Of course, the movie has much more going for it than just hot babes in erotic situations. Francis McDormand, of "Fargo" fame, who is getting a bit too mature to be judged merely for her appearance (although she looks awfully fit for a woman her age), nevertheless is interesting to watch and dominates the situation throughout the movie. The way she interacts with the the record company exec who keeps hounding her about getting the album finished before Christmas is always amusing. Her interaction with her son provides some fireworks, too. We could do without one or two of the scenes between her, her boyfriend, and Kate Beckinsale, but alas, they are integral to the plot's development. The way the band, including her boyfriend, finish off their work in the studio and arrive at the final "hit single" they will need to satisfy commercial interests, provides a backdrop that carries the story forward surprisingly well. Coupled with the romantic quandary faced by Christian Bale who must choose between fidelity to his fiancée, Kate Beckinsale, and a lustful fling with his alluring coworker, Natascha McElhone, gives this movie an entertaining edge that is not usually seen in more recent Hollywood offerings. All in all, the idea of life in Laurel Canyon is successfully conveyed. You get the distinct sense that the young couple from Boston got more than they bargained for when they moved to L.A.
Putting aside one's growing skepticism, for this guy (with nary a second thought) to throw over his well-meaning but nearly lifeless parents and his entire waspish background in order to party for the rest of his life with his intended's loud and obnoxious brood, seemed to be stretching credulity a little beyond anything reasonable. Sure, Greek food is quite tasty while Greek culture once formed the entire basis of Western Civilization, but these people jump around like circus performers and one must ask how many men would become baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church simply to please his prospective in-laws? Damn few, I suspect -- perhaps a guy who'd found the woman of his dreams and was so blinded by love that he didn't even consider the potential consequences.
Providing one of the flick's few real chuckles, just before the impending wedding, "Toola's" aunt incredulously inquires of her fiancé, "What do you mean, you don't eat meat!?" For her, vegetarianism could not possibly be considered (and of course the spineless wimp instantly converts to a virile, meat-eating diet right on the spot). After the wedding, itself (which thankfully was briefer than expected), "Toola's" extremely skeptical and unhappy father suddenly does a complete about-face and blesses the union by handing the young couple the deed for a house of their very own. As they say, that's Hollywood.
A few years down the pike, we are finally informed, "Toola" had gotten preggers immediately following the ceremony (not from their premarital dallying, of course) and they had a kid who is now six years old. She has miraculously retained her decent looks and everything remains upbeat and sunny. In fact, it turns out that the house pop gave them is right next door to mom and dad! In real life, you just know this troubled girl eventually would have reverted to looking less than glamorous and the guy would have become tired of her increasingly apathetic and depressing perspective. He'd probably have been off boffing anything that walked, or at least thinking about it, more sick of all this Greek crap than she was at the beginning of the movie. Following her hubby's first real trespass, her brother and cousin could have fixed his clock, as at one point they'd threatened, which might have formed the basis for a truly happy ending, at least in my book.
I'd like to give this turkey a one, but since my wife adored it, the heroine was sort of sweet, and her aunt a somewhat interesting character, I'll give it a two just for their sakes.
One year, we went through Winterset, where the story is set, and found it to be a rather strange place. The rolling Iowa countryside, with its lush vegetation, vast, often stormy skies, and enchanting, white gravel roads, has a special charm, to be sure. But much of the state is nearly flat and it is often bleak and depressing, the unpleasant odor emanating from penned hogs and feedlots often hanging heavily in the air. And Iowans struck us as a very provincial lot -- suspicious, very nosy, and at times downright weird. In fact, some of them looked overly inbred, even potentially dangerous. The movie, to its credit, captured the essence of all that quite well. Francesca deserved more than to spend the rest of her life in such a place, and she owed it to Robert, the photographer, if to no one else. Tossing their ashes off the same bridge was a symbolic gesture, at best, and I'm afraid it was a poor substitute for the few short years they might have enjoyed together instead of just four short days in each other's arms. Even after her husband died, Francesca made only a token effort to contact Robert. While I understood her decision to stay with her family, fearing that her love for him could not last if she ran away with him and that she'd blame him for a growing sense of guilt, once her kids were gone and both she and her husband were getting older, I think she should have found him again, if only to reunite temporarily, rather than going to their respective graves never having known what might have happened. Clint Eastwood, the director, was trying to make a realistic ending, but I felt a little let down by it.
That said, the love story was sweet and poignant, certain of the love scenes rather erotic, and other sequences quite moving. I particularly liked the couple's interaction on the second day, after Francesca left the note for Robert and they were hesitantly circling one another, both desperately wanting to make love. Then, the scene in the kitchen, where Francesca blew up and called Robert a shallow phony, I thought was very effective. Finally, we had the climax, where Robert stood in the rain, looking pathetic but sincere, then at the stoplight, he held up traffic for another moment, hoping Francesca would change her mind. She almost did, too, but simply couldn't tear herself away from her husband in time. To his alarm and concern, she broke down in tears as Robert turned left and rolled out of her life, forever. That was some good cinema. At the conclusion of the film, we see an encompassing view of the tidy, productive little farm where Francesca spent her life, giving everything else up to remain there. Did she make the right decision? The scenes where her grown children read her notebooks after her death, trying to understand her final wishes, could have been somewhat better but did not, to an excessive degree, detract from this otherwise excellent effort. In particular, Meryl Streep as Francesca was especially good.
And as for Colin Gregoire, am I sick of seeing that odd-looking fellow standing there playing the role as if he's got something interesting going on between his ears. He doesn't. In "The Dreamlife of Angels," he played a convincing heel and so far I see no reason to alter my assessment of his apparently shallow character. I'd much rather see more of his French and Belgian costars in that exceptional movie than more of him but apparently he has better connections than they do in the French movie biz. As for the protagonist in this non-flick, he does little for me until he goes to Tahiti, and I must say, that's a neat hut on the beach he built for himself. I remembered him from his role in "Topaz," where he played a sketch artist who did some moonlighting by interviewing a member of the Castro regime as a favor for his CIA employed father-in-law (John Forsythe) just before it hit the fan in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was much older and heavier in this film, of course, but still recognizable.
All through the movie, this "final journey" is alluded to as if going off to die on a mountainside up in the clouds, a place of ethereal beauty, is somehow a sacrifice fraught with spiritual significance. Unfortunately, the place where the old people are carried is nothing more than a grotesque, stinking bone yard full of broken skeletons and decomposing bodies, serviced by a flock of fat, greedy crows that pick at the dead and impatiently await their next meal. After hauling his mom up the mountain on a pack-board, the strong son simply leaves her there because she insists once again that is how it must be. Before leaving, he sees his selfish neighbor dropping off his troublesome, disabled father, kicking the terrified old man over a cliff while yelling, "Dad, go to the mountain!" The poor, senile old man, trussed up in a net, goes tumbling down the rocks like a cartwheel, bashing his brains out on the way down.
This depressing story is supposed to uplift us? This is "beautiful? It's a real comment on the emptiness of our times that so many here would even begin to believe that. I'm skeptical of the notion that this film was based on fact. It comes off like an exercise in racist propaganda. I may be wrong but I think it doubtful that even primitive and isolated Japanese peasants were that uncaring and brutal.
The most memorable death occurs at the beginning of the flick in a flashback to the original killings. We are told that the killer survived a cave-in at Tunnel #5 by murdering his fellow miners who were using up the scarce oxygen. He wakes up at the hospital and kills everyone he comes across, then goes back to the mine and kills his way through a large group of teens who were dumb enough to have a party there. While butchering these naive young fools one by one, he fends off a sudden attack with a shovel by a spirited blonde, yanking the implement out of her hands, then shoving the blade of it into her mouth. She's standing there looking goggle-eyed, with the shovel protruding from her mouth. Then he pushes the blade home against a supporting beam and the bottom of her head drops to the ground with the rest of her lifeless body. The top of her head, however, is still sitting on the blade of the shovel. It's a great scene. In another scene, the killer rams his trusty pick up through this old guy's jaw and the point of the pick emerges from his mouth. He puts his foot against the guy's chest and yanks his jaw right out of his face along with some other grisly matter. The 3-D effect comes in handy here as gore is sent slapping toward the viewer. Besides these, there are several other instances of extremely effective use of 3-D. You've simply got to see this gore-fest to appreciate the lively imagination and creativity involved in its production. Others have complained about the short nude scene, calling it gratuitous. I disagree. In fact, a little more of the same, utilizing the talents of the film's other attractive actresses, would have made it an even more entertaining movie. The new theater in town sent us free passes in the mail and it was a fun evening, for we don't usually watch horror films and had never before seen a 3-D movie. Enjoy!
Some of the shots of L.A. from the air were good and the cinematography in general was of fairly decent quality. Finally, the theme at the end sticks in the mind. "I'm a hustla, hustla, rich niggah, I'm a hustla hustla, yo niggah, I'm a hustla, hustla..." I watched this flick a second time tonight and thought it more notable than at my first viewing several months ago.
Strangely, the wedding night scene with Rosario Dawson is one of the most erotic sequences I've seen in some time. Man, is she put together nicely. I had to wonder how this emotional, fruity guy was able to conquer most of the known world and suddenly become the stud of the week with this hot young Persian chick, but somehow, Farrell pulled it off, even though it didn't make much sense. Had the rest of this overblown flick been that good, I'd be giving it a ten rather than a four. I also thought the sound track was interesting but pretentious. I liked the part where he tamed the big horse immediately, but knew the beautiful animal was going to die at some point and was sad to see it when it finally happened, although I wondered how the same horse made it unscathed from his childhood into his twenties, where it carried him through countless battles. It was also peculiar that this person, who was depicted as becoming a ruthless tyrant, could inspire his armies to such dramatic achievements. Nonetheless, some of the battle footage was quite good, if as others have said, it was often confusing. Why they put the assassination sequence of Philip toward the end of the movie, I'm not sure, for it was important to the development of the story.
Otherwise, "Alexander" had some interesting aspects and I can't join those who feel that it was a complete waste of time. The story is certainly deserving of a serious, historically accurate rendering, and I'm surprised that so many claim that this version is just that. It was too confusing and disjointed, plus all the allusions to homosexuality, together made it a somewhat failed effort. Frankly, Colin Farrell is no Richard Burton. In my opinion, Stone should have explored the relationship between Alexander and Roxanne a great deal more. As I said, there were some real sparks flying between Farrell and Dawson, whom I think did an excellent job as the beautiful Persian temptress. As for Farell's gay lover, no thanks, not interested, and I don't believe there is any solid historical basis for it. These Hollywood guys, these days, surrounded by gay men, seem to think they have to put that crap in just about every movie, justified or not. I'd say that's got a lot more to do with this particular interpretation of Alexander's sexuality than anything else. Stone should have left it out.
We watch as this excuse for a father goes from daughter to sister to mother being told what a complete nebbish he is (just for being male, it seems) and he sucks it all in and keeps asking for more. I wanted to vomit. The oh-so-sensitive look in his eyes made me want to smash him right in the face. Geez, I thought that sort of muck went out when being "an achingly sensitive guy" was all the rage, you know, before even the most ardent feminists got sick of all the spineless yuppie wimps who took their nonsense sitting down and never stood up like a half a man. I had to keep pausing the DVD player to voice my extreme displeasure. Talk about matriarchy, it was enough to make a guy blow chunks for ten minutes, straight.
The girls give Pop a scrap book containing a pic of his tragically dead wife. You expect him to start sobbing but he "manfully" holds back the tears and just looks more sensitive than before. Boy, that thoughtful gesture really got to him.
I forgot to mention the worst part of all. After the interminable football game, or whatever it was that woke me up, they have an amateur hour indoors in which all the little brats and their incredibly forgettable parents perform for one another in full costume. At his brother's urging, Dad and bro do a duet on the guitar, and although bro just can't seem to remember the words, Pop knows every last line by heart, then for the chorus at the end, bro is suddenly inspired. Apparently, the song expresses his innermost feelings like nothing in his silly life ever has before. He's twisting and turning and shouting out those poignant words like there's no tomorrow. Don't get your hopes up, though, because the fun's far from over. As if that weren't bad enough, then comes a game of charades. Bro's love interest has had enough of this silly nonsense and tries to escape with bro hot on her heels trying to persuade her to stay. Ya see, she really has the hots for Dad instead of Dad's bro. Life is complicated and inconvenient that way. The entire family lines up at the window and watches the tearful parting of the mismatched couple. You'd think somebody in that godawful brood might realize that privacy is required now and then, but no, not in that house, where everyone needs to know every tiny detail about everyone else just to make sure nobody gets away with any proscribed individualism.
Dad sneaks off after his brother's girl in his Volvo station wagon and they meet at a bowling alley where they have the place all to themselves. The manager even dims the lights just for them because they are making such a commotion that it would be really embarrassing if anyone else saw them do it. You'd think the management might object to their throwing bowling balls all over the place, but no, they're having too much fun and this must be a special bowling alley that's in business just for them. Wait! You guessed it. In comes the family and bro is royally irked that Dad stole his girl. We already know he's really emotional by the way he belted out that Bee Gees song, so he punches Dad right in the nose. That was all I could take. Out of the DVD player came this disgusting, schmarmy piece of tripe and it's going' right back to the library to serve as an emetic for someone else. Anyone who thinks this horrible movie is good ought to be taken out to the nearest field and executed.
Others have alluded to the incontinence, one of the most dehumanizing aspects of the disease, or the mental confusion and the increasing inability to speak sensibly. Another aspect is so-called short-term memory loss and its immediate effects. For example, I remember my father, a highly intelligent and purposeful man before he was diagnosed with the disease, sitting at the dinner table with his arms on his lap and banging them on the underside of the table because he forgot the table was there and he was trying to use his arms to make a gesture. He did this over and over again, each time saying, "Ouch!" then immediately forgetting that he'd just hurt himself and doing the exact same thing yet another time. It seemed to me that his arms were taking a real bruising but nothing much could be done about it. That was following the first round of serious deterioration in his mental faculties, when he seemed to be in good humor and had not yet turned bitter and angry and paranoid or become incontinent and far more confused. Just a year later, after more serious deterioration, he was dashing out of the house and running around my parents' wealthy neighborhood with his clothes put on wrong, scaring people he came across and being picked up and brought home by the police. The combination of not knowing what they are doing while knowing just enough to be both very slippery and a real danger to themselves is a very disturbing aspect of the disease. Only the wealthiest families like the Reagans can afford to keep the patient at home and hire expensive, live-in care. Most people are forced to sell the patient's home in order to afford the less-expensive care facility. Alzheimer's Disease is a terrible way to die, perhaps worse than cancer because it goes on for so long and just gets worse and worse. And these facilities, in concert with the doctors, treat the patients with powerful, potentially deleterious drugs in order to keep them under control, anxious to get them to the final stages more quickly where they are easier to manage and less likely to jump up and head for the door. In fact, the institutional staff obviously prefers them when they are further along, that is, in a wheelchair that can be parked, facing the wall for hours at a time. The loved ones of certain patients will bribe the staff members to give special (read minimal) attention to their afflicted relatives, while less fortunate patients are more or less ignored. The movie didn't adequately deal with this seamy reality, but then again, movies seldom do deal with death in a truly realistic and convincing manner. They tend to romanticize it or soft pedal it, which is what was done here.
So Schmidt is this conformist monkey who just retired from an insurance company. Don't get me started on the insurance industry, that bunch of megalomaniacs who are well on their way to bleeding the entire country dry "just to be safe." He is completely pussy-whipped, doing almost everything his wife decrees, even sitting down to pee so he won't splatter on the rim just because she insists upon it. It's pathetic. When she suddenly drops dead, he is at loose ends and doesn't even know how to feed himself, let alone how to keep their big house clean. It's more than mere depression, one suspects. He actually IS helpless without her telling him what to do. The one ray of hope in his life is his snap decision to sponsor a poor child in Africa, the correspondence between himself and the child (through his actual caretakers in Africa) being the single vein of truth in all the phoniness of his life. His daughter, about to marry a complete jerk out in Denver, has a few things to say to pop when he attempts to stop her from "making a terrible mistake." She's as willful as her mother and a very interesting character when she gets her dander up. I especially liked the part after the funeral where she objects to the fact that her father had bought her mother "the cheapest casket" he could find.
The movie takes us to Denver for the wedding and we meet Schmidt's in-laws, a quirky bunch, to be sure. They are led by Kathy Bates, another "strong woman" right out of "Misery" who has all but castrated her well-meaning ex-husband, whom she continues to bully even though he has remarried a pleasant oriental woman. These characterizations ought to make an impression on all the "post-feminist," hardboiled American women out there, most of whom think they know what's best and that their spineless, stupid spouses are only fit for taking orders, but you know it will take much more than a good movie to make that one sink in. In the end, Schmidt realizes what a fool he's been, even though there's nothing he can do about it. As the movie wraps, the caretaker of his foster child expresses sincere appreciation for what he is doing for the boy and the child sends him a picture he's drawn that shows them smiling and holding hands. Schmidt breaks down in tears. Finally, someone seems to appreciate him, even if it is a child he has never met. We wonder what will happen next in Schmidt's dreary life.