Sunday, July 30, 2006
JOHNNY B HEART NETFLIX! THE RETURN!
In which I take a look at films I've rented recently via that most excellent of online DVD rental services, as well as some I've seen on cable TV as well.
BREAKFAST ON PLUTO
Good cast and excellent early-mid 70's period detail get sunk by a lackluster script. Breakfast follows the exploits of one Patrick "Kitten" Braden, a young fellow with a predilection for transvestism who leaves his convoluted parentage issues behind in the small Irish town of Tyreelin, searching for his niche as well as his long-lost mother (as we are reminded constantly), set against the background of not only the Glam-era U.K. (does a much better job of evoking that fondly-remembered era than Velvet Goldmine, in fact), but also the unrest and violence of Ireland and England. Kitten blithely goes from encounter to encounter (one with none other than Bryan Ferry as a nasty bit of rough trade), from an affair with a Ted-looking rock singer (think Gary Glitter fronting the Sweet; a mostly amusing perf from Gavin Friday) to living the sordid life on the streets, to being in the wrong place at the wrong time as he gets caught in an explosion in a London disco, then gets arrested and blamed as the (apparently) sole Irishman in the place. Of course, he skates after a period of time, and eventually ends up reconciling with his past and helping a friend through a rough period. I think screenwriters Neil Jordan and Pat McCabe (from his book) really intended Kitten to be something of a Forrest Gump-like holy fool as he goes from bad spot to bad spot and gets through by simply acting vague, innocent and/or insane, but unlike Gump, who was at least somewhat likeable and had a sort of moral backbone- the courage of his convictions if you will, Kitten is just annoying...and that's the biggest problem with the whole thing as far as I'm concerned; I just never could buy the character, even though Cillian Murphy does a great job of bringing him to life as he's written. The whole film is well acted, with great turns provided by ol' reliable Liam Neeson as the conflicted Father Bernard, and the radiant Ruth Negga (picture at right, with Murphy) as one of Kitten's pals from the Auld 'Hood who ends up married to an IRA bomber and pregnant- she's sexy and tough and vulnerable throughout, and has some of the most expressive eyes I've seen in quite some time. Guess you could say I was smitten, huh! Anyway, I'll be keeping an eye out for her in the future. There's a lot to like about Breakfast; it doesn't drag but I just wish it had been a little sharper and a little smarter in certain places. B+
Excellent, imaginative visuals and the ever-sexy Milla Jovovich (quite the visual herself) are the only reasons to watch this confusing, violent and unsatisfying mess of a film. C+
NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD
I suppose if I liked Neil's Prairie Wind album more than I did, I would have been more favorably disposed towards this handsomely photographed account of a Young show at the fabled Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Problem is, I just don't so I got kinda bored about halfway through. The most fun I had with this was at the very beginning, in which filmmaker Jonathan Demme interviews the band in various vehicles as they drive through the streets of Nashville to the show, and it was neat to see the familiar landmarks and streets framed in the windows behind the subjects. I doubt that was what Demme had in mind as he filmed. As far as the concert itself goes, we get earnest, sincere and dull renditions of selected oldies and much of the Wind album, in which he is backed by many of the usual suspects (Ben Keith, whose steel hasn't sounded unique since 1975 or so; Spooner Oldham, Emmylou Harris, bassist Rick Rosas) and just looks and sounds geezerly and feeble in his light suit and hat. I liked the semi-animated opening credits. If you're an admirer of Young's recent work, which I am not really, you'll be more charitably inclined. But as someone who remembers when and has given up on seeing its like again, I give this a B.
ROD STEWART AND THE FACES: THE FINAL CONCERT, 1974
Few musicians have aged less gracefully than Rod Stewart, who was once one of the most unique and finest rock/soul/blues singers of his generation, but became convinced he was a superstar and began a long descent through increasingly slick and shallow production, songs, and persona and is now reduced to crooning oldies a la Harry Connick Jr. in a gruff, hoarse voice that retains none of the expressiveness and command it once had. Sad. Here we have a relic of the final days of the excellent band and musicians which he fronted throughout his salad days, and in a lot of ways never recovered from leaving them behind, the Faces. Sadly sans original bassist and songwriter and heart/soul of the group Ronnie Lane who had already moved on, sick of Rod's ego. Still, having never been privileged to see the Faces perform, it was good to get to view this- despite the terrible picture quality (full of visual noise, scratches, and such plus jumpy cutting) and the dismaying spectacle of Rod getting all glammy as he preens and struts and shakes his ass constantly. The camera guy doesn't help, by zooming in on it incessantly. The band, though almost done with each other, was still tight, especially guitarist Ron Wood (honestly, he's been wasted, and I'm not referring to chemical input, in the Stones) and keyboardist Ian McLagan, who shows a lot more personality and humor onstage than I expected. Rod and Co. have a lot of fun with a group of gentlemen string musicians, who are set up at one end of the stage for a few songs and add a lot in accompaniment. Keith Richards wanders onstage at various points and joins in on a rocking version of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller" (which appeared in studio form, sans Richards, a few months earlier on Rod's solo Smiler LP), and a couple of other covers from Rod's solo albums- "I'd Rather Go Blind" and "Twistin' the Night Away". It's kinda odd that there is only one proper Faces song represented in this show- the infectious 1975 single "You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, or Anything", and the rest is either songs from Rod's solo LPs or Wood's solo LP at the time, I've Got My Own Album to Do. If there was a lot of rancor, it's not evident- everyone seems to be having a good time, and often works up a great rocking head of steam, even when wading through what appears to be a metric ton of confetti in the last third of the concert. I keep hoping that somewhere out there footage exists of the Faces, with Ronnie Lane, in concert and someday someone will see fit to release it and we can see the band at its peak. I guess this will have to do till then, and while it could have been better, it could have been a lot worse. B+
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
We all have them- films that were constantly mentioned and referred to in our childhood, and were shown fairly often on TV and other places, and the titles of which became part of the lexicon, but we never got around to seeing them. This is one of those films for me. Seems as if this was always on TV, and I was always seeing it mentioned in print, but I was never moved to watch- guess preteen me just didn't care too much about the sad fate of Thomas More and the outstanding performance of Paul Scofield as same. However, now that I am presumably an adult, and having recently become interested in viewing performances by Robert (Jaws, Taking of Pelham One Two Three, From Russia With Love) Shaw, I couldn't pass this one up. Unfortunately, Shaw has a lesser role and really only two significant scenes as Henry VIII- this film belongs to Scofield and he's great, giving a nuanced performance...which isn't surprising, given that he performed the role in its original incarnation on Broadway. Well worth watching if you're a fan of good acting. A-
This wasn't anywhere near as funny as I was expecting. Basically a documentary about a filthy joke that comedians tell other comedians when they get together offstage, in which many comics from many backgrounds get an opportunity to discuss and perform. Some are amusing, many aren't, with the only real standouts to me being a guy who illustrated the joke using playing cards, and Bob frigging Saget, who draws doubletakes at the incongruity between his roles on sitcoms and clip shows and the absolute filth he brings in his turn. I could only take talking heads, no matter how clever or entertaining (Steven Wright, Robin Williams, Penn & Teller) they may be in other projects, telling us how "It's not the setup or the punch line that's funny, it's how the teller embellishes it in between" over and over again before my finger began to stray towards the scan button. A novelty, and probably worth viewing once, but I rarely laughed- probably because I'm not inclined to enjoy scatological humor anyway. Caveat emptor. C+
Here's another famous and revered film project that I had never seen, despite being very aware of it when it aired as a TV movie in the late '80s. My good friend Joy kept telling me how much she loves it every time I tried to tell her about Deadwood, so I figured I might as well see where she's coming from. And y'know what? This was an engrossing six or so hours. If you're a fan of great acting, you've got a stellar turn by Robert Duvall as randy cowpoke and ex-Texas Ranger Gus McCrae, and a taciturn Tommy Lee Jones (inexplicably made up to look like Kenny Rogers or Santa Claus) as his associate and ex-Ranger bud Woodrow Call. Retired from trouble-shooting, often literally, they are stagnating on a ranch in the titular dusty Texas town until another former Ranger buddy, Jake Spoon, gives them a glowing report about the wide open spaces in Montana and off they go, driving a large herd of cattle north to sell and finance their dream of a ranch in the high country. Along the way, they encounter, and enter into conflict with, a number of colorful characters including a couple of the most egregiously stereotyped Irishmen you've ever seen, and a surly renegade half-breed, played by Fredric Forrest, with the ridiculous sobriquet of "Blue Duck" (I'd be surly, too, if someone named me Blue Duck), who has a vendetta against McCrae. Watching this after a steady routine of Deadwood for three years now makes it seem somewhat quaint...but honestly, it's as brutally frank in its TV Movie way as its HBO cousin and is thankfully never routine or predictable. I was especially impressed with the script's willingness to unexpectedly kill off characters that are somewhat important to the main story, and I can honestly say that this is the first time I have ever actually been impressed with and enjoyed a performance by Anjelica Huston, who ordinarily leaves me stone cold. And as I said before, you will be in awe of Duvall, who lays it all on the line for six freaking hours and never rings false or cheats the viewer. A-
Take the above UltraViolet review, and substitute Charlize Theron in the appropriate place. For what it's worth, I never was a big fan of the animated version, either, although it was much better than this. All this money, all that imagination- wish someone with some imagination had worked on the script. Still, I love me some Theron, so this isn't a total disaster. For me. YMMV. C+
I've got PLENTY more, believe me, including 2005's King Kong, Wedding Crashers, MirrorMask, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Stay tuned!