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June 7, 2004

Short Asides
Saw a bunch of movies in the last two weeks, and have been stopping to write about them since. This stuff has been written as time allowed, between other projects. Most of these movies were watched while doing note-taking and research in preparation for actual writing. If my opinions make no sense, it’s because I wasn’t watching any but the first and last of these movies all that closely.

Pieces of April
An independent comedy that’s not too independent to be sincere. This is an actor’s movie, with great work from Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, Katie Holmes, and Lillias White & Isiah Whitlock, Jr. as the gregarious couple who live downstairs. The performance of this last pair was so well done it was hard to remember the actors are not married in real life.

Praise writer/director Peter Hedges for showing us April’s family after the Lifetime cancer drama has ended and the weird period of acceptance has set in. I’d read an article he wrote about the screenplay in Scr(i)pt a while back and feared that the movie would be sticky with sentimentality, but in the end everything is presented in a manner that’s deeply involving to an audience not in on the autobiographical elements. Though the last stretch of the movie is reportedly a compromise resulting from independent budgeting troubles (time/money), it’s better than the drawn-out ending that appears in the published screenplay (or so my sources tell me).

Again, Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt are just stellar here; each is willing to give up moments for the other. Alison Pill and John Gallagher, Jr. are likewise excellent, filling the spaces they’re given with details and depth. These actors show us a family as it is while hinting at what it was, and it’s fascinating to watch them work. Recommended.

Groundhog Day
I hadn’t seen this movie in many years, and remember thinking it was amusing without really recalling anything specific that takes place. Seeing it again, I’m left with exactly the same feeling, which seems fitting. Harold Ramis is a solid comedic filmmaker, though, and we’re lucky to have him around. Bill Murray carries a movie all by himself, here–while other ideas are brought up, tinkered with, and dropped, he’s constantly balancing treacherous repetitive gags and believable emotions with skill. Does his sorrow here foreshadow Lost in Translation? Not even close, but this is a funny and charming movie all the same.

Kevin’s right, though: Harold Ramis does pretty good director’s commentaries.

Underworld
Couldn’t much give a damn. Three chapters in the middle of the DVD wouldn’t play, so I just skipped them. Unless chapters 17 through 19 contain the miracle moments that would’ve made me care about Beckinsale’s and Speedman’s characters, I stand by my judgment without them. This is a bland blue-tinged film with boring characters and bare-bones action. (Folks shooting guns does not an action sequence make.) Clumsy, confusing editing and lookalike sets get spiced up by flashback sequences that are music-video pretty. In the end, we get a couple of nice wire-fu shots, some unconvincing and weakly staged brawling, and another instance of that ending where a stunned villain pauses and looks confused while a CG-slash appears across his person and he falls apart (see also Equilibrium, a better mediocre black-leather action film with really memorable action). In the end, I couldn’t care enough to really dislike this one.

For the record, the moment when Jude Law’s face splits open in The Talented Mister Ripley is a much better example of that shocked-and-broken-antagonist shot, and it comes in the middle of the picture.

Conan the Barbarian
Hey, Conan. It’s been a long time. So long, in fact, that I don’t know which stuff on the DVD was newly inserted into the picture, but all of it seemed fine to me. In the end, just about everything that’s wrong with Conan the Barbarian stems from its 80’s-ness. Thank god it was spared the Ladyhawke synthesizers and given the ability to take itself seriously (ahem, Willow). James Earl Jones is creepy as all get up, and Arnold is good enough, I guess. Rather than make the King Conan sequel and validate Conan the Destroyer, let us have an eight-film franchise a la Bond and Star Trek, with different actors over time, a catalog of visionary directors, and modern VFX. Yes, I think that would be fine, thanks.

Timeline
Well, it’s the movie version of a Crichton book. What do you want to know? It’s better than Sphere and Sexual Disclosure, or whatever, but not as good as Jurassic Park, while still being, of course, the same movie as all those. It’s pretty enough, acted well enough, and just twisty enough to be entertaining. You could do worse than watch it, if you like Crichton pictures, but could do better than pay for it.

In other news, Variety tells us that Gerard Butler (Timeline, Angelina Jolie 2: Cradle of Life) will play Beowulf in a feature-length adventure tale based on the epic poem. They’re building a village in the style of the 6th century, a Viking longship, and designing Grendel. Better yet, it’s got no motorcycles and Christopher Lambert’s not in it. I’m looking forward to it.

Coffee and Cigarettes
Usually funny, sometimes wonderfully awkward, and never boring for long, Jim Jarmusch’s hit-or-miss anthology makes for a great matinee. Despite being made over twenty years (1986 to 2004), it’s even got callbacks and a through-line. The cast is either okay, I guess, or fucking great, depending. I’d just skip the rundown and tell you to see it, but I was stimulated enough to think some things during the movie, so here’s a few of those:

1. Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright are so different that it might seem like genius to put them together, but instead it leads to each one having nothing to do. Jarmusch, Wright, and Benigni seem to notice this and get the hell out of there as soon as they can set-up and payoff their punchline.

2. Tom Waits and Iggy Pop are so different that it seems like genius to put them together.

3. Meg and Jack White are perfectly entertaining as actors. They’ve got timing, chemistry, and fluidity. Maybe I’m just hypnotized by the Tesla-talk and the goggles, though. Jack White walks around with a Tesla coil in a little red wagon? Yeah, all right.(For those of you who care, Jack White looks suspiciously like Mike Praser.)

4. Cate Blanchett needs to do more movies that I’ll see.

5. Steve Coogan’s a very funny guy. Very funny guy. Still, I like Alfred Molina (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Frida) better. He’s a genuine draw for me in Spider-Man 2. The two of them together? Better still. I loved this segment. (Spider-Man 2, while I’ve got you here, would be better if they’d kept the title, The Amazing Spider-Man.)

6. GZA, RZA, and Bill Murray are all very casual performers. I suppose just about everyone is in Coffee and Cigarettes, but there you go.

What The Flaming Hell?
Today, we got a high in the 90s here in Minnesota. I came home to find the hamster all stretched out in a patch of the cage that she’d completely cleared of shavings, just too damn hot to give a shit about anything. It’s fucking hot, and it’s just not right. Fuck you, hot.

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