Despite dozens of respectful, worshipful reviews, I’ve been hearing very mixed reactions on the street for the new Eastwood film, Million Dollar Baby, and some friends of mine who went to the premiere say the first two acts are pretty standard boxing-movie/sport-movie stuff… but with the third act, the plot makes an unexpected turn and the film takes things in a new direction, with Eastwood’s character stealing the show, turning in a bravura performance.
If the buzz is true, it’s surprising Eastwood’s camp isn’t pushing harder for a supporting actor Oscar nom for the old Clint. Or, to put it in more exact terms: Despite a movie flawed by clichés, Eastwood’s acting is surprisingly transcendent, and yet it’s his directing and the solid performances by Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman that are getting all the acclaim. Perhaps he’s just being modest about his histrionic skills, and biding his time for a knock-out punch in a thespian category… Surely he won’t land too many directing awards for this one.
[Update: After writing this, Eastwood nabbed Academy Award nods for both Best Picture and Best Actor, so perhaps the Oscar campaign for his acting work was stronger than the Million Dollar Baby industry trade ads led me to believe. Also, he won a Golden Globe for best director, so despite my prediction, the man's getting trophies even for directing work that's arguably less impressive than such previous efforts as Unforgiven and Mystic River. But then again, Renée Zellweger was nominated this year for a best actress Golden Globe for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason—quite possibly one of the most vigorously soulless films ever committed to celluloid—so we can't take the Globes too seriously.]
Also, I can’t help but suspect that Kevin Spacey made his new Bobby Darin biopic (Beyond the Sea) because he’s one of these triple-threat actors that has a lot of pent up anger about the fact that they can do everything (sing! dance! act!), and yet they’re just seen as being the same as all the other actors (e.g., Brad Pitt or Al Pacino can’t sing and dance like Spacey, and Spacey wants the world to know it). In every interview, I can just see Spacey thinking I can outperform 98% of modern actors, dammit, and all those embarrassing years of dance lessons shouldn’t go to waste!
In addition to the flick, by doing a 12-city tour as Bobby Darin, Spacey solidifies this talent and makes it real—he has to be a really awesome song-and-dance man to pull this off live in front of big audiences, which is something that today’s musical-movie stars can’t do (just think of Richard Gere and Renée Zellweger trying to do their Chicago stuff live—they wouldn’t hack it, because the only reason they were able to make Zellweger look like a great singer-dancer in the film was through rapid cutting and massive re-recording).
So, it’s totally an ego thing—which becomes even more evident with every Beyond the Sea article I read, because Spacey seems to have his entire cast and crew trained to repeat the party line of “Kevin Spacey is the greatest actor-filmmaker of all time. He was directing the film, producing the film, writing the film, editing the film, shooting the film, dancing better than Gene Kelly, singing better than Sinatra, and acting better than De Niro ALL AT THE SAME FRIGGIN’ TIME. Please worship this man.” And then the reporter will interview Spacey, who’ll say something like, “I’m a very humble man, so I would never imply that I’m an genius and egomaniac, but have I mentioned that I’m better than the real Bobby Darin? I’m a god. Watch my incredible performance as the feisty science-soldier in ‘Outbreak’ for proof. Lick the ground I walk on. Now.”
Of course, with all the former models and semi-talented pretty faces making beaucoup bucks as “actors”, the multi-talented Spacey has every right to flaunt what he’s got. The fact that he’s 20 years too old to play Bobby Darin, coupled with his weakness for melodrama, being the only real negative against him.
I’ve been flying around the country a lot lately, which has lead to my watching some films I might not have normally seen: I was not impressed by Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, although it had a couple of okay jokes (I liked the pirate and the pizza-down-the-pants, but after this mostly mediocre effort, the atrocious Duplex, and the other laughless clunkers Ben Stiller has churned out lately, he’s now highly ranked on my shit list). I’m embarrassed to admit that I laughed all the way through The Hot Chick, although I prefer 1999’s Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo when it comes to Rob Schneider films (a dirty, secret, guilty pleasure). I, Robot was disappointing considering director Alex Proyas’ previous sci-fi effort, Dark City, a perfect film; the FX in the lower-budget Dark City somehow looked better than the videogame-like FX found the expensive I, Robot, with its cheesy-action-movie machine-gun ending… bler….
However, the antidote to the bad plane-movies came with two new art-house flicks recently screened in NY:
The Woodsman is slow and often depressing, but the performances are extraordinary, and the direction is poetic. Kevin Bacon’s portrayal is flawless, as is the work by all of the supporting actors (check out the little girl in the park—her scene with Bacon at the end of the film will burn itself into your psyche). After the screening I attended, Kevin Bacon and his wife/co-star, Kyra Sedgwick, had a lovely, laid-back conversation with the audience. It’s always nice when actors turn out to be intelligent even off-script. And it’s even nicer when you’ve actually enjoyed their film, so you don’t have to bite your tongue the entire time, desperately trying not to blurt out what sordid hacks they are. Bacon and Sedgwick are a grounded, class act—onscreen and off.
The Motorcycle Diaries is incredible. Truly mesmerizing. You can’t watch this film without feeling the growing urge to learn Spanish, travel across South America, befriend lepers, pick up hot Latin chicks, get a funny best friend with a motorcycle, and join the Communist Party. Now I can’t wait for the Steven Soderbergh/Benicio Del Toro/ Terrence Malick Che feature, since The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta) is the perfect prequel for the story of Ernesto “Fuser” Guevara de la Serna becoming the heroic, militant Che (Ché) Guevara and setting off on a whirlwind tour of revolution.
Then, at a hotel, I saw The House of Sand and Fog, which was pretty gut wrenching, especially the third act, when everything goes horribly wrong just when you think everything is about to get nice and cutesy. You know, usually with a film like this at some point the ethnic family and the white people all realize how much they have in common and they reach an agreement that makes everyone happy. So as you watch the film, after 90 minutes of seeing these characters suffer, you’re waiting for the breath of fresh air at the end—you’re thinking, you’re hoping, you’re wrong. The ending is more devastating than everything that comes before. It’s not a perfect film, however, as it can be a bit melodramatic and manipulative at times (making up for this is some brief nudity from the eternally hot Jennifer Connelly).
Director Beeban Kidron’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason sucked the big one, making the first Bridget Jones look like a masterwork classic comedy bonanza compared to this crap fest.
Indie phenom Napoleon Dynamite was a stylistic knockoff of Wes Anderson’s work, but it was devilishly funny nonetheless; and it’s one of those rare films that grow funnier with repeated viewings.
The Aussie rock comedy Garage Days, from director Alex Proyas (the auteur behind the flawless, mind-bending Dark City) has a slick visual pallet, but the character high jinks quickly grow grating and the plot fails to captivate for more than minutes at a time; however, points have to be given for the ballsy choice of giving the band their comeuppance at the film’s conclusion.
Another Australian film, Dirty Deeds, stumbles upon moments of brilliance while lampooning the American Mafia genre; star Bryan Brown is engaging, as always, and the movie has real originality and cinemagraphic panache, despite a smattering of clichés and plot potholes.
And Brit hit Shaun of the Dead is drop-dead hilarious, but it’s best watched after seeing a couple of your favorite zombie movies and Danny Boyle’s London-based masterstroke, 28 Days Later; that way you’ll get more of the jokes, although the film is bloody amusing regardless.
Also archived at: Celebrity Cola: Movie Reviews and News (December 2004), along with a definition of “beaucoup,” the spelling of Bobby Darin vs. Bobby Darrin, a short history of el Ché Ernesto Guevara Serna (and the meaning of his various nicknames, including Fuser), and links related to all the movies above.