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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.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Colin Brothers

So it's Awards Season, which means the Variety Screening Series is going on, and one again man of the screenings have a ticket allotment for Museum of the Moving Image members. I've cut way back on movies this year as I've gotten incredibly incredibly busy. Ten years ago, I would look for reasons why I should see a particular movie, and now I often look for reasons not to so I won't feel as bad about not going. But my general policy for the freebies is to say "yes" to the invite unless there's a scheduling conflict. Last year, that meant seeing the godawful Blindness and the excellent Rachel Getting Married and many others in between.

Julianne Moore of Blindness was at the Q&A this year for the much better A Single Man, seen Monday Dec. 7, 2009 at the Landmark Sunshine, auditorium #1. This film, directed by the fashion designer Tom Ford (he headed Gucci, I am told), is based on the 1962 novel of the same name. A gay man in a closeted time finds out that his lover has passed away. He decides to commit suicide, and the movie chronicles his last day. I've not read the book, but the reviews and Q&A reveal that the suicide bit was added to give some structure to the script that wasn't in the novel. Colin Firth has been touted for his performance, and it's very very good. Firth's one of those all-purpose British actors who's been in things from Shakespeare in Love to Bridget Jones to Love Actually to The English Patient, whom you rarely really notice but never disappoints. Julianne Moore is less successful in the film, largely because she has an underwritten role that you may need to have read the book to understand, of a divorcee who's also one of the closest friends to the Colin Firth character. In light of Tom Ford's fashion background it's no surprise that the eye candy that helps brighten Colin Firth's last day is really really nice candy, featuring the British actor Nicholas Hoult, little seen in the US since About A Boy, as a flirtatious student, Matthew Goode in flashback as the dead lover, and a Spanish hottie playing a Spanish hottie.

There's a keen visual eye to the whole movie, however, and not just to the costume design, the hair design, the makeup, etc. Parts of the movie, especially in the beginning, are shot in such desaturated color as to border on black and white. As Colin Firth finds more joy over the course of the day, the movie gets more colorful, and in some scenes the palatte can switch back and forth like a mood ring. I've read some reviews that consider this unwanted artifice, but it worked for me. There are so many films that don't take advantage of what film can do that I'm pleased to see a first-time director who's doing something to take advantage of the medium.

Hoult, Moore and Ford did the Q&A, and all three were dressed to the hilt. I should have been in black tie, it seemed, because they certainly were. It was Hoult's 20th birthday, and with Hoult as with the actors who play Bill and Jason in True Blood, it's always interesting to hear the real voice for the actors vs. their role voice.

And then there's Colin Farrell in Crazy Heart, seen Sunday December 13, 2009 at the Victor Borges auditorium of Scandinavia House. This was not part of the Variety series but rather a member screening for the Moving Image. Crazy Heart has become a very highly touted film for Awards Season on account of Jeff Bridges performance as an alcoholic and washed-up country music singer. The film was done by a division of Paramount, they didn't want it, it was rescued from possible direct-to-video by Fox Searchlight, and their efforts to position Bridges for Best Actor contention received some early validity from the LA Film Critics.

Is Bridges good? Yes. He inhabits the role like me sitting in my recliner. So naturally and so thoroughly that you can't see the acting, and not a touch of Master Thespian about the performance.

And he's so good and so likeable and so natural in the role that I managed to forget for around 2/3 of the movie that I was doing one of my least favorite things when I go to the movies, which is watching a drunk do the stupid drunken things that drunks do. I've never enjoyed watching movies of this sort, from Don's Party thru Barfly thru any other exemplar of the art that I've seen.

It's not until we get to the "drunk loses child in mall" plot device that I finally realized that's what this movie was. Because the event didn't really make sense for the character who seemed drunk in a not-that-bad-a-drunk kind of way. And it's just such a device. Hackneyed. Didn't Bailey lose Owen in the mall in Party of Five?

At least I could get annoyed at that. Bridges' performance can't hide the fact that this character spends most of the movie doing things that just aren't very interesting, and as much as I liked Bridges' performance I was having trouble staying awake. Yes, yes, yes, we all learn in the creative arts that everything's been done before and it's more in the quality of it than the what of it, but the lost child in mall was in this case the culmination of so many cliches of the drunkard movie being checked off like sports movies cliches. Great performance, too bad the movie isn't.

But Colin Farrell, he steals the show. Farrell's played movie star in things like SWAT, but as the director pointed out in the Q&A afterward, he is at heart a character actor, and in Crazy Heart he's totally absorbed in the role of Tommy Sweet, a young country singer whose idol/mentor was the Bad Blake character played by Bridges. You wouldn't know he's Scottish because he does a great country singer, singing and all. And you wouldn't know it's Colin Farrell, he's so submerged in the role, except that his blue eyes are something special that you can't hide. And eventually you watch those smoldering blue eyes coming at you from this country singer and you go "that's Colin Farrell," and then you're all the more fascinated at the transition that you're seeing. It's a stunningly good performance.

According to Bridges, it's Colin Farrell who found a guy named Ryan Bingham playing in a club in LA and mentioned to director Scott Cooper, and Bingham shows some real "it" in a brief role as the lead singer for the band that's doing backup for Bad Blake at the bowling alley performance that starts out the movie.

Robert Duvall is really good in the movie.

There are an awful lot of very good performances in this movie, and it's too bad director Scott Cooper didn't get a better script out of the co-writer Scott Cooper, because it's abundantly clear that Scott Cooper has a way with actors.

Between Firth and Farrell, I've been kept in Colins this week, and there are worse places I could have been.

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