Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Movies Since Last Time

The shutdown has left me with more time for movies than usual. A lot of that has been absorbed by bingeing Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Homicide (watching both in the same night provides a master class in what a fine actor Andre Braugher is), but I’m still moving along more quickly than usual.

The Big Lebowski (1998) You don’t think it’s a good idea to watch The Big Lebowski to celebrate every New Year’s Eve? That’s just, like, your opinion, man. 

Primal Fear (1996) Holds up well after 20+ years. Richard Gere plays a narcissistic lawyer not dissimilar to his Billy Flynn character in Chicago with none of the tongue-in-cheek overtones. Edward Norton steals the film as
Aaron Stampler, the damaged boy who moved from the hills of Kentucky to Chicago where he is accused of brutally murdering a respected archbishop. Can’t say much more about this as it has a plot twist worthy of The Sixth Sense, except to say that if you haven’t seen it, you should.

Mulholland Falls (1996) You’d think a screenplay by Pete Dexter with actors such as Nick Nolte, Michael Madsen, Chazz Palminteri, Chris Penn, and Treat Williams would be at least pretty good, right? You’d be wrong. This is a lizard of monumental proportions. The
plot rests uneasily on a shaky foundation and is full of holes besides. The dialog is flat and corny. The most entertaining thing about Mulholland Falls is Jennifer Connolly naked (which takes up about half her screen time) and even that’s primarily because the nude scenes are the leverage for a blackmail scheme so there’s no dialog. Bruce Dern, Louise Fletcher, William Peterson, and Rob Lowe all make uncredited cameos, probably uncredited because they saw the finished product and asked demanded to have their names removed.

21 (2008) Loosely based on Ben Mezerich’s fascinating book Bringing Down the House, the
film is entertaining but Columbia couldn’t resist Hollywooding things up and none of the changes were improvements. A key plot point is given away early when it would have been better served by letting the situation play out through hints and cutaways. There’s not really anyone in the book to root for so the filmmakers created a character who’s broke and needs the money to go to medical school, then turn him into a multiple personality borderline sociopath. What might bother me most is that the book did such a wonderful job of showing how card counting works and how casinos react to it, and the movie walked away from those lessons to shoot for a feel good ending.  

Zodiac (2007) The opening didn’t grab me, switching between the cops and journalists as it did but once things got moving everything made sense. Could have been a little shorter—
streamlining or cutting some of the homicides in the beginning and working what was needed for that into the rest of the film would have been enough—but David Fincher’s pacing makes it irrelevant. (The movie seems too long early on and not at all long by the end.) There are things here that do not cover the original investigators with glory, such as not being able to find the survivor (apparently it was actually Fincher who did so) and not looking at an obvious reason for Zodiac’s letters to stop (maybe he was incarcerated). The film itself is solid.

Charley Varrick (1973) I saw this many years ago and didn’t remember it well at all. Walter
Matthau plays the owner of a small crop dusting business in New Mexico who is being forced out of business by larger operations and turns to bank robbery as a way to make ends meet. One day he and his crew happen onto a lot more money than the small town bank they robbed should have had and things start to go wrong. The plot is twisty but not confusingly so in the deft hands of Don Siegel (The Shootist, Telefon, and several of Clint Eastwood’s greatest hits) who keeps things understandable without stooping to explain. A much better film than I remembered, though still with some early 70s conventions we’re better off without. (Joe Don Baker’s idea of foreplay with Sheree North is to backhand her across the face, which her character is obviously okay with.)

A Beautiful Mind (2001) A little slower than I remembered it, but still an outstanding film. Russell Crowe earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Nobel Prize winning
mathematician John Nash, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia throughout his life; Jennifer Connelly earned the Oscar for best Supporting Actress. Director Ron Howard does a wonderful job of bringing Nash’s affliction to the audience, as well as describing in thirty seconds the theory that earned Nash the Nobel. Ed Harris and Christopher Plummer also play small but critical roles.

Get Shorty (1995) The annual birthday viewing. I’m not going to say any more than I have
to, if that.
The Blues Brothers (1980) Because it was still my birthday. 

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