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January 22, 2010

2009: VIII-Baad Movies


The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day – Such a disappointment. Troy Duffy’s original Boondock Saints opened in only five theaters in 1999 and then went to DVD and cult status. After I took it home from a BlockBuster I could find no one who’d heard of it. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus play Irish Catholic brothers who have become self appointed avenging angels. It had a certain Tarantino-derived energy, and was fun in a vigilante sort of way. II is purely gratuitous – and worse, cute. Don’t even bother.

The Girlfriend Experience
I cared less about the people in Steven Soderbergh’s empty excuse for a movie than I have ever cared about any characters ever created (except for those in Humpday below). The film, a superficial exploration of superficiality, follows a professional escort, who also has a live-in boyfriend. Everything is objectified and evaluated as a financial transaction. It doesn’t work as social commentary, as cautionary tale, or as one dimensional morality play.

Two straight guys, high on booze and pot, get rooked into agreeing to film themselves having sex with each other for an experimental film festival. Despite sober reconsiderations, they decide this will be the “ultimate art project.” Pseudo-intellectual conversations ensue. They rent a motel room and keep their date, but all that transpires is more babble trotted out as philosophical dialectic purportedly about profound issues of gender – in one of the talkiest, most self-absorbed movies about absolutely nothing ever made. In all fairness to critical opinion, Stephen Holden, in the NYT, says Lynn Shelton’s film is an “unblinking observation of a friendship put to the test…amused, …kindhearted, and unfailingly truthful” – so what do I know?

The Men Who Stare at Goats
This is a shame because Grant Heslov’s film based on the nonfiction book by Jon Ronson really should be, based on cast alone if nothing else, a good movie. A journalist, played by Ewan McGregor, discovers Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who, in deadpan delivery, relates his experiences in an Army unit recruited to pursue parapsychology research. The cast of loonies who make up the team is rounded out with comedic performances by Jeff Bridges, Stephen Lang, and Kevin Spacey. How could this go wrong? The story’s not grounded anywhere. The journalist seems like an afterthought, and though it seems Cassady or the journalist – one or the other – should serve to anchor the story, it boils down to little more than episodic skits with no narrative trajectory.

Sherlock Holmes
Guy Ritchie turns the venerable detective into a cartoon action-hero. It aims for realism in the seedy streets of London, while studiously ignoring every law of reason (which would seem to be a problem for Holmes’s famous powers of deduction). It’s too over the top, though as Roger Ebert observes, “The great detective, who has survived so much, can certainly shrug off a few special effects.”

I pride myself on knowing what movies are out there, and some basics about them, so here’s an embarrassing confession. I walked into the theater thinking I was going to a documentary about global water shortages! Instead Park Chan-wook’s story is about a priest who volunteers to act as a guinea pig to find a cure for an epidemiological disease. The experiment seems to have miraculously worked until it is clear the infection has taken hold. A tainted blood transfusion saves him, but at the cost of turning him into a vampire with considerable carnal appetites. The movie devolves into gratuitous excess, even for a vampire movie. I very much liked Park’s 2003 Oldboy, but here he lets things spiral out of control.

If you’re in the mood for one of the best contemporary vampire movies, do not pass go, do not collect $100 and rush to add to your queue the Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 Let the Right One In, a serious examination of the nature of the vampire myth, in the tradition of Nosferatu, written by John Ajvide Lindqvist and based on his novel.

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