Quick reviews of three movies I’ve seen in the last week:
“Stranger Than Fiction” is the kind of original storytelling we need more of. Will Ferrell reins in all his wacky urges and shines as an IRS agent who hears a woman’s voice narrating his life. It turns out the narrator is Emma Thompson, an author who always kills off her main character. Maggie Gyllenhall give another good performance (since “Secretary,” she’s done solid supporting work in “Criminal” and “Monster House,” and has become one of the best actresses of her generation) as a baker that Ferrell first audits, then falls for. When you add Dustin Hoffman, doing what he always does, and a very understated Queen Latifah, you get a world I was completely drawn into, and walked out smiling — exactly what you want from a movie.
I’m a sucker for James Bond movies, but for too long, they have simply sucked. “Casino Royale” may save the franchise, and Daniel Craig is just right as 007. The action sequences are perfect, including an early foot chase that is nothing short of remarkable. Fortunately, they’ve cut out the over-the-top gadgets of some of the recent movies (there’s nothing as ridiculous as an invisible car), and given Bond a love interest who is smart and beautiful (you won’t snicker as you did when Denise Richards was cast as a nuclear scientist). There’s even a funny moment when Bond is given an injection and says “Ouch!” — this from a man who’s been beat up, knocked over, and bruised in every way without ever uttering an objection. My problem with “CR” comes in the poker scene, in which Bond must (of course) beat the villain in a winner-take-all tournament. After giving his female colleague a lecture on how you win at no-limit hold’em — not by playing the cards but by reading your opponent — his ultimate victory comes in the kind of hand that never shows up anywhere but in a movie. With four people all-in for the final pot, it’s even more unlikely than Edward G. Robinson’s straight flush beating Steve McQueen’s full house in the climax of “The Cincinnati Kid.” Then again, it’s a lot more interesting than those boring games of baccarat that Bond used to play.
“For Your Consideration” is a big disappointment. Maybe it’s because Christopher Guest and Company set the bar so high with “Waiting For Guffman” and “Best In Show.” They started to slip a little bit with “A Mighty Wind,” but even that’s a masterpiece compared to “FYC.” Unlike those, this one’s not a mockumentary, but that’s not all that’s wrong. It feels like a sketch that went on too long, based on a premise that wasn’t that funny to begin with. In fact, the basic concept is so lame, you’d think Aaron Sorkin had written it for the show-within-a-show on “Studio 60.” Guest’s repertory company is full of talented people, but they’re becoming redundant, and maybe it’s time to get some new players. Besides, how many really good comedies have there been about the behind-the-scenes machinations of making a movie? “FYC” certainly isn’t one of them.