Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Movie Review: 44 Inch Chest

A decade ago I saw the film “Sexy Beast” which ended up being one of my favorites of the decade. It was a fast film about retired gangsters pulling “one more heist” that featured Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, a ferocious Ben Kingsley, and giant trippy rabbits. So imagine my excitement when I heard the writers of Sexy Beast were reuniting with Ray Winstone and Ian McShane in “44 Inch Chest”. I was so excited to see another rough, witty, shoot ‘em up. I was so excited I got a babysitter. This was a Special Occasion.

I can’t imagine a movie more different in style that “44 Inch Chest” is from “Sexy Beast”. Sure, there are some elements shared between the two films: offensive language, aging gangsters, and occasional slaps of humor. But where Sexy Beast used a frenetic camera and a number of locations, 44 Inch Chest stayed in one place. It seems like it was written as a play. It’s basically one set, stationary camera work, and a whole bunch of dialogue. So forget Sexy Beast, 44 Inch Chest is more like a British version of Reservoir Dogs – heavy subject matter, violent men, and flashes of humanity.

So, if you’re going to sit through a talky movie, you’re going to want actors who can deliver the lines. In this regard, the movie does not disappoint. Ray Winstone plays Colin Diamond, a man wronged. He is helped out by his, I suppose, gangster buddies including characters played by Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt, and Ian McShane. Tom Wilkinson and John Hurt have both been nominated for two Oscars. Remember the crushingly painful performance in the Elephant Man, well that was a much younger John Hurt. Here he plays an irascible old man, an ex-gangster with a mouth like an angry sailor with turrets. Ian McShane you might know from his golden globe winning performance in the HBO show Deadwood. Here again he plays a man of otherworldly cool, unflappable.

Colin is not a good man. He’s a horrible man. Yet his turmoil, his guilt, his conscious is evident. And so you find yourself feeling, maybe, a little for this man. And that in turn makes you feel bad, a little dirty. Thus this stolid, steady, talky film makes you a part of it. This film makes you question your ethics, your judgment, your morals. That’s quite a result from a 2-dimensional interplay of light, celluloid, and sound. That is the magic, the power, of movies.

Well, perhaps that a bit of an overstatement for this film. But where this is not an “entertaining” film in the vein of “Sexy Beast”, it is a work of Art. If by Art you mean a work that pulls you in and makes it personal. 44 Inch Chest plays this weekend at our beloved Gold Town Nickelodeon.

And hey, it’s pledge week. No group of radio stations captures the breadth and depth of arts in Juneau than the KTOO family of stations. Give it up, and I don’t mean applause, for this incredible community resource. This is Clint Farr, proud ten year KTOO member, alone at the movies.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Movie Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

To listen to the radio version, please click here.

In the seven or so months I've been Alone at the Movies, I've given positive reviews to every film I've seen. That's a problem for a film reviewer. I mean, I'm a critic, shouldn't I criticize something. This congers uncomfortable questions like: Are you too nice? Are you useful to the 3 people listening to this who are not your wife? What is your purpose? And so, teetering on this existential precipice, I went to see “Diary of Wimpy Kid”.

It would be funnier at this point to say I liked the movie. Sadly, I did not. And I know, sad is a weird emotion to have toward a mediocre movie. It’s just, with “Diary”, there were glimpses of what could have been. There were glimpses of true wit, glimpses of good ideas, glimpses of insight into the pain of navigating Junior High. But glimpsing what could have been, witnessing a work not reach it’s full potential, is like window shopping men’s shoes in Italy, beautiful, but way too expensive for your state salary.

Okay, “Diary” is nothing like window shopping in Italy for shoes. It’s more like golf in Juneau, post holing up Peterson Cabin Trail with a 60 pound pack, or not having boat in early August. You know, frustrating.

So basically, a brainy and bratty kid, with an eclectic family starts junior high with a goal of being liked, cool, the man. He is saddled by a geeky and un-self-conscious best friend, but more importantly, he is saddled with a debilitating self-centered view of the world. There are wild-and-crazy characters, wise-beyond-their-years characters, and moldy cheese. This is a “paint by numbers” movie, an expensive after school special, so lessons are learned, family is supportive, and friendships are strengthened.

Honestly, I don’t like giving bad reviews. I don’t have the stomach for this. I feel like a school yard bully slamming this film to the pavement. I could talk about how being a kid’s movie is not an excuse for lack of nuance. I could talk about the misuse of stock characters; or how use of stock characters is just lazy. Or I could talk about the bad acting. But you know, the actors are all 12, so yes, the acting’s a bit stilted…

Look, if you go out this weekend, and you’re without kids, and the Scorsese film is still playing, go see that. I hear it’s awesome. But maybe, just maybe, if you have a sixth grader and there is absolutely nothing else to do, check out a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”. There may be worse wastes of time, but I can’t think of any.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” plays this weekend at Gross Alaska theaters. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland

(For the radio version, please click here).

Somewhere along the line from love of movies to love of cinema are the first films appreciated for more than their entertainment value. Maybe it was a performance you couldn’t forget, recognition of wit over slapstick, or lines of dialogue you’d repeat until your parents told you to stop, please stop.

At some point a movie impresses you and you can’t really say why beyond, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” And you know, that happens a lot when you’re 12. Anyways, it’s when you begin to get an inkling for the ringmaster, the person behind the scenes who is imparting a vision –successful or otherwise – for your consideration. That is, the director. There were many movies that impressed me as teen, but when I fell in love with Winona Ryder in Beatle Juice or left Batman saying “That is the Best Movie Ever!”, well, that was Tim Burton.

And so Director Burton has always had a special place in my heart since he was such a part of my education in movies. How disappointing then, that most of his work since Edward Scissorhands have not really struck a chord with me. Which isn’t to say his movies are bad, they’re almost without exception, well, exceptional. His achievements cannot be overstated. For 20 years, Tim Burton has walked the line between artistry and commercial success unlike any other director.

Any movie, whether the smallest character piece or a Tim Burton special effects extravaganza, must have a soul. The audience must care. I think Burton’s film became more about the atmosphere, weird and random worlds, and Johnny Depp’s face; pretty but cadaverous, eye candy with no pulse. And so I approached Alice in Wonderland with trepidation. I want to like his films. I’m rooting for the guy.

And I’m happy to say Burton has delivered. “Alice” is not a perfect film, it runs out of magic in the last 15 minutes, but until then, it’s a lovely ride. It’s a movie that leaves you with a Cheshire grin, chuckling at the audacity of whole thing. It’s a movie where the special effects serve the story a cup of tea.

The players are fantastic. Johnny Depp is predictably excellent as the Mad Hatter. Helena Boham Carter is a worthy of Nicholson’s Joker, making a meal of every second she’s on screen. Anne Hathaway is surprisingly effective as an effete and weakly constitutioned princess. Of all people, with long CG legs that must give Letterman nightmares, Crispin Glover comes out of his madhouse to grace us with a most un-McFly performance. And finally, Mia Wasikowska, a newcomer of dramatic hair plays Alice perfectly. Yet all of it would mean nothing if not for the singular abilities of one Tim Burton, Director. Bravo.

I hope, with Alice in Wonderland, that all the many 10 year olds who watched it with me that night were high-fiving each other afer the movie. Maybe saying, “This was the Best Movie Ever!” or even, “What great direction!” And they’d be right. Alice in Wonderland plays this weekend at Glacier Cinema. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.