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Movie Weekend

August 8, 2003

 

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Capsule Reviews of Adaptation, Quiz Show, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Iron Giant, Grosse Pointe Blank, Persuasion, Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, Possession, Wishful Thinking, and Star Trek: Nemesis

by Toby Baldwin

 

Adaptation (9.5 out of 10)

 

In this partially-true story from the bizarre brain of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, we observe Charlie Kaufman agonizing over his adaptation of Susan Orlean’s not particularly adaptable book The Orchid Thief.  After several false starts, he finally ends up writing himself into the screenplay—i.e., making the screenplay about the terrible time he has making the screenplay.  This sets up innovative levels of weirdness, especially since the movie itself is the result of the struggle being played out on screen before our eyes.  Adding to the potency is the fact that many of the characters are real (including those portrayed by Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, and at least one of the ones played by Nicholas Cage), and the events of the film are also true up to a certain point.

 

Confused yet?  If you love brainteasers, you absolutely must watch this movie.  I found myself thinking about it often in the several months between my theatrical viewing and when my wife and I finally sat down to see it on DVD.  It is certainly a bittersweet story, but gleefully maniacal in its bending of reality.  My wife doesn’t tend to like ‘twist’ movies or brainteasers as much as I do, but she was fascinated by this one, and was certainly all the way ‘into’ it as we watched.  Maybe I’ll get to teach a film-as-art class someday.  If I do, I will certainly cover this thought-provoking, well-written, masterfully directed self-portrait of a neurotic screenwriter.  In the meantime, I have no doubt it’ll periodically reach out from the DVD shelf, grab me, and force me to watch it.  More power to it.

 

 

Quiz Show (9.5 out of 10)

 

Robert Redford’s minimalist touch as a director attracted more attention in the 1980 Best Picture winner Ordinary People, but this much-ignored 1994 gem is comparable in quality.  Greatly expanded from a chapter in Richard Goodwin’s nonfiction book Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties, it depicts a scandal surrounding Charlie Van Doren, star of the quiz show 21 in the late 1950s.  Rob Morrow as Dick Goodwin, Ralph Fiennes as Charlie Van Doren, John Turturro as Herbert Stempel shine as the major players in the drama, but supporting players such as Paul Scofield as Charlie’s father and David Paymer as 21’s producer more than hold their own.  Scofield is particularly delightful and heartwrenching in his portrayal of the scholarly father whose somewhat stilted world is torn by what happens to his son.

 

I enjoy movies surround moral dilemmas, and this is one of the best of them.  Thought-provoking, poignant, and solidly directed in such an unobtrusive way that the visual flourishes really grab you, this movie seems to have faded from the public view far more quickly than many less-deserving films.  It is just a joy to watch, and I highly recommend it.  You can find many films that are faster, more visually exciting, and far more likely to blow your hair back, but Quiz Show is the kind of movie you might just walk away from as a better person, mind and soul.

 

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (8.5 out of 10)

 

Sergio Leone was the king of ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ in the late 60s, and excepting Once Upon a Time in the West, this is probably the best example why.  This hyper-stylized movie, with its craaazy animated opening credits, deliberately glacial pace, extreme close-ups, and one of the most distinctive scores in movie history from Ennio Morricone, qualifies as a classic in my estimation.  Clint Eastwood stars, but although he is something of a one-man archetype, his presence does not overshadow costars Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach.

 

I remember seeing this with my mother on television and her commenting about there being plenty of bad and ugly and not much good.  There is something to that.  You have to be willing to root for the bad guy to enjoy this.  In that sense it is a deconstruction of the prototypical western movie; however, unlike Eastwood’s magnum opus Unforgiven, this movie keeps a light touch despite the depravity of the characters and the bleak, violent portrayal of the Civil War-era Old West.  And although violent, it does not seek to comment on violence by being overly violent like a Peckinpah western. 

 

Some may in fact argue that this movie glamorizes violence, and were someone to base their behavior on such a far-fetched portrayal of reality, of course that would be disastrous.  A more plausible complaint against this film may be that it is in the end an expertly crafted popcorn flick, with no substantial or life-changing message.  That is perfectly fine, since it succeeds so well as what it is, but at 162 minutes (and that is the net running time after numerous chopped scenes, now viewable on the special features of the DVD) it is also a long sit.

 

 

The Iron Giant (8.5 out of 10)

 

 

 

Grosse Pointe Blank (8 out of 10)

 

 

 

Persuasion (8 out of 10)

 

Pleasantville (8 out of 10)

 

Seabiscuit (8 out of 10)

 

 

Possession (7 out of 10)

 

 

Wishful Thinking (6 out of 10)

 

 

Star Trek: Nemesis (4.5 out of 10)

 

 

Contact Information

If you have questions or comments about this web page or its contents, please e-mail me at tobybaldwin77@hotmail.com. 

 

 

© Copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin