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Batch of Movie Reviews & Commentary

By February 28, 2004film

The Oscars are coming up on Sunday night so this post is perhaps appropriately timed. Actually, the reason I’m posting this is because my wife and I just returned from a week long cruise, during which we saw a bunch of movies.

Lost in Translation – great movie because of the fresh, offbeat cinematic style. Writer-director Sophia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, I assume) took some chances with this film and it paid off. One thing that wasn’t a ‘chance’ was casting Bill Murray as the lead character. In fact, I’d have to guess that the movie was specifically written with the idea that he’d play the lead; the movie couldn’t have succeeded with any other actor in that role. And for that very reason I don’t think that Bill Murray deserves an Academy Award for Best Actor. He’s basically playing himself, which makes it hard to call his performance “exceptional.” Of course, the Oscars aren’t about rewarding people for their talents, so if they give it to him that’s fine with me. He deserved it for his performance as Carl the wacked out greenskeeper in Caddyshack so the karmic accounting works out.

Matchstick Men – Speaking of relatives of Francis Ford Coppola, this film with Nicholas Cage is worth seeing. It is not stellar, but it is strange and interesting for most of the movie. The ending is kind of contrived, and that’s the only problem with an otherwise novel and engaging screenplay (Nicholas Cage’s performance as an obssessive is hampered by the overuse of his usual intense mannerism; he’s the epitome of a one-dimensional actor). But the other actors in the movie (particularly the people who play the roles of psychiatrist and con-artist partner) are compelling, and basically carry the film from the acting standpoint.

Intolerable Cruelty – now this is a great movie. I had completely overlooked it when it came out initially (I’m not drawn to romantic comedies because there are so many lame ones), but it totally clicks. Great screenplay (the Coen brothers’ apparently were brought in to doctor the screenplay) and great acting by George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones. And the directing–also by the Coen brothers (although only Joel gets credit)– was outstanding. The Coen brothers’ writing and directing is so original and well-conceived that it is hard to give them too much praise.

Master and Commander – This movie should win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was one of the best movies I have ever seen. Period. Why? Well, the acting by everyone in the movie, especially Russel Crowe, was outstanding, and the cinematic touches were also exceptional. In fact, if they give out Oscars for film-editing then this movie should get one of those awards too.

This is a movie I avoided when it first came out, because it appeared to have a formulaic plot. The plot is not exactly novel, but the manner in which the director holds our suspense (often not revealing the outcome of small things that we can guess, or of larger things that become less important in a later context) was, well, ‘masterful.’ It would be easy in a movie of this type to over-schlock the contrasting themes of duty (i.e. Russell Crowe’s duty as a captain) and pacifisim (in the form of the ship’s doctor’s scientific curiousity). But that doesn’t happen. Instead, there is a wonderful balance and the movie actually stimulates you to think about how the movie’s themes would apply in today’s world. And the scenery captured in the film is breathtaking.

And now, moving from the sublime to the ridiculous…

School of Rock – I can’t believe I’m going to recommend this movie. It has all the originality of a pre-fab house, but somehow Jack Black drags this thing across the finish line. It’s not a movie I would go out of my way to see, but if you wind up seeing it (and accept the fact that there is no great redeeming social value to this movie) you are probably going to laugh just enough to make it worth while. If you aren’t in touch with your ‘inner-adolescent’ then definitely avoid this movie like the plague.


P.S. If you appreciate my observations, you might want to join my inner circle.

4 Comments

  • Murray didn’t win, so it’s really moot, but I think you are underestimating the performance he gave: he is actually a much more subtle actor than he generally gets credit for being. It is possible to look at any role he has had and say, “He’s just being himself”, but compare the charactors he plays in “Lost in Translation” to “Stripes” or “The Royal Tenenbaums” or “Rushmore” — there is some range there, I think. Is it range like Sean Penn has range? Actually, yeah, I think it is. The difference is that Murray may not see a part like this again for a while– Penn can pick and choose.

  • TPB, Esq. says:

    Yeah, M&C and Lost In Translation were definite favorites of mine as well. I loved M&C’s use of Bach and Vaughan Williams. Interestingly, with regard to Lost in Translation, Murray didn’t want to do it at first. Coppola hounded him for weeks and weeks before he agreed.

  • Art Detective says:

    Master and Commander is a tremendous film for many reasons but the one seemingly overlooked reason is the FABULOUS sound. In an interview on NPR, Director Peter Weir stated that the natural sound for the movie was painstakingly researched and copied. As an example, they wanted the ships’ cannons to sound like cannons circa 1802 and not 2002. All of the sound is worthy of Best Sound at the Oscars !! You must see the movie, in a THX theater, and listen to the beautiful sound and cherish the character actors who steal the film. I am now involved in reading the twenty novels by the author, Patrick O’Brian, of which BOOK ONE (Master and Commander) and BOOK TEN (The Far Side of the World) constitutes this movie and hence the compound title. I cannot wait for the next EPISODE in the series of adventures concerning Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey and his muse, Doctor Stephen Maturin.

  • seanbonner says:

    Only one of those I haven’t seen in Master in Commander but that’s pretty much due to not being a big Crow fan and hearing from people that this was basically Gladiator on a boat. Which it may or may not be, but I haven’t seen it regardless. Lost In Translation is amazing and I keep watching it over and over. You are right, on the DVD Sofia talks about how she wrote the role for Bill Murry and if he’d said no their would have been no movie. I just saw Intollerable Cruelty the othe other day and “The Barron” is one of the best characters in history. Watched School of Rock and Matchstick Men just the other night, loved School of Rock. Best “kid” movie since “Spy Kids” – a really fun movie. I’m with you on Matchstick Men too – there was some potential there with the interesting characters and story that kept you interested but didn’t pay off in the end. Just had to chime in since I’ve watched all that stuff in the last 7 days.

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