Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Descendants

The Flick: The Descendants

The Peeps: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Kraus, Beau Bridges, Michael Ontkean, Matthew Lillard, etc.

The Dealio: Clooney's Matt King, reeling from the jet-ski accident that rendered his wife comatose and likely to never recover, discovers that she was having an affair. In turns hurt, stunned, and angry, at heart, he is simply scrambling to hold his family together, minimise the damage and help his daughters heal. But fate is not done with Matt King. Another one-two punch connects when land his family has owned for over a century becomes a bone of contention in his expansive and acquisitive family. Here's the dealio: he - as executor of the estate- must either give into the pleas of most of his family and sell the land to developers, or let it revert back to the Hawaiian people in seven years. Most of the family is pulling for the sale because, well, they are almost out of money. Matt doesn't really need the money and a minority of his family wants the land to be returned to Hawaii. Alternately flummoxed and desperate, King struggles to be the rock- the optimistic rock- to his youngest daughter (Amara's passive Scotty) and encouraging, bracing and disciplining to his rebellious older daughter- the subtly evocative Woodley's Alex- who is , at 16, already in a 'school' for teens with substance abuse problems. Into this mix comes the obliviously upbeat Sid (a fresh-faced, don't-quite-get-it-but-OK Kraus), Alex's side-kick. No filter here, folks. He is of the gumball-machine theory of thought: it's in his mind, then rolls down to his lips, and out shoots the thought. Everyone quick! and cover.

The Grading Session: 4.83 pengies out of 5. Clooney is comedic, touchingly gruff, bewildered, then as ferocious and territorial as a griz. He is able, in other words, to play a fully fleshed out and realised character. Never better. But the real revelations are the three young actors who play his daughters and the goofball with a heart of gold, Sid. They are either naturals or really quick studies. Maybe both. And, Clooney has a natural easiness with them that is generous- letting them shine when they take the foreground, and supporting them when he shares the screen with them.

Lessons Learned: Hawaii is beautiful. But it is not Paradise. Also this: never judge a book by its cover (or a seemingly clueless teen by his chirpy, dramatically not-with-it affect). There can be unplumbed depths to such. Or not. Lastly: who says blood is thicker than water? Certainly not the King family when gazillions of bux lie in the balance.

Notable Quotable: "Paradise? Paradise can go eff itself. "

Saturday, November 19, 2011

When All Else Fails, Lie Your Butts Off and Make The Public Pick Up The Slack

The Flick: Margin Call

The Peeps: Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Simpn Baker, Demi Moore, Mary McDonnell, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Over the course of one night, lots can happen. Including what transpires in this movie: in the midst of a thorough cleansing of a large brokerage firm (read 1 out of 10 will survive this 'maintenance'), an outgoing, high level employee (Tucci), who has just learned some alarming info, passes his suspicions about the actual state of the firm's assets along to a young coworker (Quinto), who will be spared the purge. At least, for now. Being the basic, nose-to-the-grindstone-genius type, Quinto's Peter Sullivan works out the deets of the sitch passed on to him and comes to a shocking conclusion. Next step? Rally the troops and figure out how to paper over the damage before the firm loses its collective shirt. Lots of late night return-to-work calls, lots of helos landing on the roof, lots of pots of coffee being made. It is a thriller without a drop of blood being shed. Compelling...but scarily real.

The Grading Session: 4.71 pengies out of 5. There are so many tiny performance gems from so many big names, willing to do their tiny bit. Moore, not among them, sadly. Whether you like these characters or think they are jerks, you will not be able to look away. Sort of like a train-wreck. But the only bleeding here is the money of ignorant investors. Scary thing, that.

Lessons Learned: How do I know an investment counsellor is lying? Easy. His/her lips are moving.

Standing in for Robert B. Parker

The Book: Killing The Blues

The Author: Michael Brandman (for Robert B. Parker)

The Dealio: Well, as any follower of this blog knows-and many who don't- one of our all-time faves (Parker) died last year. The talented author of several diverse 'lines', his characters have been picked up and taken on by others. And, I couldn't help wondering whether this would work or not. True fans of RBP know that he, himself, completed a Phillip Marlowe mystery, and even wrote one entirely on his own- Poodle Springs. But, I must admit to feeling some...concern about whether this transfer would, um, stick. The answer is, of course, yes and no. Brandman has picked up the storyline of Jesse Stone, late of LA, now the sheriff of tiny Paradise, MA. He receives word from an old boss that a criminal with whom he had brangled - and whom he had grievously injured while under the influence- is now out of jail and out for revenge. As if Jesse doesn't have enough to deal with, he then begins to experience a series of unsettling car-thefts, one of which devolved into murder. This, as the resort town gears up for the big summer season. Then weird things begin to happen that just shouldn't in a town that depends on tourism for its livelihood. Re-assuming his best LA approach to criminal behavior, Jesse sets out to establish himself as a force for law and order to be reckoned with- as well as dealing with the blow-back from the earlier incident, for which he feels great guilt and remorse.

The Grading Session: 4.03 pengies out of 5. This was not the best Jesse Stone novel ever, nor the worst. A coupla remarks: why did Brandman feel duty-bound to turn Jesse (in the RBP books, he cohabits with an orphaned Golden Retriever) into a 'cat man'? Also-ly, I clean do not understand why Molly had to be turned from a gentle, good-natured but able-to-hold-her-own in the law enforcement biz type into a humorless and angry individual who seems determined to put Stone in his place. These two always enjoyed a great relationship. That, unfortunately, did not survive the transition. That said, I was so happy to have Jesse back that I do not consider this a deterrent to those who love the series. And, I will buy and read the next.

Lessons Learned: It is possible to make the transfer from one author's take of a beloved character to another. But there are always the distinguishing fingerprints left behind. They may be good, they may be bad. But, in this case, they just are. And I am okay with that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tower Heist

The Flick: Tower Heist

The Peeps: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda (does he ever play a good guy anymore?), Tea Leoni, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Gabourey Sidibe, Michael Pena, etc.

The Dealio: Wall Street bigwig/investor Arthur Shaw (Alda) is indicted for fraud on a grand level. He is put under house arrest in his sumptuous penthouse in The Tower until his trial (flight risk like a Topgun grad). Along the way, and prompted by manager Kovacs (Stiller) to invest on behalf of the supremely coddling staff, Shaw has managed to 'lose' 100% of their retirement. When Kovacs discovers that Shaw continued to play and spend hearty- even when he knew he was bankrupt- using their investment's so ON. Although lacking the skills, knowledge, devious nature and even the ability to lie convincingly, the staff-organised by Kovacs- decides to pull a heist. First step, recruit a known felon with experience in this particular area. Enter 'Slide' (Murphy). Subsequent steps involve recreations of the heist locale using building blocks and tapping into arcane knowledge about movies, elevators and surveillance. Equal parts slapstick and hubris (Alda's Shaw slitheringly slices Kovacs to ribbons with a bland smile on his face and nary a regret or show of emotion), cutesy planning sessions and unique opportunities for each player to have his/her moment in the limelight, this is a textbook example of voluntary suspension of belief because the audience actually likes the characters and is willing to grant them some space to make their cases.

The Grading Session: 4.57 pengies out of 5. And it sure is nice to see Leoni back in action...literally. This is a far from perfect movie- I wanted a slightly different ending- maybe along the lines of Ocean's 11 (I dunno. Something like) ? But it sure was satisfying on a light and airy level. As stinging social commentary? Not so much.

Lessons Learned: Crime may not pay, but for a while, it provides, in influence and power-brokering, a pretty good ride. Also- never under-estimate the force and vector of wronged peeps seeking restitution and revenge. Lastly this: great to see Murphy back doing what he does best.

Notable Quotables: Kovacs: 'I did this because I was promised a threefold return over traditional investments.' Odessa:'Did I ask for three times as much return?' And this one: 'You passed the bar only 3 days ago?!' 'Yes. Sharks are born swimming, sir.'

Saturday, November 12, 2011

J. Edgar

The Flick: J. Edgar

The Peeps: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts (great mouth make-up!), Judi Densch, Armie Hammer, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, etc, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Quite simply, this is Clint Eastwood's take on the J. Edgar Hoover mythology, with a script by Dustin Lance Black (Milk). Told in exhaustive detail, the saga is told with a cross-cut of scenes from Hoover's way-back sack that sprint to catch up with the progress of man at the current stage of the tale. This can be maddening, in a way, because we spend huge gobs of time on one era, then leapfrog through several presidents - not necessarily in order- then slip back to Hoover's childhood, to finally jet ahead to his current place in the tale. The film ends with a catch-up statement or two about the major players. Which I always appreciate. But (SPOILER ALERT!), I think I knew that Hoover was dead.

The Grading Session: 4.19 pengies out of 5. DiCaprio was outstanding in every scene, capturing, perfectly, the warring divisions within the man: the steely-eyed determination to be of service to the country he loved, as well as the mean-spirited egotist who can not bear for someone else to get the credit, or love and devotion of the public. It is important to note that he was responsible for some great innovations- bringing science, forsensics and fingerprints into the fray between law and justice and the accused. But he was also responsible for the paranoia and wholesale blurring of legal and moral lines during pivotal periods in our country's history. When asked by a friend, 'Isn't that illegal?', he puffs up like a fugu and stoutly intones, 'Sometimes it is necessary to bend the margins of legal and illegal to protect the country's best interests', thereby establishing a place for himself as a self-elected dictator and the only one who apparently knows what is the country's best interest.
Plus- stop me if you've heard this before- but a little bit of editing would have made the movie more endurable. When I asked Prendie to catch me up while I had myself a lil ol' powder room parade, he whispered back, 'Don't worry, we're telling this story in real time. You'll only miss what he ordered for lunch.' This is two hours and seventeen minutes that felt like years.

Notable Quotables: 'This is Agent---, from Dallas. The President's been shot.' 'Does anyone else know?' 'No one. I'll keep a lid on it.' ( OH? Reeeeeeeaaaaaallllllyyyyyy?! How'd that work out for ya?)

Lessons Learned: Didn't need to learn this one, but it bears repeating anyway: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Also: if a tiny, little person with a tiny, little spirit, wants to make something great out of themselves, there are two ways. But really, being a tiny, little person with a tiny little spirit, the method of choice is, inevitably, to tear down everyone else around them and stand on their wrecked remains. It is simply too hard and unappealing to do any actual work at building themselves into an actual better, bigger-hearted and greater-spirited person. Lastly this: even Clint, as talented a movie maker as he is, occasionally needs the services of a fearless, public-spirited editor. Your mileage may differ.