Monday, December 28, 2009

It's Complicated


It's Complicated is a first class, perfectly pitched, wonderfully paced movie. Ahh.....

I was worried that the best of it was already shown in all the commercials and previews of the film. Happily, I can report that it's even better than its trailer. Wow. Meryl Streep is incredible. The lady does not disappoint -- ever. Can't say enough about her. I unabashedly worship her.

Alec Baldwin has such an enormous sleaze-ball quality that he just has to be in the frame and he makes me laugh. He has perfect comic timing; his face expresses without any clownish mugging; he's a rake and a darling at once. And a bit of a pig. Love him! The thing is, Alec Baldwin really puts it all out there. He's intensely naked in his portrayal of a man who loses his midlife fantasy life and wants to revert to the home and hearth of his ex-wife and ideal family. Hell, he'd be an idiot not to want to go back to the Meryl Streep wife. Come on. He left her for a flat-bellied, tattoo-shouldered, exotic-bitchy young'un. True to his not-quite-bright nature, it took him 10 years to see what a schnook he was. Amazingly, and it's a testament to the personal likability quotient Baldwin brings, I liked him despite his obvious moronic leanings.

Steve Martin, I was relieved to see, did not go over-the-top with either his wacky self or his sad clown self. Phew. (I think Meryl just has to make everybody act better, so that's that.) Martin was a pretty believable nice architect guy who starts a thing with Meryl in the middle of her "affair" with her husband. There are a couple of scenes with them that make dating look good. Really.

I read a couple of reviews of this film by the Big Shots who write about movies. Forget them. They don't believe in Santa Claus. It's Christmas. Go. See it. It's a gift.

Sherlock Holmes

This is a big, fun movie. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but who cares? It's Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law. There are a lot of special effects. The scenery is Victorian England, circa 1800s. Beautiful art direction. A few fascinating slow motion fight scenes.

Don't expect a lot of "Elementary, my dear Watsons" or even brilliant deductions or creative sleuthing. Sherlock Holmes is not really a detective or a scientist in this film. He's more like an action hero with a self-destructive bent. And poor Watson, or Jude Law, is cast as a kind of codependent sidekick who gets kicked around a lot. (What happened to Jude Law? Seriously. He's lost his bloom.) There is a mystery to be solved, but I couldn't tell you what it was.

If you love Robert Downey, Jr. then you will have a good time. When all else fails in this movie, his ropey body is good to look at. And his English accent is a trip. Even Jude Law, who really is English, sounds less authentic than Downey. At one point, I was wishing Watson would have been played by Johnny Depp. (I'm not kidding about Jude Law's lost bloom.) Johnny Depp could given Watson more bite, more interest, more something. Maybe even just given it his Johnny Depp-ness. At least there would have been something else to captivate in this couple of hours in Downey-land.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Wrestler

I didn't want to go see The Wrestler. I had enough of looking at Mickey Rourke on the talk shows, and the comeback public relations tour. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad for him. Go, Mickey! Make movies! Yay.

But, damn. You know what I'm talking about. His face is every reason to age gracefully that I've ever seen. I digress....

Back to The Wrestler. It's worth seeing. The surprise is the absolute naked longing playing out before our eyes. It's like an accident that's not actually horrific or fatal, and the traffic's stopped up on our side anyway, so we can sit and watch the emergency crews cut someone out of the car.

Stop! That's awful. No. What I mean is....actually, I mean exactly that.

The real reason to go see The Wrestler is Marisa Tomei. Her character is wrestling with her own life in this film -- as a used-up, almost-old, fret-faced stripper, she is perfect. Though she's a beautiful woman and a good actress, we believe she inhabits this part on some primal level. I felt a little ache-y every time she was on screen. The naked truth -- whatever she was conveying with this character -- just oozed out of her soul. She was breathtaking.

Don't expect to be surprised because it's about just what it looks like it's about. Do, however, prepare yourself for the first 20 minutes -- this was "the accident" as it was happening.

I couldn't help thinking, as the movie was coming to an end, "Okay, good, I'm glad that this life experience -- the life of a two-bit wrestler -- is being articulated on this big screen. This we haven't seen." And I think, in the end, that's why it's worth seeing.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Academy Awards 2009





The ultimate vanity blog -- who I like for the Oscars. I'm going to an Academy Awards party later, so here's my "Who Should" and "Who Will" picks:

Best Picture
WHO SHOULD: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
WHO WILL: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director
WHO SHOULD: David Fincher (Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
WHO WILL: Danny Boyle

Best Actor
WHO WILL: Sean Penn

Best Actress
WHO SHOULD: Meryl Streep
WHO WILL: Kate Winslet

Best Supporting Actor
WHO SHOULD: Heath Ledger
WHO WILL: Heath Ledger

Best Supporting Actress
WHO SHOULD: Marisa Tomei
WHO WILL: Penelope Cruz

Art Direction
WHO SHOULD: Benjamin Button
WHO WILL: Dark Knight

Animated Feature
Who cares?

WHO SHOULD: Benjamin Button
WHO WILL: Benjamin Button

Costume Design
WHO SHOULD: Revolutionary Road
WHO WILL: The Duchess

Film Editing
WHO WILL: Slumdog

Documentary Feature
WHO WILL: Man On Wire

WHO SHOULD: Benjamin Button
WHO WILL: Dark Knight

Music *Original Score
WHO SHOULD: Defiance
WHO WILL: Benjamin Button

WHO SHOULD: The Wrestler (not nominated)
WHO WILL: Either of both Slumdog's

Sound Editing
WHO SHOULD: Dark Knight
WHO WILL: Dark Knight

Sound Mixing
No idea what the difference is, but .....
Dark Knight

Visual Effects
WHO SHOULD: Benjamin Button
WHO WILL: Benjamin Button

Writing (adapted screenplay)
WHO WILL: The Reader

Writing (original screenplay)
WHO SHOULD?: Frozen River

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Happy Go Lucky

I've got nothing. I start this report by scratching my head. How, I scratch, can I explain just how nonsensical this movie is? Basically, this is a movie about nothing. Even imagining a pitch meeting for this movie, it lacks an idea. I see a bunch of (English) guys sitting around, talking. In their English way. With their English humor. Probably sniggering and blimey-ing about the potential comic hilarity of making a movie about a cute English girl. Who is a real ditz. But who is a saint at her job as a pre-school teacher. And maybe they decide to have this girl want something: By Jove, she should want to learn how to drive!

That's it. That's the movie.

For the first half hour, the lead actress (the happy go lucky one) is charming, magnetic, attractive. No, really, she's cute and she has a funny laugh. Very likeable. After 45 minutes, she's still cute, but now we wonder if she's a bit mental. Wait, no. She's so good with those kids! Let's give it a little more time. Twenty minutes later, still nothing happening. Oh, right, the driver education guy may be mental. No, wait. Yes. He's mental. So what's going to happen?

Almost two hours in. Nothing. However, the film has misdirected the audience to believe something terrible was going to happen at least three times. Finally, the mental driver education guy has an anger burst. It must be pretty bad because even H-G-L can't crack a smile. In the final scene, the H-G-L girl is in a paddle boat on a lake with her friend. The camera pans out and up to a shot of the sky. End credits.

I'm not kidding.

Now cut to the award ceremony given by the international press. You know the one. The actress wins for her role in a comedic film. I've got blisters on my fingers from scratching my head. I don't get it. I've got nothing.

Slumdog Millionaire

Here's why this movie rocks:

It's a surprise.

That's what's so good about this film. So, if I tell you anything about it, you'll lose one of the key ingredients. Here's what you already know:
  • It's wildly popular.
  • It takes place in India.
  • It's something about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
  • There's a beautiful actress, and a sloe-eyed actor in the lead roles.
  • You expect to feel good at the end because everyone talks about it in a happy way.

Honestly, I can't stand when a movie is spoiled by either too much hype, or too much information. I offer you my hype-less, information-poor report. With one warning: don't expect utter happiness from this movie. In our current movies, it seems we need to be hit on the head and dragged around before we can get our happy on. Be prepared. And enjoy.

Monday, January 26, 2009


This is kind of a Saving Private Ryan/Schlinder's List in the Russian countryside. The action involves maintaining a community of Jewish ghetto refugees in a deep forest amid the constant threat of discovery by the German army. Two Russian Jewish brothers, played with exquisite machismo by Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, create an ad hoc civilization borne of a loyal necessity. While the brothers have their unique sibling backstory rich with unarticulated resentment and competitiveness, they forge a working solution to their personal history: one brother stays with the community and the other brother signs on with the insurgent Russian army to protect the borders of the forest.

There's no sentimental brother love at work here. Both men begrudge each other's leadership attempts, yet their separate paths allow each to take equally important roles in the community's survival. The brother who stays with the refugees learns how a society, even one in peril, has archetypes that need expression. At the same time, the soldier brother lives and fights in an army alongside comrades whose history included pogroms of hatred against Jews. With a subtle irony, the film traverses both brothers' experiences, underscoring how courage in war evolves within an individual's particular set of circumstances.

All high-mindedness aside, this is a slow-moving film that pretty much leans on Craig and Schreiber to deliver the bulk of its power. They do. With a few highlighted actors, notably a younger brother played by Jamie Bell, Defiance doesn't achieve the epic quality it seems to be striving toward. Still, it's an interesting story and should definitely be seen by any lover of movies about defying the hell-on-earth wrought by World War II Nazi power.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Revolutionary Road

This is a wonderful movie. The acting is superb; I have never seen Kate Winslet so amazingly complex and approachable at the same time. Leonardo DiCaprio positively morphs into a 1950's archetype of suburban businessman; his performance is rich and layered and sympathetic -- he's not just 'playing' this husband, he seems to become him. If you didn't read the book, you don't have to in order to appreciate the subtleties of character evoked. The two main characters inhabit the characters so completely and satisfyingly that it's pretty close to a live-action reading experience.

Revolutionary Road is the name of the actual street in a suburban tract where the family lives. For this couple, their roles are thrust upon them -- moving to the suburbs, husband the breadwinner who commutes to a lifeless job in Manhattan, wife the homemaker who gets involved in a community theater. Their average life is not what they were dreaming about when they first came together as a couple. Like all new couples, they felt special, different, meant for great achievements in an alternative lifestyle. However, through marriage and parenting, they become, in a word, ordinary. This sense of themselves as cogs in the wheel of their particular American dream propels them to imagine themselves making a tremendous change in their lives by moving to Paris. Paris? Yes, as this is the 1950's, Paris is the metaphor for revolutionary thinking and artistic individualism. The whole idea of it, and the wonder of themselves as again being special, ignites their relationship and brings them closer, sexier, lovingly together.

Until the reality of their lives -- an unplanned pregnancy, an unexpected promotion -- brings the whole plan crashing down.

What is so compelling about this story is how much sense it makes. Who hasn't wanted to shed their regular, workaday lives and reach for something else? But, in their reaching, in their desperation to be special and set themselves apart, they become something foreign to themselves. Their fantasies weigh heavily on them, suffocating the life they already have. Ultimately, these dreams leave no room for the very thing they seem to want -- that is, a flexible, breathable life that allows them to feel good about themselves. At the end of the day, that really is all that remains.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Why doesn't anybody like Tom Cruise anymore? Even the Germans gave him a hard time during the making of this movie. That's all I remember about it, but obviously it all worked out -- the movie's out, right?

Here's the first surprise of the film: nobody attempts an accent other than their own. So, there's Tom's American; lots of British accents, notably Kenneth Branagh's (looking a little beefy, by the way), and the 2009 version of a studio contract player in the ubiquitous Tom Wilkinson; an occasional Australian accent (yes, I can tell the difference; so what if I'm from Brooklyn?), with a few genuine German accents thrown into the mix. Guess what? You get over it. It's like punctuation -- it either allows for smooth reading, or constantly calls attention to itself !! See?

After the initial opening sequences -- great war location shots, Tom in a fit to kill Hitler (oh, I mean Colonel Stauffenberg - uh, played by Tom Cruise), and a confab of meetings where earnest-looking men are plotting against die Fuhrer, the movie settles itself into the thriller spy movie it promised to be.

Here's what I liked about Valkyrie:

  1. Tom Cruise. He's great. Get over it.

  2. How the story didn't attempt to show the all-encompassing effect of Hitler's influence. We know, and the filmmakers didn't feel pressed to give us another lesson on Hitler. Thanks.

  3. The precise movements from scene to scene -- while we didn't have accents, we had the famous German precision. It was a good effect.

  4. What a surprise that, given how we know the ending, we still worried that a.) Stauffenberg was going to get caught; b.) someone was going to stop him; c.) Hitler wouldn't die in the blast.

  5. The movie worked because disbelief was utterly suspended, and even a kind of crazy rooting for them to succeed was evident in the audience.

A few things about the film irritated, but not enough to change the overall enjoyment. One thing I took away from Valkyrie was an admiration for the high-ranking officers of World War II Germany who tried to ovetake the despot's command. Whether it's historically accurate or not, it was a story about how a country achieves redemption not through history, but through the courageous actions of its people.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gran Torino

I'm worried.
If Theresa told me to jump off a bridge, would I do it?

Five minutes ago, she told me I should write a blog on movies. Now, here I am, five minutes later. About to write a blog on movies.

Ok, let's go.

Last movie seen: Gran Torino
This may seem grouchy because I genuinely like Clint Eastwood -- good director, all that. But this movie blows. Sorry.
Narratively, it doesn't make sense.
Mise-en-scene is straight out of a back-alley scriptwriter's imagination.
Shots of Clint Eastwood's face going from grrr to arrrggh.
Shots of Clint Eastwood's body going from crick to slick.
Random nice girl Asian who somehow sees beyond the incorrigibility of her next door neighbor.
Asian-on-Asian crime, like you've never seen it before.
Random red-haired priest, with no role, but several scenes.
Lovely looking Asian mother who doesn't do anything but gesticulate and moan.
Unexplained family separation between Eastwood and his two grown sons, and their families.
A car. Called a Gran Torino. It is apparently important. Clint Eastwood cleans it a lot.
Nothing different from the commercials of this film on TV. No, really. Nothing.