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Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Afternoon and $13 well-enough spent
Reading some of the reviews here I wonder what movie the reviewers saw. I had no high expectations, although I like Jon Favreau's work and both Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford have pleased me before. Oh, and I love Westerns and like Sci-Fi.
While in retrospect -- and after reading some of the reviews -- I can see plot holes that didn't appear during the movie -- there were things that didn't entirely make sense I had no problem staying with the flow and as things were revealed understood what was happening. But I was in the moment from the first shot of Craig, waking up in the desert -- often sited as Arizona but actually New Mexico -- through his encounter with the scalp-hunters,his rather distracted manner -- he doesn't know who he is or where he came from, which would probably distract any of us -- and all the way through to the end.
Favreau obviously gets westerns and quotes brief snippets from several, including "The Searchers." The costuming was good enough that it didn't take me out of the moment and the guns were period correct, which often can ruin a movie for me. Ella (Olivia Wilde) wasn't corseted, but she turns out to be an alien who has taken human form, so she can be excused.
The aliens were mindless battle-beasts and I suspect that there might have been a higher intelligence somewhere on that ship. They were a bit derivative of earlier movie aliens, but just different enough to serve the purpose.
I liked the journey of discovery Lonergan (Craig) takes, learning bits of his history as he goes along. Dolarhyde (Ford), too, has some redemptive moments, and both of them at the end, in typical western fashion, are different men that when they started.
I enjoyed my afternoon. My wife enjoyed her afternoon. And, we both liked seeing the familiar New Mexico sky and mountains and the ever-present dust. The look of the film -- night scenes were dark, muddy and believable and you saw anything you needed to see -- was excellent. People looked as if they actually populated a desert town in the Southwest.
So I don't know what the nay-sayers were watching. It didn't sound like the film we watched.
A Dirge for the death of two outlaws
Ana, my wife, hit the nail on the head as we discussed this film on the way home. Speaking of the length and the pacing of the film she said, "Of course it was long and built slowly. It was a dirge, a stately funeral march toward the inevitable ending." Dead on, dear. Ana is not a fan of westerns, for the most part. She's been dragged into the whole western thing by me, who has loved them from his childhood. I especially like ones that have the aura of authenticity, costuming, sets, weapons, the look of the people and so on. This movie has that all.
It also has fine portrayals of the main characters -- the two outlaws, Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and Bob Ford (Casey Affleck) -- who are linked in the title and in life. All the supporting cast, including the often quirky choices for cameos -- like James Carville as the governor -- work well. Some, like Mary Louise Parker's Zee James seem underused, but the film was cut to its theatrical length so their full performances may be awaiting the DVD.
Brad Pitt resembles, to a great degree, photos of James, especially at rest. He makes the character something more than a deranged killer. The motivations of Jesse, his brother, Frank (Sam Shepard)and the rest of their kith and kin from Clay County, Missouri can be argued, but they felt that they had reasons for what they did both in the War and after. For the most part, they stole from entities that they considered part of the Union and the Eastern Yankee machine that had defeated them, humiliating the South into the bargain. Reconstruction was ugly and the border warfare before, during and after the war was some of the worst most mean-spirited fighting there was.
At one point the question is asked -- did Bob Ford want to be like Jesse or to be him? The hero worship at the beginning turns rancid -- as it often does in stalker cases (and that's what this is in modern terms) and eventually the fan -- Ford -- kills his idol. Of course, there was also a reward involved and the chance to be the man who shot Jesse James and the fame that went with it. All that makes for an irresistible package. Affleck certainly takes us on that journey with him and allows us to see the younger Ford brother make his way from one point on the arc to the other, ending his life with no fanfare, no ballads, stories, books or much interest in him except as "the dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard and laid poor Jesse in his grave."
The film is beautiful but it is also almost disturbingly violent, with the violence coming with little or no warning. I'm not unused to violence or gunshots and I jumped a few times sitting in the theater. And the gun-play was also believable. In the scene where Bob Ford kills for the first time, the exchange of gunfire between Charlie and Wood Hite at point blank range resulted in only minor wounds. Some will find that hard to believe but I nodded and smiled. Despite all the dime novels and B-movie westerns depicting everyone as a dead shot, most people in those days weren't great shots, even across a room.
A case can be made that Jesse James put himself in front of the gun that Ford wielded so hesitantly. Perhaps he realized that his time was nearly over, that he had no more places to run and huge opposition from the railroad, the Pinkertons who worked for them and a government interested in settling the area and putting the war and violence behind it That was, as I recall, the thrust of the novel from which the film took its major premise and much of the narration.
When this film comes to DVD I will own it. I will recommend it to anyone with an interest in western history, in complex characters and in beautiful cinematography -- although you can't really make Canada look and act like Missouri -- but with a caveat that you need to bring something to this movie and that includes the patience to allow the story to unfold at its own funereal pace. I felt rewarded for having done so as did Ana. Money and time well spent, for sure.
Saving Grace (2007)
TNT has a winner, here
It's obvious Ms. Hunter wanted to do this role. She's listed as one of the producers, so she either moved things forward or she's saving the production some money by taking some of her salary as back-end. I can certainly understand her desire to play Grace. Few women these days get to play tough, problem ridden cops who are struggling for some form of redemption. I guess if no one wants to write material like this for the big screen, we'll be seeing more high-value actresses on the small screen. Ms. Hunter follows Kyra Sedgwick in her series, and Glenn Close in her role on the Shield and in her new series.
Many reviews have had problems with the religion in the series opener. I don't and I'm anything but a church-goer. I found that the angel, splendidly played by Leon Rippy, whom I enjoyed in Deadwood, isn't everyone's idea of an angel, but I guess angels and gods can appear in any guise that suits their purpose and I'm sure that the tobacco-chewing Earl is more appropriate for the purpose of saving Grace Hanadarko -- whose name in almost the name of a town in Caddo County, Oklahoma; her's just has an added "H".
Since I'm watching "The Closer before it, I'm all set to keep watching "Saving Grace" for the long haul.
Harsh truth about the human condition
It is interesting to me that it takes a foreigner like Von Trier or Ang Lee to cut through all the BS and make films that go to the heart of some portion of the American condition. While "Dogville" could have been made about any country in any period, setting it in Depression-era America made it more relevant to an American audience, whether they liked it or not. I liked it.
When Grace's father talks about people accepting responsibility for their flaws instead of being given a free pass for them, I nearly cheered. Grace's willingness to forgive and excuse is at the heart of the liberal world view. Carried to extremes -- as Grace has done -- it is a sickness. I was pleased to see her cured. I might have spared the children -- I'm an American; children are held dear and often blameless. It's a flaw, I know, but Von Trier can move beyond it.
I sat in my office at home and watched the film from midnight to three in the morning, unable to turn it off or to turn away from the harsh truths on stark display. Everyone in the cast gave praiseworthy performances and anyone who thinks Kidman is just a pretty face needs to see this performance and be proved dead wrong.
I'd recommend this film to anyone with a willingness to face hard truths.
Batman Begins (2005)
This one is really worth your time and ticket money
I liked the world Tim Burton created for his Batman movies pretty well. Let's face it, for a real fan of the books, the TV series and one movie were a real disaster. Burton, at least, wasn't making a camp spoof. I was less impressed with the Joel Schumacher take on the Caped Crusader, however and really didn't think the franchise was going in the right direction. They really hadn't found the right combination of Bruce Wayne and Batman in a single actor, either.
I was eager to see Batman Begins, partly because I liked Momento and the remake of Insomnia, the two films I'd seen by the director, Christopher Nolan. I also had respect for Bale's work in previous films And I'm always up for a new take on Batman, my favorite of the classic-era superheroes. I liked him precisely because he wasn't super, just a man with an obsessive need to fight crime and the physical skill and money to do it in style.
This movie delivers. It has more the feel of the Dark Knight and Year One books rather than the classic ones, and it exists in the real world, or at least in a world that could easilly be real. I may see it again and it will be a keeper on DVD when it comes out.
I'd read some criticism of some of the casting and performances. I didn't see it. Some have quibbled that Katie Holmes looks too young to be a crusading ADA. Well, she's twenty-five, just like many of the bright young attorneys in a big DA's office. I believed her. And Tom Wilkinson holds his American accent well and I could see him as a big-city mob boss of the current era, polished but still brutal.
As for casting Christian Bale in the title role, he is Bruce Wayne and Batman and you can see the transition as he moves from one to the other. Not everyone can act in the Bat suit. Bale can and he carries it off very well. This Batman is the right mix and I hope he's signed on for more in this series. And there should be one.
The long and the short, if you love a gritty Batman, go see it. If you haven't liked the previous WB Bat movies, this will change your mind. It isn't a kid's movie -- some of it is pretty intense -- and if you think it bears any resemblance to the animated Batman stuff on TV, think again. There were a couple of kids in the theatre when we saw it and they looked scared.
Highly recommended. A Ten with extra credit.
CSI: NY (2004)
Better than CSI:Miami
Despite the fact that all three of the CSI franchise shows exaggerate the roles and scope of crime scene investigators, I enjoy them in varying degrees. As a retired cop, I've worked with CSIs on cases many times. They are mostly good, solid professionals who do their previously unsung job and help detectives solve cases. The CSIs on the CBS shows do far more than that and far more than they would be allowed to do in real police departments. I'll suspend disbelief and allow the wide dramatic license when I enjoy a TV show.
All of that aside, I was looking forward to CSI:NY for a variety of reasons, not the least its being set in my other home town. It also boasted Gary Sinise, a great actor, in the lead role. I think I still prefer William Peterson's Grissom, but Sinise as Mac Taylor is so far above Caruso as Cain that comparisons are hard to make. Yes, he is somewhat cold, but in police work it is rare to see someone who wears his heart on his sleeve. Cold professionalism is the hallmark of most cops. Add to that the loss of his wife in the tragedy of 9/11 -- which I do not think the show exploits; it is a legitimate plot point in the development of a character in NY and motivates Taylor to find justice wherever he can, something his wife was denied -- and his quiet demeanor makes sense.
If Emily Proctor leaves CSI:Miami, I'll quit watching. That will leave the original and this gritty, dark spin-off. With CSI:NY on hand, I won't miss Miami for a moment.
I just watched the season finale and am looking forward to next season. I agree that the spate of spin-offs shows a lack of creativity, but when it is done well -- as it is in CSI:NY and in Law and Order: SVU and Law and Order: Trial by Jury -- it can be good viewing. (I'd like to add Law and Order,: Criminal Intent -- I like D'Onofrio a lot -- but I just couldn't get into the show, try as I might.)With the loss this year of both Third Watch and NYPD Blue, we are left with only a couple of good cops and robbers shows. CSI:NY is one of them.
Biting satire with a beautiful face
In the vein of "This is Spinal Tap" and the other mocumentary films out there, "Stardom" manages to take shots at almost every aspect of celebrity, Canadian-ness, high-fashion and a lot more. I found this one while looking for something to watch on a slow Friday night, "Third Watch" having gone on summer hiatus. I have always liked Akroyd and the plot looked like fun. Of course, had I seen a picture of Jessica Paré, I wouldn't have needed anything more. She looks very much like Liv Tyler, minus the famous and luscious Tyler lips. Paré's character, Tina Menzhal, is the epitome of a beautiful tomboy -- yeah, as one viewer said she looks too pretty to be a trade-school hockey player; she has all her teeth -- but anomalies do exist.
There are some slow moments, but the movie mostly moves along well, blending the footage shot by the obsessive film maker, (played so well by Robert Lepage) -- mostly in B&W -- with stuff from other points of view. It isn't a deep character study -- although we do get to see a bit of what goes into some of the main characters -- but it is a very funny movie. I won't spoil it, but Frank Langella has one scene which represents what a lot of people might want to say, and I bet he enjoyed it. He, Akroyd, Gibson and the other supporting actors do great work. In fact it is some of the best work I've seen Akroyd do since the high days of SNL.
I've never seen Denys Arcand's work before -- and understand this is atypical -- but don't think he has anything to be ashamed of. This is a well made, biting but very funny satire of fame, the media and life in our modern world. Highly recommended at 7.5 out of 10. Really.