The Truth Has No Temperature but The Counselor is Tepid

The Counselor - Cameron Diaz

I’ve come to the conclusion that Cormac McCarthy is incapable or writing interesting women, but he thinks he knows a lot about them.  The men in his screenplay for Ridley Scott’s slick, pulpy and sweaty “massive drug deal gone awry” flick The Counselor spend most of the film’s runtime spouting off quasi-philosophical macho riffs on life and greed and chicks, man…chicks, they’re like crazy.  The men toggle between misogyny and bafflement.  The character played by Javier Bardem (who, god bless him, tells the story to Michael Fassbender’s protagonist with comically black glee) knows his chick is crazy because of the way she made love to his Ferrari.  No, I’m not kidding…the woman literally humps the car.

That woman, the inexplicably named Malkina, is inexplicably played by Cameron Diaz, who looks great and gives it her all, but just isn’t up to par for this type of role.  She’s borderline camp, and a better actress (an Angelina Jolie perhaps?) would’ve either gone whole-hog with the camp or truly smoldered.   – POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD –   Continue reading

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Life in the Key of Malick in To the Wonder

To the Wonder 1

I could’ve done without the “the” in Terrence Malick’s latest cinematic symphony To the Wonder.

To wonder…

…that is what Malick’s life as an artist has been all about. To wonder…what it’s like to kill for the heck of it (Badlands)…to love when life is like a shaft of wheat blowing in the wind (Days of Heaven)….to wonder what it’s like to kill someone and mean it, to live
and love in war (The Thin Red Line)…to wonder what it was like to discover a new land, a new love, a new way of life (The New World)…to wonder about the beginning and end of time and the loss of a loved one (The Tree of Life).

To the Wonder is a meditation on loneliness.

Continue reading

I Fall You Fall We All Fall for Skyfall

The third Daniel Craig headlining Bond flick, Skyfall, opens up like many Bond films of yore with a spectacular chase sequence that involves motorcycles atop Istanbul’s famous market and a fist-fight atop a moving train that ends with Bond getting accidentally shot by another agent trying to take out his combatant.  And as he falls into the river below, the traditional Bond credit sequence begins with Adele’s superb theme song recalling Shirley Bassey’s iconic Goldfinger.

It seems we were in for more of the same, but did they just kill Bond…even if only symbolically?  During the credits you are reminded of the masterstroke of hiring cinematographer Roger Deakins (arguably the best in the biz today) and his frequent cohort, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes as their names come up in that comfortably familiar Bond credit sequence font.  Never before has a Bond film been given such behind-the-scenes pedigree, and armed with a sharper than normal script – the dynamic duo pay homage, deconstruct, and resurrect from one amazing set piece to the next the entire Bond oeuvre. Continue reading

It’s Not a Grave, It’s a Niche

Hey, Dad, do you know what happens to owls when they die?

A Review of Biutiful

**Spoilers Ahead – Read with Caution**

It’s not a grave, it’s a niche.  It’s a seemingly innocuous piece of dialogue, a clarification on the not-so-final resting spot of our protagonist’s father – a father he never knew, a father who fled Spain as a political exile only to die in Mexico of pneumonia and be shipped back to Barcelona to be tucked away by his widowed wife in a niche.  But it’s also symbolic of the niche this family has carved out for themselves over the generations where fathers are sent to early graves.  Progress and globalization threaten this niche – a mall is to be built, the niche destroyed, and the corpse cremated – as do calamities and ailments including cancer both literally and figuratively.

Our protagonist, Uxbal (Javier Bardem in a devastating performance) is trying to make do in a Barcelona that is coming apart at the seams.  He deals in knock-off goods and illegal workers.  He’s also trying to raise his two young children (Hanaa Bouchaib and Guillermo Estralla – both naturalistic and deserving of sympathy) while being estranged from his bipolar wife (Maricel Alvarez in a wonderfully complex and flighty performance in perfect pitch through all her mood swings) who is sleeping with his opportunistic and corrupt brother (Eduard Fernandez).  But in the all the varying shades and undulations of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s maddeningly complex and perversely intertwined world, nothing in what it seems on the surface. Continue reading

A Review of Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

“I’m famous for my intolerance.”, 21 August 2008
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Vicky (a neurotic and sexy Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (a neurotic and gorgeous Scarlett Johansson) are two American tourists in Spain examining their differing views on love in Woody Allen’s breezy and alluring Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  Amidst a tempestuous summer in Barcelona, the ladies are both seduced by a free-thinking painter (a perfect Javier Bardem) whose own life is complicated by his still passionate relationship with his ex-wife (a devastating Penelope Cruz, who has never looked more beautiful).

Much like the change from New York City to London invigorated Allen in Match Point, this vacation to Spain has revived some of the director’s more artistic aspirations. The scenery is postcard perfect but drenched in that same dizzying lushness that made Allen’s view of NYC so intoxicating in Manhattan. The churches, the homes, the art museums, the countryside, the intimate city streets and touristy details make you feel like you are visiting Barcelona along with Allen and his cast.

There’s also sharpness to the trademark Woody dialog that has been missing for quite some time. Like all of Allen films, this one is endlessly talky, but there’s some great subversion when certain lines that seem like throw-aways actually pack a punch when given a second thought. When Bardem first attempts to talk Johansson’s character into bed, he says something clichéd about her being hard to please. Quick witted, Johansson replies, “I’m famous for my intolerance.” She says it casually, but it packs a bite as it’s the complete antithesis of her character’s outward desire to be someone who rallies against cultural norms, and she presents herself as someone who is easy-going and tolerant of all.

Allen also displays a keen sense of pacing when he creates tension in his build up to Cruz’s appearance after her character is endlessly talked about but never seen until about half way through the film. When Cruz finally arrives, her moody whirling dervish of a performance is the perfect spice to liven up the soupy proceedings. Her seething, fiery line readings combined with looks that could kill make her the front-runner for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars.

The baseline archetypal characters are essentially clichéd, but the way in which Allen handles all of their interpersonal relationships is fairly sophisticated and entertaining even when it grows absurd. There is of course that kiss between Scarlett and Penelope but also some moments of Lynchian-lite when Allen photographs the brunette Hall and blonde Johansson similarly to make them seem like they are two sides of the same woman. There’s even more weirdness when die-hard Woody fans realize that in some perverse way Scarlett Johansson’s character is the “Woody” part–as in any film he does not star, there is always one character who represents the part he would’ve played had he been in it. However, film buffs will enjoy some of the nice touches like when Hall and another go to see Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (one of my all time favorite films) or the repetitive use of a Spanish guitar in the soundtrack whenever Bardem and Hall get together. But then there’s the mostly unnecessary voice-over narration that fills in expository gaps and shows Allen can still be a lazy tactician.

Woody Allen has always been an acquired taste, even more so in his latter years when he sometimes forgets how to provoke, but his fans should be delighted with this latest European flavored effort. In the end, you’ll feel like Javier Bardem is the luckiest man in the world, Penelope Cruz is operating at the echelon of her appeal, and Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, well, they’ll always have Barcelona.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0497465/usercomments-37

A Review of the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men”

Blood, not so Simple, 12 November 2007
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A Vietnam vet (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and casually takes off with two million dollars that a psychopathic bounty hunter (Javier Bardem) will do anything to get back. Meanwhile, a Sheriff nearing retirement (Tommy Lee Jones) strolls behind the mayhem always a few steps behind. Set in Texas in 1980, “No Country for Old Men” is a meticulously crafted misfire from the Coen Brothers and adapted for the screen from the Cormac McCarthy novel.

Roger Deakin’s stark cinematography matches perfectly the brilliant mise-en-scene and signature Coen Brother’s pacing. The audience is also treated to a revolving door of quirky side characters and dark deadpan humor in the dialog that have become the trademarks of a Coen Brothers’ dramatic production. It would seem to be a return to form, but there’s a wandering coldness to the film that leads to grave dissatisfaction.

The most disappointing aspect is that there’s a near perfect forty-five minute “mini film” riddled with white knuckle suspense involving the cat-and-mouse shoot-em-up between Bardem and Brolin that is lost inside yet another dour opus where Tommy Lee Jones plays a grizzled but good-hearted authority figure philosophizing about the sad state of the world for the umpteenth time. While Bardem and Brolin are sensational, Tommy Lee Jones seems to be playing an on-screen persona that has trumped his ability to show any type of range. He’s typecast, and his character is made moot. Meanwhile Bardem gives a career-defining performance as the psychopath working with his own warped sense of morals. In what may prove to be ironic in the future, it’s exactly the type of portrayal that risks making Bardem typecast in the same vein Anthony Hopkins was after his Hannibal Lecter character was born.

The brooding tension built around Bardem’s unforgettable villain and the inevitable showdown with Brolin’s wayward cowboy is completely wasted in anti-climactic fashion with no resolution that leaves the film to meander in philosophies that ultimately signify nothing. Coming off three straight comedies (the last two of which, “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers”, were abysmal) the Coen Brothers have clearly lost their footing in trying to get back to their roots. “No Country for Old Men” boasts many of their popular hallmarks and an instantly classic turn from Javier Bardem, but it lacks the moral fiber of “Fargo” and the dramatic climax of “Blood Simple”. Coming home, it seems, isn’t as easy as it looks when the roads are dusty and lead you nowhere.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0477348/usercomments-26

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Check out my review of “Fargo”:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0116282/usercomments-316