Tag Archives: Warner Independent Pictures

Criminal (2004, Gregory Jacobs)

Chris Rock once lamented Jim Carrey’s attempts at drama, pointing out Hollywood has plenty of actors who can do the Tom Hanks roles, but only one who can do Ace Ventura–and I agreed with him. Seeing John C. Reilly in one of last actor roles, I finally realized Rock’s wrong, at least somewhat. Yes, there are other actors for the Tom Hanks roles… but there aren’t for the John C. Reilly roles. Criminal is one of Reilly’s most dynamic performances, maybe because the role gives him more to do–and Reilly’s had some amazing parts–than ever before.

Lots of Reilly’s performance is monologue, as he explains the con man trade to protégé Diego Luna. These sequences given Reilly the opportunity to shock, yet endear himself to the viewer. The later scenes, when Reilly thinks and feels… those are his best moments in Criminal, since he’s playing a despicable person who discovers it doesn’t feel good to be despicable.

Being a con movie, Criminal has a big surprise at the end. I wasn’t actually expecting it at the beginning, simply because Criminal‘s got a weird narrative format. It’s a continuous present action–not real-time, but it takes place over about twenty hours. The format allows for the film to distract the viewer from examining it as a con movie, having to follow certain rules. After a while, it becomes clear there’s going to be some twist at the end. Then, in the denouement, it goes through three periods (the final being the actual revelation). By generalizing, I can avoid spoilers (I hope). The first period is a beautifully paced three minutes–the film only runs ninety minutes and it’s very tight–when it’s entirely possible, while there’s obviously a twist, the viewer might never find out what it’s going to be. Then is the period where Criminal, for about ninety seconds, hints it might never have been a con movie, but a young man becoming an adult movie, also rather strange. Both these periods suggest Criminal as an innovative, singular entry into the genre. Then the actual conclusion. It’s a good conclusion, maybe not as cool as the second period… but it’s solid.

Besides Reilly, the cast is excellent. Luna is good, especially given how he’s responsible for keeping the audience interested in the narrative. Peter Mullan is great (little shock there). I was surprised by Jonathan Tucker’s fine performance, given he’s usually unimpressive. Maggie Gyllenhaal, however, is only okay. She has some fine moments–in terms of craftsmanship–but her character is in the story too much to be so poorly drawn.

Gregory Jacobs mostly works as co-writer Steven Soderbergh’s assistant director and it shows a little. There’s a minor Out of Sight reference and Jacobs masterfully applies some of Soderbergh’s vérité techniques to the film while still making it his own. Jacobs never lets Reilly run the show, which is a major achievement, given Reilly’s fantastic, mesmerizing acting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gregory Jacobs; screenplay by Jacobs and Steven Soderbergh, based on a film by Fabián Bielinsky; director of photography, Chris Menges; edited by Stephen Mirrione and Douglas Crise; music by Alex Wurman; production designer, Philip Messina; produced by Jacobs, George Clooney and Soderbergh; released by Warner Independent Pictures.

Starring John C. Reilly (Richard Gaddis), Diego Luna (Rodrigo), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Valerie), Peter Mullan (William Hannigan), Zitto Kazann (Ochoa) and Jonathan Tucker (Michael).


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Good Night, and Good Luck (2005, George Clooney)

George Clooney directs Good Night, and Good Luck with an absolute confidence. It’s Clooney’s second film, but he doesn’t just know how to make a restricted setting story (the film takes place in the CBS building, a bar, and two to three other locations) exciting… he also knows how to make an informative docudrama into an affecting and revealing look at people working together. So, Good Luck is about citizenship and working together. And some great filmmaking.

Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov have their main story–the plot–Murrow and McCarthy, but they add these subplots, some small, some very big. For example, the plight of secretly married couple Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson parallels the film’s main plot. But there’s also Ray Wise’s story (Clooney introduces Wise being filmed in studio, so discreetly, I thought it was a cameo). Or the relationship between Clooney’s Fred Friendly and David Strathairn’s Murrow, which is deceptively (at least as the film starts) deep. Their partnership is what enables the film’s main plot. It’s an incredibly interesting narrative, because the film is so short and… for the most part, most of the characters are only recognizable by their faces, not by names. Clooney cast a lot of good people who do good work, but they’re important to the film because they work with Strathairn and Clooney, not for any other reason (Downey and Clarkson being exceptions).

As for Strathairn’s performance… he brings an inestimable humanity to Murrow. His physical performance is perfect, of course, but there’s this sensitivity, which makes Murrow almost so real he’s fiction.

The film draws some definite parallels between the film’s era and the modern one, when the television industry has turned news in to an even cheaper, even more exploitative reality show (something Murrow warns about early on). But Clooney closes with Eisenhower, reminding modern conservatives Republicans weren’t always evil-minded idiots and, presumably, liberals too.

The use of historical footage should be distracting, but isn’t. Even when, while watching, I noticed modern “news reporters” on television got a lot of their interviewing technique from McCarthy… I’m not sure how Clooney got away with it–some of the footage is cleaner than the rest and it’s all supposed to be on television, but it presumably would have looked better–maybe he made it part of the black and white film agreement… you’re watching Good Night, and Good Luck and it’s in black and white and so you’re going to accept what follows. Somehow, the film’s reality and the news footage works hand in hand, the footage making the other scenes more real.

It’s a significant achievement, not just for a second-time director. Lots of decent directors go whole careers without pulling off anything this assured and there are lots of great ones who only manage to do them sporadically. The film’s exquisite.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Clooney; written by Clooney and Grant Heslov; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Stephen Mirrione; production designer, Jim Bissell; produced by Heslov; released by Warner Independent Pictures.

Starring David Strathairn (Edward R. Murrow), George Clooney (Fred Friendly), Patricia Clarkson (Shirley Wershba), Robert Downey Jr. (Joe Wershba), Frank Langella (William Paley), Grant Heslov (Don Hewitt), Ray Wise (Don Hollenbeck) and Dianne Reeves (Jazz Singer).


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For Your Consideration (2006, Christopher Guest)

Apparently, when Christopher Guest doesn’t do pseudo-documentaries, his films simply don’t work. I didn’t realize For Your Consideration was different in that approach until a lot further in than I should have, probably fifteen minutes or something. As it opens and introduces the set-up (I guess that part would be called the first act, which is an odd thing for one of these Guest and Levy improv films to have), the film’s interesting and sort of funny. Giggling funny. Audible laughter. Then it starts going places–there’s a story and it moves. Instead of being about a movie being made, it’s a narrative about the cast and their Academy Award dreams. Guest takes a mocking approach to the characters, then lays on syrup to make the audience care. It really feels like they started making a movie and realized it wasn’t working, so they made For Your Consideration.

Obviously, there are some good performances. Guest himself, as the director of the movie in the movie, is excellent. Except he’s barely in it. At first I thought he was doing a German director, then I thought maybe Woody Allen, then he disappeared so it didn’t really matter. Eugene Levy plays an annoying agent and he’s only interesting because it’s Eugene Levy. It’s not good because it’s Eugene Levy, but somehow, Levy has become someone who is cast for who they are, not what they can do. Very interesting, but it doesn’t make for a good performance. Harry Shearer is fine. Half of Catharine O’Hara’s acting is good, but when she turns into a silicone Sharon Stone, the film really loses her and she loses her. She starts making fun of the character too, just because there’s nothing else to do. Fred Willard’s kind of funny as the annoying entertainment “reporter,” but even he’s nearing Levy territory. Only Parker Posey is great, but I’m more and more frequently coming to the conclusion she’s always great. Posey’s even good in the scenes where she’s supposed to be poorly acting. Some of it she does get the bad acting down, but there’s a little bit when she’s actually good in this horrible scene.

For Your Consideration is either the end of Guest for a while or he’ll come back real strong next time. But I wouldn’t bet on it. Though, obviously, if it has Parker Posey, I’ll see it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Guest; written by Guest and Eugene Levy; director of photography, Roberto Schaefer; edited by Robert Leighton; music by Jeffrey C.J. Vanston; production designer, Joseph T. Garrity; produced by Karen Murphy; released by Warner Independent Pictures.

Starring Bob Balaban (Philip Koontz), Jennifer Coolidge (Whitney Taylor Brown), Christopher Guest (Jay Berman), John Michael Higgins (Corey Taft), Eugene Levy (Morley Orfkin), Jane Lynch (Cindy), Michael McKean (Lane Iverson), Catherine O’Hara (Marilyn Hack), Parker Posey (Callie Webb), Harry Shearer (Victor Allan Miller), Fred Willard (Chuck) and Ricky Gervais (Martin Gibb).


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A Scanner Darkly (2006, Richard Linklater)

For a while–during the film–A Scanner Darkly is a great film. It sets itself up as a significant examination of man’s identity and its relation to the people around him. It’s based on Philip K. Dick and that theme is one Dick used at least one other time (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). When adapting the novel, which I haven’t read, I get the feeling Richard Linklater kept it a little too close, keeping summary storytelling. The film races through its last act, which is around eleven minutes long, and never solidifies the many excellent elements. They don’t quite disappear, they just don’t get the attention they deserve. For example, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder have this wonderful relationship, which even endures a “surprise,” but Linklater doesn’t finish it up. It isn’t like he sacrifices it for anything. The problem with A Scanner Darkly is its length. It’s not long enough.

The film’s pseudo-animation style–Linklater filmed the actors, presumably together–then had computers draw over them, works perfectly for the film. Linklater doesn’t account for the style, however, which is probably a mistake. Besides certain special effects considerations, the style is appropriate because Darkly is about drug addiction and its effects. The style works as a visual representation of those effects. I imagine Linklater didn’t want to label the style, but it just seems another thing he withheld.

Where Linklater did good–wonderfully–was his casting and his directing of his actors. Keanu Reeves probably gives his best performance and there are these scenes between Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson… Linklater’s scenes about drug addicts are easily the best since Trainspotting, but he’s also got a great feel for the rest of the material, the alienation material. Throughout, the film’s scenes are, like I said, great. Winona Ryder is so good, I was wondering who was playing her role, as the animation made it possible it wasn’t her and she was so good, I couldn’t believe it was Ryder. The only acting problem is Linklater regular Rory Cochrane, who mugs for the camera. With one exception, an excellent scene, Cochrane’s bad when he’s alone. When he’s with other actors, he’s fine. Alone, he mugs the whole scene.

A Scanner Darkly ultimately fails. Actually, it ultimately achieves something more than mediocrity, but it does offer an excellent eighty-five minutes. Unfortunately, the film runs a hundred minutes (and should run around 135 minutes).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Linklater; screenplay by Linklater, based on the novel by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Shane F. Kelly; edited by Sandra Adair; music by Graham Reynolds; production designer, Bruce Curtis; produced by Anne Walker-McBay, Tommy Pallotta, Palmer West, Jonah Smith and Erwin Stoff; released by Warner Independent Pictures.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Bob Arctor), Robert Downey Jr. (Jim Barris), Woody Harrelson (Ernie Luckman), Winona Ryder (Donna Hawthorne) and Rory Cochrane (Charles Freck).


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