Pedro Almodovar is one of my very favorite filmmakers and every time I see one of his movies I’m reminded why. In fact, seeing his movies usually instills in me the desire to see nothing else but his movies. As a director, he has such a precise command of composition, color, pacing and performance; as a writer, he is romantic, funny and deep.
Broken Embraces isn’t the best film Almodovar has made in the past decade or so (I’d reserve that honor for Bad Education, with Talk to Her and Volver right behind) but it’s very much in the vein of his recent masterworks. I can’t think of another auteur on as much of a roll.
This film, directed by Armando Iannucci and based on a BBC TV show, came and went quickly last year but left a trail of great reviews. It earned a surprise screenplay nomination at the Oscars and, with any luck, will earn a following on DVD.
It’s a quick-witted, biting satire about governmental bureaucracy that details a budding war in the Middle East, a collaboration between the British Prime Minister and the President of the United States.
Any resemblance to actual events is… kind of the point.
Ricky Gervais isn’t the first guy who comes to mind when you think of male leads in a romantic comedy, which is one of the charms of The Invention of Lying, a clever film in which he woos Jennifer Garner. The conceit of the film, which Gervais co-wrote and co-directed with Matthew Robinson, is a world in which nobody can tell a lie… until Mark Bellison (Gervais) somehow stumbles upon the ability.
The film is smart and funny but it tries to be too many things at once and winds up settling on the least interesting one.
It starts out as a caustically comic exploration of a world where people tell only the truth. Opening the door to meet her blind date, Garner’s character says “Hi, you’re early. You interrupted me masturbating.” “Now I’m thinking about your vagina,” Gervais replies. “I hope this date ends in sex.” “That won’t happen,” she responds, “I find you physically unattractive.” Talk about meeting cute!
The Taking of Pelham 123 is a B-movie with A-list talent. This same film could have gone direct to video had it starred actors of lesser caliber than Denzel Washington and John Travolta, and been helmed by a less slickly competent director than Tony Scott. But watching Washington and Travolta spar as, respectively, a Manhattan transit worker and a murderous hijacker, is a lot of fun even if the movie fades from memory mere minutes after it’s over.
Scott directed Washington in Crimson Tide, pairing him with Gene Hackman, and seems to be going for the same level of gravitas and tension here. But Pelham never approaches that film’s heights in part because the stars spend almost the entire running time separated from each other. They generate sparks, but from a distance.
After my experience with the negative impact of high expectations for The Hurt Locker, I now have a perfect example of the opposite… the positive impact of low expectations for the delightful Sherlock Holmes.
I’d written this one off as a rental, if that, based on my low opinion of director Guy Ritchie and less than stellar reviews. But when my wife and I wanted a nice cinematic diversion the other night and didn’t want to travel across the county to find it, Sherlock Holmes emerged as the best candidate (I promptly vetoed Leap Year when that possibility came up).
I was a big Sherlock Holmes fan during junior high and high school, though I haven’t given him much thought since then. But my inner 14-year-old bristled at the thought of Ritchie turning the beloved Holmes into a slow-mo kung-fu fighter, as the trailer suggested. Why modernize and make hip something decidedly (and wonderfully) old-fashioned?
It’s a testament to the power of expectations that The Hurt Locker, a masterfully crafted suspense film and one of the best war films I’ve ever seen, feels like a disappointment. Kathryn Bigelow’s film about a team that diffuses bombs in Iraq is the most critically acclaimed movie of the year, topping countless top ten lists and winning critics awards left and right. It’s really good, but it’s not that good.
Perhaps had I gone in not knowing what to expect I’d have emerged a bigger fan of the movie. But I have to admit I watched it expecting to be blown away — excuse the pun — and noticing when my reaction fell short of the mark. It’s a weird and unfortunate experience when you’re more caught up in your own digestion of a film than you are in the film itself.
I’m having a hard time deciding exactly how I feel about Avatar.
On the one hand, it has a shopworn plot, clunky dialogue, cardboard villains and heavy-handed messages about the environment and military imperialism. But on the other hand, it creates and inhabits an entirely new world to a degree I’ve never quite experienced before in a movie. The cutting-edge special effects bring to vivid life an entire ecosystem brimming with the fantastic imaginings of its creator.
That creator, of course, is James Cameron, the director of such enduring classics as The Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Titanic. Cameron has spent many of the 12 years since Titanic won a crate full of Oscars and set the all-time box office record working on Avatar, specifically on the motion capture technology that allows flesh-and-blood actors to bring digital characters to life in a way that makes Lord of the Rings‘ Gollum look like a sock puppet.