Monthly Archives: December 2012


Bill Murray plays the Scrooge character, Frank Cross.  Cross, however, is not in finance, but television.   A child abandoned to the TV by uncaring parents, Cross has become a holy terror as the head of programming for a major network.  His newest achievement is a live broadcast of “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve, with Buddy Hackett as Scrooge.  Cross is so cynical and mean he’s ordered the stapling of tiny antlers on to the heads of mice.  Soon, the ghosts appear.

This is a zany, funny version of the Dickens tale co-written by SNL alum Michael O’Donoghue (he communicated his loathing of the theatrical version before his death at 54) and directed by Richard Donner (who helmed all the Lethal Weapons and various and assorted dreck).  Donner has little skill save for making movies move, and this movie moves.  O’ Donoghue’s complaints aside, it’s also often very clever, propelled by Murray’s manic and humorous descent into madness and his joyous redemption.  It’s big, messy, all-over-the place, and excessive (which is kind of the point) but great fun.

Late Roger Moore Bond films, with the cornball quips and the hideous 80s fashion, obscure the fact that Moore used to be a pretty cool James Bond.  After the confusion of George Lazenby’s bizarre withdrawal from the series having only done one film (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) Sean Connery was hurried back to woo Jill St. John in Diamonds are Forever for a then-astronomical $1 million.  But Connery was finished, so Moore was signed up (he’d already played a secret agent – Simon Templar – on television’s The Saint) .

Live and Let Die has Bond tracking Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), the dictator of a small Caribbean nation, after MI6 agents start dropping like flies.  Kananga is into drugs and voodoo, using Solitaire (Jane Seymour) and her gift with tarot cards to his advantage (until Bond deflowers her and she loses her “sight”).  Paul McCartney and Wings produced a rollicking theme (ranked number two here), there is a tremendous cigarette boat race, and Bond effectuates one of his better escapes from a Florida crocodile farm.

The new Bond presents as unflappable, as well as perpetually amused.  He’s also the horniest of the Bonds.  Moore, who just wrote a book on his time as Bond, articulated both his admiration for current Bond Daniel Craig and his own ethos:  “Now they’ve found the Bond—Daniel Craig…. I always said Sean played Bond as a killer and I played Bond as a lover. I think that Daniel Craig is even more of a killer. He has this superb intensity; he’s a glorious actor.”

Moore also identified his principal weakness as Bond: “Quite honestly, I do everything the same and I think everything comes out the same, whether I’m flinching as James Bond or raising my eyebrows as Simon Templar.”  His casualness often borders on disinterest and a certain “mailing it in” approach results.

As for the film, it has two primary faults.  First, an annoying Louisiana good ole’ boy, Sheriff Pepper (Clifton James), brought in for broad, Jerry Lewisesque comic relief.  Second, a very poor finale, with the delightful Kananga dispatched in a manner way beyond the special effects capabilities of the time.  He deserved better.

Daniel Craig’s second turn as Bond is moodier, not as brisk and bracing as Casino Royale.  Coming off the loss of the love of his life (pretending, of course, that George Lazenby and Pierce Brosnan never lost their hearts to Diana Rigg and Teri Hatcher),* Bond is bitter and ultra-violent, and he is made more so after an attempt on M’s (Judi Dench) life.  As he investigates, M upbraids him for killing all his leads, but Bond is driven, uncovering a sophisticated plot by faux-environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) to corner the market on a precious resource.

The plot is serviceable, and the film sports three exciting and audacious action sequences – car chase, boat chase, plane chase – and a thrilling shootout finale.  Amalric is also an interesting villain, not quite charming or brilliant, but casually efficient and super-creepy.  And of all the secondary Bond girls, Quantum features my favorite, Gemma Arterton as

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Strawberry Fields

There is also a virtuoso surveillance scene during a performance of Tosca at the open air Opera building in Bregenz, Austria, as well as intriguing backstabbing between British surveillance and the CIA, which brings in my favorite Felix Lighter (Geoffrey Wright).

On the downside, after the death of Vesper (Eva Green) in Casino, Bond is perhaps too brooding in this flick, and the angst-level is often very high.  But you could have easily predicted the charge of excessive-seriousness, as if there were some bizarre nostalgia for the bonhomie of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan.   Given that director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner) doesn’t come from action stock, it is easy to conclude that was perhaps taking itself too seriously.

Phooey.  This is one of the stronger Bonds.  It’s also distinctive.  Especially impressive is Foster’s filming of Bond’s escape from the opera.  There is no jacked-up Bond score, but rather, a dreamlike flight as Tosca dominates the soundtrack.

*  By the way, when Bond becomes emotionally involved with a woman, it’s hard to fault his choices:


Writer/director James Cameron’s blockbuster is lovingly grand and its atmospherics and visuals breathtaking.  But a single scene exemplifies the failure of the picture.

The moment before the lookouts spot the iceberg that would seal their fates, they’re dicking around watching Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) smooching on the foredeck.  As a result, a plausible argument can be made that the two leads sank both the ship as well as the film, because their insipid teen love affair is at the heart of this movie.

Rose is unhappily slotted for a marriage to a well-heeled snob (Billy Zane).  She intends to fling herself off the ship, but she is saved by and falls for roustabout Jack.  As the ship continues its doomed voyage, these two chuckleheads moon at each other, while blithely noticing things that are important:

Andrews leads the group back from the bridge along the boat deck.

Mr. Andrews, I did the sum in my head, and with the number of lifeboats
times the capacity you mentioned… forgive me, but it seems that there are
not enough for everyone aboard.

About half, actually. Rose, you miss nothing, do you? In fact, I put in
these new type davits, which can take an extra row of boats here.

                        (he gestures along the eck)

But it was thought… by some… that the deck would look too cluttered. So
I was overruled.

                       (slapping the side of a boat)
Waste of deck space as it is, on an unsinkable ship!

Sleep soundly, young Rose. I have built you a good ship, strong and true.
She’s all the lifeboat you need.

Not enough lifeboats, you say?

Soon, Rose is posing nude for Jack (he is a portraitist) and shortly thereafter, they’re going at it hot and heavy.  Zane is infuriated and sets his goon (David Warner) on Jack, leading to an implausible  cat-and-mouse chase through the ship while it is going under (Warner is truly Employee of the Century).

There are many, many other problems.  DiCaprio could not be more wrong for the part.  He looks as if he just started shaving, so his turn as a man-of-the-world is laughable.  It’s an Aidan Quinn role given to a near pre-pubescent.

 Rose, did you see where I put my Bubble Yum?

Cameron’s script is also unbearably overt.  He trusts his audience not, as early exposition demonstrates:

HAROLD BRIDE, the 21 year old Junior Wireless Operator, hustles in and
skirts around Andrews’ tour group to hand a Marconigram to Captain Smith.

Another ice warning, sir. This one from the “Baltic”.

Thank you, Sparks.

Smith glances at the message then nonchalantly puts it in his pocket. He
nods reassuringly to Rose and the group.

Not to worry, it’s quite normal for this time of year. In fact, we’re

speeding up. I’ve just ordered the last boilers lit.

Andrews scowls slightly before motioning the group toward the door. They
chartroom, stopping next to First Officer Murdoch.

Did we ever find those binoculars for the lookouts?

                           FIRST OFFICER MURDOCH
Haven’t seen them since Southampton.

Iceberg, speeding up, and no binoculars?  Uh oh.

The film unravels at the end.  The idiocy of Warner hunting Jack and Rose as the ship nears its final peril can no longer be ignored.  Meanwhile, Cameron becomes enamored of what he can do on his broad canvas.  Tragedy becomes an action caper as the director starts bouncing hapless victims off of fantails.

In the final scene, an aged Rose (Gloria Fisher) looks longingly into the icy waters that took her Jack, and throws a massive jewel in.  Leaving your last thought as, “That damned thing could have fed Sub-Saharan Africa for a few months.  What a selfish old hag!”

Spielberg’s film was more authentic, but not as much fun.  The plot is simple.  Abe’s mom is killed by a vampire, he vows revenge, is tutored by a vampire hunter, and thereafter lives a double life, rising to power in the day while hunting vampires at night.

It’s a big, flashy, superficial comic book, but it moves, and when Lincoln’s political ambitions intersect with the battle against the undead, the Lincoln story gets going.  If there is to be a war over slavery, it will be brutal and vicious, because, in the words of Lincoln’s mentor, the blood of the slaves “is the only thing that has kept [the vampires] sated for this long.”  Their feed stock threatened, the vampires step up the game, kill Willie (Mary Todd’s insanity is better explained) and bolster the ranks of the Confederates.  Lincoln, however, shows great ingenuity and the tide is turned.

I saw this film’s lead blow the crowd away in Broadway’s “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” and in his second turn as an American president, Benjamin Walker remains compelling. But this is a broad action pic, heavy on CGI.  The actors aren’t pressed.

The film is also the appropriate length.  Whereas The Avengers has the temerity to run 2 hours and 35 minutes, this popcorn flick is a swift 1.45, which is still a tad long but fine.

It falters when it approaches seriousness.  The writing can also be pedestrian and it lacks a needed sense of humor.  The picture also steals its ending from The Road Warrior.  But when Abe starts swinging that axe, it regains its footing.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh’s first feature is assured, intelligent, and deviously funny.  Two Brit hitmen, Ken and Ray (Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell) are exiled to Bruges in Belgium by their crime boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) after Farrell cocks up his first job (a priest) and accidentally kills an altar boy.  What starts as a languorous wait, with Gleeson fascinated by the history of the town and Farrell bored to tears, becomes tense and edgy after Gleeson is given his next assignment (guess who?) and Farrell becomes more and more despondent over what he has done.  The duo sightsee, drink, do drugs and discuss morality, fate, death, religion, Americans, beer and various and sundry other topics until Fiennes comes to town to force the action.

The three leads are all very good.  Fiennes is a brutal yet charming Cockney, and Gleeson is a stoic solider on the brink of a moral epiphany.  But Farrell’s frenetic, comic-yet-tortured turn is the engine.  He’s barely a man, he’s killed a child, and he is denied any peace, having been placed in “bloody Bruges.”

A taste —

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Roman Polanski’s film version of the Broadway play God of Carnage pits affluent parents Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly against Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz after their sons get into a fight at a Brooklyn park.  What starts as an awkward meeting at the apartment of Reilly and Foster (their son had two teeth knocked out in the fight), with Winslet and Waltz contrite and beleaguered, ends up a full-blown donnybrook as the couples engage in a long, silly serial judgment of each other.  When liquor is introduced, for a time, the men gang up on the women, and, inevitably, the fractured marriages are exposed.

As a stage play, this might have been better (the original cast included Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden and all four actors were nominated for a Tony).  But as a film, Polanski puts us right up close on the actors, and for the most part, they are not up to the task.  Reilly, as the slightly hip and groovy peacemaker, has suffered from his idiot roles in broad Will Ferrell comedies.  Gandolfini would have communicated the hidden rage of a man’s man living in the p.c. world created by his wife.  Reilly just seems goofy.

As an over-protective, liberal, Cry-for-Darfur, “your son must take some responsibility” mother, Foster gives a performance so brittle and unreal it’s Razzie-worthy, playing her character at an 11 (I was reminded of Annette Bening’s cartoonishly gruesome turn in American Beauty).   She contorts her face, has nears-convulsions, and so tightens and clenches her jaw, she appears to be in perpetual physical pain.  Her character is so one-dimensional and unyieldingly p.c., any good jabs taken at the archetype come off as cheap and unkind.

Foster is awful, but Winslet is not much better.  Her role requires she be drunk, and she is not a very convincing drunk.  She is, however, a very convincing vomitor (she pukes all over the coffee table, a contrivance that forces the couples to stay in proximity as she recuperates and they clean up).

Waltz comes off the strongest, but he plays a sarcastic, droll, high-powered NYC lawyer, so his contributions are less histrionic, making him more bearable.

The script has some sharp exchanges and points up certain base impulses bottled up by modern convention as well as the conceits of the urban affluent, but a few well-written rejoinders do not make up for the overall assault on your senses.

Wes Anderson’s breakout picture centers on Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a sort-of prodigy, son of a barber on scholarship at the tony Rushmore Academy. Rushmore is Fischer’s domain. Not academically but in every extracurricular activity (he is President, Model UN; Founder, Bombardment
Society; Founder, Rushmore Beekeepers; Founder, Max Fischer Players; and Director, Piper Cub Club – 4.5 hours logged, to name a few).

It is natural that Max would claim the winning new teacher (Olivia Williams) as his first love. Fischer, however, finds himself in competition for her affections, first with the rich, dissolute father of
two bratty classmates, Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and then with the ghost of Wiiliams’s dead husband. Max can defeat neither, finds himself expelled, and must rise anew to atone for his selfishness and stupidity.

Following up on the promise of his debut (Bottle Rocket), Anderson made a picture quite unlike anything before it, a blend of the fables of boyhood, the adult cynicism that follows, a beautiful romance, and the tragedy of loss (Williams’ has lost a husband, Fischer his mother), all scored by
British invasion B sides. As with this year’s Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson revels in the adult as child and vice versa. The result is charming and wistful, but also heartfelt. There is something both clever and moving in exchanges where Max is earnest and Blume dry:

Max Fischer: So you were in Vietnam?

Herman Blume: Yeah.

Max Fischer: Were you in the shit?

Herman Blume: Yeah, I was in the shit.

There are numerous bravura scenes, all sharply written (the screenplay was the work of Anderson and Owen Wilson).  Fischer’s first “date” with Williams (he invites Murray as cover and Williams actually brings a real date, Luke Wilson) is an exemplar of Anderson’s melding of the comic and pathos.

Murray’s brief speech to the students of Rushmore is also noteworthy.

You guys have it real easy. I never had it like this where I grew up. But I send my kids here because the fact is you go to one of the best schools in the country: Rushmore. Now, for some of you it doesn’t matter. You were born rich and you’re going to stay rich. But here’s my advice to the rest of you: Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy anything but they can’t buy backbone. Don’t let them forget it. Thank you.

I also don’t think I’ve ever seen a better-scored film (Scorsese’s Casino, with the extended “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is close). Anderson originally wanted the entire soundtrack comprised of Kinks songs, but Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo chose a variety of classic-sounding, if not classic,
tunes. The effect is nostalgiac but a little unfamiliar, which tracks nicely with the whimsical, sometime sad story. “I Am Waiting” by The Rolling Stones is an example of an early, lesser know track where Jagger’s vocals are not confrontational and modern, but almost earlier century chamber music ala’ “Lady Jane.”  Anderson uses this track in a brilliant changing of seasons montage.  “A Summer Song” by Chad & Jeremy, “The Wind” by Cat Stevens, and “Oh Yoko!” by John Lennon are used in similar, successful fashion.

It’s may seem strange to call this an important film, but it really is.  With it, Anderson emerged on the scene as a unique storyteller.  When he showed the film to Pauline Kael, she loved it but told him, “I genuinely don’t know what to make of this movie” which strikes me as the highest of praise.  It is one of my favorite films.