Sunday, 22 February 2015

In the Air Again: The Judge, The Two Faces of January, Men, Women and Children, St. Vincent

It’s been a while since I crossed the ocean and caught up on some films that I didn’t think would be worth watching on the big screen. I’m usually right about that and this group was no exception, though the first half of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window was entertaining me more than the others (I’ll report on that in a month when I go home).

Starting with the worst and moving to the best:

The Two Faces of January

This should have been my kind of film. A couple, played well by Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst, is hiding out in Greece. A young man, played well enough by Oscar Isaac, who likes to use his knowledge of the language to swindle tourists (he works as a tour guide), gets caught up in the couple’s story, not knowing where that might lead him. It all has a film-noir feel, takes place mostly on the island of Crete, and has minimal action. It has it all. Except, that is, for sympathetic characters. Neither of the two men (both are crooks) are that evil, but I just couldn’t connect with their characters at all. Neither could I connect with the woman. That meant that the film never captured my attention (i.e. I didn’t care what happened to the characters). This is a very dark and bleak tale without much heart. I suppose it might have looked gorgeous on the big screen, but I’ll never know. **+ My mug is down.

Men, Women and Children

Jason Reitman’s latest film is full of potential, and full of warnings about our smartphone/internet /video-game culture. It could have been a great film, or at least as good as Crash, which it most closely resembles, but it fails in one-too-many ways. Men, Women and Children is about families whose lives are being impacted by either the internet, video games or smartphones, driving a wedge between parents and children or between spouses. There’s some good thought-provoking stuff hidden in the inter-connected stories, but almost none of the stories work. It’s hard to say why. The acting by the ensemble cast isn’t bad (though it’s far from great), but the characters they play are less interesting than the way their lives have been taken over by their electronic gadgets. The teenage (and adult) addictions to porn, to video games, to smartphones and to peer expectations are real enough in our time, and parents are right to be concerned (though not as much as the parents in the film), but this film loses its opportunity to communicate its messages with poor, predictable, contrived storytelling, poor dialogue and a poor style. Another **+ film that could have much better. My mug is down.

The Judge

This David Dobkin film features excellent performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, and is worth watching just for those performances. Duvall plays a judge in his seventies who is struggling with cancer. Downey Jr. plays his lawyer son, who has never felt loved or respected by his father. When the judge’s wife dies, the judge takes a drive and an old enemy is killed. Did the judge do it? Will his son get him off, if he’s even allowed to defend his father? Will there be some reconciliation between father and son? Yet another film full of wasted potential, at least The Judge doesn’t make too many mistakes in its by-the-numbers storytelling. *** My mug is up. 

St. Vincent

St. Vincent, on the other hand, actually does more with its premise than it might have done. Bill Murray does well as a grumpy old gambler who does whatever he feels like doing, while being generally rude and obnoxious. But he also visits his wife (who has Alzheimer’s) regularly, is good to the Russian prostitute (Naomi Watts) who visits him regularly, and befriends the boy next door, with not altogether positive results. This is a fun predictable film, noteworthy for its humanizing of people who are rarely humanized (particularly the prostitute, but also Vincent) but not for much else. Still, St. Vincent was the best film I watched on the plane and gets a solid ***. My mug is up.


  1. I've seen Men, Women and Children as well as the 100 Year Old Man. I would mostly agree with you about the first. I think that I liked it just a bit more than you did, but it was surpassed by the superior Disconnect last year that was so similar. So **+ it is. And I would definitely encourage you to finish 100 Year Old - I'd give it *** - a marriage between Forrest Gump and Keeping Mum, Swedish style.

  2. I've seen The Judge twice. And would love to see it again. A wonderful film about a troubled relationship! Truly brilliant.