Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Catching up is hard to do

By Edward Copeland
At this time of year, I go into moviewatching overdrive, trying to see things I missed as well as all the new releases flooding theaters both wide and limited. As a result, I just don't have the time or energy to give all of them full-fledged reviews. This doesn't mean some of these aren't good, just that I don't have much to say about them.

Broken English

Nominated for a couple of Independent Spirit Awards, Broken English is the writing-directing debut of Zoe Cassavetes, though Parker Posey is the main attraction here. Posey's performance as single woman in New York approaching her 40s is one of the best she's ever given and she has some fine support from Drea de Matteo as her unhappily married friend. Still, the movie itself is a mixed bag.

Crazy Love

One of the many idiosyncratic documentaries to emerge of late, Crazy Love recounts the story of a New York tabloid sensation dating back to the 1950s when an obsessed lawyer named Burt Pugach decided that if he couldn't have the woman of his dreams, Linda Ross, no one would. As a result, he hired some men to toss lye in her eyes, blinding her and eventually sending him to prison. The tale only gets more bizarre from there but co-director Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens tell an excellent story about a romance where love truly was blind.

The Namesake

The latest film from Mira Nair has a lot going for it as it tells a multigenerational story of an Indian husband and wife who relocate to the U.S., where their American-born children have little use for the traditions of their parents' homeland. The performances, especially by Irrfan Khan as the father and Kal Penn as the grown version of the son he named Gogol, make the movie better than it is. In some ways, even though it concerns different countries, there are parallels to the story of The Kite Runner, and while The Namesake is better than that film, it still fails to truly come together in a satisfying way.


Charm can only get you so far and that's how I felt about Once, the Irish pseudo-musical about a busker/vacuum repairman and a Czech immigrant who pursue a musical partnership while dancing around the idea of a personal relationship. Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova are good and John Carney's film has a lot going for it, but it ends up feeling slight and forgettable.

Starting Out in the Evening

Yes, Frank Langella is excellent as an aging literary lion, struggling to pen a new novel after a long dry spell. The others in the cast (Lauren Ambrose as an ambitious graduate student, hoping to write a thesis on Langella's character and Lili Taylor as Langella's daughter) are excellent, but the movie itself doesn't get close to reaching the heights that its actors do. Taylor's storyline in particular seems as if it's filler, padding out the running time of what would be a much shorter film. Langella deserves the praise he's received, but the movie is another story.

The TV Set

This satire about the compromises made in the pursuit of show business glory, particularly TV's pilot season, seems overly familiar with so many other films and TV shows that have covered the same material. You can almost write the film yourself as it goes on. David Duchovny stars as the would-be creator of a new series and Sigourney Weaver does a variation on her character from Working Girl, transplanting her to the entertainment industry. Nothing is really bad about Jake Kasdan's film, it just seems like leftovers.


It's difficult to watch Waitress and not to think of the tragedy that befell is writer-director-co-star Adrienne Shelly before the film even opened. On top of that, some of the would-be Southern accents are pretty bad, especially in the beginning. Eventually though, the charms of lead Keri Russell and her supporting cast (particularly Andy Griffith) won me over, even if Jeremy Sisto's character as an asshole husband is drawn so broadly that at times it detracts from the tone. Sisto's character isn't just a jerk, he's a jerk who verbalizes ahead of time every time he's going to be a jerk. He should have been more show, less tell. Still, overall, Waitress ends up being a pleasant diversion.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Ken Loach's film won the Golden Palm at Cannes in 2006 and while it's stunning to look at, this tale of the early days of the Irish Republican Army never succeeded at grabbing me, despite good performances from Cillian Murphy and Pádraic Delaney as brothers with differing views on the path to independence from Great Britain.

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I strongly disagree with you on "The Wind That Shakes the Barley". I found it to be a dense, observational tale of the beginnings of the IRA. And some of those long shots (the beginning where a group of soldiers holds a family hostage and one of them doesn't speak English, the chorus of voices that banter in the make-shift courtrooms etc.) are quite stunning for the emotion that builds within them. One of my favs of the year.

As for the others, I loved "Once" but you're spot on with "Starting Out in the Evening" and "The Namesake".
I completely agree with you on the Parker Posey comment. It really is a great performance; it feels so naturalistic and real. She slam dunks her character arc so pitch-perfectly. It's sad she's not getting any end of year recognition. Not that it was very likely anyway.
While I agree with you about Jeremy Sisto, I still liked Waitress a lot more than you did. I also seem to have liked Once more than you did. Crazy Love didn't really work for me; I found the wife's complete lack of self-respect and dignity far too grating on my nerves. I kept wanting to yell obscenities at her in the theater (someone else actually did).

The Wind That Shakes the Barley was a near miss for me. Joseph B. is right about some of the visual aspects, but TWTSTB just didn't compel me the way some of Loach's other works have done.
I liked Weaver in The TV Set - she's the sillier, lightweight version of Faye Dunaway's character from Network (I'm surprised you didn't make that parallel - certainly, her soulless network exec is the spiritual sister of Diana Christianssen). I also liked Wind That Shakes the Barley more than you did - it's an epic with personal point of view, a sense of contemporary relevance, and the most sustained piece of work I've seen from Loach (who's been making films since the sixties).

I hope you have Talk to Me in your queue - I think you'd like it a lot. Although I know you're partial to Hotel Rwanda, for me it's probably the best performance Cheadle's given so far (working in a much lighter vein), with excellent support from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Taraji P. Henson.
Don Cheadle is wonderful in Talk To Me. The man can do anything, and he is really light on his feet and completely believable. It's like he stepped out of a Blaxploitation picture with a pedigree. One of my fave lines of the year is his casual way of asking the uptight receptionist at the radio station "have you ever let anybody eatcha pussy?"

Taraji P. Henson, who was robbed of an Oscar nod for Hustle and Flow is also great here, with her hot ass wardrobe, her funky hairdo, and her way with a broken bottle. And yeah, Ejiofor gives another fine performance. Supporting work is solid, especially Cedric the Entertainer as the means of Henson's revenge against Cheadle's Petey.

But the movie has a problem, and it's Kasi Lemmons' direction. I love her work, even the strange mess that is The Caveman's Valentine, but this movie gets away from her, and her last reel shift of character focus is a mistake. I still liked the movie, but it was so close to greatness that I felt a little cheated when it went off the rails. Still, it's worth it as a showcase for Cheadle's versatility as an actor. And any movie that includes Sly and the Family Stone's greatest record (that would be If You Want Me To Stay) on the soundtrack gets points from me.
Henson was absolutely brilliant in Hustle & Flow - Ed and I both felt hers was the best performance by an actress in supporting role in 2005. But did they nominate her? Nope. Jackasses. In any event, it's nice to see that with Talk to Me, she was provided with another role worthy of her talents - hopefully there will be more to follow.
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