About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

this little piggy went to the cinema

Wherein I will do a wrap on movies I've seen in recent months without blogging about.

Pinky:  Pride & Glory,  seen Saturday afternoon Nov. 8, 2008 at the AMC Courthouse 8, Aud. #7.  1.5 slithy toads.  This is the kind of movie I've been going to less as I cut back some from 5 or 10 years ago on the number of movies I make time to see.  It had gotten mediocre reviews, and it has been awaiting release for a year, but I decided I should nonetheless see it because (a) it stars Edward Norton, whose generally impressed from Primal Fear on thru and usually makes good choices in the movies he makes and if not good ones then interesting and (b) co-stars Colin Farrell, another actor who is often interesting in his choices if not always good.  Alas, this was not an interesting choice for either of them.  Raise your hands if you've seen as movie about corrupt cop, loving wife, conflicted family, father figure on force, etc. etc. etc.  This is that movie.  I'm not sure why these two actors were attracted to the script, and they're pretty much the only interesting things about.

Ring Finger:  Changeling, seen Saturday afternoon Nov. 8, 2008, at the AMC Courthouse 8, Aud. #8.  2.5 slithy toads.  This is the other Clint Eastwood movie, or the other Angelina Jolie movie, or the other John Malkovich movie, or something like that.  It's based on a true story from the earlier years of the century,  when the LAPD was under attack and was happy to have reunited a mother with her missing son.  The fact that the mother didn't think the boy she was given was hers was not welcome news.  Jolie's performance was described alternately as a tour de force by some critics and a monstrous bit of overacting or dis-acting or mis-acting by others.  The movie as a whole was brilliant or too long, best for its willingness to look at the large context of things or worst for spending a half hour after the resolution of the underlying mystery of the boy to the aftershocks of the case in LA.  And to me, I guess the biggest sin is that I just don't care about the debates. I liked the movie well enough, but I can't muster any passion for arguing any side of it.  It's a better movie than Eastwood's other 2008 release, Gran Turino, but at least Gran Turino inspires some passion in me for undercutting it, while the best I can do ith Changeling is give a giant ambivalent "meh" and a lukewarm recommendation.  It's not as good as the other Angelina Jolie movie of 2008, Wanted, which is a ton u fun.  I mentioned in that post how I left with a smile on my face, and I still have one.

Middle Finger:  Valkyrie.  Seen Saturday afternoon January 24, 2009 at the AMC Empire 25, Aud. #8.  2 Slithy Toad.  Like Changeling, this leaves me with deep ambivalence.  Changeling was flat in my heart but at least had a little life on the screen while Valkyrie is flat in both places and garners half a toad less.  I've always been a Tom Cruise fun, at least since Top Gun, and there's nothing wrong with his performance but also nothing exciting about it.  Or really much of anything else in the movie.  It was interesting to see the mechanics of the aborted coup in Berlin.  Meh.

Index Finger:  Defiance.  Seen Saturday evening January 24, 2009 at Clearview's Ziegfeld.  4 slithy toads.  I'd been kind of eager to see Valkyrie, being that I'm a big Tom Cruise fan and a real Xmas event release and etc., I'd even tried seeing it a couple weeks before I actually did but gave up because the line at the box office was just too too long.  I ended up not caring so much for it at all. I was terribly ambivalent about seeing Defiance, but I've decided to give it my highest rating.  I'm not totally sure it deserves, part of me wants to knock it down to a 3.5, but to be honest I can't think of a good reason for deducting any points.  Why the ambivalence about seeing it?  A lot of that has to do with Edward Zwick.  His Blood Diamond was a pleasant surprise, much livelier and interesting than the all-over-map reviews would have suggested, and Courage Under Fire was a delightful pleasant surprise to see when it was sneak previewing at the Uptown in DC, but as a rule I've found his movies like Glory and The Last Sumarai to be worthy but not necessarily good.  And it was playing at the Ziegfeld, which I love and resent because it outlasted the superior Loews Astor Plaza as the only single-screen movie-going palace in New York City.  But at the end of the day, I decided I should give the movie some Ziegfeld points and be sure if I was seeing it to see it there, and I did get kind of a buzz when I walked in to see that there were actually going to be 400 or maybe even 500 people in the theatre's 1100 seats instead of 20 or 60.  And once the movie begin, it caught me up in its spell.  It's based on the true story of 3 brothers, played by Daniel Craig, Liev Schrieber and Jamie Bell,  who managed to keep a community of Jews safe in the Belarussian forests for several years during World War II, ultimately saving over 1000 lives from the Holocaust.  It's full of many of the usual "based on true story" things where you're wondering just how much is true and how much Hollywood; did the Liev brother really come to the rescue like the calvary in a Western the way it's depicted here?  But since it isn't yet another sports movie or underdog tale I was willing to cut it a little more slack for helping to bring a different chapter of the WW2 story to wider prominence.  It's made with the zestiness of Blood Diamond instead of the worthiness of Last Samurai.  David Denby's otherwise very favorable review in The New Yorker singled out the James Newton Howard score for special oppobrium, but I didn't mind it at all.  Well, I did, but for personal reasons that the lushly orchestrated violin-focused score here was a little too reminiscent of his score for The Village, which was the last movie to play the Astor Plaza, so I'm sitting trying to enjoy this movie in the Ziegfeld and the score just keeps dragging me back to my sad memories of the last picture show at my beloved Astor Plaza.  It's very well acted by all three leads, and if maybe not so much by the supporting cast I'm willing to say it's not so much the acting as the Hollywood-ese of the scripting.  When you're caught up in something, a book or a film or a TV show or a whatever, when you're really really really caught up in it, you can overlook things.  And when you're not you can pick nits.  This is one of those movies that caught me up in its spell, that succeeded at doing what a movie like this is supposed to do, that's probably the best Holocaust movie since Schindler's List, that had be on the edge of my seat wondering how some of the events would play out and then leaning back teary-eyed, and it gets my highest rating.

Thumb:  Revolutionary Road, seen Sunday morning/afternoon January 25, 2009 at the AMC Empire 25, Aud. #13.  One slithy toad.  Pleasant surprise, that management moved some movies around overnight so this was playing on a bigger screen on Sunday than it had been when I was at the same theatre for Valkyrie the day before.  Not a surprise, that I didn't really like the movie, though my reasons for not liking it ended up being somewhat different than I had anticipated.  From the coming attraction, I'd had the idea that this was going to be another Douglas Sirk melodrama look-alike, totally superfluous for traveling in the tracks of any number of other movies like that such as the 2002 release Far From Heaven.  So the good news is that this was aiming much higher than that, but the bad news is that it's one of those serious movies that pretty much drowns in its own pompousness and silliness.  Kate Winslet getting a Golden Globe for this?  It's like giving Best Actor to John Lovitz's Master Thespian, only here it's a thespianette in high heels.  Conceptually, why do you want to take the two great lovers from the wonderful Titanic and then put them back together as miserable lovers in a marriage so completely and totally failed that you can't understand why they ever got married in the first place?  Why give the couple two children who are then so conspicuously absent or conveniently present throughout the entire movie to the point that I thought it was a laugh line when Leonardo diCaprio says how nice it is to have a day without the kids when I've spent half the movie thinking they sure do spend an awful lot of time playing with the next door neighbors or doing community service after school or hiding in the basement or something?  Why name the movie after the street but then never put the house on that street within the context of the street as a whole?  There's one scene when Leonardo storms off and we see Kate in the door of the house and I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for a long shot which would show Kate and the house and the street and tie it all up in a nice visual bow, but after all that waiting we finally get only a medium shot that shows Kate in the door of the house from a bit of a difference but still with the house in isolation.  It's pompous, it's unpleasant, it's a shame.  If I might be overrating Defiance it's possible I'm underrating this, but I don't think so.  Because there's so much talent in this misguided movie that the opportunity cost of the movie is much higher.

With these five reviews I think I've covered pretty much all of the remainder of the fall/winter crop to date.  And reviewed the lion's share of the movies I've seen since commencing the blog almost a year ago.  I'd still like to do a more detailed post on Towelhead, but I feel as if I've done enough of the spadework that I can think in the days ahead about talking some about my thoughts on the Oscar nominations and otherwise summing up the 2008 film year.

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