Saturday, January 30, 2010

THE MESSENGER: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE MESSENGER (Dir. Oren Moverman, 2009)

There have been many movies in which we see Army men appear at folks' homes to give notice of the deaths of soldiers. It is usually a brief scene with little spoken, but here these men, in the form of Ben Foster as a Staff Sgt. recently deployed from Iraq, and Woody Harrelson as a Captain whose war was Desert Storm, get their own movie.

Under Harrelson's gruff mentoring, Foster learns quickly that a stint as a member of the Casualty Notification service can be as almost as wrenching and painful as front line combat.

Harrelson deals with this by going by strict protocol. He sternly tells Foster to speak only to the next of kin and avoid physical contact: "In case you feel like offering a hug or something - don't". Foster replies "I'm not going to be offering any hugs, sir."

Foster's life in the downtime is pretty dire. He is love with a girl named Kelly (Jena Malone) who is marrying somebody else and he spends his time in his dark dumpy apartment drinking while blasting heavy metal music. He becomes infatuated with housewife Samantha Morton to whom he has delivered bad news.

Morton takes the news of her dead husband reasonably well, even shaking Foster and Harrelson's hands while saying: "I know this can't be easy for you". On their walk away from her, Harrelson calls this response "a first". Foster's infatuation with Morton is initially creepy - he sits in his car watching her through the window and he follows her at the mall. Once he makes contact with her some of the creepiness dissolves but uneasiness remains as they flirt on the faint edge of a relationship.

Morton's eyes hint at a back story that we never hear but we don't need to - the emotional terrain of lives lost and those left behind sets the film's entire tone. Unfortunately this semblance of a plot involving Morton is abandoned for a large chunk of THE MESSENGER.

Foster and Harrelson go off and get drunk, get in a fight, and crash former flame Malone's reception in a pointless display of untamed testosterone for too much of the sloppy narrative. This is a shame because Morton's scenes are the most moving. There are some other powerful passages in this film, mostly in the first half's house calls (Steve Buscemi has an intense cameo as a heartbroken father of a fallen son), but the film is too disjointed and detached to have the searing impact it aims for.

Moverman's movie just glosses the surface of the psyche of these disturbed men. Foster has proven time and time again that he has the chops to create fully realized characters - witness Six Feet Under and his scene stealing turn in 3:10 TO YUMA - but this soldier is just a sketch and so is its story. As a supporting player, Harrelson is on more solid ground but still suffers from familiarity - the older brother feel of his character is not unlike his turn in ZOMBIELAND.

Though I wasn't feeling it, THE MESSENGER is sure to be regarded as a noble effort. Its attempt to delve into this tense territory is admirable and its sincere tone is intact throughout its running time, but I was too often distracted by its shrugging sensibility in place of a statement.

Audiences of late have tended to stay away from downer Iraq war related film fare. This time out it's going to be especially hard to blame them.

More later...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Serious Series Addiction: The Wire, Lost, & The Prisoner (1967)

Despite this being “Film Babble Blog” I do babble about TV shows every now and then. This is one of those times.

I had only 2 New Year’s resolutions this year – to exercise more and to finish all 5 seasons of The Wire. I dug my wife’s old exercise bike out of the garage and set it in front of the TV so I could do both. I had begun The Wire sometime last year but put it on the back burner, not because I didn’t like it but because of the many movies that were ahead of it on my list of priorities.

After hearing so many folks refer to it as “the greatest TV series ever” I decided it was time to fully see what all the fuss is about. Over the last few weeks I’ve been pedaling away on the bike devouring one episode after another of David Simon’s exemplary Baltimore crime drama.

I am now on season 5 episode 4 and have lost over 10 pounds in the process.

I learned that a friend of mine was also making his way through The Wire after he got the full series as a Christmas gift. Talking to him on IM he spoke of other friends that were catching the bug as well.
Then, just this week, Onion AV head writer Nathan Rabin posted a piece for their ongoing “Better Late Than Never” feature about finally watching the show’s first season so it seems the show is slowly but surely searing its way into our collective pop culture psyche.

If you’ve never seen The Wire – it can be a daunting undertaking because it’s very complex with a lot of characters and can be hard to follow at first. It seemingly gives equal time to the good, the bad, and the ugly from sleazy politicians to the cops on the beat right down to the lowest level druggie scum with a level of authenticity that’s astounding. It stands with The Sopranos as a novelistic epic and as one of the most engrossingly addictive shows ever.

The Wire isn’t the only show I’ve been pedaling to recently. Since I’ve had to wait for discs of it to come in the mail from Netflix I’ve been checking out what’s available now on Instant.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Life Of Quiet Desperation Fashionably Rendered

A SINGLE MAN (Dir. Tom Ford, 2009)

College professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) lives his life in a neat orderly manner. Every item is his home is arranged appropriately and every piece of clothing he wears is impeccably pressed.

Firth is living what Thoreau called a life of "quiet desperation" (a quotation our lead is undoubtedly aware of and not just because he teaches English) ever since his lover Jim (Matthew Goode - seen in flashbacks) of 16 years died in an automobile accident 8 months previous. It's Los Angeles 1962, in the days after the Cuban missile crisis, and the influence of beat culture is strong on Firth's students, but the fear of war and total annihilation is stronger. Firth's inner torment distances him from the communal worries of the day. From the outset of the film we see that he has decided to get through the routine of one last day before he takes his own life. He buys bullets for his handgun and tries to figure the best way to kill himself without leaving too big a mess for his maid.

Firth's dignity and poise is intact as he flirts with a Spanish hustler (Jon Kortajaren) in a liquor store parking lot and as he converses with one of his students (Nicholas Hoult) who may be interested in more than class consultation.

However Firth does lose his well cultivated composure during a dinner visit with long-time friend and ex-lover Charly (Julianne Moore) who has had a thing for him for years. Moore ponders the relationship he had with Jim; "wasn't it really just a substitute for something else?" Firth jumps up and exclaims: "There is no substitute for Jim anywhere!" 

There is a washed out quality to the film - grey grainy tones make up most shots but color rushes in with red hues heightened when sensuality is implied. With such subtle touches abounding, it's a definitive "art film" that's an impressive debut for a Fashion Designer best known for magazine layouts. Firth's performance is an intensely nuanced balance of grace and pain. It's some of the sharpest acting out there now and it will be shocking if he's not nominated. 

Maybe not an Oscar, but Ford's direction deserves notice too for it recalls the work of Julian Schnabel while showing its own promise in illustrative invention. Although a bit slow paced, A SINGLE MAN has its indulgences in check and is a quietly absorbing work of refined beauty. It's a passionate portrait of grief that knows that there isn't a substitute for a lost lover any more than there is a substitute for life.

More later...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

THE BOOK OF ELI: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE BOOK OF ELI (Dirs. Albert and Allen Hughes, 2010)

Here we go again with another cinematic rendering of a post apocalyptic world - apparently for those who thought THE ROAD didn't have enough action.

A bearded grizzled Denzel Washington walks the ashy terrain listening to Al Green on an old beat-up iPod and avoiding Road Warrior-ish highjackers hiding in the rubble.

When he is confronted by a crusty crew of them, we see that he is a machete-brandishing bad ass who leaves his attackers in a pile of their own limbs; SAMURAI ASSASSIN-style.

We only get a few hints as to what happened to the Earth. Washington mentions "the wars", "the flash" and at one point says "the sky opened up, the sun came down" so obviously they want to keep it vague. I can go along with that fine, but after hearing that it's been 30 winters since this all went down I couldn't get over wondering how he recharges that iPod battery.

On his journey west (post apocalyptic folk are always traveling to the Californian coast) Washington comes upon the supposed king of the crud covered thugs - an oily Gary Oldman (one of the only lively elements present) who chews the sleazy scenery as he seeks "the Book". The book is, of course, the Bible (The King James Version) and Washington has the last copy on his person and he ain't sharing it. He'll quote from it to Mila Kunis as one of Oldman's slaves, but he will not give it up to anybody.

Suffice to say this causes some friction. Friction in the form of gun battles with heavy artillery and yep, big explosions. Washington is determined and seemingly indestructible in his efforts to protect "the Book", but his real strengths as an actor are buried here.

Though Washington is one of the executive producers on this project, his role as the stoical Eli is stiff and passionless. He's one of the finest actors working today, but here his charisma is literally missing in action.

Despite this the movie itself should've gone for more mindless spectacle instead of the religious pretension it tries to pull off. Its hokey thematics bring to mind another post apocalyptic anomaly - THE POSTMAN. In Kevin Costner's notorious 1997 flop, a drifter finds a mailbag and sets about delivering the letters inside which in turn helps to rebuild society.

The Bible in THE BOOK OF ELI fulfills the same purpose - it's a glorified MacGuffin, but unlike most MacGuffins, it's importance grows in the last third of the film. Washington and the Hughes Brothers are reaching here to tell the story of a righteous prophet, and there are a few times where its sepia-tinted tones are appealing, but mostly the underwritten yet overdone enterprise loudly falls flat.

As a beginning of the year B-movie THE BOOK OF ELI is sure to make major bank from movie-goers looking for diversion. But stone cold boredom is what they're really going to get. 

More later...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

THE LOVELY BONES: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE LOVELY BONES (Dir. Peter Jackson, 2009)

“I was fourteen years old when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973.” So says Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) at the beginning of this adaptation of Alice Sebold’s 2002 best seller. Ronan’s voice-over comes not from beyond the grave, but from she calls “the blue horizon between heaven and earth.” 

There’s no mystery to how she got there - a creepy neighbor (Stanley Tucci) in her family’s Norristown, Pennsylvanian suburb lured her into an underground bunker he built in a nearby field. 

In the months afterwards her disappearance throws her parents (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz) into domestic disarray while her sister (Rose McIver) starts to suspect Tucci. Ronan, well cast with her ocean colored eyes, watches her family from the mythic realm, which is not unlike the vivid ultra-colorful heaven of WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, as she walks from one spectacular landscape to the next hoping to reconcile the messy end of her life and move on. 

LORD OF THE RINGS visionary Peter Jackson keeps the camera moving with swooping crane shots and cuts with a good sense of juxtaposition, but the story is too drawn out to create much suspense. It’s an immaculately made movie, but it appears to be missing enough soul to really pull us in and make us care. It also suffers from a strongly misplaced thread involving Susan Sarandon as the Mrs. Robinson-esque alcoholic grandmother with her bouffant hair, mink coats, and always present cigarette dangling from her fingers. A montage in which she attempts to help out and clean house should’ve been edited out – I understand that they felt the film needed some sort of comic relief, but this really feels forced.

Though overwrought at times, Wahlberg puts in a decent performance, at least better than in THE HAPPENING, as the obsessed father who constantly calls upon an investigating detective (Michael Imperioli from The Sopranos) to run checks on every possible suspect. 

It seems that they look into everybody in town before they get to Tucci, which is surprising since he lives across the street from the victim’s family. “These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections - sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent.” Ronan’s concluding musings are apt, for there is magnificence in this film - visually speaking that is. 

Otherwise, the connections are too tenuous and its pace is too plodding. I haven't read the book on which it's based, but I suspect that its most stirring passages were too cerebral to be translated to the big screen. 

At least as far as this film adaptation goes, THE LOVELY BONES is sadly a supremely unsatisfying experience.

More later...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


BIG FAN (Dir. Robert D. Siegel, 2009)

Paul, played by comedian Patton Oswalt, from Staten Island considers himself “the biggest New York Giants fan”. During his day job as a parking garage attendant he scribbles in a notebook a script of sorts of what he’s going to say on a sports call-in radio show that night. 

These rants are often interrupted by his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz) who he still lives with. Paul regularly goes with his best friend (Kevin Corrigan) to Giant’s Stadium to sit on lawn chairs and watch the game on a old television balanced on the trunk of a car in the parking lot. From all of this you might surmise that Paul’s life is pretty pathetic.

Maybe so, but Paul doesn’t see it that way. He believes that he has a gift for opinionated gab and that his football fanaticism fulfills some purpose. This outlook gets put to the test when he and Corrigan spot Giants’ star linebacker Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) and his entourage at a gas station. They follow him for the evening and end up at a Manhattan strip club. Paul approaches Bishop but the meeting goes down horribly resulting in our protagonist being brutally beaten by his favorite player.

Paul is hospitalized and Bishop is suspended from playing. Paul’s brother – a sleazy personal injury attorney - wants to wager a multi-million dollar suit against Bishop and a trench-coated cop (Matt Servitto) wants him to press charges, but Paul doesn’t want his favorite player out of the game.

As Paul recovers from the incident we see him going through the sad motions of his mundane existence – walking the streets, staring into the Hudson, and crying into his pillow to the strains of John Cale's “Big White Cloud”. He is soon back on the phone spouting out on the sports line, though this time it’s to defend Bishop against the taunts of his radio rival – “Philadelphia Phil” (Michael Rapaport).

Oswalt’s affecting performance is fearless. He fills nearly every frame with his puffy pathos alternating with the glow from his face when he’s most feels alive (i.e. pontificating over the airwaves). It’s a solid piece of acting that’s not without a certain comic sensibility, but stands foremost as fine dramatic work.

The same could be said of the film. As it comes from THE WRESTLER writer (and former editor of The Onion) Robert Siegel, you might expect social satire (and there is a bit here), but BIG FAN is more concerned with the inner crisis of character. When Paul paints his face the colors of the Eagles - the team he most hates - and travels to a local bar in Philadelphia to confront Rapaport, his leveling gaze and damned demeanor are a testament to misplaced passion.

Siegel and Oswalt’s film is both homage to Scorsese’s 70’s portraits of lost souls (most principally TAXI DRIVER) and its own modern anti-morality play. Whether you’re amused or disturbed at its display of delusion as life style choice, you most likely won’t look away.

Special Features: Though sadly lacking a commentary, there are some worthwhile extras on this disc. A Q & A of Oswalt and Siegel at Chicago's Music Box Theater is lively and entertaining, "Kevin Corrigan Recalls His Own 'Big Fan' Experience With Robert De Niro" is hilarious, and the over 10 minutes of outtakes are rougher and scrappier than most outtakes on DVDs but that's part of their authentic charm.

More later...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Michael Cera Is The Putz *And* The Poseur

YOUTH IN REVOLT (Dir. Miguel Arteta, 2009)

It's funny that Michael Cera has reportedly been the lone holdout for the prospects of an Arrested Development movie since he's never quite left the character of awkward yet lovable George-Michael Bluth behind. 

Cera has never shown us that he has any versatility, yet his trademark hangdog nervousness coupled with his particular brand of soft spoken sarcasm, has worked nicely in several movie comedies in the last few years - SUPERBAD being the best of those.

As Nick Twisp, that same Cera persona is on display in YOUTH IN REVOLT, but here there is sort of a promise of a twist to that persona in the form of a bad boy alter ego named François Dillinger.

Unfortunately apart from a pencil thin mustache and an always present dangling cigarette in his lips, François is still the same Cera. He makes taunting risque comments to Twisp and acts according to the domino-effect accident-prone nature of the script, but it's still the same Cera. Sigh. Couldn't he have even just attempted an accent?

Cera affects François for the express reason of wooing the girl of his dreams (Portia Doubleday) - a neighbor in the trailer park his family fled to. Though we are introduced to Cera's Twisp by way of a masturbation scene, he fancies himself a well read intellectual who loves Frank Sinatra and in Doubleday he feels he's met his match. He longs to break away from the white trash world of his divorced mother (Jean Smart) who's shacked up with a scuzzy trucker (Jack Galifinakis), so he plots to get his real father (Steve Buscemi) to get a job and relocate so he can be close to the girl he loves. 

François appears to be the key to set this in motion. 

Mix in reliable character actors Fred Willard, M. Emmet Walsh, Mary Kay Place, and Ray Liotta (as yet again an asshole cop) and this all plays as quirk by the numbers - "Independent Teen Angst Movie" it could be called. To jazz up these stale elements there's jaunty animation that looks like it was pilfered from Nickolodeon and Justin Long as Doubleday's laid back hallucinogenic mushroom providing brother. 

YOUTH IN REVOLT was filmed a few years ago and possibly shelved because the producers (the Weinstein Brothers) sensed there was a lack of a strong hook to this material. Its release in early January seems to support this. The film has likable people, songs, and story strands but Cera feels severely miscast to the ultimate detriment of the movie. 

Unless Cera's got some major character deconstruction surprises coming anytime soon, here's hoping he reconsiders reprising George-Michael Bluth in the afore mentioned Arrested Development movie. I mean, c'mon! It's the only role he seems to have really played since.

More later...

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Ledger’s Last Film: Good But Not Great Gilliam

(Dir. Terry Gilliam, 2009)

Terry Gilliam is infamous for problems plaguing (and sometimes halting) many of the productions of his fantastically far-fetched films, but as I'm sure folks reading this well know, none have been hit harder than this one. The untimely death of Heath Ledger midway through shooting threatened to squash the project, but Gilliam came up with a solution to cast three of Ledger’s acting peers to fill in for his remaining scenes.

It helps the conceit that in the story Ledger’s character steps through a magic mirror into another world in which he could be somewhat plausibly changed into another person. It also helps that the 3 actors filling in just happen to be very big names in the business: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell.

Given these circumstances, the finished film works better than it has a right to. Working with a much lower budget than before, Gilliam knows how to draw an audience in to a strange setting, one that’s familiar to fans with its ratty stage folk and tall tales that just might be true. 

In the title role, Christopher Plummer, made to look ten times scragglier than usual, leads a group of show folks making their way around modern day London in a make-shift stage vehicle. The group is made up of the Doctor’s daughter (Lily Cole), a clever but neurotic magician (Andrew Garfield), and an out-spoken dwarf (Verne Troyer) who has many of the films best lines.

Plummer tells his daughter (and us) his bizarre back story (well, bizarre if you’ve never seen a Gilliam film before) involving a deal with the Devil (a terrific Tom Waits) and the darkening of his visions. When crossing a bridge in the middle of the night the traveling troupe comes across Ledger hanging from a noose. They get him down and find he’s still alive. 

When he comes to the next day he asks where he is. Troyer answers: “Geographically, in the Northern Hemisphere. Socially, on the margins. Narratively, with some way to go.”

Ledger has no memory of his life before his suicide attempt so he joins the Imaginarium players, soon making changes to their set and presentation. A crumbled newspaper page blowing around the rubble of the seedy dank underworld they call home reminds Ledger of his shady background, but he continues to go along with the troupe especially after learning that the Doctor’s Imaginarium is no scam.

The film beautifully builds up to when Ledger first goes through the mirror and the transition to Johnny Depp is successfully smooth. Depp has the briefest bit of the guest replacement actors, but makes the most of it with his patented eyebrow exercises and dance moves. 

Jude Law and Colin Farrell are well suited for the smarmy greedy parts of Ledger’s personality that emerge in further mirror excursions if indeed that’s what they were supposed to symbolize.

Such errant elements in the second half don’t gel well and key plot points are muddled or clumsily glossed over, but that Gilliam was able to complete this film to as coherent as it is makes up for a great deal of defects.

THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN is the closest relative IMAGINARIUM has in Gilliam’s canon. 

Both deal with wizened old men spinning legends out of their outrageous realities; performing their fables on the sideshow circuit, laying in wait for fortune or death - or both. IMAGINARIUM has a much lower budget that MUNCHAUSEN, yet it benefits from less aesthetic indulgence and its smaller scale gives it more intimacy.

It’s far from Gilliam’s best movie, and it’s far from Ledger’s best performance, but as a salvaged final project, I’m glad THE IMAGINARIUM exists. 

It’s a mixed bag of a movie (and may still have been had Ledger lived), but it’s a still a fairly fun film and a fitting tribute. At the end we are told that this is “A film from Heath Ledger and friends.” I know it's lame to say that 'it's the thought that counts', but dammit - it counts the most here.

More later…

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Terry Gilliam Repertory Role Call 1977-2009

In anticipation of the new Terry Gilliam film THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS opening wide this Friday here's a listing of Gilliam's stupendous stock company. This is excluding the Monty Python films, because Gilliam only co-directed one of them (MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL). So let's get right to it:

Jeff Bridges (THE FISHER KING, TIDELAND) 7 years before "The Dude", Bridges abided as pony-tailed radio shock jock Jack Lucas who finds redemption by way of a crazy homeless Robin Williams (see end of list). Bridges' fate was less rosy in TIDELAND (2005) - he plays a crusty old rocker reminiscent of Kris Kristopherson (a foreshadowing of CRAZY HEART?) who dies of a heroin overdose and spends most of the film as a rotting corpse sitting upright in a chair in a rustic farmhouse. Also notable: Bridges narrated the excellent heartbreaking documentary LOST IN LA MANCHA that focused on Gilliam's aborted 2000 production of THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE.

Jim Broadbent (TIME BANDITS [1981], BRAZIL [1985]) The small but juicy role of a sleazy Compere of the game show "Your Money Or Your Life" was one of Broadbent's first film roles. He appeared again in Gilliam's next film, the bizarre but brilliant BRAZIL, as Dr. Jaffe - a plastic surgeon for one of the other notable cast members on this list (Hint: skip ahead 2).

Winston Dennis (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL, THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN 1988) A couple of bit parts as "Bull-headed Warrior" who battled King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) in TIME BANDITS and "Samurai Warrior" in BRAZIL led to an actual character name for Dennis, actually 2, Bill/Albrecht, an intertwined duo in Gilliam's overblown but still incredibly charming epic comedy: THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1988).

Johnny Depp (FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, ) A Hunter S. Thompson adaptation is not a characteristic project for the dogged director, but with the demented Depp as the Gonzo journalist, Gilliam found his fantasist footing in the trippy terrain. Depp lent a hand famously filling in for Heath Ledger as "Imaginarium Tony #1" in the upcoming IMAGINARIUM... and is slated to be Sancho Panza (a role he was unable to complete in 2000) in THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE (2011). Barring any unforeseen incident, mind you.


While she's best known for her US television sitcom work on Soap, Who's The Boss, and Everybody Loves Raymond, Helmond has an almost alternate reality film career in the alternate realities of Gilliam. 

In TIME BANDITS she's fittingly named Mrs. Ogre as she's the wife of "Winston the Ogre" (Peter Vaughan), in BRAZIL she's Ida Lowry - the mother of protagonist Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), and in FEAR AND LOATHING... she's "Desk Clerk at Mint Hotel" - a study in uncomfortable disapproving scowling. You'd think she'd be used to Gilliam's grotesqueries by that point.

Ian Holm (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) To go from the legendary Napoleon to the lowly office boss Mr. M. Kurtzman in just a few years is quite a demotion. And perhaps it's adding insult to injury that neither role has any positive light shed on them but Holm puts in perfect performances that actually provoke sympathy. Incidentally Holm would go on to portray Napoleon again in THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES (2001).


Jeter died in 2003 leaving behind an eclectic career that stretched from musical theater to television comedy to the silver screen and back again. His parts in 2 of Gilliam's finest films as "Homeless cabaret singer" and "L. Ron Bumquist" are as memorable as character acting can be - especially when he belts out a medley of show tunes in drag to Amanda Plummer in THE FISHER KING.

Simon Jones (BRAZIL, TWELVE MONKEYS) These are pretty blink and miss them cameos (as an "Arrest Official" and "Zoologist" respectively) from Python pal Jones best known as Arthur Dent on the BBC TV version of The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy (1981). 

Heath Ledger (THE BROTHERS GRIMM, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) Of course, the tragic death of Heath Ledger in 2008 deprived the world of an amazing young talent, but a blossoming Gilliam leading man is how he'll remain frozen in time as "Tony" in his last film: THE IMAGINARIUM... Ledger was reported as being close to Gilliam beginning with their work on BROTHERS GRIMM, so it's not so far-fetched to imagine them collaborating often had he lived. 


McKeown has been on hand to fill in random bit player parts in these 4 films simply because he co-wrote them with Gilliam. His work as "Theater manager", Harvey Lime, Rupert/Adolphus, and "Fairground Inspector" may go majorly un-noticed but such a solid player should at least get a shout out from this blogger.

Christopher Meloni (TWELVE MONKEYS, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS) Before he was Detective Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, or criminal Chris Keller on Oz for that matter, Meloni played Lt. Halperin in TWELVE MONKEYS then "Sven, Clerk at Flamingo Hotel" in FEAR AND LOATHING...

Monday, January 04, 2010

IT'S COMPLICATED: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Nancy Meyers, 2009)

A recent New York Times Magazine profile of the writer/director of this film opened with this set-up: "Nancy Meyers makes movies set in beautifully appointed, but not opulent, houses about attractive, but not perfect looking, people in which the, unintentionally seductive, middle-aged woman always triumphs."
That pretty much nails Meyers' formula especially her previous work SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE which had Diane Keaton in the "unintentionally seductive middle-aged woman" role now inhabited by Meryl Streep. What's nice to report is that the formula fits this film much better as it's a much sharper minded work with less contrived instances of broad comedy.
A bubbly giddy Streep is Myers' plucky protagonist - she's been divorced for a decade from the, of course, charming Alec Baldwin, but can muster civility in his presence even when he's accompanied with his young wife (Lake Bell). Streep runs a bustling bakery and has her business life in order, but her friends (Rita Wilson, Mary Kay Place, and Alexandra Wentworth who all act like giggling school girls) all think her love life needs help.
Conveniently a nice, also divorced, architect she hires for an addition to her home played by Steve Martin might make for a promising suitor. What's not convenient is that Streep has just started an affair with her ex-husband Baldwin.
Baldwin wants to get back together but Streep is filled with doubt - giddy doubt. The giddiness is infectious as the couple hides their fling from their offspring - Hunter Parrish (Weeds), Zoe Gazan, and Caitlin Fitzgerald. John Krasinski (The Office - USA) as Fitzgerald's husband to be, happens to catch sight of the offending party at a hotel and that sitcom-ish detail almost derails the delivery, but the film still breezes along quite convincingly.  Like a witty stage production, the one-liners and earnest declarations of the characters will be what stays with appropriate audiences.

By appropriate I don't just mean the middle-aged woman market - there is much for most men or women who've been around the block a few times to relate to and be amused by.

When Streep describes herself as "the kind of person who makes fun of people who get plastic surgery" as she consults a surgeon and later stops in front of a mirror asking out loud: "Is that what I look like?" it's extremely endearing.

She's one of the biggest movie stars on the planet yet we can sympathize with her aging insecurities like she's our next door neighbor. Her smiling eyes along with Baldwin's longing stares and Martin's sad squinting are warming visages of world weary actors who are still at the top of their game.

"Wow. So that's how grown-ups talk." Streep says after Martin puts his feelings on the table when the complications implied by the title come to light, and for the most part that is true of the film.

Sure, some predictable comic conventions (like the Krasinski subplot) were inevitable in this scenario, but Meyers has played them well here with restrained pay-offs and the ending pulls off a pleasant plausibility. IT'S COMPLICATED is affectionately drawn and a better than average rom com - for appropriate audiences that is.

More later...