Admission. Directed by Paul Weitz. You would expect a movie starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd to be funny, right? Well, not in this case. Admission could not settle on whether it was a comedy or a drama, landing with a thud somewhere in the murky middle. Part of the blame lies with the marketing, which made the film look like a goofy, sweet romantic comedy, but in reality a large chunk of the running time is spent weighed down by the Sturm und Drang of one of the characters, a student taught by teacher Rudd, trying to get into Princeton. Naturally, Fey is the admissions officer who wields some power in the all-important process. Not many hijinks ensue, though, so instead the viewer must deal with the fallout from Fey’s poor relationship with Rudd and with her mother, played by Lily Tomlin. Fey’s breakup with her partner, played by Michael Sheen, is played for a few decent laughs, but otherwise, the film is a bust. It’s a real waste of Wallace Shawn’s talent, too, having him play the dean of admissions with too few scenes. (Also sad to see the late Christopher Evan Welch in one of his last roles.)
American Hustle. Directed by David O. Russell. Just in time for the Golden Globes, I finally saw this huge hit. While certain elements of the film struck the right chords – particularly the chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams, like in the “I Feel Love” disco scene – Russell’s comedy (is it even a comedy?) could never live up to the massive amounts of hype. Nearly everyone I know who saw American Hustle told me it was the best movie of the year. When I hear such a uniform response, I tend to take it seriously; I was, of course, disappointed to find that Hustle does not mean the standards of Silver Linings Playbook, Russell’s dark comedy from last year. Jennifer Lawrence does not have enough to do, or perhaps can’t give the performance necessary, to warrant the insane amount of attention she has been getting during awards season, including winning the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. The other leads (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper) do much better work and they are all way less likely to win (or even be nominated for) Academy Awards. See the film for its soundtrack and for the great costumes by Michael Wilkinson, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this trip back in time is another Argo (that is, if you enjoyed Argo and its late-70s-ness as much as I did).
Broken City. Directed by Allen Hughes. Ah, what a fitting title: it’s a broken movie. You could find better ways to spend your time by doing pretty much anything else. Mark Wahlberg plays the kind of tough, working-class protagonist he knows how to do well, this time a cop who’s had some bad breaks. He accepts a sleazy job from the equally sleazy mayor of New York City, played by Russell Crowe. Wahlberg is asked to spy on Crowe’s wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, whom Crowe suspects of having an affair. The plot is much more complicated, involving an election scandal. The other major source of drama stems from Wahlberg’s girlfriend, Natalie Martinez, being an aspiring actress whose first starring feature disturbs Wahlberg because of its sex scene. There’s actually a point to be made there about how difficult it must be on some level for a couple to function when one (or both) of them must do love scenes with other actors. I almost wish that that plot point had been made into a movie of its own since it surely would have been more interesting than whatever is going on in Broken City.
The Call. Directed by Brad Anderson. So I finally watch a Halle Berry movie and it has to be this forgettable thriller. Berry tries her hardest to lend some dignity to the mediocre role of a Los Angeles 911 operator suffering from the trauma of having inadvertently caused a female caller’s death (redialing led to a ring that allowed the murderer to find the victim). The real story begins when another adolescent girl (Abigail Breslin) is abducted by the same man and, in a plot point that strains nearly all credibility, Breslin’s cell phone manages to stay charged and within her grasp long enough for her to stay on an extended call to Berry, all while stuck in a car trunk. (Shouldn’t the killer have noticed the phone and confiscated it at some point?) Breslin fights back – and even cusses – admirably, but it’s up to Berry to save the day, at which point the remaining credibility vanishes. Most of the film could be viewed as an “SVU”-type thriller, but the last few minutes move in a totally different and totally bogus direction, leading to an unsatisfying conclusion. Perhaps it should be noted that Halle Berry has been nominated for a Razzie for her work in this film, although I don’t think her performance is anywhere near as bad as those in Broken City.
World War Z. Directed by Marc Forster. Based on a popular novel by Max Brooks (son of Mel), there is plenty of action (shockingly bloodless), emotion and zombie makeup for all to enjoy. Somewhat surprisingly, given that the film runs for two hours, it feels a little short and unresolved. (Yes, there is a sequel in the works.) Amidst a cast of hundreds – maybe thousands – Brad Pitt broods, Mireille Enos worries, Daniella Kertesz loses a limb, Fana Mokoena contemplates his crucial decisions, James Badge Dale cracks wise and a team of World Health Organization doctors (Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Moritz Bleibtreu, Ruth Negga) struggle to understand what the heck is going on. John Gordon Sinclair, the delightful star of the Scottish romantic comedy Gregory’s Girl (1981), appears briefly as a Navy SEAL; I don’t know who cast him, but it was nice of him/her to do so. Anyway, World War Z is entertaining if you don’t think too hard about plot holes.