While We’re Young (B). Here’s the newest film from director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale). I was hooked by the premise: a childless married couple about my age starts hanging out with a newly married couple in their 20s, with unpredictable results. Ben Stiller (Night at the Museum) and that cute little buck-toothed Naomi Watts (St. Vincent) star as the older couple, and Adam Driver (Tracks) and Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!) star as the younger couple. It wasn’t really laugh-out-loud funny, but it was definitely amusing to watch Ben and Naomi try to keep up with the youngsters; not so amusing to watch Ben (playing someone exactly my age) try to come to grips with losing his youth. (An arthritis diagnosis hits him particularly hard.) The plot was so-so, but the characters were fun to watch. I say check it out.
Birdman (B-), The latest film from director Alejandro Iñárritu (Babel) seems to be getting some award buzz, so I figured I should check it out. Michael Keaton (Batman) plays Riggan Thomas, a once-successful actor who walked away from a popular superhero movie franchise to pursue . . . well, I’m not sure what, but something different. Now, many years later, he is struggling to open a Broadway play that he has written, is directing, and plans to star in. Everything is going wrong, of course; money is short, critics are sharpening their knives, and to top it off Thomas is starting to hear a scornful voice in his head—the deep voice of Birdman, the superhero role he left behind. It’s a pretty entertaining movie with lots of star power. Emma Stone (Magic in the Moonlight) plays Thomas’s in-and-out-of-rehab daughter. Edward Norton (Fight Club) plays the temperamental actor who just might save the play. Zack Galifianakis (The Hangover) is Thomas’s over-stressed lawyer, and Naomi Watts (St. Vincent) and Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion) are the actresses in Thomas’s play. I’d have to say the film’s weakness is its length; at 119 minutes, it just started to feel a little long to me. Cut out about 15 or 20 minutes towards the end, and I’d probably give it a solid B.
St. Vincent (A-). Okay, the grade may be slightly inflated, but what can I say? I fell for this sappy little movie about a cranky old boozehound and the little boy who moves in next door and gets taken under his wing. Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom) plays Vincent, a cranky old boozehound with a Russian stripper girlfriend (Naomi Watts, The Impossible) and a serious debt problem. Melissa McCarthy (The Heat) plays the woman who moves in next door to Vincent. She’s going through a tough divorce and works long hours, so she gets Vincent to watch her young son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher, in his first movie) after school. It’s Murray’s movie, but young Lieberher also turns in a great performance that really makes the movie work. Chris O’Dowd (Calvary) has some good one-liners as a Catholic priest and teacher at Oliver’s school. I described this movie to The Borg Queen, and she said, “It sounds like About a Boy.” And you know, there is some similarity there, although I don’t think I’ve ever cried watching About a Boy. Anyway, I’ll be curious to see if Murray gets an Oscar nom for this one.
The Impossible (B). This is the based-on-a-true-story movie about the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami that struck numerous countries in southeastern Asia and killed some 230,000 people. Naomi Watts (King Kong) and Ewan McGregor (The Island) star as a British couple on vacation in Thailand with their three little boys. It doesn’t take long for the tsunami to hit, and the mom and the oldest son are swept far away while the dad and two other boys manage to stay together near their hotel. The rest is the tale of their efforts to survive and find each other in the post-catastrophe chaos. It’s a competent movie. The tsunami scenes are quite effective, illustrating that the junk that is in the water with you can be almost as dangerous as the water itself. I’m quite sure I would’ve been dead in a hurry. The acting is generally good, although I think Naomi Watts’s Oscar nomination is a little generous. On the down side, the film is a little too overtly manipulative and sentimental. The mushy music is way over the top, and the scenes near the end also seem too staged. But it’s still interesting and worth seeing, in my opinion.
The International (B-) This film had a lot of potential. It might have been better if it were written as a James Bond film. Instead, Louis Salinger, a former Interpol agent played by Clive Owen (Children of Men), is working for the New York District Attorney’s office alongside Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman, played by Naomi Watts (King Kong). The two are investigating some questionable banking transactions by the third largest bank in the world. Each time Salinger gets close to uncovering the bank’s big secret–that it is financing world conflict–his witnesses die and the trail nearly disappears. Ultimately, Salinger has to go outside the bounds of the law to bring the bank down. One of my favorite scenes is a shoot-out that takes place at the Guggenheim in New York. I’ll never be able to visit that museum again without an exit strategy and without constantly looking over my shoulder for gunmen. I enjoyed this film, but in the end, the resolution of the conflict was a little underwhelming.
The International (B-). I had kinda sorta wanted to see this movie just because it starred current cool dude Clive Owen (Children of Men) and cute little buck-toothed Naomi Watts (The Painted Veil). Well, it’s really Clive’s movie; Naomi is barely in it, and she has virtually nothing to do. But Clive does a good job as an Interpol agent who’s trying to bust a shady Luxembourg bank that’s dealing high-tech weapon systems to Third World countries. This is the kind of bank that has an assassin on permanent retainer, so you definitely don’t want to incur a lot of overdraft fees with them. The movie’s message is clear–giant international banks control everything, and they keep assassins on retainer, so don’t mess. Kind of a downer, don’t you think? Still, Clive is a pro, and there’s a massive shootout in the Guggenheim Museum that’s kind of fun to watch.
The Painted Veil (B). Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom) and Naomi Watts (King Kong) star in this beautifully filmed tale of love and adventure in 1920s China. Norton plays a British bacteriologist working in Shanghai, and Watts is the socialite wife he adores but cannot make happy. When he discovers that she is having an affair, he signs up to go into the Chinese heartland to fight a cholera epidemic, and he drags his wife along with him to punish her. Their personal drama plays out against a backdrop of political, and especially anti-Western, turmoil. Good movie.