Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Writing Wire for 10/28

Come and get it.

• Someone watched all the Saw movies and lived to talk about it. The Onion AV Club has the story.

The New York Times punches holes in the painfully trite new cop movie, Pride and Glory by showcasing the worst genre cliches in the film. A sample:

The New York police story that sticks in the public consciousness usually includes some or all of these elements: THE CONFLICTED POLICE OFFICER, who is torn between enforcing the law and watching the backs of his relatives or buddies in homicide/narcotics/missing persons/the seven-six. By the way, he has “seen some things.” Not things like traffic on the Belt Parkway or a matinee performance of “Mamma Mia!” But things that he really, really doesn’t want to talk about. Just leave it alone. O.K.? Just leave it.

• Ken Levine reviews Diner.

• Guess what? Joss Whedon's Dollhouse almost did fall apart.

Stephen King talks to Salon about The Stand, 30 years later.

• If you care, Times Online has 10 Things You Didn't Know About Pink Floyd.

• Continuing their great series on writing novels, PoeWar asks "How good is your bad guy?"

The Corrections author Jonathan Franzen apparently hates everything.

• WTF? Led Zeppelin is getting back together? Apparently. And without Robert Plant!

• I Watch Stuff compares Star Trek promo shots, new and old. See above.

• Gawker ponders the question: Could Gus Van Sant's Milk suck?

• Film School Rejects thinks RocknRolla might be good.

SuckerFlix #3: The Squid and the Whale...and more

We're on a nice little streak here in SuckerFlix land, what with Before the Devil Knows You're Dead last week and the mini-trifecta I'll be talking about shortly.

I'll devote the bulk of this space to The Squid and the Whale, which was excellent in every way except timing -- which is on me. Don't watch this movie first thing in the morning. Well, not if you plan on interacting with other human beings at some point that day. I made the mistake of putting it on while I sipped my morning coffee and tweaked the SILENT CITY outline and ended up in a morose, pensive and almost cranky mood. A testament to the strength of the film.

Squid starts quietly enough. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney star as a couple stumbling toward a messy divorce, with two adolescent boys caught in the crossfire. The film does a great job of painting a picture of a fragmented family, where nothing is really black and white (despite the kids' repeated efforts in the story to make things so) and there are few villains but even fewer heroes. Linney is her usual, top-notch self, bringing a touching and very real vulnerability to her character without losing herself in bawling cliches or overwrought melodrama. Being a product of a divorced home myself, I found the film's portrayal of a once tight family's dissolution rang true. The movie never sinks into soap opera, nor does it dovetail toward a convenient resolution. These are real people in real life, and like real life, nothing is really all that tidy or neat. There are mostly grays as opposed to swaths of black and white.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by Jeff Daniels' performance as the egocentric and detached father, who struggles with his fading reputation as Linney's character's profile rises in the literati circles both dwell in. My experience with Daniels is, sad to say, really limited to his comedic work and the mediocre Blood Work, so it was great to see him really nail a part and show his chops. It really presented him in a totally different light.

Anna Paquin is serviceable as Daniels' sexy student, but her scenes are by far the most predictable and least interesting. It's no surprise that the eldest son falls for her, or that (spoiler!) Daniels does too, so I really just found myself hoping she would become less central to the plot and the story would spend more time with Linney, who really steals the show without even trying. The most touching and funny scene can be found in the last quarter of the film, where a despondent Daniels admits to Linney he'd like to give their union another try, which leads Linney to burst out laughing. It's a scene that is almost clouded by its own simplicity. Linney makes the laughter seem so easy and natural that you forget you're watching a movie, instead you're in a friend's living room at an awkward moment.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the two boys, played ably by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline. Both really act above and beyond their ages, and bring a believable sense of quiet pain and confusion to their characters, which they each reveal and express differently. While Daniels and Linney carry the film, it's the kids that make it a joy to watch.

The Squid and the Whale is a conflicted, messy and real story of a family in disarray and a marriage at its end. Like the best kind of fiction, it reels you in and plops you into the world the writer and director have created, sometimes with jarring results. Just don't watch it in the morning. Trust me.

SuckerFlix Grade: A
Next Week: The Limey

Bonus feature! A few mini-reviews, since I managed to watch a ton of movies in the last week.

After Dark, My Sweet: Not nearly as gritty or compelling as the Jim Thompson novel it's based on, Sweet feels forced from the beginning. Jason Patric gives a stilted, confusing performance as a nomad ex-boxer duped into a child kidnapping scheme. Rachel Ward is functional as the boozy love interest, but the plot meanders and dawdles in a way the book never does. The bright lighting and art deco fashions and decorations don't help, either. A passable film overall, but inexcusable for its mismanaging of strong and compelling source material. C+

Glengarry Glenn Ross: I'm not going to waste much space here. Not because the movie doesn't deserve it -- it does, in spades. But what can I really say about a film classic? The cast, featuring Pacino, Ed Harris, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey an Alec Baldwin is top-notch, and they deliver. If you haven't seen this movie, go out and rent it now. This review will be here when you get back. A+

In the meantime, I'll share Baldwin's riveting opening scene.