Begin Again (2013, John Carney)

Writer-director’s follow-up to Once, looks shinier and has movie stars (Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo) instead of musicians. Watched out of morbid interest. Not entirely bad, though I wasn’t feeling the magic.

Keira K is a fresh new singer, dumped by her rock star boyfriend after he got famous. She sings a blandly pleasant tune at open-mic where formerly powerful label exec Ruffalo is having a Very Bad Day. He hears her and it turns his pointless life around, as he dedicates himself to finding blandly pleasant arrangements for her songs to record “guerrilla-style” around the city with help from Cee-Lo Green’s backing band and Ruffalo’s estranged daughter on electric guitar.

With Mos Def as Ruffalo’s business partner, Catherine Keener as his ex-wife and Hailee True Grit Steinfeld as his guitar-rockin’ daughter.

It Follows (2014, David Robert Mitchell)

That’s not all it does – it kills your ass if it catches you, sometimes in weird sexual ways while appearing to be one of your parents. Also, it creeps you the hell out, though the huge, in-your-face dread organ music adds immeasurably to that creepy atmosphere. It lingers in your imagination so clearly afterwards that it seems destined to be remembered forever. First horror movie I’ve seen in theaters since Lords of Salem (unless The World’s End or Under The Skin count), and it’s a great one.

Screencrush calls it “a sexually-transmitted ghost.” S. Tobias in Dissolve mentions “a visual strategy that combines distance with surveillance, a sense of something ominous happening elsewhere, independent of the action.” This applies to main characters and plot elements too – we’re not sure who’s having sex with whom off-camera, between the edits, in order to forestall the creature, maybe send it on a promiscuous path forever.

Stars Maika Monroe of The Guest. Her platonic friend Paul is Keir Gilchrist, star of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Toni Collette’s son in United States of Tara. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis shot John Dies at the End, and editor Julio Perez worked on Mitchell’s debut The Myth of the American Sleepover.

The director, on how his movie-teens don’t exactly look/talk like the youth of today:
“The ground rules of the film world don’t have to be how we understand the world. And something doesn’t have to be fantasy to take some elements from fantasy. Movies are very much dreams, in a way, and you can use that to your advantage.” He also says he was thinking about Cat People during the pool scene.

The Town (2010, Ben Affleck)

Reminds of Heat in its attempt to build drama with a career criminal’s romantic relationship endangered by his line of work. But here the girl (Rebecca Hall, Christian Bale’s wife in The Prestige) was a hostage in the gang’s previous job – Ben Affleck was supposed to check on her afterward, eliminate her if she knows too much, but falls for her instead. She is traumatized by her heist & hostage experience so it’s no surprise at all when she’s working with the FBI at the end, although somewhat surprising that Affleck manages to escape the huge shootout after their final Fenway Park heist, killing boss Pete Postlethwaite then escaping to Florida.

Solid crime flick, though Ben is better at Boston-accented dialogue scenes and filming criminals wearing weird masks in cool poses than assembling distinguished action sequences. Jeremy Renner (between Hurt Locker and Mission Impossible 4) got an oscar nomination as the hotheaded, trigger-happy second in command (so, the Joe Pesci role), whose druggie sister (Green Lantern’s Blake Lively) the FBI gets to. FBI is led by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, are very good investigators but not the best marksmen. Small roles for Victor Garber as a banker and Chris Cooper as Affleck’s imprisoned father.

MacGruber (2010, Jorma Taccone)

Spoof of bad action movies (all of which I’ve seen) and of Macgyver – the twist being that the hero has no actual skills (turns out he’s good at ripping baddies throats out). Movie plays it totally straight – so straight that there aren’t enough jokes for my liking, just an extended spot-on impression of a Rambo sequel with pauses for gay jokes and talking about butts. Disappointed that The Dissolve suggested this.

Most of MacGruber’s plans involve disguising friends as himself:

Will Forte (Jenna’s cross-dressing lover Paul in 30 Rock), assisted by Ryan Phillippe (last seen in Flags of Our Fathers) and Kristin Wiig (Whip It, Knocked Up), who was the only person I thought managed to be funny. Baddie Val Kilmer (the year after Bad Lieutenant 2) definitely has the ability to play a fun villain – look at his Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang performance – but again, the movie wants him to downplay the comedy. Directed by Booth Jonathan from Girls, aka part of The Lonely Island.

“If you change your mind…”

I did enjoy the part where MacGruber has sex with the ghost of Maya Rudolph, at least.

Cinderella (2015, Kenneth Branagh)

Part of Disney’s ongoing live-action-remake series. This one adds nothing to the Cinderella story, fails to update or improve it in any way, has no seeming artistic reason to exist. But gee, it’s pretty.

From the director of Thor and writer of Antz, starring cousin Rose from Downton, with Daisy as one wicked stepsister, Cate Blanchett the wicked stepmother, Derek Jacobi (The King’s Speech) the king, Helena Bonham Carter the fairy godmother, Rob Brydon as a painter and a voice actor from the Castlevania games as the prince.

Ouch from Dissolve:

The film just touts, with sparkly but plodding repetition, the outsized, eventual rewards for being a sweet, brave dishrag that causes no trouble and makes no waves. … Asked why she stays on in such a horrible household, she explains that she’s doing it to respect her parents’ memory. By intepreting “be kind” as “be passive,” she teaches herself to be happy with physical and emotional abuse, to accept it as the norm, as the price of respecting her dead family. It’s a grotesque message, presented with perverse cheer, through a character who’s more idealized martyr than relatable hero.

Opened with a short called Frozen Fever, in which all your favorite Frozen characters smile almost nonstop, sing a song, catch a cold and celebrate a birthday. Didn’t hold a candle to Partysaurus Rex.

The Ghost Writer (2010, Roman Polanski)

“Can’t talk – some peace protestors are trying to kill me.”

Kinda silly and obvious as a thriller, but well acted and assembled so you enjoy the ride at least. And man does Ewan McGregor ever blow it, when he finally gets evidence that the prime minister’s wife Rosemary Cross has been pulling the strings all along as an undercover CIA agent, what does he do? He tells her that he knows. He tells her! So she has him killed, end of movie. It’s too bad I watched Dollhouse before this, because I saw her as a schemer all along.

Mouseover to see McGregor’s reaction to the PM’s memoirs:
image

McGregor is taking over the PM’s memoirs from the previous ghost writer who died mysteriously last week on the ferry to PM Pierce Brosnan’s U.S. island hideaway. All is quiet until allegations of torture and other war crimes come out and the press mobs the island, and during the distraction McGregor starts digging up the dirt his predecessor had left clues about. Kim Cattrall is the PM’s assistant, Tom Wilkinson a friend/rival/neighbor, and Eli Wallach an old man who feeds Ewan clues.

This film’s attention to detail is impressive – they’ve noted how the news tends to misspell basic words:

NYTimes:

It would be easy to overstate the appeal of The Ghost Writer just as, I imagine, it will be easy for some to dismiss it. But the pleasures of a well-directed movie should never be underestimated. The image of Mr. Brosnan abruptly leaning toward the camera like a man possessed is worth a dozen Oscar-nominated performances. And the way, when Lang chats with the Ghost — his arms and legs open, a drink in hand, as if he were hitting on a woman — shows how an actor and his director can sum up an entire personality with a single pose.

Girlhood (2014, Céline Sciamma)

Marieme is having trouble at home (lives with her abusive older brother) and in school until she joins a group of slightly older friends who change her identity, give her the nickname Vic for victory. Seems like things are getting better as Marieme starts asserting herself, has fun, gets into fights, falls for boys, and maybe the movie won’t end with the inevitable lower-class doom, but alas. At least she doesn’t become an actual prostitute when she leaves school, she only rooms with a prostitute as she works for the local drug boss. Ends with maybe a glimmer of ambiguous hope. But along the way, the movie is mostly a joy, sensitively and beautifully shot, with terrific actors.

Four Lions (2010, Christopher Morris)

Lately I’ve been getting burned watching recent indie/foreign movies as soon as they’re digitally available, then seeing them announced for local theater runs a few weeks later – most recently What We Do in the Shadows and The Babadook, and you could’ve added Winter Sleep and Two Days One Night and Clouds of Sils Maria if I hadn’t been slow to watch them at home. To solve this, I thought I’d start focusing on less recent movies, finally landing on 2010 – old enough that everything’s out in HD and nobody’s talking about them anymore. This was first up, since I’ve recently seen lots of Chris Morris on TV via The IT Crowd and Brass Eye.

Pretty good comedy, most of the humor coming from would-be terrorists blowing themselves up accidentally/preemptively. Riz Ahmed and his Bradley-Coopery friend Waj (Kayvan Novak of Syriana, a lead voice in Curse of the Were-Rabbit) go to Pakistan for jihad training, but accidentally blow up their friends and are sent home. Hassan is the new guy, invites neighbor Julia Davis (Big Train) into their bomb-making den. Riz and Barry (Nigel Lindsay of Alan Partridge) struggle for control of the group. Finally the four strap on their suicide vests under silly animal costumes and head to a fun run aiming to take some infidels down with them (this probably would’ve been changed after the Boston Marathon). Doesn’t go very well. Favorite bit: Waj takes a muslim guy as a hostage; cops don’t know which is which, shoot the hostage.

The Lego Movie (2014, Lord & Miller)

All turned out to be in imagination of kid who’s not supposed to be playing with dad Will Ferrell’s precious lego collection. Ferrell gives in, lets the kid play – a tragic ending. Some of those sets are probably valuable! Will Arnett does a good batman voice.