THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)

It’s fun to see Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a long time Los Angeles lesbian couple laugh it up sitting together clutching wine glasses in this much buzzed about indie. Their laughter is infectious, their dialogue is witty, and their movie’s premise plays out nicely. Bening and Moore, from the same anonymous sperm donor, have teenage kids – a son (Josh Hutcherson) and a daughter (Mia Waskikowka).

On the daughter’s 18th birthday, she and her brother contact the sperm bank with the hopes of meeting their biological father. That turns out to be Mark Ruffalo as an easy going motorcycle-riding organic restaurant owner. Ruffalo is smilingly open to the prospect of having a new family to get to know. Perhaps too open as (Spoiler Alert!) Moore and Ruffalo succumb to animal desires in a weak moment.

Rarely without a glass of red wine in her hand, Bening voices cynical concern over Ruffalo’s presence and influence in their family. Bening spouts out to Moore: “He’s not a father, he’s our sperm donor!” Their believable couple chemistry makes their one on one scenes stand out. Ruffalo charms everyone in sight, Moore searches for a clue about what her next move should be, Bening has more wine, the kids seem able to cope with change (hence the film’s title), and every one has sharp quips – most thankfully not of the snarky “Juno” variety.

Director Cholodenko (HIGH ART, LAUREL CANYON), who co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg, has made a endearing funny film that though maybe stilted by predictable conventions, and some of the same schematics employed on episodic television (Cholodenko has directed episodes of Six Feet Under, The L Word, and Homicide), I genuinely laughed enough throughout that such things could be overlooked.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is an art house crowd pleaser if there ever was one, and in a sea of cloying comic indies (see CITY ISLAND for instance) it’s a likable, if not lovable keeper.

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SHUTTER ISLAND: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2010)

“You act like insanity is catching”, federal Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) quips to the Deputy Warden (John Carroll Lynch) while being shown the grounds of Shutter Island, the contained electronically secure mental hospital for the criminally insane. It’s a welcome one-liner as the introductory build-up to DiCaprio and his new partner Mark Ruffalo’s entry is one of the most overwrought openers in Martin Scorsese’s career. The score pounds in an over the top progression of fearful crescendos as the men enter the complex.

Once the uber-melodramatic music eases off we are led inside to meet and greet Dr. Cawley (the always ominous Ben Kingsley) and the premise: a female patient has gone missing and the facility is on lock-down. Kingsley cryptically explains: “We don’t know how she got out of her room. It’s as if she evaporated, straight through the walls.”

With a stern look that keeps his worry brow constantly a-worryin’, DiCaprio, still using his Boston accent from THE DEPARTED, has another agenda. 2 years ago his wife (Michelle Williams) died in a house fire and he believes the pyro-culprit is a patient hidden somewhere at the hospital. A World War II vet (the year is 1954), DiCaprio is also full of conspiracy theories about secret experiments and mind torture going down at the hospital – the presence of a German doctor played by Max von Sydow particularly sets him off – as hallucinatory visions of his wife and the horrors he experienced at war haunt him around the clock.

Based on Dennis Lahane’s bestselling 2003 novel, SHUTTER ISLAND has a supremely effective first half. The second half falters because I believe many folks will see the end coming from miles away – I actually had an inkling of the conclusion when seeing the trailer months ago. The reveal is wrapped in exposition and once DiCaprio and the audience figures it all out, the film lingers too long.

However this doesn’t completely ruin the movie. The dream/flashback/whatever sequences are beautifully shot recalling David Lynch’s surreal palette. DiCaprio’s visions always have something falling and floating in the air around him. File papers, snow, and ashes fill the screen along with DiCaprio’s angst.

It’s not the best film that DiCaprio and Scorsese have made together in their decade long collaboration (that would be THE DEPARTED), but it has a lot of strong searing imagery going for it, even if the narrative isn’t as layered as it would like to be.

Acting-wise, it’s Leo’s show. Despite the solid supporting cast (including Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Hayley, and Ted Levine), Dicaprio carries the movie spending considerable chunks of the film alone with his demons. By this point, his 4th film under Scorsese’s direction, he’s not just an actor going through the motions; he’s an embedded yet impassioned piece of the scenery. By comparison Ruffalo comes off like he’s playing a gumshoe in a Saturday Night Live sketch.

So it’s half a great movie – half is an absorbingly creepy character study, half a formula thriller frightening close to well trodden M. Night Shyamalan territory. But half a great Scorsese movie is still a vital movie-going experience, you understand?

When speaking of Scorsese in an interview a few years ago, Quentin Tarantino said: “I’m in my church, praying to my god and he’s in his church, praying to his. There was a time when we were in the same church – I miss that. I don’t want to do that church.” In one of SHUTTER ISLAND‘s most powerful shots, Scorsese mounts a DiCaprio Dachau death camp recollection that blows everything in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS away. Sorry Quentin, but Marty’s is the church I want to attend.

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Despite The Cloying Quirks, THE BROTHERS BLOOM Works

THE BROTHERS BLOOM (Dir. Rian Johnson, 2009)

The opening set-up montage featuring the title’s namesakes as kids is narrated by the voice of the actor, writer, and smooth magician Ricky Jay. Jay did the same duties for the striking beginning of MAGNOLIA 10 years ago so he lends an air of familiarity immediately to the punchy proceedings. Likewise, straight out of the Wes Anderson playbook, comes another montage in which Rachel Weisz displays how she “collects hobbies”. These devices recall the notion of a sea of quirk that Michael Hirschorn of the Atlantic envisioned a few years back (“Quirked Around” Sept. 2007). Hirschorn wrote that due to the likes of the Andersons (both Wes and Paul Thomas) and their peers, there was a threat that indie cinema could drown in quirk.

It’s an empty threat though; quirky characters in strained, possibly life endangering situations – the ‘cinema of cringing’ it could be called – have been the norm since the dawn of movie history. THE BROTHERS BLOOM, about con-artist brothers (Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo), has many bits that feel like re-fried quirk from other flicks, yet it still works, gloriously too at times.

For some reason Brody is called Bloom while Ruffalo goes by Stephen so the title I do not get * but whatever. Brody, tired of an endless series of cons, decides he wants the “unwritten life” but Ruffalo gets him to go on one last big score. Of course, a woman (Weisz) fouls things up and twists them around and around in their little art smuggling scam. Brody says of his brother’s cons that they are like the narratives of some Russian novelist, containing “thematic arcs and shit.” We’re swept through scene after scene of double crossing with some predictable turns, yet just like the quirks they can be forgiven with such a capable cast and a not too clever for its own good tone.

Brody and Ruffalo carry THE BROTHERS BLOOM and play off each other with the believable edge of siblings. Wiesz gels well with them too even with her sitcom girlfriend vibe going strong. The film shows director Johnson getting comfy with comedy, though it must be said that it isn’t quite on the level of his previous dramatic work – the brilliant BRICK. Without a doubt, the stale “style over substance” complaint will be used in many reviews but many moviegoers will enjoy swimming in this particular sea of quirks.

* Looks like no less than Roger Ebert didn’t get this either so I don’t feel as bad.

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ZODIAC – A New Film Babble Blog Favorite

“No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”
– Roger Ebert

I fully agree with Mr. Ebert. Many are grumbling about the length and density of the movie in question below but you won’t find any grumbling here :

ZODIAC (Dir. David Fincher, 2007) A murderer clothed in darkness or with a black hood exterminating make-out parking or picnicking young couples, police and press continuously taunted by letters and cards sent by a serial killer at large, and an obsession with solving a perplexing nightmare of a mystery that derails the lives and careers of investigators and reporters and alienates the ones closest to them – these are all thriller genre elements that have been arguably done to death. David Fincher’s ZODIAC though beautifully builds upon those frameworks with excruciating attention to detail and a sense of personal purpose that can be felt long after the film is over.

The film is based upon the infamous string of Northern Californian murders in the late 60’s and early 70’s by a man who indentified himself as Zodiac and who was never caught. Our protagonist and guide through this is Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhall) a ex-Eagle Scout turned San Fransisco Chronicle editorial cartoonist who while not assigned to the story immerses himself in the chilling codes and cryptic pronouncements that his paper and the authorities receive from the Zodiac. The Inspectors on the case David Toshi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) follow every possible lead, dissect every single angle, and interview every single suspect but still come up severely short on the crucial conclusive evidence needed. As time goes on with a long silence by the Zodiac – the trail grows cold leaving our heroes spiritually stumped and forever floored by the lack of closure.

With few of the stylistic flashy touches of Fincher’s previous work (SE7EN, THE GAME, FIGHT CLUB, PANIC ROOM) ZODIAC is a meticulously mesmerizing masterpiece. Despite it’s over 2 and half hour running time not a scene is wasted and it’s admirable that 70’s period piece cliches aren’t exploited. Couldn’t be any better cast – joining the principles are Robert Downey Jr, Brian Cox, Chloë Sevigny, Phillip Baker Hall, Dermot Mulroney, and John Carroll Lynch who all play the right notes with even incidental characters given sharp memorable turns by reliable bit-players (Donal Logue, Charles Fleisher, Ione Skye *, John Ennis, Adam Goldberg). Eerily effective and extremely absorbing with its “histories of ages past” and “unenlightened shadows cast” as Donovan’s * “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (the song that book-ends the film) playfully but darkly suggests, ZODIAC deserves the oft quoted critic line this season never lives without – it’s truly the first great movie of the year.

* Donovan has both a song and a daughter in this film. Good for him.

New release DVD reviews and more next time on film babble.

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