Friday, November 13, 2009

Film Reviews + Apology

Sorry I have been away from this blog so long; I have been putting the finishing touches on a soon-to-be published acting text.

During my absence I did (bad boy) go to three movies: "The Informant", "The Damn United" and "Couples Retreat".

The "Informant" is a big movie with a big star, but unfortunately it is typical stylistically of its time: it mistook confusion for profundity. There is the content problem also. It is a charming but fragmented tale about a pathological liar and his involvement with Archer, Daniel's Midland--an agro-business par excellence; thereby a perfect and deserving target for the liberal film maker's condemnation. Whereas ADM deserved all the shots he film took, but the film could have been more balanced in the attack. Unfortunately, the film, a political satire, kept this film viewer's possible identification at a distance. It is as if had someone had taken me on a hunting trip to kill a deer that was already tied to a stake in the ground. I would have backed off from the all too obvious invitation.

"The Damn United" is s a well-made film about the great British soccer player and coach, Brian Clough. It is a film made with the artistic intent to make you understand and ultimately sympathize with a course, driven anti-hero. It would have more fully succeeded if the actor playing the lead, Michael Sheen of "Nixon/Frost" and "The Queen" fame, had carried in his otherwise excellent performance more of what actor's call, sub-text. Ultimately I didn't care for the film's Brian Clough because I didn't see and feel, in Sheen's performance, the vulnerable, identifiable emotion that drove Clough to such an ambitious life/career course. The film hinted at it, but Sheen didn't (are he rarely does other performances) carry it. Although a star, and a deserving one, Sheen is a cold, albeit brilliant, mechanical performer. He must one day learn to feel, and then one day I will learn to feel for him. (Ironically a brief few shots of the real Brian Clough in some ending documentary-flavored scene, fixated me. The real Brian Clough, especially in his eyes where human sub-text is always most truly revealed, seemed a wild animal, insecure and needy, the perfect emotions that explain this obsessively driven and ambitious human animal. In the stills, I cared for that arrogant, course man, because I felt his feelings.) In Sheen, through Sheen and his performance, I felt nothing. Sorry.

"Couples Retreat" is an embarrassment. The star, Vince Vaughn, a wonderful comic actor (and dramatic actor when he and others give him a chance to manifest that now-often-hidden side of himself) has his fingerprints all over the film: co-writer, producer, and star. It is a buddy film at the core; and all the men in the film seem to be on an actor's (as opposed to characters') retreat: let's have a good time making a movie, in a beautiful place, with lots of beautiful women, and lots of booze around; where we (through the script) can be witty and ribald, do plenty of dialogue improvization and self-congratulatory make fun of ourselves, to show how hip and post-modernly masculine aware we are. Because it is a "home movie" at its core, funny mainly to the participants and contemptuously rib-poking to the audience, the film fails, except with audiences who have a like attitude to their uber-masculinity in this sensitive post-feminist world.

"It's all bullshit," Vince Vaughn would often think and say when he was young (I was his acting teacher in the early first three years of his career) and now he exemplifies that attitude (brilliantly and winningly) over and over again in his very successful general comic acting career. The problem is, in this film, Vince is the not playing a cynical "it's all bullshit" type lead. He is the normal everyday eyes through whom the film, and its more outlandish other characters, are to be seen. And in this film Vince has trouble making the adjustment from sidekick wise ass in other more successful films to scripted Tom Hanks "eyes of the audience" type role in this film.

Vince has trouble taking his character's plight seriously, and so we don't. The film is "all bullshit," as Vince would say.

He's right.


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