Random Movies I've Seen Lately In No Particular Order...
OK, well — maybe first thing's first. Most recently I saw Spain's official entry for the Oscars, and I wrote a review of it for Fangoria magazine. They published it on their website today.
Killing Them Softly. If you were into The Sopranos, Goodfellas and the like, you're bound to like Killing Them Softly. In fact, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta are both in this movie. As is Brad Pitt. He's the main draw I suppose, though his role is somewhat small and rather subdued (this is the actor's second go-round with director Andrew Dominik, who also did The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) I really loved him in this. OK, that's not saying much: I just love Brad Pitt. But aside from the egregiously heavy-handed delivery of the sociopolitical messages (as Frank Capra famously said of filmmaking, "If you want to send a message, try Western Union") Killing Them Softly is a well-acted, artfully made film. It's a rollercoaster: long talky tete a tetes, punctuated with shocking violence (both of which are masterfully presented).
On the Road. Shocking revelation! Movie is not as good as the book. ("In other words we've got to get on the ball, darling...") It's alright, though. The cast is fantastic (even Kristin Stewart is less than annoying) and while it's somewhat sluggishly directed, the story is well-told. Viggo Mortensen, playing Old Bull Lee here, is always welcome.
Silver Linings Playbook. I found this David O. Russell flick to be surprisingly excellent. (Bonus: apropos use of Led Zep & White Stripes songs at crucial moments.) I had my doubts because the subject matter didn't really appeal to me (socially awkward, clinically depressed couple spars, then falls in love as they work toward victory in a big dance contest) and I haven't really gotten into a D.O.R. movie since Three Kings back in '99. But Silver Linings Playbook is really touching, and more memorable than all the rom-coms of 2012 put together.
& new to dvd (& me… I missed these in theaters)
Lawless. From the bad-asses who brought us The Proposition (director John Hillcoat, screenwriter Nick Cave, and star Guy Pearce), comes Lawless… featuring an ass, Shia LaBeouf. Never have liked him, personally or professionally, since I first interviewed him back in 2004 for I, Robot. Lawless doesn't change my view, but fortunately he's mostly canceled out by his costars, which include Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, and Dane De Hann. The story is great, too — Depression-era bootlegger politics — and one I was especially primed for, having just come off a Boardwalk Empire marathon.
Premium Rush. Two of my favorite actors of recent times, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon, star as adversaries in this action-thriller about a bike messenger who winds up with some potentially deadly cargo. Story's standard stuff, but the fun visual style and likability of the cast make this well worth watching (especially on blu-ray).
Alps. Since I didn't see director Yorgos Lanthimos' universally loved 2009 film Dogtooth, all I have to judge him by is Alps. I like the premise: hospital employees run a side business as substitutes for people who've passed away. For a fee, after a free trial, they'll sidle up to the grieving families and emulate the lost loved one: wear their clothes, speak as, take up appropriate hobbies, and even live in their homes. Sounds cool and unusual, but to me it was really boring. Holy Motors, also out now, presents some of the same ideas but in a much more artsy, avant-guarde and dynamic way.
The Blue Angel. An oldie (really old… 1930) but goodie (well-deserving of its classic-status) makes its way to blu-ray for the first time. Marlene Dietrich never looked better.
Butter. This movie got mixed reviews when it came out, and some people even found it racially offensive. It's pretty quirky, and definitely didn't fire all my cylinders, but I liked it better than I thought I would. Rolling Stone wasn't wrong when they said in their review "The chance for delicious satire melts away quickly in Butter, a spoof without oomph" but it's a decent enough timewaster on DVD. It's always a pleasure to watch Jennifer Garner in action, and here she's the anti-Alias as a repressed Iowan housewife who suddenly finds ambition in butter-carving. Her fiercest adversary is an African American child who's recently been adopted by neighbors. Think: Election meets Lovely & Amazing.