With a few days off from work and a couple weeks to go before the fall TV season, I took the opportunity to rent some movies that I’d wanted to see for a while that didn’t play at my local theater or that I’d missed. First up are two movies that retroactively make my top 10 of 2010, and then four films from this year, at least a couple of which will vie for top-10 status.
“Blue Valentine” (2010) — This rightly acclaimed movie aims to do something that is never done: Show the fracturing of a relationship as it might happen in reality. The time-jumping between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy’s (Michelle Williams) current struggles and their past happiness makes the film less devastating to watch than it would otherwise be. I can’t pinpoint an exact reason why the marriage breaks up (although Dean acting vaguely like a jerk plays a part), and that’s a point in the film’s favor. Both actors do incredible, guerrilla-style work, and the movie serves as a chilling commentary on why marriage is not the right choice for a sizable percentage of married couples in America. It also has a brilliantly harrowing scene in an abortion clinic.
“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” (2010) — I have to give Keir Gilchrist credit: It’s hard to play a teenager who checks himself into a mental hospital for depression and narrates his story to the audience without coming off as self-centered and egotistical. But he pulls it off. And while the story could’ve fallen back on “Patch Adams”-style manipulation — among the colorful gallery of patients: an Egyptian guy who never ventures out of his room — the cast gives a light touch that makes it work. Zach Galifianakis plays the new best bud and Emma Roberts is the love interest.
“Cedar Rapids” — This so-funny-you’ll-laugh-alone-in-your-apartment comedy is exquisitely cast: Ed Helms is the go-to guy when you need a sweet, naïve protagonist; John C. Reilly is in his zone as a Dewey Cox-esque dunce; Isiah Whitlock Jr. has hilariously literal line readings (his character is “an aficionado of the HBO program ‘The Wire,’ ” which Whitlock starred on); and Anne Heche plays a woman who lets out her wild side at insurance salesman conventions.
“Hobo with a Shotgun” — This is some crazy stuff, from the opening scene where a woman dances in a fountain of blood from a severed head to dry exchanges like: “How many people have you killed?” “What am I, a mathematician?” Another entry in the emerging grindhouse throwback genre, “Hobo” makes “Machete” look like “Bambi.” It’s insanely violent in a cartoony but not-family-friendly way, and though it’s not as laugh-out-loud funny as “Machete” (in part because this movie is not as deliberately rickety), the action is more satisfying because Rutger Hauer’s title character makes use of that shotgun much more than Machete used his machete. It also engages in similarly over-the-top blast of social commentary: Whereas Machete fought for illegal immigrants, the hobo fights for the homeless after hopping off a train in an absurdly lawless town.
“Hall Pass” — This is the first Farrelly Brothers comedy since 2005’s “The Ringer,” although the brothers’ influence has been felt throughout the 2011 movie slate; most of this year’s biggest comedies owe a debt to “Dumb & Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary” and so forth. As you’d expect, a fair helping of poop and sex humor is served up here, and Owen Wilson and Jason Sudekis are perfect as the guys who get a week off from their marriage. The refreshing thing is that the women — Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate — get full character arcs, too.
“Skateland” — This is the weakest film of this batch, the only one that I’d label a “skip it,” but I have to praise the settings. It’s a true blast from the past to see a 1980s-vintage skating rink and a Musicland store. It’s a decent yarn about saying goodbye to an era (both youth and the ’80s), but the characters are so indistinct I had trouble telling some of them apart, and the story is ultimately too standard and low-key to pop out from its “American Graffiti” foundation. “Adventureland” (2009) is a superior entry in this genre.
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