Friday, March 02, 2007

Academy Awards Weekend

Not that I did a whole lot of Oscar-oriented stuff to get ready for the ceremony. I saw The Last King of Scotland, which was very good, but that was as much about seeing movies at two AMC theaters on the same day as it was about cramming for the awards show.

Not that there was a whole lot of need for that. The top four awards (Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress) were pretty easy to guess; no matter how much the guy who used to cover movies for MTV talked about how many surprises we had seen, the last four were going to go pretty much as expected. I did like Will Ferrell's and Jack Black's song about how comedians don't get any respect, and as much as I preferred Letters From Iwo Jima to The Departed, I think the reaction to Eastwood beating Scorcese for the second time in three years would have been ugly.

Although The Departed winning best adapted screenply - crap. The writer took one of the leanest, most exciting suspense films in recent years and (a) compacted the two girlfriends unnecessarily, (b) added two or three extra police characters that brought nothing to the film (well, other than (d)), (c) thought it would be really clever to make Jack Nicholson's character a thinly-veiled Whitey Bulger, and (d) inserted approximately two thousand instances of the words "fuck", "cocksucker", and their various adjective/gerund forms. I won't say that every good thing in the movie came from Infernal Affairs, but every good thing in the screenplay did.

Well, that was crankier than truly necessary. I suppose it's like the thing with Trail of the Screaming Forehead last week - it didn't truly upset me at the time, but the more I think about it, the more it chafes.

The Astronaut Farmer

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 February 2007 at Regal Fenway #8 (first-run)

The Astronaut Farmer, on the other hand, grows on me the more I think about it. It's a big, warm fuzzy hug of a movie, aimed straight at families in a way that's tough to describe without being dismissive: It has high ideals about the importance of dreaming big and pulling together for a common goal that it articulates plainly, and an adult moviegoer might dismiss this as unsophisticated if not for the kids in the next row who are dilligently absorbing it the way they should at that age. But it's also not really about kids, and is very true in how its adults act, how they can be cynical or immature or mean, and there's a good argument to be made that Billy Bob Thornton's Charles Farmer is hugely irresponsible in how he tries to achieve his dream. You almost need to be in that kind of family setting to truly appreciate its different facets, and that's fascinating.

The Polish Brothers are playing with some pretty potent stuff in terms of technique, too. There's a scene in the middle of the film, almost dead-center, that plays like it would be a dream sequence in most movies, the sort of thing where the character wakes up and thinks, well, I'd better make sure that doesn't happen. But it goes on until the audience realizes that this is actually happening, and that's sort of a weird sensation. It's also quietly anti-authoritarian while still allowing us to like the civil servants who carry out the orders of an overzealous government: The FBI agents assigned to watch the Farmers are genial enough fellows, while Bruce Willis's completely uncredited cameo as an astronaut who trained with Farmer, once upon a time, makes him worthy of our respect even as he tells Farmer why this can't happen (and that, yeah, NASA is kind of messed up).

That's something their previous film, Northfork, did very well, although it and The Astronaut Farmer are almost literally night and day. The Polishes get some dazzling footage of New Mexico doubling for Texas; indeed, the film opens with the surreal image of an astronaut on horseback against a beautiful red sunrise. There's a real affection for small-town America in this film - the room to breathe, the eccentrics it produces, and the practical people like Virginia Madsen's Audie who hold it together.

The Last King of Scotland

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 February 2007 at AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run)

Forest Whitaker has this movie more or less handed to him. The story, of course, is about James MacAvoy's brash young doctor who goes to Africa for the wrong reasons and is swept up by Idi Amin's charisma; it opens with him leaving home and ends when his story is finished, leaving us to learn about Amin's later life in text. But Whitaker plays Amin so well that just as in real life, he's always the most captivating figure in the room. MacAvoy, charming as he is, doesn't have a chance.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 February 2007 at AMC Harvard Square #1 (first-run)

Breach is an actors' piece in the form of a procedural. It's got an intriguing story, and those who love cat and mouse games will probably get a real kick out of the scenes in the center of the movie where the FBI tries to gather evidence on a mole who is better at counter-intelligence than any of them. But even as you're watching that, the first thing that catches your notice is Chris Cooper and how he's doing some fantastic acting.

Part of what makes it so good is that this character would be well worth watching even if he wasn't a mole. If he was just an brilliant but abrasive man who took his religion far more to heart than is fashionable for many Americans, he'd still draw the audience's attention. We're never really given a motive for his treason other than pure ego, although what more do we really need? Cooper's not alone in the great acting, though - Laura Linney also does a great job in grabbing the audience in her relatively limited screen time, all-business to the point of not existing outside the Bureaui; with her and Cooper's Robert Hanssen as dueling mentors, it's no wonder Ryan Philippe often looks like he sees no future but misery as an agent. The supporting cast is filled with people who have been convincing leads in other projects - Gary Cole and Dennis Haysbert as fellow agents, Caroline Dhavernas and Kathleen Quinlan as the wives of Philippe and Cooper, respectively.


Reel Fanatic said...

I'm ashamed to admit I've missed out on Breach so far, even though I just adored Ray's Shattered Glass .. I'll have to see Zodiac and Black Snake Moan this weekend, so it may have to wait for DVD

Anonymous said...

take a look at TodayDVD