Thursday, September 27, 2012
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman
Director: Robert Lorenz
The latest Clint Eastwood vehicle, Trouble With The Curve, is standard formulaic fare, with the major plot developments pretty easy to spot coming straight down the pike. And yet, I'm still just enough of a romantic sap to have gotten drawn in by the emotionally manipulative Walter Mitty-in-a-baseball-cap climax, which saves the win for this movie in the final inning.
Clint Eastwood is Gus Lobel, a snarly over the hill major league baseball scout who possesses a sixth sense about evaluating the upcoming young talent he has been hired to observe. And he needs it, because his eyesight is failing. (Eastwood is now 82 years old. In the real world, a Gus Lobel would have been put out to pasture long ago, but Eastwood can pass for ten years younger than his chronological age, so the bounds of believability are not stretched too terribly tight on that score.)
So Gus's thirty-something daughter, Mickey, (Amy Adams) an attorney with a good shot at making partner in her firm, puts an important case on the back burner to become dad's seeing eye dog in the evaluation of one particular player--a hot prospect named Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill.) But is she ultimately sacrificing her own career for the sake of saving not-so-dear-old-dad's? (They've had a strained relationship over the years.)
Enter the obligatory romantic interest for Mickey in the person of Johnny Flanagan, (Justin Timberlake), former pitcher and now working as a scout for a different team. But Mickey has had trouble getting close to people, and it's tied up with the abandonment she felt about her father's absence during her formative years.
Amy Adams turns in the only noteworthy performance in Trouble With The Curve. though they've tried to make her character some super-human savant, like the ones who have memorized the contents of the telephone book. Yes, she's a chip off the old block, but she spouts off obscure details of decades old baseball games (who were the three batters that Sandy Koufax retired in the bottom of the ninth when he pitched his perfect game in 1965? That kind of stuff.) Nobody who doesn't sit around and devote their whole life to memorizing baseball statistics would come up with that stuff, and as an attorney we assume she has better things to do, so here they HAVE stretched the bounds of believability to the breaking point. It may be a small thing in the context of the entire film, but for me the devil is in the details.
Clint Eastwood will never veer too far from some modified version of Dirty Harry, or the sullen cigar-chomping tough guy from his spaghetti western days, and he growls his way through Trouble With The Curve in similar fashion. He does get a shot at demonstrating some emotional depth here, but comes off sort of like Popeye crying in his spinach. But fans won't care, because if they are true fans they have long ago accepted his limited range, and they are in love with the persona--kind of like the way that I will watch anything Zooey Deschanel is in and become completely absorbed into the black holes of her eyes, and not remember or care about anything else in the movie.
It's all wrapped up in a neat bow at the end, but the climactic scene is a real fist-pumper, and for that reason I am grading this movie on the curve.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Stars: Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Jullianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby
Director: Paul Weitz
Being Flynn opens with Jonathan Flynn's bombastic narration: America has produced only three classic writers: Mark Twain...J.D. Salinger...and ME! Of course, we've never heard of Jonathan Flynn, (Robert De Niro) so at the outset we know the guy is off his nut.
The narrative passes from father to son--like the writing ability Jonathon has purportedly passed on to Nick Flynn. Nick (Paul Dano) weaves a tale about his alcoholic, delusional , con man of a dad who shows up in his life after being absent for most of it. The story centers on a homeless shelter where Nick has landed a job, and where his dad has taken up residence. Faced with having to deal with the man up close and personal, Nick struggles to not become his father--though his sometimes girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby) begins to observe more and more similarities-- as the debate of nature versus nurture is opened once again. We see the nurture aspect of Nick's life in flashbacks to his deceased mother (Julianne Moore) who raised him in her husband's absence.
Jonathan is an out and out racist and homophobe, and Being Flynn is that rare creative work where there are no punches being pulled in the name of political correctness to tone down his offensive language and behavior (the script tries to be faithful to the real Nick Flynn's award winning 2004 memoir, Another Bullshit Night In Suck City.) And that, in my opinion, is why Being Flynn had such a short run in the theaters. I was all set to see it, but I blinked and it was gone. Suffice it to say the average movie goer may feel squeamish with the in-your-face crudeness that spills from Jonathan's lips at every turn (though I couldn't help but cackle at some of it). So in a climate where certain words and ideas have essentially been banned from public expression in America, let's just quietly make this film disappear, (I can hear them saying) and anyone who really wants to see it can wait for the DVD. Which I did.
And I say too bad that not a lot of people saw it, because De Niro is on top of his game as an individual who has hit bottom. I was flashing back to Ratso Rizzo, Dustin Hoffman's character in Midnight Cowboy, though the similarity is only that they are two brilliant portrayals of down-and-outers. But, you'll be happy to know, the theme here is redemption, and whether it's possible for a man like Jonathan Flynn. Or his son for that matter. With a captivating soundtrack by Badly Drawn Boy.
Being Flynn is not a pretty movie. But it is beautiful.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde
Director: Brian Klugman & Lee Sternthal
Genre: Romantic drama/ Mystery
A friend of mine predicts that Jeremy Irons' performance in The Words will garner him an Oscar nomination. My crystal ball is somewhat murkier on that score. It's a damn good turn, to be sure, but knowing how the Academy normally has to be ga ga about the film itself to bestow such individual recognition--and The Words is getting panned by a lot of critics--all bets are off. Those who aren't dismissing the film, however, are glowing about it, creating a dichotomy of opinion that I always find intriguing, and therefore ready to jump into the fray and lay out the naked truth...the gospel...the straight poop. (Regular visitors to this site know that I've never dispensed any crooked poop!)
Fact is, that by the time the closing credits were rolling, I was blown away by this movie--but it wasn't until the actual ending that it had grown on me to that degree. The Words is a tale within a tale within a tale, which can make you forget who the Original Storyteller is to begin with...kind of like all of us wee lost souls here on planet earth (the "riders on the storm" that Jim Morrison sang about).
Bradley Cooper is Rory Jansen, a talented writer, but apparently not talented enough to get his novels published. When he discovers an old manuscript that he instinctively senses is better and more marketable than anything he has created himself, he does some soul searching--but not a whole lot of it--and decides to claim the work as his own. Now a celebrated author, Rory's karma catches up to him in the form of the old man who actually wrote the book (Jeremy Irons)
Interwoven is the story "Old Man" (he is never given a name) created in his novel, about his days as a GI in Paris, the woman he falls in love with, and the personal tragedy they bear together.
Eventually we are steered back to the creator of both these fictional tales, writer Clay Hammond, (Dennis Quaid).
Or ARE they fictional? Heh heh.
Or...has a writer so fallen in love with one of his own characters that the lines between fiction and reality have become so blurred as to be indistinguishable?
The ending of The Words should leave you questioning just what is and what isn't--which may be disconcerting to some--but as a writer I was entranced by the ambiguity...by the possibilities being raised...by a film that actually made me think enough about it as I was heading for the exit that I forgot to stop and take a pee! And one that I will definitely consider seeing again. The only question in my mind is whether the average film goer is going to find it quite as fascinating as some of us literary types will be wont to do.
Grade: B +