Monday, September 8, 2008

At the Movies with Mel

Well, it's Monday, and here I am back at work ready to face a long and busy week filled with auditions for the fall play, open house, and more. Luckily, I had a nice, peaceful weekend. Besides taking in the art at Art in the Park and doing some work out in the yard (again enjoying perfect temps), I spent a significant portion of time watching movies. I had quite a few stored in my DVR that I wanted to watch to clear some space and a movie from Netflix that I wanted to get back since Baby Mama is next in the queue and comes out tomorrow.

Here are some capsule reviews of what I watched for you to keep in mind next time you're at the video store or adding good stuff to your Netflix queue.

1. I started off my Saturday evening movie marathon with Love's Labour Lost. Here, Kenneth Branagh takes a relatively lesser-known Shakespeare classic about a group of men who have forsworn the company of women for two years and turns it into a 30s-style musical. At first, the concept seemed rather clever when the language of Shakespeare gave way to the language of Gershwin and Porter. After about 20 minutes, though, it became rather tiresome and then downright unwatchable. A lot of that had to do with the fact that Branagh and his cast were not particularly able singers or dancers, and the music at times seemed forced in rather than growing organically from the story itself. It didn't help that Alicia Silverstone's labored effort to get Shakespeare's language out was palpable -- and painful. Unless you're a Shakespeare completist who feels the need to see everything the Bard ever wrote committed to film, I'd recommend skipping this one.

2. The evening definitely improved, though, with my next selection, Gone Baby Gone. Memo to Ben Affleck: Please stop acting. I ask this not as some sort of statement about your acting ability. Unlike a lot of people, I actually like your acting (at times) and think that many of your performances, particularly Chasing Amy and Hollywoodland, show tremendous promise. This plea comes more as a result of this film, your directorial debut. Ben, you've got mad skills, and it would be a shame to see you waste them in front of the camera when you could be turning out films like this. Sure, you were smart and surrounded yourself with great actors -- Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Amy Ryan. You helped your brother Casey prove that he could be a thoughtful, engaging presence on screen. (With this film and The Assassination of Jesse James, Casey really has put himself on the map of promising, underrated actors.) You picked a compelling script based on a novel by Dennis Lehane and which allowed you to work in the Boston you love so much. Many times, I found myself comparing this film to another great film drawn from a Lehane novel, Mystic River, and the comparisons were favorable. It made me think that you, Ben, could be the next Clint Eastwood, turning out these dark, complicated, compelling films that defy convention. Your work showed the same sort of intelligence that Eastwood's show. I think if this movie HAD been directed by Eastwood, it would have gotten a lot more respect and awards consideration than it did. (And Amy Ryan was seriously robbed of an Oscar!) With Eastwood frequently talking about retiring, his throne as "Greatest Actor-turned-Director" could be yours, Ben. Take it!

3. I went from the grit and suspense of Gone Baby Gone to the sweet charm of Adrienne Shelly's Waitress. I needed a little bit of a palette cleanser. Of course, the sweetness of Waitress is a bitter one as it comes with the back story of writer/director Shelly's tragic murder shortly after the film was completed. She never lived to see the film generate the relatively positive reviews it earned. It's not a perfect film, but it's a nice little movie about a waitress with a gift for making unusual but delicious pies who finds herself pregnant with the child of her nasty, possessive husband. She is filled with mixed feelings about this baby, resenting its presence and the fact that it seems to take her away her ability to finally flee from her husband. The movie is filled with a lot of charming characters and sweet, funny moments. I really loved it.

4. Greenfingers is similar in that it's a smaller film with a lot of charm. Here, a group of British prison inmates discover their love of and talent for gardening. With the help of a gardening guru, they earn the chance to compete in England's prestigious Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The movie ambles in spots, but it manages to take some characters who would be completely unsympathetic on paper (murderers, thieves, etc) and turn them into lovable characters. I also liked how it managed to defy expectations in terms of the ending.

5. Last but not least, I watched Definitely, Maybe. This was a cute little romantic comedy with a twist. A father on the verge of divorce is asked by his young daughter to tell him the story of how he met her mother. He tells her a story that involves three women who played a part in his romantic life, changing the names and some facts so that the daughter isn't sure which one is her mother. It's clear throughout the story that there's one woman that's meant for him -- but is she the mother? Ryan Reynolds is pretty charming as the romantic lead here, and Abigail Breslin is adorable (if a bit too old for the part) as his daughter. Of the three women, two are pretty forgettable and seem a bit underused, but Isla Fisher is completely charming and helped alleviate some of my concerns that she might not be the right person to play Becky in Confessions of a Shopaholic. Kevin Kline also has a great, surprising cameo. When his character opened a door to reveal himself, I literally screamed with delight.

And so I put my movie watching self to rest for the week, but perhaps you've all found something worth renting.


Peter Von Brown said...

"When his character opened a door to reveal himself" Cue The Twilight Zone music. :)

Mel said...

I couldn't think of a better, less awkward way to put it. I guess "When his character was introduced"? That's what I get for writing at 7:30 in the morning after only 1 cup of coffee.