Trashy Fun at the Movieplex

If it is not too hard to believe, Expendables 2 is even better than its predecessor. Sure, it essentially has no plot, and there is something painful about watching Stallone and Dolph Lungren stagger around the place pretending to be young again. But the action sequences are well-choreographed, and it is played for laughs with everyone pretty much winking their way through the scenes. Van Damme is slyly villainous; Chuck Norris has a couple of good turns. And Schwarzenegger has a blast. He and Bruce Willis trade references to each others’ movies. It’s silly, very silly, but it’s my kind of silly. Continue reading Trashy Fun at the Movieplex

Dark Knight Rises

It’s chilling to think that the same carnival atmosphere I experienced at the midnight showing here in Ohio turned into a bloodbath in Colorado. There is some more poignancy to a light-hearted exchange between Batman and Catwoman/Selina Kyle about the ethics of eschewing guns.

You know the plot from the reviews: Batman has been in self-imposed exile for eight years, paying the price for the canonization of Harvey Dent. Bane arrives in Gotham to complete the cleansing task begun by Ra’s Al Ghul in the first movie of the triology. Batman comes out of retirement, is beaten and humiliated by Bane who engages in assorted terrorism and mock class warfare until Bruce Wayne has recovered enough for the final showdown. This movie links back satisfyingly to Batman Begins in countless ways, large and small, so that we really do see the trilogy as part of a common arc. Continue reading Dark Knight Rises


Is anyone watching this? I felt duty-bound to watch it since Lena Dunham went to Oberlin, and there still exists video footage of some of her performance art around campus. I found Tiny Furniture to be too precious and privileged for my taste, but I’m very impressed with Girls. I don’t pretend to really understand the current generation of college students (and recent graduates) but something rings true about Dunham’s portrayal of them. The combination of hyper-awareness, deep insecurity, simultaneous comfort and disgust at their own bodies, ability to critique consumer culture while being embedded in it, all seem to capture something real, and quite distinct to this generation. The show is constantly compared to Sex and the City, though it has a far harder edge, shorn of the romanticism of the earlier show. The awkwardness of sex is also front and center in Girls, something very different from Sex and the City. It is too early, three episodes in, for the other friends to have really developed beyond caricatures, but Dunham’s Hannah is a remarkable, and remarkably fully formed, character.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene explores the fractured identity of a young woman who spends two years in a cult of sorts before escaping to stay with her sister. The young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) was named Martha by her family, but given the name Marcy May by the cult leader, Patrick (an astonishingly good John Hawkes). Marlene is the name each of the women at the cult use to answer the phone with when someone calls, usually to track down a missing girl. The names reflect blood family, adopted family, and then the collective of women who service the men in the cult, and both compete with and betray each other for the attention of Patrick. Continue reading Martha Marcy May Marlene

Some Recent Action Movies (now with Vampires)

Pick of the bunch is Haywire, easily the best action thriller since the third Bourne movie, and more evidence of Steven Soderbergh’s astonishing range. The story of a betrayed covert operative, Mallory (played by MMA champion Gina Carano) wreaking revenge is hardly original, but Soderbergh has made an wonderfully economical little movie (coming in at 93 minutes), littered with trademark interiors and some breathtaking exteriors (a fight on a beach as the sun goes down with only seagulls and waves for sound, the wide open wilderness of New Mexico), in which the moments of frenetic action alternate with long periods of stillness, and the attention to detail shows how a craftsman makes movies. The point of using Carano, one assumes, was to make the action sequences more realistic, and it works; there is nothing in the movie that looks computer-generated or as if performed by superhumans. A long chase sequence across the roofs of Dublin looks exactly as though a very fit twenty-something woman is doing the running and jumping. Finally, Soderbergh gets wonderful small performances from the ensemble cast of Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas and Ewan McGregor. Highly recommended. Continue reading Some Recent Action Movies (now with Vampires)

The Descendants

Alexander Payne’s latest film paints three inter-linked stories onto a lush background of Hawaii’s leafy suburbs, beaches and awe-inspiringly beautiful coastal wilderness. The first involves the discovery by Matt King (George Clooney) that his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), who in a coma from a boating accident, had been having an affair. Elements of this story require that Clooney track down and decide whether to confront the man she was sleeping with. Continue reading The Descendants

A Somewhat Gentle Man

This is probably not the film to watch if your image of Norway is all fjords, glistening snow and affluent social democracy. The action all takes place in a drab industrial zone of some nameless city, the piles of snow are gray from car exhaust, it rains a lot, and the apartment blocks and even hospitals seem mass produced, to provide for the poor but certainly not to make them think they have much of a stake in society. Into this comes Ulrik, played by Stellan Skarsgard with fleshy face and lanky hair, just released from prison after serving twelve years for murder. The film is, on the surface at least, a fairly conventional account of a man’s attempts to re-integrate into society: get a job; reconnect with his son; find love, or at least sex. Continue reading A Somewhat Gentle Man


This is an odd movie. I went assuming it was a smarter, cooler Fast and the Furious, and there are a couple of good driving scenes. But it is primarily an exercise in backward-looking noir, trying to re-create the look of 1970s driving movies, perhaps with a bit of Point Blank thrown in. The driver is Ryan Gosling, who is never given a name, and is practically affectless, with barely a change of expression except for a slight smile when he is around Irene (Carey Mulligan). Continue reading Drive


Another enjoyable, sleek, highly competent, and controlled film from Soderbergh. [Apparently he is giving up directing to devote himself to painting. There was a trailer for his next movie, a good-looking action thriller with female lead, entitled Haywire, before Contagion.] Contagion examines the progress and response to a global pandemic from the outbreak through about nine months out, by which time a vaccine has been found and the virus is more or less under control. Continue reading Contagion