Monthly Archives: May 2010

Match1

 

Match Point is one odd duck of a movie.  It was written, directed, and filmed in London, England, by Woody Allen — a man not known to venture long nor far from his Manhattan comfort zone.  It’s a crime caper heavily influenced by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith — yet no crime occurs until the final third of the movie.  In other words, it’s not a typical Woody Allen movie, it violates standard suspense-film protocol — yet it’s often absorbing and always entertaining.

Match Point tells the tale of a Ripley-like character straight out of Highsmith, an Irish tennis pro without much cash but with a whole lot of social ambition.  Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) does his highbrow homework and soon worms his way into the heart of a plain-Jane London lass with a very wealthy daddy.  But then he meets his match in Nola (Scarlett Johansson), an American actress who shares Wilton’s humble background, if not his ruthless ambition.  Lust and adultery ensue.

At this point, you might expect the film to veer into crime-film mode.  The pesky rich girl must be eliminated, but her money must be gained.  Instead, Allen ignores plotting and continues to explore relationships:  among rich and poor, men and women, the lucky and the unlucky.  Two-thirds into the movie, Allen seems to wake up and remember, “Oh, yes.  There’s supposed to be a crime in this story.”

On the one hand a viewer might feel cheated, because there isn’t a whole lot of Hitchcock in this Hitchcock homage.  On the other hand, the social interplay is always amusing, the actors are in fine form, and the stylish location photography is great fun.  Woody should leave Manhattan more often.          Grade:  B

 

Match2

 

Director:  Woody Allen  Cast:  Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode,  Brian Cox, Penelope Wilton  Release:  2005

 

Match3      Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)

 

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Birth

 

Ninety-five years ago, the most popular movie in America was on its way to grossing $200 million (in today’s dollars).  Today, the film is credited with establishing the feature-length motion picture, introducing cinematic techniques, and cementing the reputation of its director, D.W. Griffith, as a creative genius.  It is also considered an inflammatory, racist piece of propaganda.  The movie’s heroes are members of the Ku Klux Klan.  I have not watched The Birth of a Nation in its entirety, but you should.  Because it’s good for you.  Now go do it.  Watch it for free by clicking here.

 

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Body1

 

There is a scene in the 2008 family movie Marley & Me that depressed me.  No, it had nothing to do with the dog.  I’m referring to a scene in which we meet a middle-aged, pudgy character named “Ms. Kornblut.”  The chubby, plain-looking woman, obviously cast for comedic effect, looked vaguely familiar.  I sought her out in the end credits: “Ms. Kornblut — (ohmygod) — Kathleen Turner.”

Thirty years ago I sat in a Texas movie theater and watched as a Hollywood sex symbol was born.  Lawrence Kasdan’s steamy Body Heat was taking the country by storm, largely due to the performance of 26-year-old Turner, making her film debut as conniving murderess Matty Walker.  In casting Turner for this role, Kasdan accomplished a Hollywood rarity:  He’d found a sex kitten with gravitas, a Lauren Bacall for the 1980s.

Turner’s Matty convinced everyone in the audience (and in the film) that she was much more than just a pretty face.  Here is critic Roger Ebert’s summation:  “Turner … played a woman so sexually confident that we can believe her lover (William Hurt) could be dazed into doing almost anything for her.  The moment we believe that, the movie stops being an exercise and starts working.”  By the end of the film, when Matty luxuriates on a tropical beach while her latest male victim rots in prison, I could also envision Turner, the retired movie star, lounging on just such a beach in 30 years.  Alas, I did not foresee Ms. Kornblut.

Body Heat is classic film noir for more reasons than Kathleen Turner, of course.  It features a meticulous, sly script by Kasdan, a perfect foil in Hurt, and nuanced supporting turns from Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke, and Richard Crenna.  The musical score by John Barry is legendary.  The 2006 DVD contains a treasure-trove of trivia.  Among the tidbits:  Filming of this oh-so-hot movie occurred during the coldest Florida weather in memory.  It was so chilly during the famous band shell scene with Turner and Hurt that you could actually see the actors’ breath.  Body heat, indeed.              Grade:  A

 

Body2

 

Director:  Lawrence Kasdan  Cast:  William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J.A. Preston, Mickey Rourke, Kim Zimmer  Release:  1981

 

Body3    Body4

                                          Watch Trailers  (click here)

 

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“Well, this is just a massive cheat which I didn’t buy either of the two times I watched it.”

That’s a quote from a Huffington Post columnist and Lost fan who was, shall we say, underwhelmed by the series plot “resolutions” this week.  Now, here is a quote from Yours Truly, written back in January when the final season of this ABC show kicked off:

“I’m more reminded of another show I didn’t watch, but which, they say, went out in less than a blaze of glory:  The X Files.  I think it’s just too easy to come up with bizarre plot threads that tease viewers, and way too hard to actually resolve the nonsense.”

I could say, “I told you so,” and I believe I will.

 

*****

 

Williams, V

 

Venus Williams is not content playing world-class tennis.  No, she likes to make fashion statements, as well. Which explains, I guess, the lingerie-themed outfit she wore this week at the French Open.  I’m sorry, Venus, but after examining this picture, there is just one term that comes to mind — Man Butt.

 

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 by Scott Turow

Presumed

 

Lawyer-authors Scott Turow and John Grisham are the kings of the legal thriller. I’ve read some Grisham and I think my mixed reaction to his novels has kept me from reading Turow — until now.  I guess you can judge a book by its lawyer, because Presumed Innocent is a deeper, more satisfying read than the crowd-pleasing, superficial stuff that Grisham churns out.  Innocent is meaty and philosophical, with a sweet twist and a memorable killer.  On the downside, the narrator’s frequent, introspective musings sometimes make for slow going, and the book could use some judicious cuts.

 

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Road1

 

There are roving bands of cannibals in The Road, the movie based on Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel.  These people-eaters, who look like ordinary humans, are truly terrifying, and in the hands of a lesser director the audience would know exactly what to expect from the film:  Night of the Living Dead, Part 12.

But the filmmakers have taken their cue from McCarthy’s book:  Less is more.  Our heroes, a man and his young son, rarely have direct confrontations with the cannibals.  Instead, the film focuses on what the flesh-eaters leave behind — in a house, or in the woods — and the sense of dread this imparts is palpable.

Also effective is the relationship between father and son.  The viewer doesn’t know whom to pity more, the man, who has lived, loved, and lost almost everything, or his boy, who has never seen a live animal or experienced a treat as simple as a can of Coke.

The Road has been criticized for being relentlessly grim, and it is that.  But when it’s the end of the world, and even the ocean is dead, what would you expect, sunshine and lollipops?       Grade:  B+

 

Director:  John Hillcoat  Cast:  Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker  Release:  2009

 

Road2

 

Road3   Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)

 

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Body Double

 

Director Brian De Palma was probably the most blatant imitator of Alfred Hitchcock’s film technique, but De Palma’s movies (including Carrie and The Untouchables) have their own, distinctive merits.  Check out this stylish thriller from 1984, starring Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, and Deborah Shelton.  Watch it free by clicking here.

 

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Apartment1

 

I interviewed actress Beverly Garland one day back in the 1980s.  Garland was best known for playing Barbara Douglas, second wife of Fred MacMurray’s character on the 1960s sitcom My Three Sons.  Garland was reminiscing about the show when I asked her what it was like working with MacMurray.  She hesitated, her tone changed, and she said something noncommittal about MacMurray’s not being on the set very much.  While the other cast members were working, she said, MacMurray was usually off playing golf, or vacationing in Europe. Apparently, the veteran actor’s contract stipulated that he receive a 10-week hiatus every year – right in the middle of the TV show’s shooting schedule.  This arrangement did not sit well with some of MacMurray’s co-stars.

I think about Garland’s comments whenever I watch The Apartment, director Billy Wilder’s classic comedy-drama about a corporate nobody (Jack Lemmon) who lends his apartment to bosses for their adulterous trysts. MacMurray — forever identified with good guy Steve Douglas on My Three Sons — plays one of filmdom’s most memorable heels, the arrogant Mr. Sheldrake.  I wonder, was Fred MacMurray, nicknamed “the thrifty multimillionaire” by some colleagues, typecast in the role?

MacMurray’s slimeball executive is pivotal to The Apartment, but the film really belongs to Wilder, Lemmon, and Shirley MacLaine.  All three pull off the trickiest job in cinema:  juggling comedy and pathos and doing it right.

Although it opened to mixed reviews in 1960, the movie is now considered one of Wilder’s best.  The crusty Austrian-American filmmaker described The Apartment’s main theme as corruption of The American Dream.  That’s a depressing thought.  Sort of like finding out that Steve Douglas wasn’t such a great guy, after all.         Grade:  A

Director:  Billy Wilder  Cast:  Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Edie Adams, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen  Release:  1960

 

Apartment3    Apartment2

                                           Watch the Trailer  (click here)

 

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Messenger1

 

The Messenger belongs to a long line of Hollywood movies about American servicemen returning home from war.  These films include The Best Years of Our Lives (World War II), The Deer Hunter (Vietnam) and, more recently, Brothers (Iraq).  Unfortunately, The Messenger doesn’t pack the emotional punch of those other dramas.

Director Oren Moverman’s movie does have powerful moments, but most of them involve secondary characters.  When U.S. Army Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) and Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) deliver the news of Iraq casualties to stunned family members, you have to be a cold customer, indeed, not to feel their pain.  But The Messenger’s main storyline, depicting Montgomery’s torturous adaptation to life back in America, doesn’t resonate as well.

Montgomery engages in a tentative romance with a war widow played by Samantha Morton.  This bit of casting is inspired because Morton does not have typical “movie star” looks, and that affords her credibility as a blue-collar, struggling single mother.  But this tender interlude between two scarred people leads nowhere until much too late in the film.

The main problem with The Messenger is the character of Montgomery, either as written or as performed.  Foster conveys anger and intensity well, but he lacks a certain softness, some humanity with which we can identify.  He’s not as vulnerable as Dana Andrews was in The Best Years of Our Lives, nor as accessible as Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter.  Sgt. Montgomery’s emotional state might appear realistic to actual war veterans, but in a movie that seeks to send a strong message, it’s the wrong note.           Grade:  B

 

Director:  Oren Moverman  Cast:  Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi, Lisa Joyce  Release:  2009

 

Messenger2  Messenger3

                                Watch Trailers and Clips (click here)

 

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 Things I Care About … But Dear God, Why?

 

Lohan

 

Lindsay Lohan — She doesn’t know me.  I don’t know her.  So why do I look up whenever I hear some fool mention her name on the television?  Ditto for Paris, Kim, et al.

Pro athletes — Pro sports franchises make billions by selling fans on the notion of team “loyalty.”  But that loyalty is always a one-way street.  If you’re a pro baseball player, for example, your loyalty is to the Yankees, because the Yankees pay the most money.

National politics — Most things that truly affect me happen on the local level:  speed limits, property taxes, etc.  Yet when it comes to political news, I spend most of my time watching blowhards on Fox or CNN debating our North Korea policy or some heated Senate battle in Nebraska.  I don’t know any North Koreans.  I don’t know any Nebraskans.

 

Gang

 

Things I Don’t Care About … But Probably Should:

 

My neighbors — I don’t even know their names.

Your snot-nosed kids — They’re your kids, not mine.  They should be your problem, not mine.  But not too long from now, your kids will either 1) pay for my Social Security, or 2) join street gangs and terrorize my neighborhood.

 

Things I Don’t Care About … But the Media Insists I Should:

 

Natural disasters in California —  I get it already.  You have mudslides, drought, and minor earthquakes.  I don’t care.

Airplane crashes — I guess the people who die in (rare) airplane crashes are more important than the people who die in (frequent) car crashes.

 

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