Mike Kueber's Blog

October 14, 2012

Saturday Night at the Movies #50 – Crash, Boogie Nights, The Last Seduction, The Fighter, Jolene, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Warrior


Because I had shoulder surgery last week for a torn rotator cuff and have been unable to work out, you might think that I would have time to watch more movies, and that would be right.

The Fighter is a 2010 boxing biography based on the lives of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale).  It received a Best Picture nomination and won both Supporting awards.  The story, which revolves around a nice, talented fighter being held back by his family of dependents, is inspiring and the acting is top-notch.  I especially appreciated Wahlberg’s girlfriend, Amy Adams.  Rotten Tomato critics rate it 90% and the audience gives it 88%.  It’s the best I’ve seen for a longtime – four stars out of four.

The Swimming Pool is a 2003 psychological thriller involving a spinster crime novelist (Charlotte Rampling) sharing a beach home with her publisher’s promiscuous youngish daughter (Ludivine Sagnier).  Although their lifestyles dramatically differ, they share an emptiness and lack of direction.  The Rotten Tomato critics score it 84% and the audience 64%.  I like it until it went off on a tangent at the end, so it gets only two stars out of four from me.

Warrior is a 2011 MMA movie that involves two estranged brothers brought together by the brackets of a 16-person competition.  Implausible – not when you consider that the Williams girls in tennis have often had to eliminate each other.  For a little extra twist, the boys’ estranged father (Nick Nolte, who received an Academy nomination) trains one of the boys.  The Northeastern lower-middle-class setting is reminiscent of The Fighter, and each boy has distinct, sympathetic story.  The Rotten Tomato critics score it 83%; the audience liked it more at 92%.  I’ll go with the audience even if the characters were a bit too dysfunctional and give it three and a half stars out of four.    

Jolene is a 2008 drama based on E.L. Doctorow’s short story of the same title.  The story tracks a 15-year-old foster girl who marries a local boy and then bounces around America for a decade, much like Forrest Gump, but with more love and sex – i.e., at least five more love affairs (an uncle-in-law, a female counselor, a tattoo artist, a Mafiosi, and a Bible-reading, woman-beating Okie).  Rotten Tomato critics score it at 50% while the audience give it only 43%.  I like it more than that; Jolene played by Jessica Chastain is an attractive simpleton – three out of four stars.

The Last Seduction, a 1994 crime thriller, confirms my antipathy toward this genre, even with a Manhattan setting and a femme fatale as attractive as Linda Fiorentino.   The Rotten Tomato critics score it at 94% and its audience at 73%.  There was talk by critics that the movie might have garnered Academy nominations if it was not disqualified by showing first on HBO before getting to the big screen.  The audience is about right, with a good story and strong acting, but I don’t like crime thrillers with no redeeming qualities, so I give it only two stars out of four.    

The Talented Mr. Ripley is a 1999 psychological thriller about a sociopath (Matt Damon) who is hired to reform a trust-fund dilettante (Jude Law).  Although I have little time for trust-fund dilettantes, I care even less about watching sociopaths tap dance around their just deserts.  The Rotten Tomato critics score it at 83% and the audience gives it 75%.  I give it only one star out of four. 

Down in the Delta is Maya Angelou’s 1998 film about a single mother (Alfre Woodard) from Chicago who returns to her family’s rich, albeit modest heritage in small-town Mississippi.  Although there is little drama, the movie is inspirational in showing how the small-town (Jeffersonian) values gradually squeeze out the big-city (Hamiltonian) values.  The Rotten Tomato critics liked it better (78%) than its audience (68%).  I agree with the critics and give it three and a half stars out of four.    

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing is a romance classic from 1955.  The story centers on an American journalist (William Holden in his prime) in Hong Kong falling in love with a Eurasian doctor (Jennifer Jones), and the associated ethnic difficulties.  I was more interested in watching two mature, accomplished individuals who had given up on love deciding to give it a try again.  Post-war Hong Kong was also interesting to see.  Although the movie received a Best Picture nomination, the Rotten Tomato critics rate it a mere 46%, and the audience likes it only a little better at 62%.  I give it three stars out of four.

Crash is described by Rotten Tomatoes as a “raw and unsettling morality piece on modern angst and urban disconnect; that examines the bigotry and xenophobia in the lives of interconnected Angelenos.”  Well said.  Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 76% critical rating and an even better 89% audience rating.  I’m with the audience because of the amazing variety of interesting characters, with the only glaring miscasting that of Don Cheadle as the most noble character in this ensemble.  Incidentally, Cheadle was a producer, too.  Wikipedia note that the characters are not neatly categorized as offenders and victims of bigotry, but many play both roles in different contexts.  Crash has been listed as one of the worst movies to receive a Best Picture award (the favorite was Brokeback Mountain), with other contenders being Slumdog Millionaire and Chicago.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and give it three and a half stars out of four. 

Boogie Nights is a 1997 expose of life in the porn industry.  Because it stars Mark Wahlberg, it reminds me of his 2001 expose of life in a rock band, titled Rock Star.  Suffice to say that in both the star takes a few bites out of the apple (sex, drugs) before learning that lifestyle is not sustainable.  In addition to Wahlberg, the strong cast includes Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William Macy, Thomas Jane, Luis Guzman, John Doe, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, plus Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds, who received Academy nominations for their supporting roles.  The Rotten Tomato critics liked it at 92% and the audience liked it almost as much at 84%.  I agree and give it three and a half out of four starts.


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