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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Rated PG

Director: Garry Marshall

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock, Rip Torn, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Patricia Clarkson, Glenn Close, Zac Efron

THE PLOT: Eddie Staines (Quaid) is a suburban no-hoper, stuck in a dead-end job at the post office, but with dreams of one day joining the CIA and marrying his boss, Madame Sikorski (Hathaway). When his bicycle explodes, leaving him unable to get to his CIA entry exam, it seems all his dreams have evaporated. Until, that is, the entry of the mysterious Leningrad Slim…

Every once in a while, a movie comes along. This is, basically, how the film industry works, and is no great revelation. In fact, if anything, the “once in a while” part is quite an understatement, given that film releases are pretty frequent. But the point is, if they gave out Oscars for movies, Leningrad Slim is exactly the kind of movie that would in all likelihood fulfil all the basic criteria.

There’s a lot to like about Leningrad Slim, not least Dennis Quaid’s heartbreaking turn as the non-titular hero. Eschewing showy melodramatics in favour of slow-burning internal turmoil, Quaid lets every tiny nuance of his character – a raised eyebrow, a sudden shouted obscenity, the unexplained development of a limp which continually switches legs – reveal to us a little more of the pain Eddie is in, so that by the end of the movie, we feel we know him intimately, and want him to go away. So immersive is Quaid’s performance that ten minutes in we have completely forgotten that he is playing an 18-year-old, and instead focus on the existential issues he has to deal with.

Anne Hathaway, as the beautiful Madame Sikorski, has a more thankless task, struggling with her Russian accent and the cardboard box she wears throughout the film. Yet she still has her moments, including one exquisite set-piece involving a sexually aroused orangutan and an ergonomic sofa that is as visually witty as it is horrifyingly inappropriate for a PG movie. Overall, however, one can’t help feeling she would have been better served without the accent, or the box.

As a mood piece, Leningrad Slim works reasonably well, with flat spots quickly addressed with hilarious celebrity cameos, although one migh argue that Marshall has pushed this too far when the entire second act is taken up by movie stars entering Eddie’s office one by one to play a succession of emotionally retarded aspiring postmen – although special mention must be made of Glenn Close, who pulls of a beautifully-mounted song and dance number without once falling off her donkey. Zac Efron also impresses as a transsexual rapist who wants to be loved.

If there is a criticism of the movie, though, it is that it is a tad overlong at 287 minutes, and that it takes too long to reach the climax. Indeed, Leningrad Slim himself only appears on screen five minutes before the end, and Eddie’s plunge into the world of international organised crime and espionage and quest to foil a terrorist plot at Slim’s behest before wooing and bedding Madame Sikorski therefore seems a little rushed. Most of the movie, then, is simply watching Eddie’s daily routine at the post office, including over six hundred close-ups of stamps, and listening to him sigh and occasionally sneeze. Perhaps if Leningrad Slim had at least been mentioned earlier, or if Eddie had in any way indicated his desire for a more exciting life prior to those last five minutes, it would have dragged a little less.

Nevertheless, Quaid’s performance, some stunning camerawork, and a beautiful sepia tone combine to make this a movie that you might as well see, given there’s very little else worthwhile doing in life. Which is really the movie’s message, after all.

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Rated MA

Director: Tony Scott

Stars: John Travolta, Ellen Degeneres, Eric Roberts

The Taking of Pelham 123 drew mixed reviews, but critics were united on one point: John Travolta’s villain had a small beard. So it was only logical that the Hollywood money men would try to parlay that beard into a franchise. And so Travolta and director Scott were persuaded to go around again.

This time, though, the would up the stakes – Travolta’s mad, bad baldie Ryder would hijack a plane – an elephant hunt to the first film’s grouse shoot. And no doubt, having decided on this plotline, both Scott and Travolta’s brains hit upon an even more exciting idea – what if Ryder hijacked John Travolta’s private jet? And what if Travolta played himself as well as Ryder?

And so we see Travolta, giving Eddie Murphy a run for his money, playing Ryder, himself, the president, an arrogant young rookie TV journalist, a stewardess, and in a triumphant melding of live-action and CGI, the plane, which speaks telepathically to Travolta throughout the film, giving him advice and building his self-esteem with well-timed compliments.

The really amazing thing is that, although Travolta refuses to change his appearance or vocal delivery in any way when switching characters, every one comes across as totally believable and sympathetic. And so we see the reporter, Harris, convincing all of us that he really does come from a broken home and is determined to get a scoop even at the cost of his cameraman’s life, to impress his irascible father – even though he looks and sounds like an overweight middle-aged movie star, and is in fact wearing the exact same clothes that Travolta is on board the plane, and indeed the same as Ryder as he brandishes his gun, and the stewardess as she panics and faints. They are all marvellous, allowing us to gloss over the question of why the stewardess is even there, or how Ryder manages to jimmy open a window and slip in unnoticed halfway through a trans-Atlantic flight.

The only possible quibble is with Travolta’s president, although this is less to do with the authentically Travolta-esque  performance and more to do with Scott’s insistence on shooting him only from underneath with a dark blue filter. It tends to make the Oval Office appear somewhat ridiculous, but all this is forgotten when we cut back to one of over forty extended fist-fights between Travolta and Ryder, and one steamy love scene between same.

Good support comes from Ellen Degeneres’s maverick air-force ace, and Eric Roberts’s mysterious Arab sheikh, who team up halfway through in an hilarious homage to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which may seem tonally inconsistent to some viewers, but does serve the important purpose of explaining what happened to Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston, who in the first scene wanders aimlessly out of shot and is never seen again.

Overall, Travolta 345 is quite an improvement on Pelham 123, mainly because where the first film was mostly empty flash and soulless action sequences, this one is mainly John Travolta talking to himself and making filthy jokes directly to camera. Also there’s a lot of good in-flight sequences, including one where Travolta escapes Ryder by going back in time and shooting down the Wright Brothers. Ryder himself has some good moments too, mainly featuring him talking to himself and making filthy jokes directly to camera.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a strong example of the lesser Scott’s ability to craft slick, intelligent action thrillers, and a welcome reminder of how good a film can be when a director simply lets a great actor let loose in a variety of different roles played exactly the same way down to the last detail.

***

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Rated M

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Stars: Jeff Bridges, Rachel Weisz, Chiewetel Ejiofor, Tim Robbins

Roderick (Bridges), a jaded infomercial host disillusioned with his craft, has suddenly found himself without a job, without a wife and sitting at home, drinking himself to death in an orgy of self-pity. Until a meeting with a mysterious gypsy woman (Robbins) causes him to pursue happiness through his new, selfless purpose – stabbing random strangers in the eyes.

Cassavetes, who last tugged at our heartstrings with his gritty story of black market organ trading My Sister’s Keeper, has here crafted a quiet personal drama of rare power. His long, lingering close-ups suit the subject matter perfectly, particularly a touching ten-minute sequence where Roderick pokes tentatively at a pair of disembodied eyeballs to find out “how gooey they are” – Cassavetes lets his camera stay fixed on Bridges’s tortured-yet-giggling expression for the entire time, risking derision and even sleep for his audience in pursuit of the ultimate emotional pay-off.

The director is well-served by his brilliant cast. Bridges, as the depressed middle-aged man finding himself, is stunning. Having reportedly trained full-time for six months for the role, he utterly convinces the audience that he can throw a knitting needle with uncanny accuracy. His transformation from cynical, world-weary TV mop-seller to rejuvenated, inspirational eye-poker is portrayed with a subtlety and quiet strength rarely seen in big-budget blockbusters these days (the reported final budget was over $200 million, most of it on prosthetic eyeballs). The childlike wonder he displays at his first, almost-accidental blinding, makes us laugh and “awwww” in equal measure, while his climactic “Your eyes have made me see” speech, delivered whilst balancing precariously atop the Swiss National Museum, will soon take its place beside Braveheart and Return of the King in the honour roll of inspirational movie orations.

Not that Bridges is alone. Rachel Weisz, as the sassy single mother who falls for Roderick after he breaks into her house and blinds her toddler daughter, is a delight, pulling off a flawless Chinese accent and showing that she can tap dance with the best of them. Ejiofor, as Bridges’s Olympic swimmer best friend, steals several scenes with his high-pitched whine and extravagant hand gestures, while Robbins is perfectly cast as the gypsy woman who turns Roderick’s life around, but whose insatiable sexual appetite makes him doubt himself at the crucial moment. There are also nice minor turns from Andie MacDowell as Roderick’s ex-wife and Zac Efron as a conniving US Senator.

By turns poignant, tragic, hilarious, tense and uplifting, Random Acts of Blindness is a superior adult-oriented drama that will make you believe in the eternal capacity of human beings for change, growth, and horrific graphic violence.

****

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