Cinema News and Reviews for the Rest of Us

What I’m Watching: Week of 4/30/10

Now that I’ve been liberated from television, I’ve been able to take in a lot more movie-watching (along with other less important things like work and studying and human interaction and things like that).  With a renewed Netflix account as my saving grace, I’ll start putting up a weekly rundown of the films I’m watching and how they stack up.  Here’s the first round of selections:

The Lovely Bones (2009)

There are some moments of real beauty in this film, but the tone is just too inconsistent.  Peter Jackson seemed the perfect choice to helm the adaptation of Alice Sebold’s popular novel about a murdered girl helping her family grieve from the afterlife, but he’s unable to strike that balance between reality and fantasy that made his Heavenly Creatures such an astounding achievement.  The film bounces from family tragedy to spiritual fantasy to crime procedural to suspense thriller in a way that makes it hard for the viewer to peg down what exactly it is they’re watching, which makes it harder to appreciate what are some really wonderful segments dealing with tragedy and redemption.  I should point out that rising child actress Saoirse Ronan is terrific, as is an exquisitely creepy Stanley Tucci.  Definitely worth a look for Jackson fans, but many may find it a tad overwrought.

Sexy Beast (2000)

Kingsley’s ultra-menacing performance as bullying gangster Don Logan is the calling card for this film, and it certainly is quite an achievement.  The trouble is that once Kingsley is no longer part of the proceedings, the film dips into traditional heist mode that frequently interrupted by pretentious camera trickery and lackluster attempts at suspense.  But the time Kingsley spends onscreen is worth the watch.  As the old boss trying to bully Ray Winstone’s retired criminal back into action, he’s a frightening embodiment of coiled rage and seething psychosis.

Rounders (1998)

Somehow this one got buried in Matt Damon’s filmography.  It’s probably because it came out around the same time as Good Will Hunting (and has some of the same thematic elements), but on its own this is not only one of the best films about gambling ever made, but also a first-rate exploration of the nature of friendship and the limits to which that bond can be stretched.  Damon does a typically solid job of conveying subdued intelligence as the card shark/law student protagonist, but it’s Edward Norton as his boyhood friend who steals the show.  He’s an engaging and tragic whirlwind of self-destructive behavior, sucking all around him into his endless series of fuckups and foolish ploys.  The final card game at the end between Damon and a wonderfully over-the-top John Malkovic is superbly constructed and expertly acted.  This is a great film that too few have seen.

Man Bites Dog (1991)

Just couldn’t get into this film.  It’s a Belgian mockumentary in which a crew of filmmakers follow a serial killer around as he dispatches a lot of victims in a lot of different ways, recording his actions as some sort of exploration of the predatory mind.  Yes, I get it.  Media perpetuates violence by repeating it until it becomes mundane and even entertaining.  But with its black and white photography and complete lack of a moral compass (not always a bad thing), it just feels like a lame student film made a bunch of hipsters who think they know so much about humanity that they can remove it altogether and come out with a decent piece of art.  They can’t.


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