Mini Movie Reviews

The Thinker by Rodin

Here are capsule reviews of a few films I’ve seen recently. The first I saw in a theater, the other two in airplanes.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This was one of those movies that when the lights came up I had a hard time figuring out at first whether I liked it or not. I wasn’t quite sure how even to categorize the film. Drama? Science fiction? The premise of the movie — that painful memories can be selectively erased — is probably closer to being realized than we suspect. That’s why it didn’t quite feel like science fiction to me. Also, it was a gritty film that felt very much grounded in the present day. Rather than seem weird it just seemed quite plausible, like it could easily happen to me.

The whole crux of the movie revolves around voluntary memory erasures. A brief but very meaningful love affair between Joel Barrish (played by Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (played by Kate Winslet) turns toxic. For whatever reason Clementine decides to not just break up with Joel, but to erase all memory of him by seeing a doctor who specializes in this emerging field. He eventually gets a letter notifying him that her memories of him have been erased. He doesn’t believe it so he goes to see her where she works (a bookstore) and it’s true … she doesn’t know who he is and has no desire to find out who this weird guy is. Naturally he ends up at the office of the doctor who performed this erasure. And after a while he is so crushed by what she did to him that he agrees he must have his memories of her erased too because the pain is unendurable.

The film has a flat and grainy feel. Like the many shots near the sea it feels always in motion; the camera rarely rests. The special effects are done quite well, tend to be minimal but are never overbearing. Jim Carrey’s part is a bit of a stretch since he is much older than Kate Winslet, but he is surprisingly convincing in a non-comic role. Among the cast of minor characters is none other than Elijah Wood, who plays one of the guys who helps erase memories at night.

When they try to erase his memories of her things go wrong. He finds during the procedure that in the end he cannot erase all memory of her: he needs her memory as some fundamental part of who he is, and he keeps reprogramming his mind to hold memories of her. But by this time he is too unconscious to be able to tell them to stop.

The movie has a few plot twists and turns back on itself a few times. But it is overall quite a good little movie. So while I didn’t know what to make of it once the movie was over, after it grew on me I knew I liked it. I give it a solid three stars out of four.

Something’s Got to Give

In real life I could never see Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton falling for each other. I can’t imagine them having any interests in common. Talk about oil and water! So I had to suspend disbelief and enjoy the premise anyhow that a hip hop record label owner, played by Jack Nicholson, would fall in love with a famous playwright, portrayed by Diane Keaton.

At the start of the film Jack Nicholson plays an inveterate Hugh Hefner type, unable to ever commit. He attracts and frequently beds lots of women thirty or forty years his junior. He’s into shallow and short relationships, women with nice curves and primal sex. Diane Keaton plays Erica Barry, an erudite lady in her fifties and way past her prime. Nicholson’s character is there to boink her daughter. She invites him up to Mom’s house by the ocean, expecting Mom not to be there. Surprise! Mom shows up unexpectedly anyhow and they all try to be adult about the very awkward situation.

Nicholson’s character receives a well-timed heart attack. But after the heart attack her daughter proves as shallow as Nicholson’s character, and exits stage right. But since Nicholson’s character is already recuperating at their house, she grudgingly allows him to stay for a while. Being divorced and in her fifties, Keaton’s character rarely gets offers for dates, despite her financial success as a playwright. But while they are all at the emergency room she unexpectedly manages to attract Keanu Reeves’ character. Reeves plays an emergency room surgeon who is not put off by the age difference and goes in serious pursuit of her.

You know the plot: Jack’s character has to end up falling in love with Diane’s, even though she is by no means a babe anymore. Nicholson plays the same wisecracking character he always portrays and he does it as well as always. But it is Keaton’s acting that is the surprise in this movie. The situation is contrived but she comes across as wholly believable anyhow. Her light comic acting is entirely engaging. I just loved some of her scenes. The scene where she and Nicholson make love is truly hot, particularly after it is all over, and they are next to each other in bed both looking totally dazed and she says, “God, I just love sex!” It’s not so much what she says, it’s how she says it. I also liked the part where she is at her computer reliving some of her scenes by inserting them into her latest play. She is writing, crying, screaming, laughing and blowing her nose all at the same time while talking to no one in particular.

Keaton didn’t win an Oscar for the part, but she certainly deserved a nomination. This is a contrived but totally feel good romance movie that starts out a bit slow but ends up drawing you in anyhow. So just lie back and enjoy it, knowing this is not the least bit deep, but worth all the shallow emotions that they will spawn anyhow.

Anyone who assumes that a successful romance movie has to involve people with tight skin and athletic frames will be proven wrong.

Another good three out of four stars movie. Enjoy. You will unable not to.

Big Fish

Tim Burton strikes again with a skewed but fun and engaging film about a man and his tall tales. The man, played by Ewan McGreggor as a younger man, and Albert Finney as an older man (two very fine actors) draws his young son in hook, line and sinker into his numerous tall tales. Unfortunately the son eventually grows up, figures they were all lies, and feels very estranged from his father as a result.

A terminal illness though brings him reluctantly back into his life, and the son (played by Billy Crudup) tries gingerly to get his father to admit those big fish stories were so much malarkey. But his father won’t. Little by little we get clues that at least some of the outlandish tales had at least elements of truth to them. We also learn that some of the stories are indeed made up. But how much were made up and how much were malarkey? Stay tuned for the delightful conclusion. If there can be some satisfaction from any protagonist dying in a movie, a cinema viewer will find it in this tale.

A solid three out of four stars here too.

(Will be in Orlando most of the rest of this week … likely won’t have time for blogging.)

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