Sunday, June 24, 2007

Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart"

Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart" - based on Mariane Pearl's book about the brutal death of her journalist-husband Daniel and her willful ability to cope with this loss - is a smart, tough film, as one would expect from any politically-driven movie from this uncompromising director. And as Mariane, Angelina Jolie impressively abandons herself in a committed, vanity-free performance.

But there's a hole at the center of this otherwise convicing polemic: Daniel Pearl himself is virtually missing and, by extention, so is the connection that would pull in an audience. While the talented Dan Futterman is well-cast as Pearl and effective in his few brief, fleeting scenes, there simply isn't enough of him.

This is a crucial flaw that reviews have inexplicably overlooked.

His Daniel Pearl is a ghost even at the beginning of the movie, a conceit which could have been intentional on Winterbottom's part. Nevertheless, it seriously constrains his film. "A Mighty Heart" is in desperate need of more exposition wherein we'd get to know Pearl and what drives him and, consequently, feel some empathy for him before he is abducted and beheaded.

Without these early scenes, we're left with an impassioned, tightly-coiled film that somehow leaves one cold.

(Artwork: Angelina Jolie and Dan Futterman as Mariane and Daniel Pearl in Paramount Vantage's "A Mighty Heart")

* * *

Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Thursday, June 07, 2007

cinema obscura Triple-Header: "Neverwas" (2005) , "The Big White" (2005) & "Lonely Hearts" (2006)

Straight to video.

Straight to cable.

Straight to hell.

Straight to nowhere.

So was the shared fate to two star-heavy flicks that caught my attention - belatedly - this week.

2005's "The Big White," directed by someone named Mark Mylod, stars Robin Williams, Holly Hunter, Woody Harrelson, Giovanni Ribisi, Tim Blake Nelson and Alison Lohman. It plays on The Movie Channel (TMC) on July 14 and 22. Is that a premiere?

Meanwhile, Joshua Michael Stern's "Neverwas," also from 2005, is toplined by Aaron Eckhart, Ian McKellen, Jessica Lange, Nick Nolte, William Hurt, Michael Moriarty, Brittany Murphy, Vera Farmiga, Alan Cumming and Cynthia Stevenson. It's new on DVD.

I won't burden you with a synopsis for either film because, with those lists of players, who cares?

One more question: Exactly how bad could these two be not to have been released?

Same goes for "Lonley Hearts," with stars John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Salma Hayek, Jaret Leto and Laura Dern, and which played only two markets - New York and Los Angeles - before going straight to hell, er, DVD.

For the record, it's a remake of Leonard Kastle's cult fave, "The Honeymoon Killers."

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Poster art for "The Big White," "Neverwas" and "Lonely Hearts")

Friday, June 01, 2007

Au Revoir, Jean-Claude, 1933-2007

The death of the wonderful French actor, Jean-Claude Brialy, at age 74 on Wednesday in Paris is yet another reminder of how we're losing a little bit of the French film community every day.

It's been said that American stars aren't what they used to be - that, as Davis, Hepburn, Bogart, Fonda and Brando have passed on, there is no one who has truly replaced them. This sense of urgency and panic is even more acute in France.

I became aware of it when Jean Gabin died. That was the end of a great era in French filmmaking, I thought. Matters got more desperate when Yves Montand and Simone Signoret passed, but I was comforted by the fact that we still had relative newcomers Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve.

While someone like Patrick Deware died young, there was Isabelle Huppert, his contemporary, who has prevailed.

But each year, I become aware that few new French stars have emerged and when someone as valuable as Brialy passes, there's the feeling that something important is being lost. Depardieu and Deneuve are still active, Jeanne Moreau pops up occasionally, but Jean-Louis Trintignat hasn't sparkled in years.

And where is the unique and indispensible Bernadette Lafont? Michel Piccoli? I miss you, Delphine Seyrig! R.I.P.

No, the New Wave isn't new anymore. It isn't even old.

It doesn't even exist.

But, for now, let's reflect on its greatness, and Jean-Claude Brialy's place in it.

I suggest you rent Eric Rohmer's irresistible "Le genou de Claire" ("Claire's Knee"), Brialy's greatest triumph, and mourn what we have just lost.

(Artwork: Sincerely, Jean-Claude; Brialy as a bright, promising young actor; poster art for "Claire's Knee"/"Le genou de Claire")

* * *

Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com