Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Clooney Tunes, An Assassin’s Lament, & Lou’s Lost Lullabies To Die For

Time for some more reviews of new release DVDs. Let’s get right to ‘em:

LEATHERHEADS (Dir. George Clooney, 2008)

It’s doubtful that anybody will ever mistake this for a comedy classic.

George Clooney’s period piece football follies opened last spring to mixed reviews and bad box office and it’s immediately easy to see why.

The first few scenes involving a comic contrast between college and professional football in 1925 breeze by setting the lightweight tone with the tried and true jazz scoring.

The all too familiar sense of a by-the-numbers conventional comedy is set in place with only Clooney’s self deprecating charm to elevate it. As you should well know, the man is not above cracks about his age (he’s called “old man” and “Grandpa” throughout the film) and his getting punched in the face is a almost cartoonish given so there’s that.

There’s more than a little of Ulysses Everett McGill from O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU in Clooney’s Jimmy ‘Dodge’ Connelly – captain of the Duluth Bulldogs who, of course, are cast as lovable underdogs.

Clooney evidently learned a lot from his three-time collaborators the Coen Brothers, with décor and dialogue that echoes greatly of their particular brand of old timey screwball.

This also applies in the case of the fast talking quick witted newspaper gal that sets out to expose a “boy wonder” a la THE HUDSUCKER PROXY except that here Renée Zellweger actually pulls it off better than Jennifer Jason Leigh did. Clooney plots to save his team, and pro football in the process, by exploiting the celebrity of a war hero (The Office’s Jon Krasinski) as a new team member. 

Everybody’s working their own angles in this enterprise especially a sly Jonathan Pryce as Krasinski’s agent who even tries to throw his hat into the predictable romantic triangle of the three leads. As for predictable goes, there’s the obligatory bar brawl, much farcical bickering, standard montages of sepia-tinted photographs, and the ole climatic final game that everything hinges on. Yep, we’ve all seen this many times before.

It helps that Clooney and Zellweger have wonderful chemistry in their snappy repartee and a slow dance in a speakeasy certainly gives off sparks, but this is a forgettable formula film.

It’s the kind of movie one would watch in a hotel room while going to sleep or glance at randomly while reading a magazine on a plane. I’m sure it'll be playing forever on TBS because it’s exactly their kind of safe family fare.

LEATHERHEADS isn’t a bad movie, it just lacks the vital energy that flowed through Clooney’s first 2 films as director - the weirdly absorbing CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND and the sublimely supreme GOODNIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK.

I doubt many people would seriously regret watching it, I just think they’ll feel the same indifference that moviegoers and critics showed on its first run. I know I did.

This also died a quick death at the theaters for good reason:

CHAPTER 27 (Dir. J.P. Schaefer, 2007) 

Was it really any big deal that pretty boy actor Jared Leto put on 67 pounds to play Mark David Chapman, the deranged murderer of John Lennon?

I mean we’re not talking Robert De Niro in RAGING BULL here, are we?

Actually, it’s another De Niro movie that CHAPTER 27 wants to evoke and that’s TAXI DRIVER.

Much like Travis Bickle’s inner dialogue raged about loneliness, rain washing the streets clean of trash, and personally vowing to rid the world of scum; Chapman’s focuses on the phonies he hates inspired heavily by Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher In The Rye.”

Titled as such because J.D. Salinger’s book contained 26 chapters (get it?), this film depicts the three days in December 1980 that Chapman stalked the streets of New York, lurking for long hours at the gate of the Dakota (where Lennon and wife Yoko Ono lived) with evil intent.

He befriends a friendly Beatles fan, played by Lindsay Lohan of all people, named Jude – that’s right. Jude didn’t exist in real life and really shouldn’t exist here but it seems that first time writer/director Schaefer decided there had to be more of a dynamic to this dreary material.

That Leto’s work is the best acting I’ve witnessed of his and the film is reasonably well made is the best I can say here. I could never get over the question of “why?” Why recreate the incredibly unpleasant pathetic circumstances of such a wasteful tragedy?

Doesn’t making Chapman into a tortured dark cinematic character like De Niro’s Travis Bickle romanticize him in a disgusting manner that really doesn’t fit with his pathetic psyche? Never when watching this film did I feel there was any art or worth in dramatizing these events.

At one of many absurdly fictitious moments, Lohan introduces Leto to Lennon’s nanny strolling in Central Park with a young boy supposed to be Sean Ono Lennon. It’s an icky offensive scene that defines how misguided this project was in every sense. The real Sean Ono Lennon called this film “tacky” which is a major understatement; CHAPTER 27 is severely unnecessary but worse, it’s an insult. Schaefer should be ashamed.

Whew! Those last few films weren’t very appetizing. Maybe a rock concert film will lighten things up. Oops, not sure that’s quite in the cards with:

LOU REED’S BERLIN (Dir. Julian Schnabel, 2007)

It has been a trend of late for an artist or band to perform a classic album from start to finish. Patti Smith performed her seminal “Horses” for its 30th anniversary in 2005, Sonic Youth not long ago trotted out “Daydream Nation” (1988) to the applause of aging hipsters everywhere, Public Enemy played “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” (also 1988), and Liz Phair was able to raise her ticket prices due to resuscitating her “Exile In Guyville.”

But while those albums were undeniably classic or at least huge fan favorites, even hardcore Lou Reed fans have had troubles with “Berlin.”

I myself didn’t “get it” back in my youth when going through an extreme Velvet Underground phase and devouring all things Lou. It was too dark and repetitive for me so I opted for “Transformer” or “Rock ‘N Roll Animal” when it came to early-mid 70’s Reed repertoire. 

So grim that I put it on the shortlist I had of albums to contemplate suicide to you understand? Well, it’s been years since I’ve heard it and like Lou felt now is as good a time as any to rediscover what I originally thought was a very odd and overly orchestrated song cycle. 

Schnabel, a huge fan of the album, filmed Reed and a full band including horns and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY over 5 nights in December of 2006. Lou’s longtime guitarist Fernando Saunders and the highly acclaimed Rob Wasserman on stand-up bass make up the band with, most notably, guitarist Steve Hunter who played on the album back in the day. They deliver mighty arrangements for these songs rescuing them from the synthesized chill and giving them much needed warmth, even if it is desperate warmth. 

Reed looks like he means every word of such weepers as “Caroline Says” (both I & II) and “Sad Song” while “How Do You Think It Feels” as a more straight forward tune (though no less theatrical) is sung with none of his typical detachment. 

Knowing that Reed isn’t Mick Jagger and wouldn’t work the audience or cameras in any way Schnabel incorporates film footage that is shown on a screen behind the band and also is intercut through-out. 

The footage, filmed by Lola Schnabel, depicts the doomed lover characters from the album mostly Caroline (Emmanuelle Seigner – Roman Polanski’s wife!) in purposely blurry artsy scatterings. LOU REED’S BERLIN may not be the most compelling concert film (that would be Jonathan Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE) but it may prove to be the most haunting. 

It’s not for the casual fan in that there’s no “Walk On The Wild Side” or “Satellite Of Love” and the long moody pieces may being boring-city for some less loyal Lou fans. However just about everybody should appreciate that when savoring the power of the band punching out a furious version of “Men Of Good Fortune” behind him early in the film, Reed actually sports a big smile. And that really is saying a lot. 

More later...


Anonymous said...

Fair review but Jude Stein, the Lennon fan played by Lohan, is a real person. And the scene where MDC meets Sean and his governess did really happen.

More info here if you're interested:



Dan said...

I stand corrected! I'd read a lot about Chapman but did not recall Jude or the governess incident. Still, the movie is way icky.

darkcitydame4e said...

Hi! Daniel,
Daniel said, "It’s doubtful that anybody will ever mistake this for a comedy classic." ha!

darkcitydame said, "as much as I "love" actor George Clooney, (of course!...Which should be his last name because ladies always add these 2 words (of course!) behind his name!)

I have serious doubt about whether to purchase this film on dvd after reading your review this Clooney "vehicle" sounds very much so, like the "classic" formula film(s)."

Daniel said,"I’m sure it'll be playing forever on TBS (ha!) because it’s exactly their kind of safe family fare."
Darkcitydame said, "Well, TBS, here I come!..."
dcd ;)

Stan Denski said...

Here's a great example of what's wrong with Clooney's film: the barroom brawl scene between the footballers and the soldiers. At the start, before the fight begins, in an over the shoulder shot you can see the big farm boy bruiser football player in the background. But, during the entire fight scene, he never makes a single appearance! He is an obvious source for physical comedy, yet Clooney seemingly forgets that he's there. There are many, many missed opportunities, but that one stands out.