Monday, 19 November 2012

Playing Catch-Up (Part 1): 99 Cents Words (and more) for Secret Service Agents, CIA Agents, Friends, Housewives and Writers

One month ago I was sitting on a number of unfinished reviews of films I’d seen for weeks, months before and that unfinished list has grow exponentially (I kid you not). It’s gotten to the point where I just know if I insist on my usual logorrhoea induced reviews I won’t be done for a while. So, bit reviews of two oldies, a not so oldie and two newbies.

Argo: directed by Ben Affleck; written by Chris Terrio
From Gone Baby Gone to The Town to this, it’s difficult to point out specifically what about Argo makes it the first Affleck film I truly like (and like much). His direction is not particularly changed, but what I can think of best to say is that it feels more natural and earnest than of his previous films – and more natural and earnest than most films this year, too. In that way it’s just like its protagonist – the sort of convivial but discreetly smart man at the office who turns out to the top dog despite his unflashy ways.
MVP: Chris Terrio (Screenplay) 
It feels weird pointing out the script as Argo’s shining grace since it’s a film that depends so much on all things coalescing. It retains that way of previous Affleck films where nothing (or no one) seems set to be given too much credit and all unfolds in that communal but effective way of his. I single out Terrio’s screenplay, though, it is its uncluttered, unfussy base which becomes responsible for the similarly valuable film that follows.

Grade: B+  

Friends with Kids: directed and written by Jennifer Westfeldt
The fact that Friends with Kids is occasionally very, very mediocre in spots does not prevent it from being very, very efficient in spots where it gets things right. So, even as the writing skews somewhat overwrought and undercooked at once the chemistry of the cast is uniformly on point even as some are stuck playing single notes (hey, Wiig) or cyclical creations (oh, Dowd). It doesn’t earn the emotion its ending yearns for, but it’s incredibly sweet about it all the while tricking you into caring when you really shouldn’t. Also, a Kelly Bishop cameo makes everything better.

MVP: Adam Scott 
Even as the film never quite justifies him as a true ladies man Scott is ridiculously charming throughout the entire affair carrying much of the weight of the film’s (tentative) success on his shoulders. No one in the cast is every less than competent (although, how weird that Jennifer Westfeldt is the weak-link in her own film?), but Scott rises above being not just good but entertaining. He’s fun, funny, appealing and real to the point that you’re inclined to like the film more when he’s at the helm, just because.

Grade: C+  

Hope Springs: directed by David Frankel; written by Vanessa Taylor
Perhaps it’s unfair to feel (slightly) grudgingly towards a good film which teases you with greatness --- or is it? Because, Hope Springs is thoroughly good and pleasant and effective but there are beats which suggest an even richer, more profound and possibly more devastating centre to be uncovered. Still, a bird in the hand equalling two in the bush and all – the simple of goodness of what it IS may be good enough. Actual cinematic beats get somewhat lazy, overreliance on music beat just annoys but when it relaxes in the simple (and that’s often) it lands beautifully.
 MVP: Meryl Streep
And, yes, my apathy for Streep is notorious but I love her when she’s playing a fresh character devoid of vocal inflections or history and not a CHARACTER (remember, I adore her Clarissa Vaughn) and her Kay is as fresh as she’s been in a decade. Even with that atrocious wig she still moves you in ways you don’t expect with “actorly” beats you don’t anticipate and the trueness of the chemistry with Jones (who is quite good, too) just wrecks you. Also, lovers and non-lovers of Meryl alike – we all can agree that the woman touches her face like a master! And, there is much face touching to be seen. Also, and me being the ultimate Kate Hepburn fan this of significance --- this movie just made me want Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep in a new adaptation of On Golden Pond. Make it happen, world.


...thoughts on Ruby Sparks and Skyfall below the jump...

Ruby Sparks: directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris; written by Zoe Kazan

My inability to connect with Kazan on any true level continues to befuddle especially here where she never hits any expressly bad notes but I remain unmoved. Still, in a way, Ruby Sparks might be enhanced by one not getting the appeal of Ruby. And, being unaware of the cast imagine my delight at seeing Messina, Woll, Banderas and BENING (!!!!!!!!!) drop in for turs great turns. Still, its meta-like intents set it up for failure, and although it doesn’t combust it doesn’t know what to do with itself ultimately. It tries delightfully to acquit itself, and just barely manages to survive in a winsome way.

MVP: Paul Dano 
Have we talked about my love for Paul Dano? I feel we must have, since he has an imaginary Oscar in my head for his work in Little Miss Sunshine. It’s Dano’s commitment to the conceit that ultimately makes the film work (and work well in some places). The moment of catharsis towards the end (I won’t spoil it, but it involves lots of typing) seems like it’s something that should be good being bad….being good and I’m still not sure if it’s truly god but it works, and it works less for Kazan – gamely going through emotions – than for Dano being stolid and yet exposed in a strange, but impressive, display of heartbreak.

Grade: B-

Skyfall: directed by Sam Mendes; written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan
The overarching issue of any franchise (no matter how big or small) will always be projecting how it will play for those not enamoured with said franchise. In that way, there’s obviously the potential argument to make that my cool appreciation for Skyfall could simply be chalked up to not “getting” the franchise. Fair enough, even as I do wonder what there is to expressly get. Skyfall sure is beautifully mounted, surely directed but feels oddly lacking in litheness or urgency which makes it come off looking good….but seeming dour. Pretty, but ultimately too often feeling lumbering and inessential

MVP: Roger Deakins 
Yes, though, as much as it has become a cliché Skyfall looks good. Really good. That becomes a caveat in itself, strangely enough, where my genera disinterest in the actual film’s narrative becomes exacerbated in the third act where I just kept staring at the gorgeous shots while simultaneously ignoring the story. Not so much that the actual story of Skyfall is abstruse, but it doesn’t convince me of its urgency so I remain wanly intrigued but never truly moved. Even character deaths of certain British people didn’t move me. In a way the response to the song predated my response to the film. Adele's title-number sounded like a competent but unexceptional ballad which failed to move me on the most emotional of levels though I liked it somewhat, but everyone else seemed to *get* it. The same goes for the film, which I *did* like to some extent. But, heeeeey Helen McCrory, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw doing fun things with slivers of roles.

Grade: C+

So, play movie catch-up with me. Are you one of the lot giving excessive praise to Argo and Skyfall? Appreciative of Meryl and Tommy in Hope Springs? A fan of the women-written comedies Friends with Kids and Ruby Sparks?          


Nikhat said...

Haha Ruby Sparks, Skyfall and Argo are on my current top 5 of the year. I really really loved Ruby Sparks. It just had one of those stories I really connected to. And I adore Paul Dano. He and Adam Scott are from the strange group of men who shouldn't be attractive but are.

Deakins is by far my favourite thing about Skyfall as well, but yeah I loved almost everything else in it too. I might watch Hope Springs soon-ish. Yeah Meryl Streep is my favourite when she's being natural too (though I don't know whether to count Miranda Priestly as natural- naturally bitchface epicosity maybe?). CLARISSA VAUGHAN <3 <3

Ryan T. said...

Nice to see some new words from you! I think Argo is definitely in my top 5 for the year (still more than a month to go though!) and is the film I've seen the past couple months that have lived up to the hype.

I'm a bit lukewarm to Hope Springs, but I think TLJ is the MVP there. Playing against type and excelling.

I 100% agree with you on Friends with Kids. I think without Adam Scott elevating the film I would've thrown something at the TV. Instead, it was pleasant mostly for this presence. Then again I'm also obsessed with Ben Wyatt so I'm already biased.

Don't think I would've given such a low grade to Skyfall, but I can't say I disagree with anything you said. The more I think about it, the more sure I am about how Casino Royale is still the best film in the series though. Loved seeing Whishaw here also.

Amir said...

I can't agree with you on the script of Argo. You've probably read my reasons on my blog already, but the script might in fact be my only problem with the film.
I could be biased, sure, but I just accept a film that chooses a landmark historical event as its backdrop and then fails to elaborate on ANY political context.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

nikhat i'd say scott is definitely legitimately (conventionally) attractive, dano les so. they both a "quality", though. hope springs was a lovely surprise. do enjoy.

ryan jones is particularly good in hope springs i just loved meryl a bit more. the thing is, i wanted to like skyfall even as i suspected i probably wouldn't. but pretty.

argo fair argument. incidentally, i tend to not be invested in the realness of historical or pseudo-historical dramas to any level. and, true, the film does lack almost any political bite, but it doesn't bother me in the process.

Nikhat said...

Adam Scott looks like a toad. Yet, I love him.