Season's screenings

Season's screenings

Posted by Sean Stangland on Mon, 12/29/2008 - 17:31

I hope you had a Merry Christmas. I did, despite my Grinchy attitude going into last week. I saw lots of movies in the last week, and the box office numbers suggest you did, too!

Ocean's NEIN!
"Valkyrie" is a perfectly entertaining thriller, and tells a story I knew nothing about. How do you mine suspense from a failed plot to assassinate Hitler? Well, the attempt comes about halfway through the movie, and the conspirators -- led by Tom Cruise as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, and including many from the cast of "Pirates of the Caribbean" -- think they have succeeded. So the question transitions from "Can they get close to Hitler?" to "Can they escape the SS?" Bryan Singer and his "Usual Suspects" screenwriter, Christopher McQuarrie, deliver a solid flick full of great acting (except, I'm sorry to say, from Eddie Izzard), but it's rather superficial. Stauffenberg is the only character whose life away from the military is depicted, and that home life almost becomes an afterthought. How could Singer waste "Black Book" star Carice van Houten in a five-minute role? But those who have bashed this flick from Day One (without seeing it, of course) don't have much of a leg to stand on. Cruise is not in "Jerry Maguire" mode here, no matter what Roger Friedman says, and seems to be the main character only because he's Tom Cruise. This is a fine ensemble piece, and will be entertaining generations of film fans on TNT until the end of time.

Just say "Yes"
Now, if I were a full-time, paid movie critic, I might consider it my duty to tell you that "Yes Man" has lots of annoying product placement, isn't really sure what message it's preaching, and never really sells a romance between 46-year-old Jim Carrey and 28-year-old Zooey Deschanel. But as a paying customer who wanted to laugh on Christmas, I will tell you that "Yes Man" gives you your money's worth. The ads suggest that Carrey is in full-on "Liar Liar" manic mode, but he plays it mostly cool here. And he brings down the house, too -- there's a scene involving a would-be jumper and Third Eye Blind's "Jumper" that inspired applause from the crowd I saw it with at the Regal Lincolnshire.

Requires further investigation
OK, so I was a paid film critic last week: I reviewed “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” for the Daily Herald and gave it a lukewarm three-star review. I kept waiting for an emotional payoff that never came. But I would definitely like to see it again, as David Fincher is one of my favorite directors, and the film is still very much alive in Oscar talk. I just expected so much more out of it.

4 8 15 16 23 42
We are only 23 days away from the 3-hour “Lost” premiere, and I prepared by skimming through my new Season 4 DVD set. (Thanks, Santa!) The best thing about that DVD is a feature on one of the two bonus discs that strings together all the important flash-forwards -- it’s almost like getting a bonus episode, and it serves as a great primer for Season 5. I can’t wait to see where -- or when -- the island has moved to.

What’s up, doc?
I caught up on three of the year’s most acclaimed documentaries, and absolutely fell in love with one of them. That would be “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father,” which tells a literally unbelievable story about the murder of the director’s best friend, the son he left behind, and his parents’ tireless efforts in his name. I dare not say more; it’s constructed like a thriller, and the third act hits you like a ton of bricks. That’s a great film. “Man on Wire,” which is probably the best-reviewed documentary of the year, is not. I honestly don’t get why everyone is going nuts for a movie that basically lets French acrobat Phillipe Petit canonize himself for walking between the World Trade Center towers on a tightrope. It tells the story with far too many clumsy dramatizations, and lets Petit drone on and on about how brilliant he is. Was it a stunning, audacious achievement? Yes. But that doesn’t mean the movie is. Much better is “Grizzly Man” director Werner Herzog’s new film about Antarctica, “Encounters at the End of the World.” It’s little more than a disjointed series of vignettes abotu researchers at the continent’s science stations, but it yields beautiful images of wildlife living below the ice shelf. If you have a Blu-ray player and a giant HDTV, this movie will really dazzle you.

Have you seen ”WALL•E” yet?
I know I’ve talked about it a lot this year, but I must reiterate how incredible this movie is. If Santa put it under the tree in your house this year, watch it. This is not merely a kid’s movie. This is classic, genre-defying filmmaking that will still be blowing minds in 50 years.

The final countdown
There are still five movies I need to see before I can consider 2008 a moviegoing success: "The Reader," "Revolutionary Road," "The Wrestler," "Frost/Nixon" and "Slumdog Millionaire." I better get cracking ...

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