Four movies for your two eyes, two ears.
“Burn After Reading”– You need to manage your expectations on this one, people. It’s being marketed as a comedy. If you walk in, sit down, fold your arms and say “O.K., clown-boys, make me laugh!” you won’t enjoy this movie as much as you should. Yes, there are some laughs in “Burn”. Some laughs. But mostly it’s a quirky character-driven intricately plotted web of intrigue, vanity and stupidity.
This is the latest offering from Joel & Ethan Coen (who some call “The Coen Brothers”, I call them “Those Kooky Coen Kids”). They’re hot off the Oscar-heavy success of “No Country For Old Men” and here they definitely toss a change up from the heavy drama of that jewel.
I’ll eagerly to see anything the Coens make, after all they’ve made some of the most interesting and enjoyable films of recent times: ”O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, “Miller’s Crossing”, “The Big Leboski”, “Fargo”, “Raising Arizona”, “Blood Simple”, “Barton Fink” and more).
In “Burn After Reading”, you’ve got star power galore with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich. You’ve got nepotism with Frances McDormand playing a lead (she’s the wife of Joel Coen, but she’s always terrific and probably doesn’t need the inside connection). You’ve got great character actors in Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins and J.K. Simmons. You’ve got a free-wheeling story that just keeps spinning inter-connected plot lines and catapults the story along to a conclusion that is fulfilling, believable and as arbitrary as life itself.
I did miss Roger Deakins, who has been the director of photography for just about all the later Coen films. “Burn” does not have the cinematic grandeur and camera movement as previous Coen flicks, but it does keep you moving and guessing and enjoying the ride, so what the hell, enjoy your time off Mr. Deakins… but please come back soon. I miss you.
“Tropic Thunder”– There’s a reason this film is doing some serious box office business: it does what a comedy is supposed to do, give your lungs a healthy workout. This is one seriously funny movie.
But even if it wasn’t funny, it’s a pretty good action-adventure film thanks to some beautiful cinematography by two time Oscar winner John Toll and excellent directing by Ben Stiller.
Stiller co-wrote this yukfest with actor Justin Theroux and the incomparable Ethan Coen (moonlighting while Joel slept with wife Frances).
The premise of the movie is the making of a big budget movie based on a best selling book about the Vietnam War called “Tropic Thunder”.
The main attraction is Robert Downey, Jr., playing 5-time Oscar-winning Australian actor Kirk Lazarus. Kirk is the ultimate method actor so for the role of an African-American sergeant, he has a controversial skin- tinting procedure. Downey plays it to the hilt as brother fighting for The Man. But a white dude playing black does not play well with fellow actor Alpa Chino, who really is black, played superbly by Brandon T. Jackson.
This is the year of Robert Downey, Jr. With this role and playing the lead in “Iron Man”, he stars in two of the best movies of the year, with another promising one (“The Soloist”) on the horizon.
Ben Stiller gobbles his scenes as the Sly Stallone-like mega-action-fading-star Tugg Speedman. His obsequious agent is ably played by Matthew McConaughey (who amazingly plays the entire role shirted).
Jack Black plays a drug addicted co-star who’s made his fame in a series of successful ‘fart films’ (can you say “Eddie Murphy”?) and now wants to be taken seriously as an AC-TOR.
And the big buzz of the film is Tom Cruise playing an obnoxiously overbearing ball-busting studio head. Cruise has great make-up, rage and screen presence, and you can tell he loved every minute of playing this outrageous jerk.
This movie is decidedly politically incorrect, raunchy, sophomoric and foul– so if you’re easily offended rent “The Sound of Music”, eat taffy and pray for a gentler world. But if you’re up for some good laughs and fun pyrotechnics, grab a chair and kiss a couple hours goodbye. It’s well worth the trip.
“Vicky Christina Barcelona” – Woody Allen is a machine who’s been churning out movies for 42 years. He earned his chops as a master of comedies, defiantly made a series of soberingly depressing dramas and has bobbed about with light dramas, comic capers and interesting character studies. This movie is one of his human stories.
Vicky is played by the beautiful Rebecca Hall. She’s a confident woman engaged to a Mr. Conformity in NYC. She is more pragmatist than poet. She believes she knows herself and her destiny. She marches through life with firm footed certainty.
Christina is played by the luminous Scarlett Johansson. She’s a flighty insecure woman who is looking for love in all the wrong places but remains a hopeless romantic. She is open to possibilities and growth, unsure of every step she takes but knowing it will lead to something that could be better. She is an artist on her journey of discovery.
Vicky and Christina are enjoying a summer holiday in guess where– Barcelona (boy, the movie’s title gives away the entire story). They encounter an egocentric artist named Juan Antonio, wonderfully played by Javier Bardem (it’s hard to believe this is the same dude who lugged around the bovine-skull-crushing air gun in “No Country For Old Men”). He is on a hedonistic bender, on the rebound from a toxic relationship with his ex-wife, Maria Elena (played by Penelope Cruz).
Juan Anotonio proposes a threesome to Vicky and Christina. He loses that proposal, but gets involved with each beauty individually. He and Christina become an item, his unstable ex enters the scene, more things happen and then some other things happen, too.
I’ll say no more except this movie is a must-see for anyone who ponders the human condition and enjoys adult stories that make your brain contemplate life. Good on you, Woody.
“In Bruges”– You’ll have to rent this puppy, but go ahead and get it in your queue today. This tale of two hired killers in the Belgium resort Bruges is a fun romp well acted by Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell (his performance here is almost good enough to wipe away the stench and sin of starring in “Alexander”). Ralph Fiennes is their irate boss back in the U.K., and as you probably guessed, there is a racist dwarf (sorry, little person).
It was written and directed by celebrated Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. This is an impressive debut for an incredible talent. It’s beautifully shot with a hauntingly beautiful musical score. Don’t even get me started on the impressive work of the Best Boy.
Give it a go. You’ll love being In Bruges, and won’t soon forget the trip.