The worst summer movie season in memory gets a kick in the ass this week with the opening of a pair of small-scale, Sundance-approved art-house gems: the Duplass brothers' Cyrus, an unexpectedly touching, hilariously awkward comedy featuring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill in an odd love triangle of sorts, and Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, a tension-laced thriller that is likely to stand as young actress Jennifer Lawrence's breakout role.
The dire situation has more acute at the multiplex.
I'm through bitching about how clueless the Academy is for overlooking my favorite films in favor of "geriatric coffeetable dogshit" (aka The Reader), as Christian Slater put it in True Romance. (To be fair, The Reader is slightly better than dogshit, mostly due to the presence of Kate Winslet.) Yes, I've finally accepted the Oscars for what it is: an industry wank-fest punctuated by a few moments of genuine spontaneity and/or emotion. Look for Slumdog Millionaire to clean up tonight despite not garnering a single acting nomination, which is almost unheard of for a Best Picture nominee. And look for an elaborately coiffed, sunglasses- and chain wallet-clad Mickey Rourke do something wonderfully eccentric while accepting the Best Actor Oscar.
Surprisingly, early word on No Strings Attached — Ivan Reitman's sexually liberated romantic comedy featuring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher — is strong.
This week’s new releases are a curious hodgepodge ranging from a big-budget studio retread (Fast & Furious) to an experimental feature by a 79-year-old enfant terrible (Pere Portabella's The Silence Before Bach, which opened in New York City more than a year ago). Lodged in-between is a pair of movies that debuted to mixed responses at the Sundance Film Festival (Sunshine Cleaning in 2008, Adventureland earlier this year), both of which feature strong casts and capable directors.
The fall movie season has gotten off to a pretty mediocre start, and this week’s slate of new multiplex offerings does little to reverse the trend: a pair of ho-hum-looking sci-fi thrillers, Pandorum and Surrogates, and what looks to be a glossy remake of Fame, the 1980 movie musical that would serve as the senior play for yours truly many years later (I played Ralph Garcy.) Not coincidently, all three screened after our print deadline, typically a sign that they’re not ripe for much critical love.
There’s no denying that Terry Gilliam has a vast imagination. But is that a good thing for his films and those who have to watch them?
Can we just have Pixar make every movie? The animation studio is at it again with Toy Story 3, yet another creative triumph that offers everything the rest of the summer's big-budget extravaganzas do not: multifaceted characters, adventurous filmmaking and an emotionally involving story that is surprisingly dark and intense.
It is impossible for fans of the classic horror film Carrie, such as myself, to not compare Kimberly Peirce’s new remake to its 1976 predecessor.
Brian De Palma made the original Carrie into a timeless, blood-filled revenge fantasy with his fresh and inspired take on the best-selling Stephen King novel. It is an iconic movie that explores the perils of religious fanaticism, the wonder of supernatural powers and the pain of high school cruelty. The original Carrie is just as heartbreaking as it is it horrifying, garnering the audience’s sympathy for the mistreated protagonist. Sissy Spacek made a damn good Carrie with her natural gaucheness and always frightened, wide-eyed gaze.
Chloe Grace Moretz, on the other hand, is — let’s face it — too cute and self-assured to be anywhere near convincing as the new Carrie. While talented, she lacks the believably awkward touch that Spacek brought to the character with both her appearance and superb acting. Additionally, one of Moretz’s most notable roles as the deadly Hit Girl from Kick Ass made it difficult for me to see her as a vulnerable victim (although it made her violent use of telekinetic powers more fitting). I continually questioned why the Carrie portrayed by Moretz was so outcasted, as she seemed normal albeit a little shy.
The portrayals of Carrie’s high school peers also fall flat. Chris (Portia Doubleday) is an underwhelming ringleader of bullies, not nearly as mean-spirited and malicious as in the original. In fact, her boyfriend Billy (Alex Russell) ends up running the show on tormenting Carrie come prom night, further weakening Chris’ role as a true antagonist. Sue (Gabriella Wilde) is Chris’ remorseful sidekick who has a change of heart and convinces her boyfriend, Tommy (Ansel Elgort), to take Carrie to prom.
She does this to make up for what happens in the infamous shower scene, during which Carrie starts her period without being aware of what is happening, fears that she is dying and gets teased by all of the other girls who throw feminine products at her and chant, “Plug it up.” The gym teacher, Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer), later lets the girls know just how rotten they are for what they did. Despite this, it is confusing as to why Sue would turn her back on Chris and forgo prom, something so important to her, due to the film not delving far enough into Sue’s personality or guilt.
Julianne Moore gives the only redeeming performance as Carrie’s mother, Margaret. With her unkempt hair and self-inflicted harm, she portrays a compelling religious zealot, tortured by her misguided ideology. Her abuse toward Carrie — slapping her and repeatedly forcing her into the prayer closet — is effectively disturbing. The added opening scene (Spoiler Alert) with her giving birth to Carrie and attempting to murder the newborn provides the audience with more of a background on her character than does the original. She cogently delivers the well-known and heartbreaking line, “They’re all gonna laugh at you,” foreshadowing the soon-to-be telekinetic massacre at Carrie’s helm.
I might have liked Carrie had I not seen the original, as the story stays true to the previous film and is still a haunting tale of abuse and its consequences. The movie is filled with clever religious imagery and is visually pleasing, especially during the massacre scene. However, the ill-fitted cast and lack of ingenuity on the director’s part ultimately disappointed me. While the new Carrie may seem like a fun and appropriate movie to watch with Halloween around the corner, it’s hardly worth the ten dollars it costs to see in theaters. Plus, the 1976 version is currently available on Netflix so there really is no excuse to miss out on the sheer brilliance of the original. Grade: C-