Twice Told Cuckold Tales

Julianne Moore makes a cuckold of Steve Carell.

In the sharply tuned rom-dram-com Crazy, Stupid, Love (currently on Blu-ray and DVD) our sad sap of a hero Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) remarks – while lamenting the disintegration of his marriage after his wife (Julianne Moore) reveals she’s been cheating – that no one ever seems to use the word “cuckold” any more.  But that’s what he is.  A cuckold.

In Alexander Payne’s shockingly bleak and depressing dram-dram-com The Descendants (currently in theaters) Matt King (George Clooney) is a cuckold, too, only his cheating wife is left in a coma after a freak accident.

Both films feature nice, good-hearted, middle-aged guys desperately trying to hold their families together and feature kids in uncomfortable situations…but Crazy, Stupid, Love mines for laughs while The Descendants mines for gold (Oscar gold).  Continue reading

A Review of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler”

Evan Rachel Wood and Mickey Rourke walk along the lonely Jersey Shore on a cold winter's day in THE WRESTLER.

Evan Rachel Wood and Mickey Rourke walk along the lonely Jersey Shore on a cold winter's day in THE WRESTLER.

 Down and Out in New Jersey, 9 January 2009
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A fading wrestling star (Mickey Rourke, perfectly cast) suffers a heart attack and must battle with being down and out in Sh*thole, New Jersey in Darren Aronofsky’s gritty character piece, The Wrestler.  Message to Hollywood: there actually are nice places in Jersey…really…I’m not joking…trust me…but that’s another story.

Aronofsky utilizes a self-consciously shaky camera and grainy cinematography to emphasize his depiction of a life literally on the ropes. For much of the film we are walking with the camera behind Rourke seeing everything from his point of view–another stylistic choice that may wear on some viewer’s nerves while seem like a stroke of genius to others.

Admittedly I’ve never understood the appeal of pro wrestling, but I imagined it could be a decent vehicle for a character drama. Aronofsky delivers a mixed bag in this respect. Despite the expertly edited piece detailing the humorously brutal and tragic bout that leads to the aforementioned heart attack and the match that closes the film, the remainder of the wrestling bits are unnecessary and really add nothing to the story. The scenes in a shady gentleman’s club (featuring a fabulously adept Marisa Tomei playing the over-the-hill but still hot stripper friend with a heart of gold) and the clips detailing Rourke’s character’s everyday struggles (including some great bits where he works a deli counter) are slightly more appealing and deliver some genuine moments. However, the scenes where he attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter (an over-acting Evan Rachel Wood) seem staged and under-developed, which undermines the documentary style feel of the rest of the film. I won’t deny I felt something for these characters, but haven’t we seen this all before?

As finely tailored as Mickey Rourke is to his part, his is essentially a one-note character where we see him in varying stages of failure that lead him to believe the only place he can find acceptance is in the phony but dangerous world inside the ring. As good as Rourke and Tomei are, the script plays their story safe and succumbs to clichés. That being said, The Wrestler is still more engaging than your average Hollywood character study, and it’s worth viewing for the occasionally authentic moment and the fine performances from Rourke and Tomei. But as Bruce Springsteen’s theme song played over a black screen before the credits rolled, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Rourke and his character–and maybe that was the point. They try their hardest, but the film in which they appear isn’t worth the hype.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.

A Review of Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”

Do you Mind if I Call you Chico?, 5 November 2007
10/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Two dysfunctional brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) get tired of competing for who is the bigger f***-up and who Daddy (Albert Finney) loves more, so they hatch a hair-brained scheme to rob Mommy and Daddy’s jewelry store so that they can clear their debts and start fresh. Sounds like a great plan except that this is a suspenseful 1970’s style melodrama about a heist gone wrong, and boy, do things really go wrong here for our hapless duo and everyone involved. Lasciviously concocted by screenwriter Kelly Masterson and classically executed by director Sidney Lumet, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” uses the heist as its McGuffin to delve deep into family drama.

Contrary to popular belief, Sidney Lumet is not dead. At age 83, he has apparently made a deal with the Devil to deliver one last great film. Lumet was at his zenith in the 1970’s with films like “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Serpico,” and one of my favorite films of all time, “Network”.  He has somehow managed to make a film that bears all the hallmarks of his classics while intertwining some more modern elements (graphic sexuality, violence, and playing with time-frames and POV’s) into a crackling, vibrant, lean, mean, and provocative melodrama. One can only hope that some of the modern greats (like Scorsese or Spielberg) who emerged during the same decade Lumet was at the top of his game will have this much chutzpah left when they reach that age.

Lumet is a master at directing people walking through spaces to create tension and develop characters. As the cast waltzes through finely appointed Manhattan offices and apartments his slowly moving camera creates a palpable sense of anxiety as we never know who might be around the next corner or what this person might do in the next room. Also amazing is how Lumet utilizes the multiple POV and shifting time-frame approach. The coherent and classical presentation he uses makes the similarly structured films of wunderkinds Christopher Nolan and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu seem like amateur hour.

Of course, what Lumet is best at is directing amazing ensemble casts and tricking them into acting within an inch of their lives. Philip Seymour Hoffman has never been, and most likely never will be, better than he is here. Albert Finney’s quietly searing portrayal of a father betrayed and at the end of his rope is a masterpiece to watch unfold. Ethan Hawke, normally a nondescript pretty boy, is perfect as the emotionally crippled younger brother who has skated by far too long on his charms and looks. The coup-de-grace, however, is the series of scenes between Hoffman and Marisa Tomei, eerily on point as his flighty trophy wife. Lumet runs them through the gamut of emotions that culminate in a scene that is the best of its kind since William Holden taunted Beatrice Straight right into a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in “Network.”

The Devil of any great film is in the details, from Albert Finney’s tap of his car’s trunk that won’t close due to a fender bender, to the look Amy Ryan (fresh off her amazing turn in “Gone Baby Gone”) gives her ex-husband Ethan Hawke at his mawkish promise to his little girl all three of them knows he won’t keep, to the systematic unraveling of a family on the skids, to the dialog begging for cultists to quote it (my favorite line being the hilariously threatening “Do you mind if I call you Chico?”) to the excellent Carter Burwell score. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is the film of the year. If something emerges to best it, then we know a few other deals must’ve been brokered with Old Scratch.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0292963/usercomments-12