short but sweet

Here are some short reviews of movies I liked this year, but missed reviewing.
District 9
This one lived up to expectations as a surprisingly good science fiction story that incorporated some real-world issues. But let’s face it, we’re watching to see the “prawns” tear people’s arms off, mecha power suits fire explosive rounds into Nigerian warlord’s skulls, and fire energy weapons that make people burst into goo. I wish it had lingered a bit longer on how we first stereotype races as cute ‘n cuddly and needing our help, and then hate them when we feel burdened by them requiring our help longer than we like; it was a little too black and white, because the meat of the story begins long after we hate them. I enjoyed the movie immensely, and liked the “Christopher Johnson” alien character quite a bit- he has some depth. It’s not a groundbreaking film, but it came out of nowhere and is satisfying as both an action picture and a science fiction tale. The quasi-documentary style and sequel setup, along with its bleak and cynical view of corporate and government power, make it both compelling and just plain fun.
Star Trek
Now I liked this one, and felt they successfully rebooted the franchise, but to be honest it’s really just space opera fare now. The original series tried to tackle some issues and that’s what made it groundbreaking, but all we remember is Kirk without his shirt fighting some guy with a bug mask on his head and getting it on with sexy green ladies. And wouldn’t you know it, we get the sexy green lady. This one’s a crowd-pleaser and doesn’t take any chances, ret-conning like crazy with dubious explanations so they can reboot and still satisfy the nerdy purists. I had a good time, but there’s very little depth here except for the excellent Zachary Quinto as Spock. It looks and feels like every other J.J. Abrams project, with his forced, fast character introductions that make Michael Bay’s look well thought out. But there’s enough cool and explody stuff to distract you, just as in Cloverfield. This isn’t something I’d watch again, but he got me interested in seeing the inevitable next movie.
The Brothers Bloom
This one was a great surprise; it feels like David Mamet meets Wes Andersen. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, who’d previously done the refreshing high-school noir Brick, this one’s about the two best con men in the world, brothers played by Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo. They want one last con against a rich heiress (Rachel Weisz) who spends her time in an aging estate, learning how to juggle, fence, unicycle and so on, at her whim. The brothers and their silent explosives expert, Bang-Bang (Rinko Kikuchi of Babel and Survive Style 5+) begin setting up the long con and the convolutions of who’s conning who unravel layer after layer, but you’re never distracted by the plot. The characters are amusing and fun, and the comic timing is impeccable. This one’s a lesser known gem of 2008, and worth hunting down.
An Education
This swingin’ London of the ’60s sleeper hit has some excellent performances- Carey Mulligan as the precocious teen who has an unlikely romance with slick Peter Sarsgaard, and Albert Molina as her worried father. Emma Thompson gets a nice change of pace as the stern school principal. This movie was good fun with emotional punch, a fine period piece and coming of age story that brings ’60s London to life without camp or exaggeration, and never strays too far from reality. Mulligan’s first starring role is a smash, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of her soon, I imagine. The third act is a bit rushed, but it ends as it should. The screenplay by Nick Hornby, based on Lynn Barber’s memoir, is sharp and witty, but full of humanity. It’s a refreshing tale where lessons are learned, but it’s far from cautionary. A real surprise.

2 thoughts on “short but sweet

  1. I saw three of the four you reviewed here (never made it to see Star Trek) and I whole-heartedly agree with your remarks.I saw Bloom at the Chicago International Film Fest where Johnson introduced it and the movie was a real crowd pleaser! It was great on nearly every level…almost of throw-back to some of the classic con movies.

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