Your Weekend at the Movies with Unstoppable Trains and Itty Bitty Furniture

11/12/2010 10:24 AM |

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Unstoppable: Last year, I was aghast to realize that the Tony Scott/Denzel Washington remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 would not include any scenes of a runaway subway car wreaking havoc on anything. A subway stopped in a tunnel? That can fly in a 70s movie with plenty of character and atmosphere, but in a Tony Scott action movie, a stopped train feels a bit too much like my morning commute. As if in answer to my unreasonable demands, Fox has bestowed upon us Unstoppable, in which Scott directs Washington in the story of a train … THAT WILL NOT STOP. Unless, of course, Washington and Captain Kirk stop it themselves. The surprise of Unstoppable is not so much that it’s a lot of fun (which it is! The train doesn’t stop!) but rather its reminder that, Man on Fire excepted, Tony Scott does some of his most restrained, relaxed work when he teams up with Washington.

Like Déjà Vu, this is has plenty of circle-cam shots and pointless cuts, but also takes its time with set-up and stock (but enjoyable) character development; it doesn’t bulge with pumped-up mayhem and in fact Washington and Chris Pine don’t even get into day-saving mode for at least the first half of the movie. Scott may be a product of the big-80s/Bruckheimer aesthetic, but his approach to this material is often more measured than his career would suggest (even his most overcranked movies go further into experimental territory than fellow lover of cuts, control rooms, and the military Michael Bay). Sure, this movie is pretty silly and it’s a little weird that Washington has now made more Tony Scott pulp-em-ups as he has Spike Lee joints (especially when Lee’s Inside Man can provide more New York City pulse as a lark than Scott could muster for the Pelham redo), but if you don’t mind those endless shots of and from helicopters, or some stupid cutaways to local news, you can sit back and enjoy Washington and Scott riding the rails. For the trilogy-capper, I’m thinking Washington and Scott need to hijack that flying time-traveling train from the end of Back to the Future Part III.

Tiny Furniture: Lena Dunham writes, directs, and stars in Tiny Furniture, which exhibits a good three hundred percent more productivity than her character Aura, a recent graduate prone to hanging out in her underwear at her mom’s place—and not the sexy co-ed type of underwear-lounging, either, but rather the could-you-put-on-some-pants variety, an actual request a neighbor makes before leaving her small child in Aura’s charge. Returning home to New York after completing her film theory major, Aura bickers with her artist mom and insufferably high-achieving high-school-aged sister (played by Dunham’s actual family members), fumbles through unpromising relationships with a couple of guys, reconnects with an obnoxious childhood friend, and gets a crummy (though, it must be said, exceedingly easy) restaurant job. She spends a lot of time in her mom’s geometric apartment, shot in stark, static frames—the title refers to one of her mom’s photography projects, but it could just as well describe Aura’s entire postgraduate life.

As a chronicle of young/adult aimlessness, Tiny Furniture has a litany of antecedents, including Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming, Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, any number of mumblecore movies, or even the spring-break ennui snapshot The Exploding Girl from earlier this year. Dunham, lightly tattooed with a Jenna Fischer-ish voice, distinguishes herself by writing characters who don’t cover their insecurities with banter or, well, you know, mumbling; Aura’s like a mumblecore character without the cushion of a loosely knit scene (another high school friend describes her as “the girl who always goes home early”). Eventually, she throws a full-on (well, maybe half-on) twenty-two-year-old tantrum, and her ineffectual attempts to act out provide some of the movie’s biggest laughs. Those laughs, in classic dramedy tradition, are a little frontloaded; the naturalistic yet often hilariously phrased dialogue from the first half becomes progressively more sullen and less delightful as the movie wears on and Aura goes from aimless to seeming downright joyless, but that’s probably by design. Tiny Furniture lacks the emotional kick of the Baumbach or Zwigoff movies, but has its own tiny, numerous rewards; Dunham’s comic voice is subtle yet unmistakable.

Morning Glory: While writing my review of Morning Glory, I was thinking about Rachel McAdams. She has a reputation as sort of a thinking person’s Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock; a charming movie star with a serious actor’s choosiness. Yet McAdams has yet to star in anything better than Mean Girls. Now, this is no small thing; Mean Girls is awesome. But you wouldn’t think, offhand, that McAdams would share a career peak with Lindsay Lohan. McAdams has appeared in plenty of good movies, across a variety of genres: Red Eye, The Family Stone, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and even her weaker stuff, State of Play or The Lucky Ones or what have you, has a certain respectability (even Sherlock Holmes is one of the more understandable popcorn gigs), as does the affable if not particularly exciting Morning Glory. But it would be nice to see her general effervescence beaming from a movie made by more than a competent workman. In fact, I’m officially bummed that she wasn’t able to grab the solo lead in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. In fact, why can’t she step into P.T. Anderson’s Scientology movie and get it financed immediately?

Skyline: I haven’t seen this one, not least because it isn’t getting the press-screening treatment. Aliens attack Los Angeles and apparently go for the movie stars first, leaving only Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, and Brittany Daniel (who sounds kinda-sorta famous, but is actually just some chick from Dawson’s Creek) to defend us. This explains why for the next round of L.A.-based attacks, we recruit comparably megawatt fighters like Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynanhan, Michael Pena, and Aaron Eckhart. Whatever, I saw all of these other movies already so I probably will see Skyline.