The Fighter 7.5

Award-worthy performances by, in order, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams are backed by a supporting cast reminiscent of Mystic River or any of the growing Lehane/Affleck oeuvre. Unfortunately, for a boxing movie, the plot telegraphs its every punch. We know what’s coming; our only interest is in seeing how it gets there. Matt Wahlberg is admirable, but as boxer Micky Ward he is less credible than Hilary Swank. Bale is the real story, but I wonder if it’s better to be calculating his Oscar chances after the film than while we’re watching it.

Hamlet – 4

Britain’s National Theatre production starring Rory Kinnear was broadcast in Hahn Hall as part of UCSB’s Arts and Lectures series and disappointed for two reasons. One was that I couldn’t understand half the dialogue and Hamlet’s s’s and f’s sounded like lisps. One is more forgiving of live theater, but when it is a prerecorded presentation going around the world one would hope to concentrate on the performances rather than constantly be thinking, what did he say?
The second disappointment was Nicholas Hytner’s conception, dressing the characters in contemporary clothing and setting the play in a modern police state. Yes, there are numerous references to spying and “informing” in Shakespeare’s text, but what did this transposition gain us? The dialogue remained Elizabethan, so there was always a disconnect between speaker and what was spoken. Nor did the police-state allusion illuminate. If anything, it was distracting to have the Secret Service men speaking into their headphones and Ophelia hiding a microphone in her bible.
Ironically, it is easier to draw contemporary lessons when Hamlet is presented of its own time, just as the human figure can be sexier when scantily clothed than when shown nude.

127 Hours – 6

How do you make a movie interesting when it is about one man stuck in a pit for, apparently, 127 hours, especially when we know when and how he gets out? I am still wondering, after watching this film by Danny Boyle, director of Slumdog Millionaire. I admit to not watching it all, as the thought of Aron Ralston’s severing his forearm was too gruesome to contemplate, which also probably factored into my not enjoying all the runup to this moment. But ultimately, it was the absence of any bigger point that left me limp and led to a rating well below the similarly situated Buried. James Franco will get more kudos than Ryan Reynolds, but I was bothered by the way he walked like a duck and didn’t seem to physically deteriorate during his ordeal.

Love and Other Drugs – 7.5

While inclined going in to treat this as a throwaway film, Anne Hathaway’s bare-it-all performance was so compelling that I was mesmerized right up to the cliche of an ending. Jake Gyllenhaal’s low-key charm was also easy on the eyes and mind, seducing the viewer along with every woman onscreen. The corporate shenanigans verged on Up in the Air or even The Office, but representing a real company, Pfizer, gave the proceedings a patina of credibility. What kept this, though, from being a standard Julie Roberts/Hugh Grant rom-com, and belied the publicity poster, was the fundamental question it posed: should two people commit to a relationship when one of them has a debilitating physical condition that will only get worse.

Fair Game – 7.5

As with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, I knew everything that was going to happen, so much of the pleasure was in seeing how familiar events and people were portrayed. The best example: there was no need to introduce the Karl Rove character; director Doug Liman merely had to put a fat, jowly actor behind a desk. Both the stories of Elisabeth Salander and Valerie Plame were intended to evoke moral outrage. The big difference is that Plame is a real person and the inexcusable acts were performed by the highest level of the American government, not a rogue branch of the Swedish security apparatus. Sean Penn, our most brilliant actor, was perfect as Joseph Wilson. Naomi Watts was good, but – not her fault – too much a movie star to be quite as convincing as a real-life spy. I don’t know how much the movie was made to indict the Bush White House, but boy, it sure does the trick. And, even more than Inside Job, it still makes me sick.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – 7.5

A very skillful adaptation of the book, with only Dr. Teleborian disappointing my mental image. One wonders how someone who had not read the book would appreciate, or follow, the complex story, but then again there probably aren’t many people who fall in that category. For those of us who had read it, it was fun to see how various scenes would be portrayed. It was also instructive to see whole subplots that were omitted – notably Erika’s entire newspaper career and Blomkvist’s affair with Monika – without compromise. For similar reasons, it will be interesting to see the Hollywood versions, although I can’t imagine any other reason to see them. We skipped the second instalment, but I’m sure the critics were right when they said this was the best of the lot. In a way, it is sad to think that Blomkvist and Salander are now leaving our lives.