Published at: Oct. 13, 2006, 6:49 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I have tons of flicks to review, so let's get a move on! I'm starting with BABEL because I watched that tonight and it's fresh on my mind.
BABEL is the new film from director Alejandro Inarritu (21 GRAMS and AMORES PERROS) with Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal and a ton of others... some recognizable (Cliffton Collins Jr, for example) and some non-actors with great faces.
A lot of people will love this film. The performances are top notch, the cinematography striking and the issues it deals with (mostly about family relationships of all shapes and sizes) are strong. It is a solidly made film, but for me... it's a little bit too much.
There are 4 different story lines going on during the film. You follow Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, a troubled husband and wife touristing in Morocco, a deaf-mute Japanese teenage girl, a Mexican nanny and her two white little wards and a Moroccan family who just bought a rifle to help defend their goats from jackals. All these stories have something interesting to offer, but really... there's only about 20 minutes of story to each of these segments and the movie runs 2 1/2 hours long. Lots of nothing happens for long stretches and the actual plot that comes in is usually very subtle stuff, not necessarily worth the wait.
Some people will be bored out of their skulls with this film, some will over-appreciate it for being something that doesn't care about being mainstream at all. I fall squarely in-between those two extremes. I liked all the plot threads, but there isn't enough meat to justify a lot of what goes on. Sure, they all connect in some way, but that's only used to great effect once in the film when we have the Moroccan children playing with the newly acquired rifle, testing the limits of the weapon, seeing how far it'll fire. They fire at a bus miles away. That shot kicks off most of the drama and heartbreak in the film, but the way it ties in with the Brad Pitt story line is inventive. Inarritu really amps up the tension and suspense for that particular tie-in.
I wasn't too impressed with the movie, but I respect what it was going for and I expect a lot of people will forgive the snail's pace for what works in the film.
MAN OF THE YEAR
I saw this one Tuesday, so it's still relatively fresh, too. The only thing I knew about this film before seeing it was the basic premise. A Jon Stewart type, popular comedian of a fake news show, runs for President of the United States. I knew Robin Williams looked like he was in his first funny movie in a long time (although I am in the small minority that thinks his Rainbow Randolph in DEATH TO SMOOCHY is fuckin' hilarious). I knew Barry Levinson directed and I think I saw Lewis Black in the TV spot.
So, it came as a surprise to me to see Christopher Walken's name come up in the opening credits. I'll see anything Walken does, so bonus. Add on the criminally underutilized Jeff Goldblum and I was ready to watch this damn movie!
The film is weird. It's a black comedy, but it also wants to be a serious political intrigue film. It also wants to be a DAVE-like romance film. I love it when films change gears and even switch genres, but in this case I just felt like it came off as a bit sloppy.
All the people you want to like are great. Walken is Walken, the King of Cool. Goldblum is only in it for maybe 6 or 7 minutes, but they spread it out over the film, so they managed to make his character (a sleazy right hand man to the CEO of a tech company that pioneered a faulty electronic voting system) feel like more than a cameo. Lewis Black is great, getting some of the most consistent laughs of the film pretty much playing Lewis Black.
Robin Williams' character, Tom Dobbs, is very likable, but his material was hit and miss. There are moments in the film where he's cracking jokes and supposed to be funny... He's certainly making the characters on the screen laugh, but I wasn't laughing. It was all very hollow. If you look at someone like Jon Stewart or watch The Daily Show regularly at all, you'll find his humor isn't only of the crude variety or modern pop variety. The reason people like Bill Maher and Jon Stewart are popular is they can mix their extreme smarts with comedy (often crude), but also with a sort of common sense that really grounds them and keeps them from being the court jester, you know?
Of course, Tom Dobbs is not Stewart or Maher (both name checked repeatedly throughout the film), so it might be unfair to compare his comedy to theirs. Maybe I'm just getting a little tired with Williams' "off the cuff" random energy, his trademark crazy mile a minute stream of dialogue. There's something about it that is missing from his heyday. I notice that when he slips into that mode now his eyes tend to go blank, like he's not really there. Maybe that's just creeping me out a little.
Laura Linney is very good in the film, although her character is frustrating. She has specific knowledge about corruption, she is being chased down because of that knowledge, her life is threatened... and yet it takes her the whole movie to tell the one person she meant to tell her secrets to. Why? Because if she did it any earlier the movie would have been over. They try to give her character motivations... mixed feelings, self-doubt, but it all came off as being too easy.
MAN OF THE YEAR is a bit of a mixed bag. It's a very flawed film, but it is an enjoyable one, with truly likable characters. It's one of those films you'll see and be glad you saw it, but won't have any desire to watch it again. Maybe if it's on HBO in a few years when you're flipping through, you might let it play out for a few minutes before moving on.
Well, there's 2 down. I have to play catch up pretty severely. Got a film festival coming up, another European set visit in the works and I still have reviews of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, PERFUME, THE HOST, HATCHET and UNREST to write up. Still have some interviews and set visits on the backburners. Damn. Better get my lazy butt in gear. 'Til then, this is Quint bidding you all a fond farewell and adieu.