Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Movie Review - Alpha Dog

I wasn’t interested in seeing Alpha Dog until I saw Emile Hirsch’s performance as the title character in Speed Racer, and even after seeing it, I still feel the latter is possibly the best delivery he’s ever given. But I will say one thing: I had no idea Justin Timberlake could act. Sure, I’ve seen his silly performances on Saturday Night Live, and I love Black Snake Moan, but let’s be serious – who was paying attention to him in that movie, really? Christina Ricci utterly consumed all focus. But Timerlake was given the chance to truly shine in this movie, bringing out a side of him I had never seen.

For anyone unfamiliar with the plot, Alpha Dog is based on a true story – that of “Jesse James Hollywood,” who was the youngest man to appear on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list. This tragic tale centers on Hirsch’s character, Johnny Truelove, and his relationship with one of his underlings, Jake Mazursky. Mazursky owes him money, and the two start a feud that leads to Truelove kidnapping Jake’s younger brother, Zack. Thinking this will blow over quickly, Truelove puts Frankie in charge of watching Zack. Frankie – played by Timberlake – and Zack both begin to take the situation lightly. Frankie starts to like the kid, and Zack, who had just gotten into a fight with his parents, loves the freedom (ironically) and the party-all-the-time lifestyle. He’s somewhat of a celebrity to all the kids, and the girls can’t keep their hands off of him. But when the reality of what has happened catches up with everyone – a seriousness evident as an undercurrent throughout the film with the reactions of the Mazursky parents, as well as Truelove’s father’s reaction to what’s going on – Truelove makes a drastic decision that shatters the rock-star lifestyle they’ve all been leading.

Touching, na├»ve, and tragic, Alpha Dog has many themes – the mentality of the “immortal and untouchable youth,” the fear of taking responsibility for one’s actions, and the herd mentality all combine for extraordinary characters and an unforgettable story. I wouldn’t recommend this to the overly-sensitive or the weak of stomach or heart, though. It’s a tragedy that will remain with you.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Movie Review - The Fountain

First and foremost, I’d like to make something clear. Had I not read the little sleeve the movie came in when Netflix shipped it to me, The Fountain would not have made a whole lot of sense. It describes the three iterations of the two main characters – in 16th century Spain, as soldier and Queen; in modern times, as scientist and sick wife; in 26th century space, as an astronaut and…er…a tree. However, if you don’t read that little blurb, or have no previous knowledge of the movie, the scenes in which the two main characters are in the future make very little sense. There is neither an introduction to, nor an explanation of, the scenes in which the “astronaut” and his tree are in a bubble in space and, given the context of the movie, it could mean something very different than what they were trying to accomplish.

The two main characters are played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. I feel they did a fantastic job portraying the lovers throughout the ages. But the weak connections, disjointed plot, and confusing timeline bogged down the movie and undermined their chemistry. The costumes and scenery are beautiful, but again, the disorientation and lack of explanation leave crucial information to the imagination, which is a sign of a poorly-developed design. And I’d rather use the word “scant” when I’m referencing Weisz’s wardrobe than when I’m discussing the amount of sense the story made.

The one really positive thing I will say about the movie is this: I really, really liked the ending. Weisz’s present-day character, the scientist's wife who was dying of cancer, had a beautiful view of what immortality was, and tried to explain it to Jackman, but he was too obsessed with finding a cure for her – and a cure for death – that he wouldn’t listen. It took him another 500 years – and a trip to a star nebula in space – to figure it out. The way they achieve their goal is very cool, but sadly, doesn’t make up for the time wasted to get there.

Movie Review - Punch-Drunk Love

SPOILER ALERT! There are spoilers in this review. Please don’t read it if you don’t want this movie spoiled for you.

When I first saw the trailers for Punch-Drunk Love, I was intrigued. I had seen Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman in the other movie they did around the same time, Red Dragon, and I was interested to see them in this movie as well. It took me much longer to see this film, obviously – I saw Red Dragon in the theater in 2002, but didn’t see Punch-Drunk Love until about two weeks ago.

In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t waste my money on it – well, other than my Netflix fee.

Barry Egan, played by Adam Sandler, is an anguished, depressed, completely dejected salesman. He is cruelly verbally abused by his seven sisters, causing most of his depression, as well as extremely violent behavior, and a tendency to cry “for no reason.” His most obnoxious sister – aptly played by bitchy-as-hell Mary Lynn Rajskub, best known for her part as Chloe on 24 – is the worst offender, constantly riding his ass about going out on a blind date with one of her friends, played by Watson.

Utterly disjointed, connected only by scenes of oftentimes completely unnecessary and confusing violence, and excruciating in both its constant torture of Egan – who is thrown from one extremely bad situation to another – the movie is painful to watch. At a family dinner, he smashes three huge sliding-glass doors at the house of one of his sisters, and then confesses to one of his in-laws that he has a problem with crying, and proceeds to burst into tears. He calls a sex line – not surprising, considering he literally has no one to talk to who doesn’t completely insult, degrade, or curse at him – and the next day, the woman threatens to steal his identity when he tells her he can’t help her out financially. Her boss, played by Hoffman, sends thugs after Barry, and they proceed to rob him and beat him up. All of these things have massive build-up, with the only positive light in his life being points he gets from buying Weight Watchers foods which he plans to use to get Frequent Flyer miles using a loophole in the rules.

Not making any sense? It didn’t make any sense when I was watching it, either. The culmination of ridiculousness occurs when he is in bed with Watson, and they are making out, and he tells her that he wants to smash her face in, and commences more “pillow talk” in the form of describing all the violent things he wants to do to her. She responds in kind, and then they make a comment along the lines of “this is fun.” I’m sorry, but if I started kissing a darkly disturbed dude who was known to lie and had gotten us kicked out of a restaurant because he destroyed the bathroom (which, in all fairness, she found out later, BUT STILL), if he started talking about smashing my face in, I’d probably get the hell out of there pretty quickly.

At the end of the movie, all I could think was, “no movie has made me that depressed since There Will Be Blood.” Surprise! It was the same director, Paul Thomas Anderson. I also felt the same way about Boogie Nights, though don’t worry – I know that depressing stories about drug-addicted porn stars aren’t supposed to make me happy. In all fairness, I DID love Magnolia. But I’d still like to send him a personal thank-you: for making me depressed with poorly-constructed movies and setting my teeth on edge with horrible scores since 2007.

I’d like to add one more comment: this movie, aside from being one of the worst, was one of the cruelest I’ve ever seen. I would rank this in the same category as movies like Saw – the totally unnecessary and awful torture of people by other people, simply because they think they are superior. The only difference between the two is the amount of blood and the entertainment value – of which I think Saw had more of both. It may seem extreme to compare the two movies, but honestly, I couldn’t even crack a single smile through this entire film, and feared the ending would result in the main character’s suicide…which I felt would actually have been a relief. In comparison, sawing off one’s own foot seems mild.

Movie Review - The Fall

When I heard that Tarsem Singh, the director of The Cell, had done another movie entitled The Fall, I checked out the trailer. I was overwhelmed with how lovely it seemed, and finally got around to seeing it last night. It went well beyond any expectation I had for it.

The plot is simple, and the delivery both unique and fascinating. It is set in Los Angeles in 1915. A Hollywood stuntman, Roy, is hurt when trying to pull off a stunt. A quirky and curious little girl, Alexandria, has broken her arm while working in the orange orchards. She wanders around the hospital, searching for ways to alleviate boredom, and discovers Roy. In exchange for doing him favors – mostly stealing medicine – Roy tells her a magnificent story. Shown from the point of view of imagination, the story itself is intertwined with the lives of both characters.

First, let me say this: Lee Pace, the atheist brother of Jaye in the short-lived Wonderfalls, is stupendous in his role as Roy Walker. Roy suffers from more than physical injuries: his heart has been broken, and the pain he feels is so evident – and so accessible – throughout the entire film. His obvious inexperience with children is adorable in some scenes, terrifying in others. He underestimates the effect he has had on little Alexandria, and this oversight nearly causes the child her life. The final scenes with the two characters had me beside myself – their love for each other had me in tears. As for Catinca Untaru as Alexandria…what a fascinating child! It’s so hard to believe that someone so young could be so incredibly expressive and so fully capture the essence of confusion required of Alexandria, whose English is, as Roy says more than once, “gibberish.” The two performances were remarkable.

Second, and I expected no less: the scenery was breathtaking. The entire movie, which spanned 18 different countries (WHOA!), was so utterly gorgeous that I found myself repeatedly in awe. Two scenes in particular stand out in my mind: the scene with one of the secondary characters, known only as “the Mystic,” in which he is tattooed while his brothers sing – I don’t want to spoil the scene too much by giving it away – and Darwin realizes what is happening and forces out a gasp of surprise, barely shoving out the words, “they’re giving us directions!” The other scene is the wedding – I can’t even put it into words. Nothing like the conventional wedding one might imagine, the lack of noise found here is overwhelming. Again, I couldn’t help but cry through almost the entire scene, it was so fantastically beautiful.

This is how movies should be made. It was the kind of movie that simultaneously lifted my spirits because it reminded me of the beauty so inherent in the world, and yet broke my heart, for fear that I’ll never make anything this lovely in my lifetime. I enthusiastically recommend this movie to everyone.