The MichaelVox Movie Review Weblog
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November 20, 2002
In Life And Love, Expect The Unexpected--MOONLIGHT MILE.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Holly Hunter, Ellen Pompeo.
Surprisingly, when looking at that cast above, the true revelation of this film is Pompeo who plays a fragile, but tough-acting postal carrier/bartender. She is unconventionally beautiful, tragic, and brave. This is the first time I've seen her, but she's slated to be in a whole bunch of films coming out soon. I can't wait to see her again.
Gyllenhaal's fiance, the daughter of Hoffman and Sarandon, has been killed during a coffeeshop confrontation. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This happens before the film starts. The movie then traces how the family and friends find a way to get through the tragedy without pushing each other away.
With subject matter like this, it's not like the sadness is going to be a surprise. We know there will be drunken memories, secrets unearthed, guilt about interactions, friends who know how to say exactly the wrong thing, and the inability to move on afterwards. What was a pleasant surprise for me was just how funny the dialogue was. Sarandon has cornered the market on the cynical, brassy, who gives a shit middle aged woman character, and Hunter could be a tough District Attorney, who spouts expletives, in her sleep.
There are several incredibly memorable snippets of dialogue.
Sarandon to Gyllenhaal: You want to know how we ended up together? I do four things before going to sleep. I drop my robe, crawl between the sheets, turn on my left side, and back my ass up. He finds me there and holds me. No matter what we've been arguing about or what kind of mood we're in, I know I've found home in his arms.
Pompeo to Gyllenhaal during an profoundly touching moment: Why me?
Gyllenhaal to Pompeo during an argument: You let people learn 60% of you, but it's the other 40% that's important!
This film was actually much better than I thought it would be. The music was all 70s inspired, and it was fun to see the huge cars and clothing of that era. Gyllenhaal has developed into quite an actor, his eyes seemingly three sizes too big for his head. Hoffman is hyperly anal and Sarandon is the voice of reason. Tears aplenty here.
6.0 Critical Consensus
November 17, 2002
Camera Cinema Club
It's a bit hard to describe this one. No matter who you are reading this, I would like you to go see this film, support it, show it the love and care it deserves. The fact that it takes place on a farm is no reason to go in with pre-conceived ideas.
The truth is, this film could take place anywhere. It is about a widower and his two sons living in a small Nebraska farm town, how they interact with each other and the town, and how secrets can eventually tear apart families, or bring them together.
Anson Mount plays the cocky brother, Tully. He is so good-looking that men, women, animals alike are charmed by him. As are we in the audience. He has a roster of town girls he sleeps with, he assumes everyone would like a chance to mess around with him, and he has never needed to actually communicate with women in order to spend time with them. Glenn Fitzgerald plays Earl, the geekier, quieter brother who raises award-winning cows and shares secrets with the local veterinary student, Ella, played with swooning attractiveness by Julianne Nicholson. Bob Burrus plays the father perfectly. He is all leathery skin and infrequent speech, like you might imagine an old farmer acts. He spends nights in his workshop, fixing things and hiding out in his loneliness.
Nicholson is a sight to behold. She's tomboyish and freckle-faced. She understands each of these men in ways they probably don't understand themselves. She is probably the best friend of Earl, and she knows exactly how to get playboy Tully to spend time with her.
The dialogue is normal. That is the biggest compliment I can give it. The characters talk like real people. They don't over-explain things, as movies are want to do, so that the dumbest in the audience knows what is happening at every second. People often interact with each other without saying anything. Characters who are alone, do not talk to themselves, explaining what they're thinking. When Ella rides her bike over with tears in her eyes, she doesn't say "I'm sad because....", when Tully offers her companionship, under the guise of doing errands, he doesn't say "Please tell me what happened" he just puts her in the car with him. Tully goes to a favorite spot alone, Ella goes to her favorite swimming hole, Earl escapes to the movies, and the father parks his truck and enjoys his weekly Pabst six-pack. None of these scenes require dialogue. We don't need to know what they're thinking about. We can see how they're feeling, knowing what exactly is going through their minds will not increase our enjoyment of any scenes, they will simply ring less true.
That is the biggest selling point for this film. The character interactions are realistic. The clerk at the grocery store who cherishes the three minutes she spends a week with the father. The stripper who sleeps with and then claims Tully's body as hers alone. The way the two brothers can be fighting one minute, and teaming up the next. All of these things are the way life is really lived.
Add to this the beautifully shot fields of the plains, the simple pleasures of a waterhole, or french fries at the Dairy Queen, or a slow walk through the crops, and we see captured on screen the slow, but fulfilling pace of life on a farm. And I'm making these statements based on a video-projected VHS copy that we were forced to watch, due to Fed Ex losing our print. After about five minutes, the quality of the projection was completely lost as I entered this film's world.
The story involves the possible foreclosure of the farm due to debts that no one anticipated. But rest assured, this is not one of those big-guy-against-the-family-farm films, nor is it one of those "Aw, look at the poor, backward farm folks who don't have Playstations." It treats the townspeople and the way of life with respect.
The plot has secrets that are revealed one by one, but they are just icing on this beautiful cake. It is really saying something when a film would have been just as enjoyable, had the revelations not even been a part of it.
Again, the fact that the film takes place on a farm is really inconsequential.
Nicholson is something to see here. And so is this film. Let it wash over you.
November 12, 2002
USA / France
More successful as an example of 1950s "women's pictures" than as a stand-alone film. Julianne Moore is one of the greatest actresses working today, and this film only solidifies her position. Dennis Quaid is very good as her husband as is Dennis Haysbert as their gardener. The music and costumes and set decoration and even the screenplay seem to have been lifted directly from a 1950s melodrama. The characters say "gosh" and "heck". The ladies have afternoon cake and margaritas. The white people are shocked when a white woman befriends a black man.
More interesting to me, as I have seen none of the 50s films that this one is aiming for, was the way my audience seemed to watch the racism and homophobia from a position of enlightenment. That is, there was snickering in the audience during a scene when the townspeople stared at the interracial couple. As if there was no more racism in the world. And then when the wife walks in on her husband as he's kissing another man, suddenly the men in my audience were just as shocked as the wife was. Apparently there are some things we still don't want to see onscreen.
This film took the conventions of the 50s and went deeper. That's all. Instead of hinting about homosexuality, we have an actual gay man fighting his feelings. Instead of a glance from a black man (albeit, one with a business degree, a loving father, and an owner of two businesses), we get actual interaction and deep discussions between the white society wife and the perfect black man.
Again, the performances were flawless and it was beautifully shot, but it was sort of a dress-up film. A let's pretend it's the 50s type of thing.
November 6, 2002
USA / UK / France / Italy / Germany
Italian / English
What Would You Risk For Love? HEAVEN
See my full review here.
7.0 Critical Consensus
November 1, 2002
France / Spain / Switzerland
This one is a real headscratcher. Maybe it was the delicious large Italian meal I enjoyed before seeing it. Maybe it was the glass of wine. Maybe the fact that the screening began after 9:30 and I should have been in bed asleep. But from the opening credits until the lights went up, I didn't get it. Hitchcock was famous for defining what he called a "McGuffin" or something that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. The suitcase in PULP FICTION, for example. A McGuffin interests us and pulls our attention away from what is actually happening.
This was the first film I've ever seen comprised entirely of McGuffins.
The story, such as it was, is about a famous pianist, his second wife, his son, and an unrelated girl who was switched at birth with his son, but then switched back after the mistake was discovered.
Several characters think it strange that the young woman is such an accomplished piano player--surely she must be the real child of the famous pianist, right? The second wife apparently may have poisoned the first wife. The couple used to visit the woman and stay at her house. The second wife has a conversation about being adopted that goes nowhere. There is a foot injury that the son suffers on two occasions. There is a prescription sleeping pill. There is a spiderweb blanket that the evil second wife constantly weaves.
At the end we have no idea why anyone did anything that they did. We don't know why conversations took place that never pan out. We don't know why an old man in the second wife's chocolate factory is introduced as a character. We don't know what purpose the young woman's boyfriend serves. We don't know a damn thing.
The pace is glacial, the story hard-to-follow. There is very good acting, and the final closeup is one of those 'how did she do that so well' type of shots. But I would probably have fallen asleep if not for the snoring guy to my back left and the cellophane twins to my back right.
I'm going to go read some reviews to be told what I missed. I will not be easily convinced.
8.7 Critical Consensus
October 30, 2002
English / Spanish
First of all, this is not this year's My Big Fat Greek Wedding, unless you think every film with an ethnic slant is the same. Wedding was a more universal story of love and marriage and adapting to your new family's idiosyncrasies. And it was a bit better.
Real Women Have Curves is the story of a High School senior who is apparently smart enough to get into Columbia on a scholarship, but whose parents want her to stay and work in her sister's dressmaking shop. The mother and daughter have spat after spat about the daughter's weight and her ability to land a husband and how hard the mom's worked, etc. Ana is a bit chubby and her comfort in her own skin is, unfortunately, pretty monumental in film history. She is full-figured and doesn't feel the need to be any smaller. There are scenes in which she acts much more mature and well-adjusted than any chubby 18-year-old in film history. The scene with her boyfriend in front of a mirror rang false. In another scene, she persuades her equally large co-workers to strip down to their underwear on a hot day in the sweatshop.
The message behind this film is much better and more worthwhile than the film itself. Some of the dialogue and acting are terrible and the film is split about 50-50 of good, honest scenes and those that seem to have been written for an afterschool special.
The lead is played by Ana Ferrera who is an absolute doll. One of the truths of the film is that as we get to know her character, what she looks like becomes less and less important. By the time we see her in her underwear, we don't really care what she looks like because we know what a good, smart, sexy person she is. If that was the goal of the filmmakers, then mission accomplished.
~Sundance Film Festival Dramatic Audience Award for 2002.
~Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Acting for America Ferrera and Lupe Ontiveros
6.9 Critical Consensus
October 29, 2002
This was truly dreary from about 30 minutes in, until the credits rolled much, much later. It’s the story of Bob Crane, the guy from Hogan’s Heroes, a show I never watched, and how he begins his career as a straight-laced family man and ends up murdered by a hanger-on after several years of orgies and home porn movies. Greg Kinnear is perfect as Crane. He’s got the crooked grin down and at the beginning of the film, he is a bit dopey, but seems to be a good guy. Director Paul Schrader uses the most obvious of camera work to show Crane’s spiral. It was like getting hit over the head. At first, all the colors are brilliant and the movements are smooth, and then he systematically takes away color until by the end, Crane is living in a gray world of close-up shaky camera work. It wasn’t necessary. We could see him going out of control, we don’t need the help from the cinematographer.
In any biography, you sort of have to find the subject interesting. Maybe not likable or fun, but at least interesting. Crane was an unremarkable actor on an unremarkable tv show who used what little fame he had to sleep with as many women as possible. I actually dozed in the final third. I would have thought that the subject matter alone could have at least kept me awake.
I found this film shockingly boring.
8.2 Critical Consensus
October 24, 2002
I often come out of movies with feelings or thoughts about them, only to have them evaporate within the next sixty minutes. There are hundreds of lightweight, non-thought-provoking films out there that disappear from my memory as soon as the lights come up. But this one has been on my mind since I saw it more than a week ago.
Let’s get some things out of the way. Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) is a director that I love because he has absolutely no shame when throwing everything he has at the audience. It’s not like he’s showing off, he just seems to do everything he can at every point in a film to make us go ‘wow’. He has taken Adam Sandler, an entertainer who has never been mistaken as an actor, and used the impression or vibe that we already have about him, and turned it on its head. Either Sandler can really act, or Anderson is so skillful a director, that he just filmed Adam being Adam. Whichever it was, Sandler was a joy to watch. His love interest is Emily Watson, an actress so far above Sandler in talent that you wonder how she was talked into taking on this project. The two not-traditionally-beautiful stars make an incredibly charismatic couple. She does not act circles around Sandler. They have both been injured by loneliness, are unsure of why on earth they should take another chance, but find something in the other that gives them one more ounce of courage to try again.
Sandler runs a business that sells toilet plungers. He is concise and specific and has a team of men working for him. He has seven sisters that are exactly the kind of nightmare you might think seven sisters would be if you were alone and they wanted you to date their girlfriend. He is invited to a party and one sister after another calls and makes sure that he’s not going to stay in, he will, in fact, go to the party. Each sister is ruder than the next, all but calling him an undateable loser during the phone call.
Watson’s character works with one of Sandler’s sisters and she finds something endearing about him and she visits him with the sister in tow. Sandler is far too shy to accompany them to lunch so the two women leave. Then in one of those scenes that I seem to have hung onto, Watson turns and walks with specific purpose back into the office where she all but demands that Sandler take down her phone number and take her out. The camera follows her as she walks away, changes her mind, steels her courage, and puts herself out there on the off chance that her feelings are reciprocated.
Their date begins poorly but ends better than well. I don’t want to say anymore about the plot, but there is a scene after he says goodnight to her at her apartment door. He walks down the stairs and when he gets to the manager’s office, she holds out the phone and says, “it’s for you”. What happens next is one of those ‘most romantic things you’ve ever seen’ scenes. It was played perfectly and off-kilter and humorously and it was painful to watch, it was so sweet.
Anderson does a bunch of things that are headscratching. A car accident at the beginning, a softshoe in a grocery store, a visit to a mattress store. The weirdness of these scenes doesn’t take away from the tremendous heart at the center of the story. Watson and Sandler are palpably relieved to have found each other. And we couldn’t be happier for them.
We are kept off-guard the entire time, wondering if Anderson is making fun of these unlucky-in-love people or if he thinks, as I do, that we are all these characters. Putting up with the bad stuff that happens every day in the hopes that there may someday be some good stuff that happens with someone we want to be with when any kind of stuff happens.
The sound design in this film is phenomenal. There are passages where we seem to be inside Sandler’s head when too much commotion is going on. And there are incredibly quiet parts that we are shocked out of by a truck or a loud noise.
“I have a love in my life and it makes me stronger than you can imagine.”
“Say that’s that before I beat the hell from you.”
“I cry sometimes, for no reason.”
“When we get back home, will you come to my house?”
“I already thought I was.”
“Wherever you’re going and whatever you’re doing, I just wanted you to know that I wanted to kiss you just then.”
You can see the pain on Sandler’s face when Watson brings up the hammer throwing incident at the restaurant. He looks away and smiles and then beats the shit out of the bathroom. His breakdown at the payphone was also more understandable after seeing it a second time.
There is a long, single take when Sandler calls a phone sex operator. We watch him for what seems like ten minutes as he gets the courage, then calls, then is leery about what they’re asking, and then tries to have an actual conversation with the girl (“do you want to know what I look like?” “It doesn’t matter, I can’t really check.”). It is fascinating. He hangs up and awaits his callback and we’re not sure if it will ever come.
~Cannes Film Festival Winner for Best Director of 2002 for Paul Thomas Anderson
8.4 Critical Consensus