Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Halfway there: the best (and worst) movies of 2010 so far

Best of the best:

The Ghost Writer - Yes, Roman Polanski is a sick son-of-a-bitch. But as a filmmaker, he's at his best with The Ghost Writer, a political thriller that keeps you guessing and questioning everything until the film's revelatory and haunting ending. Ewan McGregor dives into one of his best performances as a Ghost writer who suspects that his new employee ex-Prime Minister Adam Lang (an excellent Pierce Brosnan) may be a war criminal. Exiled to a beach house on Martha's Vineyard, the Ghost's job to write for Lang goes deeper as his former processor suddenly dies but leaves across clues to Lang's ascendancy into British politics. Polanski shoots the movie as if we are in the Ghost's shoes: every frame asks us to question the motives of everyone and everything around us. The standout, though, is Olivia Williams as Ruth Lang, Adam's ball-busting wife with an ax to grind with his secretary/mistress (Kim Cattrall) and hidden motives as well.

Shutter Island - The Scorsese-DiCaprio duo is now 4-for-4 with the psychological-thriller Shutter Island, another triumph of bold, blistering storytelling from the great Martin Scorsese. Watching his latest yarn about two Federal Marshalls Teddy (DiCaprio) and Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) try to solve the mystery of missing inmate Rachel Solando's escape from the Alcatraz-like prison island that is the Ashcliffe mental hospital for the criminally insane, is like going 12 rounds with a prize fighter on his best day. Scorsese pummels us with Freudian secrets, communism, insanity a hurricane that threatens the walls of Ashcliffe, and a shocking revelation towards the end you don't see coming, and by the end you're walking out with more questions than answers. Here's a tip: just let the dark poet Scorsese paints sink into your skin. For decades, he's used the criminal underworld, the mean streets of New York, and moral corruption as a torch way to uncover the fragile human condition in his characters, and in this movie, his bread-and-butter approach to storytelling intensifies, tenfold as Teddy tries to piece together the mysteries of Shutter Island before he loses his own sanity.

How To Train Your Dragon - DreamWorks Animation fires the first shot in the race for animation domination in 2010 with the surprising coming-of-age drama, How To Train Your Dragon, a film that soars with thrilling 3D visuals and a potent, although familiar, story to match. Jay Baruchel gives scrappy humor and surprising depth to Hiccup, the village outcast who befriends the most feared of dragons, the stealth-bomberlike Night Rider (he names him Toothless), only to learn that during his encounters with the winged beast, that dragons are not as dangerous as the village of Vikings have them pegged to be. The same feeling of pure exhilaration when we saw Jake Sully taming and riding his blue-winged beast in Avatar is matched when Hiccup and Toothless take their first ride together.

Worst of the worst:

The Wolfman - The casting was there - Benicio del Toro as Lawrence, an actor who returns home to investigate the sudden death of his brother by a vicious beast, Sir Anthony Hopkins as the estranged father with a terrifying secret, Hugo Weaving as the ruthless inspector hired to track down the beast, and Emily Blunt as the widow to Lawrence's brother - and it wasn't a pussy-whipped horror film that isn't afraid to go for the jugular. So how did this wind up to be the worst movie I've seen so far? Simple: the actors themselves were wasted in their performances (in particular, Hopkins who hammed up his role to the point where one would shake their head in disbelief as to how he could accept this role in the first place) and the director, Joe Johnston, delivered practically no scares and even more shameful, no haunting residue the original Wolfman movie left on its audience.

Brooklyn's Finest - Tell me if any of the following themes sound familiar: One corrupt cop (Ethan Hawke) is lining his pockets with drug money after his team conducts the raids. An underground snitch working for the NYPD (Don Cheadle, WTF?) has his loyalties pushed to the brink between making detective and his criminal drug dealing friend (Wesley Snipes). And one officer (Richard Gere), who's life is in shambles - he starts the morning by finishing off last night's bottle of whiskey and having sex with a sympathetic hooker - is set to retire. If you're thinking that director Antoine Fuqua ripped off better, more thought-provoking, and hard-hitting crime dramas like The Departed, Lethal Weapon, and Fuqua's own Training Day, to name a few, then you're correct. Instead of giving insight to a city that's rotting away from the inside from corruption, drug use and the crumbling infrastructure of Brooklyn's neighborhoods, this cop drama just feels deep down phony.

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