Taken 2: I understand that the Luc Besson Europa action factory is not one to futz about with clever titles, but I'm nonetheless disappointed to find out that this movie is not called ReTaken, Second Take, Taken Again, Another Taken or 2 Taken 2 Furious. Though I generally will see movies where Liam Neeson hunts people down using a very particular set of skills, I'm less interested in following the Taken saga—the first movie was such a letdown following a brilliant trailer—than keeping an eye on the disreputable career of the awesomely named Olivier Megaton, Luc Besson's favorite clean-up guy. He made Transporter 3 and then Colombiana; the original Taken's Pierre Morel made the way-way worse From Paris with Love, so Megaton seems like an upgrade even before you get to his rad name.
Wuthering Heights: I have not read Wuthering Heights or even seen the other movies of Wuthering Heights. But I have seen Andrea Arnold's wonderful Fish Tank and seeing her translate that movie's boxy, handheld, rough-hewn aesthetic to a nominal costume drama accounts for my interest in this newest adaptation (anyone who marveled at the tender aggression of Arnold's last movie will find kinship, in sorts, when Heathcliff slams himself into a wall in the movie's opening moments). Kaya Scodelario (Effie from Skins) plays Cathy; James Howson plays Heathcliff; and the movie lops off the second half of the novel. Though this is apparently custom for Wuthering adaptations, here it serves the movie's minimalism: low lighting (most or all of the light appears to be natural or period-appropriate, Barry Lyndon style), long passages with little dialogue, and youthful passion boiled down to restless teenagers confined in the 1.33 frame. The story's pain comes out through other visual touches beyond aspect ratio: there's a recurring shot of the warm, reddish colors of upper class seen from outside windows, and more than once the characters disappear into the rain, swallowed up by the vastness of the moors. At times, Arnold almost gets swallowed up herself: she photographs a Malick-level number of grass blades, and I wish her sense of humor came through more often; Fish Tank—about a standoffish girl with a lousy family living in abject poverty, mind—is the more fun movie of the two. But I also wish more period pieces and classic-lit adaptations could go this stripped down, this elemental.
< a href="http://www.thelmagazine.com/newyork/vhs-fetishizing-horror-on-videocassette/Content?oid=2265059">V/H/S: Found-footage horror movies feel played out by their inability to deliver dread-filled surprises on the level of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, and anthology films are notoriously uneven. Yet these inherently limited genres find a strong match in each other with the midnight-ready V/H/S, an anthology of found-footage horror stories running 15 or 20 minutes each. As L Mag film editor Henry points out, the framing conceit is a little dicey in that all of the shorts are found, for some reason, on videotape, even when some are clearly produced with digital technology in the present day. Maybe that would be eerie if the framing segments weren't on the clunky side, more or less the weakest of the movie's six mini-stories. But the other five range from ok to thoroughly creepy, a decent batting average improved by the additional range of subject matter: slashers, ghosts, vampires, and more. It also covers horror-movie sexuality: as if making up for the relative lack of sex-tape material in the genre so far, the majority of these stories feature the cameraman hoping to catch nubile young women naked at some point, and almost all of them focus on guy-girl relationships gone bad in some way or another. This isn't an all-star line-up: Joe Swanberg stars in one segment (directed by Ti West), and directs another (starring Skype); he and West are the biggest names present. But that adds to the scrappy, low-budget charm; V/H/S is like a Halloween party for horror nerds.
Butter: For a master class in what a good movie Election is, see Butter, which could hardly be a poorer knockoff if it tried. Let's see: it features multiple characters offering narration, only for the sake of cheap jokes instead of anything revealing; it's a suburban-scale battle of wills meant to reflect a presidential campaign, only this time it's the 2008 Obama-versus-Palin match-up (which of course was not, you know, an actual presidential match-up, but ok) rather than the three-way 1992 race; and where Alexander Payne has an unsparing eye for the way that people from all walks of life lie to themselves and each other, director Jim Field Smith seems to just basically think everyone is a stupid rube, except of course the saintly (and, when convenient, wisecracking-via-narration) black child played by newcomer Yara Shahidi. Only her adoptive parents, Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone, escape the movie's toxicity—and that's only after she gets to call them both "crackers" in that smarmy voiceover. The main event is Jennifer Garner, taking the steely uptightness she gave such humanity in Juno and applying it directly to a clumsy, broad, sometimes downright contradictory caricature of, I guess, Sarah Palin? Oh, and this is all about a butter-sculpting competition, which could actually be really interesting if anyone involved with this movie thought so, too. Instead, it's regarded as just one more stupid human trick.
The Oranges: If Butter doesn't sour your appetite for food-named social satire with a talented ensemble put to little good use, there's always The Oranges, the latest movie to be damned with faint praise: well, Oliver Platt is good in it. He's almost always good, and it's almost always in service of movies that don't quite (or at all) work. In this case, he plays half of a suburban couple (with Allison Janney) whose best friends (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) go through a traumatic separation… brought on by Laurie's affair with Leighton Meester, who happens to be Platt and Janney's daughter.
The Paperboy: And if the sitcom shenanigans of Butter and The Oranges sound far too steeped in actual human behavior, well, Lee Daniels has a movie coming out—the kind where you wonder if the writer-director has met any actual human beings or observed them in any context. I'm all for heightened, pulpy, and/or trashy movies, but this one is weirdly insubstantial: if you wiped the sweat off of The Paperboy, the movie would all but disappear.