Archive for the J Category

J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood) 2011

Posted in J on November 15, 2011 by moviemoses

Even though the trailer was rather uninteresting, I was looking forward to J. Edgar.  Eastwood has been more consistently great as of late (exception of Hereafter) and a great actor in Leonardo DiCaprio.  I only glanced over a few of the reviews coming out which expressed a general disappointment.  It seemed the story wasn’t as big or epic as fitting one of the most powerful men in the US.  But even if the movie wasn’t great, I was expecting the movie to be a good and entertaining movie.

I certainly didn’t expect the movie to be such a boring slog.  My main flaw is that, despite an earnest effort by DiCaprio, there isn’t much we are given to the character of J. Edgar Hoover.  Despite being in just about every scene, I never really found him interesting or compelling.  This is due to a few problems with the story and the framing of the character.  For one, Hoover is always a guarded person.  Roger Ebert, in his review, lists that as a big positive for the movie.  Ebert thinks Eastwood is looking at a person who is essentially an actor, playing the J. Edgar tough G-Man role in both his public and private life.   A man who is dedicated to his role as it were.  While that may be an interesting idea on paper, it doesn’t translate to a compelling character.  I understand Hoover was a very private person so it is not like I am expecting anything detailed, but give me something.  I thought one of the points of a biopic was to give us some insight into what made the person tick, not a re-enactment of a Wikipedia page.

The other problem is that we have to move very quickly through Hoover’s life.  It’s like if you ran through a Hoover exhibition at the museum and the guide was trying to give the whole lecture in one breath.  “HewasbornhehadadomineeringmotherandhebecametheyoungestpersontobecomedirectoroftheFBIhebroughtinfingerprintingandforensicsandohbythewayherevolutionizedthecardcatalogsystem“ * passes out from lack of air*  This kind of quick Cliffs Notes approach also applies to the characters and all we get are very broad strokes.  We get that he is paranoid but no major reasons as to why he feels this way.  We get the impression he is a strict moralist who is almost obsessively dedicated to his work but we don’t know where that comes from.  We get he has a domineering mother (played by Judi Dench) but even her role is fuzzy and unclear.  Why, for example, did she latch onto J. Edgar and not his unmentioned brother?  It’s implied she is religious and into paranormal stuff, but how much does that factor into his upbringing?  Most of the time rushing through a person’s entire history (especially one who’s career is as long as J. Edgar Hoover’s) diminishes the product.  I don’t need to know what happened in Mark Zuckerberg’s childhood for example.  I learned everything I need to about the man in a snapshot of when he made Facebook in The Social Network.  I didn’t need to see Howard Hughes‘ whole life in The Aviator, by the end the audience can see the dark road he is heading down.

Even important side characters are pushed out of the way.  Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) personally kept Hoover’s secret files and one of his most trusted associates.  Why?  Why did she do this?  She was a close confidant and she did some illegal and immoral things for her boss but we are given no clues as to why she felt to close to this man.  Where Eastwood goes out most on a limb (as far as historical accuracy) is the claim Hoover was in a romantic relationship with his second in command Clyde (Armie Hammer).  But combined with the fact we are rushing through Hoover’s life and Eastwood’s inability to push things further we don’t learn much more from this.  Again I am left asking things like: why is Clyde sticking with this man for his whole life?  Why does he like Hoover?  What does he get from the relationship?  Of the times we see Hoover he is stern and does nothing but push Clyde away at even the slightest hint of intimacy.  I just don’t get it.

The production of the movie is solid enough.  For a relatively small budget, we get the proper look and feel of the era Hoover lived in.  The aging effects are…inconsistent.  For DiCaprio the aging looks good but for Hammer they are downright laughable.  He is way too young looking for that process and it looks like Johnny Knoxville when he puts on old man makeup in the Jackass movies.

I didn’t hate this movie, but I guess I will join the camp of reviewers who were really let down by it.  The production is solid, DiCaprio gives a fine performance, and you can tell Eastwood cared about the material.  The main character though is still left as a mystery which, given the fact we are supposed to follow this person through a whole movie and learn about him, makes it feel like the movie is perpetually spinning its wheels.  Halfway through the movie, the story felt like it grounded down to a dead stop and it never gained any of that momentum back.  If you are interested in the subject, I would rather you wait for DVD.  For everyone else, I don’t think it is worth your time.

Jimmy Carter Man From Plains (Johnathan Demme) 2007

Posted in J on May 31, 2010 by moviemoses

Yeah, Demme.  Who knew?  Anyway this movie is not really a bio of the former President or anything like that.  We follow Carter on a period of his book tour in 2006 for his latest book Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid.  Carter comes under an extreme amount of heat mainly for the use of the word “Apartheid”.  That is seen as too charged a word and suddenly Carter, a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his peacekeeping work with the Israelis and the Palestinians is being called an anti-Semite.  This at first glance seems like a too shallow view of Jimmy Carter.  Even I inferred with the opening sentences that I would have liked a little bio with my story.  However, that would be missing the surprising amount of depth in this movie.  This man works harder and does more humanitarian efforts now at the age of 83 than he probably did earlier in his life.  The man also has limitless patience.  During the book tour he is called everything from a liar, to a coward, to an anti-Semite and he still debates them with his pleasant Southern demeanor.  It says something of our media that gets caught up in uneducated hype of people that haven’t actually read the book.  This is a favorable viewing of the former President but there are attempts at bringing his opposition on screen.  One of the members of the Carter administration resigns as a result of the book, but refuses to give his views on screen.  The same is said for protesting rabbi elders.  The only person who agrees and gets a good amount of time for his views is Alan Dershowitz, who was probably his most vocal opponent during the tour.  This is not something you have to go out and rent.  If you weren’t all that interested in the man, I can’t really say this is going to change your opinion.  Still this was a pleasant little doc about the 39th President.

JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri) 2008

Posted in J on May 5, 2010 by moviemoses

Van Damme is just not having a good time lately: he is losing his child in a custody battle (and who doesn’t like being mocked by her daddy), he doing 2nd rate Euro pics just to make ends meat, and is a figure of mockery.  JCVD goes to Belgium to get away from everything.  The cops show up to a Belgium post office which is being held up by JCVD himself.  But what the cops don’t know is there are a group of criminals holding up the post office and using JCVD to make demands to make those demands more legitimate.

To get it out of the way JCVD is a touching and funny movie.  There are some truly funny scenes like Van Damme going through a strenuous opening shot and arguing to the director he is a 47 year old man and cannot do that crap anymore to which the director says something to the effect of “Yeah he brought John Woo to America, but does he expect to rub my dick with sandpaper?  This isn’t Citizen Kane”.  Or having one of the bank robbers beg Van Damme to do a trick where he kicks a cigarette out of a hostage’s mouth.

The heist storyline lends itself to much humor, however it also kind of hurts the picture.  The movie loses focus in going through all the heist/hostage movie plot themes.  At times it felt like it dragged as we did all the tired cliches of hostage negotiators, sick/injured hostages, and criminal infighting.  The bright spots are the self referential humor of Van Damme and his input.  At times, I almost wished it was a spoken work show where Van Damme just bitched about his life.  Now I’m making it sound like the plot absolutely sucks when it doesn’t.  As I said, it loses focus from time to time, but on the whole it is very touching and funny.  Although, I would like in the Special Edition DVD we can delete all scenes from the “comic relief”/annoying c*nt taxi driver.

I never thought I would say this in my lifetime, but Jean Claude Van Damme gave a wonderful performance.  I know, I am checking for other signs of the end of days.  Although, this is not really “acting” so much as real life bursting out on screen.  We can tell Van Damme is feeling every bit of frustration, sadness, and anger that he shows on screen.  There is also a five minute scene where he gives a monologue about his life to the camera that is one of the best scenes of this year.  He is just so natural and genuine; I really can’t say enough.  One last note: it is really nice he can finally work in his native tongue.  He is so much more confident and natural speaking his own language than grunting out broken English.  It really is night and day here.

The movie has a few minor flaws but they are just that…minor.  At its heart, JCVD is a movie where the man himself is unafraid to mock his own creation but at the same time is a heartfelt plea at a second chance at life.  Check this out when it is on DVD because you sure as hell won’t find it in theaters.