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Mary-Louise Parker

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Bad Girls, Angry Gods, Rainy Nights, Dead Men.


I have yet to see Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, but it seems like it’d make a decent double feature with this one: Emma Watson leads a pack of ne-er-do-well teens into the mansions of LA’s idle rich in the first trailer for Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, also with Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Georgia Rock, and Leslie Mann. Eh, ok. On the bright side, this doesn’t have to be very good to be far better than Somewhere.


Back from the recent unpleasantness in New York, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) makes a Faustian bargain with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to save Natalie Portman and/or Earth from the clutches of Christopher Eccleston in first trailer for Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World. Returning for more Asgardian shenanigans is pretty much the entire cast from the first film, including Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston, Rene Russo, Ray Stevenson, Jaimie Alexander, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgard.


The inimitable Tony Leung does his best Neo impression in the rain in our first look at Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster, also with Zhang Ziyi. This is a lousy teaser, and the muddy, gray jump-cuttiness of it all is inauspicious for the director’s first foray into martial arts. But, hey, Tony Leung.


Ryan Reynolds (nee Hannibal “Blade 3” King, Deadshot, Green Lantern) looks for a comic book hit at last, while Jeff Bridges channels his recent Crazy Heart/True Grit turns to make a mortgage payment or three, in this ho-hum trailer for Robert Schwentke’s R.I.P.D., also with Mary Louise-Parker and Kevin Bacon. Looking like highly derivative MIB territory here, and Schwentke — the director of Red — does not inspire confidence.

Retread, Extremely Dull.

To complete the pre-election backlog at last, Robert Schwentke’s by-the-numbers action-comedy Red, which I caught a few weeks ago at the Uptown, is…really forgettable. I mean it. It can’t have been more than a month ago since I saw this flick, and yet, even with its impressive A-list cast — hey, A-listers have mortgages too — Red already has that half-remembered did-I-watch-this-on-television haze about it in my mind.

For a dumb action-comedy, Red is neither particularly action-y nor particularly funny. (It is plenty dumb, tho’.) The film’s killer app — Helen Mirren as a badass assassin — doesn’t show up till halfway through the movie, and even then is criminally underutilized. It has one of the most annoyingly intrusive, jingly-jangly Oceans’ 11-wannabe scores this side of The Informant. It can never decide on a tone, and veers from broad, Naked Gun-style antics (see, for example, everything involving bazookas) to half-hearted stabs at being taken seriously. And, with the possible exception of Bruce Willis doing the hero-walk out of his moving car (to save you money, it’s at 1:40 in the trailer), there’s just very little to write home about here…or even on GitM about, for that matter.

But, write I must, so let’s take it to the synopsis: If you just watched the aforementioned trailer, you’re already basically up-to-speed. In brief, Frank Moses (Willis, on autopilot) is an ex-CIA spook who’s not handling retirement well. He spends his days tearing up his pension checks so he has an excuse to phone up the friendly and equally lonely cubicle-rat Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker, deserving better) — They make small talk about romance novels and avocadoes and whatnot. So far, so good. Red has an off-kilter feel to it at first that seems like it might be going somewhere. Unfortunately, we’re only maybe six or seven minutes into the film, and then the bullets start raining down like a hailstorm of stupid.

Y’see, a crack team of assassins have been sent to kill Frank in the dead of night for some reason, and they end up firing so much lead into his Cleveland home that the entire structure comes tumbling down. (Wouldn’t this draw unwanted attention to your ostensibly black-ops hit? Oh, whatever.) Frank, of course, survives this demolishing unscathed. And after abducting his new friend Sarah (shades of Knight & Day here — no better way to win a lady’s heart, apparently, than by absconding with her against her will), he decides to get the old “Retired: Extremely Dangerous” band back together to figure out why he’s been targeted.

And why is that, exactly? Well, long and boring story, really, but it has something to do with an old mission in Guatemala where the current vice-president (Julian McMahon, feeling as TVish here as he did in Fantastic Four) kinda sorta lost his mind and started shooting up the place. More important for our purposes is the band in question — Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mirren, and Brian Cox. That’s a pretty solid traveling troupe if you’re looking to do some actorly jamming for a few hours, and particularly when you have occasional fun special guests like Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfuss (who’s basically reprising his role from W) waiting in the wings.

Only problem is, it doesn’t play out like that. Freeman seems bored, and you can’t really blame him when the only thing the script calls for him to do is [spoiler] give a Shawshank-y farewell speech and die…twice. Meanwhile, Malkovich, playing an ex-agent who was dosed with LSD for decades, goes Method: He skips right over funny and lands on the creepy, off-putting-homeless-guy side of crazy. (As far as Malkovichian CIA romps go, I prefer Burn after Reading.) Mirren, as I said, is underused. And Brian Cox…well, Cox can be a very good actor (Manhunter, The 25th Hour) or, when in it for the paycheck, an absolute, William Hurt-like hambone. (The Ring, Troy.) As a vodka-swilling, back-slapping, overly-emotional ex-KGB kingpin, guess what he’s like here? When you’re even in spitting distance of out-hamming Dreyfuss in a motion picture these days, that’s no mean feat.

Oh yeah, Karl Urban (still channeling Bones from Star Trek) is skulking around in this too, as the Agency’s muscle. He’s ok, I suppose — He gets his hat handed to him by Bruce Willis decently well. But his entire character arc is laid out the first time he looks askance at his sinister, take-no-guff handler (Rebecca Pidgeon), so there’s a lot of waiting around for his inevitable crisis of conscience to take hold. In the meantime, there’re a lot of explosions and bullets and stuff, all set to that godawful, its-ok-you-can-laugh-now score.

In the end, Red is slow-witted, dull, nonsensical, and even a bit sadistic — drink every time someone gets abducted, tied up, beaten up, or interrogated. But, more than anything it’s just…forgettable. Who knows? Maybe the CIA has been hard at work on a nefarious plot to redact Red from my brain. If so, I salute them.

Age and its Discontents.

Another slew of new arrivals in the summer trailer bin:

  • With a little help from his friends (Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Mary-Louise Parker), Bruce Willis eases out of retirement from the Company in the trailer for Robert Schwentke’s Red (formerly a Warren Ellis comic, apparently), also with Julian Glover and Karl Urban. Eh, could be fun.

  • Todd Solondz offers up another misanthropic and probably-funny smorgasbord of quirky, highly damaged people in the trailer for his Life During Wartime, with Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, Ciaran Hinds, Paul Reubens, Michael K. Williams, Ally Sheedy, and Charlotte Rampling.

  • For the sake of completion, the trailer for Paul Weitz’s Little Fockers, a.k.a. Meet the Parents 3, with Ben Stiller, Teri Polo, Robert DeNiro, Blythe Danner, Barbara Streisand, Jessica Alba, Laura Dern, and Harvey Keitel. Didn’t see the last one, won’t be seeing this one…particularly after that hard-to-watch Sustengo lameness.

2007 in Film.

Happy New Year, everyone. So unlike last year, when I took an extra month on account of my travels in New Zealand, the Best of 2007 Movie list seems ready to go out on schedule, and it’s below. (If you’ve been reading all the reviews around here, I’m betting the top few choices won’t be a surprise. Still, organizing the 5-15 section was more tough than usual this year.) At any rate, 2008 should be a big orbit around the sun in any event, what with grad school winding down and it being time — at last! — to pick a new president. So a very happy new year to you and yours, and let’s hope the movies of the coming year will contain to sustain, amuse, baffle, and delight.

Top 20 Films of 2007

[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006]

1. I’m Not There: “There was a movie I seen one time, I think I sat through it twice.” Admittedly, it was a wonderful confluence of my interests. Nevertheless, Todd Haynes’ postmodern celebration of Bob Dylan, brimming over with wit and vitality and as stirring, resonant, and universal as a well-picked G-C-D-Em progression, was far and away my favorite film experience of the year. It seems to have slipped in a lot of critics’ end-of-year lists (although Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek also put it up top, and the Sun-Times‘ Jim Emerson has been championing it too), but so be it — You shouldn’t let other people get their kicks for you anyway. A heartfelt, multi-layered, six-sided puzzle about the many faces and voices of Dylan, l found I’m Not There both pleasingly cerebral and emotionally direct, and it’s a film I look forward to returning to in the years to come. Everybody knows he’s not a folk-singer.


2. No Country for Old Men: It probably won’t do wonders for West Texas tourism. Still, the Coens’ expertly-crafted No Country works as both a visceral exercise in dread and a sobering philosophical rumination on mortality and the nature of evil. (And in his chilling portrayal of Anton Chigurh, Javier Bardem has crafted a movie villain for the ages.) People sometimes refer to Coen movies as “well-made” as a dig, as if the brothers were just soulless clinically-minded technicians. I couldn’t disagree with that assessment more. Still, No Country for Old Men seems so seamless and fully formed, so judicious and economical in its storytelling, that it reminds me of Salieri’s line in Amadeus: “Displace one note and there would be diminishment, displace one phrase and the structure would fall.” A dark journey that throbs with a jagged pulse, No Country for Old Men is very close to the best film of the year, and — along with Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski — yet another masterpiece sprung from the Coens’ elegant and twisted hive-mind. Bring on Burn After Reading.


3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Through the wonders of cinematic alchemy, Julian Schnabel took the sad real-life account of Vogue editor Jean-Do Bauby’s horrific imprisonment within his own body and made it soar. No other film this year put the “locked-in” experience of taking in a movie as inventively in service of its story (although I kinda wish Atonement had tried.) Special kudos to Mathieu Almaric for conveying so much with so little to work with, and to Max von Sydow for his haunting turn as Bauby’s invalid father. And, lest someone holds “arthouse foreign film” against it, Diving Bell is both much funnier and more uplifting than anyone might expect of a tale about hospital paralysis. Salut.


[3.] The Lives of Others: The one hold-over from 2006 on the list this year (I was pretty thorough about catching up before posting last January, although I still never did see Inland Empire), The Lives of Others is a timely and compelling parable of art, politics, surveillance, and moral awakening in the final days of the Stasi. In a way, Lives is an East German counterpart to Charlie Wilson’s War, a story about how even small political acts of individual conscience can change the world, even (or perhaps especially) in a decaying Orwellian state. With a memorable central performance by Ulrich Muhe and a languid conclusion that ends on exactly the right note, the resoundingly humanist Lives of Others is a Sonata for a Good Man in Bad Times. We could use more of its ilk.


4. Knocked Up: Judd Apatow’s sweet, good-natured take on modern love and unwanted pregnancy was probably the most purely satisfying film of the summer. As funny in its pop-culture jawing as it was well-observed in its understanding of relationship politics, Knocked Up also felt — unlike the well-meaning but overstylized Juno, the film it’ll most likely be paired with from now herein — refreshingly real. As I said in my recent review of Walk Hard, an eventual Apatow backlash seems almost inevitable given how many comedies he has on the 2008 slate. Nevertheless, we’ll always have Freaks & Geeks, and we’ll always have Knocked Up.


5. The Bourne Ultimatum: The third installment of the Bourne franchise was the best blockbuster of the year, and proved that director Paul Greengrass can churn out excellent, heart-pounding fare even when he’s basically repeating himself. Really, given how much of Ultimatum plays exactly like its two predecessors on the page — the car chase, the Company Men, the Eurotrash assassin, Julia Stiles, exotic locales and cellphone hijinx — it’s hard to fathom how good it turned out to be. But Bourne was riveting through and through…You just couldn’t take your eyes off it. I know I’ve said this several times now, but if Zack Snyder screws up Watchmen (and I’d say the odds are 50-50 at this point), the lost opportunity for a Greengrass version will rankle for years.


6. Zodiac: The best film of the spring. What at first looked to be another stylish David Fincher serial killer flick is instead a moody and haunting police procedural about the search for a seemingly unknowable truth, and the toll it exacts on the men — cops, journalists, citizens — who undertake it for years and even decades. Reveling in the daily investigatory minutiae that also comprise much of The Wire and Law and Order, and arguably boasting the best ensemble cast of the year, Zodiac is a troubling and open-ended inquiry that, until perhaps the final few moments, offers little in the way of satisfying closure for its characters or its audience. Whatever Dirty Harry may suggest to the contrary, the Zodiac remains elusive.


7. 28 Weeks Later: Sir, we appear to have lost control of the Green Zone…Shall I send in the air support? Zombie flicks have been a choice staple for political allegory since the early days of Romero, but one of the strengths of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s merciless 28 Weeks Later — perhaps the best horror sequel since James Cameron’s Aliens — is that it foregoes the 1:1 sermonizing about failed reconstructions and American hubris whenever it gets in the way of the nightmare scenario at hand. (Besides, if you wanted to see explicit muckraking about current events this year, there were options aplenty, from In the Valley of Elah to No End in Sight, although plenty of this year’s politically-minded forays — Rendition, Lions for Lambs — looked rather inert from a distance.) There’s little time for moralizing in the dark, wretched heart of 28 Weeks Later: In fact, the right thing to do is often suicide, or worse. You pretty much have only one viable option: run like hell.


8. In the Valley of Elah: Paul Haggis’ surprisingly unsentimentalized depiction of the hidden costs of war for the homefront, Elah benefits greatly from Tommy Lee Jones’ slow burn as a military father who’s lost his last son to a horrific murder. In fact, it’s hard not to think of Jones’ inspired performances here and in No Country of a piece. There was something quintessentially America-in-2007 about Jones this year. In every crease and furrow of this grizzled Texan’s visage, we can see the wounds and weariness of recent times, the mask of dignity and good humor beginning to slip in the face of tragic events and colossal stupidity. Jones is masterful in Elah, and while Daniel Day-Lewis seems to be garnering most of the accolades for There Will Be Blood and Philip Seymour Hoffman stunned in three pics this fall (all on the list below), I’d put Jones’ work here as the best of the year.


9. There Will Be Blood: Ah, the maddening There Will Be Blood. I just reviewed this one yesterday, so it’s doubtful my opinion on it has changed much. But what Anderson’s film reminds me of most at the moment (and not only for the Daniel Day-Lewis connection) is Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, a movie I reviewed at the end of 2002 and then bumped up a few spots a week later when writing the 2002 list, thinking that its flaws would diminish over time. They haven’t — if anything, they’re just as noticeable as ever. So it may well be with TWBB. Even despite its somewhat unseemly pretensions to greatness, the first hour or so of There Will Be Blood, from the Kubrickian opening to the Days in Heaven-ish burning oil rig, is as powerful and memorable as you could ever want in a film. But TWBB loses its way, and the second half is a significantly less interesting enterprise, ultimately culminating in that goofy, illogical bowling alley ending. I’d characterize Blood as a significant step forward for PTA, and there’s something to be said for getting even this close to a masterpiece. But he hasn’t struck black gold yet.


10. Hot Fuzz: While I personally still prefer Shaun of the Dead, this fish-out-of-water, buddy-cop action spectacle proved the droll British team of Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and Edgar Wright can’t be considered one-hit-wonders (and that they’re as savvy about certain pop culture tropes as their American colleagues in the Apatow camp.) And, while I didn’t see Elizabeth II: The Golden Age, Hot Fuzz may well include the second-best Cate Blanchett performance of the year.


11. Gone Baby Gone: First-time director Ben Affleck acquits himself well with this chronicle of missing children and seedy n’er-do-wells in working-class Boston, wisely choosing to stick with a town and a leading man he knows like the back of his hand. His brother Casey holds his own, and crime author Dennis Lehane’s original source material provides some compelling twists-and-turns throughout. And, as the drug-addled, quick-to-dis Townie mom who’s lost her baby, The Wire‘s Amy Ryan gives arguably the Best Supporting Actress performance of the year (although she’ll likely get some run from Blanchett’s Jude Quinn.)


12. Michael Clayton: Clooney’s impeccable taste in projects continues with this, Tony Gilroy’s meditation on corporate malfeasance and lawyerly ethics (or lack thereof.) The bit with the horses still seems a convenient (and corny) happenstance on which to hang such a major plot point, and I found Tilda Swinton to be overly mannered and distracting for much of the film’s run. But most else about Michael Clayton, from Sidney Pollack’s Master of the Universe to Michael O’Keefe’s snide, unctuous #2 to Tom Wilkinson’s last scene to Clooney not rebounding as well to events as, say, Danny Ocean, rang true. A small film, in its way, but a worthwhile one.


13. Charlie Wilson’s War: Another one I wrote on in the past 24 hours, so I don’t have much to add. Perhaps the best thing about Mike Nichols and Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Crile’s book is that it “gets” politics like few recent Washington thrillers I can think of. Philip Seymour Hoffman shows impeccable comic timing as the gruff Gust Avrakotos, and he works very well with Hanks here, who’s gone from being overexposed a few years ago back to a guy I wouldn’t mind seeing more of, particularly if he continues along the Alec Baldwinish character actor path Wilson sometimes suggests could be his future.


14. The Savages: I actually thought about putting Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages higher on this list, and few other movie endings this year hit me in the gut quite like this one. But, there are definite problems here, such as the wheezy Gbenga Akinnagbe subplot, which compel me to keep it here in the mid-teens. Still, this comedy about an ornery lion in winter, and the battling cubs who have to come to his aid, is a worthwhile one, and particularly if you’re in the mood for some rather black humor. As Lenny the senescent and slipping paterfamilias, Philip Bosco gives a standout performance, as does Hoffman as the miserable Bertholdt Brecht scholar trapped in deepest, darkest Buffalo.


15. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: Now, Before the Devil is a movie I did end up seeing twice, on account of Brooklyn friends who were looking to catch it, and the film didn’t bring much new to the table on that second viewing. Still, Sidney Lumet and Kelly Masterson’s lean family tragedy benefits from several excellent performances — most notably by Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, and Albert Finney, but also in supporting work by Amy Ryan, Michael Shannon, Brian O’Byrne, and Rosemary Harris — as well as a memorable Carter Burwell score. (Also, it’s just a coincidence that the three Hoffman movies ended up in a row like this — Still, it’s a testament to the man’s ability that he seemed unique and fully formed in each. Then again, the only time I can think of that Hoffman was actually bad in a film was Cold Mountain, which was pretty glitched up regardless.)


16. Sunshine: Along with There Will Be Blood, Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s exasperating Sunshine is the other film this year that saw an amazing first hour become undone by breathtakingly poor choices on the back end. Unlike the halting, confused slide of TWBB, though, the moment where Sunshine slips the rails is clear-cut and irrefutable: It’s when what had been a heady science fiction tale about a near-impossible mission to the heart of the sun became instead an unwieldy space-slasher flick, i.e. basically an Armageddon variation on Jason X. The wreckage this subplot makes of what had been a superior hard-sci-fi film is more than a little depressing…Still, for that first hour, Sunshine is really something, perhaps the best realistically-portrayed outer space voyage we’ve seen on-screen in years.


17. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: Andrew Dominik’s sprawling psychological western about the end of the West and the early days of American celebrity-worship is every bit as ambitious and flawed as PTA’s There Will Be Blood. Still, maybe it’s the often stunning Roger Deakins cinematography, or the lively character actors (Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Garret Dillahunt) in the margins of the film, or maybe it’s even the terrible omniscient voiceover, which is every bit as distracting as the similarly ham-handed one in Little Children, and so goofy at times it verges on endearing. Whatever it is, I warmed to Jesse James more than I probably should, and for whatever reason I feel more willing to forgive it its considerable problems. If you blinked, you probably missed its theatrical run…but maybe it’ll find new life on DVD, when the 160-min running time won’t seem so off-putting.


18. I am Legend: When the film focused on Will Smith and his dog fighting blood-sucking and badly rendered CGI Infecteds (whose level of social deevolution changed back and forth solely to accommodate turns in the plot), Francis Lawrence’s I am Legend could seem pedestrian and forgettable. But, when the movie focused on Will Smith and his dog fighting interminable loneliness in an eerily abandoned New York City, which was most of the first two-thirds of the film, I am Legend was a surprisingly melancholy and resonant blockbuster. What can I say? This one hit me where, and how, I live.


19. Ratatouille: There’s no review of this one up — I actually only saw it on DVD last week. And yet, while Ratatouille is a visual marvel (and Brad Bird and the PIXAR gurus don’t seem to make bad films), I found this nowhere near as inventive or entertaining as their last collaboration, 2004’s The Incredibles. (I’d put this one at about the level of Cars.) Now, this may in part be due to the fact that I have much more interest in comic book conceits than the culinary arts. (I’d even go so far as to say that I find many foodies — particularly those who blather on endlessly about Parisian cuisine — kind of insufferable.) Still, even given my relative lack of interest in the subject matter, Ratatouille bugged me. If “anyone can cook,” as Chef Gustave proclaims, why is no one’s input ever important but the rat? If it’s bad to make money selling pre-cooked (and affordable) food to the teeming masses, as Ian Holm’s character tries to do, why is it any better to do what Remy does? (And why should we care then when he and Gustave Jr. move into a deluxe apartment in the sky? I thought this enterprise wasn’t about making money.) In short, I thought Ratatouille wanted to have it both ways, cloaking a rather elitist, even snobbish story in the trappings of democratic tolerance. And the closing monologue by Peter O’Toole’s Anton Ego, which I thought ostensibly tried to make the movie critic-proof, irked me too. But, all that aside, it does look real purty.


20. Atonement: There were several contenders for this last spot on this list, including Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Simpsons Movie, and Jason Reitman’s Juno. But in the end I went with Joe Wright’s take on Ian McEwan’s novel, partly because people I trust who haven’t read the book beforehand haven’t shared my issues with the film. If nothing else, Atonement looks ravishing, and it features breakout performances by James McAvoy, Romola Garai, and Saiorse Ronan. Still, in a year that saw No Country and Diving Bell, I wish Wright had been less conventional in its approach to the story, and found a way to do the gloomy, misanthropic ending of McEwan’s novel justice.

Most Disappointing: The Golden Compass, Grindhouse, Spiderman 3, Southland Tales

Worth a Rental: 3:10 to Yuma, Beowulf, Eastern Promises, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Juno, Live Free or Die Hard, Lust, Caution, Ocean’s 13, The Simpsons Movie, Stardust, Superbad, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Don’t Bother: 300, Across the Universe, American Gangster, The Darjeeling Limited, Interview, The Invasion, Margot at the Wedding, The Mist, Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End, Transformers, You Kill Me

Best Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah; Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Actress: Ellen Page, Juno
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Best Supporting Actress: Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone; Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There

    A Good Year For:
  • Casey Affleck (Assassination of Jesse James, Gone Baby Gone)
  • Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad, Walk Hard)
  • Josh Brolin (American Gangster, Grindhouse, In the Valley of Elah, No Country)
  • Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno)
  • Garret Dillahunt (No Country for Old Men, Assassination of Jesse James)
  • Full-Frontal Parity (Diving Bell, Eastern Promises, I’m Not There, Walk Hard)
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman (Before the Devil, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Savages)
  • Tommy Lee Jones (In the Valley of Elah, No Country for Old Men)
  • Man’s Best Friend (I am Legend, The Savages)
  • Pregnant Hipsters (Knocked Up, Juno)
  • Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Superbad)
  • Amy Ryan (Before the Devil, Gone Baby Gone)
  • Texans (No Country for Old Men, Charlie Wilson’s War)
  • The Western (3:10 to Yuma, Assassination of Jesse James, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood)
    A Bad Year For:
  • The Beatles (Across the Universe, Walk Hard)
  • Josh Brolin’s PETA standing (American Gangster, No Country for Old Men)
  • Great Cities (28 Weeks Later, I am Legend)
  • Kidman/Craig Pairings (The Invasion, The Golden Compass)
  • The Male Derriere (Charlie Wilson’s War, Margot at the Wedding)
  • Standard-Issue Music Biopics(I’m Not There, Walk Hard)
Unseen: Away from Her, Black Book, Black Snake Moan, The Brave One, Breach, Control, Elizabeth II: The Golden Age, Enchanted, Grace is Gone, The Great Debaters, Goya’s Ghosts, The Host, Into the Wild, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, The Kingdom, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, The Kite Runner, Lars and the Real Girl, La Vie En Rose, Lions for Lambs, Love in the Time of Cholera, A Mighty Heart, The Namesake, No End in Sight, Once, The Orphanage, Persepolis, Redacted, Rendition, Rescue Dawn, Reservation Road, Romance and Cigarettes, Shoot ‘Em Up, Sicko, Sweeney Todd, Talk to Me, This is England, We Own the Night, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Wristcutters: A Love Story, Year of the Dog, Youth Without Youth

2008: Be Kind, Rewind, Cassandra’s Dream, Cloverfield, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Funny Games, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, In Bruges, The Incredible Hulk, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Iron Man, James Bond 22, Jumper, Leatherheads, My Blueberry Nights, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Revolutionary Road, Run, Fat Boy Run, Speed Racer, Star Trek, Valkyrie, Wall-E, Wanted, The X-Files 2…let’s see, am I missing anything…?

Welcome, 2008. I’ll see y’all on the other side.

Ford’s Theatre.


On a Saturday in late September, the gray hours were marked by occasional rains, and Kevin, having completed his affairs of commerce the evening prior and having no social prospects on the calendar, traveled to the theater on 68th St. to bask for a day in the fulgor of the cinematograph. And so it was that, three films into his personal odyssey, he came upon Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, a recount of the last days of one of the Old West’s most famous killers, and an analysis of the man who laid him low. Kevin found it to be an overly protracted and ultimately uneven work, to be sure. But he also found the movie often striking and occasionally beautiful, and — even if its reach exceeded its grasp — he admired the film for its ambition, and its confidence in taking extended, leisurely digressions. Kevin applauded Dominik’s attempt to pay homage to the films of Terrence Malick and to the sprawling psychological westerns of the 1970s. That being said, he found the interminable voiceover by Basil Exposition — which often needlessly described the action Kevin could witness for himself on the screen — more than a little irritating…

Thanks, Basil, I’ll take it from here. As Assassination begins, the James gang — or, more to the point, the gaggle of local toughs Frank (Sam Shepard) and Jesse (Brad Pitt) James have assembled for one last train heist in Blue Cut, Missouri — are waiting out the day in the woods. During this stopover, the weaselly wannabe Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), nursing a lean and hungry look, tries desperately to ingratiate himself with the celebrity brothers in turn. (If we couldn’t figure out from the title what part Ford will play in all this, he seems like trouble right from the get-go: one part Mark David Chapman (“I can’t shoot him like this. I wanted to get the autograph.“), one part Sirhan Sirhan (“I have achieved in one day what it took Robert Kennedy all his life to do.”)) And yet, through sheer dogged obsequiousness, Ford eventually manages to fall in with younger brother Jesse, who seems both amused by his blatant hero-worship and nonchalant about the quality of his riding partners. So, for the next two hours plus, we follow the twists and turns of Jesse and Robert’s doomed relationship, particularly as it becomes strained by James’ increasing (and justifiable) paranoia and Ford’s own delusions of easy immortality. And, as we eventually get to that fateful day when the shot is fired (and the years beyond), Ford slowly comes to discover that it’s one thing to kill a man. It’s another to live with yourself afterward.

Assassination definitely isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and, to be honest, it’s really not at the level that its pretensions seem to warrant: The film never achieves the psychological depths it purports to plumb — Ford in particular seems a pretty straightforward nutjob — and it runs for several beats too long. (The movie should already have ended two or three times over by the time Zooey Deschanel shows up.) And, then, of course, there’s that awful narration, which comes across as screenwriting on autopilot and nine times out of ten feels jarring and unnecessary. (I assume the passages come from the book by Ron Hansen, but they don’t work here at all. They either repeat — or worse, contradict — what we’re seeing. For example, the voiceover tells us in the first ten minutes that Jesse James was a constant blinker, after which Brad Pitt stares at things with an unfaltering, steely blue gaze for three hours.)

That being said, with some wonderful cinematography by Roger Deakins (who also shot In the Valley of Elah) and a solid, colorful cast, Assassination does have its moments. It’s always grand to see Sam Rockwell, and he’s quite commendable here as Bob’s older brother Charlie. (And, while he at first appears to be a mere buffoon, there’s more to him as the movie goes along.) Deadwood‘s Garret Dillahunt also adds another finely-honed cowboy to his western repertory here: His Ed Miller, an outlaw sadly operating a few cards short of a full deck, is a far cry from both Jack McCall and Frances Wolcott, but memorable nonetheless. And there’s plenty of other good work here, including outlaw turns by Jeremy Renner (of 28 Weeks Later), Paul Schneider (looking like the lost Fiennes brother), and, of course, Affleck and Pitt, both of whom bring their A-games to the table (even if Pitt’s motivations in his final moments escaped me.) Also, I’m forced to admit, I was rather tickled by the mean old cuss they acquired to play the Governor of Missouri

Old Gods and Little Children.

In this week’s trailer bin, 9/11 meets The Blair Witch Project (and maybe even a dash of Cthulhu?) in the cleverly low-fi teaser for J.J.Abrams’ 1-18-08, a.k.a. Cloverfield. Freddie Highmore (of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) discovers his own Pan’s Labyrinth of sorts in the new trailer for The Spiderwick Chronicles, also with Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, and David Strathairn. And Ben Affleck directs his brother Casey in a Boston missing child case in this look at Gone Baby Gone, by the author of Mystic River and also starring Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, and The Wire‘s Amy Ryan (Beadie) and Michael Williams (Omar).

James Without Frontiers.

The new teaser for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck as the titular gunslinger and coward respectively, is now online. Out this September, the film also stars Sam Shepard, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel (Yes, Zaphod and Trillian), Mary-Louise Parker, and what would a hard-boiled western these days be without Garret Dillahunt?

Oil & Smoke.

In the movie bin, Jake Gyllenhaal welcomes the suck in the full trailer for Sam Mendes’ Jarhead (teaser noted here) , and John Turturro directs an all-star cast to song and dance in this first clip from Romance & Cigarettes.

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