Friday, June 8, 2012

In Theaters: "Prometheus"

Howard Hawks famously said that a great movie is composed of three great scenes and no bad scenes. Prometheus gets the first part right. What we have here is less a bad film than a genuinely maddening one, which has sequences of tremendous skill and moments of keen promise. But it’s such a mess. The characterizations are laughable, the plotting is befuddling, and the pseudo-intellectual posturing is window dressing—and shabby window dressing at that. Above all, director Ridley Scott’s coy “it’s not really a prequel to Alien, but maybe it is” doubletalk hides that it’s the worst kind of rip-off, one which trades in the original (and far superior) 1979 picture’s iconography while holding no responsibility to actually do anything compelling with it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

In Theaters: "Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding"

Jane Fonda’s 1990 retirement from the screen to focus on family and causes was understandable if unfortunate; what’s less clear is why she’s had so much trouble, since coming out of that retirement, finding a vehicle that isn’t terrible. She’s made three domestic features over the past seven years: the screeching, insufferable Monster-in-Law, the unspeakably bad Georgia Rule, and now the trite and underwhelming Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding. In its broad strokes, it is oddly similar to its predecessor: another family comedy/drama, with three generations of a women coming together under one roof, where shenanigans and warming of hearts ensue. It’s a better film than that one, but that’s not saying much.

In Theaters: "Safety Not Guaranteed"

Darius Britt, the heroine of the stripped-down time travel comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, can barely remember a time where she was hopeful or optimistic. Nowadays, she says, “I just expect the worst.” Darius is played by Aubrey Plaza, and it is not exactly casting against type; Plaza co-stars on Parks and Recreation, where her delightfully bone-dry line readings and biting deadpan never fail to beguile. Safety is her first starring role (she played supporting roles in Funny People and Scott Pilgrim), and it may as well be accompanied by fanfares. She’s got a terrific screen presence, and the camera simply loves her. She also picks her project well—this modest effort is utterly enchanting.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On DVD: "Curb Your Enthusiasm- The Complete Eighth Season"

“I’m yelling for society! For everybody! It’s not just me!” --Larry David

A couple of days after my wife and I started working our way through the eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, we were standing in line at a Starbuck’s when a woman started chatting with the woman ahead of us, and as they spoke, she casually slipped into the line. “Are you seeing this?” I asked her, and she nodded. “Classic chat and cut.” The infraction—of starting a conversation with someone in a line (perhaps even someone you barely know) in order to cut into said line ahead of those how have been waiting—is dramatized and defined by Larry David on the fifth episode of the season, “Vow of Silence,” and what David does there is what his show does best: find a slightly obscure but present fact or irritation of modern life, identify it, satirize it, and throw it into the blender of his peculiar world.

On DVD: "Safe House"

Denzel Washington has chosen an odd specialty at this point in his career, a juncture at which he can basically do anything. He still steers clear of comedy, he hasn’t done a romance in over a decade, and his dramas are fewer and farther between. What he’s particularly interested in, it seems, is doing very quiet performances in very loud movies. He primarily appears in action films (most of them directed by Tony Scott), and seems to take pleasure in seeing how defiantly he can underplay them. He doesn’t do all that many great movies anymore—but he’s almost always great in them, and that’s a fair assessment of his most recent effort, Safe House.

Monday, June 4, 2012

On DVD: "Breaking Bad- The Complete Fourth Season"

There is a scene, in the final episode of the fourth season of Breaking Bad, that made me do the following four things simultaneously: 1) gasp, 2) sit up from my lounging-on-the-couch position, 3) put my hand over my mouth, and 4) yell (yell) “HOLY SHIT.” As soon as I completed this quartet of overreactions, I felt like an idiot—like a bad actor in a subpar television commercial. This show does that to you—it’s that shocking, that tense, and (when the payoffs arrive) that exciting. My review of their third season posited, simply, “this is the best show on television.” It still is—and somehow, it got better this year.