November 29, 2011

The Descendants

To paraphrase Dickens: "The wife is dying to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."
George Clooney's wife is in a coma, she's not going to come out of it, and his "limping towards divorce" marriage is suddenly turned upside down. A few tears, yes, but not Terms Of Endearment waterworks. Hijinks do not ensue either.
A lukewarm meditiation on death, grief, marriage, and parenthood.
A fine nuanced performance from George Clooney, and solid performances from the young cast help balance the meandering plot. It's not tragic enough to be a drama, not soapy enough to be a melodrama, and not silly enough to be a comedy. The movie never ties together tonally or thematically. It feels like the movie was allowed to wander away from director Alexander Payne. Perhaps spending nine months locked in an editing suite with your movie caused him to lose perspective?
The movie is set in Hawaii, which adds great texture, and contributes to the plot too... but Payne goes totally overboard with the Hawaiian ukelele music on the soundtrack. You know how a tourist might visit Texas for a week and believe that cowboy boots and fringed shirts are suddenly terrific-- until they get home to Connecticut and realize how dumb they look walking through Hartford looking like Roy Rogers? I picture Payne falling in love with Hawaiian music -- which is lovely in small doses -- and eventually every moment of the film is plastered with midtempo uke strumming + ululating vocals.
Shailene Woodley, 20, is fine as George's teenage daughter, but I hope the Oscar talk is just hype. If the Academy wants invent an honorary Exciting Newcomer award, great, but she's not some revelation.
The Stub Hubby Grade:  C-plus.

Stub Hubby Reviews Alexander Payne:

November 18, 2011

Christian Marclay: THE CLOCK

Synopsis from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston:
"The Clock (2010), an ode to time and cinema, comprises thousands of fragments from a range of films that create a 24-hour...video. The Clock tells the accurate time at any given moment, and wherever it is screened it is synchronized to the local time zone, so that it is literally a working time piece."
Four shots from the movie. There are NOT multiple screens
simultaneously, and the movie is not all close-ups of clock
faces. It's much more complex and amazing.
Here's what happened: I entered the theater at 10:55am. Onscreen was a clip from a movie where the time is 10:55am. The clips continue from 10:55am, to 10:56am, and so on. Not every minute is necessarily depicted onscreen, but almost all. More importantly, it stays in sync, so clips of 11:00am begin at 11:00am.

Each clip includes a clock, watch, or someone mentioning the time. Each instance of the time matches the current time I'm watching the film. Each clip is long enough to put the instance of the time in context, but rarely with any context for the plot of the movie from which it is taken.

Sometimes the time in the scene is the subject of the scene: "What time is it?" or "I'm going to be late!" and so on. Other times, there's merely a clock in the background of the shot.

What elevates this project from antiseptic obsessive-compulsive symptom to art is HOW the clips interact with each other. It's not merely the appropriate scenes edited in order. Marclay made choices:
  • To smooth the transitions between scenes, the background "soundscape" and/or incidental music from one scene often continues after the visual ends. Sometimes it's just the street sounds, birds chirping, or, appropriately, a clock ticking.
  • Characters from different clips will seem to be joined together: Johnny Depp talks to someone offscreen. We cut to Vivien Leigh demurely smiling back at him. We cut again to a dog, probably from Depp's original scene, and back to Depp again.
  • An bell will ring in one movie, and a character will pop out of bed in another movie.
  • A scene will begin, then three unrelated clips will play, then we'll return to the original scene, a little later on, as if the  original scene were taking place concurrently with the three inbetween. This is a editing technique called "parallel action" which we take for granted until clips gathered from the whole universe of cinema are edited together.
  • Because it's assembled from nearly a century of filmmaking (from Buster Keaton to Jason Statham, I swear to God) the quality of the visuals varies wildly from scene to scene, but we're so hard-wired to trust the editor, it hardly matters.
Marclay's chosen one piece of the moving picture storytelling universe and discarded everything else. This eliminates all plot from the movie, but he could have accomplished the same thing by making a 24-hour-long montage of people eating in the movies, or people climbing stairs, or cursing. That would accomplish the goal of observing the art of cinema detached from the story and stars and music itself. Marclay's goal is larger than that. In a strange way, removing the plot and focusing on time reveals the plot of life as it is: not the things we do, or the things which happen to us, but rather everything which happens in between. Time is passing by us and through us every moment of our lives, whether we are paying attention to it or not. This movie, by moving Humphrey Bogart, Glenn Close, and Michael J. Fox to the background and placing their wristwatches, Big Ben, and alarm clocks in the foreground, reminds us that everything we've accomplished, everything we hold dear, and all our favorite memories, all happened while time was passing.

It's truly weird to watch a movie where you don't have to check your watch to see
what time it is. I knew I wanted to watch until 11am that day. I simply had to wait
until the movie WAS 11:00am.
This art can be easily sustained for a few minutes: the YouTube is full of "supercuts". THE CLOCK lasts for 24 hours. My Stub Hubby Grade: A-plus.

It's playing all day every day at the MFA through New Year's Eve. I strongly recommend checking it out for an hour or two. I have seen 10:55 through 11:35 on one occasion, and 10:20 through 10:55am the next time.

2016 Re-Review Update

When THE CLOCK returned to the MFA, I visited on Wednesday November 17, one of their late nights, and watched THE CLOCK from 7:30pm until 9:50pm. New observations:

  • There is a lot of cigarette smoking in the movie!
  • We see a lot of wristwatches in closeup, so a lot of hairy wrists.
  • The photo above (clock radio and Pepsi Free can) is from Back to the Future; Marclay also includes a scene of Marty and Doc and the brand-new clock tower in Back to the Future Part III. Unfortunately I was unable to see if he includes the 1985 clock tower scene - the lightning strikes at 10:04pm.
  • A bunch of TV shows popped up in this two-hour segment, including Matlock and The X-Files, and others I didn't recognize.
  • Mostly we don't see enough of a plot from any one scene, but he did focus on an old black-and-white movie where a shotgun is hidden in the base of a standing floor clock, laid as a trap for a would-be murderer?
  • Three different James Bonds in this segment- Casino Royale was onscreen when I arrived; later we saw Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, and a Sean Connery Bond film, one of the early ones.
  • I would guess I could name 10% of the films represented, but I recognized many more movie stars but could not name the film.
  • I noticed there's hardly ever any violence, action, or sex. Like I said above, the movie is all about the inaction inbetween the action in our lives.
  • Marclay draws on all of world cinema, so I noticed a lack of American comedy movies represented. The exception proves the rule - a segment from the 2009 rom-com He's Just Not That Into You (featuring Justin Long and that guy from Entourage) stuck out like a sore thumb.

RELATED: Jennifer Bruni on THE CLOCK
VIDEO: BBC feature on THE CLOCK [seven minutes]

November 13, 2011

J. Edgar

J. Edgar is a meticulously crafted and compelling portrait of an ambitious, petty, vindictive, paranoid, ugly little man who created powerful and modern F.B.I. while consolidating his power with intimidation, surveillance, and blackmail.
Hoover arresting Bruno Hauptmann, the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby
At the same time, Hoover (DiCaprio) lives at home, Norman Bates-style, with his domineering, zealot mother (Judi Dench) and works and dines each day with his life partners: his secretary-for-life Helen Gandy (superb Naomi Watts) and his second-in-command/perfect specimen of manhood/daily "companion" Clyde Tolson (gorgeous Armie Hammer).

The movie is framed by 1960s Hoover telling his life story to a series of FBI ghostwriters. It's an old screenwriting tool, but it was inobtrusive.

(NOTE: The framing device reminded me immediately Attenborough's CHAPLIN biopic. NOTE: While this isn't covered in the movie, Hoover had Chaplin de facto deported from the US in 1952. Read more here.)

The movie shifts regularly between Hoover's 1930s heyday and the 1960s. What was amazing and clever about it was how organic and non-confusing these shifts were. Obviously, the makeup and costumes made it obvious when we were shifting time periods, but these shifts always felt natural to the storytelling. Dustin Lance Black's screenplay may be the strongest part of the movie.
The old age makeup was amazing, but I still feel it was a mistake to cast DiCaprio as Hoover. DiCaprio is a terrific actor, but DiCaprio is too young and too handsome to play Hoover. The makeup was terrific, but they had to work too hard to make one of our most handsome actors look like one of our Top 10 Ugliest Pubilc Servants of All Time. DiCaprio turned 37 on 11/11/11, but he plays Hoover from age 24 to 87.

Whenever Hoover would have a romantic dinner with his life parter Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), I would marvel at how smooth and beautiful Armie Hammer was. The DiCaprio would appear, with oily, badly cut hair, heavy black eyebrows, and pockmarks. It was too much!

Director Clint Eastwood always makes classy, efficient, un-fussy movies, and this is no exception. I grew a little weary of the heavily color-corrected/desaturated look of the movie. Using computers to effect the color palette of movies has been popular for over a decade-- O'Brother Where Art Thou? was a trailblazer-- but I worry that the desaturated look  will become a cliche'd trademark of this era. I suspect, 30 years from now, while watching Minority Report or Traffic, future moviegoers will say "Oh, this must be from the Aughts! Look at how de-colorized it is!"
Hauptmann
Clint's respect and clout means he can get great actors in every role, and this cast was Character Actor Hall of Fame:
  • Jeffrey Donovan (from BURN NOTICE) played RFK. Did you know he's from Amesbury, MA?
  • Zach Grenier
  • Jessica Hecht
  • Ken Howard
  • Josh Lucas as Charles Lindbergh
  • Dermot Mulroney
  • Stephen Root
  • Lea Thompson
    also: 
  • Damon Herriman looks EXACTLY like Bruno Hauptmann, the man who kidnapped the Lindbergh baby.
  • Christopher Shyer doesn't look like Nixon, but he got the cursing just right.
  • Even Ed Westwick from Gossip Girl was in it!
Also On Stub Hubby:
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed by Clint Eastwood

November 9, 2011

The Fugitive

The Fugitive (1993) is the Casablanca of action thrillers. It could have been an unremarkable studio product, just another recycled genre script with an A-list star plugged into the lead. Instead, some kind of wonderful chemistry took place and the result is a rightfully celebrated classic. A crackling adventure with a terrific cast.

Harrison Ford is thoracic surgeon Richard Kimble, wrongfully convicted of killing his wife. Harrison Ford is our best physical actor- he struggles, runs, climbs, and punches more realistically than anyone. He punches the bad guy like a real person would. When Kimble has nearly drowned in an icy river after a daring free-jump over a waterfall, his exhausted slog onto the riverbank is totally believeable. I also love that Ford grew an actual beard and actually shaved it off while on the run. Bravo to real facial hair!

Tommy Lee Jones saves what could have been a boring U.S. Marshal character and won an Oscar. I am certain that his part on paper is pretty flat. Lots of actors could have been hired who would bring nothing to the table. Jones' Deputy Gerard is determined, rude, colorful, and fair. The close-knit working relationship between Gerard and his team felt lived-in and real. I love it when characters share inside jokes which aren't explained to us. The eccentric costuming of his posse is a little distracting, but maybe that's partially the antiquated 1990s at work?

To further bolster my premise: Harrison Ford made The Fugitive between his two Jack Ryan movies, Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger. I am sure those movies made tons of money, but no one cares about them the way people remember The Fugitive. There's no reason on paper why The Fugitive should be any better than either of them, but I dare you to find someone who'd rank Patriot Games or Clear & Present Danger higher?

The Fugitive was directed by Andrew Davis. Davis was nominated for a Golden Globe and a DGA award for Best Director. At Oscar time, The Fugitive was nominated for Best Picture, Sound, Score, Editing, Effects, and Cinematography, but Davis was passed over for a Best Director nom (he would have lost to Steven Spielberg [Schindler's List] anyway).

Davis makes competent action thrillers: before The Fugitive, he'd directed six features, including The Package (with Gene Hackman) and Under Siege (aka Die Hard on a Battleship, with Steven Seagal). Since The Fugitive, he's directed six unremarkable features.

Yes, we all wore chambray shirts in the 1990s. And yes, that is Jane Lynch!
Besides the memorable "train crashes into a bus" which kicks off the chase, the movie is chock-a-block with additional action sequences. The effects are above average throughout- the train crash still looks good. The exception which proves the rule: there's one shot in the sequence where Kimble is driving an ambulance towards the dam, while being pursued by Gerard in a helicopter. It's an establishing shot with the road in the foreground, a tunnel opening in the middle distance, and the dam, with water flowing over it, in the background. It's clearly a composite shot of some kind, but the waterfall is super-grainy (that's typical) but the waterfall is also A STILL PHOTO! How could this happen? My guess is that Davis discovered he needed this shot in the editing room, long after location photography was complete? Maybe one of his assistant directors shot the required footage, but it was faulty? Thankfully the shot is brief, but thanks to home video, we can linger over it and shake our heads.

I found an unsealed DVD copy at a tag sale for $1 last month. You can pick up The Fugitive at Amazon.com:
Watch it again tonight. You won't regret it. My grade: A-plus

He only had one word of dialog in this movie, but yelling "Kimble!"
at Harrison Ford is pretty awesome, even if
you are immediately shot and killed.

Moore is 32 years old in this photo, but looks 22!
WATCH FOR: Brief appearances by Julianne Moore, Jane Lynch, John Cusack's father Dick Cusack (as Kimble's attorney), Neil Flynn (the janitor on Scrubs) and NBC News anchor Lester Holt!

MORE Harrison Ford movies on STUB HUBBY:

November 8, 2011

Seventies Easy Rock

Also known as "Yacht Rock", this is another great mix from my wife.

1.    “Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)” Jim Croce
2.    “How Much I Feel” Ambrosia
3.    “On and On” Stephen Bishop
4.    “Sara Smile” Daryl Hall & John Oates
5.    “After the Love Has Gone” Earth, Wind & Fire
6.    “Dance with Me” Orleans
7.    “We'll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again”, and
8.    “I'd Really Love to See You Tonight”
England Dan & John Ford Coley
9.    “I Keep Forgettin'” Michael McDonald
10.    “This Is It” Kenny Loggins
11.    “Just Remember I Love You” Firefall
12.    “Sailing” Christopher Cross
13.    “Summer Breeze” Seals & Crofts
14.    “I Love a Rainy Night” Eddie Rabbitt
15.    “Steal Away” Robbie Dupree
16.    “Lotta Love” Nicolette Larson
17.    “Arthur's Theme” [live]  Christopher Cross
18.    “Baby Come Back” Player
19.    “Listen to the Music” The Doobie Brothers
20.    “Take It Easy” [live & acoustic] Jackson Browne