Movies, June 2010

**** Enchanted April
** Watchmen
*** 9
** Picnic
*** District 9
*** Out of Sight
** The Petrified Forest

I’ve always loved Enchanted April, and not only because it features Polly Walker wearing my favorite haircut. It’s just charming. I have to say that on watching it again after many years (though I reread it not too long ago), it was a little stranger and more off-kilter than I’d remembered. But that’s okay, it works.

Watchmen was fine. Watchable but ultimately forgettable, kind of a disappointment for such a good book.

9 was enjoyable — good animation, some compelling characters, and an interesting world for them to wander around in — but overall it didn’t quite come together for me. The story and some of the characters are fairly cliched, a lot of the details sort of sketched in, as though the director is really more interested in creating a mood and some interesting visual moments than in telling a story.

District 9 was also successful in some ways and not in others. My favorite things about it were first, the way the aliens and everything about them was made so matter-of-fact and quotidian, just another fact of life one has to deal with, and second, the way Wikus goes from being a total arrogant asshole to being an interesting character. His assholeness is kind of inherent in his sort of clueless arrogance, and in truth he doesn’t really stop being an asshole in that sense, but he turns out to have some reserves of decency. He’s a great character, and must have been fun to play.

Picnic was crazy melodrama. It was way over the top, sometimes amusingly — like the amount of screen time given to William Holden walks around shirtless while women ogle him, or the Rosalind Russell’s incredible bitchiness — but overall it just didn’t work for me (but then, I don’t really enjoy campy or ironically bad melodrama). The big mystery to me is why this movie isn’t more popular as a camp classic.

Out of Sight was pretty good. I’ve long heard of it as a good movie (or as a surprisingly good movie, given it’s Hollywood-cliche sort of story and casting), and it was surprisingly good for the basically empty entertainment that it is. Both George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez are appealing actors when they’re doing it well, and they do it well here, creating an appealing chemistry between their characters.

Petrified Forest was not bad but didn’t really work for me. I found the writing and acting too mannered, too self-conscious. It was a real old-fashioned melodrama, with conversations that were more the exchange of poetic monologues than anything like real dialogue between real people. It’s easy enough to see why Humphrey Bogart’s doomed, cynical gangster got so much attention, but in retrospect it’s almost a caricature of many of his later roles. His gangster, Bette Davis’s innocent girl yearning for freedom, and Leslie Howard’s jaded wanderer are all archetypes more than 3d characters, and while all three played them pretty well, I had trouble believing in them.