Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Film Round-Up: January 2013: Promised Land, Not Fade Away, Hyde Park on Hudson, Deadfall

"Maybe if we drink we can forget about being in "The Words."
I gotta say. Olivia Wilde is becoming like Michael Pena or Dennis Quaid. I'm thrilled to see her--I really think she's a good actress--even though I know the movie she's in will probably be terrible. It's like ordering a salami sandwich from a vending machine. It's tasty at first, but later you don't feel so good.

As for Quaid, his 2012 should have belonged to Randy: "The Words, (with Olivia Wilde!)" "What to Expect When You're Expecting," and "Playing for Keeps." Good God. How depressing.

These reviews were previously published in "ICON" and are reprinted with permission. 


Promised Land (Dir: Gus Van Sant). Starring: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, Hal Holbrook, Titus Welliver, Terry Kinney. Corporate sweet-talker Steve Butler (Damon, reteaming with Good Will Hunting director Van Sant) is sent to rural Pennsylvania to convince townspeople to lease their land so it can be tapped for natural gas. Everyone prepares for a big payday until the resident science whiz/sage (Holbrook) objects, leading to the arrival of a young, charming environmentalist (Krasinski). Steve soon reconsiders what he’s representing. We never buy the doubt. And it’s not because Damon is too busy wearing the earnest beret to don the black hat: he actually tells the obligatory love interest (DeWitt) that he’s “not a bad guy.” Steve is an old pro so we never believe that his conscience would suddenly wobble when faced with simple wisdom from the farmland. (If he and Krasinski switched roles, that might work, though The Office heartthrob would have had to contain his unbearable smugness.) By the end, Promised Land has gotten away from the thorny issues that pierce the soul and celebrates simple, obvious values represented by American flags and smart little girls selling lemonade.  It makes for a wonderful PSA. As a movie? Not so much. Damon and Krasinski wrote the script. [R] **

Not Fade Away (Dir: David Chase). Starring: John Magaro, Bella Heathcote, Jack Huston, Will Brill, James Gandolfini, Brad Garrett, Christopher McDonald. The Sixties were a crazy time, man. That’s the message behind the pointless, aggravating directorial debut of Chase, the creative force behind The Sopranos. A drum-loving Jersey boy (Magaro) starts off as a straight arrow eager to join the military. Then he dives headlong into rock and roll, forming a band, letting his hair go electric, and having a tempestuous relationship with a student from the Marianne Faithfull School of Bored-looking Beauties (Heathcote). These developments enrage his parents (Gandolfini and Molly Price), graduates of the Whatsa Matta University of Working Class Stereotypes. It’s a long slog. Every guitar pick-thin character can be described through labels: hippie, square, concerned parent. Chase’s idea of propelling the plot is to introduce another crisis. The ending seems lifted from another incredibly pretentious movie. Behind these egregious faults is a stifling blandness. The film’s cultural revelations and you should-have-been-there incredulousness—We made a bong from a toilet paper roll! The Beatles changed everything!—are second-hand. Chase somehow thinks this is all new information when it’s been covered, analyzed, and parodied since the first episode of Laugh-In. [R] *

Hyde Park on Hudson (Dir: Roger Michell). Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams, Elizabeth Marvel. ­­The latest in a line of nostalgia-tinged naughtiness (My Week with Marilyn, Hitchcock) takes us to June 1939. A perfect storm is forming over President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, NY. Habitual paramour and distant cousin, Daisy (Linney), is in love with FDR (Murray); wife Eleanor (Williams) lives elsewhere, and the King and Queen of England (West, Colman) are coming for an important weekend visit. Cue the flustered rich folk! Prestige picture is written all over this effort, but writer Richard Nelson can’t decide on the angle. Every shift of perspective—from forbidden love story to comedy of manners to political drama—is jarring and incomplete. And Michell’s polite, folksy approach guarantees that the movie seals lids shut instead of blowing them off. Don’t let the MPAA rating fool you. Watching Hyde Park on Hudson is like watching slides of your great-grandparents’ vacation to upstate New York—with a few boudoir shots thrown in for spice. [R] **

Deadfall (Dir: Stefan Ruzowitzky). Starring: Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Charlie Hunnam, Sissy Spacek, Kris Kristofferson, Kate Mara, Treat Williams. Following a horrible car accident, two bank robbing siblings (Bana, Wilde) separate and hope to reunite in the wintry backwoods. Sis hitches a ride with a disgraced Olympic boxer (Hunnam) who is running from a new set of problems. Meanwhile, bro kills at a furious rate, making his way to the home of a couple (Spacek, Kristofferson) for a Thanksgiving dinner that ends up fit for a hostage negotiator. “This is like an old movie, don’t you think?” Wilde’s character observes. A little too much, actually. Director Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters) and first-time screenwriter Zach Dean aren’t interested in telling new stories. Deadfall recycles elements of Fargo, Scarface, The Ref and other hard-boiled fare but offers little to keep our interest. The finale is more implausible than intense and the ill-fitting performances range from muted to cartoonish, but the absence of absorbing characters and conflicts really keeps us from warming up to this snowy thriller. [R] **

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