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Eli, The Bookish Spy Stationed Next Door, Fishes for Tanks

Two art house entries, two mainstreamers, and one film that switched from one to the other (but I already covered it).  This is what you’ll get during the “dung-heap month of January,” or so says one of this week’s critics.  Sorry, Lovely Bones, but we’ve got new candidates that are ripe for mockage, especially if that dung heap comment is to be taken seriously.  And what could be more serious than Denzel Washington as a postapocalyptic bible-thumping bad ass in: The Book of Eli (Rotten TomatoesMetacritic).

“A ponderous dystopian bummer that might be described as “The Road Warrior” without car chases, or “The Road” without humanity.” Entertainment Weekly Owen Gleiberman

Nearly all postapocalyptic films are drenched in tragedy; it’s standard fare for a landscape littered with the ruins of civilization.  But don’t leave out the car chases.

“The first major action film of 2010 is more pensive and lyrical than advertised.” John P. McCarthy ReelTalk Movie Reviews

Perhaps that’s because a trailer focusing on the poetic and thought-provoking qualities would contrast too harshly with Denzel hacking limbs off with a machete.

“Either the apocalypse is coming soon or Hollywood is kind of over-preparing.” Matt Pais Metromix.com

Either Hollywood is over-preparing because they want to establish hope in lone-wanderering do-gooders or they want to call dibs on ringside seats for public sinning at the Pleasuredome.

The rest of us will live in Dome Village

“In the future, according to The Book of Eli, we’ll all dress like we’re in a Nine Inch Nails video. It is written.” Jake Coyle Associated Press

Could we erase it?

“Its over-the-top violence is cartoonish at times, menacing at others – which is a good thing. And truly, if one must wander a barren, post-apocalyptic landscape with somebody, who better to wander with than Denzel Washington?” Arizona Republic Bill Goodykoontz

Personally, I’d pick Survivorman or Jesus.

“The only consistent element is Washington’s hero whose calling is to take the Bible out West; the rest is an absurd, incoherent narrative defined by contradictions: religious and violent, arty and exploitational, serious and trashy, stylized and gritty.” Emanuel Levy EmanuelLevy.Com

I wouldn’t mind a few more contradictions in our next movie: The Spy Next Door (Rotten TomatoesMetacritic).  We’ve seen this premise before (The Pacifier, Kindergarten Cop, Suburban Commando) and just like in those movies, they make a tough guy play fish-out-of-water in a domestic situation.  In this case, they took the great action hero/clown/stunt junkie Jackie Chan, and neutered what he does best with a PG rating.  What’s left?

“Everybody knew to wait for the outtakes during the closing credits, because you’d see him miss a fire escape or land wrong in the truck going under the bridge. Now the outtakes involve his use of the English language.” Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert

That comment is so sad, I am tempted to move on, but I feel compelled to conclude an earlier point.

“Immediately forgettable family entertainment, suitable for release only in the dung-heap month of January.” Village Voice Melissa Anderson

The nicest thing you can say is: at least it belongs with the rest of the shit?

“Chan struggles gamely to charm, but the picture’s cartoonish jokes and misfired gags are likely to elicit more eye rolls than laughs.” Variety Lael Loewenstein


“Limp and lifeless, this Next Door neighbor should be evicted to DVD.” Orlando Sentinel Roger Moore

But where will it go if Grandpa DVD won’t take it in?  Would it have to go bunk with Uncle LaserDisc or creepy cousin Betamax?

“Chan’s new all-ages vehicle is smooth like oatmeal. It’s hard to imagine anyone being offended, except fans of good comedy.” Michael Phillips Chicago Tribune

Yeah, screw those guys.

“As matinee fodder for desperate families, it could be worse. But not much.” Frank Swietek One Guy’s Opinion

If it was a contradiction to be marginally acceptable for desperate people, I would be able to tie two narrative strands together.  Oh well, transitioning from this to our next film is a practically a contradiction already.

In The Last Station (Rotten TomatoesMetacritic), great actors square off in a historical drama about Leo Tolstoy and his wife in the final years of their marriage.  Sounds like Oscar bait to me.

“Three superb performances by Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer and James McAvoy should have Oscar handicappers drooling.” The Hollywood Reporter Stephen Farber


“This production, directed by Michael Hoffman, is like a great night at the theatre–the two performing demons go at each other full tilt and produce scenes of Shakespearean affection, chagrin, and rage.” The New Yorker David Denby

Oooh.  Performing demons?  I hope they play the Pleasuredome later.

“The arrival of a movie with as much intelligence and artistry as The Last Station should also be accompanied by the sound of trumpets.” Rex Reed New York Observer

Okay, my Bullshit detector just went off.  It can’t be that great.  Let’s level out these expectations with something critical.

This could be next Christmas' must-have gift for 12-year-old boys

“The kind of movie that gives literature a bad name. Not because it undermines the dignity of a great writer and his work, but because it is so self-consciously eager to flaunt its own gravity and good taste.” The New York Times A.O. Scott

Can anyone do better than calling it “snooty?”

“If you never read Tolstoy, this film guarantees you will not be tempted.” Victoria Alexander FilmsInReview.com

Got it.  This film will make me hate reading.  That’s pretty bad.  But not many critics have anything bad to say about this week’s highest reviewed movie: Fish Tank (Rotten TomatoesMetacritic).

“Fish Tank takes you to places you never expected and, with pitch-perfect performances all round, makes for a beguiling and very real picture that conjures hope amid the most hopeless of surroundings. The best British film of the year.” David Edwards Daily Mirror [UK]

I watch a fair number of movies, but not many of them are British.  How big a compliment is that?

“Fish Tank is a simple but incredibly, almost unbelievably, powerful film. No man or woman with warm blood in their body will come away from it feeling chirpy. On the plus side, it’s so reassuringly brilliant that you’ll feel proud to be British.” Tom Howard FHM [UK]

Be careful singing its praises too loudly.  For some remake-happy American directors, the words “Brilliant foreign film” are a more powerful temptation than Oscar bait.

“Fish Tank is full of surprises, twisting and turning like a teenage girl trying to escape the clutches of an unwanted suitor.” Alex Blimes GQ Magazine [UK]

Maybe we should take a break from the British critics, they are going to creepy places for their metaphors.

Is this a contradiction?

“The movie is unusually sensitive to the ways young people pick up their cues on how to act like adults, and how awkwardly they practice what they’ve learned.”  Noel Murray AV Club

I have to admit that sounds fascinating.  But in my little corner of the world, British films about awkward youth are hard to come by.  How hard should I try to see it?

“I’m telling you here and now to seek out Fish Tank, either at a big-city theater or via VOD, because it’s absolute dynamite.” Andrew O’Hehir Salon.com

Remind me one last time why I’m seeking dynamite?

“It’s a pungent display of teenage life, but Fish Tank achieves sublime emotional candor, gripping tightly with an electric cinematic hold. It makes the unthinkable captivating.” Brian Orndorf BrianOrndorf.com

PDJ used to be a pungent teenager.

5 Responses

  1. Just watched Fish Tank- it lives up to its praises, for sure. Very genuine in its rawness. Check it out!

  2. A January tour de force, laddie.

    I especially like the family pic – nice!

    Keep up the good work,

  3. Personally, I’d pick Stephen Hawking.

  4. Saw The Book Of Eli this weekend. It had pacing problems and the movie wasn’t always clear about what it wanted to accomplish (with characters or plot), but it does have some strong imagery (even if slow-mo was overused), acting, and a few ideas (mostly at the end) that were surprisingly satisfactory. In the end, I can’t recommend it or hate on it without a guilty conscience.

  5. Very interesting blog post I like your blog keep up the great posts

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