Eight Films a Week

09/19/2013 06:03 pm ET | Updated Nov 19, 2013

As all six of my Facebook fans know, I wrote a blog recently arguing that American movies suck. Not very controversial. Not a single angry comment. No one defending American film. But I'm no anarchist, so if I am going to harangue, I should also try to look for the good. Right? I set out to do that this week, resolving to see eight new American movies from a range of genres and budgets. Like Diogenes searching for one good man... Here's what I found.

I noticed several things before any of the features even rolled:

1) Trailers are cool. Better than the movies usually. No real reason to remake Carrie and Robocop because the originals were just fine, but that George Clooney Monuments movie, which seems to be a loose remake of John Frankenheimer's The Train (with cool American irony supplied by Messrs. Clooney, Murray and Goodman) might be fun.
2) I'm guessing that with Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, and Javier Bardem, nobody really cares that the trailer for Ridley Scott's new movie The Counselor is utterly indecipherable. Plan your bachelorette party now.
3) With all those trailers (average of six) and commercials masquerading as trailers, and appeals to buy Coke and turn off your cell phones and support charity, you can count on the movie beginning twenty minutes after its scheduled time, up from fifteen minutes a year ago. This is not a good trend.

All right, now on to the movies. I graded on a curve.

In A World...: This was the first movie I saw. The first gymnast never gets the highest mark because you've got leave room for everyone else. That said, Lake Bell is charming and prodigiously talented, and In a World was the best movie I saw this week. It managed to dwell in an offbeat world, present a good central character and several decent subplots, and it even gave you something to think about. And it was very funny. Nice job, Lake Bell. You got an A-.

Elysium: Neill Blomkamp is prodigiously talented too, but I don't know if he is charming. I'm not going to complain too much that Elysium isn't as good as his earlier feature District 9, or that he borrows pretty heavily from Total Recall and Metropolis. Elysium is full of contrivance and coincidence, and the potential topical themes of rich v poor, health care, and immigration, are largely window dressing. But it's still a beautifully visualized fun ride. If you're one of those people who thought a bald Matt Damon couldn't be hot, you owe it to yourself to see this. B+

You're Next: Granted, I'm being lenient because this has the least known cast and despite its special effects, probably the smallest budget. The acting is uneven. But it reasonably good horror with an appealing Sharni Vinson doing a good take on that old chestnut - the survivalist Aussie girlfriend. Pretty brutal and pretty funny. The lackadaisical ennui visible in the bad guys is something semioticians can write several chapters on. I don't even mind that they "borrow" the flash bulb trick from Rear Window. B -

We're the Millers: This is one of those big disconnects between critics, who generally hate this, and movie-goers, who generally think critics are pretentious. Though moi and pretentious have a casual acquaintance, I can't say I hated this. It is cheap and raunchy and the bad guys really aren't very interesting, which would typically ruin a movie like this. But Jason Sudeikis has an appealing slacker charm that pulls it through. And it has a great turn from Kathryn Hahn, as a manically repressed middle-American conservative wife, which balances out the signature tarantula-up-your-shorts gross-out moment. B-

Afternoon Delight: So what I learned here is that I like Kathryn Hahn a lot more as the manically repressed middle-American conservative wife than as the clinically depressed East Coast liberal wife. (I may just prefer repressed conservatives to depressed liberals in general.) Writer-director Jill Soloway has chops, producing Six Feet Under and United States of Tara among other smart, funny shows. But this just doesn't work. It's whiny and not very funny, and seems to say that a young alcoholic prostitute is better off drinking and turning tricks than she is living in suburbia. Then again, maybe this is more insightful than I think it is. C-

Closed Circuit: This is a pretty bad screenplay coming from a pretty good screenwriter. The story, about a terrorist attack in London and the intrepid lawyers who uncover a government conspiracy, simply never gathers much momentum. It is confusing, which is strange because it's also rather thin. The central intrigue is revealed pretty early and then the script consists of scenes of characters repeating explosive information to each other. You cannot waste Julia Stiles in a purely expository role and get a decent grade from me. Oh, and perhaps because they didn't have enough story, they have inserted a ludicrous love story. I will pay to see Rebecca Hall in a "young lawyers in love" movie, but only if it's a sexy comedy. D

The Family: I wanted to like it. DeNiro, Pfeiffer, Jones, Besson. Produced by Scorsese. For squandering this talent alone, it fails. What purports to be a comedy is mostly a series of repetitive set pieces where a family from New Jersey, for no apparent reason, beats the crap out of a vaguely obnoxious French town. Everyone who is not one of the stars dies (chuckle, chuckle) and the family goes off to their next adventure. I'm sure Scorsese got a kick out of the Third Man homage (which doubled as a Scorsese homage.) Acting is good. Movie is crap. F

For those of you who are good at Math, you may notice the blog's title and the actual blog don't really add up. I was supposed to see something else. I didn't. But I really liked the title, so I kept it. That doesn't make me a bad person, does it? I'll shoot for eight next week.