Working at Variety full-time has compelled me to see movies at the rate I used to see them, rather than my rate as a parent (which was, you know, one in the theaters every month or two, then catching up on the rest on cable or DVD six months to a year later).
In the past several days alone, I've seen Flags of Our Fathers, Babel, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus and Running with Scissors. I might go into further detail later on some of these, but for now I'll just say that I found the first two not quite as good as the buzz that preceded them and the second two not as bad. All have merit; all have flaws - none is a hands-down winner.
Quick comments on the two that are in public release:
Flags of Our Fathers gets its message across quite effectively, but in a somewhat distancing manner. It didn't sweep me off my feet. Though Adam Beach gives a standout performance and Barry Pepper, among others, is completely convincing, Ryan Philippe and Jesse Bradford were (in key roles) on the bland side. The cinematography is sharp, distinctive, but I'm not sure the movie's back-and-forth structure is all that it's cracked up to be. I also think the movie suffers from throwing a great many characters at you at the outset and assuming you'll remember all the key names. Maybe it was my fault, but I found myself at key points in the second half of the film going, "Now, which one was Franklin again?" It's a meaningful movie and I'm glad I saw it, but I have no passion for it.
Something to ponder: Does "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" (I only know Johnny Cash's version) accomplish a good deal of what Flags does, in about 3 percent of the time?
Running with Scissors has been getting hammered pretty hard in the reviews, enough that we would have seen something different had the timing worked out. As it was, I liked it the most of the three people I saw it with (one of us truly disliked it, two were mixed). Atmospherically, it hits you a little like a real-life version of The Royal Tennenbaums (complete with eccentric Gwyneth Paltrow character), with a dram of The Ice Storm. The people I saw it with thought it was over the top; I'll certainly concede that it was near the top, but I thought it sustained itself. It was the least message-y of the four movies I've seen during this spurt and (this is saying something) the least depressing, and I think I was grateful for that - after the others, I was ready to throw myself under a truck. I can't wholeheartedly recommend Scissors, but I'll certainly speak up for it if few others will. It was quite a tale.
I'll tell ya, I'm ready for something lighter, though. I need to get to Stranger Than Fiction as soon as possible.