- Short, pale, familiar.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: Woody Allen’s recent European excursions have zig-zagged between dour London seriousness (Match Point; Cassandra’s Dream) and continental lightness (the underrated Scoop and the overrated Vicky Cristina Barcelona). The London-set You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger goes unnervingly down the middle: it holds a kind of dispassionate, deadpan soap-opera interest without further engagement. The movie’s golden-toned cinematography looks warm and inviting, but its actual tone is tepid and resigned. Allen wants to write about life’s futility; instead, he uses his characters to kill time. With its omniscient narrator, ensemble bed-hopping, and bizarre joke-neutrality, it plays closest to Vicky Cristina, if that movie had its fiery, hilarious Penelope Cruz performance surgically removed.
Josh Brolin successfully avoids Woody imitation (or at least his version has more of a peeved Sam Rockwellish drawl) as a once-promising novelist whose career has stalled; he is married, at least for now, to Naomi Watts, an aspiring art maven, and their arguments are shot in long, swerving takes inside their London flat, well-shot dead ends. Brolin is at odds with his mother-in-law (Gemma Jones), who has begun to consult a phony fortune-teller (Pauline Collins) after her husband of forty years (Anthony Hopkins) leaves her and takes up with a young floozy (Lucy Punch). In his own later years, Allen has become fascinated with young floozies; it may be prurient or sexist, but more often than not these characters, usually some combination of ditz and hooker, have a kind of daffy liveliness far removed from the Woodyisms of his traditional heroes. That’s certainly true of Lucy Punch, who has a lot of fun beguiling and befuddling Hopkins. All of the actors, though, are pretty good; they’re just stranded by the movie’s surrender to detached, anecdotal plotting. Romantic and financial fortunes reverse and re-reverse; everyone wants what’s just out of reach. Towards the end, it’s fun to watch a few plot screws turn with faint echoes of Match Point‘s sinister delights, but it all comes through at a distractingly even keel. Diverting, nothing too wild, nothing too funny or startling, and what does it matter in the end; you might call this an old folks’ movie.
You Again: Not an immediate sequel to the Woody Allen movie, but rather the follow-up to Kristen Bell’s shot at a studio comedy career with semi-inexplicable sponsor Disney, following When in Rome from just eight months ago. As it happens, You Again is actually a bit worse than When in Rome. Technically speaking, it’s better-made, which is not to say that it is particularly well-made: just that fewer of the cuts and shot selections make you slap your hand to your head. Comedically speaking, though, it’s appreciably worse: while Rome owned its Disney ridiculousness and squeezed, I don’t know, maybe seven or eight laughs and a handful more chuckles out of me, You Again spends an awful lot of time wishing it were either a musical or, far worse, a feel-good comedy featuring a calculated “out of nowhere” musical number that lacks the invention to actually sing and dance full time.
Bell plays a former nerd caricature who has morphed into a rom-com professional-woman caricature, and is horrified to find herself regressing when she finds out that her brother intends to marry her high-school tormenter (Odette Yustman, the poor man’s Megan Fox). Not a bad premise, and always a good idea to involve Sigourney Weaver, who plays Yustman’s ultra-successful aunt who has a parallel mean-girl history with Bell’s mom, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. But the movie’s idea of comedy is primarily based on: (a.) bad singing, (b.) silly dancing, and (c.) people falling into pools. Though after the millionth Betty White saucy-grandma quip or Hall and Oates gag, people falling into pools begins to take on a stately classicism. Bell can and will do better. I must believe this. [Your mention of Hall and Oates gags and Kristen Bell doing better has magically triggered my happy memory of this thing, that happened. -Ed.]
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole: The prospect of a Zack Snyder-directed children’s film goes neither as actually wrong or deliciously, crazily wrong as it could in this adaptation of a bunch of second-tier kids’ books; it’s pretty much just boilerplate fantasy-adventure with some nice animation, Snyder-style violence, and neat owl facts. The takeaway here is that owls are awesome—though not so awesome that Snyder can’t awesome ’em up some more with epic battles and ultra-slow-mo, though then again, there’s very little that Snyder wouldn’t see fit to awesome up with same. So I wouldn’t take it personally, owls.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: I was a teenage Oliver Stone fan, and his underrated, unfussy W brought me back to his JFK/Nixon heyday (albeit without so much crazed editing). I actually haven’t seen the original Wall Street, though, so I have little opinion about how this movie may or may not compare until I perform that bit of catch-up. Time to crack open that Oliver Stone box set I impulse-got with a Christmas gift card last year! I have kind of a block on mega-popular eighties blockbusters — not that Wall Street is interchangeable with my unseen-eighties canon of Dirty Dancing, Top Gun, Three Men and a Baby, Pretty Woman, Ghost, Crocodile Dundee, etc. But generally anything regarded as sooooo eighties that didn’t star cartoons, Muppets, puppets, Christopher Lloyd, Rick Moranis, or Steve Martin has managed to escape my attention. If Oliver Stone can resurrect Gordon Gekko, maybe a Moranis and/or Lloyd career revival isn’t out of the question!
Buried: This could be the creepy limited-location experiment that Devil looked like before it turned out to have a bunch of pointless scenes of cops and security swarming around the building where what you actually want to see is the five people trapped in the elevator trying to figure out which one is the devil.
Howl: I have to say, I was kind of relieved when the L’s Dan Callahan halfway convinced me not to go see Howl, because I was kind of hoping someone would admit that the latest bowl of fact-and-fiction granola isn’t all that good for me. Give me a break, it’s a busy movie season.