Published on: September 5, 2014
I had last week off, so I took advantage of the time to catch up on some movies that I wanted to see….
• "The One I Love" is a romantic comedy of sorts, but it also is wholly original, a look at relationships and love through an unexpected prism. The plot requires that I tell you nothing more than that, though I can say that the performances by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss are wonderful, and Ted Danson has a terrific little turn as their marriage counselor. "The One I love" is in theaters, but it also is available on-demand and on iTunes, which is a good thing - it is the kind of movie that deserves to be seen, and I'm glad it is getting exposure in multiple venues. I recommend it highly.
• "Guardians of the Galaxy" would ordinarily not be my sort of movie, but I must admit that I enjoyed pretty much every minute of it. Unlike some superhero movies, which tend to be a little reverent, there is something irrepressible about "Guardians," and even a little subversive. I knew nothing about its mythology going in, but that didn't matter ... it is a ride, well orchestrated by director James Gunn, and acted with tongues firmly in cheek. Chris Pratt? Sign him up right now to replace Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones when (inevitably) they reboot that series. Finally, let's not forget the terrific soundtrack, filled with classic rock songs that are infectious ... they'll get your feet tapping and bring you along for the ride.
• On paper, "Magic in the Moonlight" has all the makings of a terrific screwball comedy - during the Roaring Twenties on the French Riviera, a young woman who says she can communicate with the spirit world seems to be infiltrating a rich family, and so one skeptic in the clan hires a famous debunker to come in and prove she is a fake. While trying to do so, he falls in love with her, which makes him question long-held cynicism about magic, spirituality and love. Sounds, great huh? Tailor-made for the likes of Cary Grant and Jean Arthur, written by Robert Riskin and directed by Frank Capra. Unfortunately, "Magic in the Moonlight," as written and directed by Woody Allen, is one of his most leaden efforts in recent memory. It is both plodding and heavy on plotting, with exposition in place of dialogue and talented actors - especially Colin Firth, who I normally like a lot - struggling to make it all vaguely believable. "Magic in the Moonlight" does have one ray of sunshine - Emma Stone as the medium, who is luminous. But that's about it, and I cannot recommend it to anyone. Rent "Annie Hall" instead.
• Sometimes, a movie is what it is, and nothing more … and that's okay. in fact, it is a kind of pleasure. Such is the case with "The November Man," a late summer popcorn movie starring the former James Bond Pierce Brosnan as an aging, retired spy called back for one last mission. (Where have I heard that before? Still, when it comes to aging anything, I'm on board these days.) Most of the movie takes place in Belgrade, which I've never been to, and so it is nice to see someplace new. There are twists and turns, a number of which don't make sense; at one point, about ten minutes into the movie, there was what appeared to be a double cross, but what might really have been a triple cross or - be still my heart - an actual quadruple cross, and I had no idea what was going on, and I muttered to myself, "Okay, it is going to be one of those movies…" But I was fine with that. "The November Man" is not nearly as good as the Daniel Craig Bond movies, or the Matt Damon Jason Bourne movies; it does not have enough heft to be the aging-spy-with-regrets LeCarre story it seems to occasionally aspire to be, and it isn't as much fun as the better-than-reviewed Robert Redford-Brad Pitt "Spy Game," which it sometimes resembles. The supporting cast is perfectly supportive, Olga Kurlyenko (who was in the underrated Bond film "Quantum of Solace") is the requisite beautiful female lead, and Brosnan is just fine as he plays a part that is similar to those played by Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner in other recent movies (and, it appears, that Denzel Washington will be playing in "The Equalizer," coming soon and I can't wait.). As far as I'm concerned, you can't have too many aging protagonists on the big and small screens, and "The November Man" was exactly what it promised. Nothing more, and that's okay.
"Locke" is a fascinating piece of moviemaking. Essentially, the entire film takes place in a single car, with one man - Ivan Locke - the wheel. It pretty much takes place in real time, as he drives at night, from his job at what appears to be a construction site, to London, less than two hours away. During the drive, he makes and takes a series of phone calls, having conversations with, among others, his wife, sons and boss. Sounds pretty boring, huh? But "Locke" is a tour de force because the main character is played by Tom Hardy, the amazing British actor who has inhabited in his career a wide variety of roles with chameleon-like intensity. Which is exactly what he does here, as his drive and conversations see his life and job slowly yet inevitably unravel, while he tries to make what he believes to be a series of moral and ethical choices. Making what could have been a static film seem totally fluid is writer/director Steven Knight, who does an extraordinary job keeping the whole thing moving, never letting up on the suspense. If I have one complaint, it is that the parts are more compelling than the whole … but I found the entire hour and 24 minutes to be an intriguing and largely successful filmmaking experiment.
Much of "The Trip To Italy" also takes place in cars, but it is an entirely different experience. Those of us who enjoyed 2010's "The Trip" - and I very much count myself in that group - are going to be extremely happy to see Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon return. The bare-bones plot essentially is the same - two guys go on a road trip, staying in great hotels and eating in fabulous restaurants, ostensibly for a travel piece to be written for a newspaper. "The Trip" took place in the English countryside and, well, you can guess where "The Trip To Italy" takes place. Coogan and Brydon, two excellent British performers, play versions of themselves, and the movie really is about their friendship. They crack jokes, do impressions (their Michael Caine impressions from 'The Trip" return, and be glad of it), make bad puns, luxuriate in their food and surroundings, and generally talk about life. This last part is very important, because "The Trip To Italy" really is about friendship - about two guys who enjoy each other's company (most of the time), have great conversations, and even share their common sense of getting older and of time getting shorter. And they do this in a movie that is very, very funny, extraordinarily and subtly observant, and absolutely gorgeous to look at. It'll make you hungry, a little bit antsy to visit someplace exotic, but most of all, it'll make you want to call your best friend, or hang with him or her, and just shoot the breeze.
One other entertainment note. I know that there are a lot of Robert B. Parker and "Spenser" fans in the MNB community, and I'm happy to tell you that the first season of "Spenser: For Hire" is finally available on DVD. The episodes, which ran in 1985-86, look great … just a bit dated, not exactly a faithful rendering of RBP's novels (too many car chases), but it has the late Robert Urich (winning as always, and best in the shows that actually were written by RBP)), the incomparable Avery Brooks as Hawk, all that wonderful Boston location shooting, and that great 1966 Mustang.
It is not being sold by Amazon at this point, but is available directly from Warner Brothers, here
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.