Tuesday, November 29, 2011

J. Edgar Movie Review

Earlier this year I wrote a review of Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter that complained of my weariness with his recent lazy filmmaking. I almost began this review of his latest film, J. Edgar, the same way until I went back and read that one. But the fact remains that his biopic of the man who was director of the old Bureau of Investigations and then first Director of the FBI for a total of 48 years is tired, boring and absurd. This is lazy storytelling at its worst.

J. Edgar Hoover always was and remains to this day something of an enigma. We know him as the paranoid director who supposedly investigated his enemies and people he believed to be subversives and radicals. He’s widely suspected of illegally wiretapping and of keeping secret files that were ultimately never recovered (at least in full). There is strong suspicion he was a deeply closeted homosexual and may have maintained a long-term relationship with his number two man Clyde Tolson. There’s even some silly speculation that he was a cross-dresser. But we don’t know much about the man and his motivations for his paranoia and his jealousy when it came to FBI agents who absorbed more of the spotlight than he could stand.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Miracle Movie Review: A Defining Sports Moment on the Big Screen

You may ask yourself what inspired me to revisit a not entirely memorable, though worth seeing at the time, sports movie about a great sports moment from 31 years ago. It was actually seeing Warrior several weeks ago. Both films are directed by Gavin O’Connor and I was curious to see how his nearly excellent sports film from this year compares to one from 7 years ago.

It is perhaps the greatest moment in the history of sports. It at least makes the top five. The United States Olympic Men’s Hockey team did the unfathomable by defeating the Soviet Union in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. There is hardly a more galvanizing moment in American sports history than that one, as 20 college-age amateur hockey players took to the ice and brought down the behemoths, those mythical beasts of the USSR who were regarded as the best hockey team in the world by far and had won the gold in the previous four Olympic games. What most people forget or treat as an afterthought just as Gavin O’Connor’s 2004 film Miracle does is that the US had to play and win a game against Finland to take the gold medal. Beating the Soviets was a great moment, but it would have fallen into the recesses of bittersweet memories of almost-made-its had our boys not won that next game.

Classic Movie Review: The Godfather Part II

At the time it was made, could anyone have imagined that a sequel to The Godfather would possibly be anything near to the quality and sophistication of the first film? And yet Francis Ford Coppola surpassed his own film in many ways with The Godfather Part II. It is wider and more epic in scope, covering both the rise of a young Vito Corleone in 1920s Little Italy and the decline of his youngest son Michael 30-odd years later. It covers the ground both before and after the time period in which the first film is set.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) Movie Review

With The Skin I Live In, director Pedro Almodóvar has crafted what might be described as an almost perfect mixture of Douglas Sirk and Alfred Hitchcock. Those two classic directors have long been big influences on Almodóvar’s films, but I don’t think he has before now drawn the two together and created such a perversion of their work – and I mean that as a compliment.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"I Believe in America": Godfather Analysis Part I

Go to introduction.

That is the line that opens the film over a black frame before a fade in on a close-up of Bonasera. That line sets the tone for the rest of the film and possibly the entire trilogy. In many ways, the film is a celebration of the idea of America and the American dream: an immigrant family settles in New York and builds itself up from having nothing to having everything. America, the land of opportunity, has been very good to the Corleone family.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene Movie Review

Marth Marcy May Marlene is a grim, almost nihilistic portrait of a young woman indoctrinated by a cult with a powerfully coercive leader. The title refers to the woman’s three names she goes by. Her real name, used only by her sister and brother-in-law, is Martha. Marcy May is the name given to her by Patrick, just one of many ways in which he establishes a paternalistic stronghold over the young women on his farm and a method of stripping their old identity from them to mold them into his personal harem. Marlene is the name they all use when answering the phone.

Take Shelter Movie Review: Truly Mad, Deeply

The gathering storm.
Madness, true madness, is a terrible thing. I’m talking about clinical disorders, the kind that most people know little about, even if they talk a great deal about them. Even scientists would probably admit they’re only now scratching the surface of psychological disorders, their causes and their treatments. As laypeople we tend to think of madness as the prototypical depictions we see in movies or even occasionally in real life on the street. We see a man muttering to himself in a park, or maybe he’s even shouting at no one, or everyone, and we point to him and say, “That guy’s crazy.” Movies have given us the lunatic cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the depraved insanity of sociopathic killers in countless thrillers. But the truth is that very few people are afflicted the way pop culture would have us believe, and many more suffer quietly through conditions that might be benign to outsiders or as debilitating and difficult to witness as schizophrenia.

Michael Shannon shot to mid-level stardom with an Oscar nomination for playing the emotionally disturbed neighbor in Revolutionary Road, a performance that, while very good, was still based on a conventional approach to mental illness. Now take his latest movie, Take Shelter, which is a character study painting a portrait of a man named Curtis who slowly unravels before his family and friends. Curtis is a kind of blue collar everyman. He lives in Ohio, works for a mining company, has a lovely wife and dutifully learns sign language to communicate with his deaf daughter. But something is not quite right in his world, signaled by the first image in the film of Curtis staring toward distant gathering clouds and then hanging around while the rain soaks him.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Miami Vice Movie Review

If there’s been a common theme running through the films of Michael Mann it’s been the presence of hard-working men determined and expert in their professions. Think about Russell Crow and Al Pacino in The Insider, Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat – the cop and the criminal – two sides of the same coin facing off against one another. “Miami  Vice,” the hit TV series for which Mann served as executive producer, though a bit lighter and more freewheeling than his feature films, contains the initial germinating seeds of the same theme. These seeds are brought to fruition in Mann’s feature film update of that same series, this time with a hot new cast including Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Jack and Jill Follow-Up

Just to follow up on this because I've just discovered that Jack and Jill is directed by Dennis Dugan and that Dugan, in addition to making his feature directorial debut with Problem Child, has been responsible for 6 Adam Sandler debacles prior to this latest outing.

Looking at his list of director credits at IMDb I began to wonder if any other director with more than, say, 5 films to his name has had such low-rated films. Ed Wood is probably a close competitor.

But let's take a look at Dugan's oeuvre: 12 feature films directed. The lowest rated by IMDb users is Problem Child at 4.6/10. The highest is Happy Gilmore at 6.9. The average for the 12 is a pathetic 5.75. That maybe makes it sound better than average if you know nothing about the ratings at IMDb, but the way people tend to vote, anything less than a 6 is pretty close to unwatchable.

Because I know that people are sheep and will not only keep paying to see Adam Sandler vehicles, but will like them each time, I decided to check out the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, where Problem Child gets a 7% rating based on 15 reviews and Happy Gilmore just misses out on a "fresh" rating by scoring 59% from 51 reviews. He hasn't even had a film that rates over 6.0 since Big Daddy in 1999 and that's the only film of his in 12 years to rank at 40% or better.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, Dugan's films have received 239 positive notices based on 1070 reviews. That's 22% on a scale that counts anything less than 60% as "rotten."

So what are the chances that Jack and Jill is 1) funny; 2) competent; 3) well-received by critics; or 4) well-received by audiences?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

John Cusack focus concludes with Review of Identity

It can be a really effective premise to confine your characters to a single location fort eh duration of the drama. The ancient Greeks were certainly aware of this as a narrative device. It can work best in a thriller and there are many that throw a bunch of people together for a single night and then dispatch them one by one.

James Mangold’s Identity starts eerily and mysteriously with newspaper clippings of a motel murder and voiceover recordings of a psychiatrist (Alfred Molina) talking to the alleged perpetrator. Then suddenly we’re thrust into a motel office as a man bursts in holding his bleeding wife shouting at the clerk to call an ambulance. Then in overlapping flashbacks we see the sequence of events, involving a young call girl, a limousine driver and an aging movie star, and a young boy who never speaks, that led to the accident. Because of a terrible rain storm that has washed out the road in both directions, all these characters and more wind up at the motel together.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

25 Years Ago This Month: November 1986

The fourth Star Trek feature film, Dennis Hopper's only Oscar-nominated role, Mike Tyson wins his first pro boxing title, a large chemical spill turns the Rhine red, the Iran-Contra scandal gets its first exposure, and the loss of a Hollywood legend, all 25 years ago this month.

50/50 Movie Review: Laughing Our Way Through Cancer

50/50 might be one of the smartest films about living with cancer that I’ve seen. That it’s a comedy makes it all the more interesting to me. It’s not a cancer comedy the way The Bucket List is, with two old geezers having adventures that the conditions of their bodies would never permit in real life. 50/50, directed by Jonathan Levine from a script by real-life cancer survivor Will Reiser, is about a man in his late-20s who is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer and how he faces what could be his last days on earth.