Imagine an alien archeologist in the future trying to understand human culture through our only remaining documents, existentialist literature from the 20th century. This alien might not laugh at Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan.
I have not seen Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, but did see Tom Hooper's The King's Speech thanks to a free screening. The latter makes King George VI relatable to us commoners by showing the difficulty he had in public speaking (a requisite of kings) due to his stuttering. Being a monarch on the dole isn't as easy as it looks, the film says. Coppola suggested in her last film, Marie Antoinette, that royalty might even like the same indy rock bands as the hoi polloi if given the chance. Poor Marie didn't get that chance; her crippling privilege led to an early beheading. King George couldn't retreat into the background and go face the Nazis on the battlefield. Instead, he had to endure years of speech therapy in order to give a speech to all the boys who were to face death against the Axis. My inner class conflict has trouble finding this story inspirational, but I, along with all the middle aged women who read classic literature, can't deny the charm of Colin Firth. As an example of creative writing's write what you know, Somewhere is about privileged Hollywood types contemplating their up-and-out existence at the Chateau Marmont. Stephen Dorff plays the kind of guy who spends a lot of money on looking dirty and hip. There are a lot of his type in Hollywood, and now they have a movie about their plight. Dorff's not as dreamy as Firth, but has better abs.
That poster kind of says it all, a bleached blonde white queen, i.e., cheap and phony. It's interesting that when a film version of some dark fable comes up, Tim Burton springs to mind. Of course, he had to be the one to direct this film, I heard many people say. Yet, he only fucks them up: Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd. Sure, he's got a unique design sense, but he's an unimaginative storyteller, turning everything into the most rudimentary action plot. The best he could do with the headless horseman is to treat him as a supervillain. Alice in Wonderland shoehorns Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings into Lewis Carroll's world. Instead of mindgames with perverse creatures, Alice is a warrior who's brought back to Wonderland to face off against the tyranny of the Red Queen and to slay the Jabberwocky. That sounds like a well-worn joke about producer interference from The Player, but it's not.
Peter Bogdanovich likes to retell this bit where, in response to a comment he made about Greta Garbo only making two great films, Orson Welles said, "you only need one." It helps to keep that in mind when watching Martin Scorsese's films of the past 20 years. For example, Shutter Island.
"Charms audiences into a state of enlightenment" -- that's one of the poster's blurbs. If you're a bigot, then you're not going to see a film about two lesbians raising well-adjusted kids. So who's going to be charmed by this film? Liberal types already accepting the message of the film, but who like to be patted on the back for their tolerant attitude. Which renders the point perfunctory, at best, like arguing against spousal abuse in front of Oprah's audience. No, I didn't see The Kids Are All Right, but the trailer gives away the whole story: sperm-donating wastrel dad returns, shakes things up, everyone loves each other a little more by the end. Nothing offends me quite like earnest pablum, congratulating people on not acting like idiots. Can we set the bar any lower? Jonathan Rosenbaum recently commented how sick he is of American revenge plots. I disagree. Think how much better this film would be had the father returned, kidnapped the kids, been hunted down and tortured by the mothers proclaiming masculinity to be an infection in need of a cure. That's the kind of view I don't mind being patted on the back for having.
Should someone object that it's not fair to judge a film based on the trailer (as if blunt empiricism is always preferable to a well-honed rationalism when assessing something like a Star Trek/X-men crossover novel), I watched TRON Legacy, even though the trailer looked terrible. The movie was, indeed, terrible.
Dishonorable mentions: Iron Man 2, Monsters, anything starring one of the Affleck brothers and whatever Clint Eastwood's last film was.