Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (5 out of 5 Swans): The story of this incredible 1968 game is told by the players themselves describing the game, their teams, coaches, teammates, and lifestyles. They tell it with such a lack of guile that it is often hilarious. Many people we know today, like Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep, were involved in the game or the people. This film has some of the funniest moments I’ve seen in a movie. Just as one example, when Tommy Lee Jones, who was on the Harvard squad and tells how funny his roommate Al Gore was, is asked for specifics, he gives them totally deadpan, I was laughing uncontrollably.
Echelon Conspiracy (1 out of 5 Swans): This is a ham-handed, unprofessional, amateurish, silly, attack on the Patriot Act and the Bush Administration’s monitoring of telephone messages from terrorists. With an ending that is such clumsy propaganda it could have been scripted by Vladimir Putin’s KGB, anybody going to watch this film need not worry about being exposed to talent or entertainment.
The International (4 out of 5 Swans): Loosely based on a true story, Clive Owen, who should have been chosen to play James Bond, is out to bring down a corrupt bank in this thriller. While Owen carries the film, I couldn’t figure out why Naomi Watts is in the cast. She adds nothing but beauty. The anti-climactic shootout at the Guggenheim is preposterous, a letdown for a film that has established verisimilitude up to that point. It’s a fun shootout, but so ridiculous that it weakens an entertaining film.
The Pink Panther 2 (1 out of 5 Swans): Steve Martin is trying to revive the Peter Sellers/Inspector Clouseau franchise and his performances are excruciating. Even though the Clouseau films, created by Blake Edwards, consisted mostly of relatively unfunny, unentertaining, bland spoofs, while Sellers played Clouseau as a bumbling fool who didn’t recognize his ineptitude, he was lovable. Martin’s take is to play him as an unlikable egomaniac. In effect, Martin is not playing Clouseau, he’s playing Sellers playing Clouseau and it is a dismal thing to watch, made worse by the dreadful accents the actors adopt. There is nothing remotely funny in this film. It’s not a coincidence that MGM and Columbia waited until the dead of winter to release this bomb.
Confessions of a Shopaholic (3 out of 5 Swans): This owes its entertainment value to the outstanding acting by Isla Fisher (who sparkles), Hugh Dancy (who brings freshness and excitement to a role that could have been pretty bland), Krysten Ritter (who creates a bizarre character with aplomb), and the rest of the cast, many of whom I have admired in the past. First is Wendie Malick. I got to appreciate her in her scintillating role in “Dream On,” an inventive 1990-96 HBO sitcom. Then there’s Julie Hagerty, who stands out in my mind for her terrific performance in Albert Brooks’ brilliant “Lost in America” (1985). Both can still bring it. Everyone contributes to a surprisingly (at least for me) entertaining result.
Two Lovers (1 out of 5 Swans): Good performances by Isabella Rossellini, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, and even Joaquin Phoenix are pretty much wasted in this implausible, depressing film about a bipolar man and his relationships with two beautiful women, one a druggie, in which entertainment value was ignored by the makers. Never has a film flunked the watch test as badly as this one did. More scenes with Rossellini would have improved it. But watching a 120-minute film like this, even though Gwyneth does bare her breasts, makes each second seem like an hour.
New in Town (3 out of 5 Swans): Terrific supporting performances by Siobhan Fallon Hogan and J.K Simmons bolster fine performances by Renée Zellweger and Harry Connick, Jr. in this simple but feel-good film. Hogan and Simmons speak in accents that are enchantingly reminiscent of William H. Macy and Frances McDormand in “Fargo” (1996), making their scenes entrancing to watch.
He’s just not that in to you (3 out of 5 Swans for women; 1 out of 5 Swans for men): Since this is created by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, who wrote “Sex and the City,” it should come as no surprise that this is as chick-flicky as chick flicks come. The women, save one, are all wonderful, tender, thoughtful, and sensitive, while the men are wimpy or whipped or cruel, guys so stereotyped they would be comfortable in beer commercials. Peopled by an all-star, A-list ensemble cast, if these people are typical of today’s 20 and 30-year-olds, I’m glad I was born when I was. I doubt if I’m alone among men when I say I found the film annoying. Do these chick flicks really reflect the way today’s young women are? It’s a depressing thought.