Monday, January 25, 2010

"The Last Station" and Other Thoughts

I was asked to do a screener a month or so ago of "The Last Station," a movie I'd heard no hype about, and now that it's released, haven't since.

I did some perfunctory poking around the Interwebs about it after I'd agreed to go, and once I saw "a period piece" on some bloggle, I looked no further. Perhaps it's my uncultured sensibilities, but I generally hate period pieces about anything. Give me Spartans? I give you yawns. Big bouffant hair, or corsetted ladies? Count me out.

So, I wasn't looking forward to it.

Little did I know that it was going to be one of my favorite movies of recent memory. (My movie memory is rebooted rather often.)

If I'd read a little further and hadn't let my flippant brain get the best of me, I'd have seen "The Last Station" is about Tolstoy, one of the old Grice's favorite writers of all time. And, it stars Helen Mirren (as Tolstoy's wife, Sofya), and Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy himself.

My pulse quickens just writing that.

Sure, Paul Giamatti's there, too, as his usual surly, somewhat-deranged self, playing Vladimir Chertkhov -- the zealous disciple of Tolstoy. And, James McAvoy (as Valentin, Tolstoy's new ... assistant), a young man I hadn't come around to as an actor warranting my love until this film (I didn't like "Atonement," and I didn't think he was of action-hero stardom-worth in "Wanted," though that was one of my favorite Bad Movies of 2008).

Tolstoy's dying, and he knows it. He has, perhaps, around a year to live and his legacy is to be determined by some vying factions: his wife, who thinks that his life's work needs to be kept proprietary, in the hands of his family; and, Chertkhov, who is so disturbingly adamant that old T's work be offered to the Russian people like an open source file.

There's a parallel story going on the entire time via Valentin and his nascent love for Masha (Kerry Condon), this gorgeous teacher at the Tolstoy estate (think: a self-sustaining commune in the middle of the woods who've taken Tolstoyan theory to heart/life) who's trying to break Valentin's vow to remain celibate.

It was heart-breaking, passionate, so, so well-acted and well-done. I walked away blown away. And, oh, the music. Great.

I know not a lot of folks will see this movie, mostly because they'll brush it off in some flip way as I first did.

But that's a shame.

Please watch the trailer, and know that I wanted to hate it. "The Last Station":

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Youth in Revolt": 'Are You Cera'd Out Yet?'

Last week, when I was piddling away my time after work at PopSci, one of my many bossmen (let's call him PopSci BMOC) knew that I was really binging on post-work movies. I told BMOC that I was going to see Michael Cera's new "Youth in Revolt" movie.

"Are you Cera'd out, yet?"

"I might be, I'll tell you tomorrow."

I wasn't. The movie isn't amazing -- there are twinges of "Juno" (which I hated), and there was a moment I thought I was going to feel all "Igby Goes Down" (unfortunately, I never got there). But, watching Cera play himself, capitalizing on his 16-year-old self-ish stock character, while acting like a cigarette-smoking alter ego in the interim was quite nice.

I haven't read the book, but it really was the first time we've gotten to see Cera not be just his "Superbad" character.

I didn't love Portia Doubleday, who plays Cera's love interest. I found her quite cloying, and certainly an unbelievable teenager. I loved Dawson's Creek growing up -- so I can usually extend belief, but she looked my age. At least Cera's baby face allows you to forgive knowing he's in his twenties.

On the rubric for this week:

"Sherlock Holmes" (can't believe I haven't seen it yet, especially since RDJ stars in it.)

And, just so we can all remember old "Igby":

"Gettin' Loose, and Killin' Time" -- More Pertinent, "Avatar" and "Youth in Revolt"

So, three weekends, three different high school friends staying at the old Chez Grice. Lots of Texas music has been played; the other two Brooklyn roommates have been roped into dinners and late-night foretelling of what may come to be: embarrassing. I promise we're not from the deadlands of ... Waco? We're not.

I hereby state, and hope, that no Texan come within 50 feet of our domicile, for fear of a mass exodus to Austin. Agreed? Agreed.

And, Randy Travis doesn't want to whine away on my computer anymore. I know it, err, I feel it -- as Texans do.

Back to movies:

"Avatar" was maybe one of the most hyped up, fell-on-its-face films I've seen in recent movie history. I would never air it publicly, but I saw Titanic 9 times in the theater (I was 14 yrs. old!) so, I'm so ready to be Cameron's pawn. But, Avatar was so bad that I couldn't even stay awake while they were getting love-y and ... swinging around floating mountains should make any lady put down her swords -- my swords were still up, and it just wasn't good.

The dialogue in "Avatar" is so bad, it's almost offensive. When Sigourney pops out of her little chilled preservation box, you want to smack her for her abrasive stumbling around for a cigarette; when the meatheaded Sully, wheelchair in tow, narrates to you in his beef-heady way ... it's all you can do to not puke into your (requisite) popcorn.

Youth in Revolt -- to come.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy New Year, "Invictus" Rant

After “Crazy Heart” a couple weeks ago, I left the theater feeling buoyant, if somewhat heavy-hearted. Having felt such unlikely love and empathy for a nasty, old, drunk country singer who seeks redemption he doesn’t deserve, there was nothing else I could do but see another movie. You can't let a wonderful glut of movie-feelings go to waste!

So, as I love double features, after “Crazy Heart,” I chose “Invictus.”

Oh, brother, did I choose wrong.

Whereas the old, drunk cowboy in “Crazy Heart” warmed my cold heart when he swore and swigged and scratched himself, the do-gooders of “Invictus”—namely Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) and rugby superstar Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon)—made me want to poke out my eyeballs and think that had Clint Eastwood (“Invictus” director) been in the theater, the man would’ve had one sore, old face from my fists.

It all starts out fine. Mandela's the recently-elected president of South Africa; the country's in civil-warring pieces; and, we have the story of Pienaar's Springboks rugby team, replete with lots of scenes of grown men suiting up and ramming into one another on the field.

I (once upon a time) care(d) about politics, and who doesn't like to see Matt Damon traipsing around some green, grunting and tossing balls to other men in sweetly-accented voices? I sure do. Or, thought I would.

The movie has almost no character development. Damon's character is boring and un-endearing: we see him at home a couple times with his close-minded father making middling comments about change being bad for the country; we know he has a 2D girlfriend who shows up at his games and drops him off to see the president; and, we know he's the captain of his rugby team and can crack a good whip when need be.

Mandela's portrayed to be a capped-teeth (I liked seeing Mr. Freeman with some big pearly whites, I must admit), wizened man who essentially shirks all actual presidential responsibilities—like, oh, economic policy concerns, international diplomacy, poverty, etc.--to court his country's rugby star (who, half of the country hates due to preexisting prejudices) and leave it up to him to win the World Cup, and thus save the country from its seemingly impending demise.

And, then there were the rugby scenes. The last hour or so is filled with an endless amount of mind-numbing World Cup scenes, with only brief cuts to the people of South Africa rejoicing in bars, on the streets, blacks and whites, lots of hugs, cheering, whatever—it bordered on the satirical.

I'm all for sports scenes (Friday Night Lights is my favorite show, after all.), and lord knows this lady gets more goosebumps in one episode of How I Met Your Mother than should ever be admitted (so, it wasn't the cheesiness of affection that bothered me)--but this? This was just awful.

I started the night loving an old, pitiful drunk for no reason other than good movie-making; I ended the night with a bad taste in my mouth about Mandela and his (exaggerated) poor political judgment. Eastwood, I'm offended.

On that happy note, Happy New Year!