Friday, October 21, 2005

Leavin' Town

As sad as it is for me to report, the bad buzz surrounding Elizabethtown is by and large a pretty accurate assessment. Up until now I’ve enjoyed all of Cameron Crowe’s movies this misstep is particularly painful after his incredibly solid one-two punch of Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky at the beginning of the decade, two films listed at the top of my favorite films in their respective years. Unfortunately the problems on this film spread far and wide. There are a few instances where Crowe achieves his trademark synthesis of music and film that result in sheer beauty but these are only fleeting moments that temporarily make us forget what a bloated, sloppy, mess of a movie this is.

The brunt of the public’s criticism and initial resistance to the film will probably land on the performances of Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst and this is somewhat justified but not entirely. As with almost all of his performances, Orlando Bloom very much looks the part and for this he does deserve credit, but not enough to disguise that he cannot always act it. His absolutely dismal comic timing made me wonder if the originally cast Ashton Kutcher might have been better fitted for the role. Kirsten Dunst is rather annoying and the attempted accent does not make matters any better but before things delve too deeply into bashing beautiful people, it must be acknowledged that the characters are inherently lacking in themselves. We’ve seen examples of very skilled acting from Bloom and Dunst in films like Black Hawk Down or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Cat’s Meow so we know that great performances are attainable.

With the characters of Drew Baylor and Claire Colburn, Crowe has scripted his two least interesting and engaging lead characters in his career. In Bloom, Crowe is clearly fishing for a performance on par with John Cusack or Tom Cruise in their heyday but what he does not take into account is that he first has to script a character as personable and sympathetic as Lloyd Dobbler or Jerry Maguire. There are some moments of reprieve in as we are treated to a forceful cameo by Alec Baldwin in the beginning and a great ten-minute segment where Susan Sarandon is given the chance to really act instead of being relegated to hamming it up during trite intervals of supposed comic relief.

There are a few nuggets of nice ideas here that are trapped in a film that will not allow them to meet their potential. Particularly nice is the “last look” voice-over and the conflict of burial versus cremation, but neither are given the chance to grow. The “last look” is especially disappointing in that it has the potential to exist in a heartbreakingly poignant scene but is squandered on the light-weight frivolity here. The movie is not a complete fiasco and only a partial failure. We still get the excellent scenes with Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly,” Elton John’s “My Father’s Gun” and the climactic “Freebird” that instill hope with Crowe’s next film he will find himself more concise and back on track.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

September Round-Up

9/9/05 4:40 at the Union Square United Artists - Green Street Hooligans

Entertaining at times but completely undeserving of a theatrical release; would have been much more effective as a rental or an HBO world premiere. If you absolutely can’t resist seeing it in theaters, a brilliant performance by former-Undeclared star Charlie Hunnam legitimizes the trip to the Cineplex. Barely recognizable from his days as a pretty boy drama student in that wonderful Fox sitcom from 2001, his performance oozes charisma and ferocity. The subject matter of unruly Soccer hooligans and their sub-culture is interesting enough and the pub-heavy London setting is richly absorbing but some redundant dialogue, poorly scripted voice-over and overtly melodramatic domestic scenes hinder any chance it has from rising above a Lifetime version of Fight Club.

9/17/05 1:00 at the 19th Street Loews – Lord of War

One of my most anticipated releases of the fall and sadly one of my biggest disappointments. This is not to say Lord of War is a bad movie, not in the least, it’s just a decent movie with some spectacular scenes scattered throughout. The brown-brown hallucination scene in particular stands out as one of the more memorable scenes from this year. Sadly the film is bogged down by a narcoleptic voice-over from Nicolas Cage that intrudes on the soundtrack at an alarming frequency. Cage’s delivery isn’t half as charming and entertaining without simultaneously seeing his entire charismatic persona on screen. The movie also follows the Goodfellas formula a little too closely and I think the film would have benefited from a pared down approach focusing on a more contained temporal space as I found myself very restless during the first 45 minutes of excessive exposition. Although limiting the scale of the story would limit the epic character study the film is attempting to achieve and it cannot be ignored that the ending message is a powerful one. The opening credits deserve special attention for being an extremely inventive and entertaining title sequence that also manages to incorporate the film’s dominant theme in some 3 minutes of screen time.

9/18/05 10:15 at the 19th Street Loews – Proof

Hard to find much to say about this one other than that it’s a pretty solid crowd pleaser with great acting. The film plays things pretty safe, and that’s a virtue, it doesn’t try to overreach its boundaries and is content with retaining the intimacy of the stage play rather than trying to expand its issues and locations. Anthony Hopkins turns in a characteristically flawless performance riding strong on his Errol Flynn-like international accent and his twinkling blue eyes. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal also give sterling performances that make this very “chatty” screenplay spring to life with engaging characters. Wont find anything groundbreaking here but it’s a guaranteed good time at the movies.

9/23/05 2:20 at the Union Square United Artists – Thumbsucker

An incredibly strong ensemble of disparate actors buoys this coming-of-age narrative that can’t quite compare to the bevy of accomplished performances. Not a weak link out of the entire cast: Lou Pucci, Vincent D’Onofrio, Tilda Swinton, Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn, Benjamin Bratt and Kelly Garner; all give layered and personalized performances. It is apparent that all the actors have taken their roles very seriously and capture painstaking detail in fleshing out their characters. Vince Vaughn’s frumpy jacket during the debate conference is an unforgettably hilarious and honest choice of costume design. However the film itself feels even more heavily medicated than the lead character and thus it lends itself to self-indulgence by way of excessive slow motion and general lethargy.