With Labor Day in the rear view mirror, we can officially say that summer is over. Here I will try to separate the wheat from the chaff of summer movies just past. I couldn’t get to a few that I really wanted to see (Winter’s Bone, The Pat Tillman Story), but hopefully they will be available for rental before the Oscars.
Early in the summer, I missed an opportunity through CinemaChicago to see The Kids Are All Right for free. I regretted it then, and I regret I now. It seems to have become the only breakout independent hit movie of the summer, and I am much more about small, independent character-driven films than giant Transformer type fare (although I did trek down to the Chicago River and do some on-the-spot reporting from the Chicago sets of that film sequel shooting in the Windy City.)
The last film-of-summer I hurried out to see was George Clooney’s The American. Contrary to the good review Roger Ebert gave this Anton Corbijin (a Dutch director) film, it was a total dud. Unless you like interminable discussions and shots of weapon assembly that go on for hours (which feel like days), pass on this one. I got the feeling that Clooney — who, as we all know, has an estate in Italy — just wanted to stay close to his Lake Como digs and make a few bucks filming in places with names like Castelvecchio and Castel del Monte. Those of us who are big Clooney fans (count me among that number) and really enjoyed “Up in the Air” and “Syriana” and “Michael Clayton” and “Good Night and Good Luck” were sucked into the vacuum of “The American.” “Rolling Stone” magazine (September 16, “Arthouse Vs. Grindhouse”) described The American as “a film of startling austerity” (read boring) and “remote to a fault” (read boring). There were 5 of us who attended this movie together, 3 of them male. The snoring began almost immediately. George’s anguished driving scene merely made him appear constipated; not his finest acting hour Very disappointing film.
Then there was Get Low, which was almost as slow-moving at times, but done with spectacular attention to detail. How can you not like watching Robert Duvall play a scene opposite Bill Murray portraying a pencil-mustachioed undertaker and underplaying the part? The plot, (for most of you who will miss the film), was supposedly based on a true story and involved the eccentric Duvall, who lives in the woods and is considered a crackpot, trying to arrange to host his own funeral while he is still alive. [Be sure to arrive at the beginning so you don’t miss the scene of the unknown stranger jumping out of a burning house.] It is only at the funeral that we learn that Duvall has actually summoned everyone in the county to the celebration so that he can confess to crimes of the heart committed many years ago. With able acting support from Sissie Spacek as a long-ago sweetheart, Lucas Black as Buddy, Gerald McRaney as the Reverend Gus Horton and Bill Cobbs as the Reverend Charlie Jackson, I thought about this film for days after I saw it, appreciating the lovely cinematography (Director Aaron Schneider is better-known as an Oscar-winning Cinematographer) and the spot-on period piece music (“I’m Looking Over A Four-Leaf Clover,” “Blue Skies,” a Bix Beiderbeke piece). There are some great lines in “Get Low.” Bill Murray: “I sold 26 of the ugliest cars in the middle of December with the wind blowing so far up my ass I was farting snowflakes into July.” Robert Duvall: “There’s alive and there’s dead and there’s a worse place in between that I hope you never know nothin’ about.” Murray again: “That’s one thing about Chicago. People know how to die. They drown. Get shot. Whatever it takes.” This film was only showing at 570 sites, according to “Entertainment Weekly” and its take was far below that of the summer’s blockbusters, but it was a fine film from Director Aaron Schneider, who previously won an Oscar for his cinematography work. It shows in this film and I would never count Robert Duvall out in the acting category at Oscar time.
Big Blockbusters of Summer:
There’s no question that Inception and Toy Story 3 were the films to smile about this summer. Inception will be nominated for numerous Oscars, and has raked in $270.5 million (“Entertainment Weekly,” September 10, The Chart, p. 75). Toy Story 3 has done even better, with a take of $405.7 million. Both of them great films.
Other films that were enjoyable include The Other Guys with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as unlikely crime-fighting partners. The fact that Ferrell’s character drives a red Prius (“I didn’t know they put tampons on wheels” is one put-down from the film) and that Wahlberg’s cop is known as the guy who shot Derek Jeter are just a few of the comic touches. Brooke Shields’ husband Chris Henchy and Adam Mckay co-wrote. (Look for Brooke in a cameo appearance, sitting next to Ferrell at a Lakers game.)
Cyrus with Noah Hill, John C Reilly and Marisa Tomei was a nicely acted comedy with some depth. It depicted the unhealthy relationship that has emerged between a divorced mother and her adult son. A great supporting performance by Catherine Keener as Jamie (Who can forget Keener shouting, “Check, please!” in Being John Malkovich after John Cusack’s character tells her he is a mime?) Unfortunately, Jonah Hill also was part of Get Him to the Greek this summer, an attempt to cash in on crass comedy of The Hangover variety. Russell Brand did a good job portraying a prima Dona rock star, but the low humor killed it for me.
I came out of The Switch feeling sorry for Jennifer Aniston — and not just because Angelina Jolie ran off with Brad Pitt. It wasn’t a bad film, depicting, as it does, an unmarried independent career woman planning to give birth by means of artificial insemination. The best thing about the film was co-star Jason Bateman portraying Anniston’s long-time neurotic male friend Wally Mars (Anniston to Bateman: “You’ve got to hide your crazy at least through the appetizers.”) The plot, as most will know, involves Wally switching the sperm sample Cassie plans to use for making a baby, which gives rise to a little Wally (child actor Thomas Robinson, who didn’t cut it, for me). The inevitability of Jennifer’s character Cassie and Bateman’s Wally eventually ending up together is a foregone conclusion. My husband objected to having to go to “a chick flick.” I have read reviews that trumpeted the film as “the end of Jennifer Aniston’s film career.” I think that is a bit harsh and overly dire for what was a pleasant-but-predictable film with some good acting from the principal characters (including able support from Jeff Goldblum as Leonard, Juliette Lewis as Debbie and Patrick Wilson as Roland, the sperm donor). However, there is no question that it was uncomfortable watching Jennifer Aniston play a more-or-less close to her real life character’s situation: an attractive, independent female who hears her biological clock ticking and is becoming desperate. Desperate is never fun.
I saw Dinner for Schmucks and found it much better than the trailer the advertising gurus chose to use to promote it (see previous Associated Content article). I also enjoyed “Splice,” which reminded of “Species.”
Here are the films I purposely avoided and am very glad I did: The Expendables, Eat Pray Love, Sex in the City 2, The Last Exorcism, Prince of Persia, The A-Team, Jonah Hex, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Step Up 3D, Knight and Day, Killers, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.
Here are the films I saw and could just as happily have missed: Iron Man 2, The American, Journey to Mecca (IMAX offering). Count those as disappointing and underwhelming.
I also watched the documentary “A Piece of Work,” dealing with the life and career of Joan Rivers in a hotel room in Nashville (still showing in theaters) and enjoyed it very much. Now I just need to make sure to catch “Winter’s Bone” before the Oscars, just in case.
(SOURCES: “Entertainment Weekly,” September 10, 2010, The Chart, p. 75; “Rolling Stone,” September 16, 2010, “Arthouse vs. Grindhouse.”)