Monday, December 26, 2011

YOUNG ADULT (2011)

Rated: R


Stars: Charlize Theron,  Patton Oswalt,  Patrick Wilson,  Elizabeth Reasor, Jill Eikenberry 


Director: Jason Reitman


Genre: Drama/ Dark Comedy


What we often fail to consider about people is there's a reason why they are the way they are. They don't just wake up one day and become suddenly dysfunctional. The reasons for why the gears are slipping in Mavis Gary's brain are not immediately revealed. So she's not exactly a sympathetic character, until we gain some insight into her pain farther down the line. All we know is there's a train wreck coming --we can see it building from miles away. And just how it's going to play out becomes the rubbernecking fascination of Young Adult--the low-key, darkly comedic effort from the director of Up In The Air, and the writer of Juno (Diablo Cody).


Mavis (Charlize Theron) is a hard drinking writer of teen fiction in her late thirties. Her publisher is expecting some words from her, but she sits uninspired in front of the computer. Her Minneapolis apartment is a disaster area. ( I felt an immediate kinship, as all slobs do.) Her sexual encounters are of the superficial variety. Something is missing in her life. 


 She receives a mass emailed announcement of the birth of her happily married high school sweetheart's first child. Star athlete Buddy Slade. At first Mavis is incensed, but it gets her to ruminating on  her "homecoming queen bitch" (as a snarky former classmate will label her) glory days. She becomes fixated on the idea of going back to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota and reclaiming Buddy for her own. 


Yes, despite the "extenuating" circumstances.
   
Explaining her arrival back in town with a cover story about some real estate deal, Mavis hits the bar and runs into geek Matt Freehauf, (Patton Oswalt) who occupied the locker right next to hers in high school. But she existed in such a self-absorbed bubble that she doesn't have the slightest recollection of him, until her memory is jogged by a disturbing incident from those days. Matt's youth was marred by a severe beating at the hands of bullies, and now his legs don't work. His member sort of does, but it's crooked (like much of the twisted humor in this movie!)


So Mavis will rendezvous with the clueless Buddy, (Patrick Wilson) who thinks it's all for old time's sake--his marriage to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser, of the girl-next-door looks) on such solid ground that it's no biggie to either of them. Little do they suspect that she intends to ingratiate herself into their happy set-up like an army of termites poised to eat away at the foundation of their relationship. 
   
On the side, Mavis develops a sort of symbiotic relationship with Matt. He manufactures moonshine and she drinks it. Fully aware of what she's up to,   he functions as her dormant conscience--a sort of angel on her shoulder--trying to impress upon her how misguidedly deranged she's become. And just like Clarence, Matt WILL get his wings (and all of geekdom watching will rejoice!)


Though it's lost on Mavis, theirs is the more meaningful of the two relationships. They are kindred spirits, each crippled by the past, as yet unable to move beyond it.   


The climactic scene brings the sudden realization that in Young Adult, what we've been watching all along is a character study of an individual in need of help--it's smirking humor derived from the irony of life itself.


I was never particularly a fan of Theron, but after Young Adult, I am. As Mavis Gary, she taps into our go-for-the-gusto, never to be denied, can do spirit--albeit in a selfish, obnoxious, and devil-may-care manner. But hey, as Mellencamp sang: Those old crazy dreams just kinda came and went...ah, but ain't that America...


One of the year's best films! 


Grade :  A

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

MELANCHOLIA (2011)

Rated: R


Stars: Kirsten Dunst,  Charlotte Gainsbourg,  Kiefer Sutherland,  John Hurt,  Charlotte Rampling


Director: Lars von Trier


Genre: Art House/ Sci-fi-/ Drama  


Slap the Art House label onto a film and it can compensate for a multitude of movie making sins.  Doesn't need to have much of a plot. Doesn't need to employ a lot of imagination, as long as the characters are quirky. And the camera work can appear so amateurish and unsteady that half the time when you're supposed to be looking at someone's face,  you're looking at their belly button. But all this is normally overlooked by fans of the genre if something truly memorable stays with you.(The Brown Bunny , for example, is a film that will send you right to Snoozeville--until Chloe Sevigny  blows you away at the end!) Lars von Trier's  Melancholia answers to all of the above criticisms,  but what saves it are some elements of black comedy,  some fine performances from an impressive cast, and its gorgeous cinematography.


Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is a severely depressed young woman. Not a good time to get married, but what the hell. Her wedding reception at the palatial estate of her sister, Claire, (Charlotte Gainsbourg--who must be seen in von Trier's Antichrist to fully grasp how far she will go to give a gritty performance) and brother-in-law, John, (Kiefer Sutherland) comprises the entire first act of the film. 


Here we are introduced to some of  the aforementioned colorful folk: Justine's dad, (John Hurt) who feigns lifting  fancy silverware and slipping it into his suit pocket;  John, who keeps reminding everyone of how much this lavish affair is setting him back; and Justine's acid-tongued mother, (Charlotte Rampling) who gives a cringe-worthy speech about how she abhors the institution of marriage. (Rampling, who  starred in many a film back in the day,  where her main criterion for taking the role was that her character be NAKED, is now reduced to bit parts playing embittered old biddies. Would have been funny had she  hopped up on the table--with everyone yelling TAKE IT OFF BABY--and gladly obliged once more for old time's sake...but that might not have played with the younger crowd!)


Anyhoo,  things get  progressively worse for Justine. She tells her boss to shove it.  She ducks out of the proceedings to take a leisurely bath. She parries the amorous advances of her groom (Alexander Skarsgard). The evening is falling apart,  but things aren't as bad as they're gonna be, because people start taking notice of this funny looking planet, "Melancholia,"  that is heading our way. There are mixed opinions from the experts as to whether there will be a near miss, or whether the planet is on a collision course with earth.   


The second half of the movie belongs to Claire. While Justine has taken a so what,  the earth is evil and we'd likely be better off attitude about this development, (remember, she's depressed) Claire grows increasingly fearful for herself and her young son, Leo (Cameron Spurr).   


We see no news reports about the advance of the planet,  which looks strangely like our own earth, by the way. No shots of people running through the streets or heading for the mountaintops, though John--the amateur astronomer--does begin stockpiling some survival supplies, while assuring everyone there's nothing to worry about. .  


Bits of  information come via the internet,  but there is an eerie disconnect between this assemblage and the outside world . At first the  impending crisis seems almost secondary, as they're all caught up in their own personal stuff-- like most of us--until the things that really matter loom large enough that they can no longer be ignored. The doppelganger earth on a collision course with our own appears to be a not so subtle metaphor for the path we humans have set upon to destroy ourselves.    


In the end, Claire invokes  a bit of "magic."  The magic wasn't quite there for me--in my overall assessment of Melancholia--but it is still a film worth seeing. Just be sure to watch it with a friend, because you're going to want to discuss it afterward.  


Grade:  B









Friday, December 9, 2011

NEW YEAR'S EVE (2011)


Rated PG-13


Stars: Too numerous to mention (see below)

Director: Garry Marshall

Genre: Comedy/Romance

Check out these names: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hillary Swank,
Jon Bon Jovi, Jessica Biel, Abigail Breslin, Josh Duhamel, Halle Berry, Hector Elizondo, Katherine Heigle, Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michele, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Zac Efron, Alyssa Milano, Carla Gugino, Jim Belushi, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ryan Seacrest, Sienna Miller...OKAY, THAT'S ENOUGH, DAMMIT...because there are even MORE recognizable celebs in New Year's Eve--a film I had high hopes for, because dat be my favorite party time of the year!

Somehow, director Garry Marshall juggles this huge ensemble cast and its myriad intersecting story lines--mostly involving romantic foibles and folly--trying to connect, reconnect, or make amends for past misdeeds, as everybody gets kinda wistful on New Year's Eve (easy to do when you're falling down drunk!) It's a given what New Year's Eve is building toward--midnight on the last day of the year--when, for example, Katherine Heigle and Jon Bon Jovi's characters, who are ex-lovers, will make or break their chance at reconciliation. The kind of stuff that may pull at your heartstrings in a sappy, manipulative kind of way.

But too many characters = too much fragmentation = not enough character development. Wouldn't have mattered much anyway, because these are TV sitcom characters in a movie with TV sitcom laughs...meaning the funny parts are mostly lame, tame, and not really funny.

We've all seen the star-vehicle movies that were designed just to showcase the big name, and not much else (every ELVIS movie, for example). Same thing here, but with more stars and plotlines than you can shake a bottle of bubbly at, or care about keeping track of.

See, you'd think--or hope--that getting stuck in an elevator with hottie Lea Michele might produce more possibilities than having her blast a song in your ear at close quarters, (as she shouted out with Glee) but no--New Year's Eve is that vehicle for stars who sing to sing, and for stars who emcee television shows to emcee, and for stars who've become typecast for being in bad romantic comedies (Katherine, you're better than this) to be in another bad romantic comedy.

A fun thing you can do with New Year's Eve, though, is to try to spot all the celebs who are listed in the credits--like Penny Marshall. Where the hell was she? I didn't see her. Another one I missed was basketball star Amare Stoudemire, who is listed in the credits as a "party dancer."

Weird.

Grade: C

Saturday, December 3, 2011

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011)


Rated: R

Stars: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Judi Dench

Director: Simon Curtis

Genre: Drama

To those who knew her, Marilyn Monroe was known as a pretty sharp cookie--not at all the dumb blonde persona she maintained for the public. And that may be my only criticism of Michelle Williams' performance in My Week With Marilyn. Williams plays the mega-star closer to that public image, even in private. But in every other way, she nails the character--capturing the little girl vulnerability of a troubled woman who might well have traded in her fame for the feeling of being truly loved.

My Week With Marilyn chronicles a brief moment in time in the life of the late writer/documentary film maker Colin Clark. In 1956, Clark was a callow 23-year-old who had landed a job as a lowly production assistant for the the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl--a movie Marilyn Monroe co-starred in with Sir Laurence Olivier. Marilyn was newly wedded to playwright Arthur Miller, but he wasn't around much for the making of the film in Britain.

As the most celebrated woman in the world, Marilyn had some obvious trust issues. But she took a shine to the young lad. His puppy dog adoration and protectorship of her must have seemed like a rock she could rely on, as he alternately played escort, nursemaid, and suitor (at least in his own mind) to her during the turbulence of the film production--which saw Monroe showing up late for work and forgetting her lines.

Eddie Redmayne plays Mr. Clark as the dogged young man with stars in his eyes, determined to find a niche for himself in the film industry.

Kenneth Branagh, as Laurence Olivier, does a fine job of capturing the actor's petulance and befuddlement with the process of simultaneously directing (which he did) and starring in a film with Monroe.

Dame Judi Dench adds a touch of old school class to the proceedings.

In the minor subplot, Emma Watson is well cast as a young girl who has fallen for Colin, but sees it going for naught as the allure of the goddess continues to draw him in. (I had my own exquisite pain of the brush with fame when, at the same tender age, I spent an afternoon in the company of the number one female pop group of all time. The one I really liked held onto my hand for what seemed to be an inordinately long time, as we made small talk. That evening I wept at the realization that she could never be mine...so to say that I could identify with the young Mr. Clark's emotional predicament would be an understatement.)

I kept wondering how much skin they were going to allow Michelle Williams to display--especially if there were to be any topless shots--inviting the inevitable comparisons with Monroe's body. (I've seen both Monroe and Williams topless--each quite lovely in her own way--but I don't think anyone with a PRACTICED eye, such as...uh...MYSELF...would mistake one for the other!) So director Simon Curtis plays it just right. He gives us a couple of brief shots of Michelle's bottom--which I dare say, old chap, will compare favorably to anyone's...including Ms. Monroe!

The soundtrack, featuring some lush tunes from Nat King Cole (DAMN--he was a good singer) is perfect.

My Week With Marilyn is a small gem of a film that will break your heart...just like Marilyn broke everyone else's.

Grade: A

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

THE DESCENDANTS (2011)


Rated: R

Stars: George Clooney, Shallene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard

Director: Alexander Payne

Genre: Drama/Comedy

There's a scene in The Descendants that pays homage (perhaps subconsciously) to Last Tango In Paris. It's where Honolulu attorney Matt King (George Clooney) is at the hospital bedside of his wife, Elizabeth--who lies in an irreversible coma as the result of a boating accident--giving her an earful of his pent-up emotions about everything from her infidelity, to leaving him in the lurch to raise their two problematic daughters by himself. I immediately flashed back to Brando's poignant, profanity-laced barrage unleashed upon the corpse of his cheating spouse, Rosa, in that classic film.

Anyway, it's quite tempting to 'ave a go at the old bird when she can't bite you back, apparently, which is just what Elizabeth's intractable teenage daughter, Alexandra, (Shallene Woodley) does as well. Even the wife of the guy she was screwing around with gets her licks in.

Yes... it's a drama. Yes... it's a comedy. And that's called a "dramedy" where I hail from, Mister. But one with a subtle touch, like the mixture of humor and pathos in everyday life.

Speaking of subtlety, that would be Clooney's performance for about the first half of the film. UNDERSTATED, I believe is the word. I wasn't sure if Matt King was supposed to be a guy who was just out of touch with his feelings, or if Clooney was mailing it in. Fortunately, our faith in George's acting ability is restored when the plot elements in The Descendants require him to get pissed off at friends who've been holding back the truth about his wife's shenanigans--then, with his young charges in tow, island hops over to Kauai to confront the erstwhile home wrecker, real-estate agent Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). Ostensibly, Matt just want to inform Speer about his wife's dire predicament, but we know that he wants to get in the guy's face some too.

Speer ties into the subplot, as he stands to make a killing from the sale of 25,000 acres of pristine beach front property, previously handed down to King and his clan, of which Matt happens to be the sole trustee. A tangled web we weave.

All of it leads to Matt's eventual epiphany, about taking a stand in the face of overwhelming opposition. When it's all said and done, life goes on-- and The Descendants, gingerly groping its way along the darkened hallways of life, reminds us of that better than most.

Evaluations:

Beau Bridges shines as Matt's cousin, Hugh.

Patricia Hastie, as the comatose Elizabeth, gives a stiff performance.

Grade: B


Saturday, November 19, 2011

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011)


Rated :R


Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy

Director: Sean Durkin

Genre: Mystery-Suspense/Drama

Writer/director Sean Durkin had the opportunity to play up some of the more positive aspects of communal living--such as cooperative effort, family values, and...uhh...you never have to look far to find a babysitter! Instead, in Martha Marcy May Marlene he gives us the stereotypical cult with a charismatic, sociopathic leader--a la Charlie Manson--who lures wayward waifs away from their homes with a bunch of double speak and new-age mumbo jumbo.

When we join young Martha, (Elizabeth Olsen--who bears a striking resemblance to her famous older sisters, Mary Kate and Ashley, but with more meat on her bones) she is making her getaway from said commune in the Catskills. She calls her sister--the only family she has left--and in a halting conversation, is torn between wanting to return to normal society, or going back to the farm. And therein lies the crux of the film. When Martha moves in with sister Lucy, (Sarah Paulson) and her prickly husband, Ted, (Hugh Dancy) the emotional conflict she experiences builds into something progressively darker for the audience, as the events of her time with the clan are juxtaposed against the present in continual flashback/flash forward fashion. It's an effective device. Martha Marcy May Marlene is like a story of parallel universes, where similar kinds of events occur in very different ways.

Martha--who also goes by the other names in the title at one time or another--is a haunted and deeply disturbed young girl. Not only by what has previously occurred, but by the psychological hold the cult and its messianic leader (John Hawkes) still maintains over her.

A word of caution. Don't blink or you'll miss the ending. Some will no doubt be disappointed by it. But the more I think about it, it may be perfect. It's creepy and foreboding...I'll say that much.

THE FINAL WORD

Good performances all around, especially from Elizabeth Olsen in her first starring role. She strips her soul bare, and strips off her clothes.

WHAT MORE COULD WE ASK?

And though I'm a little disturbed (but probably not as disturbed as Martha) that there may be an intended anti-naked hippie message here, (my roots, man...my roots) Martha Marcy May Marlene obviously wouldn't work without it. So I'm willing to forgive.

Peace, brother.

Grade: B +

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS (2011)






Rated: R


Stars: John Cho, Kal Penn, Neil Patrick Harris, Danny Trejo

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

Genre: Comedy

On the raunch meter, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is on a par with Bridesmaids and Horrible Bosses. But because the theme is Christmas, there are additional sacred cows to be sacrificed to the gods of gross-out humor. No one--and I mean NO ONE--is immune!

The plot here is to get the estranged buddies--Harold, (John Cho) who is now a Wall Street businessman, and Kumar, (Kal Penn) still a slacker and a stoner--reunited for another whacked out adventure. When Kumar receives a holiday package intended for Harold, he obligingly delivers it to his old friend's residence , and this is where the fun begins. The pair is charged with nothing less than to save Christmas, after they open the package to discover a gigantic joint which, after being lit, ends up burning down the twelve foot fir that Harold's father-in-law (the menacing Danny Trejo) has lovingly raised from a sapling to become this year's holiday centerpiece.

Their Christmas eve quest to find a replacement tree before the family returns home from midnight Mass will lead to encounters with belligerent, foul-mouthed teenagers (are there any other kind?) who get even for losing a game of beer pong by spiking the eggnog and sending our heroes into a scary hallucinogenic trip--depicted in claymation, no less; a harrowing run-in with a Russian mobster who has ordered them killed in retaliation for a suspected attempt to deflower his hot-to-trot teenage daughter; and accidentally shooting Santa Claus out of the sky.

How Harold and Kumar end up in the chorus line of a Christmas stage production with Neil Patrick Harris playing himself as an outwardly gay, but secretly heterosexual perv, is one of the most inventive sequences in the film. And there are generous holiday helpings of T & A, with a side trip to heaven and some lovely topless angels and nuns. If your sense of humor is irreverent enough to survive all this, we have an adorable toddler who inadvertently gets high on pot fumes and cocaine dust.

ASSESSMENT:
  • I'd classify A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas as a guilty pleasure--the kind of movie where characters give into their basest instincts in speech and behavior, like many would do if we didn't feel bound by social convention and political correctness. For that reason, this merry brand of madcap madness can serve as an exhilarating release...like the secret fantasies of Miss Manners--letting her hair down as she falls off the bar stool, muttering vague sexual innuendo. We're all a conflicting jumble of instinct and inhibition, otherwise movies like A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas this wouldn't get made.

  • The first time I ever saw 3D--way back in the day--it seemed magical. Objects appeared to fly right off the screen and into your lap. I'd avoided the recent revival of this technology until now, because most of the films that employed it just weren't my cup of tea. For some reason, I'm not that impressed with it now. Was it the glasses? Did I have them on backwards? I'd go back and forth from looking with the naked eye, to employing the glasses, and, of course, there was some difference in depth perception, but maybe not enough for me to justify the extra three dollar surcharge. But don't let that stop you, especially if you're ready to get into the holiday mood. After all, you'll spend a lot more than that on a present for the jerky brother-in law you only see during holiday gatherings--the one whose name you can't quite recall.
Grade: B +

Saturday, October 29, 2011

THE RUM DIARY (2011)







Rated: R



Stars: Johnny Depp, Richard Jenkins, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi

Director: Bruce Robinson

Genre: Action-Adventure/ Comedy

Johnny Depp channels his good (but dead) friend, Hunter S. Thompson, in The Rum Diary--the screen adaptation of Thompson's first novel about his adventures and misadventures in Puerto Rico circa 1960-- that remained unpublished until after the "gonzo" journalist had gained his notoriety. Isn't it funny how a piece of writing can be rejected by publishers as unworthy, but once the writer becomes famous for his later endeavors, it's suddenly not only good enough to publish, but to make a movie out of as well!!!

Depp is Paul Kemp, a fledgling novelist with a drinking problem who lands a job at the fictional San Juan Star, the island's English language daily that is on the verge of going belly up. (I landed a gig in P.R. myself in 1968, and the real San Juan Star was alive and well--in fact, being in the media, I worked with some of the reporters from that paper, which only recently ceased publication due to economic issues in 2008.)

Kemp, initially assigned to writing horoscopes by his embattled editor, Lotterman, (Richard Jenkins) obviously has a low threshold for tedium, so he teams up with photographer Sala, (Michael Rispoli) and together they get into drunken altercations with some of the locals, (helping to reinforce the image of the Ugly American...thank you very much) land in jail, and get bailed out by Sanderson, (Aaron Eckhart) an unscrupulous land developer who sees his opportunity to manipulate the young reporter into writing glowing reports about his scheme to build luxury hotels on a pristine neighboring island, and thus open up paradise to more hordes of tourists, all in the name of the mighty dollar. (The island, though never identified in the film, is Vieques-- which the U.S. navy was using as a bombing range, against the wishes of the inhabitants of the island, for many years.)

Gotta have some romance, of course, and Kemp finds himself falling for Sanderson's luscious girl-gone-wild girlfriend, Chenault, (Amber Heard) which is going to complicate things between himself and Sanderson, and lead to Kemp's epiphany, where he begins the transformation from hack horoscope writer and shill for the corporate world to crusading journalist. Here he gets to wax philosophical about truth and taking the bastards down--an attempt to steer this capricious, careening movie back onto the road and deliver something of substance--trite though the message may be.

What I liked:

  • A few of the individual scenes in The Rum Diary are pretty hot--like when Kemp and Sanderson's borrowed car and borrowed girlfriend, Chenault, are speeding along, playing a game of chicken to see who will scream first with the pedal flat out to the metal. Another one finds Kemp, Sanderson, and Chenault on the neighboring island of Saint Thomas, with the hedonistic young lovely dancing and losing her inhibitions with a group of local men, amidst an aura of escalating danger to the Americanos.
What I didn't like:
  • Scenes of cock-fighting. This barbaric "sport" is now illegal in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, and in many other countries as well. Sure, we're talking about Puerto Rico in the early sixties, and the cock-fighting action in The Rum Diary was monitored by the American Humane Association. Soft rubber spurs replaced the lethal metal ones that are normally used to facilitate a fight to the death. Still, there was no attempt made here to cast cock-fighting in any other light than a popular gambling event where lots of money changes hands.
In summation:

It's a patchwork kind of film--thin on plot, but no shortage of belly laughs--if you can enjoy drunken, slovenly, somewhat degenerate type characters (now I'm flashing back to my early family life!) The most unpleasant thing was the guy sitting a couple of seats down from me who was laughing so ANNOYINGLY loud and hard, I felt they should have removed him from the theater. But hey, it's the one place where you get to let it all out--where you get to be just as big of an A-HOLE as some of the characters on the screen... and things being the way they are, we surely need that.

Grade: C +

Friday, October 7, 2011

THE IDES OF MARCH (2011)


Rated: R

Stars: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei

Director: George Clooney

Genre: Drama/Political thriller


In The Ides of March, Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is the young and talented press secretary to democratic presidential hopeful, Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). The demo primary race has been narrowed down to two candidates, and whoever takes Ohio will be on the fast track to clinching the nomination.

Then, for Stephen, temptation appears, in the form of a young and provocative campaign intern named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood). And then, in the form of Tom Duffy, (Paul Giamatti) who runs Morris' opponent's campaign, and tries to get Stephen to jump ship and join the opposing side. Stephen proves susceptible to seduction--the literal kind that Molly provides--and the lure of being on what may be the winning side that Duffy is holding out like a carrot on a stick.

Things get more complicated for Stephen--and The Ides of March kicks into a new gear--when he learns a secret from Molly that could deal a fatal blow to Morris and his campaign, were it to become public knowledge. The once idealistic press secretary becomes locked in a struggle for his own future and personal power--amidst the machinations, manipulations, and skulduggery of national politics that we've all become too familiar with--whenever the dirty laundry of a John Edwards or a Rod Blagojevich is aired in public.

WHAT I LIKED:

  • The fine acting from this accomplished cast--especially that of Philip Seymour Hoffman (as the Morris campaign manager) and Paul Giamatti.
  • The dramatic music score from award winning composer Alexandre Desplat.
  • Nobody gets shot. No cars get blown up. No skinny woman fighting half a dozen burly guys simultaneously and leaving them all splayed out on the floor. In other words, a film for those with an IQ above 75.
WHAT I WASN'T CRAZY ABOUT:
  • The film moves at a snail's pace in the beginning. But when things pick up, it's worth it.
  • The ending. It's rather abrupt. Like these sentences. Guess I just prefer. More resolution. But if you think. About it. It makes. A statement. Don't think. About it.
IN SUMMATION:
The Ides of March is a character study of one man's descent from the ideals he holds dear in the beginning, to the sacrificing of those ideals for personal and political gain. There is a profound cynicism here about our political system, and what it takes to get elected to high office. Unfortunately, for we the people, it rings true.

Grade: B +

Friday, September 30, 2011

ABDUCTION (2011)


Rated: PG-13


Stars: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Michael Nyqvist, Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina

Director: John Singleton

Genre: Action/Thriller

Nathan (Taylor Lautner--Twilight) is a typical high school dude who rides on the hood of a truck with his buddies as the vehicle careens down the road, then comes home drunk from a party the next morning and gets into a boxing match with his dad, who knocks him around relentlessly--though Nathan gets a few licks in himself. Maybe he's not so typical after all.

One day, while working on a school project with his comely classmate and next-door neighbor, Karen, (Lily Collins) Nathan discovers himself on a missing person's website, and begins to question who his "parents" really are, and why a lot of other scary stuff starts to happen. Like why agents from the CIA are after him. And why some Serbian bad guys with thick accents are also hot on his tail. When all hell breaks loose, he must grab Karen and the two of them will run for their lives--discovering along the way that in the world of high-level espionage, there is almost no one you can trust.


What I liked
  • Enough plot twists to at least keep you hanging in there
  • Taylor Lautner appears to have the right stuff to become an enduring teen heartthrob/action star. Now he needs to work on developing his acting chops.
  • The "action" scene between Nathan and Karen on a moving train.
What I didn't like
  • Flat, comic book characters
  • The same old shoot 'em up, blow 'em up fascination with violence that drives most of the crap out of Hollywood these days
What I can't figure out
  • Why Sigourney Weaver is in this movie
  • Why they couldn't find a more apropos title than Abduction, which doesn't really fit.
  • Why Michael Nyqvist--most notably of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy--is in this movie. He does deliver the most interesting performance, as the key Serbian baddie. (Yeah, he's Swedish. Serbian...Swedish...all the same to us 'MERICANS, right? )
  • Why they turn the sound up so damn loud in the theaters! With a BOOM CRASH BLARING ROCK SOUNDTRACK like this, you might need to stick your fingers in your ears at times. Some in this audience may have to choose whether to do that, or to leave their finger in their nose.
In summation

With its two young stars, Abduction is geared toward the teen set, so if you're over twenty and leaning toward this type of flick, save your money and rent 3 Days of the Condor, with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway--one of the all-time classic espionage thrillers (in my opinion). If you're younger, you just might like this one. The pacing is frenetic and nonstop...just like your attention span.

Grade: C

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

OUR IDIOT BROTHER (2011)


Rated: R


Stars: Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones

Director: Jesse Peretz

Genre: Comedy

The only thing I suppose I have to complain about regarding Our Idiot Brother is that they made the sexy Rashida Jones (from The Office) into a really plain looking butch lesbian, but I guess something had to give with a bevy of other accomplished, easy-on-the-eyes actresses vying for screen time in this quirky, understated little film. It's as if Emily Mortimer, (Transsiberian, Lars and the Real Girl) Elizabeth Banks, (The 40 Year Old Virgin) and Zooey Deschanel, (500 Days of Summer, Yes Man) got together and said: Okay, if Rashida is going to be in this too, they're gonna have to tone her down ..'cause this thing is getting out of hand!

Paul Rudd stars as Ned, an overly trusting, pure-hearted organic farmer who is kind of a space-case--someone who speaks right off the top of his head without malice or (unfortunately) aforethought when many things would be better left unsaid. This has the unintended, but humorous effect of screwing up the lives and loves of his three sisters: Liz, (Mortimer) Miranda, (Banks) and Natalie (Deschanel). You see, Ned gets busted for selling pot to a UNIFORMED police officer who has "entrapment" written all over his face, but Ned thinks that the officer is just a really cool guy--hey, it happens...I could tell you stories from back in the day about some SERIOUSLY cool guys wearing uniforms, but...ahem...we won't get into that.

So when Ned is done with his stint in jail, he moves in--at various times--with each of his sisters. This is where the fun begins. Ned and Liz's young son, River, hit it off splendidly, as the child-like uncle is in his element when they're together. Then Ned stumbles into somewhere he's not supposed to be, and Liz's priggish filmmaker husband (Steve Coogan) is caught with his hand in a cookie jar he's not supposed to be dipping into--and, of course, Ned will innocently spill the beans, (to mix metaphors) because that's the gag-thread that runs through Our Idiot Brother.

In similar fashion, Ned manages to complicate the lives of Miranda--a manipulative writer for Vanity Fair-- and Natalie, the flaky bi-sexual partner of Cindy (Rashida Jones). Natalie, of course, is played by the DOE-EYED QUEEN OF SPOOKY/SPACE-CASE CHICK PORTRAYALS, Zooey Deschanel. I will admit that she is at least fifty percent the reason...okay...ninety-five percent the reason why I went to see this movie, as I may be her biggest fan. Anyway, it's easy to see that Ned and Natalie are related.

Our Idiot Brother flies close to the ground, and sometimes it feels like it's getting ready to break out and soar, but it never does--it cruises along just below the radar set to detect the raunchy, burst-out-loud-with-laughter comedies so prevalent these days, but that's what sets it apart.

Thin on plot, it's a character driven film, and these characters are absolutely nailed by the talented ensemble cast. We're talking new-age types who, in the process of trying to reconcile their base emotions with the ethereal values they aspire to, some pretty silly stuff comes out of their mouths. Of note is the performance by T.J. Miller as Ned's former girlfriend's new guy--he's so authentically "whatever, dude" that you can't help but have a grin on your face
whenever he's on screen.

What there is of a plot centers on Ned trying to get his golden retriever, named Willie Nelson, back from the unyielding former girlfriend and her beau. And what would a movie with a dog named Willie Nelson be without Willie Nelson's voice (the singer--not the dog) dropping in here and there to sing a few bars. Yeah, well...you had to be there.

It's a sweet movie, with a feel-good ending, and you're left reflecting on who are the real idiots here after all?

GRADE: B +

Sunday, August 21, 2011

COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011)





Rated: PG-13


Stars: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano

Director: Jon Favreau

Genre: Western/Action-Adventure/Sci-fi


A bunch of dusty, stinky, tobacco juice spittin' cowboys taking on some invading extraterrestrials who are almost as SCARY looking as LADY GA GA! The premise is, of course, farcical. Or is it? There are ancient drawings on cave walls that look for all the world like aliens from the sky, so there's no reason why they wouldn't have been around in the old west of the nineteenth century to come around and hijack the cowpoke's gold and abduct their citizens. (Why they want either isn't exactly clear, except it is stated that gold is as rare to the aliens as it is to us. Maybe they perceived that someday, in 2011, the price of gold would soar because of a tanking economy, and they could come back and sell it to some of those pawn shops you see advertising on TV.)

Don't try to follow the logic, because Cowboys & Aliens is about bigger philosophical ideas.

Briefly: The outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert, not remembering who he is or why he is there, but he's got this high-tech bracelet attached to his wrist, which he eventually figures out he can use to blast anybody who gets in his face too much. He rides into the dusty town of Absolution, where he has a run in with young Percy Dolarhyde, (Paul Dano) the smart-ass son of Colonel Dolarhyde, (Harrison Ford) the big cattle baron who runs the town. Percy and Lonergan both end up in the hoosegow, though, because the sheriff still wants to do his job. Percy's dad gets wind of it, and he and his boys ride into town, intent upon springing his son. Just when we're getting into how this showdown is going to play out, alien spacecraft come screaming out of the sky and start bombing the crap out of everything.

WHOA PARDNER! Now there's somethin' ya don't see everyday around these here parts! So Cowboys & Aliens, which up to this point had all the makings of a good spaghetti western, (thanks, in large part, to the dynamic music score from Harry Gregson Williams, paying homage to the great Ennio Morricone) goes through a major upheaval-- like when tectonic plates collide--and it becomes a story that, while certainly not original, is timeless and awe-inspiring. It's the story of constantly bickering, warring and feuding mankind banding together for the common good to do battle with an outside adversary. I don't care how many holes in the plot this movie may have...I still find its message to be as inspiring as all "git out." And I challenge anyone with a heart to sit there and not go WOO HOO (at least to themselves) when this ragtag band of cowboys, outlaws, and Native Americans comes thundering through the canyon on their horses, with that music pounding in your ears, hell-bent-for-leather to engage the creepy aliens who, seemingly, would be a superior force, but never underestimate the dog with his back to the wall. Speaking of dogs, there's a lovable one in Cowboys & Aliens--a kind of mascot as it were for OUR team, who will steal your heart.

I couldn't imagine anyone better than Daniel Craig as the tough as nails hero/anti-hero in this one. And Harrison Ford is as authentic as they come as the crusty old bastard Dolarhyde who first wants to roast Lonergan's behind, then becomes his ally.

Yes..I LIKE THIS MOVIE! So to all the other reviewers who picked and nitpicked this film apart...you know where you can kiss it.

GO COWBOYS!

Grade: A -

Friday, July 29, 2011

CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (2011)


Rated: PG-13


Stars: Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Analeigh Tipton, Jonah Bobo , Kevin Bacon

Directors: Glen Ficarra, John Requa

Genre: Comedy/ Drama/ Romance


It takes a little getting used to, watching Steve Carell playing it straight, while those around him--Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Emma Stone, and others--steal the show in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Carell is Cal Weaver-- just a regular, unremarkable guy. He has a lovely wife and some great kids. One night he goes out to dinner with his spouse, Emily, (Julianne Moore). Suddenly, she blurts out that she's been unfaithful to him and wants a divorce. Thrown into a tailspin, Cal hits the bars, where he is befriended by the quintessential smooth operator, Jacob, (Ryan Gosling) who essentially snaps his fingers and the ladies are ready to go home with him. Learning that Cal has never had another woman but Emily, Jacob offers to take him under his wing and show him the ropes of womanizing. Feeling he has nothing to lose, Cal agrees to an "extreme makeover" of his style--not only in clothes, but the way he approaches women, with some cringe-worthy and humorous results.

Trial and error begins to yield results, and before you know it, the pupil is outshining the teacher. Here's where a wickedly funny turn from Marisa Tomei comes in, as a gal who is hot to jump Cal's bones. But throughout his resurrection, Cal never allows the torch he is carrying for his wife to flame out, while Emily starts to have second thoughts about whether she might have been too hasty in her decision. Sound familiar, anyone?


When their 13 year old son, Robbie, (Jonah Bobo) gets into some hot water at school for the overuse of a certain expletive, Cal and Emily are summoned to a parent-teacher conference, which will yield its own delicious surprise. Waiting out in the hall. Attempting small talk. Wanting to say more, but hesitant to say more. What is great about Crazy, Stupid, Love is that one moment you're busting out laughing, and the next you're furtively brushing a tear from your eye at the poignancy of it all. Finding that delicate balance isn't easy, but it all works here.

Up until now I've kept it simple, but suffice it to say that the plot of Crazy, Stupid, Love has more interchanges than a clover leaf highway--most involving someone who has the hots for someone else who has the hots for someone who isn't the one who has the hots for them. (Follow?)
Complications abound, building to a climactic scene that is truly as CRAZY (and funny) as anything you're likely to see, along with a major plot twist that had the audience reeling with UH-OH surprise.

Analeigh Tipton is an up-and-comer who plays Robbie and his younger sister's 17-year old babysitter. Robbie has a major league crush on her. What she does to help him deal with it at the end undoubtedly will have some straight-laced older folks shaking their heads...BUT I LOVED IT! Those who know me will say, "Yeah, HE would!"

In the film's major subplot, Emma Stone shines as Hannah, a young bar hopper who hooks up with Lothario Jacob, destined to be just another one of his easy conquests...or IS she?

Julianne Moore gives us her typically brilliant performance.

Kevin Bacon is here too, and why not, if you're familiar with the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game.

There's even a cameo from the ever maudlin Josh Groban, in a non-singing role.

Along with Horrible Bosses, Crazy, Stupid, Love now gives us two brightly gleaming summer comedy gems--a rarity in any year!

Grade: A





Thursday, July 21, 2011

CEDAR RAPIDS (2011)


Rated: R

Stars: Ed Helms, Anne Heche, John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Alia
Shawkat, Sigourney Weaver, Kurtwood Smith, Stephen Root

Director: Miguel Arteta

Genre: Dark Comedy


Cedar Rapids, IOWA
--where I lived and worked for a time WAY back in the day. The folks there were--shall we say--not terribly hip. As a young dude, I sported longish hair, and the people would literally hang out their car windows, pointing and laughing at me as I crossed the street! (DUDE LOOK LIKE A LADY...HHAWW!)

Ironic that the same town of today (which appears to be all built up and grown up...I didn't recognize any of it) serves as a metaphor for sophistication in the ultimately sweet, and bittersweet comedy, Cedar Rapids. Sophisticated in comparison to Brown Valley, Wisconsin, anyway--where insurance agent Tim Lippe has come from to attend the big convention.

I had to wonder if Ed Helms, who plays Tim as the ultimate country rube, didn't watch Big with Tom Hanks as many times as I did. Hanks' character is literally a 13 year-old trapped inside an adult male's body. Tim Lippe has no such excuse to fall back on. He's a bona fide adult with the emotional maturity of a 13 year-old. Exactly why, we're not sure, because not everyone in Brown Valley is quite as naive. Take, for example, Tim's middle-aged bed buddy, Macy, (Sigourney Weaver) who has been around the block a time or three (she was once his 7th grade teacher!)

Tim's boss, Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root) sends him off to the insurance convention in hopes of capturing the coveted Two Diamonds Award, an honor previously bestowed upon the local agency for a few years running. When Tim lands in "the big town," the first person he meets is a hooker (Alia Shawkat) who is working the hotel circuit. More culture shock follows when he meets his African-American roommate, (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) and the third roomie--the wild, crazy, and profane Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly). And Tim will soon fall in with Joan, (Anne Heche) a jaded married chick who approaches these conventions as her one chance to taste some freedom, and a little bit of recklessness. And reckless the exploits of these four will become-- as wild parties, booze, drugs, and hanky-panky begin to transform the straight-laced insurance salesman into something he's not sure he ever wanted to be.

Good performances all around--though people like Tim Lippe exist only in a Norman Rockwell world, so in that respect, Helms' portrayal is over the top when compared to the other characters, each of whom COULD be real! And of all the quirky, colorful personalities in Cedar Rapids, I think I like Bree, the hooker, the best. (No reflection on my personal life--heh heh.) She may be the most pragmatic of the bunch, and she dispenses the film's ultimate nugget of wisdom, about the compromises we all make just to get by.

Cedar Rapids is a film that will linger with you like the faint trace of some intoxicating perfume.

And for a dose of reality, I just read that prostitution is a growing problem in the city. PIMPS AND HOOKERS...WOW! Guess I could walk those streets now with my pony tail and see people who look a lot weirder than me!

How times change.

Grade: B +

Sunday, July 17, 2011

THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011)

Rated: R

Stars: Matthew McOnaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy

Director: Brad Furman

Genre: Drama/Mystery-thriller

Recently out on DVD--The Lincoln Lawyer, from the Michael Connelly novel, is a step up in class for Matthew McOnaughey, most recently remembered in this reviewer's mind for lightweight comedies such as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. McOnaughey has some substantial acting chops, and he displays them as Mick Haller--a slick LA defense attorney who works out of the back of his Lincoln Continental, and is known for taking on the dregs of society as clients.

He's not overtly idealistic in the sense that he believes everyone--no matter how heinous the deed they may be accused of--deserves a competent defense. No, he's more of a SHOW ME THE MONEY guy, who is not above using bribes to get what he wants, or occasional sleight of hand subterfuge to pull in some extra bucks.

When a rich playboy named Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) is fingered for the rape and attempted murder of a prostitute, Haller sees visions of a big payday from the man's family. But what we're likely to believe about this defendant in the beginning gets thrown out of whack by some interesting twists and turns of the plot. Mick finds himself caught up in a web of intrigue involving a former client now doing time, a murder from the past with eerily similar overtones to the crime Roulet is charged with, and a looming threat to his own safety.

The existential dilemma posed by The Lincoln Lawyer revolves around one being sworn to a course of action that he already knows may have dire consequences if successful, but must stay the course for the sake of every principle our justice system was founded upon. A crisis of conscience. The beauty of these kinds of questions--and what contributes to the success of
The Lincoln Lawyer--is that they set us to contemplating what we would do in a similar situation. To Mick Haller's credit, he is one resourceful dude, and we root for him because we sense that beneath the obvious cynicism, there's more goodness within him than meets the eye.

Marisa Tomei, as Haller's fellow attorney ex-wife, is under utilized here--but no matter, because after her brazen in-your-face display of sexuality in The Wrestler, I will forever find myself thinking: HOW'S SHE GONNA TOP THAT?

A great hip-hop flavored soundtrack contributes to the neo-noir feel of this one. Yeah...that's LA, man.

Grade: B +


Monday, July 11, 2011

I AM (2011)


Unrated



Stars: Tom Shadyac, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Coleman Barks

Director: Tom Shadyac

Genre: Documentary


Tom Shadyac was a successful director of mainstream films (The Nutty Professor, Bruce Almighty, Ace Ventura) who lived a successful person's typical lifestyle of having more than he needed: A mansion with more rooms than would ever be occupied, fancy cars, private jets, etc. Not so strangely enough, (to anyone rich or poor with a developed spiritual side) he came to the realization that he was no happier because of it. Then, after a bicycle accident that left his long- term health outlook in jeopardy, he had a shift in consciousness. The proverbial light bulb going off in his head. He stepped back and took an honest look at the futility of a consumerist society addicted to getting more, having more, and keeping up with and surpassing the Joneses--stoked by the planned obsolescence of accelerating advances in technology.

So he headed out with a camera crew of four --bent upon finding the answers to two questions:

What's wrong with our world?

What can we do about it?

The result is his film titled: I AM. In similar style to the 2004 documentary, What The Bleep Do We Know?, Shadyac's movie features interviews with scientists, philosophers, and spiritual leaders-- augmented by animation, and lots of clips of wild animals and wild people. But while both films have a metaphysical bent, I AM is ultimately more down to earth--looking at the practical side of life on our planet, espousing the ideology that human beings were designed to cooperate--for the resulting benefit of all--rather than be in constant competition with one another. We may live in the illusion that we are separate drops of salt spray crashing against the rocks for this briefest of moments, but it reality we belong to the ocean...we ARE the ocean. In other words, we are all connected at a fundamental level. Shadyac interviews the likes of Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and poet Coleman Barks to help illuminate his point.

Indigenous cultures view wanting and having more than we need as a sign of MENTAL ILLNESS. I can't disagree with that. Why would anyone want to have more than they NEED, unless they're planning to spread some of the wealth around? (Like Bill and Melinda Gates!) The answer is obvious. Those mansions on the hill are monuments to vanity and inflated ego.
I AM argues convincingly that if material gain is your primary motivation in life, you are heading down an ultimately disappointing dead end road.

If you resonate with a movie like I AM, then most of what is contained therein will come as no big revelation--so in that sense, Tom Shadyac is preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, this is a truly uplifting film. If you think of it as a steaming pile of woo-woo, you'll probably go right from the theater to purchase that latest Smart Phone on your already maxed-out credit card, honking and flipping off other drivers along the way.

Grade: B +

Friday, July 8, 2011

HORRIBLE BOSSES--2011


Rated: R

Stars: Kevin Spacey, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Anniston, Jamie Foxx

Director: Seth Gordon

Genre; Dark Comedy


Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis are pure devilment together in Horrible Bosses-- a brilliant, snappy, outrageous, sexy, dirty, laugh-out-loud tour de force of a dark comedy that may just be the funniest thing of its kind ever to hit the theater screens! (Okay, so now you wanna know how I REALLY feel about it!)

Nick, (Jason Bateman) Dale, (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) are three hapless wage slave buddies, each working for the boss from hell, and too dependent upon their jobs to quit, so they grin and bear it--just like most poor working schmucks in the real world. That is, until they hatch a plot to do away with all three of their nemeses.

Kevin Spacey is Dave Harken-- an anal, obnoxious, disingenuous authoritarian who jerks Nick around like a marionette. Across town, Kurt's boss bites the big one, and his cocaine addled son (Colin Farrel) is now calling the shots. And Dale is a dental assistant working for the sexually aggressive--okay, she's downright predatory--Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Anniston).

The fun begins when our three bumbling Musketeers start breaking into their boss's homes to gather incriminating information. A chain reaction of events is triggered, and somebody does end up dead, but it doesn't go down the way we're expecting.

The laughs in Horrible Bosses are rapid fire, and the other patrons at the showing I attended were cackling all the way through the un-politically correct hijinks--as most people will do in a darkened theatre where they can't be identified and pressured to make some silly public apology about something they said...or found amusing.

And while any sense of plausibility is thrown out the window early on, and you have to roll with that if you're going to get into the spirit of things--I did find it TOO RIDICULOUS to believe that Dale--as a red-blooded American male-- would staunchly resist the advances of a scantily clad, lewd and lascivious JENNIFER ANNISTON--even if he is engaged! The "dentist who wants to get drilled" represents a stunning departure for the former queen of PG-13 romantic comedy, but I think it's a good one for Anniston, who is finally showing us she's all grown up at age 41!

Kevin Spacey is utterly convincing as an over the top A-hole, and Jamie Foxx garners guffaws as a "hit man" named Motherfu**** Jones.

Everything came together for this one--the writing, the pacing, the acting--making Horrible Bosses one that will go down in the annals in the same class as The Hangover!


Grade: A

Sunday, July 3, 2011

TIMMY'S OVERLOOKED GEMS AND CURIOSITIES # 2






BREEZY--1973

Rated: R

Stars: William Holden, Kay Lenz, Roger C. Carmel
Director: Clint Eastwood
Genre: Romantic Drama


ASSESSMENT: CURIOSITY


One of Clint Eastwood's largely forgotten directorial efforts, Breezy is a cultural time capsule--a sweet little May-December romance with undertones of Hollywood's dismissive attitude toward the hippie counterculture of the day.

Kay Lenz is the free-spirited "Breezy," and as the nickname would suggest, the opening scene finds her trying to tiptoe out the door on some dude she's just spent the night with, giving us the first of numerous T&A shots that she will benevolently bestow upon us throughout the film. (Reminding us poor silicone-bombarded lads of the twenty-first century how beautiful a woman's NATURAL breasts can be when they don't look like two identical over-inflated party balloons!)

While hitchhiking, Breezy gets picked up by this perv guy who broad brushes the whole counter culture movement of the sixties and early seventies as a bunch of "hippie-dippies,"
while simultaneously trying to put the moves on her. She has to bail on the guy, and ends up outside the Laurel Canyon digs of real estate agent Frank Harmon (William Holden). Frank is initially stand-offish to her--he's gone through a devastating divorce, and anyway, as he notes in one scene, he's twice her age. An understatement because Holden was 55 in 1973, (and actually looked over sixty) and Kay Lenz was 20, playing a character who is ostensibly 18 or 19.

Anyway, she keeps coming back, hanging around, and slipping in and out of her duds in front of him to take a shower and stuff-- in that cavalier manner that chicks had back then (oh, for the good old days) and before you know it--convention be damned-- they've got a thang goin' on.

But Breezy is not what she seems. What she really wants is romance, commitment... and hey, Frank's upscale lifestyle wouldn't hurt either. What Frank wants is to enjoy her favors for a time, and then remind himself of what a foolish old goat he is to think that this preposterous affair could last. And that, of course, leads to the bittersweet part of Breezy .

On the surface, Kay Lenz and William Holden may have been the oddest of Hollywood's odd-couple pairings, but there was a chemistry there that seemed to work, nonetheless--especially in their sweetly erotic candle-lit bedroom scene-- giving (false) hope to all the aging lechers who still maintained hopes they might snag a wayward young thing of easy virtue like Breezy, who would be just as arbitrary about her choice of rutting mates. (Not to be confused, amidst all the election talk, with running mates.)

The acting was nothing special--Kay Lenz was still honing her skills at this point--and Holden's performance is one-dimensional, but fitting in with the overall quality of what we were accustomed to in those days because most of the actors were "acting." No directors like Jim Jarmusch around at the time. (Remember how wooden the performances seemed in those movies from the forties and fifties? It got a little better in the sixties, but still pretty spotty until the likes of Dustin Hoffman came along.)

Breezy, which could best be described as an adult style fairy tale, gets the nod as a curiosity-- sort of an anti-Easy Rider of its era, where the free-spirited flower child stands out as an oddity because she's surrounded by some real squares. Nonetheless, it's an interesting film, if for nothing else than the jaundiced-eyed snapshot of an era it presents.

With some original music by Michele Legrand.







Monday, June 27, 2011

TIMMY'S OVERLOOKED GEMS AND CURIOSITIES


DON JUAN De MARCO--1994

Rated: PG-13


Stars: Marlon Brando, Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway
Director: Jeremy Leven
Genre: Drama/romance

Assessment: GEM!

Any movie that can lift you out of the hypnotic, auto-pilot state of your everyday existence and show you a world where there is greater depth of living and loving, and do it in a thoroughly captivating manner, is one that I will rave about! Don Juan DeMarco is such a film.

A young man (Johnny Depp) wearing a cape and a mask is convinced that he is the legendary Don Juan, "the world's greatest lover." He has made love to over fifteen hundred women. But he ends up in a psychiatric hospital following an apparent suicide attempt because the only woman he has ever really love has rejected him. He is under the care of Dr. Jack Mickler, (Marlon Brando) who is under pressure to start medicating the guy because the dude is obviously delusional. But not so fast...the patient regales his psychiatrist with tales of growing up in Mexico, where he made love for the first time at age 16, avenged his father's death in a sword fight, and later ended up in an Arabian sultan's harem where he took on a "service" oriented role.

Fascinated by the young man's sincerity, (as he charms the pants off of the female employees of the facility) Mickler falls under his patient's spell, and comes to believe that he may actually be who he claims to be.

Don Juan tells his doctor that there are only four questions in life:

What is sacred?
Of what is the spirit made?
What is worth living for?
What is worth dying for?

The answer to each of these questions is: "ONLY LOVE."

The tail begins to wag the dog, and Dr. Mickler soon finds his spirit rejuvenated. He goes home to his wife, Marilyn, (Faye Dunaway) and says: "We've surrendered our lives to the momentum of mediocrity. What happened to the celestial fire that used to light our way?"

He also says: "GODDAMN, YOU'RE A GREAT BROAD, REALLY!" This is classic Brando, so reminiscent of his character in Last Tango In Paris that I wondered if there wasn't some subtle tongue-in-cheek parody of that role going on here, especially when he takes a piece of gum out of his mouth and disposes of it, another deja vu moment from the aforementioned film. (Am I the only one who notices these things?) Or maybe it's just that Marlon Brando, with all his idiosyncrasies, could never truly be anything other than himself. (Even in his blimped- out state of 300 pounds, or whatever he was for this movie.)

Don Juan DeMarco got a PG-13 rating when it came out, but there are as many bare naked ladies flitting about (and delightfully so) as there were in Eyes Wide Shut! Probably would have received an R by today's standards.

In the end, the fundamental question of Don Juan DeMarco isn't whether Depp's character really is who he thinks he is--but rather, are any of us really who WE think we are?