Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Day seven early morning

We're getting far behind in our reviewing, but we expected that. That's what happens when you do five films a day for a week....


Written and Directed
by Douglas McGrath

In November of 1959, two ex-cons hunting for money brutally murdered the Clutter family in Western Kansas. This act of barbarism and its aftermath has had a major impact on the history of literature. Truman Capote's book on the subject is a timeless classic, and revolutionized the writing of history.

Capote was an odd duck with his weird voice and strange manner. When he appeared on TV talk shows during the 1960s through the '80s he was a witty joke, sort of like a short Paul Lynde. An extremely flamboyant homosexual who induced giggles on the small screen, and thus was invited to all the parties that mattered as well as those that didn't. He'd done a lot of silly stuff in the past, good stuff like "Breakfast at Tiffany's" mostly. Then there was "In Cold Blood." That changed everything.

So how did this talented lightweight manage to change the world of literature so utterly? Dan Futterman, who's best know as the brother on "Judging Amy" has turned the relevant parts of Gerald Clark's book into a tight screenplay and....okay, you caught me. This was the beginning of my old review of Capote.

Actually, Futterman had absolutely nothing to do with this movie. Nor did Gerald Clark. The film was made by Douglas McGrath and is based on the book by George Plympton. There were two films based on the exact same incident with the exact same cast of characters [the actors are different, of course] filmed at almost the exactly the same time, and one of them had to wait on the shelf while the the buzz over the other died down. This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened, but the copying of plot has been done in a far more general way [witness Madagascar and The Wild] this is as close to being a remake as you can get.

There are some differences, however. The film opens with Truman Capote(Toby Jones) and Slim Keith(Hope Davis), one of his socialite “swans” that he likes to hang out with at a club listening to a sexy lounge singer(Gwyneth Paltrow) and chewing the fat. Slim confides in him some secret. Cut to another establishment and Truman is telling another swan, Babe Paley(Sigourney Weaver) what Slim told him in confidence…then we get a bunch of actors in character being interviewed about what kind of a guy Capote really was.

We see Truman getting his editor(Peter Bogdonovich) to foot the bill for an article on the aftermath of the notorious Clutter killings in Kansas, and of course he and childhood friend/assistant Harper Lee(Sandra Bullock) head out to the Midwest…

This version is a lot more mean spirited than the Futterman version. There's an air of condescension surrounding the depiction of the socialites and of Capote himself. He first shows up at the courthouse wearing a fur coat and acting like an ass in front of
Inspector Alvin Dewey(Jeff Daniels), who treats him like dirt, before it's discovered that Dewey's wife was a fan.

While in the Futterman version, the gay sexuality issue is skirted, if not entirely ignored it is front and center here. While Dick Hickock (Lee Pace) is just portrayed as a thug, his accomplice Perry Smith(Daniel Craig) is a different matter. What we've got here is pure romance, and that includes a full kiss on the mouth.

The acting is excellent. Jones' gives just as good a performance in the role as Phil Hoffman did, and he looks far more like him. What we have are two versions of the same story and both are tour de forces. Definitely worth a matinee.

Copying Beethoven

Directed by
Agnieszka Holland

There's a famous moment in the history of music: at the end of the premier of his ninth symphony, the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who was completely deaf by then, cannot hear the audience going wild behind him. A woman comes out of nowhere and turns him around to see the thunderous applause. This immortal anecdote brings to mind questions, the foremost of which was: Who was she?

Well, since after 180 years, there's no way to find out, screenwriters Stephen J. Rivele) & Christopher Wilkinson, who wrote the script for Oliver Stone's ahistorical masterpiece “Nixon” have decided to create her…giving her credit for all sorts of other things, of course.

Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger) a young music student, has arrived in Vienna on a special mission, the famous impresario Wenzel Schlemmer (Ralph Riach) is in desperate need of a copyist to transcribe the various parts of the great Beethoven's (Ed Harris) in time for the work's premier in four days.

This being the 1820s, the fact that Anna is a girl, at first, scandalizes both Schlemmer and Beethoven, but her competence and the simple fact that time is of the essence wins them over. We've now got a platonic romance going on in what might be described light comedy.

While there are the usual comedic plot twists, like the conflict between Beethoven and Anna's boyfriend Martin(Matthew Goode), the appearance of the great man's nephew Karl(Joe Anderson), and the conflict with the downstairs neighbor, this film has got more than that. It's got Ed Harris chewing the scenery with a joy that is quite infectious. His Beethoven is reminiscent of a character from Christopher Guest's mockumenteries, a cartoonish buffoon who, none the less, is capable of greatness.

The whole thing is sitcom, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The premier of the great Ninth symphony is a hoot, really great television that works as a movie. It's lots of fun, with great performances all around. But this is Ed Harris' shining moment, going back and forth between the silly old codger and the genius philosopher and back again. His explanation of why he is the way his is quite believable.

This is one of the big ones for the fall. See it.

Little Children

Written and Directed
by Todd Field

The little children of the title aren't the little children of the picture, the title applies to the behavior of some of the adults. Parents can be as immature as their kids, sometimes, and that usually has to do with that great negation of intelligence and responsibility, sex.

The film begins in “Desperate Housewives-Land.” It doesn't matter that this is in Suburban Boston and not Orange county, California, It's all the same…and in this episode, we have a suspected child molester, Ronald James McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley), back from prison after two years stretch for indecent exposure. The local vigilance committee, has plastered thousands of signs with the guy's face on it all over town, this leads to the ending the press notes ask us not to reveal, but prior to that, we have the morning playtime in the park, where Sarah Pierce(Kate Winslet) and her daughter Lucy(Sadie Goldstein) reluctantly hang out with the other mothers and kids in an attempt to relieve the boredom that suburban motherhood can generally inspire. We know this because the omniscient narration tells us so.

This idyll cannot last, and doesn't when househusband Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson) shows up with his son Aaron(Ty Simpkins) and one of the desperate housewives makes a bet with Sarah that she couldn't get the guy's phone number. Thus begins the expected affair, as we learn that that Sarah's boring husband Richard(Gregg Edelman) is into internet porn and Brad's wife Kathy(Jennifer Connelly) is too tired to screw after a hard day's work, and won't let him read “Men's Health.” It sounds like soap opera and that's what it is, our little world expands a bit when Brad makes friends with Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich), the head of the vigilance committee, who recruits him to play football in the amateur night league. Larry also enjoys harassing the notorious child molester…

As are most celebrations of adultery, this is a very unhappy movie, with the characters trying to do anything got relieve the gloom that they've gotten themselves into. Auteur Todd Field and co-writer Tom Perrotta have produced a group of some of the most unsympathetic characters to ever blight movie screen. Brad and Susan aren't that bad, really we can identify with their plight, but Susan is just not LIKEABLE, and Brad is just a slacker who doesn't really know what he wants to be now that he's grown up.

The only character that is in anyway genuinely sympathetic is the alleged child molester, who really feels guilty about everything and doesn't really know what to do about it, he's more pathetic than likeable, but at least his quest for redemption is something to root for. This is one of those films that's going to be showered with kudos despite the fact that it's way overrated. This is that it's depressing, and is the perfect way to get rid of your significant other, should you want to do so. This is NOT entertainment.

Griffin And Phoenix, USA World premiere

Directed by
Ed Stone

In the old days this would be called a “B Movie” one of those things with grade B stars and a low budget. It has an oh-so-cute script with oh-so-cute characters who are extremely doomed and fall in love just in time to redeem themselves before their inevitable demise.

Henry Griffin(Dermot Mulroney) is an insurance agent and divorced father of two, who's terminal cancer is forcing him to rethink what he wants to do with his life. He's taking a course on death and dying at the local university, where he meets one Sarah Phoenix (Amanda Peet), who's a bureaucrat working for the school and is auditing the class because….oh yeah, we mentioned that in the previous paragraph. Okay, it's a spoiler, but the damn thing is getting saccerine already and soon it is so frigging cute that one is in danger of getting a acid reflux attack.

Despite the premise of two doomed people falling in love at the end, this is cliché after cliché after cliché, and this is all very nice, but what's the point. There's no happy ending to head for, and the leads are so cuddly that we don't really care what happens to them since we know that they're not going to get hit by a bus at any point in the film and put us out of our misery.

One can understand why this hasn't gotten a distributor yet.

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