Friday, August 8, 2008

A Thursday Night on the Couch

A couple buds and I were channel-surfing last night, and we were forced to make a great decision: Big or Almost Famous.

After toggling between the two for a few brief minutes, we opted to watch the second half of AF, the hippy, flower-children film about a 15-year-old music buff who fools Rolling Stone into hiring him to snag an exclusive with Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), the lead singer of "Stillwater." Not only does the movie's soundtrack remind you why your parents are right, they did live through a Golden Era of music (something that was driven home to me during countless Father-Daughter Grice sessions of 1960s-70s music education), the film's impeccably cast.

Of course, you can do no wrong when you're the haggard, scruffed-up, yet dreamy, Mr. Crudup, but Kate Hudson is also beautiful and tragically endearing as Penny Lane, a Stillwater "Band-Aid"; Patrick Fugit as the doe-eyed musical wunderkind William Miller is perfect -- and grossly under-worked, now that I think about it; Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the boozy and bitter, filthy indy-music magazine martyr and needs no explanation.

I was glad to have revisited it.

It got a friend and me reminiscing about our favorite music movies. He began extolling the many virtues of Detroit Rock City ("Don't you know what KISS stands for???? Knights in Satan's Service!"); I went down another path and blathered about one I stumbled on last year, called Control.

This was one of my favorite movies of 2007. I happened upon it back when I was diligent about Morgan's Tuesday-night Movietime ($7 tickets and a free large popcorn with a [expired] student ID). It's about Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, who killed himself the day before his band was bound to leave U.K. provincialism for the U.S. on its first major tour.

Curtis was an epileptic, who regularly had seizures on the middle of the stage as he was getting into some crazy bop-around dance moves, and an overall tragic, torn rocker/artist "before his times." Lead actor Sam Riley is amazing, not only in his ability to mimic the spastic singer, but in his ability to portray him over a good many years of his sad, evolving short life.

Monday, August 4, 2008

First Morgan Grice Original

I've been working on a news package on the Food Crisis in New York, so I've been having to learn a lot of new software. For my education, I made a short video about a kidnapper named "No Nose" who was in the news last year. A friend was curious as to how he got the nickname, so I did some research.

`When Did You Last See Your Father?'

June 6 (Bloomberg) -- ``When Did You Last See Your Father?'' is the screen version of British poet and author Blake Morrison's bestselling memoirs, focusing on his conflicted relationship with his dying father. It's a moving and beautifully shot story whose sentimentality rarely swerves into self-indulgence.

An early scene takes place in the late 1980s with Blake (Colin Firth) receiving a prestigious award for a recently published book of poems; his father quickly boasts about never having read the rubbish and loudly laments the fact his son didn't follow in his footsteps by becoming a money-spinning physician.

Shortly afterward, we learn of dad's impending death, and the rest of the film jumps from his father's hospital bedside to Blake's boyhood memories from the 1950s and 1960s. Alternately moving and embarrassing, the flashbacks are nearly all intensely emotional.

Jim Broadbent plays Arthur Morrison, an English-countryside doctor whose bluster brings out an offensive paternal gusto. He's the dad who gets his jollies by referring to his son as ``Fathead'' rather than acknowledging him as the literary wunderkind he is.

Much of Blake's unresolved hatred for Arthur comes from the years he spent parading his mistress in front of the family, and particularly Blake's mother (Juliet Stevenson). However, Arthur woos us just as he woos his family, by endearing us with his imperfections.

Firth gives a typically pensive performance; he has the potent ability to wordlessly convey inner conflict and agony. Matthew Beard, who plays the young Blake, shares Firth's ability to express a quiet, subtle intelligence but also does well as a rebellious and angst-ridden teen. In the end, however, they're both upstaged by the boisterous and improbably lovable Broadbent.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Sandler's `Zohan' Makes Shampoo-poo: Review

June 6 (Bloomberg) -- What's hilarious about Adam Sandler's pelvic gyrations, un-P.C. barbs and hummus obsession? Taken individually, perhaps you could find something laugh-worthy in there; mash them together into a 90-minute movie and all you've got is an hour and a half of pathetic.

``You Don't Mess With the Zohan'' stars Sandler (who also co-wrote the movie with the ubiquitous Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel, of ``Saturday Night Live'') as an Israeli counter- intelligence agent who's really a pacifist and whose true passion is hairdressing. Fed up with miraculous feats of assassination and disco-dancing on the beach, he fakes his death and flees to America, where his goal is to work for his idol, salon king Paul Mitchell.

After a series of mishaps (including a scene with a spoiled brat in a tony East Side kids' salon that may actually win Zohan some fans), he finds work at a parlor run by a beautiful Palestinian woman (Emmanuelle Chriqui). She shares Zohan's dream of world peace but is skeptical of his motives.

Many mindless minutes are devoted to watching an oversexed Zohan please his aging female customers, which is only slightly less annoying than the movie's final scene, involving a possible corporate takeover and the sudden appearance of Zohan's arch- enemy, a Palestinian terrorist known as the Phantom. Lots of laughs there.

Even the versatile and entertaining John Turturro, as the Phantom, fails to save the film from being an almost totally brainless farce.

Perhaps Apatow needs a rest. He's worked on roughly a dozen movies in the past four years, and they're declining in quality. It's time, as well, for Sandler to recapture what made him a success back in his ``SNL'' or ``Billy Madison'' days, which seem long ago, indeed.

`Savage Grace' Shocks With Decadence, Incest, Murder: Movies

May 30 (Bloomberg) -- Based on the sordid story of an American scion gone bad, ``Savage Grace'' is twisted, depressing and deliberately hard to watch.

Brooks Baekeland (Stephen Dillane) was heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune. His grandfather spawned a scientific juggernaut; his father squandered the fruits of that invention and Brooks himself lacked the wherewithal to live up to either extreme.

Throughout the film, Brooks vacillates between living off his name and separating his legacy from his life. He marries Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore), a would-be starlet everyone believes is beneath him. But she was no traditional vixen. Hers is a rags-to-riches account of what it meant to be a beautiful young woman in the 1940s, with nothing to show but everything to prove. The results were bizarrely tragic.

The graphic film's 25-year span reveals the family's sordid life, which includes decadent living, infidelity, mother-son incest and, ultimately, matricide. It was a story tailor-made for tabloid headlines and boldface copy.

Much of the movie centers on the tribulations of Daly and son Antony (Eddie Redmayne). When her husband leaves her to take up with Tony's girlfriend, an Oedipal situation sets in. Tony is constrained by his mother's manic turns, drunken humiliations and psychotic dependence. His retaliation, when it comes, is shattering.

Repressed Women

As in ``The Hours'' and ``Far From Heaven,'' Moore sometimes oversells the rigidity of repressed women of the 1940s and 1950s. But Dillane is a natural as the haughty if somewhat slimy Brooks, as is Redmayne's gaunt, conflicted and ultimately unhinged Antony.

Director Tom Kalin (who also made the similarly intense and chaotic ``Swoon,'' about the Leopold and Loeb murder case), takes his time dealing with the intricacies of the Baekeland tale. The result is an occasionally brilliant film that sometimes stops dead in its tracks or veers into histrionic overdrive.

Early on, Brooks shoots his wife a vicious glare and admonishes her, saying: ``Barbara, please. Don't be tedious.'' Caring for her character, you cringe at his condescension; still, there are moments you find yourself wishing Kalin had heeded Brooks's words.

`The Strangers'
May 30 (Bloomberg) -- ``The Strangers'' stars Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a young couple spending the last night of their lives enduring senseless violence at the hands of three masked youths. The first feature-length film by writer-director Bryan Bertino, it's as generic and uninspired as that sounds -- yet even worse than you'd imagine.

The couple is sequestered (of course) in a woodsy vacation home in the middle of unidentified nowhere. After a foreboding 4 a.m. knock on the door, they're greeted by a young woman who asks to see an unknown (and never explained) ``Tamara.'' She's turned away, Tyler's left alone and a slew of amateurish scare stunts follows that are not only cringe-inducing in their predictability but also unscary, not a good thing in a horror flick.

`Sex and the City' Ladies Arrive With Manolos, Romance: Review

May 28 (Bloomberg) -- Who knew how relatable four fashion freaks lunching on the Upper East Side could be? The ubiquity of ``Sex and the City'' -- in reruns on cable television, in magazines and newspapers -- attests to the crazy cultural phenomenon the show wrought. Four years after the final new episode aired on HBO, director Michael Patrick King's feature- length movie neatly ties up any loose ends we may or may not have been worrying about.

The entire cast is back -- or at least the ones we care about -- and each character's pretty much following his or her established trajectory.

Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), the series protagonist and narrator, is the same sex-savvy writer audiences relied on for anecdotal observations about love. Now, however, she's a best- selling author, not just some underpaid sex columnist.

She's still with Mr. Big (Chris Noth), who's intending to buy them a fitting Fifth Avenue palace.
Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is as sensational and lascivious as you remember. But she's remained committed to her Hollywood beau and can only join the foursome after six-hour flights from Los Angeles. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is still so saccharine your stomach aches, but she's now happily married and a mother, so her neuroses are a bit tamer.

Last, and perhaps least, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is as bitter as she's always been and, as expected, her marital troubles show no signs of letting up.

Splashy Recap

The movie begins with a splashy recap of some of the TV show's most memorable moments -- just like ``The Sopranos'' -- easing you into its six-year history so that even a novice can appreciate important plot points.

Carrie and Big happen into an engagement that, true to the on-again, off-again nature of their 10-year courtship, is more akin to a business transaction than a betrothal. The wedding process becomes more than either bargained for. Though the other three best friends are dealing with dramas of their own, they all pull together and help guide Carrie through trying times.

The movie does well with darker themes than the show's fans will be used to. Carrie gets support from a new addition to the core group, her personal secretary played by Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson. Hudson proves to be as insightful and wise as any 25-year-old from St. Louis could ever hope to be.

The film's main fault lies in its roughly 140-minute running time. The show aired for six seasons, shot over 90 episodes, and each one was a tight, romantic -- or at least romanticized -- 25-minute New York novella, with little flab. The movie, by contrast, has too many lazy scenes showing Carrie donning her Manolos or giving private fashion shows to her friends.

Silly antics will elicit chuckles from only the most faithful fans. But that's no doubt in part due to the risks of transforming a whimsical nighttime soap opera into a summertime blockbuster. The bloat shows.

Raison d'Etre

I broke my femur last year, leaving me hobbled and quietly resentful about it. I realized at the time, however, that five weeks of being reclusive and bed-ridden suited me. I got to watch a ton of movies.

I love movies and I live through them; so this will be my diary, as it were, about life through movie goggles.