Friday, February 8, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

David O. Russell, 2012  (8.7*)

This is a surprising romance, better than I expected, largely because the screenplay is refreshingly different, with some witty and original dialogue, and because the cast is uniformly excellent, especially actress Jennifer Lawrence who was just 22 when she filmed it, the film is transported beyond the sum of its parts. As a result, Lawrence has already won 14 acting awards for this performance (and 43 in her short career – even though she started on tv at 14, she’s still only made about 11 feature films, with three more currently in production. Apparently she’s a natural – I didn’t realize that she was an amateur from Kentucky with no acting lessons and was literally discovered while walking on the sidewalk (at age 14) when I was stunned by her Oscar®-nominated performance in Sundance Winner Winter’s Bone, expertly and subtly directed by Debra Granik back in 2010.

Don’t forget that Natalie Portman was discovered at age 12 at a laundromat with her mom on a Saturday by a fashion model agent, invited to a photo audition on Monday, but was instead then sent to a movie audition for The Professional (aka Leon), and by Wednesday had the lead part in that cult-classic action film from Luc Besson. ..and she was excellent.

Lawrence as Tiffany (L) and herself on IMDB

Bradley Cooper plays a semi-psychotic young man, diagnosed as bi-polar, Pat Solitano, inside an asylum in the beginning, who we soon find out caught his wife in their shower with another man and nearly beat him to death in justifiable rage. He is now being released, but has a long list of jittery townspeople afraid of him, and a local blue that checks on him regularly. In what some describe as cruel punishment, he is forced to live with his parents to ensure his anger is at least being managed. His father, hilariously played by Oscar®-nominee Robert De Niro, who has shined lately in comedies as all you Fokker fans know (“I got my eye on you”), is high level OCD here, and makes book on all Philadelphia games – he’s particularly obsessed with the Eagles in the NFL. He blames losses and victories on the absence or presence of his son in the living room during the games, for he is banned from Veteran’s Stadium in Philly for life for constantly getting into fights with other fans.

His mother is capably played by superb veteran actress Jacki Weaver from Australia, who started in movies in 1968, and was a well-deserved supporting actress nominee for the vicious Aussie crime film Animal Kingdom (2010), in which she played the proud mother of four bank robbing and murdering sons –  she was also the family accountant. In this film she wasn’t given a very strong part to exercise her acting ability, but was still perfect enough to get her 2nd Oscar® nomination. She’s won 14 awards for her acting in her career, in all honesty, too low a total for someone of her caliber – she deserves many more parts like the one in Animal Kingdom, for which she won 8 of those awards, including one from the National Board of Review. (Melissa Leo in The Fighter beat her out for the Oscar®that year – I preferred Weaver)

As soon as he is released, and still obsessed with getting back together with his unfaithful wife, he goes to a dinner at a best friend’s house, where he meets equally wacky Jennifer Lawrence, whose husband was a policeman killed on duty, a life changing experience that pretty much turned her into the local tramp. This begins what is one of the more engaging cinema friendships, with sharp enough dialogue that the actors seem inspired to give the screenplay their best; this is certainly a career best for Bradley Cooper, and he’s been rewarded with an Oscar® nomination for best actor, but has the daunting task of robbing master thespian Daniel-Day Lewis of this third best actor statue. (And he should be going for his fourth, as his creation of Bill the Butcher in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York is one of the most memorable in cinema history, and perhaps his best performance – certainly his most evil creation.)

The story likely moved a bit slow for some, and is perhaps a little Hollywood for others, but for me I enjoyed the slow evolution of the bizarre friendship between Pat and Tiffany (which at times is like that of Harry and Sally), and the growing understanding of his father’s obsession. There’s enough humor in the dialogue that the films keeps it spark while the story develops. It’s another gem for the Weinstein company, who has a knack for these indie films that turn into Oscar® winners. like The King's Speech in 2010 (which wasn't nearly as riveting to me as Winter's Bone). They bought the rights to the book, intending it to be produced first by Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, who both died in 2008. So it went to David O. Russell due to some personal experience in this mental arena, and he also wrote the excellent screenplay along with directing.

This now belongs on a short list of enjoyable film friendship-romances like Groundhog Day, Shakespeare in Love, When Harry Met SallyA Room With a View, Annie Hall, The Shop Around the Corner, and The Philadelphia Story. Each of these is also a comedy, which I think helped them succeed, especially if you imagine each as a straight dramatic romance instead. Silver Linings is the type of film that often wins Oscars, and I think Jennifer Lawrence has to be the front runner for actress, while the film could win a few more, like director, picture, screenplay, though personally I prefer Beasts of theSouthern Wild for those three, and would love to see young Quevezhanie Wallis upset Jennifer Lawrence, who will have a long career and more Oscar® chances. [..and young Nazie is “the man”, while Jennifer is most decidedly “a woman”]

Silver Linings is the first film since 2004’s Million Dollar Baby to be nominated for the big five Oscars®: picture, director, actor, actress, screenplay, which won four of those (only Eastwood lost as actor, while Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman both won) – and the first since Reds in 1981 to get nominations for all four acting categories - none won, but Warren Beatty won his only Oscar® to date, as director.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild *10*
Benh Zeitlin, 2012
Sundance Award

This is a mesmerizing and powerful film by debut director Benh Zeitlin, from a play by Lucy Alibar, a fellow writer that Zeitlin met in a writers workshop as a teen. The unlikely star of the film is six year old Quvenzhané Wallis, who had to pretend to be six when she was five to beat out 4,000 others for this part in auditions.

The basic story is that of a motherless girl called Hushpuppy in a bayou region of an island in the Mississippi River delta area of Louisiana, the part past land's end. As you will see early in the film, this is a much more responsible child than we were at age six, her survival depends on it.

This quote from Hushpuppy's narration tells the situation succinctly:
"If my daddy doesn't get back soon, I'll have to start eating my pets." 

Her father, Wink, is brilliantly played by a New Orleans 7th ward cafè owner, Dwight Young, also with no previous acting experience, and already two awards for best supporting actor. He plays dad Wink, who has heart trouble, and knows he won't be around while Hushpuppy grows up, so he is raising her to be the man. He demand of her "who's the man?" and she flexes her biceps and says "I'm the man!" This is probably going to be repeated often by fans of this film.

Her name is Hushpuppy likely because she feeds all the animals, their only source of food other than the river, where they catch catfish, crawfish, and other local bounty. Wink even shows her how to catch a catfish by hand in the bayou, by grabbing him when you feel him on the bottom. These people are living in danger like everyone in low coastal areas, here in a makeshift village known as The Bathtub. Without any connection to the mainland, they are constantly endangered by storms, flooding, and global melting, which will easily inundate these low lying areas.

This is the best made coming-of-age story since To Kill a Mockingbird, and Wallis' performance is much tougher and more demanding than Mary Badham's, and seems more natural - you get the feeling that Nazie is not far out of her element in boats and mud in the delta.

Rather than ruin this film by too much story or analysis, as its a magical journey of myth-making proportions, I'll let you see through these links the impact of this film, which Barack Obama called "a spectacular film - even my 4 year old niece was captivated".

Awards and Nominations
Currently Beasts leads with 35 (six so far for Nazie Wallis), including wins at Sundance, and four at Cannes (next high film is Zero Dark Thirty at 21, The Master with 20, and Argo with 19):

Film Trailer
The film's trailer from Cannes

The film page at Facebook, where people are telling their stories of this film's impact on their families or children, as well as many other links.

Unfortunately for the Academy Awards,  Beasts debuted at Sundance last January, and often an early release in a film season loses Oscar® attention to films timed to attain academy recognition, which this year would be Life of Pi, The Hobbitt, and Lincoln. That would be a shame for Nazie Wallis, as she has given the child performance of cinema history - she deserves the lead actress Oscar®.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mr. Nobody

Jan Van Dormeal, 2009 (9.5*) 

It's hard to describe this film without making it sound perhaps incohesive and out of control, but quite the contrary, this is a long, complex work of art that is very well constructed, and one which will warrant and reward the true cinema fan on repeat viewings.

What director Jaco Van Dormeal has done here is not new, he shows us alternate realities in one life, similar to the visual style used for the same by Tom Tykwer in Run, Lola, Run - and triggered by one incident involving a train, like Gwyneth Paltrow's character in Sliding Doors. As a child, Nobody is known as Nemo, and at age 9, he must choose which parent to live with when they seperate. The decisive scene takes place at a train platform, and little Nemo must either stay with dad or get on the train with mom. This being a film, he does both, and we see both lives.

This is really a science fiction story, which is about a Mr. Nobody, who is called that because they don't know his name, and he can't remember it, but it's Nemo, which we find out in flashbacks. Nemo is now the last living mortal at age 118, in a world where apparently everyone else no longer ages and dies (at least not naturally, I'm sure you can still blow people up or shoot them down, because, as they say here, "some people just need killin").

The film begins with a professional type suit, who is interviewing Mr. Nobody (for broadcast live to the masses), about his life and how he feels being the last mortal. When Nemo remembers his life, it's not always the same exact story he remembers, and this is the point of the film. It's not "a story" that matters, but that you travel the journey of life not knowing the final destination. This film has as many visual ideas as 10 average films, in fact, Van Dormeal spent nine years on this one project from writing to completion, and it shows.

There are so many mind-boggling images in this, that its best not to describe the film at all, but to urge everyone to watch it, then watch it again. There is one problem: it's not available at Netflix, you'll have to either borrow or buy it on dvd. You also want only the director's cut (it's 157 minutes, the original is 141, so it's hefty in either format), that's the version I saw and it has one added scene I thought particularly important: Nemo is going through a car wash inside his car, and we see closeups of all the action on the windshield, which is uncannily like nebula activity in space: the macrocosm becomes the microcosm. If you don't understand that, then you may not like this film, and you probably didn't enjoy The Tree of Life either, another visual masterpiece.

Jared Leto stars in this, that's him in makeup as the 118 year old man (Mr. Nobody) as well. He had just made Aronofsky's incredible Requiem For a Dream (2000), so apparently he only stars in a director's "magnum opus", or greatest of his work. He should be a better known actor, he's quite accomplished in every film I've seen. Canadian director-actress Sara Polley (Dawn of the Dead, Go, The Sweet Hereafter) plays one of his wives, Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds, Troy) another, and Viet actress Linh Dan Pham (Indochine) the third. All are perfect for what the film required - of the three, Polley is the most accomplished actor having won 31 awards so far, and she shows it here.

This may bore or confuse the more literary cinemaniacs, those who want a beginning, middle, and end of one story. To me, that's like criticizing the impressionists because the realists painted the same scenes more realistically. Do you want life to imitate art, or can art just be the creative expression of an artist's inner philosophy? This film toys with the idea of "string theory", which always baffled me, but the idea is that there may be several universes or realities occuring at the same time, it depends on your choices in life. That's such a scary thought to some, that one reviewer said he couldn't leave his house for three days after seeing this film!

This film is going into my top 100, easily (out of about 10,000 seen, the top tenth of one percent), and also on my short list of must-see science fiction-fantasy films, which is less than 50 at this point. To which I would only say, as Rossanno Brazzi told Katharine Hepburn in Summertime, "You are hungry, senora - eat the ravioli!" EAT THIS MOVIE! Then again, and again..


Friday, August 10, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

John Madden, 2011  (8.1*)

From the director of Shakespeare in Love (1998) comes a more serious film, as a disparate group of seven Brits go to India to live in the hotel of the title, not knowing it's not really open yet, due to the ineptitude of undercapitalized owner Dev Patel, who inherited it when his father died.. 

This is a comedy with some tender moments, and a little drama, but without sentimentality, and with Oscar winners Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and the impeccable Tom Wilkinson in the cast, who is terrific here, it has a high degree of craftmanship..

IF anything, Dench has gotten even better with age.. I 1st saw her topless in Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in 68 and I've been a big fan ever since (she was a babe!) - her acting is even better now, as tv's BEHAVING BADLY added to the argument that some of her best work may even be for the little screen.. (I think of all the living actresses, I could spend my life with her 1st! sorry, Salma, Scarlett, and Sofia!)

As for Tom Wilkinson, I've never seen even an avg performance from him, you very soon forget he's acting in any role he tackles - he's superb here, steals the acting kudos.. Nighy is good again as usual, Maggie Smith doesn't have much to do, and Dev Patel is easily the most overrated actor in the cast, the other Indian actors are all better in fact (he's an over-actor)

The rest of the hotel's name was "For the Elderly and Beautiful", and the story is from the novel THESE FOOLISH THINGS by Deborah Moggach. Like most, the literature is, no doubt, deeper and richer than the film, which is fine, just not overpowering.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Margin Call

J.C. Chandor, 2011 (8.2*)

Another spooky film about how flimsy and corrupt western capitalism is at the top levels, those megalithic banking corporations that control everyone’s money and who always start what they like to call “investor panic”, when it’s really just the pros themselves making all the panic moves to cover their own assets.

This story involves massive layoffs at the trading floor of a major unnamed banking corporation. As one departs, he tells an underling he was working on something big and to be careful; the the junior risk analyst checks it out, the ripples become immediate and far-reaching.

Stanley Tucci is the laid off analyst, who unfortunately doesn't have a large enough part here. Dr. Spock look-alike Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) is the junior analyst whose work starts the whole cookie crumbling. Simon Baker (British accent and hair and all) is miscast as a division head bereft of any ethics. Jeremy Irons is credible, though untaxed, as the CEO of the entire corporation, who is, of course, self-serving and short-sighted. Demi Moore is perfect in a small part that added little to the story other than a female actor. Kevin Spacey is seeming a little tired in his too familiar part, as a experience trading group manager, a long time corporate employee with a little conscience remaining, since he came from the old school.

This repeating mistake usually involves someone big basically admitting all the “paper” they’re holding is generally worthless, whether it’s corporate bonds, mortgages, credit swaps, derivatives, and other worthless stuff they seem to invent daily while the feds look the other way - so they decide they have to start dumping theirs, and anything else they're holding, before everyone else does, and salvage what they can in the ensuing debacle.

This is sadly the recurring story of western capitalism: people with too much concentrated money and therefore financial power start taking too much risk for the amount of actual money they have. When they either collapse or start liquidating everything, it has ripple effects throughout all financial markets and millions of people lost trillions in wealth in a few hours. For some reason, this sort of sociopathic insanity is not only endorsed but seems to be allowed to control of nearly every western economy – or more accurately, has gained control of every western economy.

This version of the inner workings of high finance will be boring to many, but I found it quite riveting and totally credible. It is rumored to be the story of Merrill Lynch, who basically became bankrupt and was turned over to Bank of America for resurrection. (We don't allow corporate failures, just millions of individual ones by average citizens).

This story has happened far too often in my lifetime of 60 years. After awhile, you realize this is the scam. You extract as much money as you can from a corporation, then declare bankruptcy. If you an figure out a self-sustaining scam, you'll succeed longer - but remember that the world first corporation, The Dutch East India Trading Company (who are the 'bad guys' in the Pirates of the Caribbean series), also declared bankrupcty after years of success, so the pattern and con is as old as the first time it was pulled off. It's the oldest grift in the west and legal if you can get away with it.

First time director J.C. Chandor (left) won seven awards for this, and received an Oscar nomination for screenplay directly for the screen (it lost to Woody’s Midnight in Paris). For a debut film, this is quite professional, and bodes well for the films of Chandor’s to follow.


Saturday, July 7, 2012


Lars von Trier, 2011 (8.4*)
This is a rarity among films, a science fiction film that has little to do, really, with that aspect of the story. Instead, the fact that a hidden planet has emerged from behind the sun and is heading on a path toward earth really is little more than a metaphor for the characters psychogically complex stories.

Von Trier has created his most mesmerizing film to date, full of dreamy, surrealistic images more reminiscent of painters like Magritte, De Chirico, and Dali, than any film references (see film still at the bottom) – except perhaps early Antonioni. 

Kirsten Dunst won five acting awards for her gutsy portrayal of a newlywed bride mired in her own melancholia, and whose dysfunctional personality seems to deteriorate as the planet, named Melancholia, moves closer to earth. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays her long-suffering sister, who seems determined to take care of her sister in spite of the apparent hopelessness of the situation, as her personal demons seems to have no cause or origin.

Like most of von Trier’s films, this one is also slow to develop, and eerily like a Bergman film of introspection and inner turmoil, and may not hold the attention of the average viewer, but if you stick with this one you will be surprised and rewarded, I believe, especially in comparison to his other efforts. This is the type of film rated higher by critics (80 at Metacritics) vs fans (7.2 at IMDB), but those are often the more unique and unforgettable films, as critics see so many of the mundane variety that it takes something different to wake them up from mediocrity.

One of the many surrealistic and artistic images in Melancholia


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Source Code

Duncan Jones, 2011 (7.9*)
Interesting science fiction film that leans more toward the intellectual and less action style, which is a welcome relief on one aspect. However, as usual, you can’t look too deeply at the so-called science aspect of this one.

Jake Gyllenhaal (hey, figure out a better way to spell that, will ya?) plays a man who suddenly comes to awareness on a commuter train to Chicago, but he seemingly has amnesia. As he’s trying to figure out both his own situation and who the woman is that apprarently is his companion, the train explodes, and he awakens to another reality entirely.

He now emerges in a world similar both to that in The Matrix and 12 Monkeys, even Avatar, where a person in one location experiences a digitally based reality through his brain. In this particular case, Jake plays a real life Captain Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, at least in his own memories when they surface - now being used in a top secret experiment in the war on terror. The scientist in control of his world is well acted by Vera Farmiga, but she doesn't have a very demanding part; her character is supposed the be the dispassionate military scientist with only the objective in mind.

This film could have been much better without some useless meandering into pseudo-patriotism that was an unnecessary distraction, and other more sentimental discursions, but it’s still better than most other SF films of 2011 (it was a dismal year for the genre, with dogs like Green Lantern, X-Men First Class, and I Am Number Four).

This film unfortunately reminds one of numerous others, so it’s not very unique. Those who haven’t already should check out 12 Monkeys, Groundhog Day, The Matrix, RunLola Run, Frequency, The Adjustment Bureau, and Sliding Doors (all better than this film) – each of which involves manipulations or alterations of reality in some way.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Artist

Michel Hazanavicious, France-Belgium, 2011 (8.5*)
Best Picture (AA, BAA)

Having won 114 awards so far, second only to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, you would expect this film to be one of the truly great cinematic masterpieces of all time. For me, it’s a good but not great film, not as good a 2011 film as Malick’s The Tree of Life, or Refn’s Drive, but I’d put it in the tier after that (with Midnight in Paris, The Help, Rango, and Ides of March). Most of the film is silent like it’s 20’s film star, George Valentin – even though it’s more like an enjoyable and rewarding romance in the tradition of classic 30’s films like My Man Godfrey, The Awful Truth, and My Favorite Wife (40’s?). Of course, by now familiarity makes this a fairly predictable ‘boy meets girl’ story.

Director Michel Hazanavicious, who also wrote the screenplay, has created a long overdue homage to films of that era which was also shot in the style of those films, including the same 4:3 aspect ratio of 35mm prints, and of course, black and white cinematography. Of course, we're not forgetting Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon, which treaded similar ground regarding creating a visual reference to a classic cinematic style of the past.

The story is nothing new – it combines the boy meets girl story with the “rags to riches” and “riches to rags” stories of it’s two stars. Jean Dejardin won an Oscar (and 13 other awards) for his portrayal of fictitious silent film star George Valentin who bears an uncanny resemblance to the story of Douglas Fairbanks (except for a little average dancing), who was a swashbuckling action star and top box office draw in silent films, but, like many others, who never really made the transition when sound pictures arrived.

His real-life girlfriend, Bérénice Bejo, (photo above) steals the film for me as a young extra, and won seven acting awards for her Oscar-nominated performance as Peppy Miller, who catches George’s fancy in a ballroom dance scene in one of his silent films after stumbling into him outside a movie premiere for all the photographers to catch before that. He’s so immediately struck with her that he has trouble completing a simple scene, but the two part when the filming ends and follow their own career paths.

.. but, of course, George cannot shake her from his mind. At the same time, sound arrives to films, at which he scoffs, like many, thinking it will never catch on with the public – just like I didn’t think 3D would after so many failures in my lifetime.

His studio mogul, played by John Goodman, welcomes the new format but decides to can Valentin, thinking the new younger audience will also want new personalities talking, not aging silent stars. At the same time, Peppy Martin starts moving up the ladder to the stars, and her vivacious personality is a big hit, both within the story, and for Bejo in real life – in fact, for me, her energy, smile, and optimism steal the film as well as Jules/Georges heart.

Uggie is a Jack Russell terrier saved 
from a pound by trainer Omar Von Muller

There’s also a wonderful Jack Russell terrier named Uggie, claiming an award above, who adds welcome comic relief to what could have been a dreary story of the fall of a legend, from wealth to destitution. Uggie was also in Water for Elephants (2011), and What's Up, Scarlett (2005, comma required, lol). He obviously reminds most cinema fans of Asta, the spunky scene-stealing dog from the Thin Man series who starred in 14 films himself in the 30’s and 40’s, including My Favorite Wife.

For me, the one failing here is that half an hour into the film, Georges attends his first sound picture, because it stars Peppy Martin. At this point, director Hazanavicious should have introduced sound into this picture; unfortunately he did not, so we see an early talkie in silence, and we also do not hear the onscreen audiences reactions to the star-making film of Martin’s. By this point in The Artist, the gimmick of silence is wearing thin, and is not helped much by a dream of George's in which he hears the sounds of life but cannot talk himself. The only other sound in the picture is at the very end. I kept thinking that this would be a classic 30’s style film, but those all had sound, so instead this is more like an average 20’s film, very much like a Charlie Chaplin story, with lots of tear-wrenching pathos that keep it on the verge of tragedy, when it could have been more light-hearted and effervescent. It’s touted as a comedy, with a couple of dance numbers that are obviously not Astaire and Rodgers (though still fun in spirit), but spends 90% of it’s time as a tragic drama, relieved by a few humorous touches, mostly in the beginning of the story.

Definitely worth seeing, and an enjoyable if predictable story, but also overrated with this many awards. Malick's The Tree of Life (60 awards, including the Palm D'Or at Cannes) was a bigger hit with critics, and Drive (40 awards) was perhaps the sleeper of the year, both of which seemed closer to unforgettable cinematic art to me. But The Artist was definitely better than the dreariness of The Descendants, and was about on par with The Help, the two other films winning the most awards for the year; also with Take Shelter (31 awards), Woody's Midnight in Paris, and George Clooney’s overlooked The Ides of March.

Let’s hope that for Hazanavicious’ next film, he moves forward with time and adds sound so we can hear the laughter, the dialogue, and the dog barking.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Ides of March

George Clooney, 2011 (8.4*)

This is an intelligent political thriller with a few unpredictable twists. One would say the acclaim is due George Clooney, since he co-wrote the screenplay, directed the film with himself in a lead role.

His character is a new presidential candidate, whose idealistic follower Steven Myers, brilliantly underplayed by Ryan Gosling, is second-in-command of the campaign, which is headed by veteran campaigner Paul Giamatti. None of these men are saints, and over the course of the story we get to see each character in a more revealing light.

It’s hard to describe the film without giving away some important plot turns, but place this film on a short list of intelligent and adult political films, each revealing something about the process of government: Advise and Consent, All the President’s Men, The Queen, Executive Suite, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

This is one of the better films of 2011, for me in that "second tier", with Rango, The Artist, and Take Shelter.


Thursday, March 29, 2012


Gore Verbinski, 2011 (8.8*)
Academy Award, Best Animated Film

I loved this trippy, clever, irreverent film! You know you’re into something heady when a family's pet chameleon character, hilariously voiced by Johnny Depp, falls off the family car on a highway,  and  gets blown by traffic smack into the windshield of the convertible driven by Hunter Thompson with Dr. Gonzo in the back, and Hunter and the lizard are wearing the same shirt ! That’s an indicator right there that this film may be a little induced by altered states.

Director Gore Verbinski directed the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and once again he seems to have fun directing this wacky stuff.

After falling off the car, he meets various desert dwelling critters that give him advice, with Alfred Molina as an armadillo telling him he needs to find the town of Dirt, out there somewhere. When he does, it’s inhabited by an odd assortment of western dressing animals. He meets a snotty girl, tho tells him, after mutual insults, "strangers don’t last long here", but when he discovers the town needs a sheriff and a hero, he volunteers, being lost and having little choice. He picks up his name in a bar, but I won’t spoil how he gets it, it’s mostly visual.

Much of this film is like that, references to classic westerns like A Fistful of Dollars, High Noon, even the later Quick and the Dead. There are also scenes paying homage to Chinatown and Apocalypse Now, and likely others that escaped me.

Ned Beatty gives his best John Huston (a la Chinatown) voice, as the mayor, who may or may not be involved in a plot involving the town’s water supply. British actor Bill Nighy is a dead ringer for the voice of Jack Palance as the villain Rattlesnake Jake. The plot is eerily similar to that of Chinatown, a parched town needs water, it never rains, and for some reason the town’s supply faucet has gone dry, spewing out mud and no liquid, so everyone is about to die of thirst like the crops already have.

Depp is perfect for this, delivering lines like "and stay out of my peripheral vision", and  "we should follow the pipe to it’s hydraulic origin, capture the criminals and solve this aquatic conundrum".

If you like classic westerns, as well as Depp’s irreverent, inebriated style, this will be right up your alley. Perhaps more enjoyable for adults than kids, it’s still a G-rated comedy that the entire family can watch together with many guffaws – though I’m sure the kids will often ask “what did he say?”, just like the background characters do.

There’s an uncanny scene by Tim Oliphant as the voice of Clint Eastwood, delivering the film’s best line.
Depp: “The Spirit of the West. Hey, is this heaven?”
Spirit of the West (as Eastwood): “if it was, we’d be sharing Pop-tarts with Kim Novak.”

I’m sure all the kids are asking, who’s Kim Novak? Well, she and Clint Eastwood are 60’s stars that both live in Carmel, California now – that should clear that up somewhat, and of course, Pop-tarts imply breakfast, which insinuates.. er, the hokey-pokey – that’s what it’s all about!


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Artist, photographer, composer, author, blogger, metaphysician, herbalist

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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