Monday, February 21, 2011

Quick Takes: 9 Songs, Red, Waiting for Superman, Welcome to the Rileys

Another week, another set of rentals.

Michael Winterbottom, a terrific director of acclaimed films such as Tristram Shandy, A Mighty Heart and Welcome to Sarajevo, pushed the creative envelope yet again with 9 Songs (2005). He tells the story of a couple's short-lived relationship through their bedroom antics and trips to concerts. None of your typical relationship scenes are featured here. The entire film consists of screwing and concert-going. It's a essentially a porn film, since the sex is hardcore and not simulated, but there's a certain depth and feeling here that you won't find in a XXX movie. It's an admirable attempt by Winterbottom to shake the conventions of a love story, but he ultimately fails because the leads are insufferably uninteresting. It's hard to like a movie when you simply don't care what happens to the people in it.  2/5

When you hear about a movie that features Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich playing retired CIA agents drawn back to the life of spies, you can't help but perk up a bit. Unfortunately, if that movie is Red (2010), then it's best that you lower your expectations. A lot. It's silly and loud, but dammit, it's just entertaining enough to pass the time. Subtlety is not what they are striving for here. 3/5

Davis Guggenheim, who helmed the terrific climate crisis doc, An Inconvenient Truth, is back this year with a damning look at our nation's crippling public education system. Waiting for Superman (2010) shows a group of politicians and teachers attempting to reform but failing miserably because the system is impossible to penetrate. There are ways to change the system so that no child really is left behind. It's heartbreaking to see the kids struggling but even more difficult to realize that they don't have to be. 4/5

Welcome to the Rileys (2010), a sensitive film by Jake Scott (son of Ridley), should have been much better. But what Scott has assembled here should not go unnoticed. James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo play a couple who lost their teenage daughter in a crash a few years back but have not been able to move past it. Kristen Stewart plays a stripper who manages to shake them out of the static life they've been living. It feels cliched and you can kind of guess where it's going, but the cast is remarkable to watch. Gandolfini and Leo are reliably excellent, but it's Stewart who continues to surprise and delight whenever she is on screen. Once again, she proves she's better than what the Twilight saga has to offer. 3.5/5

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