In an act of benevolent time-saving, Reverse Shot will now occasionally review films that we haven’t and will not see—in nuggetlike, approximately 200-word chunks. This saves you, the reader, valuable minutes of your day, and us, the writers, wasted hours in dark rooms watching inevitably awful junk. Thank us later. Capsules by robbiefreeling and brotherfromanother.
Iron Man 2
Robert Downey Jr. puts on his cape of insouciance once more for Jon Favreau’s hotly anticipated sequel to 2008’s sleeper hit Iron Man. Tots and grown men with the minds of tykes will be tickled to see the franchise expand—Tony Stark has a whole new host of problems to contend with, from unresolved daddy issues to a romantic falling out with Gwyneth Paltrow’s spicy Pepper Potts to an electro-whip-armed Russian madman, played by Oscar-nominated comeback king Mickey Rourke. One could call the film overstuffed, but what Favreau lacks in looks he more than makes up for in technical bravado (never better displayed than in the scene where Iron Man dukes it out with another big robot-looking thing, and the two pick up metal things and throw them into each other and create big, fiery explosions). It’s all a bit more fanciful than the first installment of the franchise, but there’s a grandness of imagination here that’s quite impressive—not since Zathura has Favreau so persuasively created an alternate fantasy world. Visceral action filmmaking with a heart, Iron Man 2 is possibly the best superhero movie of the month.
Winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival—where it was reportedly the favorite of both jury president Tim Burton and noted cinephile Kate Beckinsale—Biutiful is the first film directed by Ajeandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel) since his much publicized creative divorce with screenwriter Guillermo Ariaga. It would seem that Mr. Iñárritu got custody of the talent, because Biutiful is, in a word, “beautiful”—a poignant character study of a man who endures a gauntlet of misery while retaining his messy humanity. Academy Award–winner Javier Bardem stars as Uxbal, a devoted father/tormented lover/mystified son/underground businessman/friend of the dispossessed/ghost seeker/spiritual sensitive/survivor at the margins of today’s Barcelona whose difficult relationship with his children is introduced, dramatized, and resolved in such a manner that audiences will shake their heads in wonder as the end credits roll. Iñárritu ‘s restless eye captures street life in all of its sweaty, yelly squalor, while Bardem—possibly our generation’s finest actor—lets his dark, soulful eyes do the heavy lifting. Also, Gael García Bernal is involved, probably wearing an undershirt.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The Freddy franchise gets a much needed reboot with this gritty, greasy, grimy, and, somehow, glossy installment, starring everyone’s favorite 21st-century boogie man, Jackie Earle Haley. Though noted music-video director Samuel Bayer (shorts for Garbage and Blink 182 are among his famed clips) never manages to whip anything out as repulsive as Haley’s passenger-seat first-date j/o session from Little Children, he does give Haley some terrific new one-liners (none as cutting as, when he growls to buxom teen Heather Spencer with Billy Ocean-ish intimidation, “Get outta my dreams, and into my . . . knife hands!”). As with all of the excellent slasher remakes of late, Bayer’s film amps up the pace—Freddy just moves faster and is therefore much more of a threat, and lots of scenes are edited together in that frenetic, sped-up, jump-cutty way that made the Saw films so visually appealing. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a new spate of Elm Street movies, but that’s not likely to happen before Bayer and Tarsem team up for their much-discussed remake of 1997’s Event Horizon, which tweens everywhere agree is a very, very old movie.
How to Train Your Dragon
The age-old boy-and-his-dog story gets a clever updating in this delightful CGI, 3D, ADD, and SBD extravaganza. Aping the fine-tuned geekery of Eddie Deezen, Jay Baruchel makes whiny wonderful in his voice work as Bobo, a gawky misunderstood medieval preteen (going through a puberty not unlike those of youngsters today) who befriends the titular green monster, a surprisingly docile creature who is the target of angry villagers after continually gobbling up their livestock. Featuring some of the most on-point pop-cultural references since the Shrek films (Braveheart gets skewered!) and some of the most convincing period set design since The Flintsones: Viva Rock Vegas, How to Train Your Dragon is a hoot and a half. Yet best of all are its show-stopping, gravity-defying flying sequences, which will make even the most jaded heart soar—Avatar’s pterodactyl-rape scenes are so 2009; long live the mighty dragon!
What starts out as an innocent documentary-like surveying of a quartet of infants being reared in four different countries becomes something far more sinister, and, frankly, wildly inappropriate in the second half. Jean-Marc Balibar-Tavernier’s French import Bébé(s), following in the tradition of recent exxxxtreme Gallic horror, such as Inside and Frontière(s) , pushes the envelope of gore as far as it can go. Those audience members in the know will realize something is amiss the moment Béatrice Dalle shows up as the supposed nanny for six-month-old Namibian toddler Daria. Soon enough, through a frankly convoluted narrative path, Daria and the film’s three other adorable tots are possessed by an ancient Egyptian curse (which we find out in a bizarre tangent is similar to the one that afflicted Kim Cattrall’s “Emmy” in Mannequin—but with clearly different symptoms!) and are wreaking bloody havoc on the parents. Shame on the real parents of the newborn actors for allowing them to perform such horrific atrocities: gouging out eyes with their little fists of fury, ripping our jugular veins with dull baby teeth, shoving implausibly sharp rattles into mouths and through the backs of heads. Woe to the folks who were taken in by Focus Features’ docile marketing campaign for this depraved garbage.