Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stuff that's pounded my eyeballs this month...

Drew Barrymore hoping America will one day forgive her for "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle".

Periodically (as in when I feel like it/when I remember) I’ll share a few movies that I’ve seen in the last month. They may be movies you’ve never heard of, they may be movies that the mass media behemoth etc. have made it impossible for you to avoid but, either way, maybe I can help tip the scale as to whether or not they’re worth your time and your money…

GREY GARDENS: This is a TV movie produced by HBO and I had no clue what to expect as all I knew in advance was that it was a drama about a couple of eccentric ladies, that it has won some accolades and that Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore were in it... Sometimes a blissful state of ignorance can provide a tasty surprise and that’s exactly what happened with this film. Inspired by the 1975 documentary of the same title, “Grey Gardens” centers around the eccentric lives of Edith and Edie Bouvier Beale, the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy. Edith and Edie lived for decades in their family mansion in almost total isolation and squalor sharing their flea-infested, garbage-strewn home with numerous cats and raccoons until their story, (together with their lineage), was exposed by the National Enquirer.

Taken purely as a character-study, Grey Gardens is a fascinating, albeit tragic story; add to that the Bovier’s social standing and connection to Jackie O and it is the stuff of legend. Initially, though encouraged by the presence of Jessica Lange as Edith, I was extremely perturbed by the thought of Drew Barrymore as Edie… How wrong I was! Don’t let such “memorable” performances as those in Charlie’s Angels and Poison Ivy (?!) put you off seeing this – I have to say I have a new respect for Drew Barrymore’s abilities. She completely inhabited the character and found a way of giving her usual bag of quirky and kooky tricks a wonderful level of depth, realism and pathos. There were times when I couldn’t quite believe I was watching Drew Barrymore and then, when I saw some clips from the original 1975 documentary, I was even more blown away. Her portrayal of Edie is uncanny and downright spooky!

Overall, well worth a look and given its staggering 17 Emmy Award nominations last week, expect to hear a lot more about this film.

KNOWING: Huh… This one is definitely what one might call “a rental”… And it’s a rental that should only be made when there’s little else to choose from… Yet another completely mediocre Nicholas Cage movie with big ideas that never come together. Conceptually, there’s some interesting stuff here but it’s obvious that Richard Kelly’s original screenplay was butchered by the development process. Come the third act I was asking myself “Why don’t I care about any of this?!” Given what should have been a tearful and surprising ending to the story a la “E.T.”, I found myself feeling frustrated and cheated by the whole enterprise. I also found myself wondering what on earth has happened to Alex Proyas the brilliant visual stylist that gave us “Dark City” way back when???

GRAN TORINO: This falls into the same category of Clint Eastwood efforts as “Absolute Power” and “Blood Work”. In other words, it’s far from being a classic and has some serious mis-steps. That said, there are some things to savor here- Okay, so there’s one thing and that’s Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of Walt Kowalski, the hard-nosed, ass-kicking curmudgeon at the center of this story. There aren’t many actors out there that can make lines like this work: “Ever notice how once in awhile you come across somebody you just know you shouldn’t have fucked with? …Well that’s me!”

RELIGULOUS: Bill Maher has a style of humor and delivery that is all his own so if you’re not into him (or his politics) this one is not for you. There are a lot of funny moments here but given the incendiary subject matter (for some at least) this was a missed opportunity in my opinion. The film fails to stick with you in the way that films like Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me” or “Bowling For Columbine” do because all too often the choice is made to make a gag rather than an insightful social commentary. The editing especially is both manipulative and obvious. The cuts often sabotage from within what could have been an important and memorable investigation of the nature of religion, the importance of faith and the increasing redundancy of archaic rituals and practices in our modern day world.

THE MACHINIST: Yeah, yeah, I know its been 5yrs since this came out… Somehow I missed it at the time despite all my geek buddies raving about it. If you haven’t seen it, check it out, particularly if you like Hitchcockian-style thrillers and stylishly realized journeys into paranoia. Personally, I frickin’ loved it – it’s one of those films that as a filmmaker I can say, “Wow, I wish I’d made that!” Christian Bale cuts a terrifying emaciated form and I found myself wincing every time he was onscreen with his shirt off and at the same time shaking my head in wonderment… How the hell did he go from looking like a skeleton to having the Gotham-ripping physique of Batman in just a few months? Apparently his weight went down to 120 lbs for the role and was achieved by a diet of an apple or a can of tuna and one cup of coffee a day… Now that’s commitment to one’s craft!

MAN ON WIRE: This won the Oscar for Best Documentary this year and I’m so glad I finally tracked it down. Who would of believed that a) Anyone would be mad enough to not only balance but DANCE on a high wire (and an illegal one at that) stretched between the towers of the World Trade Center and b) That such a subject would make such a funny, exciting, moving and incredibly inspiring story as this. The film made me want to go out and do something extraordinary – instead I sat down and wrote a new blog but hey, one step at a time… Even Philippe Petit began on wires just a few feet off the ground!

Until next time folks, I’m off to high wire walk across Lions Gate Bridge – Honk if you see me!