5 - 1
For many, this was one of the Best Movies of the Year, and we are inclined to agree… well, almost. The sheer power of the performances meshed with co-writer/director Joe Carnahan’s desire to get all metaphysical and philosophical on the material creates an action movie without equal, a thriller with a message that goes deeper than taking down the villain. In this case, nature comes calling and its all man can do to buck up and die with nobility. Every scene pushes us closer and closer into the inevitable downer of a conclusion, and yet there is something missing here. This needed something more than just a death with deep thoughts message.
When we first saw this clever romantic comedy, we thought we had found a savior for the sinking genre. After all, humor and heart seem to be at such dispirit ends in cinema that it’s like asking a Kardashian a question on Quantum Physics: they may be able to fake it, but everyone knows it rings false. Over time, however, we’ve had a chance to revisit Jennifer Westfeldt’s Woody Allen wannabe, and its freshness has kind of worn off. As a matter of fact, what seemed solid a few months ago now appears a bit pat and cloying. It’s still a good film, just not a great one.
When is a movie about the making of Psycho NOT a movie about the making of Psycho? When it’s Sacha Gervasi’s genial look at the latter life of the Master of Suspense. More or less a costume drama with a classic horror film filling in the blanks, the man behind the brilliant Anvil: The Story of Anvil gets great performances from his capable cast and finesses the period with detailed perfection. The problem here, on the other hand, is the premise. We are supposed to be witnessing Hitchcock’s rebirth as a horror maestro. Instead, we see him fat, bloated, and henpecked, with limited nods to a certain knife wielding maniac.
The idea is ingenious. The bad guy from a Donkey Kong like arcade fave wants to be the hero for once, and he escapes into the world of other video games to achieve his aims. Along the way, he runs afoul of first person shooters and then lands in the world of sugar, race cars, and a despotic king. For most of the running time, the film is flawless. Then the ending arrives, overdoing the whole candy and colors conceit to turn a brilliant deconstruction into a wasted world of grrrl power glitter. It’s like eating an entire bag of Double Stuff Oreos - tasty, but way too much.
This fantastic film had it all: great core concept, excellent execution, and (all weird make-up F/X aside), a trio of terrific performances at the center. So, why didn’t it make our Top 10 (or 20 or 25)? Well, unfortunately, Rian Johnson’s sci-fi slam dunk failed to do the one thing all successful speculative fiction does—make us think. Any question it raised, it answered itself. Before long, we weren’t involved in the story, just watching it work its way into its inevitable, undeniably powerful ending. This had all the makings of a majestic masterwork. Instead, it was treasure in sea of far more fathomable treats.