Posts Tagged ‘Director Tim Blake Nelson’

Shutter Island: Martin Scorsese finally tips his hat to the horror genre with the terrifying thriller that is Shutter Island. While the film lends itself to a few logical fallacies here and there, especially during the twist at the end, it remains consistently entertaining. Scorsese has always played it easy with casting decisions, often employing the safest of actors. Between Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson he has four of the most consistent actors of the past two decades; not brilliant, mind you, but outrageously competent, no matter what their roles are. Truth be told, DiCaprio does overact a bit but he’s still compensating for Titanic, so we can steadfastly forgive him for impersonating a kid who just saw a unicorn wink at him. Mark Ruffalo, on the other hand, is almost unwatchable, with his portrayal of servility dangerously reaching Samwise Gamgee-level of unprovoked homo-eroticism. Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson, with their beady eyes writing stories with the mechanical grace of a typewriter, walk away with the finest performances of the lot…yes, even better than the sinister charm of Kingsley and Max von Sydow. Thrillers that invest heavily on the unpredictability of twists expose themselves to the risk of falling short of expectations, but here when Scorsese yells “peek-a-boo” at us towards the end, we end up feeling silly for not having predicted it. And that, my scholarly vermin, is the mark of a good thriller. Not great, mind you, but spectacularly satisfying.

Defendor: Sorry, my batty comrades, Dark Knight isn’t the greatest superhero film ever made anymore, Peter Stebbings’ Defendor is. Technically it is a film about a man trying to act like a superhero, but Defendor is no more a catharsis on fighting crime than films on men wearing bat costumes and tight underwear with customized logos are. It gets us drunk on the trusted concoction of comedy and tragedy and is likely to have the more sensitive ones reaching for a tissue paper/cigarette lighter/glass of whiskey towards the end. Woody Harrelson, in his best performance since Raymond Barnell’s The Big White, plays Arthur Poppington, a sweet-natured, slow-witted traffic worker by day and a delusional superhero at night. He truly is one of the best modern actors to have survived Hollywood and he shows it here by making us care about superheroes in a way that would have been difficult to fathom, considering the most critically acclaimed (and highest grossing) film based on a comic book is a two-trick pony. The truth is, The Dark Knight, without Heath Ledger or Maggie Gyllenhaal, would have been hard to digest; in hindsight everything else just seems too needy about wanting to reflect the global stand on terrorism.

Defendor wants to do no such thing. It is far too kind in its approach to nurse any profane moral agendas. It’s just a story about a simpleton looking to change the world, one dent on the bad guy’s forehead at a time. Arthur has no superpowers, neither the wisdom of wise butlers nor infinite knowledge of martial arts. He has a reluctant sidekick in the form of a crack-addicted prostitute, Ms Kat, which gives way for some wonderful acting by Kat Dennings who makes ghostly-pale look cherubic and unnaturally sexy. The vastly underrated Elias Koteas (from Law and Order: SVU) is deeply committed to playing a sleazy NY cop and ends up exactly as we would have wanted him to, hateful, violent and deserving of Defendor’s rage. Michael Kelly, who plays Arthur’s co-worker and friend, and Sandra Oh, who plays his psychiatrist, are promptly forgotten due to no fault of their own. Even the plot plays second fiddle to Woody Harrelson’s acting; only Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) and Patton Oswalt (Big Fan) have come close to giving a performance as honest and restrained as this one. A special word of mention to composer John Rowley too; his original musical scores are a perfect foil for us to pledge our allegiance to Defendor.

Tenure: Luke Wilson has this habit of playing small-town guys with big-time problems. In Mike Million’s Tenure , he plays Charlie Thurber, an English professor competing for tenure with his new colleague. His buddy Jay Hardley (David Koechner), when he isn’t busy trying to locate the whereabouts of Bigfoot, tries to help Charlie out, even at the expense of his own standing, however thin that ice maybe, in the college community. Gretchen Mol, who plays the new hotshot professor vying for the same tenure, looks absolutely gorgeous. Her melancholic expressions evoke a sort of longing that made Virginia Madsen unbearably beautiful to look at in Sideways. Shawshank’s mean prison warden – Bob Gunton – has a few great scenes as Mr Thurber, Charlie’s inexplicably morose dad. Everything is in fact fine and dandy until the very end where an explosion of clichés haphazardly brings the curtains down. Happy endings very rarely work because that isn’t how most of us look at the world. It wasn’t as though the Thurber family had suffered a tragedy grievous enough for the audience to want to see with the sun shining brightly on them right before the end credits roll; it just seems like the director took the easiest route by giving such unnecessary closure. Maybe he should have watched The Station Agent to understand how that is PERFECTLY done.

Leaves Of Grass: Director Tim Blake Nelson also happens to be one of my favourite comedic actors in recent times. His slow-burn timing of punchlines rivals that of the brilliant Michael Jeter and has worked fantastically well in films like O Brother Where Art Thou, The Darwin Awards and The Moguls. Unfortunately he’s about the only consistent performer in his latest film – Leaves Of Grass, which is quite surprisingly since it also stars Edward ‘Mr Consistent’ Norton in a dual role. Too bad a crappy accent and an all-too convenient storyline leaves him lurking about, looking like he wants to do little else than chew gum. In Leaves Of Grass, he plays both Bill Kincaid, a clean-cut Ivy League professor and his twin brother Brady, a free-spirited prodigious marijuana cultivator, two obviously polar opposites inexplicably brought together for devious purposes, thusly giving way to a heady mix of irony and poetic justice. Sheeeesh haven’t we seen this enough in Rajnikanth movies during the Eighties? To make it worse, Susan Sarandon shows up and spits existential venom every 15 minutes to thoroughly irritate me. Only Richard Dreyfuss as Pug Rothbaum – the angry Jew and Blake Nelson as Bolger – the redneck right-hand man, bring any sort of awesomeness, with their bug-eyed intensity.

Roger Ebert’s four-stars description definitely leaves me confused. He must have smoked some Grade-A weed to call it “a sweet, wacky masterpiece that takes all sorts of risks” because from where I stand, it is a sugary, tacky piece of lazy film-making. It just goes to show that films that rehash storylines, no matter how intelligent or well-crafted they are, will remain glaringly susceptible to staleness.

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