Ghost Town, seen at the Regal Kaufman Astoria, aud. #8, 1 slithy toad.
Eagle Eye, also at the Kaufman, #4, 3 slithy toads.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist at the AMC Empire, aud #18, 1 toad.
Religulous @ the Empire #19, 2.5 toads
Lakeview Terrace at the AMC Loews 34th St., #11, 2.5 toads
Appaloosa at the 34th St. #5, 1.5 toads
Towelhead at the City Cinemas Angelika, #5, 1 toad, or 3 toads, or 2 toads, or I don't know how many
Office Space at the AFI Silver #1, 2.5 toads
Burn After Reading at the Landmark Bethesda Row #3, 2 slithy toads
The Pool at the Landmark E St. Cinemas #6, 1.5 toads
From worst to best...
Ghost Town and Nick and Norah both share the same flaw, that they're so flat and so essentially dull that I decided to take a nap during each. While the reviews on both were mixed, both did have their share of positive notices, and I just can't figure out why. The kinds of screwball comedies Ghost Town tries to channel were fleet and fast and sophisticated. This movie thinks sophistication requires no more than Greg Kinnear in a tux. Ricky Gervais is like a 45 playing as a 33. During the moments I was awake, I kept wondering why none of the ghosts had died in their PJs. Don't many people die in their sleep, yet all of them died at work or home. Or did they get a change of clothes on their way to Ghost Town? Why did Andrew Wheeler like Ghost Town? Were the parts I slept through that much better? Nick and Norah tries to channel something like Scorcese's After Hours only done by way of teen romantic comedy, only there's no chemistry between Michael Cera and Kat Denning, whose smile seems torturously forced throughout. They try kind of so hard to be NYC hip and film in NYC but the ending makes no sense because the 5th Avenue address would be some upscale apartment building where I'm positive Where's Fluffy will not be found. They discriminate against bookstores by filming at the corner of 8th St. and Avenue of the Americas but away from the B&N where Brandon Sanderson will be signing and only toward the Gray's Papaya.
Appaloosa gets 1.5 toads. I'd kind of like to give it at least 2 because the cast has so many people worth seeing, but at the end of of the day and as amiable as it is there's just no point to it, and I have to be a little harsh. There's also voice-over narration at the beginning and end, and the lines at the end I hated. They insist on declaiming what any reasonably intelligent watcher of the movie should be able to get from the film itself, which reflects either a lack of confidence by the filmmaker or a lack of respect for the audience's intelligence. The Pool also gets 1.5 toads. My sister really liked it, so I decided I could see it while I was down in DC before my train back, and then I read her second e-mail "remember we have different tastes in movies and you won't like this," and she was right about that. Set in India. Nice teenager working at a hotel doing maid work and handyman work and etc. Friends with a slightly younger boy who works at a restaurant. There's a pool house next to the hotel, older boy falls for the daughter of the family that visits from a bigger city for the summer. They have adventures with and without the younger kid who may be somewhat jealous, summer ends and lives have changed. There's some nice cultural stuff going on, but I feel as if this same movie if done as Amerindie cinema wouldn't go anywhere and that the people who like it including not only my sister but also Stephen Holden in the NY Times are giving it extra credit because it's shot in India and thus exotic. For my part I think 1 toad might be more like it, but out of respect for my sister's opinion I've given it a half-toad raise.
Burn After Reading is worth seeing and worth not seeing, hence 2 toads. Considering I don't like the Coen Brothers all that much, this counts as a rave. Basically, the cast is really good, with George Clooney and Brad Pitt and John Malkovich and Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton and JK Simmons, so it's fun to watch on that account. The critics have lambasted it in some instances (and certainly by comparison to their usual unadulterated encomiums of praise for the Coen Bros) because they say it's not likeable, but that's more often a problem in the movies the critics like than in this one which they liked less. It's very hard not to like a Brad Pitt or George Clooney, and none of the cast are working overtime at being unloveable in this movie. More accurate to say that the movie drifts along until it reaches a random ending after a lot of random plot events.
Religulous and Lakeview Terrace are both a tad above average on my toad scale. Lakeview Terrace is directed by Neil LaBute, whose plays I've often loved (The Shape of Things, Fat Pig) but who is less consistently successful on stage. The script is co-written by playwright Howard Korder whose 1988 drama Boys' Life has just been revived in NYC. It has elements of cheesier landlord/tenant horror thrillers like Pacific Heights but overall does I think hold to a slightly higher plane in putting within the context of race relations and parenting and other more issue-related angles. Another movie that gets points for having good cast members; Samuel L. Jackson is a plus in even the most negative-filled movie.
I'm not sure why I'm not giving Religulous a higher rating. Though I attend Sabbath service more often than not over the course of the year I am very wary of the extremes in pretty much any and every religion which can meet on the left and right in some very scary places, which is ultimately Maher's point. His interview at a company that specializes in making "shomer shabbas" products for Jews resonates very deeply with me. Under Jewish law there are lots of specific things you can't do on the sabbath, but because some of these can be very inconvenient even many very religious Jews can find many ways to try and circumvent. When if ever can you go so far to try and circumvent the rule as to in fact be breaking it? When if ever can you go so far as to make a mockery of the self-righteousness that some very observant Jews have toward those who are less so? These can be real issues in my family where there are five siblings who received very similar backgrounds in Judaism but who go thru life now at every point on the scale from agnosticism/atheism to orthodoxy. One example to me is a concept known as an "eruv." You can't carry things outside your home on Shabbat, but there is this idea that if you put a very big string around something you can define it as your home. The Jewish summer camp I went to had this eruv strung up around its whole grounds and it would be checked every Friday afternoon to be sure it was intact, and in that context it seemed not an unreasonable thing, but it does strike me as unreasonable to have an eruv around the entire island of Manhattan. So some rabbis say the whole idea is ridiculous, some say if you can have an eruv you can have one as big as you please, I'm in the middle, and we're all reading the same source material. In the Religulous section, the company shows off a phone with a special Shabbas phone that dials all the numbers constantly, so when you hit a number you stop the phone from dialing which somehow makes the number dial which somehow makes it OK. My religion isn't the only one that presents questions like these. How do you buy a house if your religion forbids mortgage interest? The Washington Post has had some articles on this topic which I'd link to except they're buried in a pay-to-access archive. I love the topic, watching Real Time With Bill Maher is one of the nice side benefits of needing HBO for True Blood, and I like the movie, but I just don't love it.
I feel awkward to give Eagle Eye the same rating as Rachel Getting Married because they're so different and one is like so clearly an entry in the good movie sweepstakes. But Eagle Eye succeeds every bit as admirably in its efforts as Rachel Getting Married, and I enjoyed both quite a bit. Eagle Eye does borrow from a zillion other fllms ranging from Enemy of the State to 2001 to multiple Alfred Hitchcock to Wanted (well, it couldn't have borrowed from that since it wasn't released). Unlike the movie Stargate, which borrows from 12 other movies in a boring kind of a way, Eagle Eye does it in a lively and energetic way. It has Shia LaBeouf who really does deserve to be the next big thing that he's becoming. I've liked him so much where I have seen him that I've come to regret not seeing Holes. There's real chemistry between him and Michelle Monaghan, unlike what we find in Nick and Norah. It's all very ludicrous but I was entertained entirely throughout, and it gives value more money.
I think I may do a full separate post on Towelhead, which is a little too interesting to get a quick paragraph at the bottom here.