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Archive for July, 2004

Beauty in the Breakdown.


While I may not have been in the right frame-of-mind for Anchorman, writer-director-actor Zach Braff‘s debut Garden State later that evening settled over me like a cool, refreshing breeze. Other than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and, for sentimental fanboy reasons, Spiderman 2), I’d say Garden State has leapt to the top of my 2004 list so far. I could see some people finding it overly talky and pretentious, others too choppy, drug-ridden, and episodic, but, well, it struck a chord with me.

Seduced in by this teaser (and the accompanying song, Frou Frou’s “Let Go”, which has been flitting about my head for days now), I entered expecting a stylish but showy and self-indulgent film, as befitting a first-time triple threat. (At worst, I feared something along the lines of a Whit Stillman or P.T. Anderson flick.) But Garden State feels not only intelligent and confident but grounded, understated, and, like its dazed, over-medicated protagonist, even somewhat self-effacing. More than anything, I found the movie a sweet, quirky, and good-natured tone poem about awakening to both the pain and the possibilities of the life around you.

Admittedly, there are elements of the movie that don’t work very well. The father-son angst with Ian Holm doesn’t amount to much, and its resolution is the closest the film ever gets to derailing. Zach Braff and Natalie Portman have a lot of conversations in this film, and occasionally they do seem like movie people talking. (Nevertheless, this film resurrects Portman as an actress in my mind…she’s so flat and awful in the Star Wars films, yet she’s effervescent and adorable here. What is it about those blue screens?) Let me put it this way: There’s a scene (on the poster) where the three main characters — Braff, Portman, and an excellent Peter Sarsgaard as the local stoner/gravedigger — scream into a void (to the strands of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy in New York”…yes, comparisons to The Graduate are apt.) This will either come off as pretentious hooey or seem kinda touching…I obviously bought into it.

In other words, I doubt it’s everybody’s cup of tea, but I found Garden State an eloquent little film that’s at turns playful and poignant, one that — like Eternal Sunshine and Lost in Translation last year — manages to capture some of the elusive magic and tentative self-discovery inherent in relationships old and new. Plus, it’s got Natalie Portman briefly interacting with Method Man…that’s gotta be worth close to the price of admission, right?

Hope is on the way.

Well, other than the over-the-top salute at the very beginning of his remarks, I’d say Kerry knocked it out of the park last night. It was definitely the best speech I’ve ever heard of him give, and one surprisingly full of red meat to lob back at the Bushies. As a result, Kerry seemed energetic and self-assured and, well, presidential throughout. All in all, I thought it a very impressive performance, and one that should help him a great deal in the time between now and the debates, bounce or no.

As for Edwards the night before, I actually thought his speech, despite the nice “Hope is on the Way” refrain, was a bit of a letdown after Obama’s rousing keynote. Edwards seemed to stumble a few times in the middle going, and I found the tone a bit too conversational to produce any really memorable turns of phrase. Still, any other year, I think the Senator’s speech would’ve been one of the highlights of the convention. The fact that it loses some luster when compared to those of Clinton, Obama, and Kerry speaks very highly of the overall quality of this year’s proceedings in Boston.

Speaking of which, I’d say the GOP will be extremely hard-pressed to match the Democrats’ unity, optimism, and energy in a month, particularly with the legions of embittered conservatives in attendance at the Garden. Well, even if they do muster up a fine three-ring circus at the end of August, John Kerry, John Edwards, and the Democrats have proven this week they’re ready for the fight. So bring it on.

Their Man George.

From the bookmarks: Rick Perlstein tries to wrap his mind around Bush Country for the Village Voice. It ain’t easy.

Meet the Press.


Well, perhaps I wasn’t in the right mood for it (everyone else in the theater seemed to think it was gut-bustingly funny), but I finally caught Anchorman, and, frankly, it kinda passed me by. I think Will Ferrell can be really hilarious at times (here as Dubya, for example), but, for the most part watching The Legend of Ron Burgundy felt to me like being trapped in a 12:45am SNL skit for two hours.

Ok, the Gangs of New York riff was pretty rich (although by this point, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and the whole “Frat Pack” crew are utterly overexposed…they should take a cue from Janeane Garofolo and disappear for awhile), and Steve Carell’s weatherman had some choice moments. But, I thought most of the set pieces — jazz flute, panther scent, dead dog, afternoon delight, etc. — fell totally flat. Which didn’t stop Ferrell & co. from remorselessly beating them into the ground, of course. I guess I should give them credit…the cast clearly did anything they could to extract humor out of the jokes and situations here. Unfortunately, I still didn’t find the end product all that funny. Ah well. (Dubya Ferrell link via Value Judgment.) Update: Ok, having watched this again on HBO, it’s definitely funnier than I gave it credit for at first. My b.

2-for-2.

I must say…so far, this is turning out to be one of the more enjoyable Democratic conventions in recent memory. Bill Clinton turned it on on Monday, reminding everyone in America what a truly committed and competent president looks like. And last night was, in the inimitable phrasing of Mo Rocca, Obamatastic! As for the rest of the speeches, the only one that’s rubbed me the wrong way so far is Gore’s, who was his usual pedantic self. Otherwise, everyone seems fired up and on message…now, if only America was watching. (The cable ratings may be up, but I’m willing to bet most of those viewers already know who they’re voting for.)

At any rate, after Clinton and Obama, John Edwards will have two very hard acts to follow tonight, but I’m willing to bet he’s up to the task.

The Light Knight.

Dark Horizons obtains a closer look at the new Batman suit and it looks like…well, a rubber suit. But as long as Bats doesn’t spend too much time in this kind of lighting, he should be alright. Update: The teaser is now online, and it matches to a tee the description here. Nice work.

The Light of Earendil.

It is long since we had any hope…until now. At long last, details of the extended Return of the King are officially unveiled by New Line at Comicon: Apparently due out December (Some reports say the 10th, but that’s a Friday), the film will be fifty minutes longer, and the deluxe version will feature this spiffy Minas Tirith model. Now, hopefully the four minutes of Comicon preview footage will make it on to the official site in the next few days. Update: Until then, we’ve got a shaky Kramervision version online (replete with aggravating shrieking fangirls) and a frame-by-frame analysis…booyah. I’m particularly liking Sam seeing the star in Mordor and the Witch King’s cruel boast.

Eyes on the Prize.

A sheriff’s deputy stumbles upon an impressive collection of civil rights mugshots in a Montgomery, Alabama basement.

Bourne Again.

As I noted in my blurb on The Bourne Identity a few years ago, “I’d rather see another Bourne than another Bond.” Well, I got my wish, and thankfully The Bourne Supremacy is just as intelligent, fast-paced, gritty, and near-plausible as the first outing. Joan Allen has joined the agency this time around, and Karl “Eomer” Urban has replaced Clive Owen in the role of Eurobad assassin, but otherwise the gang’s all here again: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles (still miscast)…even Chris Cooper.

But, even if you missed Bourne I, if you’ve seen the ads, you know what you’re getting here: chilly European ambience, highly-trained fisticuffs, and Ronin-style car chases. The surprise here is how well everything’s executed — until the last fifteen minutes or so, when Bourne turns into R.E.M.’s The Apologist (the guy who insists on making everyone feel worse to make himself feel better), the film moves at a kinetic, captivating clip. Much credit goes to director Paul Greengrass (who also directed Bloody Sunday, which I’ve been meaning to see for awhile) for making each punch, kick, or crash provoke a shudder or a wince. (It’s nice to see a flick where the injuries actually take a toll on the hero for once…here Bourne hurts his leg two-thirds of the way through the movie and ends up limping the rest of the film.)

In sum, Her Majesty’s Secret Service should really take a gander at Treadstone…’cause while 007 was tooling around Iceland with Halle Berry last iteration, Bourne once again managed to deliver a quality cloak, dagger, and action payload.

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