The ceaseless rain provides ample reason to sit back and watch films this time of year. Over the weekend I rented a passle of movies that I missed in theaters. Frankly I was surprised that a few of them were available at the local video store.
- Paycheck – A fairly normal, nondescript action film. The action was okay, the production and sets top notch, but nothing to really get excited about. Predictable characters and a cookie cutter bad guy. The idea of a man who sees the future and forgets his past is an interesting conceit. I did enjoy the envelope of random objects used to extricate the main character from tight jams. That plot device was executed nicely in the film. I understand the script was based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, who has become a veritable font for screenwriters these days. Perhaps I need to read some of his stories when I get a chance. But rent Kill Bill to see Uma Thurman in a much, much better film.
- Cold Mountain – I missed this movie when it hit theaters around Christmas, so I’ve been waiting for a chance to watch it on DVD. I read the novel by Charles Frazier years ago, and the movie followed the novel closely. However, something of the gnawing desperation of the times that was developed in the book was lacking. The movie certainly played up the sadistic nature of the Home Guard, but I think it didn’t portray the descent to the brink of oblivion that Ada was put through. The threat of winter was a very real concern for people a hundred years ago, the prospect of starvation was very real. Ada’s plight seems trivial in the movie. I mean, a rooster terrorizing her? Get serious.
- The Pianist – Another movie I missed in the theaters a couple years ago. I watched it right after finishing Cold Mountain and it certainly made for a bummer of an evening. The true tale of a Warsaw Jew’s ordeal during the German occupation of Poland, it bears stark witness to the horrors of war. Adrian Brody’s family is killed, his friends shot, his city leveled around him, while he slowly starves hiding in abandoned apartments around Warsaw. The final vignette, where a German officer locates his hiding place in the closing days of the war, is a powerful and moving evocation of the human soul.
- Max – I returned the three movies above and found this sitting on the shelf at the local video store. Max never played on Guam, and I remember reading the review in Salon when it was released. Many criticized the movie because it humanized the most dreadful person in 20th century history. The movie has an incredible idea, what if Adolph Hitler became a successful painter instead of a rising demagogue in the years after World War I? Hitler’s unlikely friendship with a fellow veteran, a Jewish art dealer, offers a taste of what might have been. Again and again, John Cusack, the worldly art dealer Max, urges Hitler to channel his rage and frustration into his art, and Hitler tries. But he lacks the creative muse, and turns to propaganda and anti-Semitism at the urging of his Army superiors. Again and again, Max reaches out to Hitler and tries to engage him. He comes so tantalizingly close; for a moment towards the end of the movie Max realizes Hitler’s true gift is performance art and it looks like Nazism will become a kitschy gallery show and nothing more. But fate takes a hand and quashes that possibility, pushing Hitler onto the podium and unleashing horror upon the modern world.
- The Cooler – The big surprise rental. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a real gem. Great characters, good acting, interesting plot, and some great twists at the end. Alec Baldwin really knocks one out of the park with his character’s fearsome combination of mercy and ruthlessness as he runs his doomed casino. William Macy is a “cooler,” an unlucky schmuck that Baldwin uses to turn the odds against high rollers in the casino. Everything’s fine until Macy falls in love with Maria Bello and his luck changes. Or does it really? A great movie, even though I never want to see Macy do a sex again. That’s just not right, he looked like Ichabod Crane bouncing along on top of Maria Bello.
So I guess the big winner in this roundup is The Cooler, followed by Max and the The Pianist. Definitely check any of those movies out for a rainy afternoon/evening.
Oh yeah, one final bitch about Cold Mountain. A little over a decade ago The Last of the Mohicans was filmed in the mountains of North Carolina, and it was a beautiful film. For some reason a movie about that exact corner of Appalachia was filmed in Slovakia or Transylvania or some such place. The genuine article ain’t good enough or something? Several panoramic shots of Inman trudging back to Cold Mountain featured mountains in the distance that have no business in Appalachia; tall, razor edged peaks girdled in glaciers. North Carolina my ass.