Please stop sucking.
I dunno, guys. Has 2007 actually been shite for movies, or is it just me? Have I been too crabby? Or have I just not seen enough? Or have I not seen enough because there's not much of worth to be seen? It's getting to be time for end-of-the-year summing up, and I can't think of anything that really blew me away like Inland Empire did all the way back in January. Nothing else has really stuck with me. (OK, maybe when Rosario Dawson says "did you just hit a boat?" in Grindhouse.) And does Inland Empire even count? Is it even fair to try to stack anything up against Lynch? It is a ponderable to be pondered.
I couldn't have been more bored by American Gangster. It was just like...all these guys and their guns and their drugs and their money and their tempers and their integrity and their problems? Sigh. Again, maybe it's just my cranky feminist filter, but I just didn't give a shit. Am I supposed to feel some sort of tsk-tsking import as the various plot points get contextualized with archival news footage of Vietnam? Whatevs. I've already written, like, fifteen term papers about this movie. And am I supposed to be impressed that those two guys can act? Well, of course they can act. (Though, I did really like the first time that Russell Crowe encounters Josh Brolin's corrupt cop character on the street. He just kind of nervously spazzes out and looks like an idiot. It was a nice little touch.) I did like the supporting cast, though--quite a bit, actually. Since this blog has, apparently, become an unofficial Deadwood fan site, I'm legally required to mention that--yay!--John Hawkes has a bit part as one of the good guys. I'm always happy to watch Chiwetel Ejiofor do anything, it was great to see Common and RZA (whose Wu-Tang ink on his bicep is clearly visible in one of his first scenes) getting some (more prominent) film work, and at least Ruby Dee brought some genuine gravitas to the screen. The last, lingering shot of Denzel's character leaving prison at the end of his term in the early 90s is kinda nice. But otherwise: snooze.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead at least held my attention. All the stuff based in and around the middle class milieu was nicely done; the mise en scene and the characters' striving and desperation and even the adultery felt truly sad and banal and peppered with a "this is really my life?" angst without coming off as condescending at all. When it started shifting more toward the overt noir trappings (the lower class criminal element and the upper class drug fantasias, not to mention all the bloodshed), I got a leetle bored waiting for the inevitable climactic whatever to happen, but not too bored. It pretty genuinely earns the tension it achieves both through the performances (this is some of Ethan Hawke's best work in years, outside a Linklater film at least) and through the nonlinear storytelling. I do wish Marisa Tomei would have been given more to do than just run around like a floozy; she's got so much spark, she and her career really deserve better. Even if it was a chance to work with Sidney Lumet.
I've never read the book, so perhaps that allowed me more room to actually enjoy Into the Wild. I really give Sean Penn credit for just swinging for the fences here, as far as wanting to dramatize those huge, bold, "what does it mean to be human" kinds of questions. Sure, it can come off a little square, a little corny, and more than a little self-serious, but also somehow endearing for risking all that. The sense of adventure is infectious, as it should be, and all the lovingly framed shots of the Great American Landscape are predictably gorgeous. (Being a confirmed urbanite, I take a tiny bit of issue with the way The City was portrayed as so seedy and sad and dangerous and ugly, but that's in keeping with the story that was being told, so I couldn't be too bothered by it.) Casting-wise, that Emile Hirsch kid is actually really good; his beautiful, wide-open face lent itself well to that key combination of devil-may-care charisma and pernicious youthful idealism. I wish William Hurt could do a suburban dad role where he's not just the cold, stentorian disciplinarian who's disappointed in every move you make, but, meh, a job's a job, I guess, and an actor's gotta play to his strengths. I completely adore Jena Malone, and I love that you get so much of her in voice-over, but I actually think she was kind of miscast. Her presence is so sexy and spunky that it was hard to buy her as "just" somebody's sister; that role kind of needed someone who could more easily disappear into the background, and she's really too much of a force to do that. And, it's really all worth it for the scenes with Hal Holbrook as the kindly old desert-dwelling widower who takes McCandless in for a while. There's a breathlessly beautiful, wordless moment when the two of them just look at each other with these serene, knowing smiles as they ride a cable car up the side of a mountain; it's really enough to bring a person to tears. I could have done without all the Eddie Vedder on the soundtrack, but I know that really is just me and my prejudices getting in the way.
For those who care and may not have heard, here's the info on the new show Joss Whedon is developing with/for Eliza Dushku. As far as comebacks go, let's just hope this doesn't go the way of Studio 60, eh?