The Cautious Admirer

I love cinema. Perhaps because it’s such an easily digestible art, film fascinates me to no end.

I’ve been blogging on arbitrary subjects for a while now, but I figured I’d start a blog dedicated to movies. Whenever I see a new movie, I’ll post about it to give you some general/immediate thoughts about what I just saw.

Many of the movies I discuss will be older films, as I am somewhat of a student of film history. I enjoy approaching directors’ catalogues as entities unto their own, so you will likely hear a lot about people like Jonathan Demme, Werner Herzog, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, etc. I will try to remember to title each post by a notable director with the director’s name. (Ex. “Werner Herzog: Little Dieter Needs to Fly”). I’ll also try to learn how to tag posts, so they can be categorized more easily.

I’ll also try to post my thoughts on new releases when I see them. I realize that this is probably more relevant to most people. I’ll start right now, with a few movies I’ve seen recently that are either in theaters or on the “new release” shelf at the local video store.

Frost/Nixon“: A well-constructed, topically ambitious, but un-daring movie. All of this is to be expected from Ron Howard. He is like a director’s version of Tom Cruise: rarely groundbreaking, but always watchable, and sometimes spectacular.

Howard presents the central conflict with very little bias. The consequences of the Frost/Nixon interviews are sufficiently grave. Howard merely has to tell a sound story to achieve the dramatic heights that beckon, and he does so, with nary a misstep.

What keeps the story moving is that, although the characters aren’t likable, they are tremendously compelling. Frank Langella, especially, is phenomenal as Richard Nixon. I was skeptical initally, because it seems that any actor who plays a famous historical figure is lauded by critics. Roles that come to mind are: Helen Mirren in “The Queen,” Forrest Whitaker in “Last King of Scotland,” Jamie Foxx in “Ray,” Jim Carrey in “Man on the Moon,” Joaquin Phoenix in “Walk the Line,” Sean Penn in “Milk,” etc. You get the point. All good performances, but I feel like one gets automatically praised for playing a historical figure.

However, Langella really nailed Nixon, and it struck me as an especially tricky (no pun intended) role to play. First off, you have to resemble the character somewhat, and Nixon’s elongated face and enormous facial appendages are not easy to mimic. Langella’s voice was magnificent as well. I don’t claim to know Nixon intimately, even as a historical figure, so I don’t know how well Langella emulated the disgraced president. Even so, he stole every scene he was in, and this had an especially apt effect, considering that a figure as magnetic as a president would likely steal the attention everywhere he went in real life.

Inception“: Of course I saw that. I won’t waste time criticizing the pseudo-intellectual plot, because there are certainly holes to be found if you look hard enough. But, short of a bogus final shot, “Inception” was fantastic. It went on a bit too long (as did Christopher Nolan’s other recent triumph, “The Dark Knight), but all is forgiven when there are as many thrills packed into 2.5 hours as there were in “Inception.” Leo was good, as usual, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt was shockingly good as well. As someone who’s only seen ten minutes of “500 Days of Summer” (ten minutes I’d love to get back – I’ve got errands to run), I was surprised that he could play such a badass.

Cyrus“: I like John C. Reilly, so a few positive reviews were enough to sell me on seeing it on the big screen. Nothing crazy happens over the course of the movie, which, considering the premise, is kind of a surprise. I like it when a movie tones down the thrills – real life doesn’t generally contain explosions, cheating spouses, and sporadic nudity at nearly the same rate that cinema does. Still, the absence of melodrama made “Cyrus” no more than a slight romantic comedy with just a hint of darkness. I could have used more darkness, actually. The strange relationship between Jonah Hill and his mother, played by Marisa Tomei, was a true original, and something I’ve never yet seen in a movie. If that had been taken further, or even become the focus of the movie, it would have been a delightful bit of perversion. As it stands, however, it was an intriguing element in an otherwise semi-generic film about a loser finding love in his forties.

I would feel remiss if I didn’t note that Jonah Hill turned in an excellent performance. I had him pegged as a one-note actor, but now I see he can play a chord! Also important to note: You’re not going to find a more luminous pair of forty-somethings than Catherine Keener and Marisa Tomei. The movie is worth watching just for those two beauties. They both have that rare, endearing ability to smile with their eyes, which is a priceless gift that no amount of shoddy filmmaking can ruin. The fact that they find themselves together in an otherwise worthy film is just icing on the cake.

I also saw “The Kids are All Right” recently, but I’m planning a post comparing it to Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” so I’ll quit for now.

Cheers!

Tom

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