Tuesday, March 09, 2004

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Another weekend has quickly gone by, and as is often my wont, I spent part of it watching movies.

Saturday night was Colin Farrell night on pay cable TV, apparently. First, I finally sat down and watched the war movie slash courtroom drama, Hart's War, which featured Farrell as a young Yale grad Lieutenant who winds up in a German POW camp, just in time to get stuck defending another recent arrival, a black lieuteneant who gets set up for murder of another prisoner. Bruce Willis, with jaw locked resolutely as the commanding US officer, is on hand as well. Of course, I'm leaving a lot of the details out, but the gist of what I took away from this movie is that the filmmakers set up a fascinating situation, then totally botch the ending with a (to be kind) unlikely set of circumstances all at once at the end. Still, it's an involving movie and everyone, even Bruce in stolid Sixth Sense mode, gives good performances. Of special note is Terrance Howard, who plays the accused soldier, and Marcel Iures, who plays the commandant of the stalag with subtlety and gets many of the best lines in the film. His character is just a little shy of too gimmicky, but Iures rises above.

Farrell Night continued with a screening of the Hitchcockian 2002 button-pusher Phone Booth, which was involving enough, I suppose, but when it was over I thought of fishing. Fishing, as in this film was like hooking a worm and watching him squirm for an hour and a half, not exactly tons of fun in my head, anyway. In case you don't know the story, it involves a fast-talking NYC publicist who dresses flashily, berates his intern, and tries to cheat on his wife with a young wannabe actress. After placing a call to her at a nearby phone booth (he doesn't want his wife to see his cel phone bill), the phone rings. He answers it, and it turns out to be a sniper who has a bead on him and will kill him unless he goes through a series of increasingly humiliating stunts. Eventually, a bystander gets shot, the police arrive, and things go from bad to worse until the final resolution. The biggest problem I had with this is that I didn't buy into the premise that Farrell's character was bad enough to warrant this sort of judgement, so whatever moral satisfaction I was supposed to get from watching Stu twist in the wind was negated. He was a louse, sure, but I got no kicks or a sense of Twilight Zone-type irony from his plight, so all I got was frustrated. Despite the story flaw, which I freely acknowledge will not be recognized as such by a significant number of others, Booth is actually a well-made film with good perfs from leads Farrell, Keifer Sutherland in what was essentially a voice-over role, and the always-good Forrest Whitaker as the NYC police captain who answers the call. I can recommend it completely unburdened with the compulsion to watch it again.

Having watched and admired Being John Malkovich very much, I was looking forward to seeing the follow-up film from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, Adaptation., and I finally got my chance last night. For about an hour, in which we watch Kaufmann struggle with not only his fictional twin brother, to whom writing seems to come as easily as it fails to come to him, but also with his project, the screenplay for a unfilmable book, it's funny, surreal, and clever, and I thought this film was brilliant- but then for some reason the pair decided to go into Cape Fear or The Gift territory and blew it with a ludicrous finale. Great Perfs by Nic Cage as not only Kaufmann but his brother as well and Chris Cooper as a Florida flower poacher with no teeth, who kept reminding me of Jim Varney as Ernest P. Worrell for some reason. "Them snakes is pizen snakes!"

Finally, a film which made all of the above look like classics of cinema: last year's trainwreck Bob Dylan vanity film, Masked and Anonymous. Sloppy and self-indulgent, and full of Grade A Hormel performances, including the prerequisite quirky cameos by stars that were apparently just doing it to work with Dylan, the best thing that can be said for it is that at least it unfolds in a wobbly kind of linear fashion and avoids the incoherence that sank such other films as The Last Movie, which this reminded me of for some reason. In a nutshell, unscrupulous promoter John Goodman, with help from a blowsy-looking Jessica Lange, bring back the legendary folk singer Jack Fate (Dylan, who else) for a benefit concert to aid what the film describes as a "third-world America" which has devolved into anarchy and chaos under its President, who lies on his death bed. Of course, what Goodman really plans to do is pay of his debts with the proceeds- but this, like so many plot threads, are simply forgotten about before the movie's over. The immobile, cowboy hatted, pencil-moustachioed Dylan, who proved he was no actor in 1973's Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, shows that he hasn't learned a damn thing about the craft in the subsequent 31 years as he staggers from scene to scene, delivering his lines in a deadpan monotone. He looks fragile, dry and gaunt, and scenes towards the end of him scuffling with bad-guy reporter Jeff Bridges, even to the point of breaking a whiskey bottle and holding it to his throat, are unintentionally hilarious. The cast has a lot of fine actors in it, Bobby notwithstanding, and it was co-written (with Dylan) and directed by Seinfeld's Larry Charles, who's no hack...so your guess is as good as mine as to how this turned out so rotten. The music's not bad, for what it's worth, but if I were you I'd just seek out the soundtrack CD and pass on this mess. Recommended for the hardcore completist Dylan freak, but nobody else. Thanks to Mark Anthony for passing this one on- I'm glad I got to see it, but I doubt I'll do so again!