I’ve been trying to plow through movies of late to get a better handle on the releases of the first eight months before Oscar season really hits. With Vicky Christina Barcelona, Hamlet 2 and Burn After Reading all on the horizon, it won’t be long. So in the interests of being able to talk about those in detail down the line, here’s three semi-quickie reviews of the movies I got through this weekend.
In Bruges — The film welcomes British playwright Martin McDonagh into the feature film business, as McDonagh plunges into the writer-director fray with this unique dramedy. The film centers around two hit men that have been sent to Bruges (in Belgium) to wait out the windfall from their most recent murder. While the veteran hit man Ken (Brendan Gleeson) is content with the wait, the rookie Ray (Colin Farrell) is intent to move on after a bad first experience. If only he was so lucky, as the boss (Ralph Fiennes) has banished Ray with intent. If anything from the movie is clear, it’s McDonagh’s theatre-yearned ability to write dialogue. Ken and Ray are developed beautifully in the first act, as we learn much about their characters through their witty conversations. Both are likable characters, even despite Ray’s malevolence toward Bruges and his current situation. A friendship is ultimately developed between the two, and just when Ray seems to be reaching maturation, Fiennes comes into town. Farrell and Gleeson act beautifully in creating this unlikely friendship, and both, specifically Gleeson, work very well in their roles. If only Fiennes, who is normally brilliant, had done more. The real problem with the film is McDonagh writes characters so much better than he writes plot, so the story lacks any sort of motion that it aspires to. We like Ken and Ray enough to care, but for a movie that turns from comedy to drama on a dime, we just can’t stay afloat enough. WHAP Rating: 3.1/5.0.
Be Kind Rewind — I wanted to like BE KIND REWIND from the moment I heard the premise. It’s a movie with a true soul, a movie about the power of a community to come together. A movie about the underdog triumphing with the support of common people. It’s about an old man who leaves his historic video store in the hands of young Mike (Mos Def), who is followed around constantly by Jerry (Jack Black). Jerry accidentally erases all the tapes in the video store, so the two hatchet a plan to re-shoot all the movies themselves, offering heartfelt, low budget, 20 minute versions of classics like GHOSTBUSTER. The community falls in love. But in the end, there’s just not enough emotion built up in the first two acts to generate any ethos for the third. In part, this is because Michel Gondry’s (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) movie relies a bit too heavily on Mos Def, who shows a lack of any real acting chops in a part that calls for a real connection to three characters. Jack Black is his usual self, and in a sense, calls back to his Barry character from HIGH FIDELITY. However, while Black provides all the comedy in the movie, his ridiculousness also detracts from any emotive quality the film strives for. Throw in a Danny Glover performance that is a clear mail-in, and you have a well-designed movie that never gets there. Also, I would be remiss to not blame Gondry for the film’s mistakes, as the French director needed to develop more in his second act. What could have been, I wonder, even if this is a clear improvement upon THE MAJESTIC, which I suppose offers a premise in the same neighborhood. WHAP Rating: 2.5/5.0.
Stop-Loss — When news hit about this film, easily the most compelling aspect was Kimberly Peirce’s return to cinema, her first feature since the powerful BOYS DON’T CRY. It was a bit shocking, in fact, that Peirce was drawn to writing a script about the Iraq war, a script that is so male dominated. The hope was that Peirce would again manage her protagonist so precisely, like she did with Hilary Swank in 1999. In STOP-LOSS, the protagonist is SSgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), who believes his actions in Iraq were responsible for the death of three of his soldiers, and the severe wounding of another. By the time the brigade returns to Texas, the hometown of King and boyhood friend Sgt. Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), both are ready to end their duty and begin to lead normal lives. This plan is halted when King is told to report back to Iraq by the United States stop-loss policy, a backdoor draft that has sent roughly 1/6 of soldiers in the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts back into duty. The movie wants to be unique and follow the bad politics of this program, but it doesn’t make it there, and is instead yet another film about the problems of young soldiers assimilating back into American culture. As she did with Chloe Sevigny in BOYS DON’T CRY, Peirce’s best character is the supporting female, in this instance Michelle (Abbie Cornish), the fiancee of Shriver and partner-in-crime of King. The other characters are written to be unique, but no one else seems to be something we have not seen before, most recently in JARHEAD. In a sense, I’m grateful that Peirce didn’t dig too deep into politics in the film — this isn’t INTO THE VALLEY OF ELAH — but ultimately, the path she chose to walk is too well-traveled to mark this as anything but ultimately forgettable in the lexicon of war movies. WHAP Rating: 2.9/5.0.
Next on the list: THE BANK JOB.