Sunday, August 19, 2007

DOUBLE FEATURE

With a full time job (law), a nearly full time avocation (writing/reading), two teenage daughters (heaven help me) and an addiction to football (watching it, not playing), my life doesn’t leave much time for anything else. But last weekend, I did manage to watch not one but two movies. Both came out last year, and both were relatively well regarded by critics.

The first I watched was the new Bond flick, Casino Real. I’ve always like Bond films, even some of the lesser ones (like The Man with the Golden Gun). When I saw that the critics raved about this one, I knew I would like it. The only question was: “How much?”

Truth be told, I was underwhelmed. The villains were forgettable. The women were forgettable. And the plot was forgettable. The only memorable thing about the movie – and it was memorable, don’t get me wrong – was the fact that finally, we have a Bond with pectorals.

OK, save the “man crush” allusions. I don’t generally care if men have pectorals or not. But this is 007 we’re talking about. There was something very annoying about seeing scriptwriters enable Roger Moore to beat up one gargantuan after another when, in fact, he had the body of a grandmother. Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan had more muscles than Moore, to be sure, but they weren’t nearly as buff as a young Sean Connery, and there were times when even Connery was out-muscled by his adversary (see, e.g., From Russia with Love). If nothing else, the franchise has finally progressed to the point where you can watch Bond run, jump and punch without wincing. As the new James Bond, blonde Daniel Craig looks like a throwback to the days of American Gladiator. He can do more with his body alone than Roger Moore could do with many a gadget.

So, if you haven’t seen the movie, and you like male athleticism … definitely get the DVD of Casino Real. If you’re a gay man or a non-gay woman, you’ll probably find the movie more memorable than I did. Personally, I could have survived without it.

The second movie I saw last weekend was Little Children. Prior to the time I walked into the DVD store, I had never heard of it. And when I saw the DVD case and noticed that it was about such a tired Hollywood topic as infidelity in modern suburban life, I very nearly passed it by. Still, I liked the three Academy Award nominations it received – two for acting and the third for the screenplay. Not special effects, not cinematography, but acting and writing. I figured I’d take the chance. Now, I’m asking you to do the same.

The first thing I liked about Little Children was that it had very little to do with little children. Don’t get me wrong, little children can be cute in real life, but in films, they tend to bore the daylights out of me. In this case, the plot revolved somewhat on little kids, but only insofar as they were the objects of adult interest – either as sons or daughters or, in the case of one especially perverted character, as sex objects.

Yes, this movie was sufficiently twisted to be worthy of my own attention. Stanley Kubrick would have approved. But Kubrick never really did “poignant,” and Little Children was quite poignant at times. It was that combo – alternatively very twisted and very poignant – that made this film so memorable. It even had some pectorals, albeit none as impressive as Daniel Craig’s.

It follows from the above that, at least to this humble critic, Little Children deserved its Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. I can quibble with certain aspects of the screenplay – the ending, for example – but as a whole it was quite strong. Stronger still than the movie’s writing, however, was its acting. The second most riveting performance was turned in by Kate Winslet – yes, that Kate Winslet, the face that sunk the Titanic. Did you know that Winslet was the youngest actress to be nominated for two Oscars? How about the youngest to be nominated for three? Or four? And, with Little Children, she became the youngest to be nominated for five. She’s barely over 30, folks. The Academy is starting to make her sound like the Tiger Woods of acting. Clearly, that woman can act.

Winslet really did a great job of portraying a wistful suburban house frau who only comes alive when she’s donning the Scarlet Letter. But her performance, however excellent it might have been, was not the show stealer. That moniker goes to Jackie Earle Haley, the pervert. Nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the Academy, he was edged out by Alan Arkin, who I thought was the best thing about the movie Little Miss Sunshine. But I would have given the nod to Haley. His role wasn’t nearly as one-dimensional as Arkin’s, and his performance will stay with the viewer much longer. For his performance alone, the film is worth seeing.

So, if any of you have seen Little Children, let me know what you thought. And if any of you haven’t, then rent it. You won’t be sorry you did.

Well, that’s all for me and the movies. I’ve got to get back to my other interests. We now have ten minutes left until the Democratic Presidential candidates’ debate on ABC. Did I mention that I was also interested in politics? I guess if you’re reading this blog, I didn’t have to.

2 comments:

Finding Fair Hope said...

I wrote a blogpost about Casino Royale a while back. I was most taken with Daniel Craig, the best-built English guy I ever saw, even though it wasn't in person (it couldn't have been trick photography), and loved the special features in the DVD when they described filming the early scenes with fights and chases up in the sky on the earthmoving machines. It wasn't the same Bond you have come to admire...this prequel was designed to give the later guy a reason to be heartless. I am a huge Craig fan now. Rent Layer Cake, I think you'll like it.

I've seen Little Children too. Not a very moving film to me, it seemed "Desperate Housewives" without the laughs. The situation with the neighbors organizing against suspected pervert was a bit too contrived to really hit home. His "date" was a scene that really made my hair stand on end, however, and I loved his mother.

You should rent more movies. I'll make you a list.

Daniel Spiro said...

FFH,

Thanks for the honest assessments. Movies, like books, are very subjective, so I'm not surprised that Little Children didn't work for you. But we agree that the best part of it was the pervert -- not the way the neighbors treated him but his own character and his relationship with his mother.