Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Expendables

Short review:

ultimate testosterone ... guns, bombs, planes, rapid-fire shotguns,explosions and fire, really bad guys, and good guys who are bad, tattoos, motorcycles and car chases ... and even some good acting now and then ... Mickey Rourke and Stallone have a moment of conversation that's profound about when the soul dies in so much violence and blood ... and that saving someone else might just save the lost soul!

The story lifts up the power of loyalty. When the "beautiful woman" in the story chooses to remain behind in evident danger, while Stallone's character flees, he's haunted by her courage, and returns to save her. I was intrigued by the way in which this was handled - this wasn't about lust, or even love, but the human response to courage, and the need to save a soul - his own - ravaged by violence, by saving someone else.

But don't let the story get in the way of gutsy entertainment. If ya' want comic book violence, with a solid background story, you'll find it here.

I was entertained on a Friday afternoon when I wanted some entertainment.

Gals, stay away ... a good friend challenged me on this, and she's a gal!

Guys, this one's for you!

And maybe for anyone who likes a shoot-'em-up story with hints of real depth.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Get Low

See it!

This is a fine film, starring three remarkable actors, with a fourth not far behind.

What can be said about such actors: Robert Duvall (the hermit, Felix Bush), Sissy Spacek (Mattie Darrow, who loved Felix 40 years earlier) and Bill Murray (the slightly smarmy funeral parlor owner, Frank Quinn)?

Their craftsmanship is stunning to watch, as they bring to life the nuances of their characters - these are real people we're watching.

But there's a fourth actor here that deserves our attention: Lucas Black (Buddy, Quinn's assistant) who delivers a stellar performance - with his slow southern accent (for real, a native of Alabama), he's ernest, honest and innocent, but not naive).

These four are surrounded by a bevy of fine supporting actors who deliver the story with uncanny personality and winsomeness, delivering a fine script by Chris Provenzano and C. Gabby Mitchell under the direction of Aaron Schneider.

Set in Tennessee in the 1930s, the story is inspired by a real-life legend of a hermit who decided to throw a funeral party for himself, before he dies, and he's got the money to do it.

There are secrets here.

And they slowly emerge in this remarkable tale, wonderfully filmed amidst the pines and fields of Depression-era Tennessee.

It's about sorrow and lost love, and the inevitability of human frailty and hurt. That Felix Bush would be a hermit, and as we find out, self-imposed for a "crime."

Don't miss this remarkable film.

And don't wait for Netflix.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Eat Pray Love

I’m glad I saw it.
Was it enjoyable? Yes.

Is Javier Bardem every woman’s dream? You bet. And every man’s dream as well. 

After being seated, I started listening to the crowd (mostly young adult women edging up to middle-age) – they were charged, responding excitedly even to the previews of up-coming “chick-flicks” (no preview of “The Expendables” was shown – darn!) This movie clearly taps into a huge audience, and I suspect this movie will have legs: the ladies will see it multiple times and bring their husbands and boyfriends along (guys don’t worry; no explosions or car chases, but it’s a good story for us, too).

When the movie began, I thought I was in a screening of “Twilight” where hundreds of 12-year old girls exploded with giggles and screams at the first image of Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison). Now let’s be honest, I’ve had a few of those movie moments myself, where a much-loved book comes to life on the big screen, forever melding together what was read and what was scene!

Anyway, back to the movie. Bring the tissue box – there are more tears here than Mama dicing onions. In credit to the director (Ryan Murphy), none of it felt contrived – these characters have broken hearts and they’re broken people, as we all are. From a theological perspective, we’re sinners, so to speak, and when we discover our brokenness and our capacity to break someone else (hallmark of maturity), it’s gonna get teary-eyed, as it should.

I didn’t read the book, and probably never will (never’s a big word, isn’t it?). But the movie gives the impression that it’s a big book with a big story – a heart in search of selfhood. A woman trying to find herself apart from all the social and marital expectations woven into the fabric of her life and world. “Who am I?” is the driving question of the story, at least as the film delivers it.

Built on three themes: Eat (in Italy with new-found friends) and put on a few pounds, even if you have to buy some “big lady” jeans; pray in India (with new-found friends), and scrub floors in the Ashram; love (again) in Bali with a new-found man who loves his family deeply.

Julia Roberts is wonderful – playing well into her mature years. She’s beautiful and who can resist that mile-wide smile (slightly overplayed a time or two – we don’t need close-ups on her perfect teeth ever ten minutes).

Jarvier Bardem is terrific. And how I loved the relationship between father and son (“darling” – a term used for all of his sons) when his 19-year old son comes for a visit in Bali for a week, and then the departure, with plenty of hugs and tears – as it should be for two strong men who know the pleasures and power of a deep family love.

I appreciated the moment when Julia prays for the first time in her life – as her marriage evaporates, and she hasn’t a clue. Who of us really knows how to pray? But it’s heartfelt and powerful as she introduces herself to God. And if there’s an answer to such prayer, it’s the unfolding story, the quest – and as she later learns in India – “God lives within me as me.”

All along the way, plenty of fine performances, including one of my favorites, Richard Jenkins, who’s a “guy from Texas” seeking forgiveness and healing in India and becomes a mentor of sorts for Julia, calling her “Groceries,” because she’s still eating a lot. Here, and throughout the story, there are no easy or quick answers. Like a sculpture slowly chiseling away at the marble, it’s takes a lot of hammering to make a life!

One of the disappointments was cinematography – for a travelogue film, itt lacked cinematic bigness, but I was sitting in the third row, and that could make a difference (for that reason alone, I might see it again, but further back).

Obviously, this is a story about people for whom money is no issue. But that’s what the imagination is all about, and Julia’s travels are played with restraint – no five-star hotels. Though few in the audience could afford this kind of soul-searching journey, even at the hostel level, I doubt if anyone resented her opportunity. We are not watching a rich bitch sample the world; we journey with someone who has the rare opportunity to search for her life, a quest done with honesty and humility.

Is this a great movie? I don’t think so.

But it’s a great story – really everyone’s story – the quest for meaning and identity – found partly within ourselves, with good food and friends and prayer, and found in our love for others and their love for us – only when we can let go, and that’s the dangerous part of the deal.

Worth seeing in the theater? I’d say so! And guys, you’ll enjoy it, too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Extra Man

Ya’ can’t be anyone else but who ya’ are … though no one comes to that reality overnight, and it may take a lifetime, and then some, to find our identity.

I like quirkiness, and this film has plenty of that.

Kevin Kline gives us Henry Harrison, a down-on-his-luck playwright, whose opus has been stolen, who supports himself with some college-level lit teaching, loves a bowl of Christmas balls beside his chair, fancies himself an aristocrat and escorts wealthy old ladies to the opera and fine restaurants (the extra man), spending an occasional several months in Palm Springs each winter on their tab.

Paul Dano serves up an amazingly complex character, at once both intriguing and slightly off-putting: a quiet and uncertain prep school lit teacher by the name of Louis Ives, who loses his job because the headmistress caught him in the teachers’ lounge trying on a bra left there in another teacher’s briefcase. Dismissed for “financial reasons” Louis somewhat happily heads off to find his life as a writer in Manhattan, driving an old Pontiac inherited from his father.

Searching the want ads for an apartment, Louis calls Henry, and following a delightfully bizarre interview, with Kevin Kline at his acerbic/ironic/misogynist best, Louis agrees to room there.

They pretty much go their separate ways, until one strange incident (crossdressing) brings them into a roaring conflict, yet one through which both gain a greater understanding of one another. For Henry, he is what he is. For Louis, he is not yet what he shall become, but having tried to be what he is not, and having failed profoundly, he begins a journey into his own reality – though the story draws to an end before we clearly see what and how that shall end.

I loved it and had plenty of laughs.

Kline is Kline, and there’s no one who can deliver his lines with such disdain for the world as he does.

Dano, on the other hand, offers us a most unusual character, in part, because of his looks – he’s no Hollywood hunk – with a face as we would find in some tragic story from the Twenties, an era to which his character is drawn via literature  - and in his imagination, living in Gatsby’s world. At several points, as his quest to find himself breaks down, we watch him break down, too; this young man can act. He takes some real chances in this role, and succeeds.

John C. Reilly gives us another offbeat role as Gershon the repairman, Henry’s neighbor, with a squeaky voice that becomes “normal” only when he sings. He’s a delightful off-beat presence, a “chronic masturbator,” with unruly hair and beard – a man who can repair most anything.

Marion Seldes is marvelous in her role as Vivian, a wealthy old lady who loves the charm and comfort of a gentleman escort, usually Henry. But laid up with a bad back, Henry sends Louis instead. The work here is remarkable, and in one of the most tender film moments I’ve seen, at the end of the evening, and at the foot of her mansion stairs, she drapes her arm around Louis’ neck, and Louis picks her up and enfolds her little frail body in his arms and slowly carries her up to the bedroom, gently laying her on the bed, and thanking her for a most wonderful evening.

Katie Holmes scores a strange role here – a decent but shallow human being wonderfully engaged in her own life. Only toward the end is there a glimmer of light for her character, and in a final gesture to apologize to Louis for her otherwise dismissive attitude, is turned down by Louis because he’s just a few steps ahead of her now.

The whole things ends with a wedding … I like that … a new beginning for all of them?

Maybe … but at least some freedom for Louis to appreciate Louis – he may not yet know who he is, but he knows who he is not, and more importantly, he knows where to look!

This is a small film, of course. For me, a little gem.

The script is subtle, the acting honest; the dreary apartment with all the detritus of Henry’s tired life says it well.

See it in the theater?

Not necessarily … this is a good one for Netflix.

But be warned: if kinkiness – sado-masochism and cross-dressing bother you, stay away. But if quest themes intrigue you, and good acting entertains you, you’ll enjoy “The Extra Man.”

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


“Inception” features Leonardo DiCaprio – a young man who has evolved into a powerhouse actor; his screen presence, subtle yet firm.

I can’t say enough about him - he fills the story with an uncanny passion, as he has done in all of his work. I’m not sure anyone can learn this; it’s simply a gift, though surely honed with practice and discipline, as all gifts are.

To make a long story short, I loved it.

It pulled me into its complicated plot, such that, as it ended, I had completely forgotten where they were, as if I had been pulled into one of the dreams levels, too.

But unlike “Shutter Island,” which was equally well-done and technically without flaw, I didn’t feel deceived with “Inception.”

I don’t like it when a director, or an author, hoodwinks me – there’s no skill to that. I can tell you to meet me for lunch at noon on the 23rd, and when I don’t show up, oh well, too bad. That’s deception.

But to do what Christopher Nolan (writer and director) does with “Inception” requires an enormous amount of skill, and it left with me sheer delight as having been so powerfully entertained.

From the get-go, no one in the audience knows where or what. But as the story unfolds, with some of the finest music (Hans Zimmer) I’ve heard in a long time, the audience is brought on board, though with plenty of twists and turns to keep everyone guessing.

I found myself fully engaged with the characters, all powerfully and singularly well done, each bringing to the screen their unique gifts.

For a full listing of the cast, stop by the IMBD web page for “Inception.”

Special effects are superbly balanced for the story, as well as the action, of which there is plenty, but all properly fitted into the plot.

The storyline is utterly intriguing – is it possible to get into someone’s dreams, not only to learn their deepest secrets, but to plant an idea – an inception – so carefully that upon waking, they will believe the idea to be their own?

The background to the story is corporate espionage, with a giant payoff for Cobb (DiCaprio) who’s been on the run from the States, accused of murdering his wife. If he can pull off this job, his employer will make a phone call and clear his record.

As grimy as all of this is, it’s only background – the heart of the movie is the dream-world into which all of this plays out, with all kinds of subplots around Cobb himself and his deceased wife, who keeps showing up in the dreams.

It’s all very complicated. So, if you go, and I hope you do, be prepared for a lot of uncertainty, especially in the first 20 minutes or so. But hang on. It all falls into place, and ends with a moment that leaves the audience wondering.

Is he home, finally? Or is it still a dream?

A movie to see in the theaters? For sure.