Friday, June 4, 2010

Pirate Radio

I’ll start with a good one.  This was an all around awesome movie.  British radio station broadcast from a boat in the Atlantic during the heyday of Rock n Roll.  Killer soundtrack, just as would be expected.  Funny and poignant story.  Lovable, compelling, and annoying characters.  People you end up caring about and rooting for by the end.  And is it just me, or does Philip Seymour Hoffman have the best agent ever?  Watching a movie all about Brits, and who turns up but PSH.  How does he get these roles?  Probably because everything he touches is gold.  You see him and you know it’ll be a good movie…well, minus Till the Devil Knows You’re Dead.  But usually he’s a sure thing.  In this movie, as with all the other characters, he was perfect.

Taking Woodstock

Coming straight off watching Pirate Radio, I was stoked to see this movie.  I had wanted to see it from previews in the theatre last summer but didn’t know much else about it.  My hope fell during the opening credits when it said Directed by Ang Lee.  Trust me, Ang Lee did not need to direct this movie.  His depressing landscapes and characters worked for Brokeback Mountain but not here.  Who could create a compelling story about Woodstock but make the music, of all things, seem awful and lacking?  Ang Lee, that’s who.  It seems like there were about 3 songs in the entire movie, only one of which might have been at the original concert.  Another was just sitar music…and it wasn’t even Ravi Shankar, who indeed would have appeared at the original Woodstock.  Really.  No Janis, no Hendrix, no Who.  Ok, says that Janis and The Doors are on the soundtrack, but I honestly can’t remember where in the movie.  Aside from it being a film about Woodstock that was not about the music whatsoever, the storyline and characters were interesting but not in the way the previews would make you think.  There were a handful of laughable moments, most of them from Liev Schreiber in drag.  Demetri Martin plays the son of penny-pinching immigrants and arranges the rental of his neighbor’s farm for a concert no one knew would grow to be so huge.  He played a great role, and it was nice to seem him veer from his usual standup schtick.  But Ang Lee…seriously dude…how did you manage to make Woodstock so depressing?


This was strange for me to watch because it was the first time I noticed actors my age, actors I grew up with, playing parents.  There’s been plenty of others I’m sure, but this one jumped out to me.  Toby Maguire, Natalie Portman, and Jake Gyllenhaal all caught up in marital problems, fighting a war, a mistaken death, and the possibility of being widowed – it’s heavy stuff for my generation.  Acting-wise, Jake and Toby pulled it off as brothers and Toby worked as a troubled Marine whose demons still followed him after a brutal tour in Afghanistan.  Natalie Portman didn’t work quite so much as a military wife.  The costume crew tried to Plain Jane it up a little bit, but they did so in the form of oversized sweaters 10 years out of date.  Sure, put a big old sweater on a beautiful woman and voila! she’s a housewife.  No.  C’mon costume and makeup department, you can do better than that.  How about more current clothes.  Play with the hairstyle a little bit.

Anyway, the basic story of this movie is gripping, but there is a lot missing in the details.  It breaks one of my cardinal rules of credibility in movies and TV – shoes in the house.  There are a few scenes where characters come in from what is surely a snowy mess outside and don’t take their boots off.  Normal people would never track slush in the house, but LA filmmakers rarely think about that.  And Toby Maguire, upon returning home, trudges upstairs with his military boots still on and plops into bed.  After a year in captivity, the first thing I’d think he’d do is kick off those restricting boots and get comfortable is his own home.  Shoes in the house is always the difference to me between characters acting as if they’re in a home versus acting on a set.

The other downside to this movie is the excruciating pauses.  In another movie I watched recently, City Island, Alan Arkin’s character points out that in acting history pauses weren’t so prevalent.  Act and listen, act and listen.  It’s true.  Sure, there can be a lot said in the empty spaces, but often it’s just a copout in the script.  This movie has so many pauses yet when the characters do talk, they never say what you want them to say.  Or what real people would say.  The whole time I was thinking that Jake’s character should have just said, “No, I didn’t sleep with your wife.  You’re my brother.  I would never in a million years do that to you.  I love you.”  The movie could have ended so much faster if they just spoke like real people to each other.  Instead, there’s all this gray area that makes Toby’s character go crazy, and the movie becomes a mess.  Alright, that’s enough of that.  Moving on…

Downloading Nancy

Slow, uber-depressing story supposedly based on true events with completely unredeeming characters.  Maria Bello is a mentally ill housewife who hires Jason Patric to save her from her loveless marriage by killing her.  As if that isn’t horrible enough, the set design was one of the most awful I’ve seen.  I get that they wanted to paint as bleak a life as possible for these people, but they tried so hard with the Depressed White People theme that it just didn’t work.  It looked like the set designers raided every used hotel furniture sale and threw the loot around haphazardly.  They probably just thought, “Hey, this looks boring, let’s throw it in there!” instead of thinking from the actual characters’ points of view.  This movie was just painful to watch all around.  I’m not sure why we stuck it out, but when it was over Steve suggested we watch Schindler’s List to lighten the mood.

City Island

A more touching than funny story from what I thought by watching the previews.  Andy Garcia is a prison guard moonlighting as an acting student, unbeknownst to his wife.  Meanwhile, his first son from a previous relationship lands in his jail, so he decides to play guardian and takes the young man home to get to know the boy he skipped out on many years ago (also unbeknownst to his wife).  It’s a touching story of a family of New York outsiders, aptly named Rizzo and with accompanying accents.  The funniest parts come from Julianna Margulies breaking her routine of sophisticated characters to play a New York wife with a big attitude and the wise-cracking son who has a penchant for watching XL-sized ladies eat food.  Each character, even the tangential ones, has a secret.  The movie is about watching the secrets unfold and slowly hoping that the people will find a way to come together in the end.

The Box

A pretty basic psychological thriller but with a bit of a sci-fi twist.  Not the best, not the worst.  It was good to watch on a rainy Saturday afternoon when I was home alone and in the mood to be scared a little.  I, for one, am happy to see Cameron Diaz growing up and moving into more mature roles.  And James Marsden always has a likable quality.  The two together play a seventies husband and wife given a mysterious opportunity by a super creepy Frank Langella to push a button on a box.  Push the button, get a million dollars.  Only catch is that someone you don’t know will also die.  Don’t push the button, nothing happens and you go on living your life.  Well, without a button push there is no movie, so obviously they do it.  The rest is a winding and at times confusing path of trying to figure out how it worked, why it will never leave them alone, and what happens next.  Instead of leaving loose ends, as psychological thrillers sometimes do, it finishes by bringing the end right back to the beginning.  Packaged up for you in a nice neat little…box.

An Education

Sixties London, gorgeous costumes and cars, a step into another time and place, curious plot, stellar cast.  Peter Sarsgaard is amazing as a charming yet shady and somewhat creepy man who lures a 17-year-old away from high school and the prospect of an Oxford education to be his future well-cared-for wife.  Intriguing from start to finish.  The only part that left me wondering was the ending.  I was torn on it at first.  As an audience member, I don’t usually like to be spoonfed.  But part of me wanted to hear what the main character had to say for himself.  In the end, I decided it’s better that he disappears because you’re left feeling like the young girl and countless other women he betrayed.  They didn’t get an explanation from him, and neither do you.  Superb movie, worthy of every Oscar nomination.

My LIfe in Ruins

I went in wanting to like this movie but still didn’t hold high expectations because I was wondering if the Nia Vardalos/Greek theme would be one story too many.  She did My Big Fat Greek Wedding but then flopped with My Big Fat Greek Life.  So another Greece-themed tale from the same actress left me wondering.  But I’m a sucker for romantic comedies.  Well, most.  All I require is that they have some sort of believable storyline within the fairy tale.  So this does not include The Proposal, The Ugly Truth or Valentine’s Day.  But it does include PS I Love You, Under the Tuscan Sun, (500) Days of Summer…and this movie.  I quite liked it, and more than I anticipated.  Nia V is a tour guide living in Greece with a passion for history and architecture that makes her tours significantly more boring than her coworker’s.  Enter the unexpected romance that gives her a new outlook on life and helps her find her “kefi” again.  Nothing surprising but not so high concept that it was unenjoyable.  The caricatures of international tourists were funny and a bit too true, the landscape of Greece was eye candy, and the bus driver being named Poupi Cacas…well, who doesn’t love a good poop joke.