The Campaign – It’s really no surprise that this pointed satire is the funniest movie I’ve seen this year, however what is unexpected is how smart and timely it is. Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis are in fine form as two clueless candidates for a seat in the US Senate who end up compromising themselves on the campaign trail. While some of the strategies them employ are a bit farfetched that they are willing to resort to the dirtiest of tactics in order to be elected rings true, as does the fact that the electorate is portrayed as a group of mindless lemmings who believe any outlandish claim that’s put before them. That this is an accurate reflection of our electoral process is depressing but at least the film delivers its message with a spoonful of hilarity.
Ruby Sparks – A cautionary tale about being careful for what you wish for, this feature from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine finds author Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) breaking through his writer’s block in a major way. In a flurry of writing, he creates his ideal woman, the pure but flighty Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) who turns up in the flesh. What begins as a dream come true soon turns into a nightmare when the creator’s creation wants to strike out on her own and he’s reluctant to let her do so. To be sure, this is a quirky story but it does pay off in a meaningful way as Calvin comes to learn that being in an adult relationship requires making concessions and taking risks.
Bernie – I understand that Jack Black is not everyone’s cup of tea, but this feature may change your mind about him. This true story concerns the odd relationship between Bernie (Black), a gay mortician in a small Texas town who makes a connection with a rich widow (Shirley MacLaine) who’s abrasive to the nth degree. That the relationship ends with one of them murdered is a bit of a surprise but how long it goes undiscovered and the reaction from the townspeople provides the genuinely shocking moments. Director Richard Linklater blurs the lines between fact and fiction as he casts actual witnesses to the relationship and the crime to help recount this fascinating dark comedy that will have you questioning just what the notion of law and order should be.
The Cabin in the Woods – While he has his legion of fans, based on the success of his cult television series’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, I’m not one that bows at the altar of Joss Wheadon. And while this film isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is, a complaint I have about most of the director’s work, it does have moments that no fan of horror movies should miss. It takes the clichéd premise of having a group of teens go to a remote cabin in the woods only to run into some sort of supernatural threat and turns it on its ear. It’s all a set-up – a behavioral experiment – overseen by a group of scientists whose intentions remain murky until the end. Wheadon brings out every creature he can think of with an ironic twist, while the final monster mash has to be seen to be believed. Not for the squeamish, but those who know their horror movies will appreciate Wheadon’s post-modern take on the genre.
Haywire – If there’s a more versatile director than Steven Soderbergh working in films today, I’d like to meet him. Ocean’s 11, Out of Sight, Traffic, Erin Brockovich and Magic Mike are all on his resume and the wide variety of genre’s he’s touched on is a testament to the fact that he’s always on the lookout to challenge himself. With Haywire, he delivers an action film that, unlike so many modern entries in the genre, actually takes the time to choreograph and film the action in a way that’s easy to follow, and appreciate more fully. Having written the movie as well, Soderbergh made the film for the sole purpose of putting MMA champion Gina Carano in the spotlight. As a rogue agent, she employs body slams, roundhouse kicks and all manner of gymnastic kill shots to take out her enemies, all hapless males including Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Antonio Banderas. This is old school action done right and Carano is a wonder to behold.