Tuesday, June 30, 2009

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (now playing at home where you just blamed that fart on your dog again)

Revolutionary Road--from Richard Yates' 1961 novel-- could have been subtitled: "Lives of UNQUIET Desperation." What came into my head as I watched this bored young suburban couple from the fifties go at each other tooth and nail was a Mexican soap opera, where someone is pissed-off at someone else in every stinking scene. This movie isn't THAT over the top, but it gives you an idea of the predominant tone.

Leonardo DiCaprio is Frank Wheeler, and Kate Winslet is April, his wife. They're the perfect couple, or so their friends believe. But Frank dislikes his job, and April is chronically dissatisfied with...well, LIFE. Some of us are just never going to be content with the nice house with the white picket fence and the 2.3 kids running around in the yard--even though that was the ultimate dream back in the fifties. April feels that she's special--an aspiring actress--but when that doesn't go well, her disappointment is all consuming. So she adopts a new dream. She and Frank will move to Paris, where she'll work as some kind of secretary...or sumpthin.
It's half-baked pie in the sky, but she wins Frank over to the idea. April just wants to LIVE,
so practicality is not her strong suit.

Now, their friends believe that the Wheelers are whacked, but don't dare let on because this was the last decade we had where people were actually polite to one another. But the fire is back in the young couple's eyes as they look forward to their "liberation." Until things start looking up for Frank at work--a promotion--and the bird in the hand begins to look much better to him. Will this be the death of yet another of April's dreams? The pull of security. The pull of freedom. Something we've all struggled with at times.

DiCaprio and Winslet swing for the fences in their fighting scenes--two people in "love" who cross the line and go for the jugular--trying to inflict as much emotional abuse on each other as they can before their shouting match voices give out. Perhaps not since Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have we witnessed an onscreen couple emit such raw emotion.

Kathy Bates has a turn as realtor Helen Givings-- and Michael Shannon is wickedly delightful as her mathematician son, John, who's on furlough from the mental institution where he's been receiving electric shock treatments. John is a loose cannon, and when he comes a calling, his blunt and prickly assessments of the Wheelers' relationship further stirs up the hornets nest that is their life together. Ironically, John seems to be the only character in Revolutionary Road who has the freedom to be who he wants to be. And I, for one, would love to be able to just rattle off whatever I damn well please and have it dismissed with a wave of the hand and a "Oh, He's not well!" Come to think of it...

Revolutionary Road is, above all, a film about dreams--and how it is often more important to be chasing a dream than to catch up with one. Lose your dreams and you may lose your mind...or worse.

When that happens, it's all over but the shouting.


Friday, June 26, 2009


So Sandra Bullock was hitting the TV talk show circuit, promoting The Proposal by playing up her "nude" scene--a first for her. When I think about it, it seems a little odd for a woman to go on national TV and say, HEY--COME CHECK OUT MY BODY, EVERYBODY! It just illustrates how convoluted our moral standards are in this country. If a teacher posted racy photos of herself on the web, she'd lose her job. If a politician fools around on his spouse, it's a big scandal. But actors flaunt convention all the time in their steamy sex scenes...and they even allow it to be filmed! HAVE THEY NO SHAME? Actors are held to no moral standard whatsoever, because it's just "acting"--even though they may exert more influence over a greater number of people (their fans) than any one teacher has over her relative handful of students.

At times, we may feel like knocking other people around a bit to relieve our anger and frustrations. But we don't do that--we watch a football game instead. Actors provide a similar kind of safety valve by portraying things that many of us would LIKE to do ourselves, but know that we'll get into trouble for if we do. And if an actor is really feeling the part, it ain't acting--okay? (Remember, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie fell in love on the movie set.) So they're getting away with it, is my point.

And as to the heretofore mentioned "nekkid" scene--well, kiddies, it's a PG-13 flick, so get your expectations back in line with reality, and understand that there are many creative ways to conceal the naked truth--and Bullock is an expert at it.
And NOW...back to our movie! Margaret (Sandra Bullock) is editor-in-chief at a New York publishing firm. She intimidates all the underlings that inhabit the place, including her assistant, Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds). But she's a Canadian citizen, and a snafu with her visa may result in her getting kicked out of the country...unless...AHA! She'll get Andrew to agree to a sham marriage (and later, a quickie divorce) and the problem will go away. Andrew goes along with it--he knows she's in a vulnerable position--and he can squeeze some concessions out of her. Like publishing his novel, for one thing. But there's an Immigration guy (Denis O'Hare) who is on to them from the beginning, and he hounds them all the way to Alaska where they've gone to meet Andrew's family, just to make the charade appear legit. The gang that plays Andrew's family: Mary Steenburgen, (mom) Craig T. Nelson, (pop) and Betty White ("Gammy") embodies inspired casting. And you can always count on something coming out of Betty White's mouth that's off the wall and unexpected. If you've never been to Alaska, (one of my old stomping grounds) you need to see this movie just to get a taste of how pristine and downright gorgeous the place is.

You can sniff out the ending of this one early on--in fact, you can pretty much figure out how ANY romantic comedy is going to go, once the premise is laid out. But that doesn't count as a strike against The Proposal. A rom com is a rom com is a rom com...and when in Rome, you do as the Romans do (unless you're the pope). In short, the leading couple is going to end up happy, one way or another. Where romantic comedies succeed is in sowing the seeds of doubt among non-film critics as to whether that happy ending is actually going to come about, as they cross their fingers and hope against hope that it will.

Going in, I had this one pegged as more lighthearted fluff--Sandra Bullock's stock in trade. But DAMN, it's so nice when a movie exceeds your expectations by a mile and then some. Lighthearted fluff in the minds of some, perhaps-- but this is a beautiful film. Not only cinematically, but in spirit as well. And it's genuinely funny.

The Proposal was made the way they used to make movies...with tremendous heart and devotion to the craft. I say you better see it.


(I'm only taking off a few points for the "too much ado" nekkid scene.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

POWDER BLUE (now playing at home where your dog has just chewed the buttons off your favorite shirt)

Powder Blue is and indie film that has the key elements an R-rated feature SHOULD have-- that's nudity and cussing--PLUS an interesting cast, and a fairly compelling story to tell. It's sort of a poor man's Crash, as it follows the exploits of four lonely souls whose lives intertwine in L.A. during the holidays.

Forrest Whitaker is Charlie, an individual so messed up that he goes around offering strangers money to shoot him and put him out of his misery. If I see one more movie about somebody who wants to die because he screwed up his life (like this one and the disturbing Seven Pounds with Will Smith) I"m going to go jump off a building! Each of us needs to play the hand we were dealt, otherwise what kind of a damn Texas Hold 'em poker game would this be? Anyway, there's more to Charlie than what's revealed in the beginning. Whitaker, with an Oscar already resting on his mantle, works for his supper as a tortured soul who's reached the end of his rope.

Rose-Johnny (Jessica Biel) is a stripper, (and also desperate...for love) with a young son on a life support system and near death. On top of THAT, she loses her dog! Qwerty Doolittle, ( Eddie Redmayne-- and I think "Qwerty" must stand for quirky here) who works as an embalmer at a funeral home, finds the pooch and that initiates his connection to Rose-Johnny. By all appearances they're an unlikely pair, but my uncle Viggo used to eat cucumber and marshmallow sandwiches, so there's no accounting for taste.

Ray Liotta plays Jack Doheny, an ex-con whose poor health may send him to an early demise. Jack has a thing for Rose-Johnny and goes to see her at the strip club. He obtains a private session with her, then pushes her off of him when she's just doing her job by trying to get him all hot and bothered. Because the film did hold my interest, I'm giving Powder Blue a pass on some of its unrealistic elements--but THAT scene, and all the others like it in dozens of movies I've seen over the years where some guy "nobly" rejects the advances of a sexy woman because he just wants to TALK...well, I just sit there and yell at the screen: ARE YOU A MAN, OR WHAT? Of the four primary characters, Jack's motivations are the most baffling. He becomes a kind of sugar daddy to Rose-Johnny, who reluctantly relents to it, for a while. It seems that Jack may be trying to vicariously re-live his past with an old love through Rose-Johnny.

Patrick Swayze, Lisa Kudrow, and Kris Kristofferson all have minor roles. You've never seen Swayze as such a blatant stereotype, and may not recognize him at first. And I hate to say this, because I've always liked him as a song writer, but Kris Kristofferson is a crummy actor.

Besides the obvious comparison to Crash, Powder Blue also borrows from The Shining-- in a scene that I won't give away--but you'll recognize it.

In the end, some of these quirky folks find redemption and a chance to move on, while others end up face first in the crapper.

But that's L.A. for you.


Saturday, June 13, 2009


Summer's here and the time is right for dancin' in the street. Might as well, cuz the current crop of movies from Hollywood leaves a lot to be desired. That's if you're like me and prefer mature themes and at least some semblance of realism in your films. By that standard, you could say we're in a movie recession right now.
Hollywood's made a disturbing shift toward the PG-13 film, for purely economic reasons. Butts in the seats is the name of the game, so to hell with artistic vision and realism--that's potentially offensive and might get us slapped with the dreaded R rating, and that means fewer butts...
So the bulk of your PG-13 flicks are now silly, illogical, fantasy based pap--17 Again being a prime example. What you're getting for your nine or ten bucks is stuff that's barely above the level of the TV sitcom. Yeah, there may be some profanity, and sexuality may be ALLUDED to, (not shown) but that's about the only difference.
As I peruse the listings at one of our local cineplexes, I observe that twelve films are currently showing. ALL TWELVE of them are either PG-13 or PG...not an R-rated feature in the bunch. Yes, it's gotten THAT bad.
Thankfully, independent film makers are still turning out creative work--like Synecdoche New York-- and as a backlash toward Hollywood's capitulation to mediocrity develops, and it surely will, serious film fans will migrate toward intelligent independent fare, which means more of those kinds of films will get made.
Now, let's look at some of the individual flicks I haven't reviewed and don't intend to review, along with a couple of things I'm actually looking forward to. I didn't see Duplicity because I'm tired of Julia Roberts always playing such likable characters. It's basically the same character across the board, just different circumstances. No matter who she's portraying--she's likable. Even when she was a hooker in Pretty Woman, she was the most adorable hooker you'd ever want to meet. Just once, I'd like to see her challenge herself and play an axe murderer or something without being likable.
I'm not going to see Dance Flick--it looks like it will be wickedly funny-but again, too silly to be satisfying. Night at the Museum 2, same thing. Paul Blart Mall Cop. Observe and Report. Same thing.
Here's another category I will not bother with: The PG-13 horror flick. Are you kidding me? There was a time when virtually all horror films were R-rated, and for good reason. They were truly SCARY...like The Exorcist. Somebody popping out from behind a curtain and saying BOO isn't quite going to cut it.
And I don't want to see--generally speaking--a film based on the exploits of a historical figure everyone's familiar with, such as John Dillinger. I don't care what kind of reviews the forthcoming Public Enemies gets...I STILL KNOW THE ENDING. I don't think I'll ruin anything for you by revealing that Dillinger gets caught!
Here's what I AM looking forward to in the immediate future (and what you can expect to see reviewed on this site): The new Transformers movie. It looks like a hoot. Yeah, I know it's fantasy--but it's not going to PRETEND to be real...that's what I hate the most.
And I'm always a sucker for a good romantic comedy. Got to see Sandra Bullock in The Proposal. Don't know how good it will be, but Sandra actually has a nude scene...something to tell your grandchildren about.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


If people put as much time, effort, and care into their MARRIAGES as they put into their gaudy, extravagant, drunken, wasteful WEDDINGS--divorce would be virtually nonexistent.

Idiots--what are you celebrating? You haven't accomplished ANYTHING. Stay together for a couple of years and THEN have a celebration...you've earned it.

And wouldn't it be nice to have that money you blew on a ONE day celebration when it comes time to send your kids to college?


DUM DE DUM DE DUM...dat's why were getting divorced now...cuz we never thought dat deeply about ANYTHING!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (now playing at home where you may be wishing you HADN'T gotten married)

Rachel Getting Married marks the coming of age of Anne Hathaway as a serious actress, in this down and dirty examination of dysfunctional family dynamics that got her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Her cursing is reminiscent of an uncensored George Carlin routine, and she appears topless in a bathtub scene (view partially obscured by arm placement--but hey, I'm just sayin'). Anyway, it's a far cry from The Princess Diaries and all that other G-rated crapola she was in early on.
Hathaway is Kym Buchman--outwardly a spoiled, acid-tongued attention whore (she's from Connecticut, though, so we'll have to give her a pass). Inwardly, she's a young woman dealing with tremendous guilt over a tragic incident she precipitated when she was sixteen. She's the black sheep of the family, on furlough from her latest stint in drug rehab to attend the wedding of her sister, Rachel. And since Kym is clearly the one we're supposed to regard as being screwed-up, it's tempting to marginalize the rest of the family's problems. But mom (Debra Winger) and Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt) are both in need of some kind of therapy--they're both harboring long-standing, unresolved grief issues--the source of their thinly disguised contempt for Kym. Rachel-- going for her PHD to become a psychologist--ironically reveals herself to be an unrelenting, unforgiving shrew towards Kym for most of the movie. Dad(Bill Irwin) is a well-meaning but inept kind of guy--also crippled emotionally--and the only one who tries to defend Kym.
Upon arrival at the family home, Kim finds that Kieran, (Mather Zickel) a guy she just met at a 12-step meeting, is there to act as best man for the groom. Kym and Kieran immediately slip away to make it with each other, and nothing surprises us about her behavior--given her track record. The film proceeds through an overly long wedding rehearsal dinner, and all the preparations for Rachel's big moment. As the multi-racial assemblage at the dinner (Rachel's betrothed is African-American) is toasting and yukking it up--many trying a bit too hard to come off as hip and clever--Kym delivers a self-deprecating speech, an attempt at humor that falls flat with the group. Despite their pretense of cool, they're a pretty uncharitable bunch.
If you enjoy the banter of childish sibling rivalry, punctuated by lots of F-bombs, as Kym and Rachel try to heap blame and guilt upon each other for past failures and misdeeds--you'll love Rachel Getting Married. (As I've learned from personal observation, this is the way sisters often demonstrate their affection for one another.)
Kym is desperately trying to come to terms with, and to make some sense of her life--and when she draws her mother into the blame game, the cat fur really flies. As tensions mount for her, Kym gets behind the wheel and becomes Lindsay Lohan on acid.
Who's to blame for a young life gone out of control? Bill Irwin gives a stellar performance as the dad, who dotes on Kym too much. Debra Winger--already a legend--doeesn't disappoint as Abby, the estranged mom who is present for the occasion, but not really there.
Bottom line, Rachel Getting Married is about forgiveness, and how pitifully few of us in this world are willing to embrace it.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Going in, I figured this to be a film with plenty of potential to insult my intelligence, (what's left of it) but I'm delighted as duck doo doo to report that IT DIDN'T! I'll explain why in a moment.

Terminator Salvation is the fourth in the Terminator series. I saw the original 1984 film with "Ahnuld," but missed the next two, so I had some catching up to do. Fortunately, the blanks were pretty well filled in so that someone totally unfamiliar with this series could get his bearings early on.

The year is 2018, and the war between the humans and Skynet (the machines) has been raging, with the machines having decimated most of humanity. The likely here-I-come-to-save-the-day hero is John Connor, (Christian Bale) leader of The Resistance. The UNLIKELY co-hero is Marcus Wright, (Sam Worthington) a criminal who is executed in the beginning of the film, but gets resurrected (didn't insult my intelligence) to become Connor's ally in the fight--but not until Connor overcomes serious doubts about the guy. Wright has received an "extreme makeover" courtesy of Skynet, and is now a cyborg--part human and part machine (didn't insult my intelligence). Connor is thinking: Whose side is this dude on? Luckily, though, Wright's heart is still human--which is not lost on Blair Williams, (the exotic Moon Bloodgood) Resistance fighter pilot who recognizes the good in Wright from the get-go. This is where the film makes the case for reverence for ALL life--even if you don't know what category to fit it into.

Skynet has a crapload of human prisoners--they plan to develop a new kind of Terminator using live tissue. It's up to Connor to lead the resistance into a climactic attack on Skyynet's headquarters without killing the captives in the process--even though his orders from headquarters (which he rejects) are to bomb the place to smithereens, no questions asked. I like a movie--no matter what the genre--that deals with philosophical issues, and some of them in Terminator Salvation seem to reflect on the Bush-Cheney regime's handling of the Iraq war. There's the issue of "collateral damage,'' innocent civilians being killed as a result of a war strategy that assumes the end justifies the means. And there's a clear poke at the Bush-Cheney policy of torturing prisoners, when Connor balks at some of the tactics he's asked to use by emphatically stating that if we become just like THEM, what's the point of winning?

Now, here's the part where Terminator Salvation COULD have insulted my intelligence, but didn't. Blair Williams, the fighter pilot, is accosted by a number of men. She's a tough cookie--she gets her licks and her kicks in and puts up a good fight, but the men eventually overpower her. Not like that stupid character Jennifer Garner played in that stupid espionage TV series she was in, where she would routinely kick the crap out of half a dozen men all at once without breaking a sweat. That's cartoon stuff--and I can only think that the writers who try to patronize women in this silly kind of way must be hoping that once their wives or girlfriends see it onscreen they'll be extra nice to them in the bedroom.
Terminator Salvation is like the sensory overload of Christmas morning. The clanking bogeymen on the Skynet side--whether on foot, on wheels, or in the air--are such imaginative creations that you can only sit there with your mouth hanging open. It's a thrill ride of immense creative genius, and if there were ever a prudent reason for strapping moviegoers into their seats--this is it.

The only "huh?" kind of thing I can point out is that the movie is set in the year 2018. That's only nine years from now, and I highly doubt that the machines will be ready to challenge man for dominion over the planet by then. Then again, we've already come out with the "Smart Car," so you never know.