Jan & Feb 2009 Films--to see or not to see? Check the ratings

Check this space throughout each month to see how I've liked both recently released films and movies we've just seen on DVD. Each month, I'll start a new list, though Jan. and Feb are combined since we just started the blog.

Ratings go from 1/2 star (horrifyingly bad, but I stayed through the whole thing anyway for reasons I now deeply regret) to 5 stars (amazing, and sometimes approaching a masterpiece). Generally, anything I rate 2 1/2 stars or more I consider worth seeing.

Enjoy!--Phoenix Brown

New Films
  • The Reader ** (Despite strong performances, especially that of Kate Winslet, the film failed to convey the characters' motivations, something done movingly and clearly in the justly acclaimed and far superior book.)
  • Synecdoche, New York 1/2 (It has A-list actors and loads of time to make its points, but there don't seem to be any beyond the obvious "you only get one go-around in life" in this hugely self-indulgent bore by imaginative but out-of-control-here writer/director Charlie Kaufman.
  • Revolutionary Road *** The 1950s never felt quite as claustrophobic and soul-stifling as they do here. Although Kate and Leo's two children constantly seem to be in another room, everything else--from the pork-pie hats and flannel suits to the suburban ennui, rings true.
  • Frost/Nixon**** Who knew there was a riveting film in reviving the Richard Nixon-David Frost interviews? If it hadn't already been a successful stage play (with both leads wisely transplanted to the film version), I can't imagine a film company green-lighting the production, but it was a wise gamble. The two leads bob and weave like prize fighters, and Frank Langella pulled off yet another bravura performance. Making an old Nixon-despiser like me feel even momentary sympathy for the ex-president is a miracle in itself.

Previously Released Films
Just after Paul Newman passed away, we had an impromptu film retrospective of his films. Check out:
  • Sweet Bird of Youth ***
  • The Sting *****
  • Cool Hand Luke ****
  • Empire Falls ***
Also screened recently:
  • Housekeeping **** 1/2 (Highly unusual film about highly unusual characters, headed by the always phenomenal Christine Lahti.)
  • The Jerk ***1/2 (young Steve Martin at his wacky best. Beats me why this isn't as famous as the equally stupid--and hilarious--Airplane, Naked Gun, et al.
  • The Times of Harvey Milk ***** (a documentary that complements Milk and fulfills its title's promise by illuminating not only the man but the movements he championed.)
  • Jean de Florette ****1/2 and Manon de Source **** (Heartbreaking French classic about avaricious relatives and the tragic way they undermine their own fondest hopes)
  • Young at Heart ***1/2 (As apparently the only person in the country who thinks these folks are embarrassing and painful to listen to, I was won over by the stories behind the performances of these senior citizens. Best moment: oldsters punking out to The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated"
  • Mrs. Brown ***** (Subtle and moving drama about the man who brought Queen Victoria out of deep mourning and back to ruling the country. Stars Judi Dench (born to play British monarchs) and wild-man Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, in a rare, powerful, and controlled performance.)
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day *** (fun fluff for those who like Masterpiece Theatre-style costume dramas and/or Frances McDormand)
  • When Harry Met Sally ***** (still brilliant; still works!)

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