A couple of movie reviews. Since I've been castigated in the past for too much vitriol in my reviews, I'm going to do them the same way we used to do when discussing student work back in our film-school screenwriting classes: talk about what you like first, then talk about what you didn't like. So here we go.
1.) "The Proposition". I wanted to see this back when it was in theaters but for whatever reason, decided to wait for DVD. Well, that time is now. I watched this last night and I have mixed feelings about it. Set in the Austrailian outback circa the turn of the 20th century, the film stars Guy "Ed Exley" Pearce as Charlie Burns, a former member of the Burns Gang, a group he abandoned when its leader, his brother, went from run-of-the-mill violent to out-and-out sadistic. The film opens with Charlie and his little brother, Mike Burns, taking cover in a whorehouse being shot to bits by gunmen outside. The leader of the gunmen is Captain Stanley (played by Ray Winstone), an English policeman transplanted to the deserts of Austrailia with orders to "civilize" the land. He sits the manacled brothers at a table and gives Charlie the proposition: in order to save his little brother from a Christmas Day hanging, Charlie has to find and kill his older brother, Arthur. He has nine days to do it.
The good: This film, written by singer/songwriter/composer Nick Cave (with whom my only prior acquaintance had been a cool song on the "Scream" soundtrack, "Red Right Hand"), is ponderous and dark. I enjoyed that quality about it. The director, John Hillcoat, allowed time for scenes of bad men contemplating sunsets and saying ponderous things about them. I saw shades of Terrence Malick (and by extension DDG) in this, but I also saw quite a bit of Cormac McCarthy, specifically his novel, "Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness in the West". In that novel, McCarthy describes a band of killers engaging in a kind of genocide as they murder whole settlements of native peoples. These scenes of horror are punctuated with scenes around the campfire depicting the uniquely psychotic leader of the crew, Judge Holden, having Socratic dialogues with his awed and blood-stained compatriots. There is a bit of "the Judge" in Charlie Burns's older brother, Arthur, who quotes high-falutin' poetry and seems possessed of a senstive soul even though he's buried it long since under the weight of his crimes, and I liked that Cave and Hillcoat made the effort here. All the performances were good and it kept me engaged throughout, if not exactly entertained. I liked that the man they set up as the ruthless baddie, Captain Stanley, is humanized more and more as the movie progresses until, by the end, you're actually rooting for him to survive. Points to the filmmakers for doing the unexpected.
The bad: I guess if I'm having trouble filling in this part, then maybe I ought to leave it blank, but the truth is the film was just missing something. The ending left me underwhelmed. I don't know if the feeling came from an overall lack of storytelling structure, or if it was because the film's payoff didn't feel well-earned, or if Guy Pearce's character was a little too opaque to really invest in, but the whole film was slightly off the mark. Noble effort, though.
The ugly: Guy Pearce. Just a weird-looking dude.
2.) "Strangers With Candy". Also rented this one on DVD. "Strangers" has some funny moments but doesn't offer big laughs with any consistency. The film follows Jerri Blank (played with a complete lack of vanity by Amy Sedaris) as she's released from prison and returns home to discover her real mom's dead, her father (Dan Hedaya) has remarried and is now in a coma. Her father's slightly wacky doctor (played by Ian Holm in a real casting forehead-slapper) suggests that Jerri's years of depraved living may have caused her father's coma, and that returning to high-school and doing something positive, like "making the honor roll" for example, may bring him out of it. The film's plot, which seems perfectly derived from the sitcoms and after-school specials the orginal Comedy Central show sent up, centers on Jerri's efforts to win the State Science Fair and thus bring her father out of his coma. Comedy ensues.
The good: I love Amy Sedaris's go-for-broke portrayal of Jerri Blank. Anyone this dedicated to getting a laugh deserves respect. Ordinarily, Sedaris is a cute, slightly middle-aged blonde woman who does excellent undersung work playing harried city girls in films like "Elf" and on a bunch of episodes of "Sex and the City". (I'm interested to see her in the upcoming DGG movie "Snow Angels".) But in "Strangers With Candy", she pads her unfashionable tights and turquoise shirts to make Blank even more ungainly, and then contorts her face so that she takes on the persona of someone who expects the worst, gets it, but still seems stupidly optimistic that her luck will change. It's a hideous expression, but it's funny, and she's funny. Like Will Farrell or Jim Carrey (circa the early nineties), Sedaris uses her everywoman body in unflattering ways to get a laugh, which makes her fairly unique among female comedians. The dance of seduction she uses to get with the captain of the "Varsity Squat-Thrust Team", for example, is goddamn hilarious. Usually, when the script calls for Sedaris to do some physical comedy, the movie works. Colbert's funny, and there's a lot of amusing cameos, so you know, that's fun.
The bad: Eh. Comedy's subjective. I may laugh nearly to the point of death watching scenes in "Talladega Nights", while others will merely yawn. I guess my main problem was that the ratio of joke misfires to joke hits was way too high. Overall, not classic comedy, but still miles funnier than, say, "Date Movie" or "Scary Movie 5" or whatever they're on now. Even funnier than "For Your Consideration".
The ugly: Principal Blackman in a Speedo.
Anyway, speaking of "Talledega Nights", I saw it again this weekend, this time on DVD. Verdict: the scenes in that movie that are funny, still kill me. The cougar scene especially. I cried again. The lulls, however, are somewhat more noticeable the second and third go-round. What I noticed more this time than when I saw it in the theater is that "Talladega Nights" is a flat out well-put together movie. Well-written and well-directed which is unusual for a lot of comedies that put their trust in the jokes rather than in telling a complete and satisfying story. One strange thing though: for the first time in my experience, a so-called "Uncut" DVD version of a film actually cut a scene that was in the theatrical release. In the theatrical "Talladega", when Ricky Bobby gets the old pit crew team back together for the big race, Ricky finds Michael Clarke Duncan running a car wash. In the DVD version of "Talladega", however, that scene is plum gone. The point, you ask? Screw you, I don't have one. I just thought it was weird. And also they shouldn't cut stuff that was in the movie when it was in theaters. Putting something out on DVD shouldn't be an opportunity to recut your movie.
Also saw "The Oh in Ohio". It's okay, I guess, but kind of depressing. Its plot approximates that of '05 Vaughniston movie, "The Break Up", but it's less concerned with the couple-ness of the couple (played in "Ohio" by Parker Posie and Paul Rudd), and more concerned with their respective searches for sexual fulfillment after they've separated. The movie doesn't really have positive things to say about staying in marriages that aren't explosive sexually. In essence, "The Oh in Ohio" seems to say that the grass really is greener on the other side, all you have to do is jump ship to find it; this is a sentiment that generally runs counter to the conventional wisdom on the subject. Anyway, downer ending, and a generally downer movie.
Those are the reviews. Enjoy your Tuesday evenings.