Archive for January, 2004

2003

January 14, 2004

Camera One

USA / Germany

English

111 minutes

I can’t write about this now. Unbelievably great.

7.5 Critical Consensus

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2003

January 11, 2004

Camera Cinema Club

English

North American premiere. A hundred movie ideas connected into one movie that doesn’t work. Two WWII American soldiers are being taken to the brig for going AWOL but on the way their jeep runs over a mine. The two survive and walk through the snowy woods of Europe. They come across a canabalistic priest, a group of disabled orphans, and an Englishman who has trained said kids in warfare tactics. We are also “treated” to flashback after flashback for reasons that escape me. Just not good. Any one of the stories could have been compelling on its own.

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2003

January 7, 2004

HBO

USA

English

50 minutes

Another infomercial for the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, a brothel outside of Carson City, Nevada. The prices are staggering. “Normal” girls are $1500 per hour. “Featured” girls are $2000 per hour. Not a bad way to make a living. Presented under HBO’s America Undercover documentary series. But that doesn’t make it less titilating or more insightful.

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2003

January 7, 2004

Camera 3

USA

English

101 minutes





Love…You Have To Play To Win.–THE COOLER

No Spoiler Version: Let’s get something out of the way. Bill Macy is the greatest. I will make it my duty to see everything he ever appears in. He inhabits the role of a sad sack better than any other actor. He was fantastic in this. Alec Baldwin as the casino boss is tough and believable as a guy who misses the old Vegas. Maria Bello is cute and hardened from a tough life. The story is pretty cool. Macy is such a loser that he actually can effect the way gamblers play. There are funny slow mo scenes where he walks by tables as people on rolls begin losing, craps is thrown, blackjack players bust. He touches some, merely walks by others. The casino boss watches while smiling. I don’t know if these people exist in real life, but I’d like to meet one if they did. The plot has Bello playing a waitress who falls for Macy and he becomes happy and therefore loses his bad luck, putting his job in jeopardy.

There is a pretty hot and funny and honest sex scene. Bello and Macy are brave to have non-airbrushed sex in this day and age. The two them together is not as weird as it sounds. However, this was maybe even more disappointing a film to me than IN AMERICA. It could have been so great. Bill Macy as a man so unlucky that he gets paid for it. I love stories that deal with the question of luck and fate. I wanted to love this one as well.

Now, stop reading if you haven’t seen it or don’t want to know anything else.

Spoiler Version: Even though Macy is a stud and Baldwin a great actor and Bello attractive in a hardened way, here are things that took me out of the film over and over again. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t, then look for this stuff when you do.

1) Macy runs into his son at a diner. He is eating breakfast with his pregnant girlfriend. The son counts on his fingers 1, 2, 3, and then the girlfriend pretends to go into labor, thereby scamming the restaurant and leaving without paying. Bello sees this and we’re supposed to notice the recognition between two hustlers, the son and Bello. At that exact second, it was clear to me that she wasn’t really pregnant. Later in a grand gesture, Baldwin pulls off her fake pregnancy pillow and everyone is shocked. Earlier, Macy has put his hand up to her stomach and when asked if he feels the kick says “I think so.” Bello seems to notice the scam from the beginning. The pregnant girlfriend comes out of the bathroom with what appears to be a gram of coke under her nose–would she not look in the mirror? We are either supposed to think that she’s the worst pregnant mom ever or she doesn’t have a baby inside her. The couple make a big deal during a craps game of how “This is for my unborn child.” The second the son appears on camera we know he doesn’t have an ounce of goodness in him. Why does Bello let him scam Macy? Because she’s also scamming Macy? Is Macy really that dim about the son’s motives? Macy still offers to pay the $150,000 that his son has taken from the casino. Ridiculous.

2) At the end, when a cop pulls up on Bello and Macy as they try to leave town, they are on one of those abandoned two lane dirt roads that Vegas films love to show. Why do they drive that direction when they want to get out of town quickly? Why does Macy stop on that road? How does a cop suddenly appear? Any audience member would know right away that he’s not a real cop and that the casino owners won’t allow him to leave town with his winnings. Why doesn’t the cop just shoot them in the car, why does he insist they get out and then kill them in the desert? Things could go wrong if the two of them fight back. When the two are on their knees and about to be murdered, they look at each other and it really is quite touching how they’ve found each other and had a short (a couple days tops) good time. Then in a twist, a SUV hits the cop and kills him. Macy runs over, reaches in and pulls out a can of beer and says “It was a drunk driver. It was just dumb luck.” So let me get this straight. Macy chooses a little-traveled road, the cop follows, and the next driver by happens to be drunk and misses both Macy’s and the cop’s car but manages to hit and kill the cop who didn’t hear the car approaching or see its headlights? The couple drive off happily ever after.

3) The language changed. Bello had a New Yorky thing going from start to finish. Her grammar tells us that she’s from the wrong side of the tracks. Baldwin does a good Long Island. But Macy starts out with perfect diction and grammar and then gets worse as the film goes on. Towards the end when he begins saying things like “It don’t matter,” with perfect enunciation, I was drawn out of the film.

4) We learn that Bello was paid by Baldwin to keep Macy in town. She is a hooker who is supposed to pretend to be into Macy so that he doesn’t quit his job at being unlucky. The first hookup is actually pretty realistic, there is no reason to doubt her motives. We know that Macy is leaving in six days, then five days, then the couple has sex, and then way sooner than is believable, Bello tells Macy she loves him. I’m all for love at first sight, but come on. He listens to her and treats her nicely but two days of sex in a god-awful apartment does not a love affair make. This love she feels for him almost gets them both killed, so she really must have believed she felt it.

5) Bello admits to Baldwin, who paid her to be Macy’s girlfriend, that she’s fallen in love with Macy. Baldwin says something about Macy being unlovable. Baldwin, who we know has already crippled Macy in the past, threatens to kill Bello if she doesn’t leave him so that Macy can again be the unlucky shmuck he’s always been. Bello leaves a note and then what seems like five minutes later knocks on Macy’s door paying no mind to Baldwin and his threats. Baldwin and his bodyguards show up at the apartment’s pool, while Bello sunbathes (in case we didn’t know that the motel Macy lives in sucks, the empty pool is right there to remind us) and drag Bello into the room to scare her. She talks back and Baldwin hooks her in the jaw. It is one of those movie punches that causes her to fly into a mirror and cut her cheek. So now her forehead, cheek and nose are all bleeding profusely. Baldwin leaves while Bello sobs on the floor. Macy comes home, Bello tells him not to turn on the light. He does anyway and she’s covered in the exact same blood as it dries on her face. A substantial amount of time has passed since the punch and she’s just been lying on a bed patting her wounds with a towel. She hasn’t cleaned herself up at all. Macy takes her to the hospital and when she’s released, the same scabs remain in the same places on her face. Even the doctors can’t seem to clean her up.

6) There is a recurring joke at the casino bar. Macy shows up for work, gets a cup of coffee and then waits to be told which table has a hot player that he can cool. He gets his coffee from the exact same bartender night after night. (She’s played by the girl from Little Shop of Horrors.) Each time he asks for cream and each time the cream container is empty. I mean every single day. He mutters “doesn’t matter.” We are supposed to take this as a sign that he really is the most unlucky guy in history. What are the chances that every time you want coffee, even though the bartender expects you, the cream container will be empty? When he falls in love and his luck begins to change, suddenly the tin of cream can’t be any fuller. He pours and pours what appears to be cups and cups of cream into his coffee. His luck has changed! He can now enjoy dairy products like the rest of us. When he goes through bad times, no cream, when he’s happy, cream for days. Come on. Subparagraphs of this topic include dead plants coming back to life, and even the reappearance of a long-lost black cat.

7) Baldwin’s character is hard to figure out. He runs the casino like the old time guys do. He deplores the Disneyfied Vegas that he now sees. He doesn’t want to change the decor or add a young entertainer. He uses Macy’s superstitious cooler instead of some kind of high-tech odds improver that the young new kid describes but never shows us. He is pals with the old lounge singer. This guy ends up being addicted to heroin which Baldwin gets for him. We are supposed to think this makes Baldwin a good guy. He regulates the guy’s habit. We find out later, out of the blue, that the accidental overdose was actually Baldwin putting him “out of his misery”. He is both Macy’s best friend and worst enemy. He gives Macy clout that he wouldn’t already have. But he also hires a hooker to keep him in town and make the casino more profitable. We watch Baldwin beat the shit out of Macy’s son. Then we see him punch Macy’s girlfriend. But it’s all in the name of keeping the casino’s soul. Baldwin even breaks the new guy’s wrist in the bathroom, but it’s okay for us because he’s now defending Macy’s right to win several hundred thousand dollars. Baldwin switches from threatening Macy’s life to helping him take the casino for a wad of cash. Is this the big change of heart scene that his character has? His punishment for becoming human and helping Macy one time is that he goes to his car after work and his old casino pal is in the back seat where he puts a gun to Baldwin’s head and says “we’re gonna do this old-style vegas” or something and shoots him in the back of the head. In a parking garage. In public. This was, I suppose, the filmmaker’s attempt to have a Donnie Brasco moment where the guy knows his fate but still walks towards it. They could have killed him at home or on the same dirt road they attempt to kill Macy on, but no, why not shoot him right there in the parking lot. Also, why would Baldwin now let Macy, who he’s threatened to throw off a building, no less, play and win while a crowd gathers around him.

8) A scabby Bello waits for Macy while sitting in the passenger seat of a run down car directly in front of the casino. He wins a lot of money at the craps table which must have taken him a couple hours at least. But there she sits all the while saying “oh god oh god oh god”–worried for his safety. He doesn’t say anything to her until the above-mentioned pull-over on the dirt road.

9) Bello doesn’t have the power to challenge Baldwin’s character just before he hits her. She screamed and I wasn’t very happy with her acting in the scenes where she needed to be upset. Baldwin: I could make you disappear and no one would miss you. Bello: Bernie would! She’s right, but she’s no match for Baldwin.

10) Macy explains that the phrase “easy mark” was invented by he and Baldwin when they used to work the boardwalk in Atlantic City. They would put chalk on their hands and hug a guy who was ready to be taken to the cleaners. When Macy pulls up to his motel room and is about to find the bloody Bello, the reflection in his mirror is the malfunctioning neon sign that says “EZMark(et)”. Also, the fact that Baldwin and Macy used to be partners in crime makes Macy’s later blindness at people scamming him all the more unbelievable.

There is one of those movie white-out dissolves that usually means that a dream sequence (or the death of a character) is next. We see this just before his plants come back to life and his long lost cat licks him awake. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to take from this. He never “wakes up” from this dream, we see no other dissolve to let us know when the dream is over. Does the act of falling in love make everything afterwards dreamy? Did Macy not get away with it but was so smitten with Bello that he didn’t care? Help me out here.

In conclusion, Macy: stud, Baldwin: great, Bello: very good, storyline: could have been great. Overall, way too much wrong to make it a good movie. Proof positive that great acting cannot redeem a poor script.

***^ Ebert

*** Berardinelli

8.0 Critical Consensus

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2003

January 3, 2004

HBO

USA

English

352 minutes

Fantastic from start to finish. I didn’t see it all in one sitting, but it’s still on the Tivo and I’ll try for a marathon later. Everyone is great. You expect as much from Streep and Pacino and Emma Thompson. But I was more impressed with Jeffrey Wright as a no-nonsense nurse and especially Justin Kirk as someone with AIDS. It captures the 80s very well. It captures the Reagan v. Gay rights fight well. I don’t know how realistic Pacino’s Roy Cohn was, but if it was close, the guy was a complete asshole through and through. The stars play different roles, the dream sequences are a bit over-the-top, but it looks beautiful and I wanted to know about all of the characters. Mary Louise Parker and Patrick Wilson play a Mormon couple who watch their marriage break apart when it’s clear that he prefers men. If not for its length, it should have been released in theaters. Thank you HBO.

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2002

January 3, 2004

PBS

POV

USA

English

75 minutes

Documentary about gay children of anti-gay religious parents. Sort of what you’d expect, but still heartbreaking. Especially the Mormon kid. We are as nervous as he is to fly back to Utah for his grandmother’s wedding. We know which side of the debate we’re on before we see it and that side doesn’t change while we watch it.

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2003

January 3, 2004

PBS

POV

USA

English

78 minutes

Documentary about a writing program in a women’s maximum security prison. That semi-annoying chick that wrote The Vagina Monologues is in charge of the workshop. I expected to turn this off after a few minutes but I couldn’t. There were older women and girls all of whom used writing as an outlet to tell their families what they’ve done and to come to terms with their crime. Damned if I wasn’t hooked. There is a post-script where we find out what the women are in prison for and what they’re doing to better themselves. Many have an incredible gift for writing.

The pieces are performed by big-time broadway people (Close, Tomei, Perez, etc.) in front of a gym full of incarcerated women and the tears flow freely. POV does it again.

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2003

December 25, 2003

Meridian 16 Seattle

USA

English

125 minutes

How Much Does Life Weigh?–21 GRAMS.

I broke several movie-going rules when I saw this. I don’t go on holiday nights, I don’t pay full price, I never go to something I want to concentrate on in a theater in a new town. After forking over my $9 I resigned myself that there would be groups of talkers and dates and buzzed people who would ruin the presentation for me. The greatest compliment I can pay this film is that I didn’t hear a word. No one spoke during the show. A relatively full theater full of young people and all were mesmerized.

After I saw this, I watched Charlie Rose interview Naomi Watts, Benecio Del Toro, Melissa Leo, and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The actors were fun to hear speak, and Watts is something special with her nervousness at not being good enough. But I instantly became a life-long Inarritu fan. Speaking broken English he was able to communicate what he was trying to do in the film. “It is more important to understand the film emotionally than it is to understand it chronologically.”

I’ve read reviews saying that if the film played chronologically it would be nothing special. I disagree. Plus the different time frames all add to the whole. Memories aren’t chronological, sadness isn’t chronological. Trying to figure out what is happening when makes the audience actually have to put forth some effort. Watching Sean Penn healthy, then sick, then healthy, then well-dressed, then dumpy is extremely entertaining, not to mention it shows why he is the greatest actor born in 1960. Penn is so good it is unbelievable. Way better than Mystic River. In MRiver he just had to be angry. In this, he’s all kinds of people.

Naomi Watts proves she wasn’t a one hit wonder in Mulholland Drive. Benicio wears a loss of faith on his face. And Leo, Kay Howard on TBDSOTV, is quiet, but powerful as Benicio’s wife.

All the characters will become connected as the film goes on, much like Amorres Perros and its car accident.

The way that director Inarritu uses chance meetings to move story along is very well done. Sort of a mundane, less flashy Lost In Translation. Fate changes lives.

Intriguing story-line and incredible acting add up to a winner.

*** Ebert

**** Berardinelli

8.5 Critical Consensus

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Written by Michael W. Cummins