Archive for January, 2011


January 16, 2011
Camera Cinema Club
Spain / Mexico
Spanish / Wolof / Cantonese
147 Minutes (though seems longer)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu [Amores Perros; 21 Grams; Babel]

Even Javier Bardem’s broad shoulders can’t carry the weight of this much hopelessness. Within the first five minutes of this feels like three hour “epic”, Bardem is given a cancerous death sentence, communicates with the dead, pisses blood, and attempts a reconnection with his bi-polar mess of an ex-wife. Who’s an abusive mother. And ex-drunk. And sleeping with his brother. Oh yeah, and he has two small children to care for and his only job apparently is picking up a couple of bucks from grieving families who need closure, and his “business ventures.”

In true Inarritu fashion, there are interconnected lives, though not to the degree of his past three major films. In this case the three story lines are Bardem’s dying, a sweatshop full of Chinese illegal immigrants who make knock-off purses in sweatshop conditions, and the Senegalese men who sell those purses illegally (along with some drugs) on the streets. Bardem pays off the crooked cops, argues with the Chinese about quality-control, and befriends the Senegalese sellers and warns them off the drug sales.

Bardem does all of this with the deep, soulful eyes, he’s famous for. He may have smiled twice during the film’s running time. Everywhere he turns, the world is against him, someone is taking advantage of someone, and he feels is. Or at least we’re supposed to think he feels it. Although the Chinese workers are locked in a freezing basement at night, we are led to believe that Bardem’s character, Uxbal wants to treat them better. Even though only one of the workers has any lines–his babysitter–Uxbal’s face tells us that he really, really cares about the plight of the immigrant workforce, both from Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, the screenplay affords us only two members of this downtrodden lot who we will recognize. The rest serve as background noise to the “immigrant experience” in Barcelona.

Bardem’s burden is so heavy that when one of his Senegalese sellers is deported, he feels responsible enough to look after the man’s wife and small child. When his ex-wife engages in behavior that would cause most of us to cut ties to her, he gives her another chance. When he hears of the poor conditions of the Chinese workers, he tries to do the right thing in a telegraphed tragedy–no good deed goes unpunished.

There’s not getting around the fact that the sheer shape of Bardem’s face can keep an audience’s interest for more than two hours. In fact, upon further review, his mopey face may be the only reason to recommend this film at all. It is two hours of sadness, dressed up in fancy colors and quick edits and showy focus tricks.

Bardem’s mopeyness doesn’t even stop when he meets his brother at a strip club where, no joke, the dancers have a single huge breast where there heads should be.

7.6 IMDB
5.3 Metacritic


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January 11, 2011
San Jose — Cinearts Santana Row
108 Minutes
Biography / Comedy / Crime / Drama
George Hickenlooper [Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse; Some Folks Call It A Slingblade; Mayor Of The Sunset Strip]

Spacey chews the scenery in this semi-true story of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Spacey plays him as a super-jew, super workout guy, super schmoozer, super loyal husband, and super cocky. Barry Pepper matches him overacted scene for overacted scene. Not sure if it’s a black comedy or a realistic portrayal of broken Washington. Not hard to watch, though John Lovitz is pretty much replaying every slovenly medallion wearing character he’s ever been.

As a political wonk, I enjoyed seeing real-life people portrayed by look-a-likes. George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, etc. Real footage of congressional hearings is spliced in. Hints are given that Abramoff had his hand in all sorts of malfeasance, including the recount in Florida in 2000.

Spacey appears to be having fun, though.

Kevin Spacey; Barry Pepper

6.5 IMDB
5.0 Metacritic


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January 11, 2011
San Jose — Cinearts Santana Row
110 Minutes
Adventure / Drama / Western
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen [Blood Simple; Raising Arizona; Miller’s Crossing; Barton Fink; The Hudsucker Proxy; Fargo; The Big Lebowski; O Brother Where Art Thou?; The Man Who Wasn’t There; No Country For Old Men; Burn After Reading; A Serious Man]

Jeff Bridges; Hailee Steinfeld; Matt Damon; Josh Brolin; Barry Pepper

Terrific from start to finish. Young Hailee Steinfeld is a force to be reckoned with, playing 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who wants justice against the man who shot her father and won’t take “no” for an answer. Not many of the telltale signs of the Coens here. It’s a beautifully shot film to be sure, but it lacks the wackiness, winking, and matter-of-fact violence that has made the Coens such great filmmakers. In a strange way, I wanted it to be more adult. They never venture past the PG-13 line, either in language or violence. I felt like an R-version of this film would have been monumental.

Having said that, I want to see it again, and some of the Coen magic shows up in the fast-paced dialogue, where Matty all but hoodwinks anyone foolish enough to negotiate with her. The language is almost West Wing level, circa late-1800s, full of legalese and old-fashioned-sounding put-downs. An early extended courtroom scene sets the stage for the verbal gymnastics we’ll be exposed to as the film goes on.

Another vintage Coen touch is a “medicine man”, dressed inside of a bear skin, complete with head attached. The Coens love to pause and watch characters tangential to the plot (the coffee shop scene in Fargo comes to mind). This man adds texture to the proceedings, though not much story.

The acting is first-rate, with young Steinfeld holding her own against Bridges and Damon, who get into a “measuring dicks” contest that is hilarious. The landscape realism had me shivering and feeling dusty. At some points the dialogue had me thinking of, yes, the late, great DEADWOOD.

Barry Pepper and his teeth play a bad guy who honors the code of the west. As part of that code, native Americans are not afforded the same “any last words” privileges that pale faces are.

When my daughter is old enough, I’ll take her to see this. There are far worse role models for young women than Mattie Ross.

8.3 IMDB
8.0 Metacritic


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Written by Michael W. Cummins