QUICK TAKES – 08.01.10

Despicable Me (2010)

Grade: C | 1st Viewing

I felt like a grumpy old man not enjoying Despicable Me. I honestly had no idea what the film was about when heading in to see it because the various trailers and previews all seemed to be advertising a different plot. That was one of the large problems I ended up having with the film – it’s various plot lines didn’t come together to create a cohesive narrative. It was part spy vs. spy film, part orphan story, and overall it was about finding the good in all of us – kind of.

Universal definitely took their cue from Pixar in creating the story by attempting to give the main characters deep and troubled back stories. However, the film isn’t executed with the same cleverness or heart of Pixar films like Toy Story 3 for instance. I just didn’t care about the characters enough and that greatly affected my ability to enjoy Despicable Me.

Notorious (1946)

Grade: A | 3rd Viewing

Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious is one of his greatest suspense films and it features the greatest actress performance from any of his films. Ingrid Bergman is stunning as Alicia Huberman the daughter of a spy torn between her family’s legacy and her faith in the United States. To make matters even more complex, charming federal agent Devlin (Cary Grant) has just swept Alicia off her feet. Alicia has to go under cover and pretend to be in love with a highly suspicious and jealous German spy named Alexander Sebastian

Leopoldine Konstantin is fantastic as one of the most terrifying Hitchcock characters – the mother who pulls the strings from behind the scenes as her son investigates his new lover. Ted Tetzlaff’s cinematography goes from excellent to perfect in the film’s third act when Alicia realizes she has been found out. The long and swirling camera shots simultaneously inject the scenes with fear and a sense of overwhelming.

The Wolfman (2010)

Grade: D | 1st Viewing

I fell asleep several times while watching this movie and had to continually start it over. When I was falling asleep I would wake up whenever there was a wolf man attacking a village and then I’d be out during any non-attack scenes. When I watched the movie in full consciousness I realized that there was not much that I was missing. The film has a laughably poor narrative that it almost an insult to the talent that is involved with the film.

Even more of an insult was the dismal visual effects work. There was never a moment that I believed the Wolf Man was running around a forest attacking villagers. The obvious use of dry ice for fog and the fake-looking trees made it actually feel like the action was taking place on a small soundstage. The CGI was sloppy and apart from a few decent performances, particularly Emily Blunt, The Wolfman was a complete waste of time.

The Last Station (2009)

Grade: C+ | 1st Viewing

As much as I adore Dame Helen Mirren, I actually don’t think she deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance in The Last Station. She and the rest of the cast made the stylistic choice to give more on-the-surface performances which was appropriate for a Tolstoyan film where sociology is more emphasized that psychology. However, the result was a performance that was less subtle and not nearly as deep as Mirren’s other great film roles.

I’m not entirely familiar with Tolstoy’s work, but I feel like the film did not nearly do justice to a man of the legendary Russian’s influence and status. There is nothing really literary about the film in terms of production or script and fans would probably prefer to call it Tolstoy Lite. It felt more like the existential works of another Russian – Anton Chekhov.

Green Zone (2010)

Grade: B- | 1st Viewing

Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland had a hell of a task in adapting Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s nonfiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City into a film mostly because the book has no actual narrative. It consists of a series of anecdotes that expose how the Bush administration bungled the Iraq War. Green Zone tries to be a lot less political and fits in an action movie where their really shouldn’t be one.

Nevertheless a bad Paul Greengrass action movie is still better than most action films released to the mainstream. He abandons the Steadicam cinematography that he mastered with Bourne trilogy, but still maintains that midst of the action feel that makes his movies so fun. Damon is excellent in a role that wasn’t written very well for him. One of the things that sets Greengrass films out from other action movies is that he doesn’t force a love story where their shouldn’t be one. It’s strictly business for Green Zone even if that business lacked some motivation.

What movies did you see this past week?

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