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Broken Flowers (2005)
Worthwhile...and a great cast....
I was very aware of the critical praise this film received before I saw it on a Netflix disc this weekend. Critical praise does not often translate into box office success, and I think that's true for "Broken Flowers."
Murray plays Don Johnston (witha "t"), a real life "Don Juan" who has to face his past, and his future. And frankly, neither is a very appealing prospect. He has left a trail of broken hearts in his wake, and, in the lyrics of U2, he "still hasn't found what he's looking for..."
I get really impatient when the pace of a film is too slow. I was very frustrated with this one. There are very long shots of Murray just watching TV or listening to music. I realize these shots are to establish the emptiness of his life, and his profound loneliness. But come on. I got it the first time. I didn't need shot after shot of him looking lost and perplexed.
I guess that's a fairly minor complaint in an otherwise interesting concept film. The film forces Murray, and us by extension, to take a hard look at ourselves. Did we wake up one day and wonder how we got here? And worse, wonder if this is all there is? Don (Juan) Johnston did.
The last scene is a brilliant visual climax, reminiscent of the final scene with Tom Hanks in "Cast Away." Here, Murray is literally standing in an intersection while the camera spins 360 degrees around him. You see him at the cross roads, not knowing what to do or which way to go. It was powerful in "CastAway" and it's powerful here.
We've all been at those cross roads in our lives. Fortunately, most of us don't have the baggage that Don Johnston does when he stands at his cross roads.
A word on the casting. Murray is brilliant. I didn't much care for "Lost in Translation," but he carries this one. the female leads are also very good. Julie Delpy is one of my favorites after "Before Sunrise," but she only has a cameo here. Sharon Stone and Jessica Lange are both very good as aging girl friends. Frances Conroy (Ruth in "Six Feet Under," one of the best TV dramas ever made) is perfect. Watch for "Lo." Lolita is played by AlexisDziena. She appears very young (perhaps 16) in the film, but she has a full on nude scene. To cast your only nude scene with a tender young girl known as "Lolita" is a delicious cinematic irony.
It's not a laugh out loud comedy, but it has it's moments, such as this line: "Winston, couldn't you have rented me a Porsche or something? I'm a stalking in a Taurus..."
Off the Map (2003)
Subtle, Engaging, and Worthwhile.
Sam Elliott is a HUNK. I know this because my wife tells me so. Also because she has now seen virtually every film he has ever made. I just hope he never walks through the door...I don't think I can compete.
Elliott plays opposite Joan Allen here, and both are outstanding in an understated, underacted kind of way. Charlie (Sam Elliott) is clinically depressed, and almost catatonic for most of the movie. His wife Arlene (Joan Allen) doesn't know how to deal with the man who used to be her husband. The story is told through the eyes of Bo, their 12 year old daughter (played by Valentina de Angelis). de Angelis is engaging as the perky, but somewhat unconventional, 12 year old.
Without giving away too much substance, they get a visit one day from an IRS agent who falls sick before he can collect the back taxes. They care for him, and he stays. And stays. And stays...while Charlie, Arlene, Bo, and the IRS agent discover what life is really about.
The film is a delicate work. Delicate because it is highly dependent on strong performances, and delicate because the subject matter is, in a word, depressing. If you have either experienced deep depression yourself, or if someone you love has experienced it, be forewarned. This film may make you very uncomfortable. It is disturbing to watch Charlie's withdrawal from his family, and their exasperation about how to deal with him. But if you are OK with the subject, the experience is worthwhile. You will come away with a deep sense of the pain of depression, and the sacrifice of the family. You will also come away with a renewed hope for anyone afflicted with depression.
Did I mention that both Joan Allen and Sam Elliot give strong performances? Yes, I did. Allen is one of the best actresses working today. She is convincing, engaging, and has a discrete inner beauty that gives her character life. (I know, that inner beauty was hard to see in "Upside of Anger.) As for Sam Elliott, well, I was surprised. I felt his depression. It was as if it was not an act; Charley was real, and so was his sickness.
For those who expect action and adventure, skip this film. The pacing is v e r y s l o w.... On the other hand, the New Mexico locations are awesome. But best of all, if you see this film, is the reward you get: "life lessons." Lessons like:
1) know yourself;
2) figure out what you want; and
3) understand that you don't always get what you want by following the traditional path.
All three are worth keeping in mind for the next time you you have a bad day at work, or the next time you wonder how you got to this place, and where you're going next...
Here's a viewing tip: pay careful attention to the opening credits. It's a preview of the best part of the film.
The Terminal (2004)
Welcome to the United States of America
"The Terminal" refers to the JFK International Arrivals terminal in NYC. Tom Hanks (Victor Navorski) arrives at the beginning of the film from the fictional east European country of Krakosia. Unfortunately for him, while he was in the air, Krakosia underwent a coup and his passport is no longer valid for entry into the US. He is a "man without a country."
Victor speaks little English, and is denied entry into the US. He is told to "wait" in the International Arrivals terminal until it can be straightened out. Again, unfortunately for Victor, this will take many months, and he must learn to live in, and survive in, an airport terminal.
Needless to say, all those among us who have suffered through flight delays and cancellations can relate to Victor's problems. At least when I get stuck in an airport, though, I can speak the language.
I could give you a little more plot, but frankly, you already have most of it. You don't need much more information to get the messages here. Those would be:
1. Sometimes you have to wait for what you want. Victor is a very patient guy. Catherine Zeta-Jones (Amelia Warren, perpetually single flight attendant), not so much. He's a better person for his patience. She has waited forever for her married lover, but will never get what she wants. And she is decidedly unsettled and unhappy as a result.
2. Sometimes you have to forget the rules, stop being a bureaucrat, and think about the people and the lives you touch. Victor knows this. And we can learn something from him.
Tom Hanks is the new Jimmie Stewart. He is literally "everyman." As an actor, he conveys more emotion in a foreign language than most actors with a full vocabulary and a convincing script. Of course, he has done this before. In CastAway he doesn't even speak for most of the film. But he conveys every conceivable emotion, every conceivable thought, all non-verbally. He is one of the most gifted actors you will see.
Steven Spielberg is not particularly well known for making films like "The Terminal." There's no eye popping special effects. There's no ghosts, no sharks, no evil forces. It's basically Tom Hanks and the "interminal" waiting we all do. Not typical, but very well done.
La marche de l'empereur (2005)
Amazing Story of Devotion and Persistence
Every once in a while (too seldom, actually) we are somehow reminded of how delicate life really is. Often the reminder comes with the death of a loved one. Today one such reminder came to me, but in a film. That film was "March of the Penguins."
The documentary skillfully illustrates the instinctive mating ritual of the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica. It is truly an amazing story. It includes an annual 70 miles hike (with the penguins, that would be a 70 mile waddle) to the breeding grounds. After mating, the male incubates the egg while the female returns 70 miles to the sea to bring food back for the chicks. It takes many months for the process to unfold, including the winter months at the bottom of the earth. With temperatures at -80 F, and winds over 100 MPH, it is an environment that will kill part of the colony every year. But the ritual goes on...
The birds are serial monogamists, staying with one mate for the entire year, then finding a new one the next. But during that year, the tenderness and devotion are astounding.
Making such a film is test of the physical endurance of the film maker and the crew. Suffice to say that if someone suggests spending a season with the Emperor Penguins, politely decline. It's a task only for the brave, and/or foolish.
If you think you had a bad day at work, or if the IRS wants to audit you, or if your new car was just totaled by an uninsured teenage driver, rent this film. Your problems will seem insignificant compared to a winter in Antarctica without food or shelter. And you will have a better understanding of how delicate life is without losing someone you love.
Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)
Assault on My Senses...
Is it just me, or is this an AWFUL film? I'm going with it's an AWFUL film...
Knowing full well that it's a guy flick (usually defined as full of car chases, crashes, gunfights, explosions, etc.), I still expect some small degree of credibility. If I can't somehow believe in the premise, the film WILL NOT WORK. Thus, we come to the problem with "Assault on Precinct 13."
Not one for spoilers, I never report details of the plot. However, I will make an exception here, because the plot is SO inane. Bad guy is jailed in Precinct 13. Bad guy's buddies want to bust him out. Surprise. The bad guys' buddies are actually corrupt cops. Brooding, troubled, but heroic young cop saves the day while romancing the girl. UGH. Yes, it really is THAT simple, and that dumb.
"Assault on Precinct 13" takes place in Detroit. Not a bad setting for crime and corruption (I spent 3 months there in late 2004, so I know what I'm talking about). Even so, it's outrageously violent and insulting to the police and the citizens of Detroit. I have spent a lot of time in downtown Detroit, but I cannot imagine how the final chase wound up in the downtown Detroit forest. I must have missed it...
There are NO refunds for watching bad movies. Save your money. There were too many good films in 2005 to waste even $3.00 at Blockbuster on this one.
FINAL RATING: 1
(Only because I have seen worse films.)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
"Love is a force of nature."
As almost anyone who follows films knows, "Brokeback Mountain" is a love story. A gay cowboy love story. And those who follow the movie hype know this one comes with critical acclaim and lots of buzz. So much buzz, in fact, that I decided that I had to see this one in a MOVIE THEATER to see what all the buzz is about. (The last film I actually went to a theater to see was "Batman Begins," so you know how often this happens.)
My fear with films that have a lot of advance buzz is that they cannot possibly live up to the hype. Time after time, I come away disappointed because the film cannot possibly live up to the expectations that have been set for it. I went to "Brokeback Mountain" expecting to be disappointed.
But I wasn't. Not disappointed. Not even slightly let down.
The hype is not really "hype." It's all true. This film is visually beautiful, thematically challenging, and extremely well crafted. Except for homophobes and religious fundamentalists, this film will engage you, challenge you, and ultimately touch your life.
This is a love story, but remember this: not all love stories have happy endings. This love story left me feeling profoundly sad...not because it's a tear jerker, but because it is a brutally honest film. It shows both the romantic and the tragic sides of love. And whether the lovers are two men, two women, or a mixture of both, the message is the same. Love is complicated, and it doesn't matter who the lovers are. When the forces of nature take over, there is nothing we can do to change the outcome.
This film is brutally honest because it coldly shows the consequences of a love that cannot exist. Consequences for the lovers. Consequences for the spouses of those lovers. Consequences for the children of those lovers. And consequences for their parents. All delicately acted, scripted, and executed.
The cowboys have a forbidden love, and they cannot come out of the closet. When Jack Twist suggests that they could get a ranch and live together forever, Ennis Del Mar knows better. His reply:
"If ya can't fix it, Jack, ya gotta stand it."
That about sums it up. Jack can't fix the fact that gay cowboys who come out have a very short life span. The better solution is to deny it, stuff it, hide it. What Ennis doesn't say, but everyone knows, is that if you deny your nature, eventually you will wind up an empty, broken vessel.
It's all here. Stunningly beautiful mountain scenery. The tender love story. The stark reality that cowboys are NOT allowed to be openly gay. The innocent wives and children whose lives are forever changed by Jack and Ennis.
But there's one thing I expected that I didn't find in this film: an agenda. It doesn't glorify homosexuality. It doesn't condemn it. It just shows it, with all the emotional peaks and valleys like in every love story. And it shows the wreckage left along the way.
The acting, including Guyllenhall and Ledger, is first rate. Michelle Williams is wonderful as Alma Del Mar. And Kate Mara as Alma Del Mar has an uncanny resemblance to her screen mother.
Can this film change the world? Probably not. The vast majority of the audience will probably be individuals who are open to improving the status of homosexuals. Very few films change the world. Some do however, change the audience a little bit. This is one of those films.
FINAL RATING: 4.5 Stars (out of 5 possible)
See this one. You'll be glad you did.
How can you miss with a lineup that includes Nicole and Lauren. The answer is, you probably can't, but this one is close.
The plot is simple. Anna"s (Nicole Kidman) first husband, who has been dead for 10 years, is reincarnated in a 10 year old boy. Simple plot, but obviously lots of room for awkward, and yes, scary plot turns. I won't spoil the story, but I will say that it has enough twists to make you sit up in your seat and scratch your head.
The flaw in this otherwise entertaining film is the incredibly awful pacing. No kidding after the first 15 minutes, I was ready to give up. I'm glad I didn't, but frankly, the pacing was painful at the beginning, and got only marginally better as the story unfolded.
The other criticism when this film was released involved Kidman's brief bathtub scene. She's in the tub when the 10 year old strips and joins her. It is NOT erotic, and it is completely faithful to the plot. It is not for sensationalism, nor does it even suggest any child molestation. Still, it was enough to make some people uncomfortable when it opened in theaters, so consider yourself warned.
You have to figure out the ending yourself. I have no problem with films that challenge you to do some of the heavy lifting and figure out the meaning/message. This one, however, is ultimately ambiguous.
Kid actors can be amazing. Haley Joel Osment comes to mind. Given the star power in this film, I had high expectations for the kid. Let's just say that he probably didn't win any awards for his performance. He looked like he would rather be somewhere else, anywhere else, during many of the scenes.
Not a home run, but not a strike out either. But make sure you're in the mood for a slow, challenging story when you key this one up.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
See this one.
I had low expectations after Spiderman 1. Spider Guy 2 is a blowout, take no prisoners, roller coaster ride of a film. It's got it all: great story line, edge of your seat action, romance, humor, fine acting, break neck pace, .well, you get the idea.
This film is for the whole family. Great chase scenes, crashes, and special effects for the guys. Romance, and a tender love story for the gals. Comic book touches for the kids. It just works so well on every level.
McGuire and Dunst have a chemistry that reminded me of Niles and Daphne in "Frasier." They loved each other from afar, and could not communicate their feelings to each other. The romantic tension was exquisite. So it is here with McGuire and Dunst. You know they have to get together at some point, but the long and difficult road is a journey we enjoy.
The villain is definitely top shelf. Without revealing too much, suffice it to say that he's bad enough, scary enough, and convincing enough to make the film work on the plot level.
The special effects are well done, especially where Spiderman has to save passengers on a speeding train.
Spiderman has self doubts, begins to lose his powers, and longs to be Peter Parker instead of a superhero. He struggles with his choices in life, as we all do. He makes difficult choices, and learns that truth and integrity are rewarded, even when the results are very painful for the aunt who has replaced his mother.
You might see films with a deeper message, but you won't see many films that combine action, romance, and meaning in one slick package. See this one. In fact, you may want to buy this one for your DVD library.
Rat Race (2001)
Fun and Silly
Rat Race, 2001. Directed by Jerry Zucker (Airplane!) With: Whoopi Goldberg, John Cleese, Cuba Gooding Jr, Rowan Atkinson, Jon Lovitz I had the extreme pleasure of watching this film (DVD, actually) with some devoted "Race" fans. (I decided early on that "Race" fans sounds better than "Rat" fans.) They are always up for another trip to the "Rat Race." Like all good film fans, they love to share their best film experiences with others who they know will love it as much as they do. For that, I sincerely thank them.
There are a few comedies I can watch over and over, and always break out laughing even though I know the punch lines. The short list includes "Rustler's Rhapsody" (don't tell me YOU haven't seen THAT one ), "The Money Pit" (perhaps Tom Hanks' greatest film achievement) and "The Blues Brothers" (the original, not the sequel). Some films just hold up over time.
"Rat Race" is a mixture of reality TV, Cannonball Run, and Around the World in 80 Days. Well, actually a mixture of the best parts of those ingredients. There's slapstick, potty humor, and some good sight gags, and the old "dangle a cow from a hot air balloon" scene. What else could you want? I actually had about 90 minutes of pure escapist fun watching this one. I highly recommend it for anyone needing a short vacation from reality. In fact, it could probably get some good laughs if they show it on death row. It's THAT funny
Gunner Palace (2004)
Check it out.
An interesting, if somewhat aimless, first hand view of American troops in Baghdad. Using what appears to be a hand held digital video camera, we're plopped in the middle of Baghdad at "Gunner Palace," a former Saddam Hussein mansion. It's now HQ for 400 soldiers on daily thrill rides through the streets of Baghdad.
The endless scenes of raids, patrols, and arrests are interspersed with rap and chat with the troops. Rapping (some of not too bad, all of it heavy on obscenity) is obviously a stress reliever for kids in a combat zone. The commentary from the soldiers is sometimes funny, and sometimes tragic.
I'm not sure how they got to make this film. I thought all the journalists were confined to the safety of the Green Zone. This crew is on the scene, in the humvees, and on patrol with soldiers. It's fascinating footage...even if it seems like a lot of the patrols are pointless.
If you want to get a sense of what it's like to live in fear 24/7, to wonder whether a bag left on the curb is going to blow you up, and whether you'll be forgotten by the people back home, this is your flick. At 1 hour, 26 minutes, it's not a big time commitment. But if you want something with a plot, that teaches you about life, or that has a happy ending, don't bother. War doesn't have any of those things.