Friday, November 30, 2007

Thank You for Smoking

"I do it for the mortgage!"

A black comedy (2005) about big tobacco and its darling-boy lobbyist who can spin a brick and turn the opposition into fumbling baboons!

A great cast of characters ... Aaron Eckhart plays the spin-doctor, a smarmy, cheerful, piece of crap who lost his moral bearings a long time ago and finds comfort in two companions, lobbyists respectively for alcohol and firearms. They refer to their weekly gatherings as the MOD Squad - Merchants of Death who pride themselves on the death-rate associated with their product - and tobacco leads the charge.

Robert Duvall is "the Captain" - the man in Winston-Salem who heads the industry - a ruthless southern gentleman. William H. Macy, a pompous senator; Katie Holmes, a "sell-her-body" reporter, and J.K Simmons as Nick Naylor's boss - a no-nonsense, back-stabbing, go-get-'em jerk who'd sell his grandmother for a buck.

Nick's son, Maria Bello, is all ears and eyes, watching his father flim-flam his way through life. Though living with his mother, he often travels with his father, learning how to spin his way to success, a protege learning how to talk!

In the end, crap floats. After losing his job, because he divulged trade secrets to the reporter, he manages a new spin, appears before congress, demolishes the opposition, seemingly has a moment of moral recall, regains his job, quits his job, and goes to work for other "down and out," misunderstood, industries - such as "loggers, sweatshop foremen, oil drillers, landmine developers and baby seal poachers."

As Naylor puts it: "Michael Jordan plays ball, Charles Manson kills people, I talk. Everyone has a talent."

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Better than I expected! Much better!

Powerful story ... though I read Beowulf in high school (centuries ago), I have no recollection, so whether the film told the story or not, I don't know.

But a story it told ... the ageless struggle of good and evil, human pride twisting our story to enhance our reputation, the curse of lust and the monsters it creates!

The animation is profound ... but still animation ... sometimes movements, such as the horses, were stilted ... and the eyes were often lifeless.

Does animation spell the end for live actors in front of a camera?

I doubt it ... at least not yet.

Saw it in 3-D - it was great.

Questions begged by the story: can we ever erase the curse?

Why do we make our heroes greater than they are?

Do we every totally tell the truth about our accomplishments?

In a celebrity culture, where great is always greater, and strength always stronger, we might do well to pay attention to Beowulf - truth told is life gained, even when the truth is less glorious then everyone would like.

Friday, November 23, 2007

No Country for Old Men


Another winner for Tommy Lee Jones ... what a marvelous actor ... the quintessential Texas sheriff ... cagey, laidback, full of stories.

And an entire cast, but especially Javier Bardem - one of the most chilling characters I've ever seen - cold, calculating and insane - deciding the fate of some victims with the flip of a coin.

Josh Brolin, incredible performance - a cowboy, who finds a 2 mil stash of drug money, is discovered and pursued by Javier Bardem ... the bodies fall everywhere.

Tommy Lee Jones, nearing retirement, chats with another aging lawman - who can understand the time drugs and money? "No Country for Old Men" - from Yeats' poem "Sailing to Byzantium."

Intense, with so many twists and turns, yet a clear story-line. Music, cinematography ... someone said to me, "a perfect movie," and I agree.

The ending, like life, has no ending ... things just go on ... good and evil ...

Miramax and Paramount Vantage ... and hats off to the Coen Brothers - keep up the good work.

Sunday, November 18, 2007



A wonderful love story ... Toronto Film Festival People's Choice Award ... a man with a sad past, a women facing a troubled future ... she a waiter, he a cook, in his brother's restaurant ... helping one another.

A sweet story filled with hope ... terrific acting ... pathos ... the power of family love.

And a simple reminder: life is better when we help each other ... and we can!

The ending, though sweet, was confusing to me ... didn't track at all ... maybe it was me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Scheduled for release Nov. 17, HBO - a dark story with a low-key comedic edge - a well-done piece knitting together these two dynamics within and through two families brought together by chance and poverty in the end-days of the old Soviet Union.

The story covers but a few days and a life-time of hurt and struggle.

Starring Paddy Considine, Radha Mitchell and a host of other fine actors and directed by Scott Burns, rated R, filmed in Romania.

Excellent music, cinematography, and all such things that make a very good film.

Watch for it on HBO!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Lions for Lambs

Tight drama ... script and actor driven ...

Cruise better than I had anticipated ... a smarmy young Republican who could score some points, nonetheless, with an aging journalist (Streep) trying to recover her integrity in an industry that had long since traded away news for ratings and profits.

Redford is the quintessential college professor, trying desperately to awaken young minds to their responsibility for the world - here is where the story becomes very good: two of his students decide to join the army and make their stand as soldiers. Though the professor strongly disagrees, he nonetheless supports their heart for making things better.

In this film, no one is innocent in the current mess - but it's the soldier who is spared - a lesson we learned from Vietnam - the grunt in the rice paddy is not the enemy - he's a lion - being led by politicians who have never bled on the battlefield - men who are lambs (from a German general in WW 1 - of the British soldier - lions - being led by the inept lambs).

Hats off to Redford and company for producing a film that avoids the cliches and easy categories, yet relies upon truisms that are simply that - always true.

To the young man in his office, Redford says something like, "Adulthood sneaks up on you. You're 10 decisions into it before you realize it. The decisions you make now you will live with the rest of your life" (this is a script I'd love to read).

Great music throughout ... I loved the abrupt ending ... you live with your decisions ... or die with them ... and as the credits began to roll, the theater (Arclight - LA) remained dark - folks sat there, and then one of the credits, in the background, a scattering of political buttons inscribed with one word, "Vote."

That's the message ... cast your vote, and vote with your life. If you've been given a silver spoon, use it to feed the hungry.

You can make a difference!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dan in Real Life

A lot of laughs, especially if you're a parent of any age "child" and if you happen to be the child of any such parents.

Some very good moments - family life begotten and misbeggotten ... sibling love and sibling rivalry ... parents never stop being parents, even though children cease being children ... the power of death, and the power of love to overcome.

All the pieces are here.

I'm glad I saw it, but it lacks that something special that spells the difference between a good movie and a great one. Energy, perhaps, is the missing ingredient. Steve Carrell is a delightful screen presence, but here, it seems as if he's sleep-walking through the movie - "put it on my tab" he says to the cop, and that's sort of the overall feel of the film - I'll deal with it later.

His three children are scene-stealers in the best sense ... Mom and Dad are quintessential Mom and Dad, still slipping their son a few bucks so he can go out and buy a newspaper - I really hooted when I saw that - I'm a parent, too.

Worth seeing, that's for sure ... but comparing it to the other "family" film, Lars and the Real Girl, "Lars" is considerably the better film - although I want to be careful about comparisons. "Lars" just felt tighter - like a carefully choreographed dance. "Dan," like mashed potatoes without salt, lacked flavor!

So it goes ...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

We Own the Night


Intense ... what else can I say?

Incredible story, powerful acting, stirring music, experimental sound (look for the car chase scene in the rain, the sound of the windshield wipers), filming that captures the chaos, without overwhelming the eyes ... a story of family lost, family found ... one of the most gripping films I've seen in a long time.

A father, two sons ... one a cop, the other a club manager ... one on the side of law, the other flirting with crime ... and then it all changes ...

Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendez - superb, passionate ... an incredible sense of family, really struggling, finding their way through tough times.

Moments of violence ... yet never gross. Rough language. R rated, of course.

I'm surprised I haven't heard more about it ... but maybe it's me not paying attention.

A film worth seeing.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

American Gangster


Two actors (Denzel Washington & Russell Crowe) at the top of their game ... a director (Ridley Scott) who does peerless work ... great filming, music, script, amazing little touches - toward the end, watch for the paper coffee cup being passed back and forth.

A parable of integrity and honesty, their power and their limits.

A great sadness pervades my spirit right now ... Frank Lucas ... African American ... clever, adroit, faithful and honest within the boundaries of his family, yet fated to meet the inevitable end.

How can the African American make it in a system weighted against success?

I know that things have changed since the Vietnam era during which the film occurs, but having lived 16 years in Detroit, I know how sad it is for millions of African Americans doomed to live on the margins, struggling to make it, and often falling into despair and crime. Living now in LA, I sense that opportunities are richer here than Detroit ... but racism still pervades the American consciousness, and may God help us rid our spirit of its many evils.

Frank Lucas goes to jail ... loses everything ... released in 1991 - to what?

The cop ... Richie Roberts ... a resolutely honest cop who earns the mistrust and disdain of his fellow officers because of it ... finally assigned to a special unit investigating drugs.

Two men, fated to meet ... both honest in their own way, ending, in the commentary afterward, as friends. In the end, Richie passes the bar and becomes an attorney. His first client? Frank Lucas.

The film dragged a bit, but time was needed to develop the two characters and the worlds in which they lived and the families and people around them.

A film worth seeing ... and no doubt, Denzel Washington is a towering film presence.

Denzel Washington's chilling portrayal of a man utterly ruthless in achieving his goal and utterly loyal to his family is amazing. His face, without expression, blank and cold, is one of the most incredible moments of acting I've ever seen. An Oscar nomination should surely come his way.

Russell Crowe captured the harried, honest and frumpy cup ... studying on the side to become an attorney, scared to death of public speaking.

All other roles - clean and appropriate. Real estate folks - pay attention to the moment when Frank Lucas buys a Manhattan apartment and offers cash - the expression, the voice, of the agent say it all. A little moment, among many, in this fine film - like discovering a jelly bean in your lunch box!

Worth seeing ... that's for sure ... R rated, for sure!