The Kids Are All Right (2010)

★ ★ 1/2

The Kids are All Right is, well, I'm sure you can finish the pun. While the three leads were compelling, the story left much to be desired. The parallels between gay and straight marriage were interesting, but not fully persuasive. The internal dynamics seemed reasonably accurate, though they could have delved further into the family's external relationships. When they did touch on them, it felt a touch disingenuous. Though better than the average family drama, it failed to live up to the hype.

Maybe it's better to think of it as two separate movies. One is a character study of a same sex couple. The other, a tale of a sperm donor and his prodige. The first part was done fairly well. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening were both excellent. The second part, somewhat less so. Mark Ruffalo is an excellent actor, and was well suited to the role. Mia Wasikowska put in a respectable performance, Josh Hutcherson less so. As vignettes, they would have worked out very well. Combined, and added to some rather silly auxilliary plotlines, much of their force was lost. I hoped for a realistic portrait of a same sex headed couple in contemporary America. Instead, Lisa Cholodenko seems to have been primarily concerned with challenging stereotypes held by people who would never think to watch the movie. It felt self congratulatory, rather than honest.


Greenberg (2010)

★ ★ 1/2

It seems that every famous, though unaccomplished actor eventually tries to prove he can act. Ben Stiller became the latest to do so, playing the title role in Greenberg. Greenberg is a hodgepodge of modern neuroses; the stereotypical product of the 80s culture. He's self involved, compulsive, nearly oblivious to his surroundings. Does Stiller pull this role off? I'd say so. There weren't any flashes of brilliance, nor obvious blunders. He was mundane; almost completely uninteresting. Given that this was the point of the role, I'd consider it a success.

Jennifer Jason Leigh's first attempt at screenwriting was respectable. She'd obviously seen Sideways a few times, and taken copious notes. Greenberg seems like a mildly anesthetized version of Giomatti's Sideways character, and the story line is eerily similar. The only obvious difference seems to be that Greenberg was once popular enough to have become a full blown narcissist. It wasn't completely unoriginal. There were some interesting jabs at awkward social conventions, and some amusing, uncomfortable barely-intergenerational-intergenerational-dialogue.

The most surprising part of the movie is Rhys Ifans' performance. Given that his career is based on providing comic relief in dramadies, I was quite surprised to find out that he's capable of being utterly morose. Newcomer Greta Gerwig was adequate as Greenberg's sophomoric love interest. Jennifer Jason Leigh's tiny role as Greenberg's ex-girlfriend was a highlight. I've seen few better advertisements for never, ever associating with an ex.

Noah Baumbach's lugubrious film is bound to turn off less patient viewers. Admittedly, it didn't hold my undivided attention. There wasn't enough depth to justify the amount of navel gazing. I'm happy to see that Ben Stiller and Rhys Ifans can pull off serious roles, but I doubt I'll get around to watching Greenberg again.


Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

★ ☆ ☆ ☆

I watched twenty three minutes and fourteen seconds of The Hot Tub Time Machine. I only got that far because I started reading reviews about ten minutes in, in a vain attempt to figure out how 63% of film critics actually gave it a positive rating. This is one of the least funny comedies I've ever seen. I can't think of a more ironic turn for John Cusack than making an awful movie about reliving the glory days in order to revive his career. Actually, it does get more ironic. This pitiful attempt may have actually succeeded.


Ondine (2010)

★ ★ ★ ★

Ondine is Neil Jordan's latest attempt at fusing mythology with reality. It is also his most successful attempt. Ondine is the best motion picture of the year thus far, rivaled only by Nicolas Refn's Valhalla Rising*. While the latter created a nightmarish world from which we hope to awaken, awakening from the dreamlike Ondine is bittersweet. Alternately elegiac and hopeful, Ondine is a prose poem; a pastiche of Irish culture. There is nothing more difficult than creating a film that leaves the audience feeling hopeful, without a trace of cynicism. Ondine is one of the rare movies that does just that.

Ondine is set in a fishing village on the coast of Ireland. A local fisherman, Syracuse (Farrell) finds an unconscious woman caught in his fishing net (Bachleda). When revived, she has seemingly lost her memory. She is frightened of being seen by anyone else, so she stays at Syracuse's dead mother's home. Syracuse has lived there alone since his divorce. He is a recovering alcoholic, known to most as Circus for his drunken antics. His gravely ill daughter Annie (Barry) lives with his alcoholic ex-wife, and her boyfriend. On one of their afternoons together, Syracuse tells Annie a fictionalized version of his recent experience. Annie believes the woman to be a selkie, a mythical sea creature that resembles a human female. A series of strange occurences lead Syracuse to believe she may be right. Throughout the film, the audience is left wondering whether hapless Syracuse has stumbled onto a genuine miracle, or whether he's just lucky for a change. As the precariousness of the situation becomes evident, the question becomes all the more important. Having experienced the powerlessness of alcoholism, Syracuse wonders whether he has once again found himself in a situation beyond his grasp.

More so than any movie that comes to mind, Ondine examines the nature of mythology. Myths typically originate from a set of half truths, and are imparted to children at a young age. Purveyors of myths generally hope that these myths will impart wisdom to younger generations, helping them to avoid the errors of their forebears. But what if this isn't the case at all? Perhaps myths merely warn us of eventualities. Worse still, perhaps ingrained myths can become an impediment. Maybe straying from the path occasionally is a good idea. Maybe trusting a stranger every now and then enriches one's life. Believing that you've been granted seven years of happiness is a blessing, and a curse. The complacency caused by this mental allotment can be the cause of its abridgment. Then again, if the myth is true, then there is little to do but enjoy the moment.

Colin Farrell is among the most talented actors in Hollywood today. It is great to see that he is still willing to take on smaller roles. Actors like Farrell lend credibility to smaller productions, and have been instrumental in the current film renaissance we are experiencing. Farrell is equally at home playing the action hero, as he is a downtrodden fisherman. He's occasionally morose, sometimes clownish, but his ascetic demeanor is resilient. Alicja Bachleda makes the perfect foil. She always seems vulnerable, maintaining a near childlike wonder. She cowers from the world like a feral child (no pun intended), fickle, yet often exuberant. Ironically, the edifying force in the movie is Alison Barry. Annie is at once the most impressionable, and wisest of the characters. Always interpreter of the strange events, she seems to be the only character who understands their true significance. Her quick wit is downright shocking for a child of her age.

As we've learned from Seinfeld, the word breathtaking is often used carelessly. In the case of Ondine, it is almost an understatement. The rolling hills of the Irish coast provide a majestic backdrop, singularly appropriate for the film. Transitions between scenes are flowing, almost non-existent. Pastoral Celtic music melds one scene to the next, creating a dreamlike quality rarely seen in film.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with arthouse films, Ondine failed to secure a wide release. Unless you have the good fortune of stumbling upon it at an independent theater, I highly recommend picking up the DVD. It is the best 2010 movie I've seen thus far, and I'd be surprised if it didn't end the year that way.

*Written before viewing Never Let Me Go


The Book of Eli (2010)

★ ★ 1/2

The Book of Eli is one of the most uneven movies I've seen. The Hughes Brothers, in conjunction with veteran cinematographer Don Burgess, took a mediocre screenplay, and turned it into a visual masterpiece. The film is set in a post-apocalyptic America. The clouds loom heavily over the barren countryside like a divine presence. Their eerily shifting tones suggest a reckoning to come. And that reckoning will come, courtesy of a man carrying the world's last bible. Hey, I had to take at least one jab at the plot. There will be more to come.

I hardly feel the plot is worth mentioning. Its premise is problematic, leading to an absurd finally. Everything in between was passable, at times pleasingly minimalist. Not bad for screenwriter Gary Whitta's first try. The dialogue was never laughable (an accomplishment, given the premise), though several of Oldman's lines may have been so in the hands of a lesser actor. Denzel was solid as always, playing a better action hero than I'd have imagined. Mila Kunis proved that she can play a serious role (which makes me all the more excited for Black Swan).

Despite massive budgets, few Hollywood directors seem to give much though to cinematography. You could be forgiven for thinking that they don't give a minute of thought to when they should (and shouldn't) cut, or what type of lens filter they should use. These are the little things that make good movies great (or mediocre ones palatable). These are things that Don Burgess clearly gave much thought to. The film was shot through a sepia filter, darkening the already bleak atmosphere. Long, steady shots accentuate the sterility of the nightmarish wasteland. At one point, the camera circles Eli during a barroom brawl, highlighting the sheer improbability of Eli's eventual triumph. Filmed with a fixed camera, the scene would have been nowhere near as interesting.

If you're interested in cinematography, The Book of Eli is a must see. It certainly deserves an Oscar nod in that category. Otherwise, I wouldn't be too concerned about missing it.