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Archive for October 5th, 2009

Michael Stuhlbarg in  A Serious Man

A Scene from witty farce Zombieland

by Sam Juliano

Fall weather has descended on the mid-Atlantic and New England regions, and with it the annual upswing of movie and theatre debuts, the opening of the opera season, and the scent of World Series fever and the fourth week of the NFL season.  Here at Wonders in the Dark we had one of our quieter weeks as a result of the “in-between” window between the closing of the 80’s poll and the commencement of the 90’s voting, scheduled for a week from this coming Wednesday.  The 80’s voting ends on October 10th, and Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. will be forwarding results shortly thereafter.  Nonetheless, a few threads here this past week were torrid.  Joel Bocko’s review of the Roman Polanski documentary, first posted at the Boston Examiner, turned into one of the site’s most thought-provoking threads thanks to a number of fecund contibutors like Pierre de Plume, Dorothy, Margaret, Dave, Dennis, David Noack and Bocko himself.  Both Allan’s capsule on his #1 film of the 80’s, and Bob Clark’s massive review of the same film continue to receive hits day in and day out.  Tributes to Dave Hicks, Ric Burke and filmmaker Kieron Clark all debuted this weekend at the site.

On a personal level, I had the busiest weekend of moviegoing since 2002, seeing eight (8) new films theatrically over the three days, and one reviewing.  It was not only an unforgettable weekend in a prolific sense, but a few of the films were truly outstanding, including a five-star stud, and another at four-and-a-half.  Of course the down side of seeing this many movies theatrically is that my serious case of OCD has kicked in big-time. (I have a fascist cousin who always reminds me of this trait.)

The Invention of Lying  ***  (Friday noontime; Edgewater multplex)
Whip It  *** 1/2  (Friday afternoon; Paramus multiplex)
Zombieland  **** 1/2   (Friday afternoon; Paramus multiplex)
A Serious Man  *****  (Friday night at 11:45 P.M.; Sunshine Cinemas)
Capitalism: A Love Story  *** 1/2  (Saturday afternoon; Edgewater multiplex)
The Burning Plain  ***  (Saturday night; Tenafly Cinemas)
Amreeka  ****  (Sunday afternoon; Montclair Claridge Cinemas)
Paris  *** 1/2  (Sunday afternoon; Montclair Claridge Cinemas)
I also saw last week’s five star movie “Bright Star” again as part of Saturday night’s double feature in the same theatre, as some friends hadn’t yet seen it.  The second viewing was just as glorious as the first.
Ricky Gervais, a multi-talented and appealing thespian again was the dominant force in The Invention of Lying, as he was in Ghost Town, but despite some funny set pieces, the entire premise here is rather anaemic.  It’s more like mind-control than the advertised “lying” anyway.
Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut with Whip It is solid enough, despite the formulaic premise and execution.  Still, it’s reasonably entertaining and Ellen Page is wonderful playing the reluctant roller-skater among a rough female crowd.
Zombieland, despite admittedly very impressive reviews, was the week’s big surprise, as I usually find most of this genre tired and redundant.  But this was a witty, satirical and utterly winning (and just the right length too at 81 minutes) confection that pushed all the right buttons and made for a deliriously entertaining movie experience.  I hope to have  a review on this but I am still working on long-overdue Brit Noir feature.
The Coen brothers have again broached some vital philosophical concerns (Ethan has been at work in this regard with off-Broadway theatre in Manhattan as of late, and I did manage to see both those plays and see some subtle parallels here) in their new masterpiece A Serious Man, which certainly makes a strong challenge as their greatest film. (although I won’t declare that just yet).  A man is told by his wife that she’s leaving him, his family is in rebellion, and he goes to rabbis for advice.  Replete with the Coens incomparable blend of comedy and angst, and more than that.  Again I hope to get a review up of this.
Michael Moore’s new documentary Capitalism: A Love Story features a good deal of hypocricy as Moore is a thriving capitalist himself.  There are some aspects of the film I enjoyed, including Moore’s crime scene tape episode at the end, and some passages involving theological figures and FDR (as well as the usual trashing of GWB) but it’s message is compromised.
The Burning Plain is a train wreck of a movie, a pretentious tale of displacement, that strives for profundity but draws a big blank.  Directed by Guillermo Arriaga, who did write an outstanding script for Amoros Perros, but this new film was mainly torturous to sit through.
Amreeka is an endearing tale of immigrants moving in with relatives in Illinois  from the West Bank, and of the propblems obtaining work and fending off anti-Arab hysteria at the time Saddam Hussein was toppled.  Some acute insights into social psychology, pride and the need to succeed.  It’s a slice-of-life with humor, pain and compassion, impressively directed by a female newcomer, and spoken in English and Arabic.
Cedric Klapitsch’s Paris does have its moments, but the tales here are mainly unresolved, and it ‘s wide canvas doesn’t provide for the depth or emotional resonance that this material is mainly known for.  It’s bittersweet but perhaps too tame comically.
As always there is some essential work being posted around the blogosphere:
David H. Schleicher really had his moment in the sun, so to speak this week, where he took th ebull by the horns, and compiled and posted his Top Films of the 1990’s a full week and a half before the Wonders countdown begins.  His top choice, The Sweet Hereafter is a strong possibility for my own #1 with two others.  But David’s post here is utterly fantastic!
Dave Hicks’s countdown, as posted separately yesterday is moving forward, and he’s at 1982 with Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo as his #1 choice at GoodFellas Movie Blog:
John Greco at Twenty-Four Frames has what appears to be yet another excellent eassay on Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss:
Dee Dee is beginning her pre-Halloween features and countdowns, and is presently showcasing lobby cards from Hitchcock’s Psycho and another review here from the prolific Andrew Katsis of the Hitchcock classic.  (Andrew, I read this two days ago, but somehow I didn’t post a comment.  I will be back tomorrow to do so; I am losing my mind):
Alexander Coleman has an exquisite pan of The Horse Boy showcased at Coleman’s Corner:
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