erik lundegaard

DVD Reviews: 1 Win, 1 Loss, 1 Tie

I've been down with a cold for the last five days and wimping out when it comes to movie choices. Last week Patrick Goldstein mentioned that when he's sick, which he is, with the H1N1 virus, he goes for the comfort food of old John Wayne westerns. Not sure what my cinematic comfort food is. Woody Allen? Bogart? I nearly watched “The Insider” again last night but instead went with “Visions of Lights,” the 1992 documentary on the history of cinematography, since I didn't know if I could last the length of “The Insider.” BTW: I'd love to see an expanded version of “VoL.” I could watch cinematographers talking about their craft a good while longer.

I've also been catching up with a few cinematic also-rans from this past year that, if I weren't sick, I probably wouldn't have bothered with. As I said: wimping out. Wasn't as bad as I thought: 1-1-1:

  • The Win: The Taking of Pelham 123, with Denzel Washington and John Travolta. Didn't do particularly well with critics (53% from the-ones-who-matter), and did equally so-so with audiences (opening third, behind “The Hangover” in its second week and “Up” in its third, with $23 million, on its way to $65 million domestic—which, by the way, is less than “New Moon” took in yesterday). Jeff Wells over at Hollywood Elsewhere, a fan of the new “Pelham,” has been thrashing around ever since at the idiocy of both critics and audiences. He even recently recommended it for best pic. I wouldn't go that far but it's a good movie: tense, fun, surprisingly relevant. The critics probably turned against it in comparison with the '73 version, and that was certainly my reaction upon seeing the trailer in May. I wrote: “I’m a fan of the original, so this hypercharged version, with cars crashing and malevolent, tattooed villains spouting threats, just makes me feel sad and wish for 1973 New York.” Which may have been the problem, box-office wise: the car crashes were designed for kids, the actors for adults, and the twain didn't meet. It also loses me near the end—you're a civil service dude, Denzel!—but it's a good movie with solid, fun performances. Not best pic but worth renting. Put it this way: It's fun watching actors acting.
  • The Tie: Valkyrie: This one did slightly better with critics-who-matter (57%) and slightly better with audiences ($83 million domestic, $200 million worldwide), but as a story it suffers from what “Inglorious Basterds” did not: we know how it ends. Some too-dramatic flourishes by director Bryan Singer (the Wagner record; the cry before execution) but, given the aforementioned, you still get sucked in. Plus the cast is a who's who of British actors you like to see in movies: Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branaugh, Tom Hollander. Also impressed with German actors Christian Berkel and Thomas Kretschmann in small parts. Kretschmann looks like he could play Liam Neeson's younger brother in some future movie. (Check it out.) As I watched, I remembered more about the assassination attempt on Hitler—even the day it happened—and I'm surprised they didn't bring up why it didn't succeed. From what I remember, the table under which the bomb was placed was just too thick and protected those above it.
  • The Loss: The Land of the Lost: I went in thinking it couldn't be as bad as critics (21%) and audiences ($65 million worldwide) thought it was and came away wondering how any critic could've given it a positive review. I mean I'm sick but not that sick. I also wondered what they could've done to make it work. What if they'd kept the kids kids? What's the point of turning the two characters into adults? And aren't the characters played by Will Ferrell (who always makes me laugh) and Danny McBride (who never does) too similar anyway? And who wants Will Ferrell in a romance? Yes, I got two or three belly laughs out of it (as I said, Will Ferrell makes me laugh), but most of the movie is startling unfunny and as slow-moving as a Sleestak. Don't be like me. Don't rent it thinking, “It can't be as bad as everyone says.” It is. If you're sick, it'll make you sicker.

Oh, and if anyone's got thoughts on movies to watch when you're sick, by all means...

Addendum: Meant to give a shout-out to my main companion—after Jellybean and Patricia, of course—during this sickness: E.L. Doctorow, whose book, World's Fair, I'm reading again after 20 years. I'm loving it. It feels, in tone, similar to Willa Cather's My Antonia. There's not much greater praise than that...

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Posted at 11:12 AM on Sat. Nov 21, 2009 in category Movie Reviews - 2009  

COMMENTS

Uncle Vinny wrote:

Odd, I just saw Travolta's face on the poster for the new version of Pelham today, and thought, "What happens to an actor after his career dies, but nobody tells him it's dead?"

I'm marginally curious to hear that he acts well in it; not that I don't believe you... wait, no actually I'm really having a hard time believing you. Has John Travolta ever really acted? Didn't his performance in Phenomenon prove that someone repossessed whatever midichlorians he'd sold his soul for in order to be passable in Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty?
Comment posted on Sat. Nov 21, 2009 at 03:50 PM

Erik wrote:

Picking on a sick dude. What a gentleman.

Actually it depends what you want in your acting. Allow me to quote me — from a piece on Sean Penn three years ago:

Are his performances too unwinking? Too self-contained? Watch “She’s So Lovely,” an awful title for a flawed film, in which Penn plays Eddie Quinn, another small-timer who — I think this is the point — goes crazy when his girlfriend (Robin Wright Penn) lies to him about the bruises on her face. He spends the next 10 years in a mental institution because of this lie. When he gets out, she’s married to Joey (John Travolta), a rich construction something-or-other with maybe mob ties. Travolta’s character is boldly drawn and external — the way Cagney was always external — and the movie becomes fun for a moment. We draw energy from Travolta. Then Penn’s character shows up again, all intricate and internalized and self-contained, and the fun disappears. We lean forward. We try to understand. In this way Penn draws energy from us. He exhausts us. He’s not much fun.

That's what Travolta does and that's what he does in PELHAM. I like it. Your mileage may vary. Either way PELHAM's worth getting.
Comment posted on Sat. Nov 21, 2009 at 04:03 PM

Uncle Vinny wrote:

Wellll, I dunno if a sick dude deserves a whole lotta sympathy from li'l ol' me if he keeps putting himself out there as a huge macho action star... but you're right, he can be gregarious and watchable (the two films I cited), and I wish I saw more of him like that.

I'll keep Pelham on my Maybe list!
Comment posted on Sat. Nov 21, 2009 at 07:49 PM

Erik wrote:

The sick dude I was referring to was me.
Comment posted on Sat. Nov 21, 2009 at 09:12 PM

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