April 15, 2006

Neil Young: Heart of Gold

heartofgold(Guest Review by EKW) Nat and I walked down to the Capitol Theater, and for $7 got front row tickets to a Neil Young concert! This small, well-crafted film showcases Young in his element -- surrounded by longtime friends and collaborators, performing new work and old favorites, and baring his soul through song in the most unassuming yet piercing way. Shot on one night at Nashville's storied Ryman Auditorium by none other than Jonathan Demme (Stop Making Sense), the film manages to zoom right up close and capture the twinkling eyes and furrowed brows of the musicians, without seeming staged or intrusive. I'm so glad we went to see it in a theater -- on DVD the music would still be great but you'd lose that live audience feel. Features a fantastic close-up of the "Harvest Moon" broom. (A) (Arlington Capitol Theater)

Thank You For Smoking

A quality black comedy with a heart, directed and adapted for the screen by Jason Reitman (son of director Ivan Reitman [Ghostbusters, Stripes, Meatballs]). Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is blond, chin-dimpled, charming, and a frighteningly good tobacco lobbyist. The only reason we care if he's evil, soulless, or just lost his way, is that he has a mild-mannered 12-year-old son (Cameron Bright, previously squandered in Ultraviolet), who seems to be learning all the right lessons from his dad. NOTE: I sometimes wonder if it's possible to portray a preadolescent boy in the movies that's not grating, mannered, or precocious. Cameron Bright is swell in this movie and avoids all those pitfalls.

thankyouforsmokingWhat sets this movie apart from another "cancer comedy" is this relationship. How do you let your son into your everyday working life, and honestly explain to him why you do things which appear to be morally corrupt? How do you teach your son how to be a man when you do things everyday that you wouldn't want him to do? I wonder if this theme resonated with the 29-year old Reitman, because his father Ivan works in another morality-free zone, Hollywood? Early in the movie, Reitman overly relies on cute bells and whistles, especially humorous onscreen captions. The movie is a little episodic in places, and generally rough around the edges, but certainly a worthy debut.

THEATER NOTE: Emily and I went to this art house, the Montgomery Cinema in Montgomery, NJ, with my soon-to-be sister-in-law Rebecca and her beau Eric.

Katie Holmes: Unconvincing Adult

Katie Holmes has been completely unconvincing portraying grown-ups in her most recent roles. As an assistant D.A. in Batman Begins and as an investigative journalist in Thank You For Smoking (see below), Holmes looks like she's playing dress-up for Career Day. For the record, Holmes was born December 18, 1978, making her about 26 when she made Batman and 27 for Smoking.
What is it about Katie Holmes that makes her so hard to believe as a grown-up? Is it her childlike voice, baby face, or bad acting? Has she made a too-abrupt transition from playing teens to playing adults? Batman and Smoking are her first two roles as working professionals after a decade playing high school and college kids.
I am not saying that a woman in her mid-twenties cannot play a lawyer or a reporter, but I can more easily imagine Selma Blair, Reese Witherspoon, Julia Stiles, or Kirsten Dunst in these roles. Perhaps Katie's agent is making bad choices, or were these parts written for women five years older? Her Batman Begins costar Christian Bale is four years older than Holmes, and her Smoking costar Aaron Eckhart is ten years older. The good news is, Holmes will be too busy raising Tom Cruise's alien spawn to make movies for awhile- according to her IMDb page, she has no new projects in the pipline. Perhaps the TomKat mating process will age her enough to play adults more convincingly in the future.

April 1, 2006

Inside Man

insidemanA clever and inventive bank heist thriller, smartly directed by Spike Lee, and gracefully performed by Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, and Jodie Foster. The movie could have been produced with any director, with any cast, and in any city, but Lee soaks every corner of the story with the people of New York City. Lee never underestimates the audience, the screenplay holds water even under close scrutiny, and the pacing is tight but with ebbs and flows. There's really only one red herring which I had a problem with, but besides that, I felt the screenplay was pretty honest to the audience.

Screenwriter Russell Gewirtz (in his feature-film debut) answers the question "How do bank robbers escape if the police won't let them slip away?" I honestly did not know how it was going to turn out, even though I was watching it with my Usual Suspects-slash-M. Night Shyamalan "trust nothing you see" glasses on. Lee manages to work in plenty of allusions to tolerance and diversity in a post 9-11 America, and the erosion of civil liberties in an America where you can't tell the terrorists from the citizens. Emily read more of a "metaphor for America in Iraq" which also makes some sense. Lee, who is incapable of restraint or understatement, manages to make some of his points with grace and subtlety. (AMC Fenway)