Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ice Harvest

I'm a fan of John Cusack's work. In fact when I saw Say Anything for the first time it actually inspired me to become an actor. For whatever reason the guy speaks to me.

Which is why it's so disappointing to see his work lately. He's obviously a talented guy, but there doesn't seem to be any kind of pattern or plan in the way he chooses material. I mean watching movies like America's Sweethearts was painful for me.

Anyone want to watch Serendipity or Must love Dogs?

I mean obviously the guy wants to make some money....... but man this is ridiculous.

What the hell happened to the guy who made The Grifters, Being John Malkovich, or even High Fidelity?

I have to admit I had a tiny bit of hope when I saw the publicity for this film. For one thing it wasn't a freaking pg-13 romantic comedy, and there is a gun on the poster. Which means there might be some action and it's not a boring ass chick flick. Under closer inspection I also noticed the script was written by Robert Benton of Bonnie and Clyde fame, and Richard Russo (Empire Falls, Nobody's Fool). What also perked my interest was that it was directed by Harold Ramis. Which would lead me to believe that there was some comic potential.

Unfortunately that wasn't the case.

The script in it's present form is a wanna be comic noir thriller. John Cusack plays Charlie Arglist, a lawyer for the mob, who with the help of Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton) steals money from his mob boss. We don't see how it goes down, for some reason the action and the con happens before the film starts. Basically the plot of the film is about trying to stay calm, and not make any mistakes, or raise suspicion before they both can get the fuck out of Dodge. Obviously things don't' turn out as planned, and Charlie has to improvise to try and escape before it's too late.

The biggest problem I had with the film is that it's just not funny. I'm not sure who dropped the ball here. I mean Ramis and Cusack have the ability to be really hilarious. But something just doesn't click here. It almost makes me think that the script started as standard film noir, and the powers that be tried to make it into a crime comedy when the script really didn't support it. Like maybe some studio head wanted to make it more like a Tarantino film. We all know that there's not many movies out there like that.....right?

In any case the film is not a total loss, there are a couple of suspenseful sequences. Like a fun bit with a body in a steel trunk on a old wooden dock over an icy lake. But a lot of the movie just drags as we get some back story on Charlie's family life. Kind of standard boring family strife and wishing for a better life stuff.

As far as performances Cusack plays the straight man to Oliver Platt's drunken friend bit. Connie Nielson turns in her usual solid performance, and easy on the eyes appearance. Billy Bob is solid in what little he's in. Randy Quaid shows up in a menacing turn. All serviceable and solid work.

But basically the film just blends into the forgettable movie pile. We all know that's a big ass pile of movies. It's mildly entertaining for an hour and a half, maybe a couple of chuckles, couple of interesting sequences, not too boring, but also nothing impressive yet not especially awful.

Just o.k.

I guess if someone is really in a bind, and there's nothing left on the video wall, and they don't want to check out the classic or foreign film section this is there movie. At least one has the chance to see the glimmer of potential that John Cusack still has to do good interesting work.

It's now available on DVD.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Where the Truth Lies

Atom Egoyan's film was notorious for it's failed attempt to escape an NC-17 rating. Unfortunately more publicity was made for the supposed provocative scenes rather than the movie as a whole.

The story is a fascinating mystery about a young writer (Alison Lohman) who is trying to uncover the mystery of what caused the death of a young lady, who is found dead in the bathtub of a famous 1950's singing comedy duo. Although they were not charged with the murder, the event destroyed the comedy team, and changed both their lives forever.

Among the many things that are enjoyable about the movie is the outstanding performances by Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth. The two actors navigate through the different generations expertly. One moment they are playing world weary performers that are past their prime, and the next scene they are younger, vibrant 1950's style singing comedy performers. They share great chemistry, effortlessly bouncing between the two time periods, as well as, playing well off of each other when they perform their "act". It's fascinating to watch cause they really inhabit the characters so well. Colin Firth plays the straight laced British man, to Bacon's wild child American. In a way it's reminiscent of a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis type act. But it's also unique in it's own right.

Alison Lohman plays a driven writer who is trying to find out the truth about the young woman's death. I think a lot of people will probably feel it's a one note performance. In all honesty I can see that point, but I wasn't bothered that much by her performance, because I felt her character represented the viewer's innocence, and naive understanding of the two entertainer's world. Throughout the film she is trying to find evidence to support her feeling that these two entertainers are good people at heart. She feels that their performance pieces are a true representation of their personalities. But the more she uncovers, the more she is let down when she sees their true weakness and humanity. She also laces her performance with a strong sexuality that is hard to resist. I've never really found her that attractive in most of her work, but I found her sexuality effective in this role.

The film also features outstanding production design. The costumes, set and look of the film really capture the two time periods expertly. Especially impressive considering that it's an independent film.

As far as the story and mystery plot, it's really kind of standard stuff. There are clues that lead to more clues, that eventually reveals what we think is the truth, only to have a twist at the end. It's lightly reminiscent of L.A. Confidential and other mystery type films. But it has the definite feeling of an Atom Egoyan film. I can't really articulate what THAT feeling is though. The best I can say is that it feels like his movies The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, and Felicia's Journey. That sort of feeling of being turned on, and at the same time confused, uneasy and uncomfortable. Whatever that feeling is though, it's something I find unique to his movies and I enjoy when I watch them.

Perhaps it's the adult tone of the film that I enjoy so much. Which is probably what made the censors so nervous. The film does have an adult approach to sexuality. The characters played by Bacon, Firth and Lohman all carry an air of adult, aggressive, sexuality in their nature, and in their relationships. But it doesn't feel cheap or juvenile, it feels authentic and mature.

As far as the actual content of nudity and sexuality that earned an NC-17, I found it relatively tame. It's really unfortunate that censors felt so threatened by the material. In reality it's stuff that one would probably see in an episode of Six Feet Under or Deadwood. It's hardly anything that really merits such controversy. Also all the sexuality is done to service the story, and never feels gratuitous or exploitiative. It's one of the reasons why I found the film so refreshing. The film was obviously not aimed toward a mainstream family friendly audience, like so many of today's movies are. The movie tries to challenge the viewer with the mystery plot, and at the same time it also doesn't treat the audience like complete idiots or children by not holding back with the sexuality and complexity of the plot.

It's unfortunate the film was unrated because the box office of the film obviously suffered from the ratings board's decision. But I honestly couldn't see how the story could be told without the scenes, and I admire Egoyan's decision not to bend to the will of the censors. Hopefully the movie can now find an audience on DVD.

Check it out. It's available on Tuesday Feb. 28th.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Weather Man

There's a lot of reasons why people watch movies. They watch to be inspired, to laugh, to cry, for an emotional release, to see an interesting reflection of life. To witness art.

As I said, lots of reasons.

When I was watching The Weather Man, I went down my own personal list, to figure out what reasons this particular story fulfills in terms of my criteria for watching films.

I couldn't find one.

I guess a story like this might appeal to some people..... actually judging by the box office returns maybe not. The Weather Man is a movie that celebrates how life sucks and then ends. Doesn't that sound fun? Isn't that inspiring? Get in line now or miss the fun.

The story concerns David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) a successful Weather man who's personal life is falling apart. His kids are each in a different kind of social trouble. David is separated from his wife, who he is still in love with, and his father is dying. David plans to try, and pull his life together by excelling in his professional life in an attempt to save his family. But can he do it before it's too late?

The movie actually has a pretty standard, and unoriginal message. It argues that the American Dream of financial success doesn't guarantee a well rounded fulfilling life. In a way it wants to be like a rich man's Death of a Salesman. The problem is screenwriter Steve Conrad waters down the material by using dark comedy to express that point.

It doesn't work.

For one thing the stuff isn't funny. The material isn't nearly witty, or shocking enough to be darkly enjoyable. The situations in the move also don't ring true enough for the viewer to be affected emotionally. So what the viewer is left with, is a unfunny story about an unsympathetic character. Basically two hours of watching a guy we don't give a shit about fail at life.

The acting in the film is solid, yet unremarkable. The direction is competent, yet not interesting. The writing is not especially bad.....or especially good. In short the movie is unimpressive, and forgettable.

It's not surprising that the studio had trouble marketing the film, because it doesn't really appeal to a movie paying audience. I don't think anyone wants to see this story, much less spend money to watch it. The whole time I kept thinking why am I watching a mega star actor in Nicolas Cage whine about the troubles of life. I don't care how much he says life sucks. This is a guy who was born into the Coppola family, was married to Patricia Arquette, and the daughter of Elvis, screwed Paris Hilton and Angelina Jolie makes at least 10 million a movie and has won an Oscar. Shouldn't this guy be playing a character that's won the lotto, or a hero that saves San Francisco from Military terrorists. I don't want to see him whine about how his overweight child gets teased by her classmates, or his naive son gets hit on by a gay drug counselor. I don't want to see any star play that role.

I can watch Jerry Springer for that.

I guess if one is in the mood to watch a movie about a guy whining about how life is hard, they can check out this DVD on Tuesday.

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