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The Break-Up (2006)
Hey, Peyton, we wanted the lemons. We needed the lemons.
*** CAUTION, SPOILERS *** So, "The Break Up" isn't scoring well here on IMDb. As of this moment the film has shot all the way up to a whopping 5.8, indicating a somewhat average movie going experience. And Mr. Ebert gave it two stars in his professional opinion, a movie he wouldn't recommend. I decided to see it anyway because I like the cast and I like Peyton Reed's previous work. I expected to see a by-the-numbers romantic comedy where Jennifer Aniston plays straight to Vince Vaughn's cutting one-liners. Wow, was I in for a shock.
All romantic comedies are plagued by the same basic recipe: Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back or some variation thereof. Many film makers have switched the order of these events so the basic story seems fresh. Alas, it is still the same formula.
Along comes Peyton Reed with writers Jeremy Garelick, Jay Lavender, and Vince Vaughn with a movie that really is fresh, with compelling, believable characters played expertly by every member of this cast and it is lambasted for not being a romantic comedy! To be sure, there are many funny goings-on, but there is also surprising depth of story and character. From start to finish, every aspect of male/female relationships rings true; the bitter, the sweet, the bitter-sweet are all here. I was especially impressed with the see-saw of the principals' emotions toward each other -- out of sync, just as it is in real life, rather than dressed up with Hollywood's typical story luster that necessarily delivers the Happy Ending.
There are a couple of things I really wanted in this movie I didn't get. 1) When Jennifer comes home, finds strippers in her living room performing, a single tear from her would have been nice not essential, just a touching detail. 2) At the moment we know it really is over between them, when Vince has made dinner for two with flowers at the center of the table, there needed to be a bowl of 12 lemons either on the dinner table or for Jennifer to find in the kitchen after Vince leaves. Again, not essential, just a nice touching detail the audience was set up for, but did not get paid off with.
Movie making is complicated. In Hollywood, film makers are surrounded by front office suits determined to dumb-down the finished product. Yet, here is a film that seems to have slipped through the H'wood cracks. "The Break Up" hits just about every note the way it is supposed to. I've given this film 8 out of 10 on IMDb, which for me makes it a four star movie, and one of the best films so far this year. Yeah, I know, I'm out on a limb saying stuff like that. But hey, y'all get a clue. The title of this film is "The Break Up". The film makers are not kidding.
Running Scared (2006)
The most memorable film I've ever seen.
"Running Scared" defines Cinema Extreme. Why this film isn't doing better at the box office is both sad and puzzling. Word-of-mouth should be keeping this film at the number one spot, yet it died in the first week. We're down to two performances per day in Austin; it is certain to disappear in most places this Friday. First, I think the title is misleading and frankly, lame. This movie is one wild ride, better than going to any theme park. Wayne Kramer is a genius so I'm guessing the guys at New Line didn't really know what they had with this film, thus an extremely poor marketing job with an afterthought title tacked on. Since Kramer also wrote it, I wonder what his original title was? Paul Walker is incredible as Joey, a low life hoodlum who disposes guns used in mob killings. And Vera Farmiga lights up the screen. Together, they generate more steam than I've seen in any NC17 movie, let alone any R rated film, all in the pursuit of taking the audience on the hottest, wildest, mind boggling-est, guns-blazing-est movie experience of all time. This may not be the best movie ever made, but out of thousands of movies I've seen, this one is the absolute most memorable one. Why you're not standing in line right now at the box office trying to get a ticket to this, is one stupid mystery.
Little Black Book (2004)
Are the people voting really watching this movie?
All romantic comedies follow a standard formula: Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. As the audience, we're supposed to enjoy the How of the formula. And often times that formula is very entertaining. Along comes this refreshing, unpredictable "Little Black Book" that does not follow the familiar formula, yet is a romantic comedy -- and a very well made one, I think -- the cumulative vote so far is less than 5. Makes no sense to me. Here's what you get with "Little Black Book." An intelligent script well directed. Brittany Murphy is impressive in a very seamless performance. Julianne Nicholson practically steals the show. Plus Josie Maran steams the whole thing up. What else do you want? 7 out of 10
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
What's the point?
Here's a beautifully made, well structured film filled with tension, brilliant performances by everyone, technical credits are tops, and when it's all over--What's the point? Bad things happen to good people? These film makers need to go back and re-read Egri.
Hollywood Ending (2002)
The most perplexing thing about "Hollywood Ending" is Roger Ebert's review of it.
I have the most profound respect--reverence--for Roger Ebert's
insight. His love of film is obvious in every review he writes. That
is why I am so annoyed with his conclusion that this is not among
Woody's best work. I think it is. `Hollywood Ending' has big
laughs all the way through. But it has something else. It reminds
me of the sensitivity in `Manhattan'. There is a scene where
Woody, hysterically blind, asks, on-the-verge-of-begging asks, Téa
Leoni to help him. The look on his face is one I've never seen
before. Hold that moment a beat longer and it would have been a
wee tear for Woody in desperate need; I found it particularly
moving. There are other equally moving moments involving
Woody and his son Tony, played by Mark Webber, but I won't spoil
that for you. Téa Leoni is nothing short of amazing: This is the
best I've seen her. The real surprise for me though is film director
Mark Rydell's performance as Woody's agent. I remember Rydell
as actor in Robert Altman's `The Long Goodbye'. There he
delivered a tense, gritty performance--a little like Roman
Polanski's brief appearance in `Chinatown'. Here he is round
faced and smiling, puts a positive spin on everything, there's never
a dark moment no matter how dark the moment is. And he does it
so believably I had difficulty remembering, that's Mark Rydell!'
Now that's the kind of transparency for which all actors should
strive. Debra Messing is perfect as Woody's daffy actress/girlfriend, as is Treat Williams playing the studio boss of
Galaxie Pictures. And the inside jokes, jabs at the movie industry,
are as good as I've seen lately--as inside jokes go. Woody has
often said he leans hard on Bob Hope as inspiration. In my
humble opinion, this is Woody's greatest homage to Bob Hope
since "Love And Death", with a few nods to Keaton and Chaplin
My First Mister (2001)
"My First Mister" and "Ghost World": A great double feature.
The disaffected, disconnected, disenfranchised teen loneliness presented so energetically in `Ghost World' is, in `My First Mister', presented tenderly. Not that there's anything wrong with either approach; in `Ghost World' we're visitors, watching. In `My First Mister', we're participants, feeling. This movie is what really good filmmaking is all about; a story about real people we care about, doing things we identify with, presented in a way that touches us. Christine Lahti, where have you been! Leelee Sobieski plays a seventeen year old heavy metal high school graduate loner who is unable to connect with anyone, except her dead grandmother--there's hope! Her performance is sadly lost, almost unnoticed in a year of so many superb movies and performances. In just about any other year I can think of, Leelee's work here would have certainly resulted in an Oscar nomination. J. latches onto a most unlikely hero, that is for a teenage girl with tattoos. He is Randall Harris--or R., as J. likes to call him--played by Albert Brooks in the strongest performance of his career, a haberdasher in an upscale store in Century City. What everyone learns from J. and R.'s relationship is something you'll have to discover from watching the movie yourself. Paramount Pictures marketed `My First Mister' as an `art' film, receiving limited promotion and release. Makes you wonder what the suits in the front office are thinking about over there at Paramount . . . makes me wonder. If you miss this, you miss a lot.
Murder by Numbers (2002)
Sandy's most textured performance to date . . .
and that's saying a lot considering her Oscar caliber performance in `28 Days.' Compare her performance in `28 Days' with the same year's winning performance in `Erin Brokovich'; similar material written by the same author--judge for yourself. I like the unconventional approach `Murder By Numbers' takes presenting the audience with almost everything it needs to know about the story, well in advance of the story's characters knowing. By doing this, director Barbet Schroeder and screenwriter Tony Gayton can play games with the story's characters while we get to watch and yearn for those characters to know what we know. Released just a week ahead of `Murder By Numbers', Bill Paxton's film, `Frailty', pretty much takes the same road. We know in advance what's going to happen and by whom. The difference between the two films is--TENSION. The tension in `Frailty' is at times agonizing, unbearable. In `Murder By Numbers', non existent. Two high school students, played by Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt, decide to murder someone at random just to prove they can get away with it. Their lives are filled with such lack of attention that they are driven to do this. Tony Gayton! Barbet Schroeder! Ever hear about Leopold and Loeb? `Rope'? `Compulsion'? Hello! So I guess that since we've seen this before, if the filmmakers present it to us in a different way we, the stupid audience, won't notice because, well, we're stupid and have no memory. Gosling's and Pitt's performances are first rate -- as written, but as written I didn't find the characters believable, sympathetic, or even pathetic. The actors were just there doing a good job playing their as-written roles. On the other hand, Bullock's character, Cassie Mayweather, IS real. For the next two hours Sandra Bullock is Cassie Mayweather, a detective with a mysterious past, a broken past: Bullock makes us want more and makes us want to know more. Her's is the character this movie should have been about, not the two pi**y high school twerps on a murderous rampage, said murder performed without much ram or page. Sadly, the good news here is also the bad news; once again, Sandra Bullock elevates a Movie-Of-The-Week to feature status. She is the most misutilized, under appreciated actor working today.
Bill Paxton's feature directorial debut is stunning, disturbing, mesmerizing..
Bill Paxton's first feature as director is incredible to watch and disturbing to ponder. Paxton's character, a single father listed simply in the credits as "Dad", receives a vision from God that he must destroy demons in our society that appear to be human. So he involves his children in the act of serial murder. His two children played by Matthew O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter offer rich, believable performances that are as good as anything you'll see from veteran actors, especially given the nature of the material.
Paxton delivers a steady, methodical pace that involves us so deeply in the dilemma of his two boys who are forced to participate in these gruesome acts that the tension becomes unbearable. Do not wait to rent this; see it in the theater.