2013: Part 1

Austenland. Directed by Jerusha Hess. I read the quick-but-delightful Shannon Hale novel on which this film is based a couple of months ago. Watching a film adaptation is often disappointing but I found this sweet comedy to be a lot of fun, despite some of the harsh reviews. Keri Russell does a nice job as Austenophile Jane Hayes, who takes part in a life-changing vacation at the wondrous English creation Austenland. JJ Feild, who previously portrayed Mr. Tilney in a 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey, is pretty good as the Mr. Darcy stand-in, “Mr. Nobley,” and Bret McKenzie also does a commendable job as Martin, the rival for Jane’s affections. There are some nice comic moments from the talented supporting cast of Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, James Callis and Ricky Whittle as well. There is not much for Jane Seymour to do as Mrs. Wattlesbrook, who runs Austenland, but she adds a nice touch of stiff-upper-lip severity to the proceedings. The use of 80s songs lends extra levity to this fantasy.

The Bling Ring. Directed by Sofia Coppola. This flimsy bit of filmmaking is never sure whether it wants to be a satire or a loving paean to its subjects. At least with Lost in Translation Coppola was attempting to create some emotion; with The Bling Ring, all you’ll feel is the uncontrollable urge to roll your eyes. Emma Watson and Katie Chang are the ringleaders of this burgling gang, delighting in breaking into the homes of Paris Hilton and Orlando Bloom without any worry of actually being caught. Claire Julien is the one teen who gives what I would call an authentic performance, making her rap-loving character Chloe feel like someone you might actually run into in Los Angeles. Israel Broussard’s performance as protagonist Marc is ultimately unlikeable because he is initially a good kid aware of what his friends are doing wrong but chooses to ignore all the possible warnings just so that he can snag free stuff and look cool at parties. Broussard doesn’t do much acting, instead relying on dialogue to get his points across. On the plus side, Leslie Mann is good as Watson’s mother, a woman so into yoga, New Age chants and dishing out Adderall for her kids (like candy, it seems) that she can’t see the damage that her daughter and her friends have caused.

Closed Circuit. Directed by John Crowley. I used the first of my six gold tickets for free admission to any AMC theater on this boring British “thriller.” As you can imagine, given how unsatisfying the film is, I’m glad I didn’t actually spend any money. My rationale was to finally see an Eric Bana movie (no, I’ve never seen Black Hawk Down, Hulk, Munich or even Star Trek) and to see some of the other actors I like, including Rebecca Hall, the eminently watchable Ciarán Hinds, Jim Broadbent and Julia Stiles. The actors do good work, including the supporting roles played by Denis Moschitto as the terrorism suspect being defended by Bana and Hall and also Riz Ahmed as Hall’s charming yet slippery legal assistant. Otherwise the film is totally forgettable and much of the plot is nonsensical. It plays on the fear people feel when they think about September 11, the 2005 London terrorist attacks or the Boston bombing, but the film never finds a real resolution to its drama and ends a little too quickly to wrap anything up. (It’s up to Broadbent’s attorney character to constantly explain things to the audience in unsubtle exposition and some voiceover.) The overblown score by Joby Talbot and dreary blue-and-grey cinematography by Adriano Goldman don’t help matters either. P.S. Closed circuit cameras hardly even factor into the plot of this movie. That was kind of annoying.

Iron Man 3. Directed by Shane Black. As of this writing I have not yet had the abject pleasure of watching Iron Man 2 and for years I have thought that the much-feted first Iron Man movie is overrated, so you can imagine my surprise at actually being entertained by the third installment in the already-tired series. I actually liked Gwyneth Paltrow for once; her character, Pepper Potts, actually has cool stuff to do, including wearing the Iron Man suit. (Naturally, she also has to do a lot of fighting while clad in a bra but no shirt.) Guy Pearce hungrily chews all the scenery as villain Aldrich Killian, probably taking particular relish in the film’s prologue when he has terrible hair/teeth/glasses. The film isn’t lacking for good actors: Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau (director of the first two Iron Man installments), Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Stephanie Szostak, William Sadler, Dale Dickey, Ty Simpkins and Miguel Ferrer all play important roles. The special effects are, of course, top-notch but it’s hard to get past the tedious story and the increasingly aggravating tendencies of Robert Downey, Jr. to do what I call “personality work” instead of acting. I think he has been coasting along on his bankability for a little too long. Maybe he needs to make another independent film to shake his career up.

Side Effects. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. It would be tempting to give this thriller a high rating simply because Soderbergh is such a great filmmaker, but the truth is that this film is tepid at best. It has the same claustrophobic qualities as Contagion and some of the sexual tension from Sex, Lies, and Videotape without generating any of the requisite emotion. None of the “twists” are as exciting as they are probably intended to be since they are telegraphed from miles away. It is difficult for me to summon up much feeling for Rooney Mara, one of the most overhyped actresses of the past decade. The subplot involving Mara and a bespectacled Catherine Zeta-Jones is predictable from early on too. Jude Law, the film’s co-lead beside Mara, does his best but can’t overcome the weak screenplay either. Only Channing Tatum escapes much negative criticism, though that’s primarily because he’s barely in the movie. Although I like Soderbergh’s cinematography, with its washed-out yellow-red glow (examples A, B and C), I can’t truly say that I enjoyed the film that it accompanies. Points to Soderbergh or whoever was the music supervisor for using a Thievery Corporation song on the soundtrack, though.

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