placement worker’s desk, only to find that her charge is flighty twenty-something wanna-be actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). Miss Pettigrew turns out to excel at the role of social secretary, keeping Delysia in line and on time, as well as helping her solve her romantic conundrum: the rich man whose apartment she’s using, the producer’s son who might give her a big break, or the poor pianist she actually loves. The story is fairly obvious, but it’s done with a great deal of heart, and the generational observations between the older Miss Pettigrew and the younger Delysia is subtle and interesting (the story is set just before WWII, with Miss Pettigrew and another gentleman remembering WWI, while the younger generation do not). McDormand is excellent, as always, and Adams is perfectly at home in another role allowing her to show a teeny bit of depth behind seeming superficiality. I’d like to see her do something that’s a bit more challenging for her, in which she could show depth for more than ten or fifteen seconds at a time, but I can’t deny that at this sort of role, she’s the best in Hollywood right now. Or I could be biased. And also, for Pushing Daisies or Wonderfalls fans: Lee Pace!
United Kingdom 2008; dir: Bharat Nalluri; starring: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace
IMDb | The Frame
I had no anticipation for this whatsoever. I’m not a comic book person, so I wasn’t familiar with the character, and the trailers didn’t attract me much at all. But the outstanding reviews overcame my apathy and I checked it out, and they were right. This is one comic book/superhero movie done right. Downey Jr. is perfectly cast as Tony Stark, a second-generation arms contractor who’s captured in the Middle East and sees firsthand the inhuman use of his weapons by terrorists. To escape, he builds a metal suit, the design of which he perfects later and uses for good. The reason I like Batman the best of all major superheroes is that he’s a self-made hero, not genetically enhanced or an alien or anything – Iron Man is the same, so yay! Specific things the film does well: it stays focused on a single plot progression, rather than having Iron Man just go do random good deeds; Downey brings his signature sardonic wit to Stark, keeping the film from getting too message-heavy; it’s really well paced, balanced between plot and action; and, well, the suit is frakking awesome. My only quibble might be the treatment of Pepper Potts, who never really felt as fully realized as she could’ve been, and spent most of her time being a faithful lapdog helper for the somewhat chauvinistic Stark. I felt like they were trying to give her a stronger role, but didn’t quite make it all the way. Maybe in the inevitable sequel. But Paltrow didn’t totally annoy me, as she has tended to recently, so there’s that.
Well Above Average
USA 2008; dir: Jon Favreau; starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges
IMDb | The Frame
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Indy’s much-anticipated fourth outing, after almost twenty years off the big screen, is a competent enough adventure film, enjoyable as long as you don’t somehow expect it to live up to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indy is older, but the script thankfully plays with it rather than trying to ignore it, and bringing in La Boeuf as his son Mutt is predictable but effective. Blanchett is suitably over the top as the communist villainess, and I think everyone in the theatre breathed a sigh of joy when Marian showed back up. That ALONE puts Crystal Skull above Temple of Doom. The chase scenes are paced as only Spielberg can pace them, but the psuedo-science jargon gets a little heavy at times. Indy does better, somehow, chasing after Christian religious artifacts. When the climax came here (spoiler alert), my friend and I looked at each other and went, “Aliens? Really?” Really. So perhaps Indy has jumped the shark a little, but the ride’s still fun, and Indy on his worst day is still better than three quarters of what pass for adventure films these days. Plus it made me want to go watch some of the Young Indiana Jones series.
USA 2008; dir: Steven Spielberg; starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBoeuf
IMDb | The Frame