September 24, 2006

L.A. Confidential vs. The Black Dahlia

These James Ellroy novels have many parallels. Naturally, so do their movie adaptations...
 L.A. Confidential (1997)The Black Dahlia (2006)
The Obsessed CopBud White, hates wife-beaters after his mother was beaten to death by his father when he was a child. Should have died in the end, but mysteriously survives and drives off into the sunset with Lynn Bracken. Lee Blanchard, obsessed with Black Dahlia case because his own sister's murder was never solved. Should die, and does, while avenging Kay upon her former tormentor/pimp, Bobby DeWitt.
Blonde Call Girl with a Heart of GoldLynn Bracken came to L.A. from Bisbee, Arizona, with stars in her eyes, instead becomes Veronica Lake lookalike call girl. Bud White becomes obsessed with her. Kay Lake came to L.A. from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with stars in her eyes, instead becomes call girl. 'Saved' from tricking by Blanchard, and lives in bizarre love triangle with Blanchard and Bleichert.
Ambitious RookieEd Exley, looks like a straight arrow, but shows hidden dark side as story progresses. Moves in on Lynn Bracken in twisted (and ill-advised) power play with Bud White. Bucky Bleichert, looks like a straight arrow, but shows hidden dark side as story progresses. Moves in on Kay Lake after Lee Blanchard dies.
Political PromotionEd Exley is promoted to Detective Lieutenant, Homicide, in exchange for testifying in Bloody Christmas scandal. Lee and Bucky get promoted to Warrants division after agreeing to return to boxing ring, to help push ballot item through.
Cabin-style roadside motel?The Victory Motel (abandoned) is the site of the climactic gun battle; Ed Exley shoots Captain Smith after Exley learns Smith shot Jack Vincennes. The Red Arrow Motel is where Bucky and Madeleine meet for cheap sex; Bucky shoots Madeleine there after he discovers Madeleine killed Lee.
The Frolic Room?Exley and Vincennes agree to meet there; Exley stands up Vincennes. Bleichert parks in front of the Frolic Room.
D.A. Ellis Loew played by...Ron RifkinPatrick Fischler
Overused solo trumpet score composed by...Jerry Goldsmith Mark Isham

The Black Dahlia

theblackdahliaA loose and sloppily assembled L.A. noir, which compares inevitably and unfavorably to the superior movie adaptation of a James Ellroy novel, L.A. Confidential. Director Brian De Palma gets a pass on the perfect style and atmosphere, and all the roles were well cast, with the exception of Josh Hartnett, who simply doesn't have the gravitas for the part. The overly-elaborate plot and subplots (a trademark of Ellroy novels) are tangled together so we don't know which storyline we're supposed to care about. Is the Black Dahlia case merely a Macguffin? Is the Bobby DeWitt story connected? Is the warrant case worth paying attention to? Why is Rose McGowan in the movie for one scene? Is k.d. lang's cameo supposed to be funny? Why does Detective Bleichert (Hartnett) single out Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank) out of a crowd? In L.A. Confidential, also based on a long and complex Ellroy novel, director Curtis Hanson and screenwriter Brian Helgeland made this kind of elaborate web easy to navigate. De Palma either doesn't know or can't be bothered to sort it out for us.

September 22, 2006

Jet Li's Fearless: Guys Movie Night

fearlessBeautifully choreographed martial arts battles, combined with a strong spiritual message, Fearless is a harmless biopic of a martial arts fighter who learns to put honor and family before pride. The theater was 75% full, and the crowd got a little giggly at times. When Huo Yuan Jia (Jet Li) was on the verge of finishing off his greatest rival, the soundtrack got real quiet, and one viewer said calmly "Say goodnight." so that everyone could hear it. Once Huo Yuan Jia punched his rival so hard his fist bulged through the rival's back, he said it again. Later, a young boy rushes into Huo Yuan Jia's bedroom to awaken him, the young boy grabs him by the upper thigh, and the crowd started giggling again. Finally, near the very end of the movie, Huo Yuan Jia is practising his moves in a field in slow motion, and the crowd got to gigging over Huo Yuan Jia's mildly silly facial expressions. Fellow GMN attendee George theorizes that a few stoners were the source of the giggling. (Regal Cinemas Fenway)

September 16, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

devilwearspradaA perfectly cute little comedy. Anne Hathaway is Andy, the aspiring journalist who takes a job as an assistant to a fashion magazine editor, notorious sadist/dragon lady Miranda Priestly (based on Anna Wintour of Vogue), played with quiet ferocity by Meryl Streep having her own brand of fun. Miranda is the most powerful force in the fashion business, and she intends to keep herself on top. She succeeds by ruling with an iron fist, never revealing her own decision-making process, and surrounding herself with simpering idiots. Andy is different from any assistant Miranda has ever had, for two reasons: she is not a simpering idiot, and she doesn't care about fashion, translation: she isn't a threat to Miranda's tenure in the top spot. I have not seen any of Hathaway's other comedies (of her eight screen appearances, I have only seen her perfect supporting role in Brokeback Mountain) but she offers a sweet, light comedic touch in a part which avoids dumb cliche. Andy is also buffeted by the derogatory bluster of the newly-promoted assistant (Emily Blunt), who trains Andy to fill her old position with equal parts condescention and ridicule. Blunt just barely avoids leaving her character a one-note harpy- a few scenes late in the movie salvage her character from the 2-D bin. I am glad we did not pay full price for this movie- it would make excellent in-flight movie material! (Somerville Theater)

September 15, 2006

Hollywoodland

Superb performances are diluted in this overlong, mis-constructed murder-bio of George Reeves, TV's Superman.hollywoodland

Ben Affleck is perfectly cast and offers a wonderfully understated performance as George Reeves, a charming, mildly talented, but old-school handsome actor who died under extremely mysterious circumstances in 1959. The police quickly label Reeves a suicide, and sweep the Reeves case under the carpet. A private detective, Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), trying to stir up some work, convinces Reeves' mother (Lois Smith) to hire him to force the police to consider a murder investigation. Simo's investigation becomes the framework for our discovery of Reeves' story.

In the early fifties, after limited success in feature films, Reeves becomes trapped in two golden cages. His only professional success is The Adventures Of Superman TV show, which has made him so successful he may never be able to find non-Super work again. He falls in love with an original desperate housewife, Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), a wealthy but aging (45 years old?) studio wife. Reeves' youth and charm make Toni feel young again. Toni becomes George's sugar momma, but she ultimately smothers Reeves with her lonliness and fear. While trying to wriggle out of Toni's grasp, Reeves falls in with Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), a classic mean drunk.

In June 1959, Reeves died from a gunshot wound to the head which could have been suicide, but Simo can piece together motivations for murder with all the principal characters. Did Toni become blinded with jealous rage at Reeves' spurning? DId Toni's Mob-connected studio honcho husband arrange a hit? Did Reeves' crazy "fiancee" Leonore flip out after Reeves threatened to call off their engagement?

As talented as Academy-award winner Adrien Brody is, he cannot salvage his totally unremarkable detective story/dramatic framework device. His investigation, and Simo's barely relevant child-custody subplot, break no new dramatic ground. Obviously, in stories based on real events, you sometimes have to include characters and plot points in order to be true to the story, even if they aren't worth the screen time. That's what makes the Simo detective framework so frustrating: his character, and his investigation, is a completely fictional device. Perhaps the creative team behind Hollywoodland included so much of this dramatic framework, because they felt Reeves' character, or perhaps Ben Affleck the actor, could not carry the dramatic weight of the whole film? It turns out that Affleck is outstanding as Reeves, and his emotional arc feels underserved by his limited screen time. If the Simo plotline had been pared down, and a few more meaty scenes with Affleck and Lane had been included, we might be talking about a Best Picture nominee, and not just a well-deserved Best Actor nod for Affleck. (AMC Burlington)

September 1, 2006

Back to the Future

I first saw BttF in the summer on 1985, while visiting my grandmother on vacation in Chicago. Who knows what she thought of it- she probably fell asleep. I was thirteen years old, so the adventures of sixteen-year-old Marty McFly was one of the first best movies of my teenage moviegoing life.
Twenty-one years later, Emily and I packed a picnic (fried chicken...mmmm) and caught Back To The Future on DVD, projected onto a giant screen at the Hatch Memorial Shell on Boston's Esplanade.
I watch Back To The Future once a year, and it's still fun. Every time I see it I think "maybe this time Marty will grab the case full of plutonium before he flees the Libyans?" After I have a movie memorized like this, I can start to think about the nitty gritty details:
  • Marty spends a eight days in 1955, but the movie skips over three of those days. What does Marty do for those three days? Sit around the Brown mansion?
  • Marty catches his father in a tree, peeping with binoculars through a bedroom window. I think we're supposed to think he's peeping on his future wife Lorraine Baines, but I've never thought it looked like her, and we never see the face of the topless woman. Am I the only one who always thought it was just a random woman? We only see the exterior of Lorraine's house in that one shot, so it's impossible to confirm it's the Baines house.
  • While I'm dwelling on this topic: if it is Lorraine in the window, does Marty ever connect the dots that George was peeping on Lorraine? Maybe we don't see the woman's face in the window so that they can save the reveal of Marty's future mother for the following scene that evening when Marty wakes up.
TIME TRAVEL UPDATE: My wife and I talked once about how the costumes and sets in the 1985 scenes are designed to be especially trendy, so the contrast with 1955 will be especially sharp. This got me to thinking if BttF will still resonate with future generations? When my oldest son turns sixteen, the movie Back To The Future will be 40 years old. Imagine a movie set in 1945, with zany time travel antics back to 1915. Would I find that funny? The "Pepsi Free" joke in the coffee shop died two years after the movie came out, along with the brand name.

I bought these shirts especially on BTTF.com!
Free Friday Flicks: This was only the third time I ever went to a Free Friday Flick, a very long-running summer tradition, hosted by WBZ. I first went circa 1992-1994 while attending Emerson College. The movie was Casablanca, and I was supposed to meet up with my friend Craig and his girlfriend, but they arrived after the movie started, and in that pre-cellphone era, there was no way to find each other in the dark. The second time I saw a F.F.F. was last July, but the rain started falling before we could finish Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. This screening went off hitch-free, and a wonderful time was had by all.

Also On Stub Hubby: Back To The Future, Part II and Back To The Future, Part III