Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Midsummer Movie Roundup

I saw very two different movies this past weekend: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS (Part 2), and THE TREE OF LIFE. Still processing both, but not surprisingly I've been ruminating much more on the latter. I'm coming to the conclusion that it's the best film I've seen so far this year, though I can also see why it's been so divisive. Even more than Malick's previous films (the ones I've seen, anyway), "Tree of Life" eschews anything resembling linear narrative in favor of a style by turns kaleidoscopic, meditative, and dreamlike, and sometimes all three at once. And in probing such big-picture questions as - quite literally - life, the universe, and everything in this free-floating manner, it may strike some as incoherent, others as overly facile and self-indulgent. It's not immune to such charges; I found myself occasionally rolling my eyes a little, especially during the first third or so. But as the film went on I felt myself being swept up, engulfed by its stunning beauty, and I surrendered. For all its philosophical and metaphysical aspirations, "Tree of Life" is also an incredibly sensuous film, one you can feel resonating through your entire consciousness, physical as well as spiritual. Malick drowns you in beauty - visual, aural, emotional - and unless you check out early, resistance is futile; detachment impossible. GRADE: A- (full review to come)

As for Harry Potter's final big-screen bow, I have little to say except that it's a solid, well-made, honorable ending to a series that has generally been solid, well-made, and honorable almost to a fault. My biggest complaint about the movies is also one that I think may be impossible to cure: that for the most part they do a better job of capturing the letter of the books than they do the spirit. Thing is, I don't think that spirit can really be conveyed on the screen, for reasons too complicated to lay out here, though I've discussed them in reviews of the previous HP films. GRADE: B

Other movies I've seen in the last month or so, in brief:


directed by Matthew Vaughn
starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, others

Better than X-Men 3 and, by all accounts, Hugh Jackman's spinoff adventure as Wolverine (which I didn't see), but not as good as the first two. Michael Fassbender as a young Magneto is easily the best and most compelling thing about the movie, and not just because he's a dish. He's also mesmerizing as the man (excuse me, mutant) driven by pain, loss, and anger to an implacable desire for revenge that makes Wolverine's brooding (with all due respect to Jackman, whom I love) look like childish sulking. James McAvoy and Kevin Bacon also acquit themselves respectably as, respectively, Magneto's "old friend" and even older nemesis, and it's his relationships with these two that make up the core of the film. The rest is just filler, though watchable filler.

GRADE: B; Fassbender: A


directed by J.J. Abrams
starring Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich, and some very talented kids

A pleasant throwback to early Spielberg (who produced), when underlying family dynamics were as important as the aliens and adventures that disrupted them. Not as good as the films it pays homage to (think "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" mixed with "Goonies," a dash of "Jurassic Park" and a sprinkling of "Stand By Me" - yes, I know those aren't all Spielberg films) and peters out a little near the end. But overall, a highly enjoyable summer popcorn movie with an appealing cast, especially the kiddies. Definitely stay for the end credits - that may be the best part.



written and directed by Mike Mills
starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent

The three billed stars are all charming in this dramedy about a man trying to plumb the meaning of the life and death of a father who came out of the closet at the age of 70+, and to find love with a woman who's as afraid of intimacy as he is. The film's more melancholy than its previews may lead you to believe, though it also tries a little too hard for playful whimsy and cuteness, and not just because it features a Jack Russell terrier who "speaks" in silent subtitles. As scripted, the relationships don't always feel real. But the performances do, and have a pensive, wistful quality that will tug at your heart.



directed by Paul Feig
starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Hamm, Jill Clayburgh, others

Yes, this is basically a female Judd Apatow film. It's funny, occasionally off color, even gross - though neither as funny nor as gross as billed - with a squishy, sweet center (fittingly, the main character is a former cupcake maker) and no adult men in sight; even the good guy (Chris O'Dowd) spends much of the movie acting like a pouty little boy, while Jon Hamm makes the most of his role as a cartoonish cad, burnishing those comic chops that never get shown on "Mad Men." Fortunately, this time the focus is on the gals, who own the stage proudly. Kristen Wiig is in fine form here, and shows she can carry a movie. Melissa McCarthy has been getting a lot of plaudits as the crazy loose-cannon bridesmaid, but I think the overlooked gem here is Rose Byrne, who's pitch-perfect as Wiig's rich, haughty, beautiful, and totally insufferable rival/nemesis.