Thursday, September 22, 2011

Quick Takes: Lightning Round Edition

I've seen so many titles in the past several weeks and neither of them are compelling enough for me to write about at great length. They aren't all necessarily terrible; in fact, most of these are either surprisingly good or simply not-half-bad. So instead of doing the usual Quick Takes on them, I'll knock 'em out in lightning round fashion.

First, the attack of the one word movie titles! In an odd coincidence, many of the movies I've seen in the past month have one word titles. The best three of the bunch: Contagion (2011) is the new Steven Soderbergh thriller about a virus that wipes out millions of lives across the world. It's engaging and suspenseful (don't touch your face, dammit!), beautifully shot, and very well cast. It's like a more cerebral version of Outbreak. 3.5/5

I was loving Rango (2011) for a long time - it was dark, witty and utterly hilarious. But unfortunately, the problem with director Gore Verbinski is that he does not know when to stop. The film just kept piling on the story and action while I was growing restless in my seat. The film would have benefited greatly from a 30 minute trim. Other than that glaring flaw, it's adorable. 3.5/5

David Schwimmer directed Trust (2011), a smart, potent drama about a 14-year-old girl who is raped by an online predator. Clive Owen and Catherine Keener are her parents. It's a hard film to watch, but it is a subtle, perceptive and thought-provoking film, well worth a look. 3.5/5

Limitless (2011) is a dumb movie about smart people. I like Bradley Cooper enough, but I don't think he has what it takes to be a leading man. I just haven't been blown away by him yet. It's engaging but instantly forgettable. 2.5/5

Also forgettable but surprisingly funny is Arthur (2011), the unnecessary remake of the Dudley Moore classic. Forget the plot; the main attraction is Russell Brand. When he's the center of attention in public, I can't stand him. But when he's performing (whether in Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Get Him to the Greek or here), he is a treat to watch. It's one-note acting, I know, but strangely enough, I have yet to grow tired of Brand and his shtick. 3/5

I haven't enjoyed Matthew McConaghey in a movie since he first played a lawyer in 1993's A Time to Kill. His return to the courtroom in The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) isn't as memorable as that older film (I continue to quote Sam Jackson as often as possible: "Yes, they deserve to die and I hope they burn in hell!"), but The Lincoln Lawyer is a solid, reliable genre piece that peters out before its unsatisfying climax. 3/5

The only reason I rented The Perfect Host (2011) was to see David Hyde Pierce in a leading role in a thriller. It just seemed so against type. This is Niles Crane, for crying out loud! The film is interesting and has many surprises (the last act twist was nifty, despite huge gaps of plausibility), and Pierce looks like he's having fun with a crazy-ass role. Unfortunately, the film is paper thin. There's nothing here but smoke and mirrors. 2.5/5

I have grown tired of Kate Hudson long ago and watching her in Something Borrowed (2011) made me want to do unspeakable things. I didn't expect to like this movie, but I also didn't expect it to make me so angry. Who are these people? How does any self-respecting audience member relate to them? Every character seems to react to love in such bizarre and unnatural ways. For instance, when Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) tells Darcy (Hudson) at the end of the film that she misses her, I wanted to scream, "Why?!" What is it exactly about Darcy that she misses? None of these people deserve each other. I wanted to sic Sam Jackson on each and every one of them. 1/5

As Mel Gibson picks up whatever is left of his show biz career, he delivers his best work in more than a decade with The Beaver (2011), a risky, though somewhat successful directorial effort from his former Maverick co-star, Jodie Foster. Depression is a tricky subject to tackle but Gibson and Foster take it very seriously and the result is surprisingly moving. 3.5/5

Too Big To Fail (2011) managed to take a topic as dry as a hedge fund prospectus and make it entertaining. Curtis Hanson deftly handles this brisk, star-studded HBO affair that simplifies the infamous bank bailout of 2008. Everyone has a chance to shine, but William Hurt is a terrific standout as a weary, exhausted Hank Paulson. 3.5/5

And finally, I completed the second season of In Treatment (2009), the unconventional HBO series with Gabriel Byrne as psychiatrist Paul Weston listening to a series of patients on a weekly basis. It took almost 2 months for me get through all 45 episodes, and while it's a compelling and thoughtful series, season 2 wasn't as gripping as the first one. His most engrossing patient involved Oliver, a young boy struggling with his weight gain, being bullied, and handling the volatile split of his clueless parents. This arc allowed Byrne (the show's biggest asset who had too little to do this season) to step out of his strict regimen of maintaining a professional relationship with his clients and become an endearing father figure to Oliver. It culminates in a sweet, emotional finale. The show's third and final season should be on DVD soon and I look forward to losing myself in Paul Weston's conflicted world one last time. Season 2: 3.5/5. Entire series so far: 4/5

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