Tag Archives: Tim Blake Nelson

Leaves of Grass (2009, Tim Blake Nelson)

I wonder if Tim Blake Nelson has read Disgrace. Cheap, cheap, cheap comment.

One-liner even.

It’s a one-liner.

Leaves of Grass is not–if I underlined, I would here–an American Disgrace. It’s something different from that sort of attempt, but also something different from a mainstream or independent attempt… it’s a comedy drama unlike most others because the comedy is absurd at times and it’s got Edward Norton playing a genius pot grower.

It’s also got him playing a genius classical philosophy professor, which then makes it a twin movie–in a genre occupied, with the exception of Parent Traps, mostly–in recent history–by Jean-Claude Van Damme. I wonder if anyone mentioned that one to Norton.

It’s a fine, fine film. It’s funny, it’s touching–it features the best Richard Dreyfuss performance in many years not to mention actually talking about anti-Semitism in an American film without being sensational. I don’t think, actually, anti-Semitism even gets a sensational handling in American film anymore. American film pretends the country isn’t chock-full of bigots, unless they’re bigots who get easily cured by the end of the picture.

Great acting by Norton (the lack of Oscar nomination is a hilarious, gut-bursting joke), Dreyfuss and Nelson. Susan Sarandon’s underwritten but fine, as is Melanie Lynskey. Keri Russell’s surprisingly okay.

It’s a great film until the third act, when Nelson seems to realize something should probably happen and it’s fine after that point.

Just not great.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson; director of photography, Roberto Schaefer; edited by Michelle Botticelli; music by Jeff Danna; production designer, Max Biscoe; produced by Nelson, Edward Norton, Bill Migliore, John Langley, Elie Cohn and Kristina Dubin; released by Millennium Films.

Starring Edward Norton (Bill/Brady Kincaid), Tim Blake Nelson (Bolger), Keri Russell (Janet), Richard Dreyfuss (Pug Rothbaum), Susan Sarandon (Daisy), Josh Pais (Ken Feinman) and Melanie Lynskey (Colleen).


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The Last Shot (2004, Jeff Nathanson)

The Last Shot is a comedy–and a funny one–but I’m not sure it qualifies as a story. It’s an idea for a movie–the FBI fakes producing a movie to catch mobsters, hiring Hollywood wannabes without telling them–but Nathanson’s execution of the idea is flawed. Alec Baldwin’s FBI agent is lying to would-be director Matthew Broderick for the entire movie and Nathanson expects the audience to think it’s funny. He mistreats his characters, not because they deserve it (though he does give Broderick an unimportant deception late in the film–Baldwin’s clear except the whole faking a movie production), but because he can move the story and get laughs out of it. The beginning, thanks to Baldwin’s excellent performance, suggests the film’s going to be a lot better than it turns out, but once Calista Flockhart shows up screaming obscenities (look everyone, Ally McBeal swearing), it’s pretty obvious Nathanson’s really cheap.

But it’s still a Hollywood comedy–that inane (but watchable) genre, which has produced maybe one good film in the last twenty years–and Nathanson is funny. He gets Joan Cusack to be funny, not hard, but she’s real funny. He’s got Robert Evans offering wacky cut-in commentary on the story. Every time Evans breaks in, it cuts a scene (Evans is wearing some great clothes, but I assume they’re just his) awkwardly and it becomes clear Nathanson doesn’t have any regard for his own movie either, at least not in terms of it being a worthwhile narrative. As a series of jokes and tricks, he seems to respect it.

Tony Shalhoub is also good, but lots of the supporting cast misfires. Tim Blake Nelson is never believable as Broderick’s brother and Buck Henry’s small part would have been much more interesting if someone besides Buck Henry had been playing it. Broderick’s no good, but the character’s supposed to be lame (see, he has friends who play the guitar and sing songs about him, we’re supposed to laugh at him… the only way Nathanson could have done anything halfway honest with this film was to give it a Beaver Trilogy viewer self-awareness moment, but those aren’t funny, so no way Nathanson’s doing it). Toni Collette’s funny here too, real good even, in terms of acting, even though her character’s moronic. I think it was when Collette showed up, I really started feeling bad for The Last Shot. The cast list sounds good, but watching it… it’s embarrassingly pointless.

Nathanson’s got some other funny things–except he can’t seem to keep it set in 1985, not when he drops Sundance references and the like–but he ends it on a sentimental tone and the movie certainly never earned it. The music by Rolfe Kent’s a constant annoyance and, otherwise, the film’s technically uninteresting. But Baldwin’s real good and it’s so funny at times, it’s practically acceptable. Though, given Nathanson’s history as a blockbuster ghostwriter, one might think he’d know it doesn’t make any sense to have Baldwin be movie crazy in the third act without establishing it in the first. Rifle on the wall and all.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Nathanson; screenplay by Nathanson, based on a magazine article by Steve Fishman; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by David Rosenbloom; music by Rolfe Kent; production designer, William Arnold; produced by Larry Brezner and David Hoberman; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Joe Devine), Matthew Broderick (Steven Schats), Toni Collette (Emily French), Tony Shalhoub (Tommy Sanz), Calista Flockhart (Valerie Weston), Tim Blake Nelson (Marshal Paris), Buck Henry (Lonnie Bosco) and Ray Liotta (Jack Devine).


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