Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Clint Eastwood, that long, lean, laconic cowboy of yesteryear, is thinking about death. In HEREAFTER he has crafted a movie that gently explores the subject of what lies beyond with soulful brevity and a flood of emotion; it begins with a violent tidal wave and ends in a wash of tenderness.

Three stories gradually and inevitably flow toward each other; in one, Matt Damon plays a psychic whose gift has cut him off from life. In another,a French TV reporter's life (Cecile de France) is turned upside down by a natural disaster. In a third story, a young boy (Frankie/George McLaren) suffers a cruel loss.

All of these stories explore the fragility of life, the buffeting that we suffer in its turbulence, and the deep desire to anchor ourselves to each other. The film has a quiet majesty, and inspires real compassion. Damon's beautifully controlled performance draws us into a well of loneliness so dark, we yearn for his release. Bryce Dallas Howard is heartcrushingly vulnerable as a young woman trying to find her way after a broken relationship.

Somehow the movie manages to avoid sentimentality, and even pokes fun at the mumbo jumbo this subject matter is heir to. Rather, the movie is extraordinarily believable, and its conclusions feel rooted to real subliminal human experience.

I left HEREAFTER feeling profound relief from the tumult of the here and now.

Monday, October 11, 2010


(Secretariat winning the Triple Crown June 9,1973)

I just saw SECRETARIAT. The horse deserved a better movie.

You have to know I love Secretariat. I have articles about the horse written by the great Bill Nack under my bed. I know arcane little details about the greatest racehorse of all time-like he had a perfect heart --except that it was more than twice the size of normal horse's heart. I am a Secretariat groupie. He inspires me. He is my hero. I have watched that final Triple Crown race at Belmont so many times, where he wins by 31 lengths -- and my heart practically stops every time I see it. (The video above tells the tale.) While all the other creatures were stuck on earth, Secretariat seemed to be running in a different universe. The movie doesn't begin to capture the shock and awe of this incomparable athletic feat, and how it must have astonished everyone who was there to see it that day June 9,1973.

What we've got here is a disneyfication in progress. It feels small, clumsy, and contrived. There are clunky voice-overs designed to elevate the story to the level of myth. Secretariat's real accomplishments ARE already mythic. John Malkovich as grouchy eccentric trainer Lucien Laurin comes dangerously close to playing it like someone's dotty old uncle. Diane Lane as owner Penny Chenery looks too deliberately dowdy and delivers equally starchy, exposition-laden dialogue. In one climactic scene, her husband rushes into a ballroom with the kids on the eve of the Belmont (didn't she know they were coming?) and earnestly declares,"You've taught our children how to believe in themselves, and you've taught me something too." And that taught me Director Randall Wallace sure has an ear for corn.

And what is with this family? The film never fleshes out its dynamics. One daughter is "rebellious" and is preparing for a protest march decked out like an escapee from the Partridge family. Why weren't they at the Derby? and the Preakness? Instead, they watch it on TV which is one way to avoid having to stage it I suppose. I believe the filmmakers do use actual footage of the real race but it's strangely anticlimactic. I've already mentioned that they completely blow the climactic race at Belmont. The best race dramatized is the first one, the Kentucky Derby. And the filmmakers do a pretty good job of conveying the sheer intensity and visceral power of an animal that fleet and beautiful exploding out of the gate and tearing up the ground. Jockeys take their lives in their hands.

If you want to see a great horse movie, rent SEABISCUIT.
If you want to know more about Secretariat, read William Nack.
SECRETARIAT the movie is just coasting on its title; the horse leaves this film in the dust.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I finally saw THE SOCIAL NETWORK--and kept saying to myself as I watched, why didn't I think of that??? Is it worth four stars? Maybe 3 1/2. Is it engrossing? Yes... especially the speed and acuteness of the dialogue, and the maniacal focus and narcissism of the protagonist, Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg(brilliantly embodied by Jesse Eisenberg)who we are led to believe created FACEBOOK--the ultimate internet connector-- after he was abruptly disconnected by his girlfriend. He seals (steals?)the concept when his vanity is further wounded by the Winklevoss twins, a pair of blindingly blond Harvard crew gods who look down their aquiline noses at the nerdy computer whiz.
"THE FACEBOOK" takes off, then is further tweaked ("Lose the 'THE.'") by "Napster" Sean Parker(Justin Timberlake in a sly, funny take on the nap"star")and the rest is history: gazillions of hits and billions of dollars.
David Fincher directs screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's ingenious script. Ingenious because of its intricate structure which propels a simple story into an intriguing maze of chronology, personalities, and hidden motives. Every scene is "Sorkinized"-- pumped with the screenwriter's own obsessiveness; Sorkin admits to taking 8 to 10 showers a day and talks a blue streak. When we first meet him, Zuckerberg attempts to pummel his date into submission (the lovely Rooney Mara, soon to star in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) with compulsively self-absorbed questions, smart-ass asides, and infuriating "know-it-all-ness," like an idiot savant on speed. This opening scene alone is worth the price of admission.
Whether or not Zuckerberg is the vindictive wunderkind who ruthlessly disposed of his co-creator Edouardo Saverin (as the film cagily implies) I do not know. Sorkin's script is deliberately opaque in this regard and that's a flaw, that and the way Eisenberg's face goes slack whenever his character is called to account. How convenient--or lazy of Sorkin not to commit. I also thought the sight of Harvard coeds casually stripping on tabletops in wood paneled dorm rooms a bit of a stretch.

But THE SOCIAL NETWORK does a good job of stripping this true story down to its bare essentials and entertaining us with a modern fable of no small net worth.