Sunday, August 28, 2005

More Junk Movies...The Emporer Has No Clothes

I'm a movie fan. I used to go to at least 2 movies every month in the theater.

Until this week, I think the last movie I'd seen in a theater was Batman Returns, which I liked more than I expected to. But nothing since then has interested me. During this year, in general, I've probably only been to about a movie a month in the theater. Netflix and buying videos has picked up the slack. This summer's movies have done nothing for me at all.

Now, I do expect that to be a little different this fall, as, suddenly, I'm seeing trailers and reading about movies that sound either like fun (Just Like Heaven, Prime and In Her Shoes) or that they could be really good movies (Little Fish, Elizabethtown, Serenity, The Fountain, Match Point, and King Kong). But this spring and summer have been a joke. Yeah, sure, I looked forward to Revenge of the Sith, after waiting for 28 years to see the first Darth Vader-Obi Wan showdown, but still! While the fight itself was pretty good, so much of the rest of the movie was an over-long video game that I wanted to scream!

This week, I made the serious mistake of seeing not one, but two movies in the theater. The first one, Must Love Dogs, I saw only because I've always liked John Cusak, Diane Lane and Elizabeth Perkins.

Big, big, big mistake.

It was hard to empathize with any of the characters. Oh, sure, with Diane Lane a little. But hearing Lloyd Dobler's (Cusak's memorably lovable slacker from Say Anything) dialogue come from a 40ish man was disconcerting in the extreme. The characters were all over the place, but so were the reviews for this movie. So while this chick flick disappointed me, I wasn't really all that surprised.

On the other hand...

Many reviewers from Cannes talked about how wonderful Bill Murray's latest, Broken Flowers was. It's still (as of 8/28/05) ranking an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes from 130 reviewers, and a comparable 8 at IMDB from 1,748 voters.

How???

After a year of mostly disappointing movies, this movie is just another of a pretty bad lot.

Don't get me wrong - I love quiet, well-observed movies. I love movies where there's no real violence. I love movies where weird characters wander in and out. I love Robert Altman-style flicks. I don't even mind movies without a real conclusion. I should have adored this movie.

I came close to hating this movie, but I stayed with it until the end (which is an odd reflection of the vastly better Tom Hanks film Castaway).

At least one person in the small audience watching walked out of this movie after 20 minutes, never to return. A number of people at the end kind of went "What happened?" Makes you wonder how the critics universally loved this movie, because there's nothing (and I mean nothing) there, beyond some cryptic performances by some of our better actresses.

I'm not the biggest Bill Murray fan, but I liked him in Groundhog Day and in Lost in Translation. With the right material, he's an interesting actor. This was categorically the wrong material. The problem is much more with the writing and directing than with the acting. But the acting just doesn't make the material any more interesting.

Here's the problem - the movie is, from start to finish, absolutely and completely illogical. There isn't a true moment anywhere in the movie.

Maybe it's a movie about a man who never really had a life and has a long nightmare about "what might have been." What if a woman I'd been involved with came back and told me I had a child I never expected to have?

First problem - Don Johnston (Bill Murray). People keep talking about him as a "Don Juan," and that point is further driven home by the fact that Johnston is watching a movie about Don Juan. But he completely fails to relate to people (men OR women) on any level. Granted, he is shown to be financially well-off. Money certainly can make many people attractive. But he was apparently involved with these women earlier in his life when he wasn't wealthy.

Second problem - Winston (Jeffrey Wright). At first, I thought Winston was Don's paid assistant. Turns out, he says he works three jobs, has aspirations to be a writer, is married and has five children. How in the world would he have the time to help Don to the extent he does? I liked their friendship, and the way Winston was trying to get Don to get involved in his own life rather than be a passive observer. But does Winston simply never sleep?

Third problem - Lolita (Alexis Dziena). Like Jeffrey Wright, my problem is not with the performer, but with the way s/he is written. The kid is named Lolita. So how does she behave? Exactly like Lolita. It was like she walked out of the book/movie of that name. And, at one point, she just walks naked in front of Don. In real life, have you ever heard of a 15-year-old girl walking naked in front of a 55-year-old male stranger? (In front of a hunky, 18-year-old male stranger, maybe, but in front of someone old enough to be her father or even grandfather? I don't think so!)

Now, there's a point later in the movie where Johnston dreams of that moment. It might have made a little more sense for him to have dreamed of her naked then - that he was never "Don Juan" but might have wanted to be. True, a moment like that would have looked like it dropped out of American Beauty, but I think it would have made more sense.

Fourth problem - Dora (Frances Conroy). Dora is so repressed that she makes Ruth from Six Feet Under look like a wild woman. So how can Dora, who seems even more repressed and internal than Don, have had a relationship with Don? You can kind of understand the "opposites attract" relationship that Don and Laura or Don and Penny must have had. But Don and Dora? A photograph Don seems to have taken of a younger Dora implies that they were rather different people in the mid '80s (even if Dora looked more like a '60s flower child than an '80s woman). But what happened to them?

No matter how much you enjoy Frances Conroy or Jessica Lange or Sharon Stone or Tilda Swinton (who's only very briefly in the movie and is completely unrecognizable), it isn't worth going to this movie to see them.

Eleven years ago, many of us found Four Weddings and a Funeral very enjoyable. That said, many of us were wildly frustrated by the character of Carrie (Andi MacDowell), who behaved quite illogically. Imagine a movie where none of the characters are quite so colorful and all of them act completely illogically. And there you have the problem with Broken Flowers.

Another problem is with the "road trip" itself. You see Bill Murray getting on planes and "flying around the country." At one point, his rental car seems to have a Colorado license plate. It's obvious from the scenery that he never really leaves the Northeast. It turns out to have been completely filmed in upstate New York and New Jersey. No surprise there.

So maybe the whole movie is just one man's "fantasy trip." If that's the case, the movie was just impossibly dull, dull, dull. And maybe that's why so many Cannes reviewers loved this movie - they're mostly 40-something white guys who can relate to Bill Murray. Sorry folks, this 40-something white woman was totally and completely bored by the exercise.

Will anyone ever make an interesting and/or enjoyable movie ever again? I've been thiking about going to see Constant Gardener as I do like both Ralph Feinnes and Rachel Weiz. But is seems to be marketed as a "thriller," though many of the reviews make it sound like an interesting chracter study. I'm not prepared to go to the movies only to be pissed off again. I might just wait until I can see the final version of Serenity in about a month (I saw the prelminary version in June and it was extremely promising). I might even wind up going to Cronenberg's A History of Violence only because I really like Viggo Mortensen and feel Maria Bello is one of our most underrated actresses.

I should add - I'd never paid directly to see a Jim Jarmuch movie until today, and I'm unlikely to ever do so again. I've never paid directly to see a David Cronenberg movie before, though I saw Dead Zone on cable and adored it and generally liked The Fly as well. I don't like violence (in movies or IRL), and it apparently spills out of A History of Violence. On the other hand, this flick is apparently one of the few to "dare" to depict sex between a married couple, something that's not even inferred in many movies these days! So, maybe I will see it in the theater. Consensual sex ought to be much more common than violence in movies, and it is either rarely seen or poorly depicted! At least History of Violence is unlikely to bore me to tears the way Broken Flowers and Must Love Dogs did.

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