Friday, September 17, 2010

Your Yom Kippur Weekend at the Movies

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 9:40 AM

Surprisingly, Keira Knightley misses a chance to pad her decade-leading tally of movie tie-in covers appeared on.
  • Surprisingly, Keira Knightley misses a chance to pad her decade-leading tally of movie tie-in covers appeared on.
Never Let Me Go: A sci-fi premise—first-act-ish spoilers coming!—of clones raised for the express purpose of organ harvesting gets a scaled-down, humanized treatment in Mark Romanek's adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel (unread by me). In fact, the story of the bond between Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Ruth (Keira Knightley), three such clones growing up together, is made so intimate and human-scale that it sometimes wanders into generic boarding-school love-triangulating, with Kathy's smart sensitivity juxtaposed with the more opportunistic, domineering Ruth in the quiet struggle for the big heart of endearing misfit Tommy. Carey Mulligan has enough pensive, sad-eyed stares to develop her very own patented Mulligan face (apply directly to rain-streaked glass!), which, it should be said, is preferable to Elijah Wood face, and matches beautifully with Isobel Meikle-Small, who plays the younger version of Kathy. Both actresses' mournful intelligence invites loads of empathy, and even if Garfield (the man who would be Spidey) chooses to play Tommy as if he might topple over or collapse into a heap of spare parts at any moment, all three adult leads use restraint to strike an affecting dynamic.

But it's an impersonal one, too; giving yourself over to characters developing in such rigidly defined roles proves difficult. Doubtless some of these constraints are intentional, and sometimes used to the movie's advantage. Romanek assembles some lovely scenes of awkward discovery; when Tommy catches Kathy flipping through porn magazines, it has a sharp, unexpected link to a later scene where the trio peers through an office window at one of their possible original models. But he's less successful in cohering the whole multi-period story: the skips in time sewn together by mostly redundant voiceover are pure adaptation patchwork. For all of the story's quietness and subtle touches, it can't quiet suppress the uneventful simplicity of its telling. Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland create better poetry when they don't try to read it to us.

The Town: Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone was a terrific crime drama with just a few directorial frays as far as some camera placement and cuts during suspenseful bits, so it's not hard for me to imagine that he's stepped up his chops for The Town, another tour of working-class Boston's darker alleys. This one looks a bit bigger and less character-driven than Gone, with Ben Affleck and Jon Hamm doing the DeNiro/Pacino Heat thing: robbing banks and trying to catch bank robbers, respectively, while women with varying degrees of patience wait in the wings.

Easy A: Mostly, time has made it easier for me to justify my crush on Emma Stone (Jules from Superbad) as she's gotten to a more crush-appropriate age [22 in November. -Ed.] and continued to demonstrate comic timing and likability in movies like Zombieland and The House Bunny. But it doesn't help my case when she's still playing a high school kid in Easy A; seriously, even with that sexy-husky voice, she's playing someone at least a little bit younger than Jules from Superbad over three years after that movie came out. Early reviews of the Hawthorne-riffing Easy A make it sound like a potential addition to the canon of glossy Hollywood teen movies that are also good: Mean Girls, Bring It On, and Clueless all offer some degree of fantasy without the more lived-in textures of, just to pick an unfair example, Say Anything, but they're all smart and self-aware and just plain fun. I hope that's the case here, too. Casting Amanda Bynes (another actress who will soon notch almost a decade in her late teens) as a villain is sort of inspired, but having her play a self-righteously Christian popular kid, I don't know, is that really how things work in California high schools? Pious, semi-homely popular girls persecute sexy redheads for having sex?

Catfish: I don't want to know what this movie is about I don't want to know what this movie is about I don't want to know what this movie is about please don't talk to me until after I've seen it! I hear it's a documentary about a Facebook friendship that takes a turn for the SWEET JESUS I KNOW TOO MUCH ALREADY. I'll save Henry Stewart's review for after I've seen it. [Good advice for all of you, if that's your intention too. -Ed.]

Devil: I feel like the thing about how OMG I saw the trailer for Devil in packed theaters and the audience started laughing/booing/throwing stuff when M. Night Shyamalan's name came up took a pretty quick route from audience catharsis to hipster-y smugness to scripted meme. After a few weeks, it felt more like a cue than any number of laugh lines from comedy trailers. Look, I'm not saying Shyamalan hasn't been a big disappointment these last few years. I didn't even see The Last Airbender, and if you had told me after Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs that he would one day release a fantasy-action movie that I wouldn't care to see theatrically, well, I'd be even sadder than I was when it actually happened. But in a world where "a Michael Bay film" can gross $400 million, I'm not so sure we should be snickering over a guy who's actually made some good movies. Moreoever, Shyamalan didn't actually direct Devil; for a three-picture "Night Chronicles" horror label, he came up with a story hook and gave it to younger filmmakers to play with. The Twilight Zone-y idea of strangers stuck in an elevator and one might be the, you know, what do you call it, the Devilbender, holds promise in that it sounds like the kind of deliberate, character-based thrillers Shyamalan used to make. But so did The Happening, and even that movie screened for critics, which I guess isn't happening for Devil.

Jack Goes Boating: If Philip Seymour Hoffman impressions weren't already kind of becoming a thing (Jason Sudeikis has a pretty great one), this is the movie that would launch them into the national consciousness, if the national consciousness was even a little bit aware of a Hoffman-directed, Hoffman-starring adaptation of a play called Jack Goes Boating.

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