Friday, March 18, 2011

Mailbag!

A couple of weeks ago, I shelled out a good chunk of change to go see Kevin Smith's Red State at Radio City Music Hall, where it was playing the first engagement of its spring "road show" tour, in advance of a self-distributed run in the fall. I knew I'd have to go out of pocket to do it, thanks to Smith's inexplicable war against film criticism, and was kind of fine with that-- I wanted to see the film (I remain an admirer, in spite of his feelings about my profession of choice), and knew that I'd probably be one of the first people to review it (outside of the Sundance Film Festival crowd). So I wrote the review, the end.

A week later, I suddenly got an email about it. And then another, within an hour or so. Something was clearly up; you don't just start getting emails of nowhere, a week after a review goes up. Sure enough, Smith had posted a link to the review on his Twitter feed-- actually, he'd re-tweeted a link that someone sent him, adding his comments. To wit:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Theaters: "Win Win"


Thomas McCarthy’s films play in such a deliberately minor key, there is a danger—as you’re watching them, anyway—of them flitting off into the ether. They dwell at an intersection of quiet drama and character comedy, easygoing and naturalistic, frequently amusing but short on big laughs (or the easy punch lines those big laughs so often require). It is always in retrospect that they gain they power; it’s not until a few hours or days or even weeks later that you realize you’re still thinking about the characters in a film like The Station Agent or The Visitor. That’s how he works on you. His pictures operate at a slow boil.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On DVD: "The Fighter"


There isn’t a moment in The Fighter that you haven’t seen before. This is not a jab—this is fact. The story of the aging boxer taking his last shot, torn between his loyalty to his troubled Boston family and his love for a good woman, is filled with echoes of other films, better and worse: the Rocky movies, The Wrestler, Cinderella Man, The Champ, The Hammer, Good Will Hunting. Those echoes surround the picture, and sometimes threaten to envelop it; they make it easy to shrug off as an also-ran, a cliché. And, in a macro-cinematic sense, perhaps it is.

But let’s not dismiss it that casually, because the fact of the matter is, on a micro-cinematic level, The Fighter plays. It works, on a moment-to-moment and scene-to-scene basis, pulling its audience in to its oft-told (though true) story. It is indisputably involving. And an argument could be made that the familiarity of the basic arc actually plays to the picture’s favor. Freed from any real suspense about the story and its outcome, we’re able to focus on what is fresh and new—the casual style, the lived-in atmosphere, and (above all) the force of the performances. The three key actors (Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams) and the director (David O. Russell) are like jazz musicians here, starting with familiar themes and then blasting off into improvisations and variations that make the old into new.

On DVD: "Hereafter"


In a New York Times interview, Hereafter screenwriter Peter Morgan tells the twisty tale of how his script went from an instinctively-written first draft through several revisions for potential director Steven Spielberg before landing with Clint Eastwood, who turned around and shot, basically, the first draft. Similar stories circulated back in 2004, when Eastwood shot Million Dollar Baby from Paul Haggis’s first pass, so Eastwood apparently likes the notion of putting the writer’s work right up on the screen. “When something hits you and excites your interest,” he explains in the Times piece, “there’s really no reason to kill it with improvements.”

But the trouble is, the script could’ve used some improvements, and Morgan sounds disappointed rather than flattered. “I imagined we’d have all sorts of conversations about the characters, about the plot,” he says. “But we never did.” Had the pair taken that extra step of, y’know, working on the screenplay some, here’s a few notes they might’ve come up with:

Monday, March 14, 2011

On DVD: "The Switch"


The ads for Josh Gordon and Will Speck’s The Switch pushed it as a madcap sperm-donation comedy, and that’s about what we’d expect from the directors, whose previous directorial credit was the Will Ferrell/Jon Heder ice-skating comedy Blades of Glory. But the source material hints that there might be more to it than that; it’s based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides, writer of The Virgin Suicides, a novel whose film adaptation was not exactly a laugh riot. I’m not sure how pure a reflection of his story The Switch is, but the picture is clearly striving to be more than a late-summer gimmick laugher—it delves into serious themes, gives its actors real characters to play, and plays its fundamentally silly story straight. It doesn’t pull off the elaborate juggling act, but hey, points for trying.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New on Blu: "Moonstruck"


The big, bright moon that fills the sky in Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck is like another member of its rich cast of eccentric characters, gazed upon in sadness and longing and wonder. The people in the film speak of bad blood and bad luck and curses; the rise and fall of the lunar body is one more explanation for their victories, or an excuse for their misfortune. Maybe it’s both. But that’s all a cover—their lives are what they are because of the human heart, and its stubborn refusal to do as it is told.