Saturday, June 27, 2009

New in Town

I've put off writing this review, because I have nothing good to say about it: New in Town is just dreadful. However, no length of time is going to soften that reality.

The characters are stereotypical. The plotline we've seen before: stuffy only-career-matters female executive comes to small town to streamline process and fire many when she falls in love with the town and someone particular in it. We like the actors, Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr, and while they bring their considerable charm to the project, they can't overcome these thin characterizations.

There is one bright spot to the movie: the supporting cast of this tiny little Minnesota town. Their dialogue feels real, they feel real, and they're genuinely funny and even heartwarming. J.K. Simmons especially shines, but then, he does in everything. You just can't stereotype the guy. However, the women of the community are the real stars. They're just not in the movie enough.

And the movie isn't about them, unfortunately. It's about a woman who sees the error of Zellweger's character's ways in her ambition, and scene after scene of her trying to walk through snow in stilettos. If we saw a little more of the character's actual work to set up the fall, the whole movie might've worked better. But we don't. We get two minutes of Renee in a board meeting where, because she's late, she's handed this assignment. There's no chance to get a sense of what this woman is really like.

Where's the Renee Zellweger we really like? We never get a chance to really like this character. And you've come to expect a certain degree of professionalism and, indeed, competence in her acting. It's not here, and neither, apparently, is her ability to pick a director or project that will actually work.

Thumb's down.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Into the Storm (HBO)

There are no explosions or car crashes in this HBO T.V. movie. Just the spectre of a war that threatened to wipe our way of life off the face of the earth.

This is the story of Winston Churchill, prime minister of England during World War II. We enter the scene just as Churchill is assuming the role, and we watch him throughout the war and then to his surprising defeat in the polls immediately thereafter.

You never see the actual war scenes. The nearest we get to the battle lines is when a dispatcher brings the news, or news arrives by phone. Or Churchill watches actual footage shot on D-Day towards the end. It's a slow-moving movie, even plodding, but I found it absolutely fascinating to see how a man like this rose to the occasion, found ways to win and, in the meantime during crushing defeats at Dunkirk and Tobruk, used his speeches to rally his fellow Englishmen to a hope that shouldn't actually be there.

Brendan Gleeson is transformed. The man always brings something special to his roles, but I think he's found his crown in this one. It would be so easy to picture Winston Churchill as a caricature, but Gleeson brings him to flesh-and-blood life for us. Churchill's speeches were never bombastic, but steady, neverending, and Gleeson shows where they come from. It's quite fascinating to watch Gleeson as Churchill roam from room to room, practicing his speeches, fine-tuning them, as his secretary tries to keep up with him.

Into the Storm shows a great marriage as well, as we watch how Clementine Churchill (Janet McTeer) puts up with the man who showed his temper with his servants. The best part of the John Adams movie, also an HBO special, showed the partnership between Abigail and John. So, too, does Into the Storm show the inner workings and, indeed, a partnership between Winston and his Clemmie.

It's outstanding. Thumb's up.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Name Is Bruce

My Name Is Bruce is all about that B-movie star we (think we) know and love, Bruce Campbell. The idea is that we're introduced to the real Bruce Campbell, and a typical day in his life. Only, on this day, a real monster comes to life, and he has to save the world.

I happen to find Bruce Campbell hysterical in anything he does. Even if he tried to play a serious dramatic part, I would be on the floor, laughing. So I found the beginning really funny, really charming. The problem is, it's a one-joke movie, and it gets old after about 10 minutes.

Bruce has always been good at spoofing the hero. Take a look at Evil Dead, the current Burn Notice TV show, even Bubba Ho-Tep. However, in this one, he spoofs himself, something only Bruce could do exceedingly well.

One of the funniest bits is in the beginning of the film when you see Campbell filming one of the worst god-awful movies ever made, and then he returns to his home, a white-trash trailer, to kick back and have a brewski. Very, very funny. But most of the scenes after that are all about Bruce's one-liners, which are snickering funny, but not beyond that.

This will appeal to real Bruce Campbell fans, at least through the first half. Thumb's down.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You

He's Just Not That Into You is the catchy title of an updated Sex-in-the-City-type movie for young men and women. It traces five women and four men and their stories as they try to figure out the signals the opposite sex sends.

After dating a successful real estate agent, Gigi sits by the phone, waiting for his phone call. Because he said he would call. Alex, a nice but cynical barkeep, talks her through what men really mean when they say those throw-away lines. Janine and Ben seem to be happily married until Ben is tempted at the checkout counter by Anna. Neil and Beth have been together seven years when she realizes she wants marriage and he's not able to give that to her.

The segments seem quite disjointed when you realize that all the players are peripherally involved with each other, but not really (but really, who cares). The fractions of these 9 people's stories fit together to actually make a very funny, very satisfying movie.

Much of the film's success has to do with the fact that we like almost all of these people on the face of it; they all seem pleasant and are just trying to get through their lives in a most honest way. The other half of the film's success, though, is in the winning actors they've cast for these roles: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly, Ginnfer Goodwin, Justin Long, Scarlett Johansson, Bradley Cooper and Kevin Connolly. They make a lot of soup with the particles they've been given, and we happily join them for a segment of their lives.

And the stories are somewhat believable. Women are going to nod up and down as they watch Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) constantly screw up any relationship because she's so eager. And, if you can drag a man in to see this obvious chick flick, the men will nod slowly in appreciation of the fact that Ben (Bradley Cooper) isn't able to resist Scarlett Johansson's sexy character even though he has Jennifer Connelly in the wings.

And one woman, played by Drew Barrymore, gets many of the funniest lines. It's too bad she's in it so little.

So many recent comedies are heavy handed and don't work on many levels. This one works on most: it's funny, it's empathic, it feels real.

Thumb's up.

The International

The International stars Clive Owen and Naomi Watts in a complicated plot involving an international bank and the evil enterprises in which they're involved.

There are only three scenes that are worth watching in this movie, and all involve special effects. The relationships, even Watts' and Owen's performances, seem forced, and lead nowhere. But if you were determined to try to make your way through the morass, watch out especially for the shoot-em-up inside the Guggenheim: it's spectacular and a real adrenaline-raiser.

Otherwise, however, I suggest you pass.

Thumb's down.