GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING ****1/2
Speculative fiction based on the famous Vermeer painting, starring the current Hollywood "It" girl, Scarlett Johansson, who bears a spooky resemblance to the young lady in the actual painting itself. Colin Firth is Vermeer, who is shown to be only interested in his art, but whose no-nonsense, all-business mother-in-law peddles his talents to his patron, a man named Van Ruijven, whose money is needed for the family to survive. Johansson plays Griet, a young girl who comes to work as a servant in the Vermeer household and soon becomes an inspiration and helper to the painter, and a source of irritation for his jealous and possessive wife. This is a bit slow-moving sometimes, but I suppose the fascination I have with films about painters (Pollack, Frida) overrules all because I liked this one a lot. The sets and period detail were first-rate, director Peter Webber does an excellent job of crafting this like a painting itself, with moody, contrasty lighting and rich, bold color when needed, and the performances were all excellent, with Judy Parfitt as the Mom-in-law and Johansson standing out. I loved the scenes in which Webber recreates some of Vanmeer's paintings with real-life actors, Griet helps Vanmeer mix his paints, and the realistic depictions of the bustling kitchen. Someday someone is going to make a movie about painters and paintings that doesn't make me want to dig my brushes out again, but this ain't that.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE ***1/2
The second of the P.T. Anderson films I viewed back-to-back, Punch-Drunk Love is most notable for the understated, but deceptively good, performance of Adam Sandler as Barry Egan, a shy, awkward man with anger management issues who works in a designer toilet-plunger warehouse. Complicating things is his ongoing battle with phone sex scammers (he called a 1-900 line one evening, just to talk more than anything) and a compulsion to take advantage of Healthy Choice soup's frequent flyer minutes promotional gimmick. When one of his sisters introduces him to Lena, played by Emily Watson, his life begins to change for the better- if he could just get rid of the phone-sex goons. As quirky romantic comedies go, this one's pretty good- never going for the obvious laugh when one can be sneaked in sideways. The soundtrack also features Harry Nilsson's "He Needs Me", from the out-of-print Popeye soundtrack, which is the only place to find this song.
Last year's Clint Eastwood Oscar shoo-in finally aired on HBO, so I sat and watched it. It simply screamed SIGNIFICANT DRAMA through and through, and perhaps it's just my contrary nature but I was kinda underwhelmed by it all. You probably know the story but I'll recap it for ya anyway: Childhood pals Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins grow up scarred by the abduction and abuse of Robbins' Dave; Penn becomes a Sopranos-type local mob boss who has served time, Bacon becomes a police detective, and Robbins somehow manages to get married and father a son, but is unemployed and broke. Things come to a head when Penn's daughter is found murdered in the park and all signs point to Robbins as the killer. The performances were uneven; Sean Penn overacted when he wasn't underacting and just couldn't seem to find a middle ground, Tim Robbins was good but he kept making me think of Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man; Laurence Fishburne was so low-key he barely registered, and out of all the leads I'd say that Kevin Bacon, of all people, was best because he wasn't trying so hard and came across as the most natural. Even Marcia Gay Harden, who's usually always money, was shaky and overwrought playing Robbins', well, shaky and overwrought wife. This was kinda set up as a murder mystery, and we see Bacon & Fishburne going through the motions of solving the case, but the solution just sorta happens and there's no suspense. Yeah, I know- the real suspense was supposed to be in the events between Penn and Robbins and all that childhood buddies stuff, and while I appreciated the Shakespearean-tragedy-type twist at the end you never really get the feeling that Robbins' Dave character was any sort of a match for Penn's thugs, or any indication that Penn even liked Dave all that much, so there's no resonance. Mystic River was involving enough, but I don't really have any big desire to see it again anytime soon.
NO GOOD DEED**1/2
Out in theatres on Sept. 12, 2003, and straight to video two months later, this Bob Rafelson-directed wannabe noir squanders two great leads, Samuel L. Jackson and JB Show favorite Milla Jovovich with a dull and improbable bank-heist story with a high "Oh, come on" quotient. Still, if you ...admire... Milla as much as I do, she looks great and even has a shower scene. Samuel L. plays a police detective who is an amateur cellist. He's preparing to leave for a fantasy cellist camp (with Yo-Yo Ma as a teacher) when he's asked by a friend to search for her missing daughter. He reluctantly agrees, and sets out with the missing girls picture in hand to canvas the neighborhood in which she was last seen. One slight problem- one of the houses in the neighborhood is serving as the command center for the heist gang. They overpower Jackson, worried that he might be on to them, and leave him tied to a chair in the house with Milla watching over him as they go to knock off the bank. Jackson gives his standard exasperated tough-guy role, and someone named Stellan Skarsgard makes an impression as the prissy leader of the heist gang with some of the worst dialogue I've ever heard for this type of film. Worth watching once if you see it on cable, I suppose, but I wouldn't go out of my way if I were you.
More later...stay tuned for JOHNNY B HEART NETFLIX part THREE!