Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guest Blogger Returns: Thoughts on "The American"

As the eight or so of you remember, Papa Grice has had the mind to pass on to me some of his film reviews; they're better-written, have a better historical take on film v. society, considering he's old [Happy recent birthday, again, Pops!], and are typically more viewed than my own. So, he's sent me his take on "The American."

Having seen this film a few weeks ago with a buddy of mine -- the two of us hoping that we'd appreciate the slow, dawdling nature of the film we'd both heard or read about -- I can say I almost wholeheartedly agree with Dad Grice on this one. It near-put me to sleep, and I didn't like seeing Clooney's "chicken-wings" -- as Pops puts it below -- enough to counterbalance the lack of original story.

I should say that when editing Pops' piece, I took out a small rant about Clooney's politics -- in short, my dad thinks his (Clooney's) Leftist inclinations cloud his film choices (to put it nicely). He didn't like "Men Who Stare at Goats," and he thought "Up in the Air" was overrated (as did I) -- soooo, I think that about covers it. :-D There has to be something left to argue about over Christmas.

On to the soapbox!


In most of our pedantic pasts there exists a Big Book of Storytelling, planted over time. Be it by a series of English teachers or, simply, the intuit influence of common sense – likely a combination of both -- we learn from it what makes a good story.

It speaks to such things as "character development," "protagonists," "antagonists"; "plot development"; "conclusion." All things lead to caring about the characters, discerning a coherent plot and, wonder of wonders, having a scintilla of interest and desire to know how to goad attention.

The American” director Anton Corbijn must have missed those lessons.

"The American" starts nebulously with our hero and hit-man, Jack (George Clooney), engendering some real goodwill with us viewers as he shoots what appears to be, as we are later tangentially made aware (kind of), a love interest in the head in some snowy, Siberian-esque landscape. Such is his need for remaining surreptitious as a couple of faceless thugs lay waiting to ambush. This leads to his escape into the wilds of Olde Italy, as Jack's wary of a double cross, possibly, for wanting “out”?

This theme, that of putting together a box of parts with directions written by an English as-a-fourth-language writer, becomes clear early on. [Editor's note: Perhaps this is why the movie is so conspicuously devoid of dialogue?] Jack makes some attempt at hiding, though not really...again, it would appear? Huge amounts of slow, slow moving footage intertwines all and, adding insult to injury, it isn't even set in an attractive part of Italy, so our scenic cinematography is lost on one vacant-seeming village upon another.

In watching the unfolding of one half-baked subplot after another – say, the footsy played with Jack's compadre hitwoman Mathilde (Thekla Reuten); a tangential brush with spirituality (?) via the start of a never-shaken-out relationship with the town's Good Father (Paolo Bonadelli) and his illegitimate son; the pursuit of those from Jack's last job now resulting in a shift to Jack-as-target based on probably some good reason (that we're unaware of); Jack's noticing a “rare” butterfly, I guess, in shorthand to demonstrate his “sensitivity” -- we hope these ever-slow sideshows coalesce into the semblance of order and sense.

Alas, they do not.

One point that is finally made clear is that Jack wants out of his line of business.

This awakens our sensibilities like an alarm clock via the strangely, awkwardly juxtaposed red-hot love scene with local prostitute Clara (Violante Placido), with whom Jack has been dramatically smitten; he has found an urgency for his escape (this movie, clearly, could have used more Clara-facation). [Editor's note: “Zing!” And/or, “Gross,” if taken the wrong way.]

Without spoiling the end, Sensitive Jack, now with two feminine notches on his gun, and that rare, annoyingly symbolic butterfly, are faintly shown in the final scene to be sadly sympatico.

At least that is what I think I saw.

I was left with a couple of overriding observations.

George shows off his physique via push- and pull-ups, reminding me of the newly arrived football season – unfortunately not for muscley appearance, but because of the chicken wings. [Editor's “Zing!”] Body-double time approachin', Georgie.

George further cements his cinematic image as lady killer (though, also literally), seemingly to set him sail for James-Bond land. While this isn't all bad, I would hope he finds more introspective and/or eclectic roles where he can better utilize his gifts.

Finally, could the book upon which this is based possibly have been as bereft of essential story elements as was reflected here? Or, was the problem with the scriptwriting and direction?? It really should not have been difficult to spot the lack of coherence/dissonance. Next time, at the very least, Anton should send his scripts over to the local high school creative writing club for a second opinion before unfurling such a mess.


I received a text message from Dear Old Dad, saying that he "Wanted to add that it wasn't a total loss. It did spawn a saving system of sorts.

I would give it 2 "dry heaves": Wretched, but sans substance.


Editor's post-post-note, I should say that I doubt Papa G has seen Corbijn's awesome "Control," which is why I went into "The American" wanting more than I got. Know what to get Dad for Christmas, just to settle the Corbijn CV.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Breaking the Bloggle Hiatus and Remembering Paul Newman Two Years Later

When I awoke this morning, I had a most unusual feeling -- one I hadn't felt in months: I really want to write today.

Considering my short stories from the past few years have all but fallen by the wayside, as I sink ever quickly into the acknowledgment that I may never be a real writer, I figured that maybe I'd unlock the old bloggle and toss some words out into the Interwebs.

But, still, it was curious that I had such a hankering. I've been seeing more movies than ever lately; the past couple of movie weekends have included triple features. First, there was "Machete," "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World," and "The American." Then, "The Town," "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," and "Easy A" (couldn't help myself on the last one).

And, a couple weeks ago, I wrote a few film reviews for Bloomberg, my old favorite place of employment. Yet, while I had -- as always -- much to say about the films, I thought maybe I'd outgrown the little bloggle (several of my jerk friends would be relieved!).

As I sat down to tip-tap away about how amazing Danny Trejo is in "Machete" and how I relished director Robert Rodriguez's racist treatment of my people (The Mexicans) -- and treatment of my other people as trigger-happy racists (The Texans); or, how disappointed I was with George Clooney for making me want to stick toothpicks in my eyes to stay awake during "The American"; or, how overrated "The Town" is, just as "Gone Baby Gone" (Affleck's directorial debut) was three years ago -- my Favorite Food Critic signed on and reminded me what today is.

Today is the second anniversary of Paul Newman's death. Crestfallen.

I'd been thinking about this day all month, ever since I visited a friend in Westport, CT for a few days, where Paul Newman lived until his death. As we drove from the train station to my friend's home, he pointed out the window through the trees to the Westport Country Playhouse, where Newman's wife Joanne Woodward was artistic director and where Newman himself was part-owner of the restaurant next door.

It took a dozen swallows to loosen the knot in my throat.

But, somehow I'd forgotten the significance of today this morning, or how I felt two years ago when Brother G called to tell me the news. I was in such a sad place at the time, that the blow of my One True Idol dying made me more depressed than I'd have imagined.

Now. I’m wiping the sleep away from my beady eyes and jolt upright in shock. My lips start to quiver, my jaw starts trembling – and it happened. I cried thankless, shameless tears as I sat there on my little air mattress in my new room (which is finally coming together, by the way).

I’ve joked a thousand times about how I’d cry when PN died. I
wrote about it on this silly bloggle (and jinxed it? Believe you me, that was the first reaction I had … Hell hath a place for me now, I’m sure) but I didn’t think I actually would workout the old tear ducts, like some love-stricken fan who wanted to impale themselves after the loss of a Beatle.

It takes some pretty heavy things to make me cry; and it just made me realize how much I really did, and do, admire PN – everything from his early career and movie choices, to his lifestyle, and – perhaps most selfishly – how handsome and righteous his roles most often were. He will be an everlasting love.
Thankfully, I'm much happier than I was two years ago, but as my all-time favorite "Cool Hand Luke" plays in the background -- the beloved scene where Dragline beats poor Paul into a pulp, but he won't stay down ... because he's Luke -- I'm sure I'll cry a few quiet tears throughout the afternoon.

And, for anyone interested, Roger Ebert's article on Newman is amazing. Upon reflecting on his obituary, Ebert writes:

I never really thought of him as an actor. I regarded him more as an embodiment, an evocation, of something. And I think that something was himself. He seemed above all a deeply good man, who freed himself to live life fully and joyfully, and used his success as a way to follow his own path, and to help others.
And, of his third meeting with Newman, he writes:
Never mind what happened in 1969. I'll dig up the old magazine and put it on the web site. Let's move forward to 1995, and listen very carefully. When I walked into his room, he said, "Aw...it's you again." The point is not that he remembered me. The point is how he said "aw..." Imagine it in Paul Newman's voice. It evoked feelings hard to express in words. The "aw" wasn't "oh, no," as it sometimes can be. To me it translated as, "Aw, it's that scared kid, grown up." Whatever it meant, it put me right at home.
Oh, no, the tears. At least it gave me a reason to write. Silver-linings.