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.

Winter Sleep (2014, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

The longest Palme d’or winner. Some similarities to Leviathan in style. That one seems angry about the individual’s plight against the corrupt state and religion (although the individual’s drinking problems aren’t helping any), but this one has more general, philosophical matters in mind: the ability of people from different classes to sympathize with each other, a single woman’s place in society, self-glorifying acts supposedly for the benefit of others, so on. Variety said it was “considerably more accessible” than the great Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – not sure that I’d agree, since I thought that one more explicitly explained what was on its mind.

Inspired, as are all Ceylan’s films apparently, by Chekhov stories. Aydin is a major landowner in a beautiful location. He’s made a hotel out of his family home carved into the side of the hills, where he lives with sister Necla and young wife Nihal. Discontent appears almost immediately, when out with his driver/assistant, their tenant’s son throws a rock at their Jeep window. Three hours later, after a series of very long conversations (I timed one at 19 minutes), it’s clear why nobody likes Aydin. M. Smith writes that “no contemporary director has a better compositional eye than Ceylan,” and that’s part of what keeps this 3+ hour talkfest compelling – it’s so beautiful. The endless speeches are tiring, but also draw you into the characters, until at the end, nothing much has happened and nobody has progressed from where they started, but it feels like the world has shaken.

B. Croll for Twitch:

At first, Aydin seems like a perfectly reasonable person … He’s happily married, charitable and polite. He’s good natured, cultured and hospitable to all. He seems on his face to be the agreeable avatar of contented middle-agedom, and yet by film’s end we recognize in him a malicious, almost tyrannical villainy.

G. Kenny:

The talk, for all its abstractions, gradually lays bare the poor regard with which most of the characters hold each other, and, at about the halfway point, when Aydin (played with glum tenacity by Haluk Bilginer) calls his put-upon spouse (Melisa Sözen) a “bored neurotic,” the fur really begins to fly. … The accumulation of images imbues the film with a kind of bleak coziness that brings to life the accusation that Aydin’s sister Necia (Demet Akbag) levels at him: “In order not to suffer, you prefer to fool yourself.” The strength of Winter Sleep is not so much in what any of the characters say as much as what it needs its near-monumental length to actually show: which is the way the most seemingly banal circumstances can throw you into a dark night of the soul before you even know what’s going on, a state of wide-awake despair so calamitous one has no choice but to make a companion of it.

Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film (2012, Pip Chodorov)

Personal history by Chodorov – I know the name because I was once subscribed to his FrameWorks email list. His dad Stephan was a filmmaker, so Pip grew up surrounded by independent film and artists. He’s got interviews with the big names: Mekas, Kubelka, Jacobs, Breer, Snow… and Hans Richter, so I guess some of the interviews were archival and I didn’t take great notes. He takes a fun, enthusiast approach rather than the history-book implied by the title, and any excuse to revisit this work is a good one.

Includes some short films (in their entirety?):

Free Radicals (1958, Len Lye) – tremendous, white scratches on black, edited rhythmically to an African drum group in ever-changing patterns.

Recreation (1956, Robert Breer) – seen this before, I don’t get the Noel Burch narration but the visuals are fast and exciting.

Rainbow Dance (1936, Len Lye) – insanely complicated color and effects for the mid-1930’s.

And the section of Brakhage’s Dante Quartet called Existence Is Song (I forgot the Quartet sections were titled).