Friday, November 18, 2011

Quick Takes: Paul, Scream 4, Win Win, Meek's Cutoff

Dir. Greg Mottola
Put simply, Paul delighted the hell out of me. I was certainly not expecting the film to be this funny, warm and goofy. After the wildly successful comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are back and as endearing as ever. They are science fiction nerds who attend San Diego's Comic Con - their geek heaven - and embark on a road trip they will not soon forget. Seth Rogen voices the alien they run into, and Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Blythe Danner and Sigourney Weaver add class and humor to this entertaining little adventure. A wonderful time with a superb cast.

Dir. Wes Craven
I admit it. I was a little stoked when I heard that Wes Craven was on board with writer Kevin Williamson for another sequel to the ailing Scream franchise. The surviving members of the previous films - Courtney Cox, David Arquette and Neve Campbell - were all back, too. Even after the disappointment that was Scream 3 (I barely remember a single damn thing about that film), I had relatively high hopes for Scream 4. I felt there was still juice left in the ol' Scream machine. Well, my hopes were somewhat dashed. It is definitely an improvement from the previous installment - there was plenty of humor throughout and I was pretty surprised by the killer's reveal. I do wish Scream 4 ended sooner, though. There is a scene in the kitchen (where the killer lies on the floor with the victims) that would have served as a terrific, edgy finale. But alas... the film took the safe, boring route and left a pretty sour taste in my mouth. I can't recommend it - it doesn't touch the original and its fantastic first sequel - but you can do much worse.

Dir. Tom McCarthy
Writer/director Tom McCarthy is three for three. His latest dramedy, Win Win, starring Paul Giamatti, is his most accomplished film thus far. I have enjoyed The Station Agent and The Visitor tremendously but Win Win digs deeper. There isn't a trace of cynicism in McCarthy's films and this is refreshing. He has such affection for his characters, especially in Win Win. Giamatti is a high school wrestling coach struggling with life's basic pressures, and when a disaffected teen enters his life, things start to look up. Giamatti is supported by the delightful Amy Ryan as his wife, Bobby Cannavale (fantastic here) as his overeager best friend, Jeffrey Tambor as the assistant coach, and newcomer Alex Shaffer, who nails his scenes as a conflicted kid with a troubled past. My buddy Pete goes further into the film here, but we're in agreement: Win Win is a terrific achievement.

Dir. Kelly Reichardt
As a fan of Kelly Reichardt's previous film, Wendy and Lucy, I was greatly anticipating Meek's Cutoff, her western about a trio of families who embark on a dangerous journey across the midwest. This film didn't move me nearly as much as her earlier film, but I appreciated what Reichardt was trying to achieve. She nailed her themes of isolation and perseverance in Meek's Cutoff. We witness the mundane and arduous tasks of surviving such a difficult journey. Who knew lowering wagons down a steep hill would generate such suspense? There's also a magnificent scene in which Emily (Michelle Williams, in top form as usual) comes into contact with a native American and runs to warn the rest of her crew. Watching her methodically load a shotgun is one showcase of the film's extraordinary attention to detail. Meek's Cutoff is very slowly paced, perhaps too minimalist for most casual viewers. It's certainly a little too low key for my own tastes, but I admired what Reichardt has accomplished here.

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