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December 21, 2012


Lee Toland Krieger's Celeste and Jesse Forever was not as chick-flicky as I feared it would be, but couldn't these people have some real problems? Written by its co-star Rashida Jones it's the story of a couple who have broken up but are "still friends" and annoy everyone around them with their repertoire of inside jokes. It takes way too long for them to figure out that they each need to move on. (Manohla Dargis's NYT review)

I first heard comedian Mike Birbiglia wryly recount his adventures in sleepwalking on This American Life. His film Sleepwalk with Me, a not even thinly disguised fictionalization of his story, succeeds on the same virtues that his stand-up succeeds. The man can talk exclusively about himself in a completely self-effacing manner. Adapted from his one-man stand-up show, the movie is, as the title suggests, about his sleepwalking. It's also about the tenacity required to elbow one's way into the world of stand-up comedy, and about navigating a romantic relationship in the face of real life. (Stephen Holden's NYT review)

Clint Eastwood seems to be working at creating his own brand of grumpy old man. In Trouble with the Curve, directed by Robert Lorenz, he plays long in the tooth baseball scout Gus.  His friend Pete (John Goodman), concerned about Gus's increasing eccentricities (and grumpiness), convinces Gus's big city lawyer daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to come out to check on him. She ends up accompanying Gus on a scouting trip, where they run into an aspiring baseball announcer (Justin Timberlake), who -- no surprises here -- ends up pursuing Mickey. It's pretty predictable, yet a step above Hallmark fare. (A. O. Scott's NYT review)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a lovely movie, but it frustrated me more than once. It contains a handful of scenes that are what a friend of mine calls "movie moments," those magical frames of film when the story, the camera, the lights, the music, the actors conspire to transport us into the world of pure cinema. Problem is, almost before we can be swept into the moment, the director cuts away. More than once I wanted to say, "Whoa there!!" I'm not sure why this happened. Stephen Chbosky directed the movie, which he adapted from his very own book. So was it in the interest of keeping the movie short that the audience is cheated? Nonetheless, it is a touching story of three adolescent outcasts who find their way through their friendship. We experience their coming of age through the eyes of Charlie, sensitively portrayed by Logan Lerman. Sensing a sympathetic soul, ostentatiously gay Patrick (played beautifully over the top by Ezra Miller, who also played the Columbine-like assassin in We Need to Talk About Kevin) and his stepsister (played equally sensitively by Emma Watson) take Charlie under their wings. (Manohla Dargis's review)

I said that Wes Anderson makes a case that dysfunction doesn't look so dysfunctional if we are willing to embrace the dysfunction. David O. Russell's Silver Lining Playbook does exactly that. Its bipolar hero Pat and likewise bipolar heroine Tiffany -- revealed in remarkable performances by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence -- are simply human as are we, if, admittedly, more intense. That intensity and lack of filters allows for keener insights into human foibles than we usually witness. One is ever aware of Pat's mother's love and concern for her son in the countenance of Jacki Weaver, and Robert De Niro again demonstrates the depth of his craft as Pat's father and a man whose emotional responses have been shaped by his generation's idea of what it is to be a husband and a father. (Manohla Dargis's NYT review)

And for THE relationship movie of the year...  I know I've read Crime and Punishment, and I know the story of Anna Karenina, but for the life of me I can't remember if I've read it. Whether I did or not, I am convinced that there must be more to hang one's hat on than there is in Joe Wright's film version. For all of the inventive staging, I just wanted to know why she hadn't thrown herself under the train already. I also want to know what the deal is with the re-emergence of the hysterical woman, teeming with repressed sexuality, who has made a comeback in Black Swan, A Dangerous Method, Hysteria, and now Anna Karenina. Terrence Rafferty did an interesting article on this subject in the NYT when A Dangerous Method came out in 2011. (A. O. Scott's NYT review)

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