Broken Embraces

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.

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In the Loop

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.

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The Invention of Lying

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!

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The Taking of Pelham 123

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.

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The Hurt Locker

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.

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adventurelandHow the hell did this movie get past me when it was in theaters? Writer/director Greg Mottola, who directed (but didn’t write) Superbad, has delivered a funny poignant coming-of-age film that feels like a cross between Cameron Crowe and John Hughes. And somehow I was almost completely oblivious to this fact.

No matter, though. I’m thrilled to have discovered it on DVD, where I imagine I’ll return to it more than once in years to come.

Adventureland follows James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college grad whose plans to tour Europe over the summer are derailed by financial complications. Instead he finds himself looking for a job to help pay his Fall tuition at the Columbia School of Journalism.

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