Sunday, April 23, 2006

Irresistable: Grade D



Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, Emily Blunt
Writer, Director=Ann Turner

A suburban magazine illustrator (Sarandon) is being driven crazy by a young neighbor (Emily Blunt) who hides things on her and plays tricks to drive her nuts, similar to what happened to Ingrid Bergman in Hitchcock’s Gaslight, except in this case it is completely unbelievable, actually ludicrous. Sam Neill plays himself, as usual, as her husband. It turns out that the neighbor is her long lost daughter, and that’s no spoiler because, oops, please disregard the whole first hour and a half to accept the real ending, which has the quality of stories that end with “...and then I woke up.” Only Sarandon’s fine acting prevents this film from being completely resistable.

An Unfinished Life: Grade C


An Unfinished Life

Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lopez, Josh Lucas

Dir=Lasse Hallstrom

Two geezers live on a defunct ranch in modern day Wyoming. Best acting (almost the only genuine acting) I’ve ever seen from Redford. Maybe since the pretty boy looks have faded he decided to rely on craft. A great job. Morgan Freeman plays his usual Boswellian role. RR’s daughter (J-Lo) appears with her daughter, seeking refuge from an abusive boyfriend. A Faulknerian Grizzly bear provides much needed dramatic tension. Fantastic scenery, although just about anyplace looks good in spring. The director gives the whole movie a quiet, still tone that goes well with the scenery. Good costumes and sets. The story is stereotypical throughout , the script self-consciously cute, but good acting makes it watchable.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Squid and the Whale: Grade B


The Squid and the Whale

Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline and William Baldwin. Director=Noah Baumbach

Precocious brothers, one high school, one middle school, react to their parents’ divorce. All combinations of this quadrangle are explored in painfully, squirmily funny situations and dialog as everyone manipulates everyone else. Daniels is at his best, an arrogant, effete, and emotionally blind intellectual. Set in 1986, and I wonder if it could have been done post cellphone. A lot of the emotion depends on a social isolation that is gone now. The boys give especially well-acted performances. Tight shots on all the actors make the emotions more intense. All the characters are highly exaggerated, which makes them funny, but turns them into script-vehicles, so it is often difficult to sympathize. There is no plot and nothing new being said narratively or artistically, so in the end it doesn’t add up to anything, but it is an enjoyable romp.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Little Fish: Grade B


Little Fish

Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving

A mid-thirties woman (CB) is an ex-junkie working in a video store near Sydney. She wants to get a loan to start her own business but can’t. We see her oddly affectionate relationship with her former drug dealer and her mother. Her ex boyfriend comes to town and teams up with her brother on a drug deal. There is no real plot, but it is a gripping story that feels authentic, demonstrating that once you are in the drug culture, you sacrifice your future, even if you go straight. You never really get out. All the acting is superb and it carries the plodding story. It’s nice to see a tiny portrait of Australia.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha: Grade B


Memoirs of a Geisha

Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe. Director = Rob Marshall

A Cinderella story set in Japan just before WWII. Young peasant girl is sold to a Geisha house, learns the trade, meets but loses prince charming, defeats nasty other geishas in internecine maneuvering, and becomes the greatest of them all, finally falling into the arms of the prince. The sets and costumes are stunning (winning academy awards). Every shot could be framed and hung in a gallery. The photography recalls classical Japanese art and modern Kyoto at night. You could watch the whole (2.5 hours!!) on a big-screen, with the sound off, and find it very enjoyable.

However, the sound is also stunning. The score is written and conducted by John Williams, using plenty of shamisen and shakuhachi in the mix, with solo performances on violin and cello by Yoyo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. It doesn’t get much better than that for film music! The choreography is also excellent. The only thing lacking is an editor. This thing goes on and on and on, for no narrative reason. It’s easy to see where it could have been cut, especially in the first hour. The story is simple-minded, not very dramatic, and not even well-told. The acting is adequate, but with kabuki stiffness rather than passion. Directing is unremarkable. Lots of interesting DVD extras which they had to put on a separate disk (that should have been a clue to them about editing!). But sheer aesthetic beauty makes it enjoyable.

Lost: Grade B



Dean Cain. First time director=Darren Lemke

A businessman is lost driving in the Nevada desert and calls a road support map company but there are so few road markers that even with help, he continues in circles. Then we learn a bad guy is after him, trying to kill him. Good cat and mouse on the highways, with the woman at the road service playing an important character by voice alone. It’s a real psychological thriller, very well acted, and the pace never droops. The only problem is that it is not believable. You couldn’t drive more than 70 miles anywhere in the US without hitting a small town. Also, you would have to have a competent road service to even find a route with so many unmarked, two-lane roads, far from any freeway. And the performance of the hero’s cell phone is nothing short of phenomenal. In addition, there are problems with the back story, elements of which are obvious contrivances. But if you can suspend your disbelief sufficiently, it is an enjoyable movie.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Capote: Grade A



Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener

Biography of Truman Capote during the 5 years or so when he wrote In Cold Blood. Hoffman inhabits the character, as is clear from the DVD extras showing original footage of Capote. The “plot” is very subtle, how Capote cold-bloodedly exploited the feelings of the killers in order to write his book, so there is not much going on except talking heads. It’s a weak “A.” It would have been a better picture if they had focused on the real drama, Capote’s crisis of conscience after the book. But the quality of the acting is so compelling that it keeps you riveted. Great 1950s-60s sets and costumes. Keener does a good job but is subordinated to Hoffman.