Posted by mike in Annoyances,Film at 9:13 pm on March 28, 2010

In general, and with very few exceptions, I dislike the very concept of a movie remake. To me, film is an art form, and there is not much interesting about imitation art. Sure, it’s good to see a play when it comes to your town, and such productions are always featuring rotating casts. But a play is ephemeral; there’s no other choice. With a movie, I can see the original by any number of means, and it’s the exact same experience every time—and sometimes, as in the case of remastered videos, or, say, if I upgrade my TV, the experience can even improve.

Cover songs are different as well. A live performance is one thing—it’s in the moment, and exciting—but for the most part the original is always better. (There are a couple of exceptions, of course—Hendrix doing “All Along the Watchtower” being the most ready example, but Nirvana’s version of “The Man Who Sold the World” also comes to mind.) For the most part, though, a band doing a cover is only a novelty—and it’s certainly not often taken as much of an artistic contribution in its own right.

Paintings—the old-school kind of “art”—are, perhaps, the most like film in this regard. Photography, too. There’s something beyond the end product on a canvas that makes it art. Your buddy Jimmy may be able to make an exact replica of the Mono Lisa, but nobody would care to see it.

With movies, though, this isn’t the case. The general thinking—particularly in recent years—seems to be that if it made money once, it’ll make money again… and to many people (those who decide which films get made and which don’t, in particular), making money is all that matters. It may be an art form, but it’s also a business.

Even recognizing this, the following has me completely baffled:

It’s a film called Death At a Funeral. It’s a remake of a British film of the same name that just came out 3 years ago (in 2007). The original is in the same language. It had a theatrical run in the U.S. It’s readily available to rent, from Netflix or your local video store.

Having seen the original, I feel pretty confident saying, based on the above trailer, that this remake is more or less the exact same movie. I feel even more confident saying this because the trailer shows you nearly the entire film. They’ve even cast the same dwarf (Peter Dinklage) to reprise the same role. The only differences I can detect are token dialogue changes done to make it “a black movie” (Chris Rock‘s line at the end of the trailer—”and you’re mad ’cause he’s white?”—for instance).

So what is the point of this? I can understand, to an extent, making a film that’s “inspired by” an earlier one (Chris Rock’s own I Think I Love My Wife, for instance). I can even understand redoing a successful film that was originally in another language—there’s a forthcoming Americanized version of Let the Right One In, and while I don’t think it’ll be as good as the original, I can at least admit that it’ll get a wider audience in this country (Americans don’t like reading subtitles).

The counter-example that often comes up in defense of remakes—especially for me— is Hitchcock, who remade his own The Man Who Knew Too Much, but that was a different era. He made the original in England at a time when British films didn’t get much American distribution, not to mention the fact that it was long before the advent of home video. His American remake of that film—22 years later, mind you—would’ve truly been new to American audiences, who would’ve been lucky to have even been aware of the original, much less have seen it.

Death at a Funeral is a totally different situation, both due to the era in which it was made—things happening in Britain aren’t exactly completely unknown to American audiences these days—and the fact that it’s been less than 3 years since the first version came out. I think the latter point is what really bothers me about this particular example, but the whole situation in general is something I find really annoying.

I realize that I may as well be yelling, “Get off my lawn!” here. And the truth of the matter is, as long as there’s money to be made, there’s no shame among those providing the production dollars in what they get spent on. And recognizing that I can’t control anybody (and wouldn’t want to, at that), I can only hope that this recent example of this altogether ridiculous phenomenon is a complete flop, because that’s the only thing that’d go anywhere towards ending the trend. For whatever it’s worth, the original is pretty good; it’s a cute, funny little movie, the kind that makes for a really enjoyable rental on a Sunday afternoon. And having seen the original, I feel pretty confident saying that the trailer above leaves pretty much nothing left to be discovered in the film itself. It’s not only one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen because of the film it’s advertising, and the fact that its very existence is something that I find to be somewhat offensive; it’s also one that essentially functions as a summary of the entire movie, which is something I’m sure I’m not alone in being annoyed by.

As they would say on the recently-canceled “At the Movies“… Skip It. Please.

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Posted by mike in Film,Reviews at 1:26 am on March 28, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

Status: In theaters (opened 3/26/10)
Directed By: Steve Pink
Written By: Josh Heald and Sean Anders & John Morris
Cinematographer: Jack N. Green
Starring: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke

You know what’s funny? The 80s. (The correct response to a question like this, by the way, is, “Dude, you gotta give me time to guess.”) So much has changed in the past 20-30 years. If you want to go for fish-out-of-water comedy, the 80s are ripe territory from which to plumb it. This is a fact that the makers of Hot Tub Time Machine realized, and they’ve exploited it admirably. They’re not making a serious time-travel movie—none of that mind-bending stuff with one guy sending another guy back in time to father him, as in The Terminator. (And Hot Tub Time Machine is even happy to joke about this exact fact up front… and then to break the implicit promise later.)

I have a good amount of respect for a comedy that says, “screw getting there, let’s just go there,” and that’s exactly what this movie does. It wants to tell a story about a group of present-day guys finding themselves back in the 1980s, because that would be funny. Imagine life before the widespread usage of cell phones, the Web, and other instant forms of communication. Now put some people who are used to such things in that world, and hilarity is sure to ensue. So how do they get there? Well, screw it, who cares? Let’s just say they were in a hot tub and somehow went back in time. It doesn’t need to make sense, and the film doesn’t need to waste our time explaining it. We came to see a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine, and the title pretty much tells us all we need to know: they get in a hot tub, go back in time, and get into hijinks while there. Works for me. In fact, if you’re going to gloss over the details, you might as well go for the most ridiculous time-travel vessel you can think of. Hot tub it is.

The “they” here is a guy named Adam (John Cusack), his buddies Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry), and his nephew Jacob (Clark Duke). They’re all living unfulfilled lives in the present day to one degree or another, but magically they end up getting the chance to relive a weekend 24 years ago that they now recognize as one of the best of their lives. Hindsight is what it is, after all. Their adventure, of course, has some things to teach them about their present-day lives, though the movie doesn’t harp on this too much. It’s more of a token effort to give the film a little bit of sincerity beyond its primary function as a pure comedy. There’s a side story involving Adam and a girl named April, played by Lizzy Caplan, who I last saw as the annoying hippie chick in True Blood, but here she brings a lot of charm and helps to round out the story.

You know which movie every comedy this year will try to be? The Hangover. (“Dude, you gotta give me time…”) In that vein, Rob Corddry here plays the Zach Galifiniakis role, and he does so quite well. He gets all of the funniest moments in the movie, and his character goes through the most development, as well. It’s still a goofball part for him to play, but Corddry is given the chance to do a lot more with it than in his previous roles (like, for instance, What Happens in Vegas…), and he succeeds at it. He’s probably the film’s main draw. (Although I have to say, I was also really impressed with the young-Cusack impression done by Jack Rose, as brief as it may be.)

I don’t think anybody goes to a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine expecting to see a work of artistic genius, but that’s kind of the point. Get in, laugh, and get out, and this movie is a good vehicle for that. It doesn’t do a ton to differentiate itself—though it does have Crispin Glover in it—but it does enough to be enjoyable. It’s raunchy, but then again every comedy is these days. It’s truly funny, which certainly isn’t something every comedy achieves. It’s also a better-than-average story for a raunchy comedy, once you get past the whole nonsensical time travel via hot tub aspect in the first place, and admittedly that’s not saying much, but it is saying a bit. And it’s got nudity in it, which, well, a movie like this should have.

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Posted by mike in Film,Reviews at 1:44 am on March 26, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Status: In theaters (opened 3/5/10)
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Linda Woolverton
Cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this here before, but I really hate the current trend in movie titles. It’s bad enough that the majority of major releases these days are remakes or reboots or sequels or rehashes, but they also go for generic-sounding titles for these releases, and I find it annoying. (The most offensive recent example was a movie about a dead rapper that indiscriminately pilfered the title of one of my top-five favorite films of all time.) Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland fits this trend: IMDB lists 24 different movies or TV programs with the same title. Most annoying about this is that it comes from a director known for his originality and his unique visions. This recent version falls a bit short of that billing, but it manages to satisfy nonetheless. It’s a unique take on Alice, Wonderland, and the events that she experiences there, with its own tone that stands apart from other adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s classic books, though not to the degree I would’ve preferred.

That tone lies somewhere right about halfway between the animated Disney classic and American McGee’s Alice—the latter being, for my money, the best Wonderland story there’s been. True to form, Burton mixes equal parts wacky, fantastic, and downright creepy. The result is about as mixed as that sounds like it would be, but it’s a mostly coherent vision that’s executed—with some exceptions—to Burton’s usual degree of proficiency. This story deals with a late-teenage Alice (Mia Wasikowska), who has memories of being in Wonderland as a girl, but isn’t sure if they were dreams, hallucinations, or events that actually transpired. There’s a nice framing device employed, dealing with Alice’s life in the real world in Victorian England, and it serves to adequately set up this confusion before she ventures down the all-too-familiar rabbit hole.

There she finds a world that’s not exactly as we’d expect. It’s not the darkly insane rendition of Wonderland from the American McGee game, but it’s not such a cheery place, either. She encounters the well-known cast of characters we’re all familiar with, although some are more bizarre versions of their former selves than we (and Alice) remember. Most notably, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is exponentially more insane than before; it’s one of those over-the-top Depp roles that ends up being more wacky than creepy, but it does serve to set the tone for the adventure Alice will embark on. Her main quest is to confront the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), another over-done character, who’s protected by her knight, Stayne (Crispin Glover), the most fitting character in the film—he’s crazy, but not to an overly silly degree—as well as the vehicle for the best performance among the supporting cast. All of the big names here, though, are trumped by Mia Wasikowska, who plays Alice as a sarcastic, skeptical, and forthright girl, and creates a sufficiently sympathetic main character to guide us as an audience through an unknown world.

That world is rendered, it goes without saying, by a lot of CGI. An odd decision here was to post-process the film to make it 3D, although it wasn’t shot that way, in an apparent attempt to ride the coattails of the box office success of Avatar—a strategy that I must concede has worked. The result is somewhat of a mixed bag. Some scenes benefit from the 3D enhancement, while others are distractingly awkward. There are several instances, too, of stuttery animation that at times pulled me out of the movie. If I wanted to try really hard to defend this, I’d say it’s a purposeful attempt to add to the surrealism of the film, but I honestly don’t think that’s the case.

My main gripe with this Alice, though, is that it just feels like a grab bag of Wonderland lore. A lot of the minor characters, settings, and events feel like they were thrown in out of obligation rather than in service of the story. The smoking caterpillar, for instance, seems to be there just so they could cast Alan Rickman to provide his voice. Likewise, some of the off-beat, comedic moments don’t feel quite like the normally creative Burton we’re used to; rather, they feel more like Burton going through the motions of making a Tim Burton movie—again, more out of obligation than apparent inspiration. The one Burton staple that fully lived up to my expectations here was Danny Elfman‘s score, which is as good as always. Not that the rest isn’t good; it’s just that when I go to see a Tim Burton movie, I expect to be surprised, and this time I really wasn’t. If you expect a slightly wacky take on the Wonderland that you’re already familiar with, your expectations will be met—they just won’t often be exceeded, and for me that’s a disappointment. The one pleasant surprise is Mia Wasikowska, and combined with the spectacle of the hyper-real visuals throughout the film, her Alice makes this version of Alice in Wonderland worth seeing—particularly if you’re okay with not being totally blown away.

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Posted by mike in Film,Reviews at 11:29 pm on March 24, 2010

Cop Out

Status: In theaters (opened 2/26/10)
Directed By: Kevin Smith
Written By: Robb Cullen & Mark Cullen
Cinematographer: David Klein
Starring: Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Seann William Scott, Ana de la Reguera

I’m not at all ashamed to call myself a Kevin Smith fan, and to say that I’ve enjoyed watching his up-and-down career thus far. While he’s made some real duds (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), he also made a couple of the great generation-defining films of the 90s (Clerks and, especially, Chasing Amy), as well as one of my favorite under-appreciated films of all time, Dogma. One thing that was abundantly clear with his last film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, though, was that he is at this point in his career thoroughly out of new ideas. It makes a lot of sense, then, that he’d finally turn to directing a feature film that he didn’t write, not just to expand his horizons, but also to freshen up his comedic chops in a way.

Unfortunately, the vehicle for this experiment is Cop Out, a thoroughly uninteresting, unfunny, and unoriginal buddy-cop comedy. I’ve always found Smith’s least admirable trait as a writer to be his obtuse manner of forcing film references into his work (the main characters’ names in Mallrats—near-direct facsimiles of those from Jaws—being the most ready example). He does this as a director, too (the scar-comparing scene from Chasing Amy comes to mind—again, a facsimile of the similar scene in Jaws, even down to the set decoration). In Cop Out, Smith more or less devotes an entire film to this type of homage-by-theft. Take all of the cliches from 1980s cop movies, starting with Beverly Hills Cop (“Axel F”-style synth music and all), throw them in a blender, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Cop Out is all about. To get even closer to the experience, add in Bruce Willis in the most phoning-it-in performance of his career and a couple of annoyingly over-the-top slapstick acts from Tracy Morgan and Seann William Scott. Then picture all of this directed by a guy who’s used to shooting his own witty dialogue in bland two-shots.

The film primarily relies on the relationship between its two main characters, a seen-it-all cop named Jimmy (Willis) and his buffoon of a partner (Morgan). They go through the requisite scene of getting chewed out by the chief and being suspended, then get involved in a side quest involving a valuable stolen baseball card, and finally stumble their way into solving the case that it all started with. Along the way there are some really cringe-worthy story points, including a cat burglar who likes to take a shit in his victims’ houses (Scott) and an Hispanic gang lord (Guillermo Díaz) who likes to pray for forgiveness immediately before killing people. It’s cliche on top of cliche, and none of them are particularly clever. Sure, there are some funny moments here and there, but for the most part the jokes are of the roll-your-eyes variety. The jokes continue even during the attempts at action sequences, which universally fall just as flat.

The screenplay, by Robb and Mark Cullen, was on the 2008 “black list”, meaning it was at one point considered to be among the best (or most-liked) un-produced screenplays in Hollywood (at the time, it was called A Couple of Dicks, but that was before the fiasco with Kevin Smith’s last film’s title, where many outlets would only advertise it by the name Zack and Miri). I’m not sure what anybody saw in it, other than a few funny lines among a generic and mostly unfunny story. I have to assume that making it an 80s tribute was Smith’s idea, as that fits his M.O., although I don’t know that for sure. What I do know is that very little in Cop Out actually works, from the jokes to the action to the references. And on top of this, it’s made in Smith’s notoriously bland directorial and editing style, which make all of his films feel like first-year film school exercises (though usually he has better material—his own—to carry his films where the visual style falls short).

One more thing about Smith’s style of homage: it’s hard to put my finger on the “why” of it, but for some reason when Quentin Tarantino does a similar thing, it works—it feels like a tribute to the great films throughout history that have inspired him. When Smith does it, though, it just feels lame and overly forced. I suppose it’s a matter of degree, mostly in terms of what the directors bring to their own material stylistically (Tarantino brings a lot, Smith hardly anything). It’s a fine line, but easy for me to say that I find these two directors in particular to be quite clearly on opposite sides of it. Cop Out is, in a lot of ways, the most extreme example of this. Everything about the film seems to fit into Smith’s brand of uninspired recycling of things he’s liked in movies he grew up with but isn’t able to adequately recreate himself.

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Posted by mike in Film,Reviews at 10:08 pm on March 23, 2010

Shutter Island

Status: In theaters (opened 2/19/10)
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Laeta Kalogridis
Cinematographer: Robert Richardson
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley

As the story goes, Shutter Island was originally slated to be released this past fall, but Paramount, facing the economic crunch, decided they didn’t have enough budget to mount an Oscar campaign for it, so it was moved back to February of this year. At the risk of being too harsh, I have to say they made the right choice, because that money would’ve been wasted. Awards-worthy it’s not.

That’s not to say that everything about Shutter Island is bad. In fact, it’s an impressive production from top to bottom, helmed by a master director (Martin Scorsese), featuring a great cast of highly-accomplished actors, with excellent production design and beautiful cinematography by Oscar-winner Robert Richardson (who has photographed—among many others—several films by Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Oliver Stone).

This only leaves the screenplay, which is frustrating enough to nearly offset all of the other great aspects of this film. Shutter Island is A Twist Movie, so much so that such a description is its singularly most defining characteristic. I’d go so far as to say that it’s more A Twist Movie than it is A Scorsese Movie, and that, to me, is saying something. Of course, describing that twist would be unfair here, but mentioning it as I have should hopefully be enough to give you an idea of the impact of the Twist in question. It looms over the whole film throughout its opening and middle acts; you feel it coming from the very start, and spend most of this time anticipating its revelation. Then, the third act is devoted to explaining this Twist, in the most verbose manner I can recall since The Number 23, beating it into the ground and exploring it from far more angles than are necessary—or interesting.

It’s a questionable choice of material for Scorsese, but that’s not to say that he doesn’t know what to do with it, as much as something can be done. His style is one approaching that of classical suspense films of the past; in fact, he announces this right off the bat with an opening green-screen shot showing U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) taking a ferry to the titular island, which is very much like an Alcatraz for the insane. It’s obviously on a sound stage, with a Hitchcockian hyper-real quality to the scene, and Scorsese maintains this feel throughout the film. His cast is game as well; DiCaprio and Ruffalo make a perfect pairing for the tale to be told, and they’re counter-pointed by Ben Kingsley as the psychologist who runs the show. All are as good as their reputations and track records would lead you to believe.

The central mystery of the story of Shutter Island involves a missing patient. “Who is 67?” is asked early and often, referring to the would-be additional resident among the island’s 66 patients. You’ll probably know the answer to this question as soon as it’s asked. Then the movie will jerk you around for about 2 hours, raising doubts to cloud your previous certainty. Then it’ll confirm what you knew all along. And then, it spends way too long explaining things for you, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll just be annoyed by the whole endeavor.

Stylistically, this is an intriguing film. Artistically as well. There’s some virtuoso filmmaking at work here (I was particularly impressed by a flashback scene from World War II, shown in a hauntingly long tracking shot). Shutter Island is one of those cases, though, where the whole does not equal the sum of its parts. It’s not all that rare of a phenomenon, unfortunately—if the script is bogus, the most talented filmmakers in the world aren’t going to make a great film out of it, and this is probably one of the most disappointing examples in recent memory of such a situation.

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Posted by mike in Film,Predictions at 12:40 pm on March 7, 2010

Due to, among other things (laziness, of course, chief among them), a tumultuous work life over the past few months, I’m doing my now-annual “best of” lists at what I consider to be the last minute: the day of the Oscars. I’m not too terribly upset with myself about this, though; last year, I thought my personal best lists and my Oscar predictions had a lot of overlap and redundancy anyway. So here are my summarizing thoughts on the year of film that was 2009, with some Oscar predictions thrown in for good measure.

As usual, I didn’t get to see everything in 2009. There were a couple of films that people are talking about that I just don’t have any interest in—Precious, The Blind Side—and a few that I wanted to see but have yet to get around to: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Informant!, and The White Ribbon, most notably.

The most defining aspect of this year is the bitter coincidence that the Academy decided to expand its Best Picture field to 10 nominees (from 5) in a year when it’s hard to find enough films that even qualify as “good” to fill out the category. Here, though, are my personal top 10 best films of 2009, with links to my reviews of each:

  1. Inglourious Basterds (****)
  2. The Hurt Locker (****)
  3. Up in the Air (****)
  4. Where the Wild Things Are (***.5)
  5. Watchmen (***.5)
  6. A Single Man (***.5)
  7. Moon (****)
  8. Adventureland (***.5)
  9. Tyson (***)
  10. Funny People (***.5)

Oscar Prediction: Although I think there’s a real chance for The Hurt Locker, and I’d really like to see Inglourious Basterds recognized, I think the voting will go for the biggest box office success of the year (and the biggest technological achievement, too) and award Avatar with Best Picture.

Best animated films of the year:

  1. Coraline (***)
  2. Up (***)
  3. Fantastic Mr. Fox (**.5)

Oscar Prediction: I find it a bit ridiculous that a movie (Up) can be nominated for both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature, and I think that tells the whole story—by virtue of being the only film that “qualifies” as a best-overall movie, doesn’t that automatically make Up the best animated movie? I think so.

The best performances by an actor this year, in my opinion, were:

  1. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
  2. Sam Rockwell (Moon)
  3. Colin Firth (A Single Man)
  4. George Clooney (Up in the Air)
  5. Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)

And a couple of honorable mentions:

  • James Gandolfini (Where the Wild Things Are)
  • Chris Pine (Star Trek)

Oscar Predictions: Christoph Waltz is a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor, and deservedly so (though I think he should be in the Leading category). Jeff Bridges is almost just as certain to take Best Leading Actor.

The best performances by an actress were:

  1. Carrie Mulligan (An Education)
  2. Amy Adams (Sunshine Cleaning)
  3. Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds)
  4. Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air)
  5. Rachel Weisz (The Brothers Bloom)

A couple of honorable mentions here, as well:

Oscar Predictions: These categories are much more open. While I’d really like to see Carrie Mulligan win Best Actress, I think the voting will go to Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side. Likewise, while I think Vera Farmiga should be winning the Best Supporting Actress category, the smart money is on Mo’Nique for Precious. I suppose I can’t comment too much on these, since the two front-runners are from movies I haven’t seen and likely never will, but there you have it.

The remaining major categories, I think, will go like this:

  • Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) deserves this, and I think she’ll get it.
  • Best Original Screenplay: I’d be shocked if Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) didn’t win this one.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) should, and most likely will, win here.
  • Every Technical Category will go to Avatar, including the somewhat-controversial award for Best Cinematography (how much does the cinematographer do when the whole movie is rendered by computers?).

I think 2009 was a pretty weak year in film overall, but there were some diamonds in the rough to be found. Hopefully some of my lists above can be taken as useful recommendations for which of those to seek out.

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Posted by mike in Film,Reviews at 9:02 pm on March 6, 2010

An Education

Status: In limited release (opened 10/16/09)
Directed By: Lone Scherfig
Written By: Nick Hornby
Cinematographer: John de Borman
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Alfred Molina

Not that the two movies have much in common besides this, but the introductory credits sequence of An Education reminded me of that of Jackie Brown. Both depict their main character, a strong and confident woman, beginning her day, with perfectly defining music playing on the soundtrack (Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” in the latter case, Floyd Cramer’s “On the Rebound” in the former). Jenny (Carey Mulligan) of An Education is a teenage schoolgirl in 1960s London, who like many schoolgirls fancies herself mature beyond her years. She and her friends smoke cigarettes, speak what little French they’ve learned in school, and hang out in cafes while discussing how the boys their own age are oh-so uninteresting.

Lucky for Jenny, she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), who offers to give her a ride home from orchestra practice in the rain one day. David is older, but not too old, and rich and charming too. He seems innocent enough; he offers to help, shows Jenny a good time, and charms her parents into letting her spend more time with him. Her father (Alfred Molina), in particular, takes a liking to David. Previously he’d been obsessed with her getting into Oxford, but now he starts to think that maybe if she has a man like David to take care of her, Jenny doesn’t need to go to college afterall.

We don’t have a hard time seeing where David’s coming from. He’s not exactly Humbert Humbert: Jenny’s attempts to appear sophisticated and clever and charming are thoroughly successful, and a girl in her final year of secondary education is quite a different type of nymphet than the 12-year-old Lolita. That’s not to say that the relationship here feels at all appropriate—though I don’t feel too creepy for admitting that I empathized completely with David’s feelings for Jenny (Carey Mulligan is actually 24). And as an actress, Mulligan is pretty amazing. She gains our sympathy and then torments us with it quite effectively.

The tone of An Education is playful for the first two-thirds of the film, and yet there’s a stinging sensation in the back of our minds that something must be up. The story builds a subtle kind of tension that we as an audience are hardly even aware of until it becomes palpable enough to boil over. The screenplay effectively establishes this build-and-release, and it’s satisfyingly sneaky in doing so. Written by Nick Hornby, who is usually the one having his books adapted into movies (High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch), the script here is based on a memoir by Lynn Barber. The people in this story feel real and yet exaggerated at the same time. The way David and his friends (Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike) play off of each other is humorous yet sad, relaxed and yet also somehow tense. There’s an added dimension to the relationships here that we’re vaguely aware of, and yet it catches us of guard when it makes itself known. The film gets a little clunky during its epilogue, feeling like it’s rushing to wrap things up, but until that point it’s thoroughly engaging.

The real story of this movie, though, is Carey Mulligan, and her portrayal of Jenny. She’s the kind of girl we all knew when we were that age, the one who everybody at school talked about, whose exploits seemed a little too far-fetched to be believable, even if we knew they were true. There’s a lot of range in the spectrum of Jenny, and Mulligan is truly amazing in her ability to convey it all. An Education is highlighted by her performance, but at the same time it’s complemented with a range of characters that flesh out the story and add sufficient depth to tell Jenny’s story realistically. It’s an enjoyable little movie with a lot to offer.

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