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Holiday Movies Roundup

Ok, I have no desire to tru­ly review all of the movies that I’ve seen in the past few weeks, espe­cial­ly giv­en Tbone’s new and detailed reviews. But I would like to quick­ly say a few things about a few movies:

Lord of the Rings
Review: A+

Sim­ply put, the best movie of the year. Vig­go Mortensen should be a star the likes of which we haven’t seen since Har­ri­son Ford. Peter Jack­son did a much bet­ter job the sec­ond time around, and I am only look­ing for­ward to the third film.

Catch Me if You Can
Review: A

I know I’m near­ly alone when I say that Spiel­berg (or Leonar­do Dicaprio, Tom Han­ks, too) does­n’t real­ly do much for me, but Catch Me is a fun film. From the open­ing cred­its, to the musi­cal score com­posed by John Williams, you can tell that you’re in for a ride.

I don’t see what’s so great about the dumpy-look­ing Tom Han­ks in this film, but Leonar­do Dicaprio is great, and the sto­ry is irresistible.

Gangs of New York
Review: B-

Chalk this one up as the dis­ap­point­ment of the year. Of all the hol­i­day movies, I was most look­ing for­ward to Mar­tin Scorce­se’s real­ist Gangs. One tiny prob­lem: Mar­ty can’t make movies like this very well– he should stick to the grit of mod­ern-day new york.

The recre­at­ed streets of ante­bel­lum New York are eye-pop­ping, Daniel Day-Lewis is extra­or­di­nary in his role as Bill the Butch­er, but it’s the direc­tion and edit­ing that screws every­thing up. Take the over-the-top sym­bol­ism when Leo’s chrac­ter toss­es a bible into the riv­er as he leaves on his quest for revenge… Or, the mud­dled edit­ing dur­ing the first nativist/irish gang fight. Save it for the DVD, folks. Maybe then we can see the full Direc­tor’s cut.

About Schmidt
Review: A-

The plot is sim­ple, and unre­solved at the end, but Schmidt was the most supris­ing­ly good movie of the hol­i­days. Despite some crit­ic’s reviews, I thought Jack Nichol­son was the most sin­cere char­ac­ter on the screen. I did­n’t feel as if Jack was giv­ing us the wink wink treat­ment through­out. Der­mot Mul­roney, though he got the laughs, almost soured the film, but Kathy Bates pro­vid­ed enough of a counter to Jack­’s WASP per­sona to make the whole thing interesting.

Wish i had more inter­est­ing obser­va­tions.… but hey, I’ve got oth­er fish to fry.

Radio Cure

Review: A
Wilco FilmI enjoyed read­ing Tbone’s review of the Wilco movie, I am Try­ing to Break Your Heart, and I’m glad to see some­one else writ­ing reviews on Suck­ahs.

It’s odd that a band like Wilco can gen­er­ate so much buzz in the indus­try and among crit­ics, yet remain a band with a small (but very ded­i­cat­ed) fol­low­ing. Despite some video rota­tion and buzz in 1994 on MTV, who sold Wilco in 1994 as an alter­na­tive-coun­try act, they nev­er real­ly broke out. Yan­kee Hotel Fox­trot is, in every mea­sur­able way, an extra­or­di­nary album. Yet, why can’t I stand to lis­ten to it?

I think I have one thing in com­mon with front­man Jeff Tweedy in that I enjoy intel­lec­tu­al­iz­ing music– of course, I do so with my big mouth and key­board, and he actu­al­ly does it. The most strik­ing thing to me in the film, how­ev­er, was hear­ing Wilco play some of the Fox­trot stuff live. How strange– On the album you’ve got these spare arrange­ments with tons of work put into tape loops, sound design and just plain NOISE. He artic­u­lates a desire, in mak­ing the album, to take com­plet­ed songs, and turn them inside-out and decon­struct them. But, when play­ing live, the songs are recon­struct­ed into more coher­ent compositions.

It might be tempt­ing to sug­gest that the album is more a reflec­tion of Tweedy’s work, while the live stuff is the result of the whole band. But hav­ing seen the film, it’s clear that every mem­ber of Wilco was inte­gral to it’s record­ing, includ­ing Jay Ben­nett, who lat­er gets kicked out of the band for basi­cal­ly being a pain in the ass. As a char­ac­ter, he’s both obnox­ious and sympathetic.

I sup­pose when you take any exper­i­men­tal album on the road, (with the excep­tion of maybe Kid A), you can’t cap­ture it the same way in a live set­ting. And, to be hon­est, I am hap­py for it. I loved what I saw in the film’s per­for­mances, and I can’t wait to see them play live.

Far From Heaven

Review: A+

Julianne Moore has always rep­re­sent­ed some­thing pecu­liar to me– an actress who get all the best roles, but rarely con­vinces me that she’s wor­thy of that right. Case in point: Her accent in the Big Lebows­ki was down­right irri­tat­ing, have you seen the Ship­ping News(?), and the deal was sealed when she stepped into Jodie Fos­ter’s shoes in Hannibal.

Yet peo­ple run around say­ing that she should be a nom­i­nat­ed for 4 best-actress oscars every year.

Well, let me tem­per my anger, because I’ve just watched Todd Haynes’ mas­ter­ful­ly writ­ten and direct­ed Far From Heav­en, star­ring Moore and Den­nis Quaid.

This film is a study in 1950s real­ism and atri­fice, from the open­ing cred­its and music score, to the hid­den worlds of gen­der roles, sex­u­al­i­ty and race. If you want to know the basic sto­ry, you can read Wes­ley Mor­ris’ Globe review here.

I agree with Mor­ris’ asser­tion that Moore is absolute­ly incred­i­ble– warm, deter­mined, and nat­ur­al, in a way I’ve nev­er seen before. And the film, despite its set­ting and time peri­od, is a gen­uine and sym­pa­thet­ic sto­ry, treat­ed untyp­i­cal­ly with­out much irony. Haynes seems hell bent on re-recon­struct­ing the 50s nar­ra­tive in this tone, while includ­ing those nasty lit­tle issues that have always been either swept under the rug, or lam­bast­ed as vir­u­lent­ly as the Taliban.

One thing that struck me as odd, while watch­ing Far From Heav­en, was that the Den­nis Quaid char­ac­ter was giv­en lit­tle of the sym­pa­thet­ic ener­gy. What does it say that the gay Haynes has lit­tle to say about a clos­et­ted homo­sex­u­al mas­querad­ing as a het­ero Orga­ni­za­tion Man?

The crux of the sto­ry lies with Moore, and my two cents are that Julianne has earned her­self a tru­ly deserv­ing oscar nomination.

Punch Drunk Love

Review: A+

This film is being sold in trail­ers as show­ing a rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent Adam San­dler… I believe Roger Ebert said that he could­n’t look at an Adam San­dler movie the same way after this.

Well, I don’t think it’s a total­ly new char­ac­ter for San­dler, but I agree that Punch Drunk Love both refines and expands on the fun­ny nice-guy he’s played in the past, while offer­ing a new tar­nished dimension.

San­dler’s char­ac­ter, Bar­ry Egan, is a shy, slight­ly obses­sive-com­pul­sive, eas­i­ly-spooked busi­ness own­er, with 7 annoy­ing pas­sive-aggres­sive sis­ters who con­stant­ly pep­per him with insults and dri­ve him to vio­lent “freak-outs”, we are told, since child­hood. He’s def­i­nite­ly got avoidant issues.

Any­way, Bar­ry sells whole­sale bath­room sup­plies out of a ware­house in the Val­ley east of Los Ange­les, and spends a lot of his time think­ing about how to turn Healthy Choice pud­ding into thou­sands of fre­quent-fli­er miles. Stay with me! It’s odd, yes…

As the sto­ry con­tin­ues, one of the sis­ters intro­duces Bar­ry to a friend of hers, played by Emi­ly Wat­son, and a very strange romance ensues.

I’m not go any­more into the plot or sto­ry, so if you’re inclined to learn more, check out A.O Scot­t’s review in the Times.

What I’m inter­est­ed is this thrown-about idea that this is a total­ly new Adam San­dler– I don’t think it is. Bar­ry’s life, from the begin­ning, is one of strange unease. San­dler is quite good at com­mu­ni­cat­ing the dread of social and pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ships in Bar­ry’s life, and that feel­ing is under­scored by a creep­ing cin­e­matog­ra­phy and beau­ti­ful­ly dis­ori­ent­ing sound design. You get the sense that his co-work­ers don’t know quite what to make of him, and his sis­ters and broth­er-in-laws are fre­quent­ly vio­lat­ing his pri­va­cy, dig­ni­ty and confidence.

Again and again, Bar­ry is pushed so far that he schiz­o­phreni­cal­ly explodes from his usu­al shy with­draw­al, to vio­lent out­bursts– just the kind of bipo­lar out­bursts that San­dler employed in his less-than-intel­li­gent out­ings (Bil­ly Madi­son, Hap­py Gilmore, the Wed­ding Singer… kind of inter­change­able, no?).

Punch Drunk Love’s hero is the same kind of lik­able nice-guy the girls can feel good about, yet the slap­stick vio­lence usu­al­ly found in his movies is far more psy­chi­cal­ly charged here, and in the end I’m not left won­der­ing Isn’t Adam San­dler an odd choice for that role?… he’s perfect.

Emi­ly Wat­son plays Lena, the adorable woman who, for some unknown rea­son, falls in love with Bar­ry. Lena is inter­est­ing as well, because she too vac­il­lates in a slight schiz­o­phrenic man­ner from a shy sweet­heart, into a woman who aggres­sive­ly goes after the man she wants. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, she is one of the less devel­oped char­ac­ters– I real­ly don’t under­stand why she want­ed to meet Bar­ry in the first place. Lone­li­ness? But Wat­son is amaz­ing on screen.

There is a tor­tured and sen­ti­men­tal nature to Bar­ry, but San­dler and P.T. Ander­son nev­er make it seem con­trived or false– have you seen Robin Williams or Chris Rock in dra­mat­ic roles? I mean, seriously.

Sim­ply put, this is a very good film.

Red Dragon

Quick review: B+

Red Drag­on is enjoy­able, even though Antho­ny Hop­kins’ per­for­mance is ridicu­lous­ly irrel­e­vant and even caricatured.

Edward Nor­ton, Emi­ly Wat­son and Ralph Fiennes all turn in their usu­al excel­lent per­for­mances. Wat­son shines as a blind love-inter­est for the crazy ser­i­al killer, creep­i­ly played by Ralph Fiennes, who shows off his uncut mem­ber on film for the thou­sandth time…

Nor­ton does the laid-back inten­si­ty thing so well– where­as fear almost seethed from Jodie Fos­ter in her encoun­ters with Han­ni­bal, Nor­ton looks almost bored by the old man.

And who would­n’t be by now? Hop­kins him­self seems to be phon­ing in per­for­mances recent­ly– he’s plain­ly awful in this past sum­mer’s bomb Bad Com­pa­ny, where even Chris Rock could­n’t keep me from want­i­ng to BOOOO.

Maybe they should let some­one else play Hannibal?

Igby Goes Down

Review: A-

I was excit­ed last week when I walked into my neigh­bor­hood cof­fee­house, and saw a stack of free movie pass­es on the counter. As it turns out, the free movie this time around was one I was look­ing for­ward to watch­ing… Igby Goes Down.

I real­ly liked this movie– it’s bru­tal­ly fun­ny, despite the drugs, sex, and a jeff gold­blum crotch shot (with his box­ers on, mind you).

When we were in New York City last, around the 4th of July, when it was 100 degrees, we all went to the Sun­shine Cin­e­ma to see the Dan­ger­ous Lives of Altar Boys, an amus­ing film that stars Jodie Fos­ter as a nun, and involves com­ing-of-age hijinks. My point is, that I was pleas­ant­ly suprised at Kier­an Culk­in’s performance.

And he’s only bet­ter here– this time as a Salinger-type reject, raised in a dys­func­tion­al (yet welathy) fam­i­ly, wiith an ice-queen of a moth­er in Susan Saran­don, an eccen­tric Jeff Gold­blum as his God­fa­ther, and Claire Danes as a fuck buddy.

The film mean­ders between flash­backs and the present, fol­low­ing Culk­in’s rich-boy char­ac­ter as he gets kicked out of schools, drops out, and heads for New York. His life there is one of pover­ty, drugs, and, he achieves, even­tu­al­ly, some kind of truth.

I have to say that it is a nice com­pan­ion to the Jenifer Anis­ton movie, The Good Girl, and it’s unde­ni­able to say that Hold­en Cau­field is still alive and kick­ing in 2002. Both are great films.

Here’s a ques­tion though– what’s with all this fas­ci­na­tion with rich, dys­func­tion­al fam­i­lies?? Should we blame Wes Ander­son?

The Chelsea Hotel

Ethan Hawke has made a film called Chelsea Walls [WEBSITE] [VIEW TRAILER]. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame did the sound­track, and the movie stars Uma Thur­man, Kris Kristof­fer­son, Vin­cent D’Onofrio & Natasha Richardson.

The Chelsea Hotel used to be grand, the place to live for New York City artists. Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, Ten­nessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hen­drix; they all passed through the hotel’s halls. Still, even though the iron facade has become rusty, new dream­ers come every day, hop­ing to be inspired by the ghosts of the past.

The film looks like the typ­i­cal art­sy-talky wank­fest that I usu­al­ly have to beg some­one to accom­pa­ny me to… still, the visu­al style in the trail­er is intrigu­ing, as is the cast­ing choic­es. In the end, even if the film can be reduced to a beat-era homage where artists suf­fer in their pover­ty to achieve a sort of beau­ty, I think it would be inter­est­ing enough to see just what’s in Ethan Hawke’s head… he seems to be an intel­li­gent guy.

Shallow Film

ho ho… pret­ty fun week­end– saw ‘shal­low hal’ on fri­day night. not so bad.

Also, going to see Bill Press (the lib­er­al on CNN’s Cross­Fire) speak on his book tour at Bor­ders… I hope he speaks and takes ques­tions, because i haven’t got the $25 to pur­chase his book. isn’t life exciting?