Friday, January 14, 2011

Rapid Reviews: Zombie Island Days with the Prodigal Valentine Clyde

It's been a while since our last round of Rapid Reviews, but movies are always getting watched and write-ups start to pile up. Here's this week's set (another set will come next week)--it features two movies I grew more fond of on repeat viewings, one documentary I'm still not sure how I feel yet, a classic film that isn't perfect, but doesn't have to be, and what might have been the best film of last year (yes, possibly even trumping the magnificent Black Swan and The Social Network--my feelings aren't settled yet!)

Zombieland is an absolute blast. I hadn't seen it before earlier this year, but the movie does nothing but get better upon repeat viewings. Jesse Eisenberg shows sharp comic timing in his best performance other than his soon-to-be iconic performance in The Social Network this year. Woody Harrellson inhabits his role with a lived-in comfort that works beautifully in the post-apocalyptic setting. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin show the promise they have since delivered on in light but fun roles. The script is quick and witty, executed flawlessly by its cast. And the title sequence/"rules" popping up throughout the film are an incredibly fun spin on the genre. The film drags HARD in its third act (after the star cameo in the second act), but the first two acts are more than enough to make up for it. B+

(500) Days of Summer is an interesting movie for me. The first time I saw it, I thought it was superb work. Then I let it sink in a bit and realized exactly how irritating I found Zooey Deschanel's character and how much I disliked her very Deschanel-typical performance. Then I watched it again and borderline hated it. Finally, I watched it again on a flight back to Los Angeles and realized exactly why I fell in love with the movie in the first place. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's star turn as lovesick Tom is heartbreaking. The movie puts itself almost entirely on his shoulders, and he carries it incredibly well. I hold my reservations on Deschanel's performance--it still strikes me as a little too rote and aloof, but the latter half of that is probably purposeful. The film does fall victim to its hipster tendencies later in the film (the sequence set to "Hero" by Regina Spektor comes to mind, though the song is used well), but it is still a strong movie with a boldly-beating heart. A-

Prodigal Sons is a documentary, and I'll state right off the bat I have a hard time critiquing documentaries unless they're more narrative than factual (Catfish, my #3 favorite film last year, is a good example of this). Sons is indeed narrative, but the facts are vital to understanding the emotion behind the film. While it would seem that the sex change of documentary filmmaker Kimberly Reed is the main story, it soon becomes a fascinating discussion of identity and how difficult coming home really can be not only for the titular Prodigal Son, but for the rest of the family as well. It's not perfect, but for what feels like a really genuine documentary, it's pretty damn great. B+

Bonnie and Clyde is a classic film, possibly the first that really melded the romantic melodrama and the gangster genres. It features a trio of astounding performances (Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, Estelle Parsons as Blanche Barrow, and Michael J. Pollard as C.W. Moss) and a firecracker of a script that wasn't afraid to push buttons and boundaries with regard to sexuality and violence. It is because of the film's groundbreaking nature and stellar moments that the weaker aspects (Warren Beatty's performance as Clyde Barrow, which so often involved him smiling weakly and nothing more, awkward scripting around the sexual aspects) can be forgiven. However, it isn't a perfect film, but it is an incredibly important and fascinating one. A-

There's an argument to be made that Blue Valentine, the heartbreaking portrait of a dissolving marriage starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams and directed by newcomer Derek Cianfrance, is the best film of last year. This, of course, is coming from one of the biggest fans Black Swan has. If it isn't the best, it's the second- or third-best. I'm almost glad its late release disqualified it from my personal awards, because it would have been a much more difficult battle for first place than it already was. The work being done here by the director, by the cinematographer, by the band Grizzly Bear, responsible for the score, to the stars is nothing short of incredible. Valentine rips the audience's hearts out, stomps on it, then puts it back and insists the audience remember the "good old days". The parallel structure of the couple's first courtship against the self-destruction of their marriage works wonders. The improvisational work is daring and fascinating. Much like Swan, this film is never afraid of going all out, never interested in worrying about the audience. It tells a beautiful, heartwrenching story that leaves the audience aching, even crying. It will break your heart. You'll never want to love again. But it is a truly phenomenal film, and there's nothing else like it. A

Which of these movies have you seen? Have you had your heart broken by Blue Valentine yet? Do you disagree that Bonnie and Clyde has problems? Take it to the comments!

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