Short Update

I’ve been doing lots these last couple weeks. But not much made it up here… including 2 musicals. But here’s a small pile of things…
NewsSting – a simple news-y intro
Eyes Gone Wrong – an intense but reserved transition
Disco Sting – 1980′s Style intro
Darkness Speaks – unsettling transition
Bama Country – Taken as a request for a super rural country tune. It is listed as “Unclassifiable” just because I have only one country piece available. Nice fiddle, though the tremolo run didn’t turn out as well as I’d have liked.
Vibe Ace – Cool, cool hybrid
Folk Round – Sort of… medieval campfire-like.
Colossus – Ahh… this one’s cool… in that theatrical epic sense. You need to listen at least through one minute 52 seconds.

Gone Baby Gone

I already knew Ben Affleck couldn’t act. I’m still trying to decide if he can direct. He did manage to write a pretty good screenplay — some of the dialogue was a little awkward in places, but otherwise he did all right there, even without Matt Damon to help him. He had a good place to start, at least; I haven’t read the novel this movie was based on, but I know Dennis Lehane writes some pretty good stuff.
But let me back up for a minute. Casey Affleck can act reasonably well, and he’s the star of the piece, playing private detective Patrick Kenzie. He’s lived in the same Boston neighborhood all his life, and now he and his girlfriend Angie (Michelle Monaghan, still trying desperately to live down The Heartbreak Kid) run a detective agency specializing in missing persons. I’m not sure why they gave him a partner, really… Angie’s there for many of the actual detecting scenes, but she says and does so little they could have taken her out entirely without ruining anything. So practically speaking, she’s just his girlfriend, and there she does a pretty good job with what really isn’t much of a part.
Anyway, the brother and sister-in-law of an old school friend of Patrick’s show up early one morning to hire him. Amanda, their four-year-old niece, has been kidnapped, and after three days the police have no solid leads. Angie’s against taking the case, but Patrick wants to, and you know he’ll win because he gets higher billing. And Patrick is aparently the person to hire for this sort of thing, because he knows everyone in the entire neighborhood. As more of Amanda’s mother’s sordid past is revealed, a local drug dealer becomes a prime suspect in the disappearance, and Patrick knows him. Patrick also knows his right hand man, a couple of other more “upscale” drug dealers, half the locals at the greasy tavern down the street, and a good portion of the police force as well.

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Patrick detects, and Angie wonders where all her lines have gone.

The drug dealer (a man of Haitian origin who, for some unexplained and possibly inexplicable reason, goes by the nickname Cheese) initially denies knowing anything about the missing girl, but later changes his tune, and it’s about then that all hell breaks loose.
It’s also about then that the plot turns from something straightforward into a tangled mess. I sorted it out all right, but you really can’t let your mind wander here. Some cops begin to take center stage — there are a couple of places where it’s easy to forget about Patrick because other actors have taken over the screen. Of course, when the actors are Morgan Freeman (as police captain Jack Doyle) and Ed Harris (as police detective Remy Bressant), it’s easy to get pushed out of the way. Heck, I don’t think I’d even mind being pushed out of the way by them.
I’m going with three and a half idols. I’m kind of astonished that I’m ranking it that high, because quite frankly, I went into the theatre not expecting much. Maybe I’m just being too hard on poor Ben Affleck. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but I’m still just reeling slightly from Daredevil. And Pearl Harbor. But he did all right here. The film’s got a good feel to it — good as in realistic, because in the end there isn’t much good left in anyone or anything — and is pretty edgy in a very effective way. Like We Own the Night, it’s a shock when shots ring out, and just about everyone seems like someone you could meet at the local grocery store — though that’s not really a very comforting thought. And it asks awkward questions — Patrick’s still basically a good guy at the end, but neither he nor the audience knows if he’s done the right thing. Or even if there was a right thing. So yeah, definitely very realistic, for better or for worse…

We Own the Night

Joaquin Phoenix and Clive Owen on the same weekend? Such a terrible decision… I really don’t see why they can’t spread the good movies out a little better. Sigh. Anyway, historical epic was narrowly beaten out by crime drama, and here we are.
This film sort of does for the crime drama what The Good Shepherd did for the spy movie. It’s surprisingly slow-paced, thoughtful, and it’s a shock whenever gunfire starts up… which is really how things should be. I mean, if the movie’s just scene after scene of bullets flying, you get numb to them. It should be a shock when someone gets shot. And it is that here. The one big plot twist, such as it is, isn’t a shock, unfortunately, but you can’t have everything.
Joaquin and Mark Wahlberg play brothers Robert and Joseph Grusinsky, though these days, Bobby goes by Green, because it’s easier to pronounce. It also helps hide the fact that both his brother and his father are police officers, which wouldn’t go down well with the wild crowd he hangs out with. Bobby manages a popular nightclub, you see, and he parties with the customers, drinking, using drugs, and playing high-stakes poker. (It’s so high-stakes, in fact, there was a “poker stunt double” listed in the credits.) But this is Joaquin Phoenix, so you can’t help but like him tremendously even as he does all these wild and irresponsible things. Or maybe that’s just me. He is at least a loyal boyfriend to Amada Juarez (Eva Mendes), that’s for sure.
Joseph, meanwhile, is a Good Cop, with a wife and kids, and obviously dad’s favorite son. Dad is Robert Duvall, as Lieutenant Burt Grusinsky, another Good Cop. Joe has just been appointed head of a special drug task force, and guess who’s nightclub is apparently a major center for the biggest drug deals? Why, the one Bobby runs, of course. It’s the owner’s nephew, the slimy Vadim Nezhinski, who runs things, and he’s a regular at the club. But when Dad and Brother ask Bobby to spy quietly on Vadim, he refuses — until things turn violent, as you knew they would.

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Joaquin about to beat up Mark Wahlberg for daring to give him an acting lesson.

The rest of the film is about Bobby struggling to hang on to some kind of normal life as everything gets worse and worse around him. He makes a terrible double agent — I would too, though, to be fair. That’s gotta be one of the worst jobs imaginable. And this is Joaquin Phoenix, so you absolutely feel for him every step of the way. You can just feel his nervousness as he tries to help track the drugs back to their source, his helplessness as people get hurt and his relationship with Amada ends up under tremendous strain. It’s all very real, it’s what would happen to nearly anyone in that situation.
What isn’t so real is that the plot is really very linear — you pretty much know what’s going to happen ahead of time, and real life is never like that. You don’t mind much, though, because it’s so well-acted and presented. I don’t think much of Mark Wahlberg’s acting ability, really, but he can handle the part here. He’s maybe a little stiff and awkward, but that fits the character, who’s constantly fighting to be the most moral person he can be, I think. That must be absolutely exhausting to live with, but on the screen it works.
Three and three-quarters idols for this one. Poor Eva Mendes doesn’t get to do much, which is unfortunately the norm in movies like this, that focus on the family relationship angle to the exclusion of most other things. A shame, but I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere, or the movies will start running four hours instead of two, and the average U.S. citizen probably doesn’t have enough patience for that. You do have to be ready for a thoughtful movie to enjoy this one, so don’t go expecting lots of bullets flying — except in the trailer for Hitman, if your local theatre shows that one. Shell casings everywhere in that one…

The Heartbreak Kid

So… yeah.
I actually saw this one on the weekend as usual… but I’ve kind of been too stunned to write about it. Usually, I like to do something else for a little while after I leave the theatre, just to sort of let my opinions settle, but this time, I had to wait a really long time so I could try to feel less unclean.
Because it was bad. I mean, bad. I went against my better judgment… I still haven’t forgiven Ben Stiller for Meet the Parents, quite probably the worst 108 minutes of my life. But, there wasn’t much choice, so I risked it, and now I’ll never be able to see another Ben Stiller movie again. No great loss, but I do kind of hate to swear off an actor.
There is a plot, at least — it’s based on a Neil Simon screenplay, very loosely, I’m sure, but there was still enough left for a plot. Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller) is continually being bugged by his father (Jerry Stiller, his actual father, so not much of an acting stretch there) to get married, but he doesn’t want to take the plunge. Finally, thinking that the girl he’s just met (Malin Ackerman) is about to be transferred to Europe by the company she works for, he impulsively proposes. They go on their honeymoon, and he meets the girl of his dreams (Michelle Monaghan).
You can see where things are going… you can probably guess the whole plot, actually. I did. Ben tells the most amazingly complicated lies with a perfectly straight face as he juggles two women, which was actually pretty impressive. Comedy is hard, so most comedians can really act — Ben just picks the most awful movies most of the time. And I don’t know what to do with those Farrelly brothers. Sometimes they pleasantly surprise me, like with Stuck on You, and sometimes they smack me upside the head with something like this. Sigh.

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Ben Stiller, looking as awkward and out of place as I did while watching this movie.

I’m not sure what else to say without getting that unclean feeling back. The raunchiness of it kind of sneaks up on you, and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, really. I know I felt sorry for poor Jerry Stiller, who had to say most of the worst lines in that respect. I think they were trying to make him sound really cool and more with it than his son, but, well, that didn’t work.
Really, all I can add is that not once did I have the urge to laugh, and since this was supposed to be a comedy… yeah. One idol for this debacle. I hate to go any lower, though I’m tempted. The mariachi band running joke alone is almost enough to knock it down to half an idol… because really, haven’t the poor mariachi bands suffered enough?