December just got a whole lot less interesting
Columbia Pictures’ ALL THE KING’S MEN has moved from December 16, 2005 to 2006 TBD.
Thoughts on movies and other media from a man who loves movies
Columbia Pictures’ ALL THE KING’S MEN has moved from December 16, 2005 to 2006 TBD.
Near the end of Elizabethtown Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst) tells the lead character Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) that he must go deep into the “beautiful melancholy” of everything that has happened to him. That pretty much sums up director Cameron Crowe’s modus operandi for the movie. While he would certainly describe the film as whimsical, the word Drew uses to describe the look on his father’s face the first time he sees his dad’s corpse, the truth is that the film is unfocused. Containing elements of a corporate satire, a romantic comedy, an affectionate look at an eccentric southern family, and a warm-hearted lesson about living through tough times, Elizabethtown fails to make any of these elements cohere. Orlando Bloom gives a one note performance, but he is playing a one note character who spends the whole film in a listless suicidal funk doing little more than waiting to cry. He offers nothing that compels an audience to pay attention to him, so the average viewer will begin focusing on the edges of the film. Crowe obliges by stuffing the film with ancillary characters. Alec Baldwin, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, and Bruce McGill all have a scene or two that showcases their talent, but they are also each given moments so misconceived that they produce little more than head-scratching disbelief in the audience. Playing a character simply too good to be true, Dunst embodies her perfect, unselfish woman with just enough pain below the surface to make her interesting even though she remains entirely unbelievable. Without her, the film would be close to unbearable. What makes this mess of a movie all the more fascinating is that Crowe’s relentless bittersweet melancholy seems entirely heartfelt. He is not talking down to his audience, tricking them into feeling big emotions. Crowe’s honesty and earnestness make it difficult to hate the film because he plainly believes the moral of his own story. However he became so focused on sharing his feelings in each moment that he never saw the big picture. Elizabethtown is a mess of a movie that only a talented writer could create.
Moviegeek Memo celebrates it's first anniversary today. Thank you to all the loyal readers, the occasional readers, the bookmarkers, and all friends old and new.
John Madden’s adaptation of David Auburn’s award-wining Proof retains much of the work’s outstanding dialogue. There is a lack of emotional immediacy to the film, but that has more to do with the characters being from a highly academic world. These are people who are always attempting to be exact and clear, and much of the drama of Gwenyth Paltrow’s character – a part she played on stage in London - comes simply from the fact that she does not want to face in clear and exact terms what she is feeling. The trick to the presenting this material is maintaining the balance between the characters. The audience has to constantly wonder which of these characters they can believe. Madden does a fine job of keeping this element of the play in tact, even if Jake Gyllenhaal’s Hal tips the scale by being played a bit too nice. Madden also does not “open up” the play so much as go deeper into it. He does a fine job editing the film in order to reveal information in ways one is unable to on the stage. This is a fine film with solid performances.
Stephen Colbert's remarkable talent is on full display in his new Comedy Central series The Colbert Report. It is a dead-on satire of Bill O' Reily, Chris Matthews and every other talking head with shows like theirs. The first episode laid out the comic premise of the show with a sharp edged wit that stings in large part because Colbert, just as he did non The Daily Show, never cracks a smile. He does not let the audience in on the joke. When one considers how the point of the show is to put on display how idiotic Reilly and his ilk are, that lack of a wink to the audience hammers home the concept that all of those TV personalities are simply acting as well. The show itself may run out of steam, after all he isn't skewering the news he's skewering a certain segment of the television media, but it is still a brilliant parody that draws blood from its victims and should leave any viewer laughing.
Had George Clooney's sophomore directorial effort been made for HBO or network TV it would be hailed as one of the all-time great made-for TV movies on a par with say Angels in America or Roots or Brian's Song. The film has a great look thanks in part to ace cinematographer Robert Elswitt. The black and white manages to recall the fifties television milieu of the film, and also helps drive home the stark sincerity of Clooney's intentions. The worst thing that can be said about the film is that it is very modest and straightforward. This is the kind of film that history teachers will be showing to high-school classes for a long time. There are no wasted shots. The performances are strong across the board, but it is David Strathairn who shines as Edward R. Murrow. His Murrow is a stoic, principled figure who doesn't even crack a smile during the course of the film, But Strathairn, really one of the best actors we have, understands the power of a subtle gesture when it comes from a person who gestures very little. He reveals the turmoil he is experiencing inside with merely the raise of an eyebrow. Not that he needs it, but this is the kind of performance that will keep an actor working in films for a decade. From his public life and his directorial career it is apparent that Clooney is turned on by show business and politics. This film is less ambitious than his debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but it is certainly a better film. As long as he continues to balance his fascinations with show business and politics, and continues to offer up examinations on where those two powerful strains of American culture interact, Clooney should continue his growth as a smart and interesting director.
Unlike many adaptations of novels, Curtis Hanson's In Her Shoes feels like they retained almost everything that happened in the book. The film is loaded with incidents, events, and behavior. In lesser hands the sheer amount of all that storytelling materials would sink most films. However, Hanson has proven to be one of the best workmanlike directors of his time. He can work and work well in any genre because he understands both how to tell a story and how to put a film together that is always entertaining to watch. As he does with each of his films, Hanson gets superb work from his actors. Cameron Diaz surprises by playing a character almost wholly unsympatheitic for much of the film. Her willingness to play a selfish, self-loathing, good-time-girl goes against her endearing image, allowing her to improve as an actor without sacrificing an ounce of her sex appeal. Toni Collette believably plays both halves of her ambivalence towards Diaz's character, always tempered by her character's straight-laced, in-control role as the big sister. She gets the best moment in the film when she discovers an act of betrayal committed by her sister and hits her with an insult so perfect that the audience may laugh until a split second later when they realize how devastating a remark it is. Shirley MacLaine shines as the long-lost grandmother of the sisters. While MacLaine has a history of playing larger-than-life, this time around she plays a very grounded older woman who knows what she is, knows what she has done, and has the strength to try to make things right. Like the two main characters, In Her Shoes is flawed but certainly appealing.
Jodie Foster gives a performance in Flightplan that is way better than the film deserves. She embodies intelligence mixed with an end-of-one’s-emotional-tether intensity with a force that compels a viewer to believe what she is experiencing, but the problem is that what happens in the film is so implausible that the audience becomes disconnected from the film. As the situation grows more and more ridiculous it becomes easy to wish that an actress less talented than Foster were playing the lead. The problem is compounded by a pitch perfect Peter Sarsgaard who understands exactly what kind of film he is in and delivers a scene-chewing performance that allows the viewer to laugh at the silliness of the situation without minimizing the director’s intended level of menace. Director Robert Schentke so enjoys playing sub-Hitchcockian games with perspective and framing that he has no time to focus on anything else. An attempt to comment on the ease with which a crowd can make racist conclusions about Arabs is simply exploitative, sickeningly so when one ponders on how easily the screenwriter and director let the audience and the characters off the hook in this regard. The third act is a clunky mess, offering one implausible scene after another until all that is left is sympathy for an actress who gave her all and was given no support whatsoever.
Trick or treating with Scruffy
The gifted actress Sarah Polley recently exchanged E-mails with Terry Gilliam, who directed her when she was a child. There is much to discuss about the exchange, but what I am most impressed with is the lack of defensiveness on both of their parts. This might have been difficult for both of them, but do not doubt that these are both adults with strong points of view.