Archive for July, 2009

Phoenix leaves us with the brilliant “Two Lovers”

July 29, 2009

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Rated R: 1 hour 50 minutes : Magnolia Pictures

Writer/director James Gray has developed such a strong working relationship with actor Joaquin Phoenix over the last several years that it makes Phoenix’s recent decision to retire all the more baffling. They first started working together at the very beginning of the decade with The Yards, a solid drama that featured several strong performances and showed that Gray, who was then only his second film in, was a promising American filmmaker. Both Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg returned from The Yards for Gray’s next one, a “brothers on both sides of the law” project called We Own the Night, which had its strong moments and was overall recommendable but inevitably suffered from the retread material factor. Still, it was evident that Gray could possibly have a strong piece of work up his sleeve in the near future, and with the release of this year’s Two Lovers, we have gotten just that.

Phoenix plays Leonard, a man who is clearly devastated by the breaking of ties with a longtime love, and out of concern that he could physically and mentally deteriorate he moves back in with his family at their request.  He spends little time outside the confines of his apartment complex, sheltering himself other than when he’s working at his father’s dry-cleaning business. Haunted by the lingering reminders of a past happiness, he’s only made into a more damaged soul as the days turn into weeks, then months into years. We are introduced to Leonard at a peculiar time in his life; while under the close supervision of his caring parents (and especially his mother, played beautifully by Isabella Rosellini) he is thrown into the middle of a love triangle that he will ultimately create for himself. Just as he is introduced to Sandra, the daughter of the wealthy family that plan to buy out his father’s dry-cleaning business, he becomes infatuated with Michelle, a vulnerable but out-of-his-league woman that lives on a higher floor at the same complex. Leonard’s mental state is already at a point to where he cannot find a level-headed way to deal with life, so when he decides to juggle between two entirely different women and romantic situations, there can only be dismantling in his future. Phoenix goes above and beyond with the character, finding all the right subtle notes and giving a brilliant performance. If this truly is a send-off to his short acting career, then at least he’s done it with his most seasoned and masterful portrayal yet.

Vinessa Shaw plays Sandra, the woman who Leonard’s parents want so badly to see him settle down with. Sandra has a real care for his feeligns and understands what he is going through, and Shaw plays the part very nicely. Hopefully we get to see her around more often in significant roles. Giving another fine performance and only adding to her versatility is Gwyneth Paltrow, as the torn-apart, beautiful, and needy Michelle, whose affair with a wealthy businessman (played by the small role journeyman, Elias Koteas) has led her down a path of mental fatigue, so she finds herself latching onto Leonard more and more for close, genuine comfort. Gray and Phoenix have finally given us what we knew they had in them – a wonderful, wounded, flawless piece of work that feels fresh all around. This is definitely one of the best films I’ve seen throughout the first seven months of the year.

star_ratings_image

Cast
Joaquin Phoenix
Gwyneth Paltrow
Vinessa Shaw
Isabella Rosellini
Moni Moshonov
Elias Koteas
Written by
James Gray
Ric Menello
Directed by
James Gray

78356_joaquin-phoenix-at-the-screening-of-two-lovers
Why, Joaquin? Why?

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Mann, Depp at the top of their game in “Public Enemies”

July 27, 2009

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Rated R : 2 hours 20 minutes : Universal Pictures

There seems to be an odd little trend set in place over the last ten years when it comes to Michael Mann-directed films. Since the acclaimed filmmaker released The Insider in 1999 (which I consider his career-crowning masterpiece) his body of work has generated terrific pieces of work between slight disappointments. After that under-appreciated film ten years ago, he went on to deliver the ambitious but ultimately less than stellar biopic, Ali, with Will Smith’s outstanding performance getting diluted by a confused approach at storytelling. In 2004 he would quickly return to fine form with Collateral, which featured two brilliant performances by Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, the latter of whom took a dramatic challenge and ran with it. The success that Foxx has had with focused performances since that time can be directly attributed to Mann giving him the chance to make a statement as the taxi driver in Collateral. Mann immediately brought Foxx back to work with him, and alongside Colin Farrell, with the film update of Miami Vice. That one ended up being a mild entertainment but just not up to par for a director of such caliber. So you could say that with the standards Mann has set in his long career, the last decade has been literally every other film hit-and-miss, with the hits being very high and the misses only slightly missing and not bad enough to call awful.

In keeping with the coincidental trend that began in 1999, Mann has once again found a groove with his newest film, Public Enemies, where we find a perfectly cast Johnny Depp as famed bankrobber, John Dillinger. Mann’s trademark style of shifting between digital and film is put to at a major amount in this film and it proves to be a perfect aid to the pace of a story that calls for swift movement. Dillinger was the first nationally wanted criminal of his kind, bankrobbing consuming the majority of his time, so the choice to include a hefty amount of that in the movie was smart and really essential. Life is short: you rob banks and then you die. That was sadly the story of Dillinger’s existence, but in Public Enemies we also get inside some of the more personal and loyal aspects of the intriguing and legendary figure. Other main focuses in the film belong to the woman in his life, Billie, (Marion Cotillard) and the badge on his tail, Melvin Purvis, played by Christian Bale in a calm, understated performance. Cotillard follows her incredible, award-winning performance in La Vie En Rose with her first breakout chance in American cinema, and she pulls the role off with ease alongside the commanding Depp. Purvis is put in charge of the Dillinger team by the orders of J. Edgar Hoover, who is played by Billy Crudup in another underrated performance by one of our more overlooked actors. Like in all of Mann’s films – and especially recent ones – there is a long list of noticeable actors that appear for very minor roles throughout the film, and in Public Enemies we get to see Giovanni Ribisi, Leelee Sobieski, Channing Tatum, Shawn Hatosy, Stephen Lang, Matt Craven, and Lili Taylor all fit in an ensemble that goes on forever. The finest of the supporting cast outside of the three main characters has got to be Jason Clarke and Dillinger’s true right-hand-man, Red. Clarke is so excellent in this role and really handles himself well in a film full of experienced veterans of their craft, creating a valiant and memorable performance that resonated with me long after the film ended.

There is a lot to praise about this film, which is every bit as good as the awesome Collateral and arguably his best film since The Insider, and the majority of the reason it works as an entertainment and a character study is simply the complete and dedicated immersion by Depp in the lead role. Over the last several years the unbelievably talented actor has been consumed by Tim Burton’s demented Hollywood blockbusters, which there is nothing wrong with except the fact that it occupies Depp so much that he hasn’t had the chance to play actual human characters like Dillinger, which he can pull off better than all of the top legends in the history of cinema. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to see him back in a role like this, bringing back fond memories of powerful performances in films like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Donnie Brasco, and Blow. I’ve since revisited Public Enemies two more times and I think that this is the very best ‘ve seen Depp to this point in his already terrific career, stepping into Dillinger with a stern intimidation and creating the best performance of the year to this point. Mann has made a rousing piece of entertainment and a near-perfect film on every level. I hope you had the chance to see this one the silver screen.

star_ratings_image3 and a half

Cast
Johnny Depp
Christian Bale
Marion Cotillard
Jason Clarke
Billy Crudup
Stephen Lang
Stephen Dorff
Based on the book by
Bryan Burrough
Screenplay adapted by
Ronan Bennett
Michael Mann
Ann Biderman
Directed by
Michael Mann

7.25.2009: Song of the Day

July 25, 2009

“Back Of A Bible”
written and performed by Patterson Hood
from Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)

I wrote you a love song on the back of a Bible
On the back of a Bible, A love song for you
I ain’t no authority about what it says in it
Can’t even begin it
But that page in the back is blank and waiting for you

Heard me a sad song on the way to a wedding
On the way to a wedding on my car radio
I can’t remember the words to the verses
But I remember the chorus
I don’t remember who was marrying who
But I’ll always know this love song to you

I hate this motel room they all smell the same
The view of the parking lot etched in my brain
Stuck in this town and you’re so far away
I ain’t got no paper, just got this pen
Rip out the back page and write you a hymn
Singing it to you again and again and again

Daily Neckbrace Fest 2.0 Spots begin today

July 23, 2009

Starting today and running through the day of the Neckbrace Substitute Music Festival 2.0, I will be uploading new “spots” in anticipation of the event. All of the spots will include footage of the first Neckbrace Fest, which accidentally ended up serving as simply a promotion for its sequel – which promises actual music and films.

Head on over to the “Neckbrace Substitute Music Festival 2.0” page that I made right here on this blog to check out Spot #1, and be sure to check back each and every day until the day of the masterful event. There will be a total of 24 spots before it is all said and done.

Listen to the new SLS song

July 22, 2009

Randy Drawing #1

Just click on this HOACH picture and you’ll be there.