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.
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.