Friday, December 26, 2008

Two films, two agendas, two samples.

There comes a time in every man's life, when he has to make a decision. He's got to decide to be a man, as society sees him in that role: work all day, demand dinner, wear a tie, read Tom Clancy, watch syndicated television. You know this man. He sits at the next table in the restaurant, and rubs his eyes. He exclaims how tired he is or how big that game was last night. He has a car seat or Armani sunglasses. He watches Bloodsport or Babel. Once he's made that decision, he's lost, and can't redeem himself. He should have taken, as Frost would say, the road less traveled, because now he's more a man, than a human being. But if he decides to be a human being, and not just a man, he might appear, to the casual observer, to just be a man; he likes, or at least respects, Evil Dead, he probably doesn't shave on the weekends, he goes to see important movies, and most importantly, he doesn't care if you think he's effeminate.

Why, you might ask yourself, am I giving such a magnanimous treatment to a movie review? Well, I'm not quite sure, but I know that the last two movies that I saw in the theater were made by human beings for human beings, and had they been made for men, they might have been a lot more entertaining.

Ron Howard's latest attempt to escape from the shadow of his previous career as an actor, has once again come up just slightly short of the mark of magnificence. I have nothing but respect for Ron Howard, a lot of his films I would consider to be good bordering great, but he hasn't done anything that would take me to the razors edge of any specific emotion (except for his campaign add for Obama, I was nearly crying with laughter). This movie had it all going for it; it was paced well, written well, the acting was well above average, with extra credit going to Sam Rockwell, who's character displayed the best dispassionate devotion to a cause than anyone since Ed Wood made Plan 9 From Outer Space, but what it lacked was conceptual oversight.

The downfall of Frost/Nixon was the characters themselves, moderately augmented by the amount of time passed since Watergate, and the interviews, themselves. Every high school graduate who paid attention in US History II knows that Nixon was, in fact, a crook. This film used some backwards attempt at pathos to make the viewer feel as if there was an actual power struggle going on, that some type of conflict was in jeopardy of not being resolved, but once again, the age of the internet doesn't care about journalistic endeavors. Everyone knows, now, that JFK was a philanderer, everyone knows about the genocide in Darfur, and every knows that Nixon practically dialed up his own execution. The failure came, when after watching the film, you realize that everything that happened in this film failed to eclipse what actually happened in real life.

Hey, but at least now you can get from Zooey Deschanel to Kevin Bacon in one degree.

If you're interested in this movie, do yourself a favor and just go out and buy the interviews on DVD. That way, you'll know what was actually said, and not what Ron Howard thought was important.

So now it's on to number two: Valkyrie. Now this film was realized by the mind behind Superman Returns, X-Men and X2; Brian Singer. I'm not going to flat out say that Singer has a long history of hiding behind budget and star power, but I will say this: when Stanley Kubrick made a movie, it didn't matter who was in it or what the budget was, it was going to be a great film.

This movie, on the other hand, was at it's best moments, thought provoking, and in it's darkest moments, a drolling listless sea of bureaucratic jargon that would have even a savvy Nazi historian's head spinning. Now this film did succeed in a way that Frost/Nixon didn't. My disbelief was suspended. I found myself, midway through the film, actually wondering if Hitler had died and there was a massive cover up that was finally being exposed in the frame of a movie. Then I remembered that Tom Cruise was in this film, and promptly went back to finding myself flabbergasted at how good a Nazi Eddie Izzard made. But in the end, Valkyrie fell short, and it wasn't for lack of beautiful imagery, great cinematography and fair to moderately good dialog. No, this movie failed because Tom Cruise is not a good actor, anymore. He played, essentially, an anti-fuhrer. Dedicated, motivational, clean cut, but tragically flawed. Had he gone over his notes from his time on the set of Magnolia, he probably could have made this a great movie, but unfortunately the man just can't get out of his own ego for long enough to make an entire film anymore.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008