The Fighter. Leaving the theater, I felt good about this movie. Of course, it’s hard to fuck up the end of a boxing movie … just show the final fight, get the audience stoked, and pull off a happy ending, however that might be defined (the hero doesn’t necessarily need to win, as fans of Rocky know). Boxer wins or loses, but does so with honor, and everyone comes together and hugs it out. And so I was feeling good. And naturally, we were talking about the Oscar-nominated performances of Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, not to mention Amy Adams in a less showy role. But then I started thinking about what I’d seen. Of course Bale and Leo got Oscar noms … they are respected actors playing attention-getting, over-the-top roles. Adams, who is just fine, is nonetheless playing a different kind of character than we are used to from her, another way to ensure a nomination. Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg holds the entire film together, but he isn’t chewing the scenery, so he’s the one actor of the four who doesn’t get a nomination. Well, for my money, he’s the real acting star of the movie. Meanwhile, the strong portrait of a dysfunctional family gets sold out for the above-mentioned happy ending. It’s still a good movie, but it could have been better. Nominated for 7 Oscars, and #241 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the most acclaimed movies of the 21st century. 7/10.
In the Realm of the Senses. Nagisa Ôshima plows right through questions of pornography and redeeming value; yes, it’s pornographic and yes, it has redeeming value, and no, it doesn’t really matter. Well, it might have mattered to Ôshima, who was purposely pushing Japanese buttons with all the hardcore sex. But watching the film isn’t much like watching straight porn, in large part because, despite the hardcore sex, Ôshima does little to turn on his audience. It’s a character study, with one of the characters being Japan, so I suppose maybe it’s not really porn, after all. Eiko Matsuda is fascinating as the Japanese anti-heroine, Sada Abe (like The Fighter, this film is based on a true story), but to be honest, I found the progressive obsessions to be less interesting than they were meant to be. You knew pretty early on how the movie would go … the man and woman would get sucked into an obsessive sexual relationship, the sex would get more bizarre to match the increase in the obsessions, and it wouldn’t end well. The only mystery was what new kinkiness they’d come up with (my “favorite” would have to be the egg-in-the-vagina trick). An important film, but not a great one. #262 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.
Red. Standard shoot-‘em-up, only this time with old people doing most of the shooting. Seems like this plot comes around every few years … think of Original Gangstas back in ‘96, which had Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Richard “Shaft” Roundtree, Ron “Superfly” O’Neal and others playing old timers kicking ass. Here, it’s Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine, and Helen Mirren (the latter is admittedly a clever piece of casting). There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, other than the sight of Mirren blowing people away while wearing a nice white outfit. Freeman is doubly-cursed: he’s got incurable cancer, and he’s black, so you know he’ll have to die heroically. Mary-Louise Parker is fun. The movie is PG-13 rather than R because while lots of people get shot up, Parker and Mirren keep their tops on. 6/10.
A Woman Under the Influence. John Cassavetes has been called self-indulgent, but I might shorten that to simply indulgent. He indulges his actors, allows them to find their roles, clearly believing that there is truth in acting. In this film, Gena Rowlands gives the Cassavetes performance to top them all. She gives offers raw emotions, she lets her inner turmoil escape into an astonishing blend of facial and body movements. It’s no wonder she was nominated for an Oscar. Is she good? Never … at times she’s brilliant, at other times she’s awful, but she’s never something so mundane as good. Rowlands’ character is schizophrenic, but we are meant not only to sympathize with her but to accept her skewed perspective as “normal.” But what really matters is that the schizophrenia gives Rowlands a chance to show her acting chops. They are impressive, and she is often moving, but the film is a bit of a mess. #149 on the TSPDT Top 1000 list, and while I don’t agree with that high ranking, I understand it. 7/10.
Eyes Wide Shut. Where to begin? I could quote Charles Taylor, who wrote, “from "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) on, the dominant mood of every Kubrick film was that of cold technical proficiency.” Kubrick’s career resembles that of Rod Stewart, who made some of the greatest albums of all time and then wasted his talent for several subsequent decades. By 1964, Kubrick had made three films for which I give a 10/10 rating. In the last 35 years of his life, he never made a movie I rated higher than 6/10. Eyes Wide Shut, based on a novella, runs for more than 2 1/2 hours (thank god it wasn’t based on a full-length novel … I’d still be watching the damn thing). The pace is glacial, and while the film’s champions like to snark at modern audiences who can’t sit still for anything slower than Run Lola Run, that glacial pace works to the detriment of this movie. Nicole Kidman, in particular, seems to have been directed to take as … long … as … possible … to say her lines, making that fine actress seem like a hack. People take forever to do or say anything. It’s not thoughtful, it’s not artistic, it’s lazily compulsive. As for the famous orgy sequence, it cries out for a Mad Magazine parody (or maybe it is its own parody). Leave it to Kubrick to make a boring orgy. The most sensual material in the movie consists of loving shots of Kidman’s ass, a beautiful sight to be sure, but maybe Kubrick could have spent a little less time on her ass and a little more time actually directing her performance. The epitome of sexuality for Kubrick, based on the evidence in Eyes Wide Shut, is best represented by the character of Mandy. Eva Herzigova was meant to play the role, but she objected to the many nude scenes. Normally, I’d say whatever … I’m all in favor of nude scenes, myself … but Herzigova knew what she was talking about. Mandy’s two big scenes consist of a long segment where she is stretched out fully naked, almost dead from an overdose, and a second scene where she is dead on a slab and we get to check out her hooters for an extended period. That’s Kubrick’s idea of sex: a dead woman, overdosed on dope. #672 on the TSPDT site. 4/10.