Tag Archives: George Clooney

Three Kings (1999, David O. Russell)

Three Kings ought to appeal to every one of my liberal affections–director Russell very seriously wants to look at the Gulf War and how it failed the people it should have been protecting. Over and over, Russell goes out of his way to make the American soldiers take responsibility. Not for the war itself, but for their personal involvement with it and the Iraqis. Not just Iraqi civilians, but the army too. It’s very deliberate and precisely executed. It’s just not enough to drive the entire film; nothing in Three Kings is compelling enough overall.

Political statement aside, there’s a lot of other distinct elements to the film. There’s the writing–Russell’s script is quite funny–lots of inane and mundane details. But it’s also rather responsible, at least while Russell’s establishing the ground situation. Russell sets up an excellent tone and structure to the characters and their relationships. Even though some of the film takes place on an army base, it always feels very small. Maybe because Russell has title overlays identifying the main characters. With amusing commentary, of course.

Then there’s the style. Three Kings is very stylized; high contrast Newton Thomas Sigel photography, very quick cuts, some very slow cuts, some slow motion. Russell directs his actors for this exaggerated style, but with only marginal success. Ice Cube and George Clooney, for instance, have nothing parts. Russell gives all the character material to Mark Wahlberg and Spike Jonze. Neither of them is bad, though Jonze can’t handle the transition between being an uneducated racist redneck to a soulful world traveller. He doesn’t really need to do much after that change because Russell’s moved on to focusing on Wahlberg. Wahlberg’s all right for the first act, but has this big subplot to himself and he can’t hack it. So Jonze and Wahlberg getting the most outlandish direction makes sense. They need the most cover.

By the third act, however, Russell has given in to the comedy a little much. He has Nora Dunn and Jamie Kennedy for the comic relief but he takes it even further. It starts to get absurd, which–were Three Kings more successful–should raise some issues about Russell’s political statements.

Great supporting performances. Cliff Curtis, Dunn, Saïd Taghmaoui, Mykelti Williamson, Holt McCallany. Kennedy’s annoying and probably should signal Russell’s eventual tone problems, but he’s good with Dunn. Williamson is awesome opposite Clooney. Then ppor Taghmaoui has to carry Wahlberg in their important (and informative) showdowns.

Decent music from Carter Burwell. Robert K. Lambert’s editing is probably exactly what Russell wanted, though some of the cuts aren’t graceful enough. Three Kings takes place in all of us, Russell demands the audience engage. Three Kings needs more script busywork and far less technical busywork. It also needs a director more concerned about his actors.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David O. Russell; screenplay by Russell, based on a story by John Ridley; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Robert K. Lambert; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Catherine Hardwicke; produced by Charles Roven, Paul Junger Witt and Edward McDonnell; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Archie Gates), Mark Wahlberg (Troy Barlow), Ice Cube (Chief Elgin), Spike Jonze (Conrad Vig), Cliff Curtis (Amir Abdulah), Nora Dunn (Adriana Cruz), Jamie Kennedy (Walter Wogaman), Saïd Taghmaoui (Captain Said), Mykelti Williamson (Colonel Horn), Holt McCallany (Captain Van Meter) and Judy Greer (Cathy Daitch).


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Batman & Robin (1997, Joel Schumacher)

I’m not going to defend Batman & Robin. It’s not so much a matter of the film being indefensible, it’s just a matter of it being a pointless exercise. And, by defend, I don’t mean identifying who gives the least embarrassing performance (Michael Gough) or who is just jaw-droppingly bad (Chris O’Donnell). Watching Batman & Robin, you can see the trailer moments, you can see the toy commercial moments, you can see the Happy Meal commercial moments. These moments aren’t hidden–Batman & Robin invites the audience to reveal in its brand possibilities.

It’s so blissfully unaware of itself, I almost don’t want to disturb that delusion. At the time of the film’s release, a friend of mine said, “if Schumacher wanted to do the TV show, they should’ve just done the TV show.” He was correct. Throw in the Neal Hefti “Batman Theme” and Batman & Robin would’ve been… well, it would’ve still been awful, because director Schumacher is making a movie for kids and trying to throw in adult stuff to make it appear grown-up.

Sure, the film’s objectively bad. Arnold Schwarzenegger is awful. Akiva Goldsman’s script is awful. Stephen Goldblatt’s photography is flat and boring (though everything except establishing shots being done on sets might have something to do with that boredom). The film’s so bad, you can’t even tell if it’s poorly edited or if it’s everything else about it. Elliot Goldenthal’s music’s awful though.

I should do a word count on “awful” for this post. But, see, I didn’t defend it. The film is a perfectly natural extension of where the franchise was going. It’s not about franchise fatigue or anything lofty; suspension of disbelief isn’t just plot holes and bad casting, it’s also about the work’s basic agreement. With Batman & Robin, Schumacher and company just told the viewers what they thought of them.

There’s nothing interesting to watch in Batman & Robin. I was sort of hoping Alicia Silverstone secretly gave a good performance or something wacky, but not really. She’s better than O’Donnell but so’s the guy who played Bane and he didn’t even have any dialogue. And it is interesting to compare George Clooney in this film to his later work. But none of those expectations or inquiries have anything to do with the film.

When you gaze long at Batman & Robin (and you do, because it’s endlessly long), Batman & Robin also gazes into you.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Schumacher; screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Mark Stevens and Dennis Virkler; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Barbara Ling; produced by Peter Macgregor-Scott; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Mr. Freeze), George Clooney (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Chris O’Donnell (Robin / Dick Grayson), Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy / Dr. Pamela Isley), Alicia Silverstone (Barbara), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Pat Hingle (Commissioner James Gordon), John Glover (Dr. Jason Woodrue), Elle Macpherson (Julie Madison), Vivica A. Fox (Ms. B. Haven), Vendela Kirsebom Thomessen (Nora Fries), Jeep Swenson (Bane) and Elizabeth Sanders (Gossip Gerty).


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The Thin Red Line (1998, Terrence Malick)

The Thin Red Line is about fear, beauty, solitude, loneliness. Director Malick’s approach is, frankly, staggering. Thin Red Line is an odd film to talk about because in most ways, it’s my favorite film. One of the great things about a good movie–not even an excellent or an amazing movie, but a good movie (and quite a few bad ones)–is being able to return to it as one matures, learns, comprehends and to appreciate it on additional levels. Returning to Thin Red Line for the first time in many years, I discovered it works in all those ways. Knowing more about film informs it, knowing more about history informs it, knowing more about narrative informs it, knowing more about owls informs it. Film is not static. Film ages with everything else. It grows, it contracts, it makes people laugh at the wrong moment. Malick acknowledges the film’s majesty. He does not give Nick Nolte a big part as a blowhard because he isn’t acknowledging the perfection in that casting choice. He does it because Nolte can do this part and he can make it phenomenal.

So much of the film is about the acting but not the actors. Malick doesn’t let the viewer identify with the characters by actor, rather by emotional impact. The film has frequent–often constant–narration from a variety of characters. I don’t even think the main narrator is ever identified, not for sure, because the viewer is the main narrator. He or she goes through the film as presented, through the fear, through the beauty, the solitude, the loneliness, and comes to this conclusion. To the film’s conclusion.

Or the narrator is just John Dee Smith. Though, if Smith is the narrator, Malick manages to turn the viewer into a Southern boy with an abusive stepfather and bad teeth, because there’s no difference. Malick doesn’t use characters in that manner. Even with Ben Chaplin’s officer turned private, whose entire internal life is about his wife back home, his details aren’t as important as how he reacts with them in frame. Because Thin Red Line isn’t some grand, sweeping melodrama, it’s an intensely focused, intensely personal film, emphasis on the film. Malick’s far more in the Eisenstein school of collision–basically how the presentation of shots and their editing, not necessarily their content, can be used to create emotion in the viewer–than something like David Lean or anyone else. It’s a lyrical assault.

Only Malick is using the content. He’s using the visual content of these beautiful, tropical Eden. He’s using the narrative content of a war movie. He’s using the audial content of the narrators. And he collides them, he separates them, he compares them. Thin Red Line is like going to an island of World War II reenactors and taking acid. And you’re invisible. And everyone looks like a famous person. Malick is speaking directly to the viewer and creating this setting for the viewer’s personal edification.

Malick strips the community out of The Thin Red Line. The way he structures the first act, the way he structures the first half–he’s removing the viewer’s sense of community, sense of stability. It’s far more personal. The poetic narration, separated so much from the characters or the setting, engages with the viewer. Malick is using the narrative content to echo the emotions created by the film’s visuals. Pardon my passive voice.

This sort of tempo isn’t unique to the film or to Malick. It’s the rhythm of good filmmaking. But Malick is playing different music and getting the same emotional beats. He’s got two movies playing side by side, one top of one another, completely transparent. And they’re jointly the film.

Like I said.

Staggering.

Malick gets some phenomenal performances out of his cast. Nolte, Chaplin, top-billed Sean Penn, Elias Koteas, Dash Mihok, John Cusack’s great in his small role. Woody Harrelson too. Though differently.

And then there’s Jim Caviezel. He doesn’t exactly play the film’s lead, but he does play the character who the audience spends the film trying to understand. It’s not clear if Malick thinks Caviezel’s the most interesting guy around; the film’s pretty even between Caviezel, Chaplin and then Nolte and Koteas in the stuff of epical importance. Oh, and then Mihok. He’s got a fairly large part.

But Malick posits he is showing the viewer the world through Caviezel’s character’s perspective. Not his eyes. His perspective (which allows for subplots). And Malick uses that particular perspective with the visual aspects of the film. The narrative level is far looser; Malick’s ability to naturally follow Caviezel around, especially as he inserts himself into the story, is skillful filmmaking. Malick, Caviezel, the other actors, the editors, they do a great job.

The editors are real important for Thin Red Line. Leslie Jones, Saar Klein, Billy Weber. The cuts in the film are sublime. The editors understand Malick’s narrative needs–for example, introducing the characters to the viewer–but also the need to actively force the viewer to make his or her own connections. Thin Red Line has a steep learning curve and unforgiving blind corners.

(Sorry, I needed a good mixed metaphor).

The first time I saw The Thin Red Line, I saw it again immediately following. Opening night. Returning to it over fifteen years later, I’m terrified at the prospective of an immediate rewatch. It’s too much. I like it too much. The Thin Red Line is my Nietzschean abyss. I just can’t too much.

This time watching it–I’d forgotten a lot–I really noticed the change in the weather. The clouds moving across the soldiers. That detail pulled me in. And I can see the film doing it, beckoning me, but it doesn’t matter. Creating something so focused, so controlled, yet so open, so welcoming… it’s just another amazing part of the film and Malick’s filmmaking here.

I also noticed, this time, Caviezel’s character has a Japanese alter ego.

Wonder what I’ll notice next time.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Terrence Malick; screenplay by Malick, based on the novel by James Jones; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Billy Weber, Saar Klein and Leslie Jones; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by Robert Michael Geisler, John Roberdeau and Grant Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sean Penn (First Sgt. Edward Welsh), John Travolta (Barr), James Caviezel (Private Witt), Adrien Brody (Corporal Fife), Elias Koteas (Capt. James Staros), Nick Nolte (Lieut. Col. Gordon Tall), Ben Chaplin (Private Bell), Dash Mihok (Private First Class Doll), Arie Verveen (Private Dale), David Harrod (Corporal Queen), John C. Reilly (Mess Sergeant Storm), John Cusack (Capt. John Gaff), Larry Romano (Private Mazzi), Tim Blake Nelson (Private Tills), Woody Harrelson (Staff Sergeant Keck), George Clooney (Capt. Charles Bosche) and John Savage (McCron).


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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002, George Clooney)

As the dangerous mind in the title (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), Sam Rockwell should be entirely unsympathetic. The film spends its first act mocking Rockwell and inviting the viewer to participate. With the exception of his chemistry with Drew Barrymore’s saintly character, there’s nothing redeeming about Rockwell’s character. Yet he’s tragically endearing.

The film is based on Chuck Barris’s autobiography, where the game show host says he worked as an assassin for the CIA. Charlie Kaufman’s script–and Clooney’s direction of that script–never really raises a question about it. Even though there are real entertainment people giving interviews (it opens with Dick Clark’s recollections of Barris), Clooney approaches the spy stuff straightforward. It’s the story of a successful showbiz guy who was a spy.

The conflicts caused by that absurd contradiction are where Confessions devastates. The relationship between Rockwell and Barrymore, which is a third plot line, separate from both the spy stuff and the TV stuff, doesn’t actually give the film its humanity, it gives it its emotional veracity. Rockwell, who’s phenomenal throughout, has a lot more acting hurdles to jump in the spy stuff–the TV stuff is almost straight comedy. The romance with Barrymore is a period piece but is intricately tied to the reality of the film.

It’s great. Clooney and Rockwell do a great job. Rockwell’s breathtaking, Barrymore’s good, Clooney’s got a small part, Julia Roberts has a small part–they’re both really good.

Confessions is flashy and noisy and precise and singular.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Clooney; screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, based on the book by Chuck Barris; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by Alex Wurman; production designer, James D. Bissell; produced by Andrew Lazar; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Chuck Barris), Drew Barrymore (Penny Pacino), George Clooney (Jim Byrd), Julia Roberts (Patricia Watson) and Rutger Hauer (Keeler).


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