Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Women in Trouble: Grade C


Women in Trouble (2009)

Carla Gugino, Adrianne Palicki, other relative unknowns; Writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez.

Ten women in LA are chronicled for one day. Some of them know each other, some lives intersect spontaneously, but there is no organic narrative connection among most of them, only the movie itself. So this actually boils down to six or eight vignettes, ruthlessly intercut. All these women are obsessed with sex and speak of little else. Two are hookers, two pornographers, two adulterers, one masseuse, and so on. These women talk about cocks, pussies, oral sex, anal sex, and just about every imaginable body function and body fluid.

Nothing much of interest happens however. One woman learns she is pregnant. One learns her husband is cheating, two are stuck together in an elevator for a couple of hours, and so on. The women spend an incredible amount of time prancing around in their underwear, but there is no nudity in the film, and no sex. A few men appear in the film for brief supporting parts.

The dialog and the story are intended to be comedic, and mostly the movie is a comedy, except for the last 45 minutes when everything inexplicably goes emotional, teary, sentimental and maudlin. As a comedy, the movie is pitched to an adolescent taste, not necessarily a bad thing, but this is all girl-talk, lots of reminiscing and telling, no action, and with no character development. For an adult male it is pretty lame, with some exceptions. There was just enough witty writing to keep me engaged, such as, “No I’ve never been to Canada, but I like the food.” There are not enough really funny lines or situations, which is a shame because the writer clearly has the capacity for a better grade of humor.

A serious problem is that all the women look more or less the same: light hair with dark roots, big lips, symmetrical face, strong chin, slim bodies, big boobs; white skin and large, perfect, too-white teeth, all speaking unaccented English with the same level of diction. There are minor variations, but basically they are cookie-cutter Hollywood actors, and with only a few exceptions, were difficult to tell apart. The only interesting casting was a teenage girl, the daughter of one of the women. Despite all their sameness however, they are very good actors, a fact that raises this film above drudge.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Leaves of Grass: Grade B


Leaves of Grass (2009)

Edward Norton, Keri Russell, Tim Blake Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon. Writer-Director Tim Blake Nelson.

Edward Norton displays his remarkable talent by playing twin brothers, one a professor of philosophy at a Northern university, the other a pot-growing redneck in Oklahoma. The professor escaped his steamy southern hometown and his eccentric (if not crazy) brother and mother (Sarandon) years ago, and has made a name for himself, when he is tricked by a false report of his brother’s death into returning to “Daisyville” or whatever the town’s name was. But his brother is alive and wants the prof to show himself to the locals to provide an alibi while he, the pot-grower is in Tulsa dealing with a problematic drug lord (Dreyfuss). Needless to say, the plan does not go well and disaster ensues.

The story is not believable, and the characters unconvincing. For example, the redneck brother convinces the professor to suck on a bong, his first day there, and he agrees. Believable? Not to me. Likewise the prof agrees to the wacky impersonation scheme because, well, because I don’t know why. Then he falls in love, and who wouldn't, with an enigmatic teacher (Russell) because she quotes Walt Whitman. Then a random orthodontist suddenly turns sleuth, discovers the impersonation, and buys a gun to threaten the brothers, for reasons never made clear. Right: an orthodontist would do that. It’s just bad writing.

The dialog is stilted and unimaginative ( “I can’t believe I’m doing this”). There are some redeeming story virtues, such as having the two brothers use distinct vocabularies and grammatical constructions (and accents, too, of course). There are some really funny lines, though far too few, and all the performances are strong, despite the weak material.

Cinematography is traditional and unobtrusive. Music is twangy Okie tunes, presumably genuine, but they drove me up the wall, forcing emergency >>FF. Pacing is unreliable, with lots of sagging dead space, such as cars and trucks driving around (so the dreadful songs could play).

Despite these serious flaws, I recommend the movie just because Norton is so unbelievably good.