Four Quick Movie Reviews

The movies were of average length, but the reviews are quick.

Here’s what I’ve been watching on DVD the past week or so.

Thank You For Smoking (2005)

First off, I spent most of the movie wanting to slap Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) across the face for being smarmy non-stop. Second, this is one of those Hollywood movies that tries too hard to let you know how clever and outrageous it is (see In & Out for another example). There are some humorous bits, but most of the jokes just fall flat due to the wink-wink check-me-out nature of the film making. J.K. Simmons is pretty funny as Naylor’s boss and Rob Lowe does a good job in what is basically a cameo. The rest of the movie gets a big “eh?” from me.

Gimme Shelter (1970)

Intended as a concert film of the end of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 US tour, Gimme Shelter turned into a document of a tragedy. The Altamont Speedway music festival has been hyperbolically described as everything from the antithesis of Woodstock to death-knell of the Sixties counterculture. The documentary has dramatic cinematography and clever editing. In scenes filmed in the studio, we see the Rolling Stones simply sitting and listening to their newly recorded songs for the first time. In our MTV era of quick-cut editing, the contemplative film making used here captures perhaps not personal but musical introspection. There’s also a meta element to the film as members of the Rolling Stones watch scenes from the film and offer their commentary.

Two more reflections: One, the Rolling Stones in 1969 simply ROCKED, especially in full-song performances from their Thanksgiving concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. I’ve never seen the Rolling Stones in concert but the difference between these songs and say their 2006 Super Bowl performance is a reflection on the loss of a band’s joy in performance of great music. Second, even as things go horribly wrong at Altamont you can see in the faces of the spectators a certain level of hope, as if they feel that the scuffle has ended and maybe now they can just have fun. It’s said to see those hopes dashed again and again.

Running With Scissors (2006)

Based on the allegedly true-life stories of Augusten Burroughs, it details the story of a boy sent by his mother to live with her eccentric (at best) psychiatrist. The movie attempts to be a coming-of-age story in bizzare circumstances but gets bogged down in just how crazy everyone is that most of the actors end up playing caricatures. The movie is sad and shocking but in a manipulative way. Since the film is set in the 70’s, in typical Hollywood fashion every character is dressed in the most outlandish 70’s-era clothing and the film is drowned in a period soundtrack that detract more than add to the film. There are exceptions. Annette Bening puts in a brilliant performance as Augusten’s mother Deirdre Burroughs capturing her many mood shifts and descent into madness. In one scene she dances in a hallucination of a snowstorm accompanied by Manfred Mann’s “Blinded By The Light,” the one great scene where acting, music, and cinematography are choreographed together. The rest of the movie? Bleh!

Sideways (2004)

A much more depressing film than I’d been lead to believe, especially by the DVD liner notes which cast it as a laugh riot. The only laugh-out-loud scenes involve a supporting character chasing a golf cart and a naked man (well he’s wearing a hat) chasing a car. The rest of the movie is rather more reflective and often depressing. That does not mean it’s bad, it’s very good. Paul Giamatti puts on an excellent performance of acting as Miles, the confused wine-snob/author in the midst of a mid-life crisis attempting to show his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) a good time in his last week before marriage. Miles is a bit of a jerk but benefits from the fact that Jack is a class-A jackass. The story avoids predictable cliches and really explores character in a satisfying way.