Hot Tub Time Machine made me laugh. Hard. And often. It looks like crap (I think maybe that was the point) and it's beyond stupid but the laugh per minute ratio is very high and the ensemble cast riffs and raffs off each other really well. The film is also extra-fucking-crude; if you thought The Hangover pushed some boundaries this film will make you red in the face. The stand-outs were Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and the scene-stealing Crispin Glover as a one-armed bell-hop. Don't ask...you'll see...
Watching The White Ribbon felt a little bit like a home-work assignment. Don't get me wrong -- it's a beautifully crafted film, directed with pin-point precision, featuring one strong performance after another. It's just...I don't know...why does Michael Haneke feel the need to be so fucking oppressive? A filmmaker who loves to punish his audience (Funny Games, Cache, and The Piano Teacher are a sampling of his other films), The White Ribbon is less overtly violent than some of his other work, but the psychological darkness that permeates the entire film makes for a somewhat challenging sit. And the questions and answers that the narrative raises and offers make for some extremely interesting conversation fodder. The shimmery-cold, black and white cinematography, it must be said, is extraordinary.
Director Joe Johnston is the very definition of a journey man. Some might call him a hack but I think he's too modest, too nice for that term. A Spielberg disciple who got his start in the art department on various George Lucas movies, he's one of those guys who always give you a good looking movie...it's just that he's no better than his scripts. He's made some genuinely wonderful stuff (The Rocketeer, October Sky, Honey I Shrunk the Kids), while some of his other work (Hidalgo, Jurassic Park 3) hasn't totally hit the sweet spot. The Wolfman looks phenomenal (major shout out to cinematographer Shelly Johnson and production designer Rick Heinrichs) but the script is totally average (Andrew Kevin Walker should know better), and Johnston's inability to get anything extra out of his stacked cast (Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving) doesn't help. There's some decent werewolf gore and the action scenes have a nice R-rated edge to them, but the creature stuff is waaaaay to CGI for my tastes, and again, the script just sat there waiting for something exciting to happen. However, Johnston's about to begin production on Captain America -- I think he's gonna nail it.
Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson) is fast becoming one of my favorite filmmakers. After witnessing his brilliant masterpiece Valhalla Rising earlier this summer (review is coming up soon...) and experiencing last year's genre-bending Bronson it's very clear to me that a major, major new talent is about to blow up on the spot. Fear X is a curious little psychological thriller that Refn did in between movies in Europe. It actually stands as the lone American movie on his resume, but that's about to change as Hollywood has come calling -- he's about to shoot a neo-noir called Drive with Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt-driver who enjoys his night job better...that of a getaway driver for thieves. In Fear X, an obsessed and determined John Turturro goes on a search for the identity of his wife's killer. This a slow-moving and methodical piece of filmmaking; the ambient soundtrack, long tracking shots (courtesy of long-time Kubrick collaborator Larry Smith), and careful editing all combine to keep you on the edge of your seat for much of the run time. And if the ending feels like a bit of a letdown, you might need to rethink the entire film. What's most interesting about Fear X is thinking about the genre tropes that Refn avoided, as opposed to what he actually did.
The Book of Eli could have also been called The Road for Dummies. It's got a neat visual style (this being a Hughes Brothers film), Denzel Washington makes for a great bad-ass, Gary Oldman is a more fully-dimensional villain than in most movies like this, and Mila Kunis looks great in tight black leather. But the LUDICROUS plot twist (while somewhat ingenious) makes ZERO FUCKING SENSE, thus rendering the film fairly asinine upon close inspection. It's one of those movies that's enjoyable in the moment but then becomes almost irritating by the end when you realize what kind of pill the filmmakers are asking you to swallow. There's much to like about this film; I just wished it all came together a bit more coherently by the end.
It's sort of shocking how popular The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been, both in print and on the big screen (the David Fincher re-make is about to go into production). This is a nasty, nasty piece of business with a lot of sexual depravity and graphic violence depicted towards women (and men for that matter...). As everyone has said, the lead performance by Noomi Rapace is hypnotic and totally engrossing, as is the plot and direction -- it's a terrific piece of pulp entertainment, but you pay a price for watching this film. It's fucking Dark with a capital D. Performances across the board are strong and the plot gets extremely complex without being overwhelming or confusing (even with subtitles). It's a tough movie to say that you "loved" but I know I responded to what I watched. It'll be curious to see what aspects Fincher (and Sony) jettison in the big-budget re-do; there is some stuff in the original that most people would immediately object too. I look forward to watching the second installment, The Girl Who Played with Fire.
Date Night wasn't terrible. And it wasn't great. It's what I'd call an agreeable time-waster. It's basically Adventures in Babysitting just with parents in place of the sitter and the kids. Tina Fey and Steve Carrell make for a great duo, and given that the director was Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum 1&2, Cheaper by the Dozen, Just Married, The Pink Panther), I was really expecting something pretty bland and average. He's helped by cinematographer Dean Semler and scene-stealer Mark Whalberg, and again, with Fey and Carrell as your leads, you sort of just need to get out of the way and let the two of them do their thing, which Levy does, for the most part. The high-concept script is total 80's-movie idiocy and can't be thought about while being viewed as nothing really holds up to logic. But at a tight 90 minutes, you could do worse, and the film does have a bunch of laugh out loud moments. Again, not terrible, not great, somewhere in between.
I love a good erotic thriller. And that's what Atom Egoyan's steamy and seductive Chloe is -- a damn good erotic thriller, a genre that's in fast-decline. The premise is simple: Julianne Moore suspects her hubby (played by Liam Neeson) of cheating. Moore hires a young prostitute named Chloe (the eerily hot Amanda Seyfried) to seduce her husband in order to prove his infidelity. What happens from there I'll leave you to discover, only to hint at a possible attraction between the two female leads, with ample amounts of sexual tension and possibilities. All three leads are great, the film looks sleek and sexy, and the ending, without going over the top, feels like a perfect way to cap the story. Oh yeah, there's lots and lots of nudity. I enjoyed this one. Oh yeah.