"I think it's kinda sexy that John Malkovich has a portal, y'know, sort of like, it's like, like he has a vagina. It's sort of vaginal, y'know, like he has a, he has a penis AND a vagina. I mean, it's sort of like ... Malkovich's ... feminine side. I like that." — Cameron Diaz as Lotte Schwartz in Being John Malkovich (1999, USA)
|Being John Malkovich (1999, USA)
Thirteen years on, my review of what by now has become a cult film won't add any value, but I love this movie. Actually I watched it years ago, but I was drunk at the time and remembered only the low ceilings on Floor 7 1/2. This time around, sober, I was fully engaged and in awe of its genius. My reaction to Lotte was probably like everyone else's: she seemed dull and uninteresting until she had sex with Maxine in Malkovich's body, then suddenly became a fascinating, vibrant character. Strangely, though Craig too had sex with Maxine in Malkovich's body, he did not become a more attractive character (rather the opposite, in fact). This is one of the few movies I've seen Charlie Sheen in where I did not despise him. How did a screenplay with such an odd, inventive, non-mass market premise ever find financing? I guess miracles do happen. I rank Being John Malkovich up there with Donnie Darko, another unlikely and on its face unsellable story that somehow got filmed and became one of the all-time great cult movies.
|Contraband (2012, USA)
Yes, it's a caper flick, and yes, the caper flick is an over-exploited genre, but I thought Contraband was very well done: tightly-plotted and tense, full of interesting workaday details about merchant marine life and the criminal underbellies of New Orleans and the Panama Canal Zone, which is something we don't hear about much these days. Perhaps this is one of those movies that, while doing only so-so in theaters, will score high in DVD rentals. I was very pleasantly surprised, on the edge of my seat the whole time. A good evening’s entertainment, this.
|Thin Ice (2011, USA)
This is a sting movie. It's also a cashing-in-on-Fargo movie, or maybe they had one of Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone radio monologues in mind. In any case, I felt I was watching a movie I'd seen before, with all the surprise and suspense missing: I figured out it was all a sting in the first ten minutes, and after another ten minutes I began to multi-task, with one eye on the movie and one on my iPad. It's a shame the talents of good actors were wasted in this predictable, derivative film. And what's with the ending, where the screenwriters more or less give up and just tell the audience how the sting went down? Jesus, you couldn't write it better, or did your paychecks start bouncing?
|Dirty Girl (2010, USA)
Rather a disappointment. I expected something off-kilter and bright with a young adult message ... something, indeed, like 2007's Juno. The producers of Dirty Girl tried hard to make this movie just that, but it came across as a poor copy (to the point where I even cynically wondered if they selected the star, Juno Temple, because of her name). Actually, Juno Temple and Jeremy Dozier are very good actors, and they delivered some convincing moments during the part of the movie where they were on the road, one running toward something and one running away from something ... but then the end went all cheesy and Disney and uplifty, a total turnoff. Yes, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced they were trying to cash in on Juno.
|The Cabin in the Woods (2012, USA)
Teenagers trapped in a cabin in the woods is such a horror movie cliché the fact that they named the one The Cabin in the Woods is an obvious clue to its spoofy nature, à la Snakes on a Plane. And what a great spoof it is, drawing not only on previous horror movies but also throwing in some great new ideas that reminded me of Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel American Gods, only the ancient gods here are somewhat more malign. There is much cleverness here, and plenty of entertainment, so long as you don't take the gore too seriously (and really, how can you, when you see a character stabbed in the back in one scene, and then see him walking around again a few minutes later?). Great, great fun. I'd watch this one again.
|Headhunters (2011, Norway)
A really good, suspenseful, surprisingly grisly crime film from Norway. Obviously Hollywood will have to make an English-language copy for lazy American audiences, but tell you what, you're cheating yourself if you don't check out the original, subtitles and all, because there's not a doubt in my mind it'll be the best of the two movies. The story is fast-moving and full of surprising twists. Some scenes are so cynical and fatalistically funny you'll think you're watching a Coen Brothers film. Yes, it's a stretch to think a story like this could unfold in real life ... but it's a fun ride and even my wife, who shies away from blood and gore, was glued to her seat.
|Safe (2012, USA)
Another action flick featuring Jason Stratham kicking ass and shooting bad guys. He's really a great action star and I hope he doesn't mind being typecast in the role, because he's at the point now where it's almost too late to branch out (as fellow action star Bruce Willis sometimes does). What disturbs me about this movie, just a little, is seeing Jason start down the backside of the Steven Seagal arc. Jason's still fit and trim, but in a Seagalish echo most of the bad guys in Safe are either Russian or Chinese and heavily accented, and there's a lot of Seagalian martial arts "fighting" (where bad guys stand in a circle and take turns throwing themselves at the hero rather than mobbing him all at once). Jason puts on a little weight, gets a little stiff in the joints, it's gonna be Hello Steven!
|The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012, UK)
Not sure where the push to romanticize life in India is coming from, or whether this kind of publicity actually helps convince people to retire or vacation there, but The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of the better movies to feature the Subcontinent as backdrop to a story about Westerners. Really it's quite a charming movie, fairly predictable with regard to the romances that develop between the retirees who go to live in the BEM Hotel, but the romances are presented in an adult and understanding way and you can't help but be happy with how things turn out. For my tastes, Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited set the bar for Westerners-in-India movies; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel comes in a close second.
|The Tall Man (2012, USA)
I had this in my Netflix queue and thought it would be a good scary movie to watch on Halloween. But though it starts out as a scary movie it soon turns into a thriller, sadly not a very good one. I spent more time catching up with the outrageously contrived plot twists than I did being tense or frightened. In the end the villains turn out to be sane and rational, but in the beginning they're presented as crazy or at the very least schizo. That doesn't make sense, and I don't like movies that don't make sense. What I did like were the scenes of backwoods squalor ... at least they got that part right.
|Today's Special (2009, USA)
This is a thoroughly sweet movie. I have no idea how it picked up an R rating: I'd put it at G and watch it with kids of any age. A NYC sous chef of Indian descent quits his job in frustration and winds up reviving his father's Indian restaurant after a family emergency. It's a romantic foodie comedy, inoffensive in a good way, quite funny in spots, full of awesome cooking scenes. I thought the character Akbar was laying it on a little thick, but sometimes a story needs a good fairy. I quite enjoyed this movie, and, no shit, now want to learn more about Indian food. But tell you what, if you want to watch a foodie movie, you need to watch the 1996 movie Big Night. That one will make you happy and roll your socks down. This one'll make you happy ... but your socks will stay up.
DVDs I Didn't Finish Watching
|October Baby (2011, USA)
Some day I'll learn to read between the lines of Netflix blurbs the way North Koreans have learned to read between the lines of Rodong Sinmun. Some day. But until then I'll still occasionally wind up with DVDs like October Baby, a treacly anti-abortion propaganda tract in which white people cry and tell each other how awfully sorry they are as they find their way to baby Jesus and a heavenly reward, all to the strains of cloying Christian music. Gah. They're probably showing this to youth groups in churches all around the country. Look kids, safe sex is no sex, you hear? Praise the Lord and pass the abstinence!