Monthly Archives: April 2010

Crazy

Crazy Heart presents itself as one of those small movies that can be so endearing,  an anti-blockbuster that grows on you — a “slice-of-life” picture — and the kind of film that frequently gets rewarded at the Oscars, if not the box office.  Well, Jeff Bridges has his Oscar now, and I have two hours of tedium to show for it.

You have to really, really like Bridges to endure this movie.  And I’ve always been a Bridges fan.  Since I first noticed him in 1974, stealing a movie (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) from Clint Eastwood, Bridges went on to play one of my favorite movie villains (the sleek, sophisticated Jack Forrester in Jagged Edge), favorite space aliens (Starman) and, of course,  the role with which he’s now most associated, “The Dude” in The Big Lewbowski.

Bridges is good, but not spectacular, in Crazy Heart.  The problem is the movie itself, which is as flat as the desert landscape his character, washed-up singer Bad Blake, drives, drinks, and smokes his way through.  Nothing happens in this movie.  Blake gets drunk and sings a mournful song about his past.  He drinks some more and sings some more.  He meets a woman he likes.  He loses her.

At one point, it appeared that writer-director Scott Cooper was setting up a Rocky-like scenario:  has-been country artist gets payback on the upstart whose career he helped launch.  But when we meet the young ingrate (Colin Farrell), he turns out to be not such a bad guy.  Farrell is wasted in this movie, as are Maggie Gyllenhaal as a saintly single mother, and Robert Duvall as Blake’s longtime buddy.

Crazy Heart is like one of Bad Blake’s self-indulgent, drunken escapades:  the sooner forgotten, the better.      Grade:  D+

 

Director:  Scott Cooper  Cast:  Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Beth Grant, Robert Duvall  Release:  2009



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Lovely

 

“I wouldn’t change anything in the film.  The film is very much what we set out to make.”  Thus spoke director Peter Jackson in a recent interview, defending his movie The Lovely Bones against some harsh critical reviews.  Now that I’ve seen the film, I’m on Jackson’s side.

I read novelist Alice Sebold’s ethereal book of the same name some years ago, and I thought Sebold managed to pull off a marvelous balancing act.  She penned a top-notch thriller about the hunt for a serial killer, while simultaneously painting a devastating and poignant picture of one family torn apart by the killer’s acts.  And to top that off, the story was narrated by a dead girl — from heaven (or some such place), no less.  How on earth could anyone, especially a director as seemingly unsubtle as Jackson (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong) translate Sebold’s prose to film?

Jackson succeeds on a number of levels.  The story arc involving the murderer, in particular, is gripping stuff.  Young Saoirse Ronan is a winning personality as tragic young Susie.  The disintegration of the Salmon family, on the other hand, has been truncated from the novel, and it feels like it.  And as for the scenes in “heaven” … geez, I dunno.  But they are spectacularly colorful.

I enjoyed this movie, and I didn’t really expect that I would.  The more I think about it, I wouldn’t change a thing, either.  Well, maybe some of the overplayed 1970s songs on the soundtrack ….       Grade:  B

 

Lovely2

 

Director:  Peter Jackson  Cast:  Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli  Release:  2009

 

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Vincere

 

I’ve been trying to figure out why Vincere, an Italian historical drama starring Giovanna Mezzogiorno, left me so cold.  Especially since the movie so desperately wants to be affecting.

Vincere has an intriguing, fact-based story, an Oscar-worthy performance by its lead actress, and gorgeous photography.  The second half of the picture almost moved me, and then I finally realized what prevented it from doing so — the first half of the picture.

Vincere is the story of Ida Dalser (Mezzogiorno), mistress of the second-most-famous dictator of World War II, Benito Mussolini.  Years before Mussolini rose to power, Dalser bore him a son, then was cruelly discarded by Il Duce when it became politically expedient for him to do so.  Not to mention the fact that Mussolini already had a wife and kids.

Dalser, refusing to go quietly, was separated from her son and then shunted from one mental hospital to another.  Was she mentally unstable, or merely hopelessly devoted to the wrong man?  I have no idea, but in the film, her sufferings — which constitute the last (and best) hour of the movie — reminded me of another woman-unjustly-institutionalized drama, Frances, with Jessica Lange.  Frances, unlike this film, was emotionally powerful.

The problem with Vincere is that Dalser, with whom the audience is asked to empathize, is more like a curious lab specimen than a woman you might know.  You wonder:  Is she mildly delusional, or actually mentally ill?  The man she obsesses over, Mussolini, is a completely unsympathetic cad.  The separation of these two lovers could only be a good thing.       Grade:  C+



Director:  Marco Bellocchio  Cast:  Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Filippo Timi, Michela Cescon, Fausto Russo Alesi  Release:  2009

 

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Jerry1 

Sports agents are jerks.  But you knew that.  Professional athletes are pampered brats.  You knew that, too.  Tom Cruise might or might not be an arrogant weirdo, judging from media reports.  So why is this 1996 movie starring Cruise, about pro jocks and their agents, so addictive?  Somehow, writer-director Cameron Crowe takes these flawed personalities, throws them all together, and comes up with a modern-day Frank Capra movie.

 

????????????????????????????????????????????????????        Watch Jerry Maguire  (click here) 

 

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Girl1

 

When I read an Inspector Morse novel, or an Agatha Christie story with Hercule Poirot, I always forget the plot soon after.  What sticks with me about the Morse books is Morse himself, and the only thing I recall about any Poirot story is the little Belgian detective.  It’s this emphasis on character that elevates The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a new Swedish film based on a bestselling book by Stieg Larsson.

If you analyze the plot of Girl, it could be any cookie-cutter American thriller, right down to the climax, in which the bad guy ties up the good guy and, inexplicably, feels the need to confess all before he offs our hero.  But director Niels Arden Oplev’s movie is rescued by good chemistry and charisma.

Noomi Rapace does gloomy yet manages to light up the screen as Lisbeth Salander, a goth-type who, finding herself victimized by both family and society, is not the type to let bygones be bygones.  Computer hacker Lisbeth gets mixed up with the most unlikely of companions — an older journalist (Michael Nyqvist) on his way to prison for libel.  Together, this odd couple develops mutual respect while solving a 40-year-old mystery involving a missing woman.

By tomorrow, I probably won’t remember much of Girl’s convoluted story, and I’m not likely to care that I don’t.  However, as with Morse and Poirot, I’ll likely have fond memories of these two Swedish crime-solvers.  Can anyone say “sequel”?        Grade:  B+

 

Director:  Niels Arden Oplev  Cast:  Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube  Release:  2010

 

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 .                         King

 

Seems clear that Larry King is out to convince the rest of us that the male midlife crisis does not strike until one reaches age 76.  Last night, Larry was on CNN talking to Willie Nelson about the joys of smoking pot.  A few weeks ago, the King of swing was out joyriding in L.A. with Snoop Dogg (above).  And now he is all over the gossip rags for allegedly having an affair with his wife’s younger sister.

Who says life begins at 40?

 

*****

 

Oprah

 

Entertainment Weekly informs us this week that Oprah Winfrey is “America’s best girlfriend.”  Hmmm.

Apparently Entertainment Weekly doesn’t consider the male of the species to be American, because I have a hard time believing that many (straight) men consider Oprah Winfrey to be their “best girlfriend.”

 

*****

 

Serafin            Serafin2            Serafin3

 

Some years ago there was a news story about a woman who suffered seizures whenever she heard Mary Hart’s voice on Entertainment Tonight.  Seemed unlikely at the time … but now I believe it, because I find myself uncontrollably frothing at the mouth every time Kim Serafin shows up on CNN’s Showbiz Tonight.  Why can’t this woman hold her head still?  Her bobble-head is driving me to distraction.

 

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Two1

 

I have an idea for a movie.  We’ll cast the two romantic leads from today’s biggest film, Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington of Avatar, as an attractive young couple.  We’ll follow them through a cute courtship, then veer into their squabbles over money, child-rearing, and sex.  For good measure, we’ll have them cheat on each other.  Sound like something you’d like to see?  No?

It’s a tribute to old-time star power that Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney pull off this scenario so effortlessly in Two for the Road, director Stanley Donen’s 1967 comic drama.  And yes, there is a lot of humor in the movie. 

Donen uses flashbacks and flash-forwards to chronicle 12 years in the lives of Mark and Joanna Wallace, allowing us to see up close how even an apparent match-made-in-heaven can falter.  With the wrong actors, this wouldn’t work, but hey, we are talking Hepburn and Finney here.  Hepburn, as she so often played in her career, is physically frail yet deceptively tough.  Finney is all gruff and bravado, yet deceptively soft.

The lush cinematography is a bonus as the Wallaces embark on a series of road trips in Europe — many of them quite funny.  And once again, I find myself praising the musical talent of the film’s scorer, Henry Mancini.

So do the Wallaces have a happy ending?  I won’t say, but I will say I’ve thought about which ending — split up or stay together — would make for a more satisfying film, and that’s a very tough call.      Grade:  A-

 

Director:  Stanley Donen  Cast:  Audrey Hepburn, Albert Finney, Eleanor Bron, William Daniels, Claude Dauphin, Nadia Gray  Release:  1967

 

Two2

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Avatar big

 

Movie lore tells us that James Cameron devoted years to his latest project, the box-office sensation Avatar.  I sincerely hope Cameron used most of that time perfecting the special effects, because it’s apparent he didn’t spend more than 15 minutes on the film’s story, dialogue, or acting.

I give Avatar an above-average rating because the 3-D technology really is captivating, at least at times.  For an action spectacular, it’s ironic that the illusion is most effective in quieter moments:  Drifting sparks from a flame, floating jellyfish, dangling vines, and a simple pane of glass are uncannily realistic.  The ballyhooed flying and battle scenes, conversely, are so loud and busy that the 3-D effect is lost in all the jumble.

Avatar is like an amusement-park ride — a lot of fun at the time, but something you don’t much think about an hour later.  Speaking of time … Cameron seems inordinately fond of his “blue people’s” bare butt cheeks; I only wish he was more considerate of mine, which during an interminable two hours and 42 minutes were alternately aching or falling asleep.

As for the alleged politics of this film, I think it’s much ado about nothing.  Avatar’s plot and characters are much too cartoonish to be taken seriously.       Grade:  B-

 

Director:  James Cameron  Cast:  Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez  Release:  2009

 

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Laura1

 

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the most beautiful star of all?

Could it be a woman so stunning she can make a man fall hopelessly in love with her portrait?  Or possibly an actress who — 65 years after her signature role and 30 years after her death — still mesmerizes audiences as Laura Hunt, the heroine of director Otto Preminger’s classic mystery, Laura?

Gene Tierney is perfectly cast as the unattainable Laura, but the film might be as impenetrable as Laura’s veneer were it not for a couple of standout male performances.  Dana Andrews is nearly as enigmatic as Tierney in his portrayal of a lovelorn homicide detective, a man who avoids eye contact with the people he interrogates, yet who can’t stop staring at that portrait of an apparently murdered woman.  And Clifton Webb, as the sardonic Waldo Lydecker, proves that no Hollywood actor was as adept at the witty putdown.

But the movie belongs to Tierney, the inspiration for both the painting (in reality a touched-up photo) and the memorable title song.   Said David Raksin, composer of “Laura”:  “When I was working on the score, I kept looking at her all the time.  There’s this fabulous creature.  You come across something marvelous and it inspires you.”      Grade:  A

 

Laura3

 

Director:  Otto Preminger  Cast:  Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson  Release:  1944

 

Laura2      Watch the Trailer  (click here)

 

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by Daphne du Maurier

Don't Look

 

Years ago I read Daphne du Maurier’s spellbinding Rebecca, and to this day I believe it’s one of the best novels I ever picked up.  So how are her short stories?  My impressions:

Don’t Look Now 
features nine du Maurier tales of the supernatural.  She was a versatile writer, in that her narrators are young, middle-aged, male, and female.  The stories range in tone from whimsical to dead serious.  Rod Serling might have been impressed by du Maurier, because most of  her stories have nifty, Twilight Zone-style endings.  In fact, I think Serling might have borrowed some of her plots (we know that Hitchcock did).  Best of the stories here: “The Birds,” “Don’t Look Now,” and “Monte Verita.”

 

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