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Mid-January movie roundup

I’ve been searching for something to write about and I realized that in the first half of the month, I’ve already seen 9 movies that I had not seen before. A regular feature to the rescue!

Eastern Promises 2007
Good Luck Chuck 2007
Lions for Lambs 2007
Little Miss Sunshine 2006
Lucky You 2007
The Counterfeiters 2007
The Darjeeling Limited 2007
The War of the Worlds 1953
Transformers 2007

Two movies from the list above I count among the best that I’ve seen in a long time.

The Counterfeiters is a German Oscar-winning movie about a group of Jews “recruited” into Nazi counterfeiting operations at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Atrocities perpetrated against Jews are more implied in this movie rather than graphically depicted; we see some cold-blooded executions, but nowhere near the levels of The Pianist or Schindler’s List. Through emotions, fear and struggles of the main characters – who are fortunate to be as privileged as all other concentration camp prisoners can not even imagine to be – the greater suffering around them comes across as all the more horrific. A very powerful movie!

Lions for Lambs is about a different war, the one in Iraq. Actually, it is not. It is about how our ideals get warped around misguided policies of our leaders. I wouldn’t call the movie openly political or painting a certain part of the political spectrum in unflattering colors. But it still felt like an indictment… Tom Cruise may be far from a person I like these days, but I think he is entirely brilliant as the silver-tongued senator who paves his road to the presidency with a new strategy in Iraq. Two acting titans, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, give their trademark excellent performances. But most importantly, this dialog-driven movie makes one think about what serving one’s country truly means.

A couple of other movies were not bad. Eastern Promises is a brutal and dark mafia thriller. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone who is not explicitly a fan of the genre, but it gets high marks from me for proving that it is possible to have non-Russian actors play Russian roles with reasonable authenticity; Russian phrases and words pop up throughout the movie, and not only are they pronounced in recognizable fashion, but they actually make sense most of the time and even go as far as applying an occasional euphemism properly. I do not count Viggo Mortensen among great acting talents, but I think he was very good as Nikolai; he managed to fool me, actually, as far as his true motives.

Little Miss Sunshine was a family viewing and provided a vivid enough depiction of a not exactly dysfunctional, but clearly not entirely together family. I found it very touching that the love of the family members for each other was obvious throughout the chaos and various disasters. My main problem was with the climax scene: Not even the most dysfunctional family can be that unaware after having gotten together that far. Other than that, it was all good fun. All of the main cast was pretty good, but I especially liked Toni Collette’s Sheryl.

The Darjeeling Limited appealed to me as a “travel” movie, with its concept of three estranged brothers attempting to bond on a cross-India train ride. There is some imaginative cinematography and colorful landscapes and scenes, and a few touching moments, and even some sense of discovery, but the overall tone of near-hilarity undermined it a bit, in my view, since the supposedly funny bits didn’t exactly raise to the implied level of hilarity.

I do not have any history with the Transformers comic-book franchise, so the movie did not have any nostalgic connotations for me. I enjoy well-staged action and top-notch CGI, complemented with dry humour, and there was plenty of that in the movie. John Turturro’s brink-of-sanity method of acting is always fun to watch. A walk-into-a-pole-gorgeous girl in one of the title roles is a bonus. But the movie was too drawn-out, for my taste, and the fight sequences were too long and incomprehensible. And I found too many illogical twists in the story, to make it anything more than a curiosity.

For a non-poker-player, I’m surprisingly drawn to movies revolving around the game, which is how Lucky You found its way onto my queue. I like Eric Bana in general, and he is not bad in this flick, and Robert Duvall, I thought, was actually quite good. But the overall impression: Meh.

Jessica Alba used to headline my “5 Celebrities Your Wife Should Allow You To Go On A Date With” list, since her very first days on Dark Angel. Curiously, I cannot think of a single movie with her that I like. Good Luck Chuck was no exception. In fact, it was easily the second-worst movie I’ve seen in a long time (Borat, I suppose, will hold that title for years to come). Ironically, Alba’s role in it is a bit of a saving grace. Still, thanks for making me record it because of you, Jessica!

Finally, a token “oldie”. Discussions on two of my friends’ blogs prompted me to record the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds. I thought it was both less realistic in depicting general panic and fear and more focused on things beyond the survival of the main characters than the recent Spielberg/Cruise remake. I can’t say that I liked one over another, though. The disparity of special effects capabilities skews the comparison very much towards the newer version. But I liked the pace of the old flick much better.

And here it is, my recent viewing program.