2011: Part 2

It’s only September and I’m already up to ten new movies this year! That’s a personal best. I can’t wait for awards season to kick in.

50/50. Directed by Jonathan Levine. It’s always weird for me to realize that I’ve been aware of Joseph Gordon-Levitt since the 90s. I loved “3rd Rock from the Sun” when it was on; I remember what a big deal it was that I videotaped the finale. So while Inception was my big moment of “rediscovering” Gordon-Levitt – I liked him in 10 Things I Hate About You, which I watched in 2008, but it took another two and a half years before I actively became a fan – 50/50 is his defining starring role for me. He handles both drama and comedy deftly, tackling his role in an honest way. Contrary to what a lot of people might assume, Seth Rogen is also terrific in the film. Having seen and loved “Freaks and Geeks” and – to a lesser extent – “Undeclared,” I know that Rogen is a good actor. Cancer is a tough subject but his and Gordon-Levitt’s characters make the best out of their situation (or at least they try to). Anna Kendrick is charming as Gordon-Levitt’s cancer support therapist and Bryce Dallas Howard is suitably unlikeable as the hipster-artist girlfriend. Even better are Anjelica Huston as Gordon-Levitt’s mother and Philip Baker Hall as a fellow chemo patient. I’m eager to see JGL’s upcoming 2012 movies: Premium Rush in January, The Dark Knight Rises (!!!) in July, Looper next September and Lincoln next December.

Fright Night. Directed by Craig Gillespie. David Tennant and Toni Collette are clearly the best things about this reboot of the cult classic from 1985. If for nothing else, watch the remake for the always wonderful Tennant, who plays a Criss Angel-esque wannabe vampire hunter, and Collette as lead Anton Yelchin’s mother. Yelchin tries his darnedest to be engaging but more often that not he’s just plain boring. I wanted to like Colin Farrell as vampire-next-door Jerry, but I just couldn’t figure him out. (How could I not laugh when he said, “Hey, guy…” to Yelchin?) Imogen Poots, who plays Blanche Ingram in the 2011 remake of Jane Eyre, is bland as Yelchin’s girlfriend and Christopher Mintz-Plasse is OK but verging on irritating as Yelchin’s geeky former friend. The rest of the cast is a fascinating array of WEIRD: Dave Franco (James’s brother) as a too-cool-for-school kid, Sandra Vergara (Sofia’s sister) as one of Tennant’s showgirls, Lisa Loeb as a suburban mother and Chris Sarandon (who was in the original Fright Night) in a cameo.

Horrible Bosses. Directed by Seth Gordon. I saw this movie with my parents while we were on vacation. Oy vey. Still, I enjoyed seeing Charlie Day, who’s brilliant on one of my favorite shows, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” (This clip shows his craziness. You just have to wait six seconds for the video to show up alongside the audio.) He and Jamie Foxx are the best things about this crass comedy. Jason Bateman is incredibly boring as the doormat who Kevin Spacey tramples on. Bateman has made a number of mediocre comedies with interchangeable titles in the last couple of years: Couples Retreat, The Switch, The Change-Up. I miss the nuanced acting of Juno and also the wild, kooky guy from Dodgeball. He has so much potential but I guess he needs a good director and/or screenplay to help him out. Speaking of the screenplay: it was co-written by John Francis Daley, who played Sam on “Freaks and Geeks.” I had high expectations but it’s such a poorly conceived story. Let’s not even speak of Jason Sudeikis, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston.

Restless. Directed by Gus Van Sant. I would like to preface this review by saying that I loved Good Will Hunting and really liked To Die For and Milk. So it is with some trepidation that I say I am unsure how I feel about Restless. The cold, hard fact is that I cried a lot – in fact, I had a sizable lump in my throat – but is that enough to constitute loving a movie? True, Mia Wasikowska has a wonderfully pixieish, gamine quality and Henry Hopper shows a lot of promise. And Ryo Kase was even better, bringing real emotion to his character Hiroshi. My main problem with Restless was that it was emotionally manipulative; it is designed to make you cry, pretty much from the very beginning of the film. It takes the premise of Harold and Maude, which is my second favorite movie ever, and tries to update it by making the female character young. Some annoyingly indie music drowns out a few key scenes, although there were also some scenes that Van Sant wisely left music out of, allowing the viewer to focus completely on the actors. While I enjoyed the acting a great deal, the film is too predictable. (I forgot to mention the fine performance by Schuyler Fisk, who plays Wasikowska’s older sister; by the way, in real life she’s the daughter of Sissy Spacek and Jack Fisk.) On the plus side, it was nice to see Gus Van Sant in person following the screening I attended.

Warrior. Directed by Gavin O’Connor. I’ve already written on this blog about the magnificence of Tom Hardy, so I’m not going to rehash all that (much). Yes, Warrior is a little on the cheesy side, but who says that’s always a bad thing? Despite the huge amount of cliches in the script, the film has great acting from its leads: Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte (InContention.com thinks he could get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor), Jennifer Morrison and Frank Grillo all turn in excellent performances. The score by Mark Isham (Point Break) is a bonus. This is the rare sports movie that I think would actually appeal to both men and women, with some reviewers noting that the conflicts central to the narrative are not unlike those you would find in a chick flick. I haven’t seen enough sports movies to constitute making many comparisons, so I can truthfully say that my experience with Warrior was a genuinely awesome event. I wasn’t cheering out loud at the end, but I was definitely cheering in my head. The film hasn’t done as well at the box office as it should have, which is a real shame because so many reviews have been really positive.

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