Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Road (2009)

Cormac McCarthy's novel, The Road, is one of the greatest novels I've ever read. Both story and prose are gorgeous and I enjoyed every moment of reading it. The film adaptation wants so badly to do it justice I ached for its failure to do so. The beauty of the novel lies in the fluid mixture of poetic language and gripping story. The film couldn't possibly achieve as much as the novel. It's too bad because as far as I'm concerned, the filmmakers did everything right. They had the right cast, they made their locations look dreary and dead, and they scripted the story well, only embellishing what a film required them to embellish. It just isn't the same.

Don't misunderstand, it wasn't a bad film. It was quite moving, I wept my eyes out at the end. But the novel was so much more than what the film could deliver, I couldn't help but be disappointed.

I wasn't bored (as many IMDb posters who haven't read the novel seem to have been). Watching Viggo Mortensen tie his shoelaces for two hours probably could't bore me. He disappears into the skin of each character he plays so seamlessly you meet him anew in every film in which he appears. I'm not watching Aragorn, or A History of Violence's Tom Stall (Joey), or creepy Russian creepster Nikolai from Eastern Promises. It's The Man from The Road. No question.

The other performances were also stellar. Robert Duvall was almost impossible to recognize and Guy Pearce played his part right on the edge of trustworthy - just as the character demanded. Charlize Theron was also good in a role made bigger for the film. She had less than anyone to go on and yet her character fit perfectly into this world.

It was a nobel adaptation attempt. If I had never read the book, perhaps I would have adored the film. But this is Cormac McCarthy's story and deserves to be experienced Cormac McCarthy's chosen way. If you haven't already, read the book. Seriously.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Magnolia (1999)

I'm a bit behind on the times with Magnolia, I know, but it's simply one of those films I never got around to. When I began watching at 12:45am on a Monday night, I had no idea that it was over three hours long. Happily, I didn't realize this until almost three hours had gone by, perhaps the strongest indicator that Magnolia was engaging start to finish. When I got to the infamous raining frogs scene, I thought "Oh, this is the movie where it rains frogs." Because it was P.T. Anderson, this little quirk didn't upset me in the slightest.

P.T. Anderson is a character man and for that I give him a great deal of credit. His commitment to constructing characters that are interesting and layered makes him a storyteller I can trust. While I've loved some of his films more than others (There Will Be Blood is one my absolute favorite films), I'm always interested to see what tales he's going to spin.

Again, I'm nowhere near the first to point this out, but Tom Cruise was fantastic. I was blown away - mostly because I had never seen him not be Tom Cruisey. That charming cocky man-child he does so well is ridiculously endearing and I've never minded it. Jerry Maguire and Top Gun stand on that persona. But it led me to believe he couldn't do anything else. Magnolia proved otherwise. His character was the best thing about the film. He was unlike any character I've seen before. He reminded me of no one and yet seemed completely real. I was truly amazed. It's difficult for actors of his sparkley celebrity status to disappear behind a role regardless of their skill level. Once they reach that superstardom peek, they're hired to be who they are - who we already love. Will Smith is always Will Smith and Angelina Jolie is always Angelina Jolie. Again, I'm not saying that's a bad thing. People go to movies to see them be them. But Tom Cruise was not Tom Cruise in Magnolia. He deserves an equal share of credit to P.T. Anderson for creating such a unique personage. I wish he'd get hired to be less Tom Cruisey more often (are you listening makers of Knight and Day?)

Philip Seymour Hoffman was brilliant (as usual) and John C. Reilly was brilliant (as usual) and William H. Macy was brilliant (as usual). Clearly casting had their thinking caps on and I'm willing to bet talent flocks to a P.T. Anderson film like fangirls to vampires. I was both pleased and unsurprised by the quality of the film.

I'm not really saying anything new here, so I'll stop. Suffice it to say this movie was a P.T. Anderson movie and that's about that.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Swingers (1996)

I hated Swingers. Four guys - none of whom have lives - sit around bitching about girls and being pathetic. And there's some vague indication that it's supposed to be funny, or witty or something other than boring. This may make me sound lame (and I really can't deny that I am) but it was like if someone tried to make a movie about my life right now. Why would anyone do that? Why would anyone want to watch it if they did? There's nothing going on. NOTHING. I don't have a job, my friends don't have jobs, none of us have boyfriends, none of us have money (although - in Swingers they have enough money to party fairly regularly despite their unemployment, lucky them).

I got the argument from a dude friend of mine that this movie is for guys. I don't buy it. I know guys. If they were as pathetic (or annoying - my God was Vince Vaughn annoying) as the characters in Swingers, I wouldn't want to know them anymore(and neither would anyone else, including other guys).

Even if I was willing to accept that this movie says something different to guys that those of us with different genitalia just couldn't possibly understand, a movie should not be for only half the population. If it is, it's failing somehow. And I'd be willing to make this exact point in reference to a zillion different "romance" movies including everything connected with Nicholas Sparks.

This same dude friend of mine also complimented the script of Swingers for being tight (as us hep cats say) i.e. each scene is about the central story of the script. Perhaps in most cases being a tight script is a good thing. As far as Swingers goes, you know what "tight" equaled in my estimation? Redundancy and boredom. Contrary to dude friend's belief, I don't think it's difficult to string fifty scenes together all about the same thing. The difficulty is making each scene different from the last; escalating things somehow or at least examining them in a unique way. Swingers doesn't manage escalation. Not really. The steps are so tiny, they're hardly steps at all. Oh yay! He has the balls to talk to a girl. I can totally see why that's a big step. Except wait, no I can't.

As far as I'm concerned, the scope of Swingers is too small. A fair few on IMDb claim there is no plot. This isn't true - there was a plot. Protag is trying to get over his ex and pretty much the whole film is about that central question - will he or won't he? SPOILER ALERT: He does. Unfortunately, I couldn't care less if this loser of a guy gets over his old girlfriend. I have absolutely no reason to care (and I don't see why "guys" would care either). Just because he complains a lot doesn't mean there is conflict. Just because Vince Vaughn says everything is money doesn't make his character funny.

I don't think I'd be so grr about this movie if I hadn't been given such a strong impression that it was good. I don't see it. I don't see good. Or well written. Or charming, or funny, or interesting, or anything other than boring boring boring.

P.S. I love Ron Livingston.

P.P.S Don't google images for Swingers. You'll get the other kind of Swingers.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Digging To China (1998)

Digging to China stars Kevin Bacon as a mentally challenged man who befriends a very young Evan Rachel Wood. I can't really remember why I put this on my Netflix Queue oh so long ago - but it was unavailable for years. When it finally moved from the "saved" section to the "available" section, I fronted it to the top of the list. It was a long sought after film so I was expecting something brilliant. It wasn't really.

Evan Rachel Wood was very good and it's clear why she's been able to keep the career ball rolling. Her character was also quite endearing, a young dreamer make-believing her way out of a dysfunctional, small town 1960's life. There were times when her relationship with Kevin Bacon's Ricky really worked. Moments of clarity when Ricky realizes one day she'll grow up and he won't. But for the most park, Ricky just doesn't work as a character.

The biggest problem was that Kevin Bacon is Kevin Bacon. His performance was fine but I couldn't see past the fact that it's Kevin Bacon. It feels like a strange imitation of mental disability and he's Kevin Bacon. (How many times can I say Kevin Bacon in one post?) The character's disability is on par with that of Leonardo DiCaprio's Arnie in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, however Leo was so young in that roll and he looked so different when he hit it big a few years later, that Arnie isn't clouded by the recognizeability of the A-list celebrity who is playing the part. (Or maybe Leo just did it better...)

In many ways this movie almost worked. Plot-wise, it was intriguing but there were too many grand,life changing moments that were only grazed over. This could have been overlooked had the Ricky/Harriet relationship worked a bit better but alas. We go skipping across the surface of this film without ever diving under the water and it truly was a disappointment.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Crazy Heart (2009)

Crazy Heart is quiet and independent. It was well acted and well made, but from start to finish, there wasn't much in the way of surprises. I’m not saying all movies need crazy plot twists, but this one is so linearly one step after another along the road of independent screenplay, I found myself losing interest.

My two over arching sentiments were: The Wrestler is better and the music is great. The Wrestler has a similar bone structure – over the hill guy used to be somebody and has to struggle with being nobody. However, The Wrestler is better. First of all, it’s more tragic and therefore feels more realistic. I also think Mickey Rourke’s performance was more deserving of the Oscar than that of Jeff Bridges.

The music, however, is terrific. Having just seen The Thing Called Love – where the characters pretend the music is amazing when it’s actually crap – Crazy Heart offered a nice shift. The music of Crazy Heart has beautiful, heartfelt lyrics. I am, in no way, a country music fan. But good music is good music (just as, I often argue, a good film is a good film, no matter the genre). Lyrics like “Funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’ for a little while” are absolute poetry. Few movies about musicians have the music to back up the characters (Once is the only other example that comes immediately to mind) and it was nice to see it here, especially in a genre that is full of laughable superficial depression.

The bottom line: it was a nice film. Jeff Bridges fans will love it more than I did. And I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cocktail (1988)

Ahh, Cocktail. This movie gets a bad wrap. My defense always hinges on the fact that Brian Brown is in it and Brian Brown is fantastic. I don’t know if that’s much of a defense, but it’s really the best I got.

Tom Cruise is Tom Cruisey and when we’re talking about actor Tom Cruise and not reality Tom Cruise, being Tom Cruisey is a good thing. And come on, how stellar is the twist that Elizabeth Shue is actually rich? Like, M. Night Shyamalan territory, right?

And the dialogue!

Brian: “Why did you even tell me about the baby?”
Jordan: “Because I knew it would be the best way to get you out of my life.”

Deep, man.

If I may, let me take this moment to recommend A Town Like Alice – a fantastic 1981 mini-series starring Brian Brown. It’s really good. Check it out.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Thing Called Love (1993)

There’s a whole contingent of people out there in IMDb land that love The Thing Called Love. They’re dumb. More specifically, they’re River Phoenix fangirls. Here’s the thing though - you can be a River Phoenix fan AND admit that most of his movies blow. That’s where I stand in the River Phoenix fan camp.

This movie is about a bunch of crummy wanna-be country music singers. Maybe I’m the only one to notice, but River Phoenix is about as country as Kurt Cobain. He’s emo before emo existed. And, unfortunately, in this movie he creates one of the creepiest male leads I’ve ever come across.

Here are some other reasons this movie sucks. There is nothing alluring about Samantha Mathis and why she’d be such a hot commodity is beyond me. Her ridiculous dead-daddy issues are ridiculous and her freak outs about death are over the top and laughable. It also has some of the weirdest scene transitions ever used. And if you can stomach country music (and I’m not talking Elvis country. I’m talking twangy whine and mope poor me life sucks country) than you’re already a step ahead of me.

The bright spot? (There always seems to be a bright spot in crap movies, doesn’t there?) The bright spot is Sandra Bullock. She’s adorable. She gives dimension to her fourth billing character and I get her. She’s real. I want to know her. The rest of the characters just scream bad screenplay.
I guess I’m done. It’s bad. End of story.

It’s really bad though. It’s not even over. I’m watching this as I write. It stays bad. Bad bad bad. Why the hell did they get married? How did this become a movie about an unhappy married couple? And domestic issues...I guess? It’s bad. Don’t watch it. Seriously.

Okay. Now I’m really done.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Brothers Bloom (2008)

The beginning of The Brothers Bloom was fun. It has a fairy-tale style opening with rhyming voice-over that I found charming. The crux of the story rests on the relationship between the two brothers played by Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody. Except, about halfway through the film, the crux of the story stops relying on the relationship between the two brothers and starts relying on the cons.
For a while, it had me. Just when I thought “Maybe Mark Ruffalo is actually conning Adrien Brody” Mark Ruffalo says to Adrien Brody “You’re the last person I would ever con.” Touche, Brothers Bloom. But as it progresses, it gets caught up in its cutesy con craziness and when the audience loses track of who is actually caring about what, the audience stops caring about anything. When we finally reach the end and the final con that we know is coming, it makes no sense. Movie lost.

If you particularly like any of the actors, it’s a fun enough movie to sit through. Rachel Weisz was very endearing – especially in the beginning – and Rinko Kikuchi as Bang Bang was also fun. It was four good actors being overshadowed by a script that was trying too hard to be clever.

Alas, I am still left waiting for another brilliant Mark Ruffalo performance.

Lethal Weapon (1987)

Two years ago, I got all four Lethal Weapons for $10. Can you believe that? I mean, Lethal Weapon is awesome. It’s from back in the days when Mel Gibson was cool and Gary Busey wasn’t totally crazy. Ahh the 80s.

I’ve always been particularly proud of the fact that my parents weren’t into censorship. As a result, I saw this movie at a very young age. I grew up with the classic Christmas duo of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. Merry Christmas Mother F***ers! Right? Bad ass.

This was the first time I watched Lethal Weapon since I’ve moved to Los Angeles and having some geographic reference points only enhanced the fun. For example, check out this picture.

Not only is it sweet that The Lost Boys is playing, but that’s the Wiltern on the corner of Wilshire and Western Ave. See that second floor window on the right side of the frame? I occasionally work in that office building. It’s like I’m famous.

So I guess that’s about it. What else can I say? It’s the buddy cop standard, and if I haven’t mentioned this already, it’s awesome.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Soloist (2009)

Blah blah being homeless sucks blah. I hate preachy movies. The Soloist was preachy. Like a Counting Crows concert. I feel like it needed a “No homeless people were harmed during the making of this film” disclaimer at the end.

There was a somewhat solid relationship built between the two central characters. This relationship was interesting, at times endearing, and there was some major archage by the end. But there were far too many bells and whistles along the way that I had absolutely no interest in, including a major Fantasia moment where colored lights dance across the screen during a Beethoven piece. Thank you, but my iTunes has a visualizer and it works just fine.

There was also a great deal of time spent watching Robert Downey Jr. watch homeless people. Yes, it’s tragic. Yes, we could all do more to help. But a $60 million movie isn’t the place to convince me to donate my grocery money.

The movie was fine. Competent. Well acted. I love Joe Wright. But I’ll never care to see it again. For me, it was mostly one big shrug.

Oh - and it had a Jena Malone moment (boo) as well as some Nelsan Ellis (a.k.a. True Blood's Lafayette) screen time (yay!)