Of Gods and Men – 8

A hauntingly beautiful story of French monks in remote Algeria during a time of civil war, but what impressed me most was the respect it gave and intelligence it ascribed to its viewers. Quotidian events were presented on a par with liturgical, and when crisis came, it was realistic, not overwrought. Whether the monks were saints or oddities depended on your view of religion coming in; the movie depicted them as very human: the leader Christian’s willfulness appeared heroic at first, then offensive to his brethren on closer inspection. The rebels were ruthless, but the government they fought was consistently called corrupt. This story was not about bad guys versus good guys. It was about men caught in a situation beyond their control, struggling for an answer, struggling to help, struggling to survive.
The film itself failed to specify a date or place when it began, giving it a universality that dissipated when a postscript spelled out the fates of the individual monks, for me an unnecessary anticlimax.

The Adjustment Bureau – 5

The ridiculous – no, silly – plot concept, that an “adustment bureau” monitors and controls human fates – by opening doors to a different dimension but having to run on foot to catch a bus – is not saved by a central romance between the normally likeable but here personality-free Matt Damon, who seems to have added the pounds Natalie Portman lost for The Black Swan, and Emily Blunt, who is also deprived of all background surrounding her character (why was she crashing a wedding? why were security men chasing her?). For all I could figure out, Inception may have been just as absurd, but it was so fast-paced you didn’t have time to think about it. Here, there was nothing but time, and stupid hats from 1958.

Barney’s Version – 3

“Unpleasant,” “absurd,” “pointless” are the descriptors that come to mind when reacting to this purported comedy, with “insufferable” not far behind. A little Paul Giamatti can be interesting, although I’m tiring of even that, but a whole movie of him smoking cigars, drinking and behaving badly is hard to take. Then there is the question, why would three women – two with looks, one with money – marry him? He supposedly turns into a heartwarming figure at the end, thanks to Alzheimer’s Disease, but by then it is way too late.
While I am on the subject of smoking, have I noted in these pages that every movie I have seen in the last two years, not counting children’s films and a few rare exceptions, has shown a character smoking. In more than a few, such as Barney’s Version, it is hardly a plot point; it is instead a major character crutch. I wonder if some actors could convey “troubled” without a cigarette in their hand? Of course, some will offer the excuse that they are “setting the scene” in the 1950s or before, when smoking was much more prevalent. But even then, many people did not smoke, and more often than not the exact same movie could be made without anyone lighting up. Were the protestors from 20 years ago, like Andy Tobias, rebuffed in their efforts to get Hollywood to go smokeless, or did they just get tired and give up?

Another Year – 7.5

Sometimes, it seems, not much happens in a year: we grow tomatoes, have a barbecue party, lose a friend from work – oh, and our son gets engaged. Not much there for a movie, it would seem, but Mike Leigh’s ensemble actors make the mundane sufficiently dramatic without, for the most part, histrionics. The exception here was the manic performance of Leslie Manville as their divorced friend, looking for love in all the wrong places. She was hard to take, but she propelled the story, from the hopefulness of spring to the desolation of winter. Another year.

Biutiful – 7

Most of the movie was Javier Bardem’s face, which expressed a range of emotions, almost all melancholy. The backdrop was the Europe of 2009’s Gomorrah, this time in Spain instead of Italy, with sweatshops of Chinese illegals, Senegali street merchants, and cops on the take or on the make. A fair amount of explanation was left out, whether from insufficient translation or excessive editing I don’t know, which may have contributed to the ambivalence I felt about Bardem’s character: intense as it was, I was not sorry to see him pass away.

Just Go With It – 8

Depth aside, everything you could want in a night at the movies: humor, romance, cleverness, cute kids, gorgeous women, Jennifer Aniston. This was only my second Adam Sandler movie, but both featured a gentle kindspiritedness, if such a word exists, that let me relax and enjoy the gags, many of which were quite original. Most memorable was my favorite sheep joke of all time. But the great pleasure was watching Jennifer Aniston – funny, beautiful and made to seem accessible: America’s sweetheart, indeed. Nary a moment passed without producing a smile, if not an outright laugh; and when Jennifer and Adam lay down in their separate beds and realized they were in love, it was truly touching.