Friday, April 20, 2007
There's a scene early in FEVER PITCH in which Drew Barrymore tells the shaggy-haired guy (SHG) that someone in her office is going to get promoted (Plot Point!!). SHG does a bit in which he cracks wise about backstabbing while making whiny squeaking noises and pantomiming the stabbing motion. It's supposed to be cute, and it's supposed to endear us to his character. DB & I both reacted with, "What a loser."
FEVER PITCH is a reasonably cute romantic comedy that doesn't hold a candle to earlier Farrely Brothers efforts such as SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and STUCK ON YOU. It's drawn from a Nick Hornby novel that doesn't translate as well as ABOUT A BOY or HIGH FIDELITY and, if I had to put my finger on why, I have to say that it's the shaggy-haired guy's fault. Like Bruckner letting a ground ball slip by him, SHG is simply unable to make the plays when they matter. Poor Barrymore's acting her heart out against this guy, but he just can't pull off "endearing man-child." If ever there was a movie that demanded the presence of Adam Sandler, this is it.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
In the early morning of August 21, Quantrill attacked Lawrence (Kansas) with a force of 450 raiders. Though Senator Lane, a prime target of the raid, managed to escape through a cornfield in his nightshirt, Quantrill's Raiders killed between 140 and 190 men, dragging many from their homes to kill them before their families. When Quantrill rode out at 9 a.m., most of Lawrence's buildings had been burned, including all but two businesses; his raiders looted indiscriminately and also robbed the town's bank. The raid would become notorious in the North as one of the most vicious atrocities of the Civil War.
GOODNIGHT: Marshal, is your eye bothering you? I could sooth it with a poultice.
COGBURN: No, thanks, Ma'am. It's past help.
GOODNIGHT: Was it a hunting accident, Marshal?
COGBURN: You might say that. Huntin' Yankees. I lost it in the war, riding with Bill Anderson and Captain Quantrill. Times have sure changed. Now I'm workin' for a damned Yankee.
GOODNIGHT: But you're still hunting, sir.
COGBURN: I guess I like Marshalin' better'n anything I've done since the war. I like buffalo huntin', but them big shaggies is almost gone. Damn shame. I was skinnin' buffalo at Yellow Horse Creek, Texas. Pay was great, but I couldn't stand that open country.
There's plenty to like about ROOSTER COGBURN: John Wayne & Katherine Hepburn are as solid as one would expect those two professionals to be, some of the jokes really snap, and the story is a comfortably predictable quest tale that makes for a pleasant evening of viewing. Unfortunately, however, the movie can't overcome the awfulness of its titular character.
It's been said that the worst kind of evildoer is the man who doesn't know that he's doing evil. Cogburn is still proud of having ridden with Quantrill, one of the most vicious murderers of the Civil War, and his only qualm about partaking in the great buffalo slaughter was that he ran out of buffalos. He's a self-satisfied S.O.B. who wouldn't know introspection if it invaded his village, burned half of it down, and slaughtered its inhabitants in their nightclothes because they opposed slavery. I get that he's supposed to be an endearingly cantankerous old man, but that only goes for audiences who don't know their Civil War or Western history. Before this revelation, the movie had had me rocking along pleasantly enough; after, I had to make a conscious effort to remain engaged.
This particular DVD presentation of ROOSTER COGBURN makes remaining engaged even harder because it looks terrible - it's like an old VHS copy of a bad print, with out-of-focus shots, poor color correction, graininess, and plenty of flecks and scratches. Clearly, Universal didn't care enough about the movie to provide it with a good transfer, and the results detract from the overall experience.
I've been in a John Wayne mood lately, but ROOSTER COGBURN, didn't quite do it for me. I think I'll try my luck with EL DORADO.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS like a cocoon that's trapping a beautiful butterfly. Wrapped around a gripping war drama with memorable characters, compelling situations, and great photography are layers of emotionally overwrought coming home and reminiscence stories. If we could just do away with that chrysalis, we'd have something to behold.
OK, that gambit failed. Here's another go: FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is brilliant when it's on Iwo Jima. It's tedious the rest of the time.
After reading its lukewarm reviews, I hesitated to watch this movie. Nevertheless, I have a reasonable expectation of going to Iwo Jima later this year, I wanted to get some background, and this seemed like a good path to it. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS certainly filled that purpose. Though Clint Eastwood filmed the movie on the beaches of Iceland, he manages to convey the landing and subsequent campaign in the kind of visceral way only good filmmakers can. Problem is, the movie seems only tangentially about Iwo Jima - it's about the three survivors of the flag raising and their subsequent war bond tour, and their song of readjustment and survivor guilt was better sung through the stories of THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES.
On Iwo, FLAGS gives us a stellar cast featuring favorites such as Barrie Pepper, Robert Patrick, Paul Walker, and Neal McDonough battling their way off the beach. When the action moves to the home front, however, it saddles us with Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford, and Ryan Phillippe as the three survivors. Theirs is a worthy tale, but it just isn't cinematic. How many times do we have to hear the Indian guy suffer through lousy Indian jokes before we can throw our hands up and say, "We get it"?
I appreciate the fact that Eastwood wasn't interested in making just another war movie. But I wish he would have.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Oh, how I hated CHANGING LANES.
CHANGING LANES is a morality tale about how small choices can add up to big choices and about the consequences of breaking the social compact. Consequently, it operated at a profound disadvantage: Morality tales are hard to do. The best morality tales handle their themes obliquely, trusting their audiences to divine their themes and understanding that "a-ha" moments reinforce those themes far better than any speech can, but CHANGING LANES doesn't have that kind of faith in itself or its viewers. The film has all the subtlety of a water skiing squirrel - what you see is precisely what you get.
Here's the setup: Ben Affleck is a successful lawyer. Samuel L. Jackson is a loser trying to get his life back together. They have a fender-bender, and Affleck writes Jackson a blank check and speeds off, leaving an important document behind. This makes Jackson late for a court appointment, and he exacts his revenge by later withholding the document. Affleck reacts, Jackson reacts, Affleck reacts some more, etc., and before we know it we're watching a double helix downward spiral.
Now, if you like watching downward spirals, you might enjoy this movie. If, however, watching one man have everything that matters stripped from him while the other kinda regrets his actions is your idea of a good time, knock yourself out. Personally, I found this movie so depressing, so painful to watch, that it left me wondering why anyone would create such a horrible experience, then actually put it out there for the world to see.
I only finished this movie because I was watching it with a valued friend who loves it. It's easily the most miserable time I've had this month.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Toshiro Mifune was only two years into his film career when he starred in STRAY DOG. He was still a rookie, like his character. Like his character, he brought a total dedication and willingness to risk to his role. And like his character, he earned the friendship and respect of his elders.
In the film, Mifune plays a rookie Homicide detective who's pickpocketed on a crowded train. The detective, exhausted after an all-night stakeout in sweltering heat, is horrified to discover that someone has stolen his pistol. Bravely, he does the right thing and immediately troops back into headquarters to report the theft, take his lumps, and get to work on recovering the weapon. The detective, a recently discharged soldier, feels profoundly dishonored by the loss and personally responsible for the disposition of the sidearm and its bullets, and his guilt and motivation contrast with the world-weariness of both his lieutenant and the dogged veteran assigned to the case.
The brilliant Takashi Shimura plays the veteran / father figure, and his resigned competence both make us hope for the future of the younger man and magnify our identification with him: now he must not only find the weapon to redeem his own honor, he must prove himself worthy in the eyes of men who have given him the benefit of the doubt. This is a great approach to the material, as it creates a narrative drive that stems not from external forces such as criminals taking hostages or shouting captains, but the young detective's own need for redemption and honor.
Technically, the film is absolutely outstanding. Akira Kurosawa, aided by 1st Assistant Director Ishiro Honda (GOJIRA) and composer Fumio Hayasaka, create a heat-stricken Tokyo that lives and breathes. But it's Mifune's show, and it's easy to see why Kurosawa saw his muse in this man. Far from the commanding lead of SEVEN SAMURAI and THRONE OF BLOOD, this Mifune is both insecure and bold, learning his craft and discovering the building blocks of wisdom. He's young; he's green; but we see his potential and we see what Kurosawa saw in him.
Y'know, I liked STRAY DOG as I viewed it, but I'm growing to love the film as I write this. It's just plain terrific and it's the kind of movie that makes me happy I haven't yet seen all of Kurosawa's ouvre. Thank goodness, there's still more to discover.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I enjoyed MILLIONS well enough, but the movie just didn't capture my imagination.
Don't get me wrong: its vibrant palette and music are a pleasure to experience, its supporting cast is fine, and the 7-yr-old boy who plays the lead is so adorable I wanted to take him home to serve as a good example for my child. But I just couldn't get involved in his, or his family's, life. I'm having a hard time putting my finger on why, though I suspect that it may because I viewed it while still coming down off EVE'S BAYOU, a movie which really got me.
Not very insightful comments, I know. I offer them as a datapoint for your own decisionmaking.