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In theaters. Rated PG-13, 97 minutes.
Dogs are loyal companions who will never disappoint you. Unfortunately for Peggy (Molly Shannon) the only true love or genuine connection she has in her life is her dog, Pencil, who dies within the first few minutes of the movie. The loss sends her into a tailspin to fill the void.
She tries dating her neighbor (John C. Reilly, a standout as Peggy's philistine nemesis) and a fellow pet lover (Peter Sarsgaard as Newt), both of which end up disappointing her and confirming her belief that animals are the best companions. Her love for animals ends up taking over her life, leading her to steal from her boss and adopt 15 dogs that live at her house.
As is typical with the hyped indie movie, this one has some good parts, but the overall package just isn't that great. The story falls apart in the second half of the movie and the final scene is just stupid. Molly Shannon gives a good performance as the lonely and introspective Peggy, and there are several funny moments with Newt and Peggy's brother and his family.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
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On DVD (1970). R-Rated, 96 minutes.
An idyllic setting and lots of money don't always produce a happy childhood. In Five Easy Pieces, Jack Nicholson (as Robert Dupea) rejects his cultured and privileged upbringing and considerable piano talent to become an itinerant oil rig worker with low class friends and a ditzy and insecure girlfriend.
This film is a character study of a flawed man. Robert cheats on his girlfriend (with Sally Strothers) and beds his brother's love interest, seemingly just for sport. He tries to be a part of his chosen gropu, but can't resist insulting his closest buddy Elton when Elton tries to compare their lives. He returns home to find it much as he left it, except that his estranged father has been rendered mute by 2 strokes. He tries to make his peace with his father and himself, but ultimately he chooses to continue to reject structure and facing his own demons and responsibility.
Jack is great in this Oscar nominated performance. His delivery of the famous 'chicken salad' speech, as well as the conveyance of Robert's inner demons in subtle but painful ways are all trademark Jack. I thought the hitchhiker sideshow with Palm was especially funny. Her constant complaints and general attitude were genuinely funny.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Both released on DVD this month.
In the interest of the teacher-based films, here's a pop quiz:
Freedom Writers stars Hillary Swank as a new high school teacher in Gangland, Los Angeles, who inspires her integrated and diverse class to unite and succeed, creating a surrogate home for them in her classroom. Her breakthrough is a field trip to the Holocaust museum and her use of The Diary of Anne Frank. Based on a true story, it's actually surprising that there are no surprises here. Every plot point is expected, even the ones involving the secondary charcters. This being an MTV movie, white men are either unsupportive husbands, cowards without rhythm, or skeptical fathers. Unlike Patrick Dempsey, Scott Glenn is able to rise above his thinly-written role. But it's hard to get too angry at a film with this much heart. The characters here deserve to have their story told. If only we could take the brain and guts from Notes on a Scandal and add it to the heart and soul of Freedom Writers, then we would have a great film. Both films: B-Continue reading this post
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On DVD (Released 2000). Rated R, 155 minutes.
Mexico is a tough place. In Amores Perros (Love's a B*tch), Director Alejandro González Iñárritu made his mark as its most compelling and complex storyteller. This film shares its structure and oh so bleak worldview with 21 Grams and Babel, and together the 3 films are considered a trilogy. All three are directed by Iñárritu and written by Guillermo Arriaga (the two have had a falling out over credit for the success of the pictures, especially Babel).
The first of the 3 intersecting storylines tells the tale of Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his pursuit of his sister-in-law, Susana. Her husband and his brother, Ramiro, works as a checker in a supermarket and as a burglar on the side. Octavio lusts and loves Susana, which creates violent conflict between the brothers and scolding from their mother (Babel's Adriana Barraza). The characters and the story are infused with the seething machismo culture that is rampant in much of Mexico, and is played out violently as Octavio uses his other love, his dog, to earn money in violent and bloody dogfights. Octavio sells out his brother, his dog, and ultimately his soul all for the love of Susana. This story is the strongest of the 3, and captures several gritty details and side stories in mesmerizing fashion.
The second story is the weakest. A successful businessman is cheating on his wife and 2 teenage daughters for the 'it' girl in Mexico, a sought after model. After finally separating from his wife and getting an apartment with his girlfriend, she is injured on their first day together in a horrific car crash (the moment of synergy for the film, as the central characters are all impacted thereby) that ultimately renders her once beautiful legs amputated. Loss, vanity, fidelity, love, and ego are all dealt with well.
The third story is the most bizarre, but most emotionally effective. El Chivo (Emilio Echeverria) portrays a strange and unkempt man that was imprisoned for 20 years for his role as a Mexican guerrilla. Before going to prison, he and his wife agreed that they would tell their then 2 year old daughter that he had died. Of course, when he gets out, she is all he can think about. He earns money as a hit man and passes the time staking out his daughter and taking care of a pack of dogs.
There is enough in this movie for a 10,000 word post, but suffice it to say it deserved the Oscar it won for Best Foreign Film in 2000.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The beginning of the best long shot in the history of cinema.
than to receive.
"I would refrain from the recreational drug use. They are affecting your cognitive abilities."
The best pan in the history of cinema. "Memo From Turner"If you can't figure out the symbolism here, not even Freud can help you.Continue reading this post
Posted by Doctor at 8:00 PM
Monday, April 16, 2007
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In theatres. Rated R. 115 minutes.
Naming is everything. Take Clifford Irving, con artist, liar, and (allegedly) phenomenal writer. In 1971 he conned McGraw Hill into believing he was the authorized biographer for Howard Hughes. Through the use of forged documents and ludicrously absurd tales he bilked the publishers out of a one million dollar advance. Eventually it cost him his wife, his researcher and only friend, his lover, 20 months in prison, 1.3 million dollars, and any hope of being taken seriously as an author. Still, in his last con, he called his memoir detailing the sordid affair “The Hoax,” as if it were a joke that went too far, and The Hoax it remains.
A dynamite Richard Gere (Yanks) stars as Clifford Irving. I’ve never been a huge Gere fan, but he is Oscar-caliber here. The charisma, intelligence, and balls it takes to even attempt a con of this magnitude is mesmerizing, and Gere brings all that and more. While never a sympathetic character, Carter is compelling—daring you to root for him to pull it off. Somehow the stealing and infidelity are overlooked in the excitement of lie after dizzying lie. It’s not until he blackmails his best friend and collaborator Dick Susskind (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2) that the awful truth you knew but ignored comes home. Irving is a lying, self-centered scumbag.
This is a fascinating piece of history that I was completely unaware of, drawing lines between Hughes and a just pre-Water Gate Nixon, and in so doing straddling two of the most powerful, idiosyncratic, and paranoid men of the 20th Century. It’s everything historical pics should be: true, funny, enthralling, strange, and immanently relevant. While Catch Me if You Can (2002) and Shattered Glass (2003) both recently covered similar ground, The Hoax is a bigger operator at every level and my favorite of the three. The best film I’ve seen in the theatre this year. A-
Saturday, April 14, 2007
The Last Picture Show is a portrait of the soul of West Texas in the 1950's. Based on a Larry McMurty book and directed by Peter Bogdanovich, it tracks the trials and travails of high school senior Sonny Crawford (played by Timothy Bottoms, a dead ringer for a young George W. Bush).
The movie explores multiple interesting themes, all very well: class issues, lust, beauty as power, youth, and small town life. Countless films have explored the claustrophobia and perfect facade with a brooding underbelly of small towns; this film started that genre and sets the standard. Pleasantville, Dazed and Confused, Far from Heaven and dozens of others all owe a debt to The Last Picture Show.
The movie is shot entirely in black and white, to powerful effect. Bogdanovich uses the lack of color as well as the windy, cold and barren streets of Anarene (the name of the town) to set the tone of life in the high plains. Several frames of the film are exceedingly beautiful, and the director uses the big, empty spaces in West Texas to dominate much of each exterior shot, to heighten the feeling of isolation.
Lost and unrequited love as well as foolish choices dominate the story. Sonny falls for his basketball coach's 40 year old wife (Cloris Leachman, who won an Oscar for her performance) but then drops her in an instant to date his best friend's ex-girlfriend Jacy (played by a stunning young Cybil Shepherd). Jacy is the best looking girl in town, and her mom (Ellen Burstyn) a mirror image of her, 20 years later, doesn't want her to settle for a roughneck.
The heart of the movie is Sam (Ben Johnson - who won an Oscar for his performance), a mirror image of Sonny, 20 years later. He runs the local movie theater and pool hall, and serves as a father figure to Sonny and many of the town's boys. He can see his life flash before him as Sonny, Duane and Jacy play out their adolescence.
Had I seen this in 1971, I would've given it an A. Unfortunately, the pacing of the film and the bad performance of the main character by Timothy Bottoms took me out of the movie too much. The quote beginning this review is from a scene in their school (taught by Higgins from Magnum PI), and it sums the movie up.
Friday, April 13, 2007
The Plot: Coupled by “the agency” with blind roommate Lewis (an excellent Jeff Daniels), Pratt attends classes by day and cleans a small town bank by night. Lonely and frustrated by his inability to pick-up a girl (a deft commentary on the need for a guy to self-sensor his intentions in order to get in a relationship), Chris is vulnerable to a high school acquaintance (Gary Spargo) and his ex-stripper accomplice “Luvlee Limons” (a stock character played with depth and feel by Wedding Crashers stand out and Borat fiancee Isla Fisher). Of course his new friends just want access to the vault Pratt sweeps around every night, snagging Chris with the hope of love and the dream of returning to his high school glory days. No fun spoiling the ride, but the story keeps twisting in unexpected directions, turning every time I thought I'd figured the ending.
The supporting cast is uniformly spot-on. Of special note is Bruce McGill (of MacGyver fame), Carla Gugino (Night at the Museum, Sin City), and Sergio Di Zio as a small town cop with hidden fire in his belly. The cinematography captures both the wide-open starkness and loneliness of Kansas farm roads and the warmth of the people that inhabit them. While the wrap-up’s a little clean, a very good film. B+.
Favorite scene: The confrontation between Jeff Daniels and Isla Fisher when he asks, “Something tells me you don’t see yourself invited to the Pratt family Thanksgiving next year. So let me do you a favor and ask you a question, ‘What are you doing here?’”
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Posted by Lawyer at 8:47 PM
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Imagining Jane Fonda as a prostitute isn't hard for me to do. In Klute she portays Bree Daniel, a prostitute trying in vain to get away from 'the life' - she won the Oscar for Best Actress for her work. Given that this movie was released in 1971, she probably had to fit it in between firing on US troops in Vietnam.
Klute is a thriller with a side of pyschoanalysis. The plot centers around the disappearance of a business man and the private investigator's search for him. Bree is at the center of the case because she was beat up by a john 2 years prior and is suspected to have been receiving disturbing letters from him (unbeknownst to his family) over that same period. Fonda does good work portraying the instability and unevenness of her character; her sessions with her therapist were very revealing and well done. She keeps on 'hooking' in order to be in control and guarantee the intimacy; as she grows close to Klute she wants to destroy the relationship simply because she doesn't have control.
Monday, April 9, 2007
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) - Shane Black's directorial debut is a return to form in his perfect screenplay construction of Lethal Weapon 1 and 2 (#2 was uncredited - he wanted to make it darker, including Riggs's death). But somewhere in his 10 year screenwriting absence, he learned how to write unbeatable dialogue. And the commentary on the DVD is one of the best in recent years.
Mulholland Drive (2001) - David Lynch took a rejected TV pilot and turned it on its ear, adding 45 minutes by revisiting nearly every scene. All Hollywood genres are represented (cop, western, romance, gangster) as a naive Naomi Watts struggles for success and love. Is the first 2/3 of the movie a dream, masturbatory fantasy, or her life flashing before her eyes?
Boogie Nights (1997) - The center is a dysfunctional family with a father (Burt Reynolds), mother (Julianne Moore), and children (Mark Wahlberg, Heather Graham). My favorite directorial touch is William Macy's increasingly distanced relationship from his wife. In three scenes, she goes from close-up, to a long-shot, to not being seen at all. I also love Rollergirl turning her identity into a weapon.
Lone Star (1996) - In a Texas border town, sheriff Chris Cooper investigates a generation-old murder after a freemason ring is found on a skeleton. The transitions between the present-day story and the past are first-rate and the screenplay skillfully explores race relations. Most of all, director John Sayles gets the feel and tone right of a Texas border town.
Fearless (1993) - Jeff Bridges survives a plane crash and is considered a hero when he leads several people out of the burning wreckage. He withdraws from everything in life, including his family, and only feels alive when his life is threatened. He forms a friendship with Rosie Perez, whose infant son died in the crash. Faith, spirituality, love, and purpose have rarely been so intelligently handled simultaneously by the underrated Peter Weir. And the ending is a knockout.
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993) - An exciting movie about chess? Yes, but it's also about child prodigies, friendship, and parenting. The scene when Josh plays chess with Vinnie in the park and rediscovers his love of chess is a highlight. In real life, Bobby Fischer himself has become a crazy, America-hating anti-Semite who has praised the 9/11 attacks. And the kid on which the film is based (Josh Waitzkin) is now a kung fu master - but the film stands.
A River Runs Through It (1992) - The story of a precher's two sons in 1920s rural Montana is frequently touching as they grow up, discover women, and try to become men. Brad Pitt's first big role completely suits him, and as the lead, Craig Sheffer shows honesty and gravitas well. The fishing shows on TV are unwatchable, but director Robert Redford turns fly-fishing into a work of art.
JFK (1991) - The film that turned me into a movie junkie. The movie is over 3 hours of fascinating conspiracy theories expertly directed, edited, and photographed. And it's all completely false. Oliver Stone created a new cinematic language all by himself, and unfortunately it's been copied by every single music video and most movies since.
Miller's Crossing (1990) - In most years, this movie would the best, but Mr. Scorsese was in top form that year. Joel and Ethan Coen still haven't topped their third film where Gabriel Byrne plays a gangster who is having an affair with his boss's girl. From the opening Godfather homage, to the intricate repetitions in the script, the movie always has a sense of humor about itself and a sense of film history. The great Carter Burwell score has often been imitated, never equalled. Unlike most Coen Brothers' movies, this one's message about the decisions we make in our lives and the reasons we make them almost matches their monumental technical skill - almost.
Ben Affleck has rarely been better than here as George Reeves. Once a respected film actor, he is reduced to taking the black-and-white kiddie Superman show for the bucks. His lover Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), herself ten years his senior, is the wife of still older studio exec Eddie Mannix. The assumption is that Toni will be able to move Reeves back to some respectable projects. It’s not obvious whether she won’t or can’t, but the better films don’t come. Showered with a house, money, and gifts, George is a kept man. Determined to move into directing and producing, he throws out a feeler in NYC and, while there, has a fling with a gold-digging wannabe starlet that morphs into an engagement. But he’s got no gold to dig and that revelation, along with his jilted lover and her husband’s odd sense of duty lead to plenty with an interest in seeing Reeves dead. Tragically, in a nation in love with Superman, there’s no one with an interest in keeping him alive.
Adrian Brody is Lois Simo, a private eye with delusions of fame himself, hired by Reeves’ mother to look into the case. Divorced and with a son struggling to understand his matinee idol’s suicide, Simo’s concern is getting his picture in the paper and keeping the doubts alive long enough to line up his next case. Brody is solid if not spectacular in the part that fifteen years ago would have gone to Bruce Willis. Diane Lane continues to be a template on how to age in Hollywood. Without noticeable work or botox, she lets us see every wrinkle in a film shot in unflattering muted colors and black-and-white. She is still sexy and stunning enough that we believe she can attract a younger man even as we know she’ll never be able to keep him. But this film is notable for Affleck. He nails Reeves. Still charming and good-looking, he’s grown tired. It’s in his eyes, his walk, his smile. If it is suicide, it’s not from depression. He sees a way out. He’s just too tired to make it happen.
Ultimately this film wants to be about the American obsession with TV and movie stars. In a culture that denies itself a religion with sculpted idols, celluloid feels that void. We’re just not sure what to do when they die. Unfortunately, this theme has been covered too many times before, and Hollywoodland brings nothing new to the table. It’s a shame the film doesn’t spend more time on what it actually has going for it: the mysterious death of the one unabashed, unvarnished Christ-figure in popular culture. Superman. What happens to our faith and our entertainment when our religious figures and our celluloid idols become one and the same? And what do we do when they die and can’t be resurrected? B-
Saturday, April 7, 2007
(To be released on DVD June 26, 2007)
The Lives of Others is a powerful film about duty, honor and character. Set in East Berlin in 1984, it is both a study of communism and western freedoms and a study of the human condition under such oppression. The story centers around Gerd Wiesler, a diligent and seeminlgy soulless German Stasi (Secret Police) agent trained in espionage and interrogation. He is charged with spying on Georg Dreyman, a respected writer whose girlfriend is the object of affection of a high ranking East German official Bruno Hempf.
Dreyman is not an agitator and is comfortable in his role as a writer whose content is muzzled by the government and chooses not to express his anti-government sentiments in order to keep himself from being imprisoned. Wiesler initially pursues his charge forcefully and without remorse, as a good 'comrade.' As he gets drawn into the lives of Dreyman and his actress girlfriend, Christa-Marie Sieland, Wiesler slowly undergoes a transformation. He is a man of duty, honor, and sacrifice for the good of the country, and he is beginning to question the system that he has dedicated his life to. He lives in a bleak solitude, which the director often juxtaposes against the rich and full life lived by Dreyman and Sieland. I won't give away the rest of the story, because I hope the readers will see it.
Each of the actors put in powerful performances, especially Ulrich Muhe as Wiesler. His understated performance is the anchor of the movie. This is a highly intelligent, emotionally satisfying movie with a sophisticated and interesting script.
Most of what I have read about this movie mentions its meaning relative to the US wiretapping program. After seeing the movie myself, such an extrapolation is clearly ridiculous. The primary message of the film is the power of freedom and the evils of an oppressive government. Other themes in the movie are love, isolation, insecurity, and sacrifice.
This film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, 2006. It is now #5 on my 2006 list (see my profile for the rest).