Sunday, November 19, 2006

Taking a cue from M&Ms, I present TWEENER-MINIS!!

Ok, I've been sitting on these reviews for awhile, solely because everytime I write them I wind up losing them before it's finished. So I present these extremely brief mini-tweeners of movies I saw in the past couple of months.

Little Children

Fantastic. Kind of off beat, and very reminiscent of American Beauty, right down to the Thomas Newman marimba-infused score. Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson are fantastic as two married suburbanites (not to each other) who are bored, dazed and confused by the materialistic and bizarre world around them. They begin an affair, and wind up becoming little children, even more so than their infant children. Complicating matters is Jackie Earle Haley, as a man who returns to the neighborhood after being in jail for exposing himself to little girls. How all their worlds collide is done quite well, and is very emotional. If there's any justice in the awards season, Haley should earn Best suporting actor. He's haunting, creepy AND mildly sympathetic all at the same time. Todd Field made a great film that I can't stop raving about, even if New Line isn't supporting the film enough.

The movie is also quite funny, in a very dry, droll manner. There's a great omniscient narrator that never gets old. I loved it. Don't let the pedophilia undertones freak you out. Little Children is a great film, full of great performances all across the board. It's also beautifully shot, depicting the suburban menace of the greatest state in the country, New Jersey. (Even if some scenes are shot in Massachusetts).

The Departed

Saw this with my dad. It's the kind of movie you see with your dad. It's got a top notch cast and Scorsese behind the camera. It's tough to go wrong. Thankfully it's not. By now, I'm sure you know it's about Leonardo DiCaprio playing a cop deep undercover in Jack Nicholson's Boston mafia, while Matt Damon plays Nicholson's rat in the department. Both men try to find each other before hte other one does, and this creates most of the suspense in the film.

All the actors are great. I actually liked Leo in this a lot, but Damon was more compelling. Nicholson is a little over the top, but what are you gonna do? The most surprising (although it shouldn't because he's consistently good even when the movies he's in sometimes let him down) is Mark Wahlberg. Profane and hilarious, Wahlberg was my favorite overall, despite receiving considerably less screen time than the others.

The movie is brutal and violent as hell, and it's nice to see Scorsese back to old form. I could have done without the over-reliance of cell phones (ironic given that half the audience was always checking there cell phones throughout the movie), and that last shot in the film was painfully dumb. But those are very minor squabbles in what turns out to be a badass flick. I can't compare Departed to Infernal Affairs (the Hong Kong film it's a remake of), and I refuse to claim this as Scorsese's best since Goodfellas, because I like Casino, Kundun, and Bringing out the Dead. But it's definitely a top notch affair that I expect to win many awards, but it's quite deserving of any.

The Prestige

Batman (Christian Bale) takes on Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in this tale of dueling magicians at the turn of the 20th century. Their fued spans years, and goes from petty to tragic. There are also a few twists and turns abound (as should be expected from a movie about magic) but the ending is as painfully obvious (or blatantly ripped off) as the end of the OTHER magician movie, The Illusionist. Make no mistake, while Illusionist is pretty good, The Prestige is much much better.

Credit must be given to director Christopher Nolan, who brought us Memento and batman Begins. Like those films, Nolan has fun manipulating time and chronology, but he never makes it feel like a gimmick. I feel he does it to enhance the story, and also keep the viewers in as much confusion as possible until the time when things need to be revealed. Kind of like a magic trick. Oh, I get it now!

There is some fine acting from almost the entire cast, with Jackman and Bale holding their own against each other. Michael Caine is good as Jackman's confidant, and David Bowie shows up as Nicola Tesla, who proves vital to the plot and also provides a nice dueling scientist rivalry with Thomas Edison that helps enhance themes and such. The weak link goes to Scarlett Johanson. She's bad. Really bad. She has a horrible delivery and looks confused the whole time, almost to the point where she looks as if she's questioning the fact that she's in this movie. Not terrible enough to take you out of the movie, as she isn't in it all that much, but when everything around you is top notch her presence is distracting.

Oh, and the ending of this movie is twisted in ways I couldn't imagine, and I couldn't stop talking about it for days.

Running With Scissors

Augusten Burroughs' memoir of growing up in a crazy "family" gets the big screen treatment courtesy of Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy. That was reason enough for me to see it. And while the film itself is kind of a mess, it's bolstered by fantastic performances all around, and quite possibly one of the most moving scenes I've seen in a film in a while. It's the last scene in the film, so I can't spoil it by giving away what happens, but I can tell you that it's between Joseph Cross (as young Augusten) and Jill Clayburgh and is the only true honest connection made in the entire film. It's heartbreaking and beautiful.

I'm told the book is far more outrageous, almost to the point where you can't believe if what you're being told is real. I can't make comparisons, so I'll just go on what the movie tells me. Augusten, at the age of 14 or 15 (the movie's a little vague on some of these details) is abandoned by his mother (Annette Bening) into the care of her psychiatrist (Brian Cox) and his eccentric family, including his wife (Clayburgh), daughters (Gwyneth Paltrow and Evan Rachel Wood) and adopted son Neil (Joseph Fiennes). They live in a house full of junk that's rather unsettling to view. It gave me the jibblies.

Regardless, dysfunctional doesn't even begin to describe the house, or Augusten's relationship with his birth family or his adopted family. Benning's character is a horrible, selfish woman deluded by her own dreams of wanting to be famous. His father (Alec Baldwin, who's popping up everywhere including The Departed) wants nothing to do with him. The family of eccentrics he lives with aren't exactly of the "just because they're weird doesn't mean they're actually what is needed" variety. Burroughs' life is utterly depressing. My roommate Dan (he of DanSpeak) said it best: If you're feeling bad about your life, see this movie and it will make you realize that your problems aren't nearly as bad.

It's not a good movie from a technical perspective. It's kind of disjointed, some editing doesn't make a lot of sense, I have a feeling that even more parts of Burrough's life were left out (you can only tell so much in one movie). Adn some of the non-sequiters that Brian Cox spits out are just plain odd. But the performances are what lift this movie into orbit. Joseph Cross is a find, and he holds it together as well as he can. Benning is who all the awards will be talking about, and she is deserving, but it's Clayburgh that SHOULD be who's talked about.

Running With Scissors is not the greatest movie, but damn did it move me.

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