August 2012 posts
COSMOPOLIS (2012/IN THEATERS) You either love David Cronenberg’s movies or you don’t. I count myself a fan– but I do have my limits. Unlike his latest group of films (A Dangerous Method, Eastern Promises, A History of Violence) which were considered almost normal, with Cosmopolis the director returns to form. Based on the novel by Don DeLillo, with a screenplay by Cronenberg himself, the film is structured as a series of vignettes, all occurring on a single day and centered around Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson)—a 28 year old wunderkind of Wall Street who moves around a futuristic and decaying NYC in his fully equipped plush limo (and we do mean fully equipped). Where is he going? He wants a haircut—across town. The limo serves as both an office and an extension of Packer. Invited inside are various staff members who discuss technology and security issues, the strengthening of the Yuan (against a bet by young Packer) and the latest news from Asia (not good). Also invited in are Juliette Binoche (for a quick screw) and Samantha Morton (to talk about the philosophy of time, money and the future). The head of security for Packer (Kevin Durand) appears often at the window to talk about “credible threats.” Packer does leave the vehicle at several times during the day, most notably for impromptu meals and attempted conversations with his new wealthy wife (Sarah Gadon) as well as for a quick roll in the hay with an attractive security guard. And two of my favorite actors–Mathieu Almaric and Paul Giamatti–appear as the “threats” to Packer (I won’t say which one is more serious). The film is existential to be sure and full of plenty of talk, some of it interesting, some too pretentious to be interesting. I have not read the book on which the film is based—but it is now seen as “prescient” for predicting the Occupy Movement years ahead of its occurrence.
Cronenberg brings to the film his usual strong production values. The cinematography by Peter Suschitzky (so much of it inside the limo) is gorgeous, as is Howard Shore’s soundtrack. And Robert Pattinson does a fabulous job IMHO as the cold and isolated young emblem of the 1%. Hard to know whether to recommend this film to many viewers, but do check it out if you like Cronenberg movies or if you’re in the mood for philosophy. But don’t be fooled by the movie’s trailer– it made the whole thing look like lots more fun than it is.
IN BRUGES (2008/DVD) I’m of the opinion that Colin Farrell is a seriously talented actor — in addition to being a hunk! But I think he shows more of that talent in his small films. Give me “Ondine” over “Alexander” or “A Home At the End of the World” over “Miami Vice.” In keeping with that spirit, I highly recommend “In Bruges” as the antidote to the recent remake of “Total Recall.” Not that Farrell isn’t solid in his latest effort– he’s just not as brilliant as he is in this one that won him the 2009 Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical. Already a cult classic, the movie was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who was nominated for an Oscar for his debut film—not bad! A dark comedy (make that very dark) and hard to categorize really, think of the movie as a sort of British version of “Pulp Fiction,”–funny as hell and riveting in the style of a B+ mobster flick. It’s set in the medieval town of Bruges (Belgium) and uses that setting as one of the main characters of the story. The film centers on Farrell (as Raymond), a newbie gunman who has screwed up. His partner is Ken (Brendan Gleeson wonderful as always); the two hit men have been sent from London to this quiet city at Christmastime to await instructions from their crazy boss Harry (a brilliant Ralph Fiennes). While waiting, they run into a remarkable array of characters, including a dwarf actor (Jordan Prentice) in town to film a “Euro trash movie,” as well as a beautiful drug dealing Belgian woman (Clémence Poésy) who takes a shine to Raymond, There are loads of other small roles, all played to perfection in the film. The dialogue is sharp and funny, and the accents are positively thick! On top of all that, the movie’s soundtrack is haunting and perfect. I hesitate to say anything more for fear of spoiling your fun when you see it—just take my word for it and don’t miss this one! Rent it at your next opportunity and see what Colin Farrell can really do.
THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012/IN THEATERS) Roger Ebert says it best: “The dialogue is concise, the cinematography is arresting and the plot is a murky muddle.” The Bourne Legacy is the first in the series directed by Tony Gilroy (who also directed Michael Clayton) and was co-written by Gilroy and his brother Dan who together penned the screenplays for the previous three Bourne movies. There’s quite a back-story to the film, which was originally meant to be a true 4th in the series with Matt Damon returning as Jason Bourne and Paul Greengrass returning to direct. However, the two backed out over script differences and in fact, exchanged open barbs with Gilroy who complained loudly about Greengrass’ direction of his script for The Bourne Ultimatum, while Damon dissed Gilroy’s earlier script and credited Greengrass with saving the movie. Ultimately, the studio—not wanting to miss out on squeezing more dollars out of the series—invited Gilroy to re-script the fourth film. Gilroy thus created the new plot that references Bourne but stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, no.5 in a group of biologically altered secret agents now being run in a program called “Outcome.” The film’s tagline says it all: “there was never only one.” It turns out there were a handful of others, all hooked on green and blue pills that significantly enhance their physiological and mental capabilities. As we first meet Renner, training in the wilds of Alaska (for no apparent reason other than to show us beautiful scenery), he is carefully counting his little pills and working out ways to get more. This theme continues throughout the movie as Cross eventually connects with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), part of the team who have created the virus strains which can result in permanent enhancement if administered correctly. The two head to Manila where the virus is stored. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Edward Norton as Retired Colonel Eric Byer is rapidly shutting Outcome down, feeding his remaining agents little yellow pills that cause them to drop dead, blood dripping from one nostril. Arguing with Norton are faces and characters from the previous three films, including Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, and David Straithaim. Peter Finch makes an appearance as the doctor behind the research and Joan Allen reappears oh so briefly as Pamela Landy. The movie is not worthy of its predecessors IMHO and deserves its mediocre 54% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Too much crosscutting, too little plot and unfortunately for Renner and Weisz, not much to build on. Fans have enjoyed the action sequences, most notably the final one in Manila, but I have to say I thought they were long and ultimately boring. Some series just need to finish up, but judging by the ending of this one (and certainly thanks to a good opening weekend box office), we’ll be seeing more of Aaron Cross and probably soon. Maybe Gilroy will get better.
HOPE SPRINGS (2012/IN THEATERS) If you’ve seen the previews for this film (and how could you have missed them?), you have already seen some of the funniest parts of the movie. But that’s OK because you’re in for a treat just watching two of our greatest actors delivering big time on screen. The film is an interesting mix of seriousness, laughter and sheer awkwardness, willing to pose realistic questions about sex and sexual attraction between two older, long-married people. As the movie opens, we meet Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) and we see their daily routine: as he reads the paper, she makes him one egg (fried) and one slice of bacon—the same every morning; he gives her a peck on the check and leaves for the office, briefcase in hand. After dinner each night, he falls asleep in the lounge chair with the golf channel playing in the background. She yearns for more and looks wistfully at him before nudging him upstairs to bed, where they sleep in separate rooms as they have for ages. The scenes are meant to look familiar and they are—here’s a couple whose children are grown and who have fallen into a routine that never changes. So, imagine Arnold’s surprise when Kay confronts him with an airline ticket and a challenge to join her in the quaint village of Great Hope Springs, Maine, where she has booked a $4,000 counseling week with a specialist in “repressed marriages.” Here’s where the movie kicks into gear. Steve Carrell is surprisingly well cast as Dr. Feld, who gently but firmly prods his clients into revealing their deepest secrets, fears and desires. Feld assigns Kay and Arnold sexual tasks every night—some leading to truly funny scenes, others not funny at all. I was surprised at what an unusually honest film this is and how it basically refuses to take the “cute” way out in the standard Hollywood style. And what makes it all work is the fabulous, understated acting from both Streep and Jones. They have left any vanity behind, looking over 60 for sure, slightly over-weight and with plenty of wrinkles—tough for those sex scenes. She creates a combination of quiet, mouse-y-ness and serious determination while he has the challenge of playing a man whose exterior looks confident but who is masking insecurity by withdrawing. And they make it all feel real, using small gestures and quiet looks, slight smiles, sad eyes—you get the picture. They are terrific and the film would not work without their consummate skill. Not the greatest movie of the year, but definitely worth seeing, even if you haven’t hit 60 yet!
JACKIE BROWN (1997) / SPECIAL SHOWING (Denver Film Society, August 9, 2012) To kick off this year’s Denver SummerFest–a weekend of events organized by The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force–our local film society offered Quentin Tarantino’s kick-ass cinematic love letter to Pam Grier, complete with an appearance by Grier herself! Wow…this was clearly a not-to-be-missed event and it even included tributes to Grier from three sexy “show-girls,” at least one of whom sported a gorgeous afro. Perfect. Grier spent her high school days in Denver and is a graduate of East High, one of Denver’s leading public high schools. Of note, another famous East High grad is Don Cheadle.
In the Q&A leading up to the film, Grier talked about her tough up-bringing, featured in her 2010 book entitled ”Foxy: My Life in Three Acts” which is about to become a feature film (some scenes are to be shot locally and Pam encouraged all of us in the audience to turn out for bit parts!). Grier became famous in the early 1970s, starring in a string of moderately successful women’s prison and blaxploitation films including the infamous 1974 Foxy Brown. Tarantino sought her out specifically for the title role in Jackie Brown; he developed the screenplay from Elmore Leonard‘s Rum Punch to fit Grier (the character was a blond in the book). The movie was Tarantino’s eagerly-awaited follow-up to Pulp Fiction (1974). He cast Samuel L. Jackson again, this time as Ordell Robbie, the bad ass gun runner in the piece alongside Robert Forster as Max Cherry, a bail bondsman; Robert DeNiro as the dim-witted Louis Gara, just out of the joint and hanging with Ordell; Bridget Fonda as Melanie, Ordell’s blonde chick; and Michael Keaton in his first performance of FBI/DEA agent Ray Nicolette. BTW: Keaton as Nicolette can also be seen in Steven Soderbergh‘s Out of Sight (George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez) which is also based on an Elmore Leonard novel. Jackie Brown was relatively well received when it came out, with both Grier and Jackson nominated for a Golden Globe. Grier was also nominated for a SAG award as well as a Satellite Award for her performance in the film. I’ve always loved the film–the storyline and dialog are fabulous– and despite a relatively low-quality print at last night’s showing, the movie still delivered. Tarantino once called Grier the “first female action star.” How true. Keep it up, Pam!
Kudos to the Denver Film Society and all concerned.
Grade for Jackie Brown and Pam Grier: Big-ass A
“I don’t know what was different about the way I was raised or the way I reacted,” Vito Russo says in HBO’s excellent 90 minute documentary about his life, “but I never once, not for a second, believed that it was wrong to be gay, that it was a sin, that homosexuality was evil.” Russo, born in 1946, died of AIDS in 1990. He became an activist for gay rights following the June 27, 1969 police raid on a Greenwich Village gay bar famously named the Stonewall–an event which is credited with giving birth to a new era in the Gay Rights Movement. Russo, a 23-year-old film student at the time, was among the crowd at the Stonewall and would go on to become one of the most outspoken and inspiring activists in the LGBT community’s fight for equal rights. Specifically, he was a key player in three different organizations during their formative years: GAA (Gay Activists Alliance), GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power). Russo was also a prolific writer who, thanks to a life-long love of movies, specialized in celebrity interviews. Of note, he interviewed Lilly Tomlin for “The Advocate” when she “came out.” His most famous book “The Celluloid Closet” (published in 1981) presents an exhaustive survey of gays and lesbians on film, starting in the early days of cinema, through the days of the “Code” which tried to clean up the movies, and right on up to films like Midnight Cowboy. To create the book, Russo analyzed hundreds of movies in their original reels (without the benefit of digital technology, mind you!) and created a “road show” which he took to gay film festivals and college campuses all over the world. As part of the show, Russo would give informative lectures combined with fabulous clips showing openly gay scenes from pre-Code movies and sly references to gay relationships in film afterwards. In the documentary we get to see quite of few of his clips—made to order for all us Serious Movie Lovers! Russo continued writing, lecturing, speaking out and acting up until just months before his death and the interviews with his colleagues, family and friends are very moving. All in all, a good refresher as we read today’s headlines. Catch the film on HBO or HBOgo–it’s worth the effort.