Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

April 6, 2009

A bit too arch

I liked this.  I thought it was very much a ‘first-time director’ effort with some gimmicky bits that detract from rather than add to the overall piece- and you don’t really need that when it’s a Charlie Kaufman script- but I enjoyed it a lot.

Sam Rockwell plays, as he often does, the role with great relish.  It’s not quite hammy, but it is certainly theatrical.  He also exposes his buttocks more than champion bottom-flasher Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever managed in a single film.  He has a ball.  In fact, it looks like everyone has a ball- except Clooney whose added responsibility seems to carry over into his role resulting in him underplaying a little too much against Rockwell and being kind of shut out like white noise.  His sub-Cary Grant comedy gurning would be out of place here but he could still benefit from ramping it up a little.

From memory it was about this point that Julia Roberts started to be considered ‘interesting’ after proving she could carry a film in Erin Brockovich (I haven’t seen that, I’m trusting reputations) but I didn’t see too much from her here to shout about.  Likewise Drew Barrymore is fun playing within herself.  And that’s okay because it all works fine, the film is loose and rolls along in a carefree manner which is suited to the material- this is really no place for histronics after all.

The concept is fantastic, obviously, playing the fantastical material straight works and even the talking heads bits- which shouldn’t work at all given the nature of the piece- contribute something.  But it isn’t quite right.  Clooney would follow this with the far superior Goodnight and Good Luck, a weightier film altogether which perhaps suits him better.  It’s just a gut feeling and I should know better than to listen to gut feelings, but I got the impression that some of the fun stuff here- the mention of Rosemary Clooney, the weird colourised cinematography, the seriously outlandish costume and sets- was a bit too arch and a bit too forced.  It’s almost like an inferior version of Terry Gilliam’s underrated Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. But I enjoyed it, that’s what matters. 5/10

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Duplicity (2009)

March 24, 2009

I have a weakness for caper movies.  Perhaps I fancy myself as an arch-mastermind or something, I’ve never really thought about it.  Whatever the reason is, I gravitate towards them and have a propensity to really enjoy them.   This one is shit, though.  It’s not the best premise in the world- two ex-intelligence agency spooks make a killing in corporate espionage by playing one business off against another- but I’ve seen great films with far less of a plot than that.  And in Roberts, Owen, Wilkinson and Giamatti the acting talent is certainly there.  Visually too it’s fine if all-too-similar to a dozen other movies you’ll see this year.

But it’s so leaden-footed, it lacks any zing!   The (frankly all-too-obvious) denouement takes forever to arrive and underwhelm you.   And the circuitous route the movie takes to get there- with it’s chopped-up time-line and twist-on-a-twist narrative- is tedious and banal.   The screenplay isn’t complicated, it’s just really badly transferred to the screen.   Tony Gilroy’s direction is lazy, the soundtrack is flat and uninspiring, the stars are sleepwalking with Wilkinson woefully underused and the film ends up a flabby mess.

And it’s such a shame because a good, punchy movie about big corporations screwing themselves up through myopic greed could have really ridden the zeitgeist and got bums on seats.  Duplicity isn’t anything like as clever as it would like to think, nor anything like as inscrutable as the ham-fisted direction makes it appear. 2/10

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Closer (2004)

March 17, 2009

I’d avoided this with suspicion for some years.  The poster and the reviews just made it seem a bit turgid and self-consciously edgy.  I would have never seen it had it not been strongly recommended by a friend and I really enjoyed it.  This kind of film never usually appeals to me- the number of times I’ve been disappointed by the likes of Carnal Knowledge or Sex, Lies and Videotape I can’t count- and I’d come to the conclusion that I just don’t do mature adult drama very well.  This was an exception.

That’s not to say I liked everything about it- it was, as I feared, deliberately provocative (I’ve no problem with people saying “cunt” except when it sounds false or forced) and I found the tangled relationships a bit far-fetched.  I wondered if these were the only four people in London because they were eminently unsuited to one another and blind to the existence of anyone else.  But that just requires a bit of disbelief-suspension and I’m happy to do that.

What Closer really has going for it, though, are some powerhouse performances.  Clive Owen who I’ve liked since he was in Chancer is extremely good in this.  And, perhaps even more importantly, his pretty face is looking more and more into a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel with an ever-expanding nose on the front of it- which makes me feel a bit better about my rapidly disintegrating visage.  Brad Pitt and his ageless beauty can fuck off.  Natalie Portman is, if anything, even better as the wounded, vulnerable Alice.  Jude Law does his usual ‘stop mid-sentence with mouth gaping open and teary-eyed thousand yard stare’ thing, but that’s great because it suits the character and Julia Roberts comes in fourth with an earnest attempt that is good but never great.  I have to confess a little bias here, I really dislike Julia Roberts- I absolutely hated Pretty Woman, obviously, and have hated her in pretty much everything else I’ve seen possibly in reaction to that.  Oh, I just remembered I quite liked her in Charlie Wilson’s War and maybe that and this indicate that I’m warming to her as she ages.  She still looks like a stretched Chief Wiggum, though, and that’s all there is to it.

I also like the concept- though I feel this was probably better achieved by the stage play upon which the film is based- of an unbiased and unsympathetic view of the pivotal moments in a relationship with everything else removed.  I just think Mike Nicholls (and who am I to criticise the bloke who made The Graduate anyway?) might have achieved that better with more intimate framing, than less.  Almost every indoor shot is opened out to take in the whole room, the settings emphasise this- huge stairwell landings, a mezzanine apartment etc.  Maybe they were supposed to look small and intimate in context?  Either way, it didn’t work for me.

My final gripe- for a film I liked there somehow are an awful lot of gripes- is the closing scene with Natalie Portman bouncing down a New York pavement in slow motion being ogled by passers by.  It doesn’t work- does it say her attractiveness remains, that her future is full of possibilities?  It says neither to me, it says she considers herself to be a piece of meat.  Most uncharacteristic for me that.  Unless- and this is a massive stretch of credibility for me- she considers herself to be that all through the film, hence her using a pseudonym for the scenes with Dan where he treats her well, and her real name as a stripper.  The happiness is a front and the seedier side is how she sees herself.  It’s a stretch but I’m convincing myself- she sees herself as an object and when Dan sees her like that near the end, the spell is broken and she leaves him.  Hence the reversal of the film’s opening- instead of fleeing man-trouble in NY she’s fleeing man-trouble to NY.

Yep, I’ve convinced myself.  A much better film than I was expecting- cleverer by far.  I bet the play is a belter.  6/10

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