Monthly Archives: April 2008

LEATHERHEADS

Boring!

Clooney promised a fun look at the early days of a sport — Semi-Pro without the dumber jokes — but served up a slightly more humorous version of Flags of Our Fathers.

This is particularly disappointing since it wasn’t just the trailers which promised a break from politics but Clooney himself in his recent New Yorker profile:

“Leatherheads” is “not designed to change the world—it’s just designed to be good fun,” Clooney said, seeming to anticipate critical disappointment. “I was afraid of becoming ‘that issues guy'”—because of “Syriana” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

“I wanted to do something completely different. I want to be a director, and if you’re an issues-guy director then the issues change and you’re out, that’s it, you’re done.”

According to the same article, Clooney “significantly rewrote a fifteen-year-old script—although the Writers Guild of America did not award him a formal share of the credit, to his immense private annoyance”. Seeing what the script looked like before he refashioned it would tell us whether his fear of becoming “that issues guy” was a pre- or post-production epiphany.

As for the final product, Krasinski is charming in the Office but somehow manages to be blander than Ann and lack any charisma on the big screen.

Zellweger should have knocked this part out of the park but she sounds like she can’t figure out if she should commit to the hightened mannerism of Down with Love or reign it in, so she just comes across as half-hearted.

I don’t blame her though because the script’s language is difficult to grasp. Not the mild swearing for comic relief (how many times can you repeat a “can’t say that on the radio” joke? It does not get funnier every time) but the expressions in dialogue that sound too 21st century to fit the attempted throwback style.

I like Clooney but he was better in The Peacemaker (he’s probably still trying to atone for saving New York from nuclear terrorism, Team America style). This is Clooney’s least focused acting since his pre-O Brother days, which can probably be chalked up to him being preoccupied with directing duties. Unfortunately this trade off didn’t pay off: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night and Good Luck are still his best efforts.

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Back to Back: CYBORG vs. THE REAL GIRL

I caught a one-showing-only screening of Park Chan-wook’s latest, I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK! last night, and I’m sorry to say I caught myself falling asleep a few times. After his vengeance trilogy he’s obviously trying to prove he can do the opposite, so it is very cute, earnestly whimsical, and candy colored: Amelie’s Science of Sleep, if you will.  Several scenes will put a smile on your face — “Not psy-cho: cy-borg!” — sometimes from the supporting cast of mental patients, and it is sterilely beautiful to look at from start to finish, but except for a few moments of genius I just couldn’t care too much about it.

I’m a Cyborg boasts some truly memorable Billy Liar-inspired fantasy sequences but the movie suffered from comparison with Lars and the Real Girl which I happened to see for the first time the night before. It’s bascially the same movie except much more humorous, insightful, and emotionally engaging at every point.

In fact, I think Lars had four of the best performances of the year — all in one movie.  Has that ever happened before?

Forget Ryan Gosling for a moment; Emily Mortimer (why do I love her so much?), Paul Schneider, and Patricia Clarkson have the difficult job of spending most of the movie double-acting: as their characters and simultaneously as their characters act in front of Lars. None of these actors wimped out by just acting as if Lars’ doll was a real person. I was very moved by the way their outward, upbeat behavior toward Lars never eclipsed the undercurrent of deep saddness and empathy necessarily behind it.

The final result, when everyone in the theater is chocking back tears despite their cognitive dissent, is a practical demonstration of what it is that movies do. It should not work. But it does. And it does so without resorting to manipulation, because the credibilty of the characters is completely earned.

Though late, Lars instantly entered my Top Ten; I can’t think of a more humane movie in 2007.

SERAPHIM FALLS (2007)

Seraphim Falls is the feature film debut of David Von Ancken, a journeyman television director who in the past five years has directed episodes for a dozen different shows. In this case he wrote the screenplay and it is marked by both efficiency and innovation, especially in the form of Pierce Brosnan’s inventiveness with his available resources as he is being tracked by a Liam Neeson bent on revenge. Neeson and Brosnan are evenly matched opponents: both demonstrate ruthlessness in some situations yet both are entirely sympathetic. The only element too conventional for me was the inevitable partial flashblacks that surely allude to an inciting incident that will not be revealed in full until the ultimate confrontation.

Fortunately, however, the action begins immediately without unecessary introductions: the gunshot commencing the chase rings out within seconds of the opening shot of the film. It begins firmly in Jeremiah Johnson territory, with both men wearing huge animal skins and surrounded by snow and rivers, and their descent down the mountain continues until the final scene on the cracked desert floor without a drop of water in sight and most of their clothes now shed.

Like the pursuit, the film is never lethargic but briskly paced without being rushed. There is a constant sense of urgency that keeps it always in the chase register without decelerating into a mere tracking procedural. Unlike most movies in which characters pass through a variety of situations over a long distance, something actually changes at every encounter. One almost gets the sense that too much is always happening, but it is a refreshing alternative from movies whose characters emerge from each new situation just as they entered it.

The film is not gratuitously violent but it stands out among westerns simply because it does not flinch from the methods of these two Civil War veterans trained to survive. But its manner is so lacking in sensationalism that even its more surprising moments feel natural rather than exploitative. It is surely the best western since Open Range and would be the best of 2007 unless you count The Assassination of Jesse James and No Country for Old Men as variations of the genre. At any rate it is superior to Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma, which is now commendable only for its score and Ben Foster’s jacket. Seraphim Falls is one of my new favorites of 2007 and has my unqualified recommendation.

The Return of Nobody

Sorry for the unannounced six week vacation, kids! Not to worry, though. I’m back and all is well.