Fall Movies: Part 2
So far the film to beat this fall, and by a fucking mile, is The Departed, Martin Scorsese's crisp, violent story about two deep-undercover rats: one's a cop who has burrowed into gangster kingpin Frank Costello's inner circle; the other's a Costello stooge who has risen through the ranks of Boston's elite organized-crime fighting unit. The set-up is well-paced, believable and engrossing, but the real fun begins when both moles realize the other exists, and so try to ferret each other out without giving themselves away.
The writing here is tough-guy heaven, the editing rapid-fire and creative without sacrificing clarity, the soundtrack pitch-perfect, the camera work loaded with classic Scorsese touches, and the whole cast is outstanding. Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello actually does some acting (for the most part) instead of simply being Jaaack. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon are terrific as the two rats, dealing with the nearly unbearable tension of their situations in different but credible ways. Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg are given the film's best lines, and they steal every scene they're in; Martin Sheen is perfect as the slow-boil Police Commissioner; and Vera Farmiga more than holds her own as the therapist caught in the middle of something she doesn't understand. A terrific movie, from start to finish.
The Last King of Scotland features one of the best performances of year—Forest Whitaker as the charming, demonic, childish, heartless Idi Amin—but, unfortunately, the rest of the movie can't keep up. Whitaker totally nails Amin's unpredictable brutality, his political savvy, his temper tantrums, his playfulness, his self-delusion, his sadism. Much less compelling—the weak link that, sadly, also drives the picture—is James McAvoy as Nicholas Garrigan, a Scottish doctor who travels to Uganda on a whim and, after flukey circumstances find him treating Amin for a sprained hand, becomes the personal physician for this self-proclaimed "Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea." Seduced by Amin's money, charisma and power, Garrigan is at first the Supreme Ruler's Great White Apologist, until even he can't ignore the fact that everyone who speaks out against Amin seems to disappear. It's at this point that the film turns into a pretty effective thriller, punctuated by a scene of horrifying, explicit torture. Definitely a good movie, but also one that could have been a lot better.
My expectations couldn't have been lower for The Guardian... really? it hadn't even crossed my mind to see it. But it was a miserably rainy afternoon and I had three hours to kill, and the showtime and theater location were perfect, so why not? And I must say, although a complete cliché from start to finish, this story of Coast Guard rescue swimmers Kevin Costner (gruff legend/mentor forced to teach at "the academy" after harrowing save-gone-wrong) and Ashton Kutcher (brash talented recruit with a secret motivation for becoming "the best") was surprisingly entertaining. Not a great movie by any means, but a total pro job by everyone involved.
Yes, there is quite a bit of hardcore pornography in John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus, but it's not a terribly sexy movie (most of the money shots are too perfunctory to generate any real heat), nor, in the end, a terribly interesting one. There are definitely a number of sweet moments, and the gay couple known as "the Jamies" are cute (the sex therapist who's never had an orgasm, less so), and the energy picks up considerably whenever a scene involves Justin Bond as the emcee of the sex club Shortbus (so named because it's filled with misfits and outcasts... like that shorter yellow bus that drives the mentally/physically challenged kids to school), but in the end it all feels too amatuerish, too inconsistent, too self-congratulatory.
You'll be tempted to see Little Children. The reviews have been great; the trailer makes it seem like an intelligent, psychologically-rich portrait of what drives good people to adultry; Kate Winslet and Jennifer Connelly are beautiful and talented, etc. So go see it. Just don't blame me when you realize that fully a third of the movie is a WAY over-the-top subplot about a pedophile, just out of prison and back home living with his mom; that Patrick Wilson as the stay-at-home dad who winds up rutting with Winslet in the laundry room is one the most (deliberately?) boring characters of the year; and that the screenwriters have sucked any tension out the film by making Winslet and Wilson's respective cuckolded spouses so horrible that you in no way care if they get hurt. This one's a big miss.