Monday, 8 November 2010

All Good Things (2010)

A gritty, harrowing look at the early years of New York developer Seymour Durst, when he worked as a troubled taxi driver in crime-ridden Times Square.

I loved this movie (...Really, everyone should go see it...) and the only quibble I have with it is that it's too short. Honestly, two hours were not enough for this masterpiece.

Monday, 1 November 2010

JFK (1991)

In the almost fifty years since the Kennedy assassination, despite endless hours devoted to it by dedicated researchers, no clear link has ever been found between Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby.

Except... of course... for the four months in 1962 when they traveled to England and played together in a R+B band in and around London.

This fact has been long known and indeed, with literally a huge pile of bootleg recordings and newspaper clippings available (London Evening Standard: "Yankee Duo Wow Capital!") has become unversally regarded as being really, really awkward.

During the Warren Commission hearings in particular, any mention of these 54 confirmed dates was as well received as an especially loud fart, or a joke told in mixed company about the Polishman named Sal. A typical example of this can be found in a transcript towards the end of Volume 19:

Earl Warren, commission chairman: And so, summing up, we find that there is no evidence that Oswald and Ruby even knew of each other's existence prior to that fateful November day....

Arlen Specter, assistant counsel: ...Ah, but what about the five night stand they played at the 400 Club on Oxford Street in February?

(Long pause.)

Warren: Yes. There is that... I suppose... But besides this, we have nothing.

Later on, during the Seventies, the House Select Committee on Assassinations vigorously pursued this angle until it unfortunately became bogged down in an arcane debate about whether this tour represented the sixteen or seventeenth roots-revival wave seen in America since 1960.

Yet while the sight of Ruby a-wailing on his slide trombone while Lee picked a mean beat on his Gibson guitar is undeniably a powerful one, I think director Oliver Stone devoted too much screen time to it.

While it is interesting, I don't think the entire last hour should have been given over to it in one huge flashback. And the A Hard Day's Night style homage sequence fell completely flat to me.

So Mr. Stone, how about next time devoting your time to things to really matter (...Like, who was that guy with the umbrella anyway?...) and try not to take things a twist too far?

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Social Network (2010)

A poignant, haunting story about a young Harvard student (Armie Hammer) who wanders around campus, talking to himself. As his delusions worsen, he travels the world, pretending to be an Olympic level rower and claiming that he started a multi-billion dollar computer company.

So far, not bad. It's when he winds up in San Francisco, claiming to be the Emperor Norton, ruler of the United States, that things go a twist too far. Director Fincher... You should have quit while you were ahead.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Let Me In (2010)

Not to jump on the bandwagon but like everyone else, I thought Let Me In was a fairly poor remake of the original Swedish film. With some adaptations, it’s the story as a whole that get lost or is otherwise a poor execution of it.

However, with this movie, what we got was a sad case of a screenplay being literally badly translated into English… particularly near the end.

No one at the studio can explain why this happened (rumor has it that the work was farmed out to a company in Mumbai) but apparently nobody noticed all through the filming. Or the editing. Or during the several test screenings.

Such inattention led to such gems, such as during the scene when the police detective played by Elias Koteas confronts Owen, the young child who has been protecting his vampire friend:

Detective: More the eater of blood, now gone!?

Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee): Run the west, back and around the rainbow!

Often, the dialogue does not match that of the first screenplay, replaced by sheer gibberish, like in what was surely intended to be a touching scene between the lonely boy and the vampire.

Owen: Hurt, the internal organ that pumps blood throughout the circulatory system, because you lack the people about?

Vampire (Chloe Moretz): Finish this section on Monday.

And of course - not to lay it on - but really, didn’t anyone notice the action inexplicably shifting several reels from the end… from the suburbs of New Mexico to the outskirts of Stockholm?

Sure, movie making is hard. But even when done by mistake, these were several twists too far!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Nowhere Boy (2009)

"Mate," A teenage John Lennon tells his friend Pete Best at the end of this bio-pic. "We're going to be famous. We're going to be rich. And we're going to do it TOGETHER."

Thereupon, John "borrows" twenty pounds from the drummer (which later researchers discover was never repaid) and drives off in his friend's car (which most later researchers record was returned with an almost empty gas tank.)

You know, I like irony too but sometimes you can heap it on too thickly (and cruelly as well.)

Monday, 4 October 2010

Heaven's Gate (1980)

Too short.

Seriously, Mr. Cimino, if you're going to make a sweeping epic about the battle to control the future of the American West, you might not want to truncate the ending. And don't rush the build-up either.

Sure, you reportedly only had 19 days on a Burbank backlot to recreate 1875 Montana but I practically blinked and the film was over.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Dracula (1992)

Not a spectacularly bad ending but I thought tracking Dracula down to the Houses of Parliament in London seemed a bit weird. (Though I live in England and the audience around me loved it, laughing and cheering...)

Monday, 20 September 2010

Julie and Julia (2009)

I usually prefer not to reveal details about my personal life in this blog but this is a special case - one that shows how the concept of a "twist too far" can also apply "off" the silver screen.

I saw this film last year and enjoyed it thoroughly. What a delightful movie! But when the lights came up, my wife of fifteen years turned to me - with a look of staunch resolution on her face -and informed me that she'd been having an affair.

Apparently, seeing Julie and Julia had been the immediate catalyst for her deciding that she "didn't want to live a lie" anymore. In her pursuit of her true self, she moved out, divorced me and sold the movie rights to her own blog (which she had quit her job to write full time, a move that I had fully supported.)

So, while I still have fond members of those two or so hours, which I like to laughingly refer to as my "final minutes of innocence," this was the "shock" ending that pretty much spoiled the whole thing for me.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)

After a pretty original screenplay for most of the way, the film turns a little too surreal at the end. I mean, Eddie Wilson (Michael Pare) in Paris, with Ameila Earhart and Jim Morrison?

Even with the foreshadowing early on, it came across as a ripoff of the early Bertolucci.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Inception (2010)

I'm sorry. The rest of the film worked for me except for the end, where Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) frames an innocent man for a crime he didn't commit. I mean, haven't we seen this before?

Monday, 30 August 2010

The Thin Red Line (1998)

Based on the James Jones novel of the same name, this film depicting the Marine assault on Guadalcanal in 1942 is wonderful....

Up until the last hour.

Really, while director Terrence Malick is a cinematic genius, casting himself as the wily Captain Smith was the wrong choice. Seemingly in every frame during the last half of the movie, Malick shoves aside such veteran actors as Nick Nolte and Sean Penn to occupy the center of the action.

The trend continues in the most recent DVD special edition. Malick talks on five separate commentary tracks, striking in that he literally doesn't say the name of any other person involved in the production. Twenty hours worth of press interviews are also included, in which the director goes into great detail about his early life, including a game by game description of his career as a Little League pitcher.

Malick is famous for keeping his home phone number public and inviting anyone who "wants to just shoot the breeze" to call him up at random. Sadly, at some point, the director will have to learn to let his art do the talking and stop being so publicity mad.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Auto Focus (2002)

This otherwise excellent biopic on the notorious life of Hogan's Heros star Bob Crane shows how an ending coming out of left field totally derails a movie.

Ten minutes before the final credits, after Crane has been discovered to have been beaten to death in an Arizona hotel room, director Paul Schrader moves heaven and earth to link the homicide to former public school teacher Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch). There are a lot of confusing references to lakes and astrology signs, as well as a lengthy monologue about an unseen "painting party" that the star supposedly attended in 1962.

Who knows? Maybe the fault lies with the source material, the biography by Robert Graysmith. Still the last bit, where the wisecracking San Francisco detective and the nerdy cartoonist brandish some strange looking watch as final proof of their theory (I couldn't bear to rewatch to get the name) is simply too much.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Salt (2010)

An adaption gone totally wrong. Somewhere, Marc Kurlansky is weeping tears of bitter frustration...

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Stand (1994)

A faithful television adaption of Stephen King's classic goes off the rails at the end with a questionable new twist.

With the fate of the last few survivors of a global superflu at stake, the miniseries ends with former rock musician Larry Underwood (Adam Storke) facing off with Satanic foe Randall Flagg (Jamey Sharidan) in Las Vegas. Only in this version, it's a fight to the death.... with dueling guitars!

In an awkward flashback, it is revealed that the pandemic was caused by Underwood selling his soul to Flagg at midnight at a Louisiana crossroads. In exchange for a (ironically brief) taste of stardom, the New Yorker signed a contract in his own blood giving the Devil "anything he desired."

Even this might have been acceptable had the producers stayed with the traditional blues motif. However, with a duel featuring songs from such late-80s pop-metal bands such as Ratt and Skid Row, every last inch of dramatic seriousness is drained from the scene.

So for all you aspiring directors out there, remember. While a little Winger might go fine at your 20th Year High School Reunion, it's probably not a good idea for your first feature.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Breach (2007)

Yet more questionable revisionism from director Billy Ray. While Robert Hanssen might have been the most dangerous Russian spy in American history, there is little proof that he ever worked directly with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. And though the scene at the end with the pumpkin might have seemed fresh and original when written, it feels like it's been done before.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Casablanca (1942)

Sure, it was a nice play on the title ("Casa... Blanca"... White House) but having Victor Laszlo become President of the United States in the last scene strains credibility a little too far. Despite an impassioned monologue in which he tells of being born in a Cleveland tenement and of his parents then immediately immigrating back to Prague, Paul Henreid never quite convinces the viewer that he could have won the Republican nomination so quickly. (And the cheap mock-up of the Rose Garden - a testament to the new wartime rationing - doesn't help either.)

This is not to knock Henried, a fine actor in his own right. Rather, the blame has to fall on Jack Warner. Though the ending appeared neither in the play that the film was based on - or any of the several screenplay drafts - the mogul insisted on inserting it at the very last minute, in a misplaced burst of patriotic fever.

While Casablanca remains a beloved favorite of film aficionados everywhere, this is the classic example of a twist that went a little too far.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Shattered Glass (2003)

Obviously, when you base a film on real life events, you're going to take liberties. Still, having a final scene where New Republic journalist Stephen Glass wins the Pulitzer - as a packed auditorium at Columbia University stands and cheers - was going a little too far.

Even the renowned Ted Kotcheff - sparkling in his role as loveable publisher Marty Peretz - is unable to save this zany comedy as it goes off the rails.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Gainsbourg (2010)

For the most part, this account of a brigade of French volunteers who crossed the ocean to fight for the Union in the American Civil War is quite entertaining. However, unfortunately, the film breaks down as it nears the climax at the Battle of Gettysburg (or "Gainsbourg" as it's translated into the Gallic tongue.)

While history isn't my strong suit, I think it was stretching it to have the brigade beat back Pickett's Charge all by themselves (and then go on to capture Robert E. Lee, singing and dancing all the while.) And the final line from Captain Pierre (Jean Reno), delivered as word comes of a second group of French soldiers conquering Richmond, is a bit too much: "Washington, nous ici!"

Yes, while our two countries have had a long and close relationship, I think endings like these do it a bit of disservice.

Monday, 5 July 2010

The Boxer (1997)

Sometimes a film strains too hard for a poetic effect. Having Danny Flynn (Daniel Day Lewis) leave the gritty streets of Belfast at the end, to retreat to a forest glade, where he stands, crying out in anger and shame, "I am leaving! I am leaving!" is one of those times.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Citizen Kane (1941)

You know, I don't care if this movie is supposed to be a "classic." That whole ending with Alice (Marion Davies) was just a little too tacky for my tastes.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Eddie and the Cruisers II (1989)

What can I say? Sometimes it's best to refuse funding from the British Film Council and various unions affiliated with the Labour Party.

Though, to be honest, I liked the scene on the quad at Oxford, where an impassioned Eddie ranted "I ain't no wildman! I ain't no commie!"