Crazy, Stupid, Love. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. There’s nothing wrong with this film, but I have yet to find anything really engaging in the acting of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. There are certainly a lot of Gosling’s earlier films, like The Notebook, Half Nelson and Lars and the Real Girl, which I have yet to see and in which it looks like he truly does well; all I know is that this comedy, which tries to capitalize on the revitalization of Gosling’s career circa 2010, is best watched for its older stars. Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon are all fun as the adults approaching (or already at) middle age, sometimes unsure of the directions their lives should move in. Altogether you’ll likely forget this film quickly, but at least you can see Ryan Gosling’s abs, which are probably superior to yours. So there’s that, if nothing else.
Hitler’s Children. Directed by Chanoch Zeevi. This disturbing but necessary documentary examines the lives of the progeny of many top Nazi officials. It’s a fairly brief film, clocking in at not much more than an hour if I recall correctly, but the interviews with these descendants are riveting and stay with you long after the film has ended. Perhaps most gripping of all is Bettina Göring (great-niece of Hermann Göring), who made the decision along with her brother to be sterilized and stop the Göring line, and Rainer Höss (grandson of Rudolf Höss), who visits Auschwitz where his grandfather was the commandant. Even more emotional is Rainer Höss’s involvement in a meeting of Holocaust survivors and their family; Höss feels the burden of his lineage, even though he himself did not commit the crimes. The film asks us to consider whether it is possible to reconcile unspeakable horrors from your ancestry and the ability to live your own life after that. There are, of course, no easy answers.
10 Years. Directed by Jamie Linden. The high school reunion is a tough subject for a film unless you do something different, like Grosse Pointe Blank or, in a less conventional format, Peggy Sue Got Married. I didn’t mind 10 Years, however, since it has the kind of bland likeability that makes it decent viewing for an otherwise empty afternoon. Not a lot of character development is on display, but the film remains entertaining enough for you to stick with it. There are a number of actors who making the film worth viewing: Channing Tatum, Oscar Isaac (a precursor to Inside Llewyn Davis, you might say), Ari Graynor, Lynn Collins, Kate Mara, Aubrey Plaza, Brian Geraghty. I was displeased by the casting of Chris Pratt as a goofy galoot, a less personable version of his character from “Parks and Recreation.” Jenna Dewan-Tatum was obviously cast as Channing Tatum’s girlfriend because of their real-life relationship, but she’s not much of an actress. I didn’t really care for the buddy-comedy subplot with Justin Long and Max Minghella either, though the payoff from their infatuation with Lynn Collins makes for an unexpected twist in the plot.
W.E. Directed by Madonna. I know, I know, seeing the Material Girl’s name at the helm seems weird and easily mockable. Nevertheless I think that the film is kind of good, particularly in technical areas. The narrative forms a parallel between two love stories: the tale of England’s Edward VIII (“David”) and Wallis Simpson in the 1930s is intercut with the evolving relationship between a Manhattan housewife and a Russian security guard at Sotheby’s in 1998. (It bothers me that there are a number of details that are clearly a part of the 2010 filming date, like a laptop and the newer New York trains.) The housewife, played well by Abbie Cornish (you should see her performance in Bright Star if you haven’t), is named Wally after Wallis Simpson, leading to a lifelong obsession with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Her relationship with her physically/emotionally abusive husband mirrors Wallis Simpson’s abuse at the hands of her first husband. The subplot with the security guard (another fine role for Oscar Isaac) stretches credibility – naturally he’s only slumming; he’s actually a piano-playing, Rilke-reading intellectual – but I suppose it’s necessary to make the two stories fit. As I mentioned, the technical achievements are impressive, especially the score by Abel Korzeniowski (“Evgeni’s Waltz” and the In the Mood for Love-esque “Satin Birds” are highlights) and the Academy Award-nominated costume design by Arianne Phillips. Even if the film does not rely on historical accuracy, I give credit to Madonna for directing and co-writing an engaging drama. Also: it’s a crime that “Masterpiece” wasn’t eligible for Best Song. Great track right there.
We Bought a Zoo. Directed by Cameron Crowe. I’m not usually drawn to anything marketed as a “family film,” but in this case you get a warm, affable drama starring Matt Damon, whom I have always found a solid cinematic presence. Scarlett Johansson, an actress whom I find more appealing as I see more of her films (and as more time passes since the overrated Lost in Translation), does a good job as Damon’s love interest. I appreciate that the film works hard to establish a realistic friendship between the two, almost making the romance an afterthought since their primary goals revolve around their work and Damon’s kids. Speaking of the kids, Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones are convincing as children in a real family, as opposed to the bratty performances usually given by young actors. Another romantic element of the plot involves Ford and Elle Fanning, a plot point that isn’t necessary, though I guess it doesn’t detract from the main story too greatly. Overall it is a sweet movie, aided by the directing and screenwriting of Cameron Crowe (I have sung the praises of his directorial debut, Say Anything…, which I call a perfect film).