Vicky Cristina Barcelona

vickyTo say Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Woody Allen’s best film in years is damning it with faint praise. His record has been so spotty of late (I’m not a fan of the overrated Match Point) that a minor success winds up as a Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy.

And Barcelona is indeed a minor success. It is well-acted and beautiful to look at, but feels over-written in the way Allen’s more serious films can be. He doesn’t spend enough time making fun of the upper-class intellectualism on display here, especially as exemplified by Rebecca Hall’s Vicky.

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Married Life

married_lifeThis movie sat on the shelf for awhile before getting a quiet release in March of 2008, and it’s easy to see why it had trouble finding an audience. Despite a stellar cast featuring Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Rachel McAdams, it is a bland attempt at a Hitchcockian thriller that never registers a pulse.

We’re in the middle of a weird trend of suburban melodrama set a couple of generations back. Revolutionary Road depicts a 1950s couple unhappy in their marriage; television’s Mad Men covers similar territory across the late 50s and early 60s; Married Life explores infidelity and secrecy among a group of friends in the 1940s.

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The Bank Job

Date: July 21, 2008
Location: Clifton Living Room

After the sleek perfection of the heists in Ocean’s 11 through 13, it’s refreshing to see a good old-fashioned “bank job” as sloppy as the one in this Roger Donaldson crime caper. There is nothing elegant about this group of men (and one woman) tunnelling from an abandoned leather shop under a Chicken Inn and into the vault of a corner bank in London. And they are woefully unprepared to deal with the repercussions of stealing what’s contained there.

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Cloverfield

Date: April 29, 2008
Location: Clifton Living Room

Cloverfield is the latest film in the genre popularized by The Blair Witch Project — the movie is made up entirely of “found footage” from a camcorder. It’s an interesting idea, and well-executed, though it sometimes strains credibility. Would you really hang on to the camera while being chased by a hundred-foot-tall sea monster? On the other hand, we are talking about a group of 20-something Manhattanites who have grown up in a world of YouTube and vodcasts, so maybe it isn’t much of a stretch.

The film stays true to its conceit… sometimes distractingly so. When the guy with the camera runs (and he runs a lot), we see exactly what you’d expect to see — a lot of bounce, a lot of blur. At times, Cloverfield makes The Bourne Ultimatum look like My Dinner With Andre. What’s new here is the marriage of such a low-tech shooting style with state-of-the-art digital effects. The monster (the existence of which is never explained) looks very real and very scary, as does the destruction it brings to New York City. There’s an underlying whiff of 9/11 about the proceedings, though it is directly referenced only once when a character in the background wonders aloud after the first explosion “Are we being attacked again?”

Mostly, though, this is a big dumb monster movie, and it’s quite enjoyable on that level. The characters are paper-thin, and their central mission (to save a friend stranded in midtown) doesn’t resonate, but so what? Moviegoers remember Godzilla, not the people he stepped on.