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The Brazil Burlesque.


2011 so far has not only been tough on the ole blog — It’s been tough on the movie-going. There have been a number of flicks I’ve been on the cusp of seeing in the weeks since The Adjustment BureauPaul, Limitless, Jane Eyre — and some I’ve even been really looking forward to, like Source Code and Hanna. Alas, the only movie I’ve actually managed to catch these past few weeks was…Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Oof.

As you probably already know by now, Sucker Punch is a rather terrible film. Ok, to be fair, it isn’t Gods and Generals-bad or Richard Kelly bad. Just on the basis of its occasionally diverting, fan-service-y visuals — clockwork Huns and ninjas vs. robots and whatnot — it’s probably ever-so-slightly more entertaining than recent drek like The Tourist and Alice in Wonderland. But, let’s be clear, this movie is still atrocious. Sucker Punch basically feels like sitting through an extended cutscene from a lousy, nonsensical, and rushed-to-release video game, and one with a shoddy English translation to boot.

Worse, every single lousy habit of Snyder’s — the fratboy sensibilities, the repetitive slow-fast-slow action sequences, the derivative and/or middlebrow pop culture tastes, the “Dude, that’s so extreme” Mountain Dewness of it all — is wallowed in here. If nothing else, Sucker Punch should answer once and for all whether or not the degree of difficulty for Watchmen was over Snyder’s head. It plainly was. Here, the guy the New York TImes somehow deemed “the purest geek-auteur of the geek-film era” (Uh…PJ? Del Toro? Cameron?) is given carte blanche to do pretty much anything he wants on the studio’s dime, and his big idea seems to be: “Duuuude, let’s re-make Brazil with hot chicks! That’d be so righteous!” Alan Moore, he’s not.

Oh, sorry, was that a spoiler? Well, you probably figured it out once you saw the big samurai in the trailers. In any case, as Sucker Punch begins, a young woman we come to know as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) — I’ll get to the stripper names in a bit — tries to shoot her abusive stepfather after what looks to be an attempted rape, hits her little sister instead, and ends up in a Shutter Island-like sanitarium for her troubles. See for yourself — This is all shot like a mid-90s’ music video and set to a hushed cover of the Eurythmics’ not-at-all-played-out “Sweet Dreams.” Oooh, edgy choice! (Keep an ear out for equally lazy and literal-minded picks by The Smiths (“Asleep”), Bjork (“Army of Me”), Jefferson Airplane (“White Rabbit”), and The Pixies (“Where is my Mind?” — grifted from Fight Club) also.)

Anyways, this Arkham Asylum for the Scantily Clad is run by a European psychiatrist with unorthodox methods (Carla Gugino with an appalling accent), presided over by an orderly with a dictatorial streak (Oscar “OUTLAAAAAAAAAAW” Isaac), and brimming over with young fetching patients (a la Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn), most notably sisters Sweet Pea (Abbe Cornish) and Pilot (Jena Malone). Or at least that seems to be the case — For when Baby Doll overhears she is scheduled to be lobotomized in five days (by none other than Jon Hamm, who’s apparently trying to pay the mortgage until Season 5), she escapes into a fantasy world where the asylum is actually a cabaret/bordello, her imprisoners are the proprietors, and she can simultaneously melt the mind of any man and become a ninja warrior everytime she does a risque dance. Um, what? (And, hey, wasn’t this the plot of Burlesque?)

You know, it’s not really worth talking about the story for another paragraph. Suffice to say that, to escape their plight, Baby Doll and her sisters-in-captivity kick a lot of ass in these fantasies-within-fantasies. And yet, even though these sequences all involve totally extreme fan-service stuff like robots and dragons and bi-planes and zeppelins and Scott-Glenn-playing-David-Carradine (You really want to impress the fanboys? Get Peter Weller next time), they’re increasingly boring to sit through. This is one of those movies where you’re told early on that there are FIVE (5) super-important Maguffins that must be reclaimed for the heroine(s) to prevail, and you spend the rest of the movie wishing they were looking for the last one already. As with Snyder’s 300, I tried to sit there and just lizard-brain my way through the terrible stuff, but it’s just impossible. The dialogue is awful. The story is incoherent. The exposition is cringe-worthy.

And, yes, the gender politics are rancid. Look, I paid for the ticket — I’m not above watching women in revealing outfits face down genre baddies. (I mean, wasn’t that the whole point of Underworld?) But Ellen Ripley does not exist in this dojo. Everything about Sucker Punch — the characters with zero personality but their stripper names, the whole trapped-in-the-bordello and magical-striptease angles, the constant scenes of implied sexual violence and/or Women in Peril — reeks of emotionally-stunted, puerile fratboyism, or worse. Since release, Snyder has gone out of his way to suggest his film is totally un-sexist and empowering, and, besides, he’s just giving the audience what they want, you know? Duuuuuude, it’s like he flipped it! That’s so extreme! Yeah, not so much. It is, however, more than a little embarrassing to sit through.

More than anything, I spent Sucker Punch feeling bad for the actors (especially Cornish and Isaac, and I have a soft spot for Gugino and Hamm) who were clearly better than the material. Well, that and feeling grim about Superman. It looks like the Big Blue Boy Scout will be rushing the frat scene next year. Dude, it’s gonna be so extreme.

2010 in Film.

With Snooki set, and the earth embarking on another tour around the sun, it must be time for the 2010 movie round-up. As always, there are a few contender films I haven’t yet seen — Blue Valentine opens here next weekend, for example. But, as it happens, I did see quite a few more movies than usual this year — an added bonus to having a full-time, non-gradual school income again. In any case, without further ado, the…

Top 20 Films of 2010
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008/2009/The Oughts]

1. Toy Story 3: I kept expecting some other movie to come along in the second half of 2010 and knock this lachrymose Pixar masterpiece out of the top spot. But, in a not particularly great year for movies, Lee Unkrich’s surprisingly sad and soulful Toy Story 3 held onto the crown. (As it turns out, the highest grossing film of the year was also the best.) Basically, this is the movie about fleeting youth and fading plastic that Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are wanted to be. And, while I’m still not sure if kids will vibe into the melancholy shenanigans here at all, it touched a chord in more than one aging man-child out there…just ask QT.

2. The Red Riding Trilogy: Amid the moors of the North, there is an evil that does not sleep. Originally a TV miniseries in Britain, the Red Riding trilogy — 1974, 1980 and 1983 — counted as full-fledged movies for those of us stateside. And, while perhaps too grim for some tastes, this three-part, nine-year inquiry into black deeds in Yorkshire was as immersive and transporting a movie experience as there was in 2010. (The problem was, you didn’t necessarily want to be where it transported you.) True, the third film was weaker than the first two installments. But taken as a whole, this was one gritty and impressive crime saga, with a number of memorable turns by Paddy Considine, Andrew Garfield, Mark Addy, Rebecca Hall, Peter Mullan and others.

3. The Secret in Their Eyes: Alas, you will find no respite from the Yorkshire darkness in the Argentina of the Dirty War. Earlier in the year, I had A Prophet ranked above this movie, the Best Foreign Film winner of 2009. (It was released here in 2010.) But Juan Jose Campanella’s haunting picture has grown in my memory in the months since. Like Red Riding, this is another wistful investigation into murder, missed opportunities, and the choices we make, one that sticks with you well after the theater lights come up.

4. True Grit: For the third time in four years, the Coens make the top five. (See also No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man.) And while I concede to being a bit of a Coen fanboy, I’m guessing this retelling of the John Wayne classic stands on its own merits. The occasional quirk aside, this is the brothers’ Straight Story, and, as I said in the original review, it feels like an unearthed and quintessentially American coming-of-age tale. The travails of Ree Dolly may have been the cat’s meow to many critics this year, but, when it comes to teenage girls facing a heap of adversity, I myself cottoned to the western adventures of Matty Ross.

5. The Social Network: With top-notch work from David Fincher, Trent Reznor, and the entire cast, The Social Network has a crisp, sleek, and entertaining interface to be sure. On an intellectual level, it’s definitely one of the most purely enjoyable movies of the year. But I still find this film somewhat dubious in terms of content. It works better as a Shakespearean tale of ambition and betrayal — Richard III by way of Revenge of the Nerds — than it does a legitimate recreation of the origins of Facebook. Still, given that much of the action takes place at a university whose motto is Veritas (“Truth”) and yet whose most prominent landmark is the “Statue of the Three Lies,” I guess I should probably forgive TSN its many factual screw-ups. Print the legend and all that.

6. A Prophet: Call it the Antisocial Network: Another 2009 foreign film that made it here in 2010, Jacques Audiard’s novelistic, keenly observed A Prophet — about a young prisoner learning to survive and thrive in the interstices of a cross-cultural jailyard — was another of the best films of the year. A Prophet can feel slow at times, and it’s not an experience I’m likely to revisit anytime soon. But it’s this film’s continual attention to the devastating detail that makes it a prison movie to remember.

7. Inception: Just as he did with The Prestige after Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan took a mental health break from Gotham City after The Dark Knight by crafting this mindbending sorbet, the best “summer movie thrillride” experience of 2010. (The only other ones that come close are #9 below and the first-half of Tron: Legacy.) I still wish Inception was a bit more ragged in its dreaming, and, like a dream, it makes more sense when you’re watching it than when you think back on it later. Nonetheless, Inception was great fun throughout, and if nothing else, it spawned one of my favorite new Internet memes.

8. The Fighter: I just saw this one over the weekend, so it has no review up yet. Suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised by David O’Russell’s chronicle of the comeback of welterweight “Irish” Micky Ward, the pride of Lowell, Massachusetts. In fact, I had the opposite experience here that I had with The King’s Speech. There was a potentially interesting story told extremely conventionally, while this is a tried and tested sports movie formula — a boxer with one last shot at a title — that still felt fresh and invigorating. True, the seven Ward sisters were a bit much — They were the only time this boxing movie veered toward the egregious cartoon rednecks of Million Dollar Baby. But otherwise, solid performances by Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams and especially Christian Bale give this could’ve-been-by-the-numbers film a much-needed heart.

9. Kick-Ass: Capitalizing on the promise he showed in Layer Cake, director Matthew Vaughn brought to life the most engaging comic book reverie of 2010 with Kick-Ass, his warmer, more colorful take on the Mark Millar comic. This film saw Nicolas Cage continue his Bad Lieutenant mini-revival, Mark Strong continue to hone his talent for instant Big-Bad gravitas (see also: Sherlock Holmes, 2011’s Green Lantern), and, like a bat out of Hell (or New Mexico, for that matter), 13-year-old Chloe Moretz become an out-and-out, foul-mouthed, ass-kicking action star. Few films this year were as fun as this one.

10. Exit Through the Gift Shop: As this potentially faux-documentary explains: Before he exposed the sweatshops under Springfield, British provocateur Banksy set the world of street art careening over the shark by encouraging Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash, to get in the graffiti game. It’s still an open question whether Banksy’s disastrous creation of MBW was inadvertent or just his latest well-crafted skewering of the powers-that-be. Either way, Exit Through the Gift Shop, about the rise and fall of street art, is a merry prank indeed.

11. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: While the Harry Potter books grew distended and clumsy in the home stretch, the movie series continues to gain steam along that last low road to Hogwarts. In bringing to life the first half of Hallows, David Yates has made arguably the best Potter film yet, and not just because he has the good sense to riff on Brazil therein. The danger feels more palpable, the hopping around the countryside feels less episodic, and, after a decade of doing this, the Big Three wear their characters naturally now. Here’s hoping Harry Potter and the Battalion of Thespians manage to close things out as smoothly this summer.

12. Inside Job: You think Banksy got away with a grift? Check this one out. Pinning its high-profile subject to the mat much more successfully than did Alex Gibney’s Casino Jack documentary, Inside Job impressively lays out the causes and (lack of) consequences of the Great Wall Street meltdown of 2008. Those would be a swollen, rapacious, and unregulated financial services sector, and a government that, even after the Big Bust, still bends over backward to appease it. The only real problem with Inside Job is the feedback loop — The only folks likely to see this film are the same ones who already know the story and are enraged by it. Still, I’m glad it’s there, and at least it’s encouraging economists to clean up their act.

13. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Like I said back in August, Scott Pilgrim seems to have gone the way of the much-maligned Speed Racer. As visually inventive as it was, Pilgrim didn’t make much of a splash at the box office. But even if its fanboy fan service tendencies still rankle, Edgar Wright’s ode to geek crushes and the g4m3r life deserved more love than it got on the first play, so hopefully it enjoys several more lives on Blu Ray and beyond.

14. The Town: Admittedly, Boston is getting a bit peaked as Hollywood’s go-to destination for white working-class crime stories of late (Mystic River, The Departed, Gone Baby Gone.) That being said, Ben Affleck’s “Beantown Heat” was a strong, well-made, and entertaining ensemble film with a good sense of place and charisma to burn. Everyone from Jon Hamm and Rebecca Hall to Chris Cooper and the late Pete Postlethwaite bring their A-game here, with special kudos to Jeremy Renner as Affleck’s crazy-like-a-fox pahtnuh-in-crime.

15. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers: After watching Inside Job, you might wonder why our government is in such a furor over Julian Assange and Wikileaks when crimes like constructing an illegal torture regime and, oh, causing an worldwide global economic meltdown seem to go unpunished. And after watching Ellsberg, you might think we’ve seen this movie before anyway. (Just take it from the man himself.) Constructed like a conspiracy thriller, Ellsberg is a testament to the notion that sometimes whistle-blowing — the only “misdeed” our current administration can seem to get angry about these days — may in fact be a higher form of patriotism. However you feel about Ellsberg and Wikileaks, this is a compelling documentary about tough choices in contentious times.

16. Never Let Me Go: Like The Secret In Their Eyes, this quiet, elegiac sci-fi film has risen in my estimation in the months since I saw it. Keira Knightley is still a drag on the production, and all of the characters a bit too locked-in for my taste — If they were so invested in one plan to avoid their fate, they should’ve been more willing to contemplate other avenues of escape as well. Still, also like The Secret In Their Eyes, this is a movie whose mood of reticent mourning lingers on.

17. Terribly Happy: How do you say “Blood Simple” in Danish? This weird Coenesque ditty about a sheriff with a troubled past investigating Something Rotten in Denmark was yet another late arrival to these shores — It premiered in Europe in 2008. And yet, once again, it was among the best 2010 had to offer. Let’s hope the pattern holds and right now, some of the best films of this year are already kicking around other continents, ready to be unleashed.

18. The King’s Speech: I wrote about this one rather recently, so my views on it haven’t changed much. This is a undeniably well-made, well-written, and well-performed film, but I found its sports-movie structure and Merchant-Ivory bromance all a bit pat. Still, Colin Firth in particular is excellent here — With this and A Single Man, he’s aging into a more interesting actor than he was before. Consider it his Baldwinning.

19. The Ghost Writer: As he pieces together the memoirs of England’s ex-PM, boilerplate and boredom are the least of Ewan MacGregor’s worries — He also has surveillance men and femmes fatale to contend with. Ghost, welcome to the Machine! This conspiratorial yarn isn’t a particularly deep film — more just a cheeky throwback to 70’s paranoia thrillers and an extended screw-you to the departed Tony Blair. Still, whatever his other sins, Roman Polanski fashioned a brisk and entertaining cloak-and-dagger flick here.

20. The Kids Are All Right: I thought about Get Him to the Greek, Greenberg, and Shutter Island for this last spot. But, in the end, I gave the nod to this, Lisa Cholodenko’s well-observed slice of family life in 21st century California. This is a small and unassuming film, but one that does what it does quite well — It takes a number of well-drawn characters and lets them breathe and bounce off each other.

Most Disappointing: Alice in Wonderland: An embarrassment to the Carroll book: Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have never seemed so uninspired together.

Worth Netflixing: 44-Inch Chest, The American, A Single Man (2009), Crazy Heart (2009), Daybreakers, The Eclipse, Get Him to the Greek, Greenberg, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009), Knight and Day, Let Me In, Life During Wartime, The Lovely Bones (2009), Shutter Island, Splice, The Square, Tron: Legacy, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Winter’s Bone, Youth in Revolt

Don’t Bother: The Art of the Steal, Black Swan, The Book of Eli, Brooklyn’s Finest, Casino Jack and the USM, Catfish, Clash of the Titans, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Green Zone, Hot Tub Time Machine, Invictus (2009), Iron Man 2, Jonah Hex, Legion, The Losers, Machete, Red, Robin Hood, Salt, Sweetgrass, The Tourist, The Werewolf, The White Ribbon

Best Actor: Ricardo Darin, The Secret In Their Eyes, Tahar Rahim, A Prophet; Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan; Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone, Haylee Steinfeld, True Grit
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter; Jeremy Renner, The Town; Andrew Garfield, The Social Network/Never Let Me Go
Best Supporting Actress: Chloe Moretz, Kick-Ass, Amy Adams, The Fighter; Charlotte Rampling, Life During Wartime

Unseen: 127 Hours, The A-Team, All Good Things, Animal Kingdom, Another Year, Blue Valentine, Buried, Burlesque, Carlos, Casino Jack, Centurion, Chloe, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, Conviction, Cop Out, Country Strong, The Crazies, Creation, Date Night, Despicable Me, Devil, Dinner for Schmucks, Easy A, Eat, Pray, Love, Edge of Darkness, The Expendables, Extraordinary Measures, Fair Game, Fish Tank, Four Lions, From Paris with Love, Get Low, The Good, The Bad, and the Weird, Gulliver’s Travels, Harry Brown, Hereafter, How Do You Know?, Howl, I am Love, The Illusionist, I Love You, Phillip Morris, I’m Still Here, Jackass 3D, Jack Goes Boating, The Karate Kid, The Killer Inside Me, The Last Exorcism, The Last Station, Leap Year, Little Fockers, MacGruber, Made in Dagenham, Micmacs, Monsters, Mother, The Next Three Days, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Other Guys, Paranormal Activity 2, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Please Give, Predators, The Prince of Persia, Rabbit Hole, Rare Exports, Repo Men, Secretariat, Shrek Forever After, Skyline, Somewhere, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Step Up 3D, Survival of the Dead, Takers, Tangled, The Tempest, Tiny Furniture, Twilight: Eclipse, Unstoppable, Valentine’s Day, Vincere, When In Rome, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

    A Good Year For:

  • Abduction as Seduction (Knight & Day, Red, The Tourist)
  • Andrew Garfield (Red Riding, The Social Network, Never Let Me Go)
  • Aussie Noir (The Square, Animal Kingdom)
  • Charlotte Rampling (Life During Wartime, Never Let Me Go)
  • Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass, Let Me In)
  • Ghostly Ex’s (Life During Wartime, The Eclipse)
  • The Dude’s Paternal Side (Tron: Legacy, True Grit)
  • Working-class Bay Staters (The Town, The Fighter)

    A Bad Year For:

  • Angelina Jolie (Salt, The Tourist)
  • Art Museums (Exit Through the Gift Shop, Art of the Steal)
  • B-level DC Heroes (Jonah Hex, The Losers)
  • Eighties Remakes (Karate Kid, Nightmare on Elm Street)
  • Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist)
  • Leo’s Sanity (Inception, Shutter Island)
  • The Street (Inside Job, Wall Street 2)

2011: 5 Days in August, 30 Minutes or Less, The Adjustment Bureau, Albert Nobbs, Amigo, Anonymous, Arthur, Arthur Christmas, Bad Teacher, Barney’s Version, Battle: Los Angeles, The Beaver, Beginners, Bernie, The Big Year, Black Gold, Brighton Rock, Caesar: Rise of the Apes, Captain America: The First Avenger, Cars 2, Cedar Rapids, Colombiana, Conan the Barbarian, The Conspirator, Contagion, Coriolanus, Cowboys and Aliens, Damsels in Distress, A Dangerous Method, The Darkest Hour, The Debt, The Deep Blue Sea, The Descendants, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Drive Angry, The Eagle, The Factory, The Fields, Friends with Benefits, Fright Night, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, The Guard, The Hangover Part 2, Hanna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Haywire, I am Number Four, Jane Eyre, Larry Crowne, Limitless, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, The Muppets, Paul, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Priest, Rango, Sanctum, Scream 4, Season of the Witch, Sherlock Holmes 2, Source Code, Straw Dogs, Sucker Punch, Super 8, The Thing, Thor, The Tree of Life, The Way Back, X-Men: First Class, Your Highness, and…

Thundering Son of a Sea-Gherkin! It’s Tintin!

Malice in Wonderland.

Now that the depressing political news is out of the way, time to take refuge in pop culture. First up, in the trailer bin of late, Zack Snyder preps for his time with the Big Boy Scout by purging his fratty-fanboy id in the new trailer for his Sucker Punch, with Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Jena Malone, Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm(?), Oscar Isaac, and Scott Glenn (as the ghost of David Carradine.)

So this looks…um, well, rather shoddily plotted. Sorta like Alice in Wonderland meets Brazil meets The Matrix meets the Victoria’s Secret catalog. But, y’know, I like zeppelins, biplanes, dragons, robots, samurai, and beautiful, badass heroines as much as the next guy. So, yeah, count me in.

Wicked Heat.


Behind as ever on the movie front — I saw this one two weeks ago — and we’re heading into a particularly chock-full film weekend. So, without further ado: Ben Affleck’s worthwhile crime saga The Town, his similarly Beantown-based follow-up to the promising Gone Baby Gone, is, for all intent and purposes, Heat in the Hub. (Or, put another way, this movie is to Heat what The Departed was to Infernal Affairs — Just add Boston.)

And let’s face it: Between the movies above, and Mystic River, The Boondock Saints, and even going back to the 1994 Jeff Bridges-Tommy Lee Jones mega-stinker Blown Away, white working-class Boston has recently become a bit of a movie cliche as the go-to venue for local color in a cops-and-robbers movie. (And, as in Gone Baby Gone, Affleck perhaps overuses the aerial establishing shots of the Boston skyline here.) But take that for what it is and The Town is definitely a quality entertainment — Well-written, well-made, and with a raft of very good performances, some of them potentially Oscar-caliber, The Town is a smart, adult-minded action movie that delivers what it promises.

For some, I’d expect what The Town mainly promises is “Don Draper and Gossip Girl!” (Having never seen Gossip Girl, and being more of a movie than a TV guy, I was more drawn in by Rebecca Hall and Jeremy Renner. Ok, Jon Hamm too.) But, in fact, and perhaps because Affleck is obviously an actor himself and thus generous with them, The Town is less a star vehicle than an ensemble piece, and it brims over with enjoyable performances. To take just three examples in the margins, Chris Cooper quietly simmers with pent-up rage in the Big House, Pete Postlethwaite gives a sinister edge (and a whiff of cheese) to his turn as an old-school Boston criminal, and Affleck alum Titus Welliver brings his usual swagger to the role of a local cop who knows all-too-well how the old neighborhood works.

I kinda hate to say this, but if there’s a false note struck in the acting department here, it’s probably Affleck himself. He’s a decent enough actor, and he doesn’t upset the movie by any means — From moment to moment, he’s fine in the role. But as the lead — Dougie MacRay, a street-smaht Charlestown bank robber who accidentally falls for the hostage (Hall) of his latest job — Affleck seems miscast, mainly because his choirboy looks and general, aw-shucks demeanor rob the character of a much-needed edge. However much he hit the gym beforehand, Affleck just seems too easygoing to pull off the dangerous blue-collar tough-guy thing. (And so, small plot details, like his saintly character once being an almost-pro-hockey player, which might’ve worked otherwise, seem even more like screenwriterly groaners.)

Now, in the Al Pacino role — the dogged FBI agent hot on our anti-hero’s heels — Jon Hamm is pretty much right in his usual, Drapery wheelhouse. You can’t say he shows us much different here (other than, in one scene, a very funny Boston accent — “You and your boys didn’t just roll a Stah Mahket over in Milton for a bahx of quahters.” It’s right up there with his James Mason.) But the role suits him, and it’s definitely a step up from his brief appearance in the Keanu’ed Day the Earth Stood Still. (Is Superman next? Well, definitely maybe.)

For her part, Blake Lively is a real presence in a relatively small role, and, while, like I said, I’ve never seen Gossip Girl, I doubt her character on TV is the been-’round-the-block Townie mom (a la Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone) that Lively plays here, and she’s quite good. Rebecca Hall, meanwhile, is an actress I’ve sorta crushed on since The Prestige (she’s probably best known for Vicky Christina Barcelona (#15), and most recently popped up in Red Riding), but her part here — the love interest — is a mostly thankless one. (The Town‘s script is generally solid, but at one point in the early going Hall is given a laugh-out-loud terrible anecdote involving tragedies and sunny days that stops the film dead. She musters through as best she can.)

In the end, though, the standout of The Town is Jeremy Renner, continuing his post-Hurt Locker leap to the A-list with another very impressive performance. As Jem, Dougie’s screw-up of a best friend who takes a special relish in crackin’ skulls on the job, Renner takes a Masshole character which could’ve been wayyyy over-the-top in someone else’s hands and sells it with understatement. In, say, 28 Weeks Later, Renner seemed as amiable as Affleck, but here he’s a coiled menace, almost despite himself, and the type of Townie at the end of the bah you do NOT want to mess with.

Renner may have gotten passed over for Jeff Bridges at the Oscars last year (a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award, if not necessarily for Crazy Heart), and if The Social Network is half as good as touted, Andrew Garfield or even JT might end up giving him some run too. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Renner atop the Supporting Actor field for The Town this winter. In a well-made, entertaining heist film through-and-through, he’s the guy who ultimately steals the show.

Wicked Game.

As seen at Inception last night, Beantown bank robber Ben Affleck develops an inconvenient crush on his former hostage, bank manager Rebecca Hall, in the new trailer for The Town, Affleck’s follow-up to Gone Baby Gone. Town also features Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper, and presumably lots of local Boston color. Sure, I could see this.

In brightest day, in blackest night…

I’ve been watching the casting fly-by on this without commenting, and I still kinda wish they’d gone with Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm for Hal Jordan over the getting-overexposed Ryan Reynolds (who already has two other comic properties to his name in Deadpool and Blade III.) Nonetheless, Mark Strong has joined the cast of Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern as Sinestro, the Lantern’s arch-nemesis. He joins Reynolds, Blake Lively (Carol Ferris), Peter Sarsgaard (Hector Hammond), and Tim Robbins (Sen. Hammond, Hector’s pa.)

Well, that’s a pretty solid cast on the villain side. But I fear this is just going to feel like an attempt to cash in on DC’s second-tier (a la Iron Man on the Marvel side)…unless they go really big and space-age with it. Like Green Lantern Corps, Oans, etc.

GRIEF™, by Ralph Lauren.

Ladies and gentlemen of discriminating taste, be the first in your coterie to experience the strong, clean lines and dramatic intensity that is GRIEF™, the new winter 2010 collection from Ralph Lauren. Witness, for example, the suicidal despair — and casual-yet-professorial elegance — of Colin Firth, here drowning in inconsolable sadness in a double-breasted silk blazer ($3,740), cotton shirt ($500), silk pocket square ($105); cotton trousers ($395), and alligator belt ($995). Or consider the boyish innocence and androgynous suavity of Nicholas Hoult, here in pink angora sweater ($285), khaki trousers ($350), suede-leather shoes ($250), and cotton undershirt ($85). In short, feel horrible about the untimely death of your one true love — and look great doing it! — with GRIEF™, in stores this mid-winter.

Ok, ok, I’m admittedly being uncharitable towards Tom Ford’s A Single Man (and, being sadly fashion-disabled, I stole Firth’s outfit language from here.) But only a little. Let me put it this way: Two recent films came to mind while watching this sad, slow story unfold: Lone Scherfig’s An Education, in that Colin Firth — like Carey Mulligan — rises above the material and gives an Oscar-caliber performance in a movie that’s ultimately only ok. And James Cameron’s Avatar, in that, like life on Pandora, A Single Man has moments of shimmering beauty and yet still, weirdly, remains inert and uninvolving for most of its run.

I’ve never read the 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood, but I’m pretty sure the problem here lies with Ford. Granted, this is a pretty good attempt at a first film from someone who’s not a filmmaker — anyone remember artist Robert Longo’s stab at Johnny Mnemonic? Still, particularly in its first hour, the pacing of A Single Man just feels off. Ford keeps putting forth an image he likes (girl-skipping-rope, Firth-moving-against-a-crowd, bare-chested-men-playing-tennis) and then holds it for several beats too long. As a result, and even despite the best efforts of its lead actor, A Single Man often struggles to achieve any dramatic momentum. (This tendency is at its worst during the English class scene. Oh, and by the way, worst…prof…ever. He veg’s out for the duration, kicks some k-nowledge at the end, and leaves. Huh?) The individual images here are all very pretty, yes, if a bit fussed-over. But the film itself moves at a lurching, stop-and-go pace, if it moves at all, to the detriment of the story being told. It’s like watching a slide show.

And the story here is actually pretty simple and straightforward, and should be elemental in its power — It’s Love Lost, basically. The year is 1962, and George Falconer (Firth) — a closeted English professor teaching in Los Angeles — has just lost his partner of 16 years, Jim (Matthew Goode, a.k.a. Ozymandias), in a tragic car accident. Given the times, George cannot even mourn publicly or attend his beloved’s funeral. In fact, he only finds out about the crash a day later, via a call from the deceased’s cousin, Donald Draper — yes, really.

And so the abyss yawns beneath George, and a suicidal depression takes hold. The only person he could possibly confide in about his terrible ordeal is his old friend Charley (Julianne Moore), a woman he slept with years ago and who apparently has been carrying a torch for him ever since. But she’s got her own problems, and so George — unable to face a life without Jim — starts making (very fastidious — see below) plans to go out with a bang. Can anything prevent the grief-stricken Prof. Falconer from losing out to his sorrows and taking wing on a bullet? Well, there is one fetching student (Nicholas Hoult, formerly of About a Boy), and his pink angora sweater ($285)…

Again, I haven’t read the Isherwood novel and don’t know how it’s been tinkered with. But, even despite Ford’s tics, there are some problems here. This is one of those stories where the main character is deeply and utterly depressed — suicidal, even — and so naturally he keeps being pestered by extraordinarily handsome potential significant others, wanting to save him from himself. Um, yeah. (I’ll give it this: A Single Man works better than Sideways in this regard, if only because Paul Giamatti is Paul Giamatti and Colin Firth (when he’s not Mr. Darcy, of course) is Colin Firth, and thus much more likely to draw attention, I would think.) Also, for someone who’s depressed to the point of planning his own suicide, George sure seems to sweat a lot of not-very-important details. (Consider, in contrast, In the Valley of Elah, as Tommy Lee Jones’ early military rectitude completely falls apart as he succumbs to his sadness. When you stop caring, you stop caring.)

But those are basically quibbles. The larger problem of A Single Man is that, all of Firth’s impressive efforts notwithstanding — and mind you, he is very, very good here — A Single Man ends up feeling like a stylistic exercise more than an actual emotion-driven story. Ford finds a neat trick here where he turns the color saturation up or down depending on George’s mood: When life improves, however briefly, his world literally gets more colorful. But Ford keeps dialing it back-and-forth like a child with a new toy, and the effect eventually loses its luster. And that gimmick is as close as Ford gets to connective tissue sometimes. Otherwise, A Single Man feels like a collection of static images out of…well, a fashion catalog. They’re often striking in their lush melancholy, yes. But they’re static all the same.

Midnight Agents, Superhuman Crews.

Among the bountiful harvest that is the Quantum of Solace trailer crop…

  • Trailer rights to use Philip Glass and Muse? Several thousand dollars. Lawyers to haggle out an armistice among warring studios? Millions. Finally getting a Watchmen film up and made? Priceless. Costumed heroes (the Voice-of-Mastercard among them) investigate the death of a Comedian in the story-heavy second trailer for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen.

    I’m all over the place on this one. There are some real red flags here — all the Snydery slo-mo shots of Malin Ackerman’s hair, for example — and some of the dialogue feels as stiff and expository as the ponderous take-a-meeting scenes in 300. Then again, as with the first trailer, I’m still having trouble just wrapping my mind around the fact that they finally made a Watchmen movie. So I’m inclined to be charitable, and the little flourishes throughout (Rorschach’s mask moves!) appeal to my inner fanboy regardless. (Also, while Jackie Earle Hale’s Bale-Batman-growl may be a tad distracting, it’s hard to imagine Rorschach with any other kind of voice.) For now, I’ll call it a push.

  • Bad Boy Kirk! Angry Spock(?)! Alluring Uhura! Villain with Ridges on Face! J.J. Abrams introduces his new-and-improved Enterprise babies in the crowd-pleasing trailer for the Star Trek reboot. I can’t say I’m expecting all that much from this venture, and this clip, particularly in its 2 Fast 2 Furious opener, doesn’t shy away from bringing the summer movie dumb. Still, I’m forced to admit this looks more fun than I’d earlier envisioned, and I’m looking forward to more of Simon Pegg’s Scott and Karl Urban’s Bones. (And Bruce Greenwood (Pike) and Eric Bana (Big Bad) are generally a welcome touch of class in any event.)

    Also out of late:

  • A stiff, robotic alien promises to destroy life on Earth in order to save it…oh yeah, and he brought Gort along too. Keanu Reeves get threatening in the new action-centric trailer for next month’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, also with Jennifer Connelly and Jon Hamm.

  • Speaking of threatening, Harrison Ford looks to uncork the finger of doom for the cause of immigration reform in the trailer for Wayne Kramer’s Crash-like Crossing Over. (I hope his wife and family are ok, at least.) Joining Indy on this border-crossing adventure: Summer Bishil, Alice Braga, Cliff Curtis, Alice Eve, Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta, and Jim Sturgess.

  • Immigration, Schmimmigration. According to the teaser for Roland Emmerich’s next forgettable summer jaunt, 2012, we’ve only got four years left anyway…and it’s all Dubya’s fault. Strangely enough, John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Woody Harrelson are all along to surf this improbable Himalayan-swamping wave, but I wouldn’t expect much of a splash at the box office.

  • Finally, the revolution may not be televised, but it’ll soon be hitting at least a few screens here in America anyway: Witness the a international teaser for Steven Soderbergh’s Che (or, more to the point, Ches — I believe this project is still two films.) Word of mouth on this one has been highly variable, but I remain curious to see what Soderbergh and Benicio del Toro have come up with. Still, this strangely disjointed teaser — Ken Burns by way of Oliver Stone — doesn’t really get the job done.

  • They Come in Peace (Shoot to Kill).

    Klaatu Barada Nikto…the trailer for Scott Derrickson’s remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, with Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, and Jon “Don Draper” Hamm, is now online. (Here’s the Youtube version. Apparently, it’s playing in front of Hancock, which — after being burned by Wanted — I’m now inclined to skip.

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