La Cucina- 1 star- I rented this movie because it starred Christina Hendricks whom I love on "Mad Men" and "Firefly". It also stars Leisha Hailey (The L Word) whom I like, and then a bunch of people I don't care about (seriously, why is Rachel Hunter acting?). The premise sounded promising: A collection of interwoven stories of a group of friends as they try to make dinner. One for her older boyfriend, an expectant mom trying to learn to cook, and a depressed woman who's partner may be cheating. Okay, it's kinda like "Melrose Place" meets "Babette's Feast"; could be good. Instead, it plays out like a bad regional theatre production. The writing/dialog is forced and seems written by the deaf. Who talks like this? Who continues to make dinner for a person who degrades them or whom you are so obviously in "different places"? I was so bored and put off I turned this movie off after about 15 minutes. Maybe it got better, but I wasn't sticking around to find out.
The Fourth Kind- 2 stars- I remember seeing trailers for this movie in the theatre and getting excited. Then, as is so often the case now, it seemed to be released and then disappeared from theatres within a week. That was really fine with me as I like watching these kinds of movies at home- it's so much scarier! The premise is an interesting one: This is the true story of a series of events in Nome, Alaska (the most remote place in North America? It's accessed only by plane). Anyway, Milla Jovovich (love!) plays a psychiatrist who starts noticing startling similarities in the stories of her patients. Turns out, she's a kind of conspiracy theorist who believes they have all been abducted by aliens. The movie is presented as fact, with "actual footage" from the doctors archives filling in the holes. The actors then portray these real people in dramatic reinterpretations of what was recorded. This stylistic ploy was interesting for a moment, but it ended up dominating the story line. I kept wishing they would focus on the actors and use this footage only where absolutely necessary (i.e. to scare the bejeezus out of us). In the end, this overlap of footage became disassociating and forced the viewer out of the movie. "Paranormal Activity", "Blair Witch", and "Cloverfield" have already proven how to make this type of footage work- you must focus on one over the other. A side by side comparison shot only confuses the audience. I will give kudos to the "real people" who were at times better actors than the stars.
44 Inch Chest- 4 stars- I love this movie, which follows in the same vein as "Layer Cake", "#1 Gangster", "Revolver", "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead", and any David Mamet (particularly "House of Cards"). Here, we see how the feeling of a play, a drama, can work for the narrative not against it. The majority of the film takes place in one room where a scorned and depressed mobster (the always fantastic Ray Winstone) has kidnapped and stashed is wife's lover. He is joined by a raggle taggle band of crooks and confidants (including Ian McShane, John Hurt, and Tom Wilkinson). First time director Malcolm Venville displays a confidence and strength with his actors that his more seasoned peers would, and should, envy. Intercut with the tension mounting in the hideaway, are flashbacks to stories told by his comrades and his own account of what happened earlier that lead them to this position. You feel both disgust and sympathy for Winstone; he withers before your eyes as the film progresses. A lesser actor could have made this all about him, but Winstone is generous with his acting and allows, even sets up, the other actors in the room for greatness. There are no egos present, only actors in love with the material and what they do. I'm not really sure who I would recommend this movie to. The above mentioned examples are far more quick paced. Perhaps Mamet is the best example. His films tend to be a slow burn to resolution. It is slow moving, but ultimately satisfying.
They may not be on Netflix yet, or at least I'm just now watching them on TV, but there are two shows I am simply in love with. The first is Saving Grace which just ended its series run. If you have not seen this show, now is the time to add it to your queue. The always formidable Holly Hunter stars as Grace Hanadarko, a Oklahoma City detective who's more prone to self destruction than self preservation. She continually sets herself up to fail and inadvertently drags others down with her. All this changes when she accidently hits a man with her car and her Angel, Earl, is revealed to her. Earl's job is to try to bring Grace back to god, but moreover, to bring Grace back to herself. The religious tones and themes are treated with a respect that makes them seem a natural part of the story telling process (which is certainly is) and less a gimmick to bring in the fundamentalist crowd. Personally, I don't think they would like this show very much- all nudity, swearing, meaningless sex, drinking, etc. The series finale played last week and it wrapped the show up in a bow that while may not have been ideal to many fans, felt correct and real. My only beef is the odd choice of music used during cheesy interludes. Really? You've never done that before. Still, it was one of the best shows on TV until recently.
My other new favorite is Gavin and Stacy on BBCAmerica. Series 1 is on Netflix, with series 2 coming soon. I believe the season we're on now is series 3, but I can't be sure. I started watching after seeing Ruth Jones (creator and one if the stars) on Graham Norton. She was hilarious and I was tired of hearing about this show and not watching it. It's the "Friends" replacement we all wished for but never received. Gavin is from Essex, England but is in love with Stacy from Wales. Their romance begins online and via telephone but soon enough they meet, marry, and life ensues. They are surrounded by the most hilarious family and friends, caricatures who play "real" and seem like some of your own mates and family. I literally laugh out loud every episode, though maybe only once. It's that kind of English humor. If you watched the first series of "The Inbetweeners" (and if you didn't, what are you waiting for?), then you will probably love this show as well.