Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A History of Violence: Wiseguys in the Heartland

I didn't know whether to grab a picture of a big hunk of Wisconsin cheddar or the Philly cheesesteak to capture my thoughts on this film. I settled on the sandwich because 1) I was hungry and 2) because I thought the mob guys really stood out in this movie.

I remember feeling really jazzed when I saw the trailer for this movie - Viggo Mortensen - yeeha! And the premise seemed so cool: local yokel whacks two cold-blooded killers when they come to rob his diner, delighting the entire town. It turned out that I wasn't disappointed and with the R rating the movie was edgier than if they courted the PG-13 set. I have to hand it to the filmakers on this one - cutting out that whole demographic - because they easily could have filled theaters with 15 year old boys. (Even though it included mom and dad sex - eeeeuuuwww!) Speaking of sex the scenes were fairly eye-popping and included glancing over at my husband like "are you WATCHING this?!" We are so easily shocked. But we managed to get through it.

Ed Harris made for a really creepy, black-suited wiseguy. If they made his suit color gray, and removed the eye injury, he would have looked FBI. But the beefy, not-so-smart henchman made it clear his nature was evil. And their shiny black sedan was so out of place in a town full of pick ups.

I loved the family farmhouse - old yet comfy without being too country. I thought that fit a guy living under the radar. What didn't fit for me was Richie's house in Philly - a monstrous, overblown fortress. The short amount of time we spend with Richie made me wonder why he would have such an enormous house with only his henchmen to fill it. Maybe I should watch Scarface and ask myself again later.

What surprised me the most was the subplot of Tom's son Jack, a high school geek who uses self deprecating humor to defend himself from the jocks. Tom's act of self defense frees Jack to kick a little ass himself, and we cheered for him. I liked Jack.

Maria Bello plays Edie, Tom's wife, and I found her reaction to Tom's deception believable. I'm glad they didn't make her character cutesy. I needed Tom to be married to the antithesis of the ganster moll. And, even though I don't expect a sequel, I was satisfied with the cliffhanger ending. To have Tom and Edie's future spelled out for us would have annoyed hell out of half of the viewers.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

I noticed there is a woman in the League. Shouldn't the title be "The League of Extraordinary Gentlepersons"? I'll have to check with Miss Manners, one of my personal heroes. But I guess that title didn't pack the same kind of punch. I read that the promotional title for this movie was "LXG" which reminded me of X-men. I get chills thinking about X-3. Anyway, we'll use the shortened title for simplicity.

I remember seeing the trailer for this movie, way back when. It seemed mildly interesting with the different famous literary characters all banded together. The movie is about a group of folks with special powers or abilities brought to fight an archenemy who is trying to start a world war. While watching the movie I polled my inner pre-teen and teen kids and asked them if they knew any of these people. They'd heard of Tom Sawyer, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but these other dudes? No way. Dorian Gray? I know Dorian Gray because in a fit of needing to know I read the novel. It was creepy and Dorian was vain. But he was no crimefighter. He was a murderer! He didn't get old because the portrait in the attic absorbed all his vanity and evil for him. I certainly didn't see how he'd be selected for the LXG. My inner kids liked the movie because things got blown up (like Venice) and the cool car but they didn't know Captain Nemo or Mina, our vampiress or especially our lead, Sean Connery, as Allan Quartermain. That hurt the story for me because I needed a good point of reference as to why these people were brought together. Allan was an old dude rotting at an imperialistic British club in Africa. Why him? No one else in the United Kingdom was as good a shot?

I did like Stuart Townsend as Dorian Gray. His vain behavior (I spotted him plucking his eyebrows) and fussiness rang true for the character. I also enjoyed Jason Flemyng as Jekyll and Hyde. I was amazed to find out he played both characters. While the prosthetic arms were ridiculously plastic looking his pointy head mask provided a phenomenal change. I didn't recognize him. I found sympathy with Mr. Hyde. I had to laugh a couple of times at our Captain Nemo friend. He was so earnest yet makeup gave him this footlong beard that stuck straight out from his chin, masking almost his entire face. Nemo should have had a good Omar Sharif goatee not this silly square shaped beard.

For kicks I checked out the special features. Watching every deleted scene didn't really add anything. The special effects segment, however, explained quite a lot. For example, I learned they filmed in Prague where they built a large scale model of Venice. While I was glad the good people of Prague were able to earn the $3 million bucks it took to build the city the result was less than authentic looking. And during the movie I thought the destruction of Venice was curious. It seemed gratuitous because the result is that the bad guys get away and nothing is resolved. Our friend Tom Sawyer drives that ridiculous boat of a car to target the building which will end the explosions - boom. So...I breathe a huge sigh of relief because only a dozen buildings (with people inside) were destroyed? That was a little difficult to swallow, aside from the fact that it looked so fake.

A particularly funny moment occurs when Allan Quartermain and Tom Sawyer are recruiting Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Hyde is leaping around rooftops in Paris and they catch him by causing him to slide off the roof tiles. Tom picks up Hyde's enormous top hat looking at it in amazement. I laughed because his clothes are in tatters (except the pants) from his transformation into the monster yet his hat grew several sizes larger? We never see the big hat again in the film.

If you see your hand reaching out for this dvd, snatch it back.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Groundhog Day - Perfect fare for a bus ride

I had the pleasure of traveling to New York City a few weekends ago. I elected to travel by bus, seeing that both airline and train fares were outrageously expensive. Plus, I'm a veteran bus rider and thought I'd spend the day reading. Imagine my surprise when I saw the bucket of headphones while boarding my 10:30am Concord Trailways out of Portland. We were actually going to watch a movie! I was delighted.

It turned out to be the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. This was a repeat for me but fun nonetheless. Here's the storyline: Bill Murray plays Phil, an egotistical weather man out of Philadelphia come to cover the annual festivities in Punxsatawney, PA. The bad news is that Phil has to keep reliving February 2nd over and over until he gets it right. We're not sure who, exactly, is in charge of that decision but we can refer to our own personal Jesus for that answer.

Watching the way the scenes replay again and again was so funny. I'd see Phil wake up several days in a row, rapid fire, and his facial expressions just cracked me up. Here I am, on the bus, laughing through my ridiculous headphones. It's great to travel anonymously. But it's not all fun and games for Phil as he plunges into the depths of despair. He attempts to commit suicide dozens of times to no avail. Somehow, and I'm not clever enough to figure this out, the movie makes light of this serious topic without being callous about it.

Phil realizes his goal in life is getting into Andie's pants, and works towards that end. This results in several humorous face slapping scenes. He just doesn't get it! I tried to figure out approximately how long it was taking Phil to make this introspective journey. And it seemed like YEARS! Damn. I would go insane.

Groundhog Day is a perfect Twilight Zone theme made into a really funny movie. Before I knew it the credits were up as we rolled into Boston. It made for a very quick trip!