Thank heavens for There Will Be Blood because without it one of the best movie years in recent memory (at least as far as American films go) would have gone out with a whimper. Here’s what underwhelmed me over the holidays.
Why don’t I like Tim Burton’s movies more? In theory Burton is the most interesting, most unusual director in Hollywood, so why do I always find his films fall short? I think it’s that there is something so embalmed about most of his films: they’re so overly designed that there is no whiff of life in them. Sweeney Todd looks incredible with its haunted faces and gashes of color (especially Sacha Baron Cohen’s blue suit) but the film itself felt like it was playing out a foregone conclusion. Of course it helps to love Sondheim’s musical itself and on first listen I can’t say I really did. But I loved Rent, so what do I know?
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year. Ellen Page and Michael Cera make the year’s most adorable couple but Page especially is undone by Diablo Cody’s cloyingly know-it-all dialogue that smacks too much of Dawson’s Creek, and by Jason Reitman’s insistence on underlining every too-smart line with a visual embellishment of his own. Add nattering Moldy Peaches ditties over that and the whole thing screams quirky. The trailer, however, which I had seen so many times that I knew it by heart, remains my favorite short film of the year.
It’s rare that I watch a film with no idea who the director is, but half way through I Am Legend I realized i’d never bothered to check. Turns out it’s one Francis Lawrence who brought us Keanu Reeves in Constantine, as well as videos for Britney, J-Lo, Justin, Janet and, natch, Will Smith. The problem with I Am Legend is that Lawrence doesn’t get jiggy enough with the idea of a deserted Manhattan. There are some stunning images—deer running though a Times Square filled with tall grass, a decimated Brooklyn Bridge—but not enough real invention. The real problem is the script which has less narrative logic than Alvin and the Chipmunks, changing the play whenever it’s convenient (the zombie hordes can’t stand the light, but now they can!) And when Will Smith’s hero scientist rhapsodizes about Bob Marley (I Am Legend, get it?) it’s pure David Brent.
Another film which, for me, played better as a trailer. Having read and loved Ian McEwan’s novel this year, watching the film was passably enjoyable as a reminder of its greatness, even as it reminded me of how much the film couldn’t possibly capture. If I’d never read the book I don’t really know what I’d think. Mr. Tumnus makes a far better Robbie than I thought he would, and Keira Knightly, whom I’m usually on the fence about, is radiant. Loved the clattering typewriter score too.
Well, you can’t win ‘em all when you take the kids to the movies. I was dragged kicking and squealing to this on Christmas Day but I have to admit there was a moment mid-way through the second or third scene when I thought “actually, this isn’t half bad.” I was wrong.