Thursday, July 30, 2009

Z At the Movies – Azucar – July 30, 2009

I’m totally keeping my promise by writing about the movies I’ve watched since last Thursday. I score movies on the four-star scale. Let’s dive right in.

Chéri, 2009 / ***

I’ll see anything by Stephen Frears, who makes films as varied as The Grifters, High Fidelity and The Queen. This one isn’t quite as good as any of those, but I certainly enjoyed it. The story focuses on Lea de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her May-December Relationship with a boy she affectionately refers to as Cheri. The story is largely predictable but the performances by Pfeiffer and Friend are both very good, and Kathy Bates is almost always a pleasure to watch. I’d rent this one.

Watchmen, 2009 / ***

I have no experience with the graphic novel, so everything in the story was brand-new to me. I certainly can’t fault the ambition of director Zack Snyder (300, and the underappreciated Dawn of the Dead remake), as at 161 minutes he certainly put everything on the table. Several strong performances stand out, most notably Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II (and how different is this movie than the last one these two were in together?). Billy Crudup is also excellent as the intriguing Dr. Manhattan, but the love story with Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre II didn’t really do it for me. Still, this is a unique and visually arresting film, so I definitely recommend seeing it.

Coraline, 2009 / ***½

This movie scared the crap out of me. Directed by Henry Selick from a story by Neil Gaiman, this is a thoroughly absorbing film that could be an awards contender in a year in which Up didn’t exist. I saw Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher’s names in the credits, but I never thought of them after that, their voices perfectly suited every aspect of the characters. Toss in a dash of Ian McShane, and you’ve got yourself one terrific movie.

Yes Man, 2008 / **½

Truthfully, this wasn’t as bad as I thought. Sure it’s pretty much the same concept as Liar, Liar, but Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, and John Michael Higgins help make this one more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I wouldn’t rush out to see it, but I paid like 50 cents to rent it thanks to the many deals at Family Video, and I don’t feel ripped off.

Big Fan, 2009 / ***½

Comedian Patton Oswalt takes a walk on the dark side with his affecting performance in Robert Siegel’s (who wrote The Wrestler) directorial debut. Oswalt plays Paul Aufiero, a 36-year-old man-child who lives with his mother and works in a parking garage. To say he and his best friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan) are socially inept would be an understatement. But they’re huge fans of the New York Giants. One night they spot their favorite player, Quantrell Bishop and follow him from Staten Island through Stapleton and finally to a trendy club in Manhattan. When they finally get to meet him, Paul lets slip that they had followed him through Stapleton, and the offended Bishop delivers a savage beating to the helpless Paul. This kicks off a fascinating storyline that revolves around Paul’s decision to neither pursue a lawsuit nor assist the police in making the criminal pay. After all, the Giants can’t win without him, right? It’s a tragically funny and thoroughly absorbing movie that once again reminds people that comedians can act, too. As a bonus, I saw this movie at the Traverse City Film Festival, where both Oswalt and Corrigan were there to introduce the film and host a Q&A afterwards.

Sugar, 2009 / ****

Writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck previously impressed with 2006’s Half Nelson, and they’ve really done it again with this offering. Sugar tells the story of Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a young Dominican boy with aspirations to pitch for the major leagues. I know, that description makes it sound like another lame, tired sports movie, but Sugar sidesteps every possible convention to tell a story that’s more engrossing than the mere plot synopsis makes it sound. Most baseball movies use the sport as the main device to drive the story, but Sugar is about much more than just a game. This is a story about young men from the Dominican Republic getting dumped in the middle of a cornfield in Iowa, where they can’t even order food. Definitely see this movie any way you can.

And that’s all for this week – join me next Thursday!

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