The Hostage situation has served cinema relatively well. From Dog Day Afternoon to many other inferior but still great movies, it rarely fails to at least entertain. The set-up itself is quite cinematic, the stakes are always clear and allows for some great act-offs, which is probably why it repeatedly attracts big names. Its the action movie that has no action, rather working on the sense of dread built up with lives permanently on the line. Taking of Pelham 123 isn't the best a movie like this could be, but its good enough.
The plot sees Ryder (John Travolta) and a group of relatively anonymous thugs hijack a subway car, stopping it in the middle of a tunnel and ten million in cash in an hour or they start shooting hostages. Train service operator Garber (Denzel Washington) just happens to be on the other end of the line when Ryder calls in. So ensues verbal sparring, plenty of speechifying and the obligatory body count. The hostage movie on the whole depends on the chemistry between the hostage taker and the Hostage negotiator/Civilian/other big name in the movie. Whomever. To tell you the truth I've never seen Washington put in a bad performance in a movie. I occasionally see him coast, but Denzel coasting is still better then a large percentage of the actors out there putting in their best performance. This character is a little more submissive then his usual stock though, and that's to his credit. Sure he comes through, but he doesn't start the movie as a strong man and that was promising. It tails off into generic heroisms toward the end but that's regrettably to be expected. Travolta, on the other hand is a little inconsistent. He is good in patches, but isn't rained in perhaps as much as he should be. This is the problem with Tony Scott movies. Whilst Tony is busy worrying about pointless flash touches that add nothing to anything, the actors always sink or swim on their own. Travolta is an inconsistent actor to the bone, as for every Pulp Fiction or Blow Out there's like a thousand Broken Arrow's. He can be great, but seemingly only under the supervision of a great director. Tony Scott's made some good movies, True Romance in particular, but he can't be called an actor's director. John Turturro turns up taking another paycheck, and unlike in Transformers where he took the piss, here he just looks bored. I enjoyed James Gandolfini's cameo as the mayor, the guy's a great actor and he is the closest thing the movie has to comic relief. That's about it really actor's wise. But the film is mostly about the Travolta/Washington face-off and that is entertaining enough. Shame about the end though, which is as generic as they come.
This movie has been done before and it has been done better, but there are worse ways to spend two hours.
Given the fact that I may want to post other random shit here upon this, my original blog. I thought it would be cool to have a place to put my 101 greatest list in a linear uncomplicated place where one could view it with ease. They'll still be posted on here, but they'll be on the other blog too. Look to the top right of the page and you'll see it.
The thing about experimental films is they, proportionately speaking, are rarely fun. For all their metaphors and Philosophizing, they usually end up heartless intellectual exercises of use to only to the people who made it. And perhaps people who go to the cinema precisely for that kind of thing, which on one of my more pretentious days could be me I guess. But they are at their very best something you admire, not something you love. But this rule, like any other, has its exceptions and when they come along its certainly a thing to see. Which brings me to Run Lola run, a classic of Ingenuity, visual style and yes, experimentalism. Its a film that's more visceral then intellectual though, and arguably its stronger for it, but more on that Later.
What it did do was bring its director Tom Tykwer to the attention of the cinematic world as a whole. And certainly if one takes one thing from this movie its the undeniable talent of its director. The thing is put together so smoothly, from its distinct visual style that manages to be edgy and direct without being obnoxious (A harder feat that it sounds, as many, many films attempting this style of visuals overplay their hand to the point where it is painful). To its deceptively strong script, which balances the potentially alienating smart-Alec concepts and so tightly structures them that you barely notice who hard the film is working. It is much more common now, but at the time the type of ingenuity shown by Tykwer here was in very short supply. But the touches are endless, from the interludes of animation to the quick 'this is your life in ten seconds' photography montages we see of certain background characters. Similarly the pumping trance beat, which is nearly constant and always keeping you on the edge of your seat is a terrific creative decision. The film is a technical marvel like few others in recent memory, and while the thematic ideas it covers are certainly not anything new, the amount of films that work of the principle that the smallest event can have a monumental effect on events of much larger importance are of a number close to unnameable. But its the handling of them that makes it a work of stark originality.
The plot is a simple one seeing Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), boyfriend of the titular Lola (Franka Potente) leaving the 100 grand he was supposed to deliver to a vicious gangster on a train, leaving him and Lola 20 minutes to snatch the same amount out of the air before he is killed. Yeah, yeah we've been here before I know. But what the film does is show is three potential outcomes of this dilemma, each depending on the tiniest events occurring on Lola's three separate sprints - All captured thunderously by the way. I've never seen running on film quite so captivating - so its a butterfly effect movie in other words, but without Ashton Kutcher and actually good. It takes a bare bones noir plot and uses it to write a subtle essay on the impact of chance, whilst making one of the most heart-poundingly gripping thrillers in years. And all this in a lean 73 minutes (which incidentally could fit into Dances with Wolves three times over. Just saying.) It fights caving in with its own ambition by being cleverly narratively minimalist, that is to say after Manni sets up the situation at the beginning, its the intricacies of the plot rather then the arc of it that really its home and intentionally so. Tykwer has no real interest in making a great crime movie, rather to simply communicate his ideas and tell the story of the two central characters. Its not really an actors movie, and most of Potente's work involves running but somehow she comes out of it impressing. Within the couple of moments she gets to act, she creates a real character to add to the terrificly iconic creation of the costume designer. Lola is certainly memorable visually, with her bright red hair and gray/green get-up. But its to Potente's credit that she doesn't get lost in the iconography. Bleibtreu has a couple of moments to impact in his predominately dopey character. But like I said its not an actors movie, its Tykwer's. Its about his style, his pace and above all his talent.
I have to say I get pretty far into this without giving due to a pretty important contributing factor to this movie's greatness. The fact that it relentlessly, almost overwhelmingly thrilling. It may seem like an extremely obvious thing to say, but its amazing how many thrillers actually forget to live up to their name and end up simply passing you by in mediocrity. This film takes you on a ride. Not to push a tortured metaphor or anything, but its perhaps its one of the closest things cinema has to compare to a theme park ride. It raises your adrenalin instantly and never lets it drop until the credits roll and not even in that generic Hollywood way you've become used to. All those action films that you've seen limp into cinema's giving us the same tired scenes we've seen before. Watch this film and you'll realize what it is for a film to be vibrant. As well is this, it even has its moments of beauty. From Lola and Manni vainly fleeing the cops to Dinah Washington's 'What a difference a day made' or the silence upon the same characters respective deaths (This isn't as much of a spoiler as you might think) hitting doubly hard because these are essentially the only moments the thump of the soundtrack lets you pause and contemplate the tragedy. As I said before, its a much smarter film then you may realize.
Tywker has made some attempts to foray into the English language after this. There was the low-key Cate Blanchett led Heaven, which was OK but nothing particularly special and the more widely seen Perfume, which some were wowed by but more were meh'd by. Whatever your opinions on these films, none of them come close to being as good as this, which is a gem of a movie that simply never enough people can see. Even with subtitles.
Sandra Bullock's career has had some impressive longevity given the sheer lack of good movies it has offered. There's a string of average rom-coms. A couple of estrogen orientated weepies, maybe two or three attempts at credibility. The most successful of which is Crash, a bore of a movie saved by some good performances. She is OK in that movie, but by and large she hasn't quite warranted the 15 years at the top she has enjoyed. Her best movie is still Speed for Christ sakes. Oh right this movie.
This movie sucks. Its cliched, painfully stilted and adds nothing to the movie landscape as a whole. Except perhaps Box Office credibility for Ryan Reynolds, which would make it worth it I guess. I enjoy Reynolds despite his increasingly complicated quest to make a good movie. He gives good sarcasm. But he gets no real chance to unleash that here, so tepid and quick to broad humor is the script. Its a shame because I was waiting for him to cut loose, but he never did, Bullock was her usual self, only skew older and if I actually paid to see movies I would have considered this a huge waste of money. Instead I consider it a huge waste of time that thousand of people will see, exhale a 'meh' and forget it once out the door. One day a great romantic comedy will come, but only when these people put away the mawkishness and painful plot contrivances. And morons like me who go to see it despite knowing beforehand just how crap it is going to be.
Best Drama: Battlestar Galactica Breaking Bad The Shield Mad Men Lost True Blood Big Love
Best Comedy How I met your mother Chuck The Office Weeds Scrubs Better off Ted Party Down
Best Actor, Drama: Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad Jon Hamm, Mad Men Michael C Hall, Dexter Michael Chiklis, The Shield Josh Holloway, Lost Hugh Laurie, House
Best Actress, Drama: Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men Holly Hunter, Saving Grace Glenn Close, Damages Mary McDonnell, Battlestar Galactica Jeanne Tripplehorn, Big Love Patricia Arquette, Medium
Best Supporting Actor, Drama: Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad Terry O Quinn, Lost Walton Goggins, The Shield John Mahoney, In treatment Jay Karnes, The Shield James Callis, Battlestar Galactica
Best Supporting Actress, Drama: Chloe Sevigny, Big Love Katee Sackhoff, Battlestar Galactica Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost CCH Pounder, The Shield Jennifer Carpenter, Dexter Michelle Forbes, True Blood
Best Actor Comedy: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock Steve Carell, The Office Zachary Levi, Chuck Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory Josh Radnor, How I met your Mother Ken Marino, Party Down
Best Actress, comedy: Mary Louise Parker, Weeds Toni Collette, The United States of Tara Elisabeth Perkins, Weeds Tina Fey, 30 Rock Portia De Rossi, Better off Ted
Best supporting actor, comedy: Neil Patrick Harris, How I met your mother Jason Segel, How I met your mother Chi McBride, Pushing Daisies Justin Kirk, Weeds Rainn Wilson, The Office Donald Faison, Scrubs
Best Supporting actress, comedy: Kristin Chenowith, Pushing Daisies Cobie Smulders, How I met your mother Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock Jenna Fischer, The Office Yvonne Strahovski, Chuck
Best Male Guest star: Alan Tudyk, Dollhouse Raymond Cruz, Breaking Bad Bob Odenkirk, Breaking Bad Stephen Root, True Blood Jay Karnes, Burn Notice
I'm slow on the draw to this one, as the Emmy nominations were announced on Thursday, but here I am finally getting around to it. So, anyhoo..
Best Drama Big love Breaking Bad Damages Dexter House MD Lost Mad Men
The Biggest diss is the complete absence of the final season of The Shield here, which was certainly better then a middling season of House. Damages seems to be one of those shows that gets tons of awards but nobody watches it, nobody ever lists it as their favorite show but it's here year after year. This is very kind to a below par year of Dexter, it has no real place here. Lost is very in fashion right now so that's no surprise. Awesome inclusions of Breaking Bad and Big Love, Breaking Bad in particular really deserves this but there's no doubt in my mind that Mad Men will win.
Best Comedy Entourage Family guy Flight of the concords How I met your mother The office 30 Rock Weeds
30 Rock is rewarded obscenely at the Emmy's. Every year it gets like a thousand nominations and wins close to all of them. All of this undeserved recognition is really making me hate this show more then it deserves to be hated. Fuck Family Guy. Screw Entourage. Flight of the concords is an interesting choice, no chance in hell of winning but hey. HIMYM should have been here the last 2 years really, but at least its here now. The Office is comfortably the best comedy going yet it will lose to a lazy guest star filled 30 rock. Weeds pads out the numbers
Best Actor Drama Simon Baker, The Mentalist Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad Michael C Hall, Dexter Jon Hamm, Mad Men Hugh Laurie, House
Huge WTF on Simon Baker. The mentalist is popular to be sure but lol. I actually agree with the Michael C Hall nomination, because he holds the show on his own back entirely and thus I'm cool with it. Gabriel Byrne is a great actor in an actorly show, thats a lock. Mad Men is Emmy's drug of choice so of course Hamm is here. Hugh Laurie has apparently never won an emmy, which is a crime and even if Bryan Cranston deserves to take his second in a row, Laurie's House is a great body of work and should have won before frankly.
Other notable nominations: There needs to be more female orientated cable shows because the drama actress category is quite same old same old. Anyways a small selection of the rest
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad: Didn't see this coming but it couldn't be more deserved. Go Jesse Pinkman.
Kristen Chenowith, Pushing Daisies: Cancelled shows usually get the jip, but Chenowith is here regardless. Wonder what she'll say if she wins.
Neil Patrick Harris, HIMYM: Genuine chance of winning this year seeing as Piven got rejected.
In recent years, the studio blockbuster has pretty much taken sci-fi hostage. Releasing big budgeted, small brained popcorn movies notable for loudness and following pretty much the Aliens template. James Cameron made some good movies, but his legacy has done more harm then good. Anyways, once in a blue moon we get a low-key, clever movie that shows us what sci-fi can really do when some brain is applied. Moon seems to be 2009's entry into this very select group.
The story follows astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), posted alone on a lunar mining base in the near future. In between monitoring various drills, he battles loneliness with only HAL like computer Gerty (Voiced by Kevin Spacey) for company. But is he truly alone? Interestingly, the film reveals its twist maybe half way through, not to be spoiled here in a an act of unexpected decency on my part, but impressively doesn't decrease in quality after it shows its hand. Its nice to see that mystery isn't the only card that genre movies have to play and they can be good on their own terms. The film is the kind of slow-burn, high quality movie that is in such low supply. It builds its mood effectively and first time director Duncan Jones, the artist formerly known as Zowie Bowie, does an impressive job of creating an intense visual atmosphere. The film's main strength though, as expected, is leading man Sam Rockwell who delivers yet another terrific performance in a career increasingly full of them. He has pretty much become the indie leading man of choice and he certainly lives up to that title here. He gives so many different dimensions to the role that roughly half way through the film transforms into a showcase for him and is all the better for it.
When ideas are allowed into the world of cinematic science fiction it is always a wonderful thing, but when this is combined with great acting it makes this a film definitely worth seeking out.
It takes a lot of time to ponder which is truly the worst of your favorite movies. In a list such as this you love everything on the table. So cruel, pedantic nit-picking becomes the order of the day. So, first up is I Heart Huckabees, the 2004 comedy from Director David O Russell. Russell in many ways is a forgotten gem on the indie scene, getting nowhere near the praise of a Wes Anderson for example. And while he may not have the visual style of Anderson, he always makes films with something to say aside from whimsy and superfluous quirk, which films made in this arena tend to suffocate in. Russell presents a more grounded voice, one that still believes in uplifting but does so with thought and intelligence. His biggest success, the 1999 Gulf war movie Three Kings (This would be the first Gulf war) is as an entertaining action movie as Hollywood has produced in recent memory, but is also more politically engaging and in many ways the most frank look at war America has offered since the decline of the Vietnam movie. But I went for his follow up film because to me it is the more ground-breaking. It took the concept of the broad comedy and infused it with as much intellectual and philosophic credulity as it could handle, ensuring that as long as you look you'll never find another movie like this.
I shall attempt to describe the plot now, but its much more complex then one would usually find in a comedy so prepare to cut me some slack. The film follows Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) as he hires a pair of existential detectives to dissect a coincidence he has involving repeated random meetings with a tall African man. But the detectives are more interested in his work situation, in which the small environmental group he runs has partnered with retail corporation Huckabees, the representative of which is trying to oust Albert from this coalition in order to allow for him to overlook its core issues. And this is nothing. There's also a global warming obsessed firefighter in the midst of his own existential crisis, an airhead model who is coaxed by the detectives into finding a more thoughtful side of herself and also a rival French philosopher eager to spread nihilism wherever she can. Well that'll about do it as a rough template of the plot, but believe me it comes together in a way I couldn't close to describing without a 5000 word essay at my disposal.
What makes this movie great is how, for the most part, the movie is as equally concerned with making you laugh as taking you on an existential journey and by the end it pretty much does both, maybe with a few creases. For every discussion of inter-connectedness or philosophical revelation there's Mark Wahlberg hitting Jason Schwartzman in the face with a giant pink space-hopper (Known as a huge pink ball, for those unfamiliar with 70's fads) or Naomi Watts line delivery of 'Fuckabees', which is close to being the most funny thing of all time. The comedy was a very smart move on Russell's part, because if he'd taken these ideas at face value and made a more serious film about them, it would have been unavoidably pretentious and perhaps even tedious but by drawing laughs not only from the eccentricities of the characters but also from the existentialism itself, and by the very nature of people allowing themselves to be eaten alive by questions they can not hope to answer. Which brings me to another very appreciated aspect of the film. Most films skirting around the issue of the meaning of life usually tend toward the 'Knock a door run' method which is to say bringing up these ideas (knocking on the door) and entirely dodging the issue when it comes time to answer them (running away before the person can come to the door). Huckabees doesn't do that, or at least doesn't do that in the scummy way it has been done in the past. It doesn't quite answer the be all of everything in one line, but does come close in regards to the human condition, explaining what brings us together is the same thing that drives us apart. The inevitability of human drama and suffering. The film says these things better, but the great thing about it is that it gets you to address these issues in your own head and thus has a lasting impact that no comedy I can think of has.
Arguably, the most enjoyable thing about IHH is the ensemble of hilarious performances it has put together, with not a missed not amongst the principle cast, all as good as each other with some maybe even better than that. The lead, at least in theory, is Schwartzman and he is terrific. Honing the deadpanning, smugly smart persona he began in Rushmore into something stronger and more rounded. He communicates the intelligence and pettiness of his character fantastically whilst not forgetting to be hilarious. It really was a great performance that should have brought him more notoriety then it did, with his standout moment being, although he is great throughout the film, in his response to the the question
'Have you ever traveled through time and space?'
'Yes. No. Time not space. No, I don't know what you're talking about'
A testament to Russell's fantastic screenplay too, but Schwartzman is such a perfect fit for this role its uncanny. Upon its release, there was a critical concurrence that the film was stolen by Mark Wahlberg, as the aforementioned petroleum obsessed fireman, and its hard to disagree, although Jude Law's smooth talking corporate man Brad Stand runs him pretty close. I remember when I first saw Wahlberg in this movie I was utterly taken aback. At the time I hadn't seen Three Kings or Boogie nights and only knew him as the personality vacuum lead from the remake of the Italian Job and the remake of Planet of the Apes. Needless to say these weren't good films nor was he good in them so I didn't hold him in the highest esteem going in. But he sure proved me wrong in this film, because he is hilarious pretty much every second he is on screen. It's one of those times where being proven wrong is actually awesome. Jude Law has taken some shit in recent years, as people are at him about being in too many films and a thousand other detractions that it would take too long to name. To these people, I suggest watching this film because coming out of it you can only think that Law is actually one of the best actors ot this generation, in particular a scene where you see his confidence and bravado gradually disappear as he hears taped evidence of his own hypocrisy is a great piece of comic and serious acting at the same time. Awkwardly hilarious but also painfully poignant. Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are as good as we've come to expect, with Hoffman visibly enjoying himself in a way that is to be honest rarely seen in recent films. Isabelle Huppert plays her role slightly straighter then the rest of the cast but is still as good, although she nails the 'Don't call it the ball thing' line perfectly. Watts doesn't get too much screen time, but as always is good and actually gets to be funny, which after years of playing deadly serious roles is welcome relief. Plus the Fuckabees thing. Why isn't it higher? Well it has its flaws. Not all jokes land as well as others, occasionally characters disappear for too long and sometimes the film can be a shade uneven, but these are minor quibbles. Russell's screenplay carries itself with such confidence and the performances are so good that its is able to withstand its flaws and come out unscathed as a hilarious, genuinely ambitious movie that is really a true original. Something that becomes rarer and rarer in cinema these days.
So its finally here. The Countdown has begun. The time has arrived. So, after three cliched four word suspense builders I believe it is time to get to the point. I, who run this blog with inattention and relentless half-assery, am going to do a countdown of the 101 greatest movies according to me. Whose opinion you hold above all others. Allow me to explain the rules. Only one film per franchise so in theory only one godfather, one LOTR and one Star Wars. Not that there's any guarantee of these films making it of course. That's pretty much the only written rule but if I think of any more I'll be sure to add them post-posthumously. Its going to be a wild ride, with plenty of ranting, misuses of simple proverbs and questionable choices. Look for the first entry tomorrow....
Remember when it was going to be One Harry Potter film per year? If that had remained the case, I'd be reviewing the last Potter this very second, but that always seemed like a pipe dream anyway. Before delving into this, the sixth Potter film, I should get into my own HP back story. I was age 10 when the now phenomenon was first finding its feet and couldn't get enough. I read the books, I heard the narrated tapes read by Stephen Fry, I even had Potter bedsheets for a time. But here's the thing; I got older and the Potter books got longer. And longer. The fifth book, in particular was a travesty of self-indulgent writing and was a 150 page novel stretched out to 5 times that. It was such a turgid and time-consuming read it essentially smothered the inner child who fell in love with the thing in the first place and left only a self-superior teenager who'd come to the conclusion that he'd had quite enough of this shit. I wikipedia'd the plots to the final two to satisfy my curiosity and that was that. So, anyways.
Director David Yates certainly did his part visually speaking, he brings the gloom both in style and in the more literal use of ever-present Grey skies. In this use of pathetic fallacy ( because I'm smarter than you) that Yates creates much of the mood. Plot wise, this is somewhat stronger than Order of the Phoenix, and the increased screen-time of some of the adults was certainly appreciated, as it continually makes me laugh that the Potter franchise has pretty much every single talented British actor to breathe in cinema over the last 20 years and most of the jobs revolve around standing in the background. Rickman continues to rule as Snape, every enunciation as awesome as the last, its hard to imagine anyone more perfectly cast in anything really, even real films. Michael Gambon does more with Dumbledore this time around, at times making him a real character rather than the sagely Gandalf-lite archetype he is on the page and the screen. Helena Bonham Carter enjoys snarling and whispering her lines, and I enjoyed her doing it. She is definitely a stronger cinematic presence then Voldemort in these films. Finally the only other adult worth mentioning is Jim Broadbent's Horace Slughorn, who in between hamming it up has a couple of noteworthy moments. And now to the kids, whose acting in many ways has been the major downfall of this series. Sure they're kids, but I've seen much stronger performances from the age-deprived before, and if Chris Columbus had cast the first film a little more carefully, these could have been truly great popcorn movies. The least annoying are Evanna Lynch as Luna, and to be fair Rupert Grint as Ron, who has been the strongest of the lead three for at least the last three films. Radcliffe isn't as bad as he's been before, and falls more into the level of bland, but still fails to nail his more dramatic scenes and now he's only got one more try.
But all this is redundant. The kids are gonna like it and it will make enough money, here's hoping it beats Transformers 2. But its not what you could call a great movie, none of them are really. One only needs to watch the LOTR movies to see the difference and the Potter movies can't quite let go of their kiddie shackles the way they needed to to improve. Even less so than JK Rowling did. But Potter is popularity defined and thus it is entirely critic proof
So Sunday is well on the way to death, and there's a a film I haven't seen yet. This may not seem like a big deal to most, well to all. But screw you all, because film nerditude is in my blood and I haven't seen all the new releases by the time Sunday's through then hell's frozen over. I guess the eternally damned are taking a much appreciated chill, because the night is out and I haven't seen Bruno yet.
This isn't a Sacha Baron Cohen thing, because while I can't say I like the guy he certainly has made me laugh in the past. From Da Ali G show to the much talked about and much lauded Borat. My gracefully stepping over Ali G in the house should be noted as an act of graciousness. Anyways, I liked Borat, it was funny and at least a little bit original. Its road movie set-up was clever and made the relentlessly and sometimes shocking humor passable. But despite the mean-spiritedness of Cohen, Borat himself was a likable creation. Bruno on the other hand, not so much. Yes I know this is the point and he is a monstrous amalgamation of the bacterial fame whores who pollute the world but more specifically Los Angeles and Hollywood. These are legitimate targets, and their self-importance and egotism deserves highlighting. But these are not the targets of Bruno. Fine, maybe its a scathing look at fame, bringing those celebrities down to our level? Nope, coz the targets of Bruno are Idiots. Sometimes homophobic idiots, sometimes racist or sexist idiots. But idiots nonetheless, and the problem with this tact at least for me is that its kind of like a prizefighter beating up an asshole fan. The dude may deserve it, but from the prizefighter's perspective he's punching below his weight class. And that's all Cohen does, is pick on people who can't do a thing about it. I could tolerate this the first time round, but doing exactly the same thing again with just a different character in the lead role is just dull. You can't tell the same jokes at every gig you do and just change your clothes and call it different.
Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'll see it and laugh uproariously. But I doubt it somehow, because aside from me being a miserable motherfucker I know when I'm being duped.
Robin Wright Penn emerges from wherever she was to star in this quite affable female mid-life crisis movie directed by Daniel Day Lewis' wife Rebecca Miller. It's certainly interesting, and although I've seen this kind of thing before it has always been from a male perspective, so in that sense it is refreshing. It also put some cast together, with Keanu Reeves, Alan Arkin, Maria Bello, Julianne Moore, Winona Ryder and even Gossip Girl's Blake Lively all supporting Penn in smaller roles. The plot sees Lee at the tail end of a marriage to much older man Herb (Alan Arkin), who is quickly approaching death's door. Trapped waiting for him to die, Pippa recalls the childhood that brought her here and dallies with a relationship with introvert neighbor Chris (Keanu Reeves).
The film is impressively scripted, by Miller in a an adaptation of her own novel. It somewhat staggers at the beginning, with Miller struggling to find her tone, but it gets into its groove early enough and thanks to some great performances entirely overcomes the early jitters. Penn will get the most praise for this, and she is great playing the desperation in a very subtle and gradual way. Its an intelligent performance to its core. But she is matched by Arkin every step of the way. Arkin who has certainly enjoyed a career resurrection post winning his Oscar for little miss sunshine, entirely nails yet another character performance. His character is perhaps the most difficult of the piece too, but he comes through with flying colors. Keanu Reeves steps to the indie scene rarely, but when he does he has a surprisingly impressive strike-rate. This isn't quite as fun as his scene stealing zen dentist in Thumbsucker a few years back, but he does a good job here, not flashy to be sure but does OK with a superfluous character. Amongst the A list Cameos, the strongest were Moore and Ryder. The former does a neat little character bit as what can best be described as a lesbian high culture pornographer. Ryder gets some credibility for making me laugh, although her role isn't much she does well with it, and all non-Arkin laughs were scored by Ryder.
It deals with feminine mid-life crisis and the life of a Fuck-up who is facing up to putting in the ground the person who essentially saved her soul. A clever, heartfelt little movie that crucially avoids the schmaltz panic button and comes through dignity intact.
So here we are, the third entry in this moderately successful franchise. Its no Shrek, financially speaking, but its aged with more grace then that particular mammoth. Whereas Shrek is more gaudy and reliant on irrelevant pop culture references for its perpetuation, Ice Age has for the most part drawn humor from its characters. Not to wildly successful heights, but its attempt to actually tell a story through characters and actually earn its humor is admirable. Each film is low key, occasionally amusing ride, and this is roughly the same standard as the previous entries being no better, and no worse.
The story sees our pre-historic gang go on a journey to the center of the earth type adventure, entering a world below the ice to find it overrun by the thought extinct dinosaurs, including a maternal T Rex, a giant monster named Rudy and the swashbuckling weasel called Buck voiced quite hilariously by Simon Pegg. Pegg gives life to the film, and upon his introduction the movie definitely becomes more vibrant, after a slightly sluggish start which had me a little worried. But no the film maintained the 6 out of ten rating which both the prior films also received. Sadly, the Scrat portions of the film are slightly weaker then they had been previously in which his mythic search for an acorn gets derailed by a squirrel girlfriend. Considering he had been by far the highlight of the first sequel and the original it was a little disappointing to see these segments as weak as they were. Oh well. Harmless kids entertainment but very forgettable.
Public Enemies is Michael Mann's third film in a row to embrace the wonders of Digital HD. This in neither here nor there in regards to the quality of the film, but it seems worth noting that Michael Mann seems to be the first established director whose committed to the brave new world of digital film-making. Going in I thought it would be a distraction, particularly given the fact that this a period piece, but actually once one is adjusted it gives the film an urgency and a grounding in reality that is often missing from films of this type. But PE (my favorite abbreviation ever) is far from Mann's best work, and in all honesty a slight disappointment. It has its moments and its strengths, but they are too sparse to make this the classic it perhaps should have been, what with all the talent connected to it.
The film, instead of being a life spanning biopic as most of its type are, focuses entirely on the last year of The titular public enemy John Dillinger's life. This is a good decision in my book, because it allows the character to take center stage rather than the narrative, and in a case like this I think thats the best way to do it. Sadly Dillinger's characterization is slightly lacking in the script and it shows on screen. Essentially leaving Johnny Depp no choice but to play the character as a closed book. And as a consequence Depp is only good when he could have been great, forcing me to retract my previous prediction that Depp would finally take his Oscar for this role. He won't, and more importantly doesn't really deserve to. There were a couple of moments hinting at what the character could have been, such as Dillinger's mini press conference as he is dragged through the jail. But it was all promise and no delivery in the end. Acting wise, the film actually belongs to Christian Bale's dogged lawman Melvin Purvis. Its an archetype of a character, to be sure, but Bale lends it a humanity and warmth, something I did not expect from such a perfunctory role. Bale did a lot with a little here and that is to be commended. Marion Cotillard as Dillinger's love Billie Frechette, gets a slight jip, featuring prominently in parts but taking a backseat for the bulk of the picture. She is good and shows that her Oscar win last year was far from a fluke. No other part gets much of a chance to register really, as Dillinger's band of cohorts becoming nothing more then canon fodder to Mann. Billy Crudup does an interesting character turn as J Edgar Hoover, and Stephen Graham certainly captures the bloodthirstiness of Baby Face Nelson, but doesn't quite master the accent. The main strength of the film though, as with all of Mann's films really, is the action. Nobody handles a gunfight quite like Mann does, and the set pieces in this film are quite spectacular, in particular a shootout set at a cabin and its surrounding woods is as exhilarating as anything Mann has done before. If only Mann understood how to create characters as spellbounding as his action scenes he would be a truly great director. But for me he is about due for another classic, and this isn't it. Don't get me wrong, its a good, at times great film but given the talent in front of the camera and behind it, PE must go down as a disappointment.
So, due to my months spent in absentia I think I owe this blog some serious page time. And I have a plan to come through on this, so say tuned for the near future. BTW in the even nearer future, look for a review of Public Enemies up tomorrow. Also Ice Age 3.