The Spanish Prisoner
David Mamet, director/writer, 1997
John: This is the second or third time I’ve seen this movie. About three-quarters of the way through it, I think this is one that will out-Hitchcock Hitchcock. Then it goes wrong and I remember why I was disappointed before. Mamet is a great writer and the cast is good, but…
Spanky: I know what you mean, and I think the problem has to do with our expectations which extend beyond the movie. Steve Marin plays it straight, and we expect him to betray us (hasn’t he already done that “playing it straight.”) But its Mamet’s wife, Rebecca Pidgeon―cast as a naïve, but trusting female confident―who we can’t accept as evil.
John: All of a sudden this is another twist and turn in a movie of twists and turns, but this is one too many. She has been the central character’s, and our, one fixed point in an ever-changing perspective.
Spanky: Part of the problem is I’m sure Mamet didn’t want Pidgeon to be the heroine and Martin and Ben Gazzara, the losers. And he knew he could write clever dialogue to cover the sleight of hand. He does. But emotionally, cleverness is not enough.
John: I love the way he plays off of Chinese tourist stereotypes, but you’re right. The Campbell Scott character (he is the son of George C. Scott, by the way) is our stand-in, not knowing what to believe or who to trust, but Pedgeon seems all that is right in a confusing, greedy world. To throw her out, with the bath, is to throw the movie away too.
GO (1 GO out of 4)
Spanky: If wishing could make something better, I would have been satisfied. John you may not be Mamet, and are certainly not Steve Martin, but for once I agree.
BARK (1 BARK out of 4)
Posted in Alfred Hitchcock, cult films, David Mamet, dogs, John Lehman, Jokes & Fun, movie review, movies, Spanky and John Go to the Movies
Tagged Ben Gazzara, Campbell Scott, David Mamet, Ed O'Neill, Felicity Huffman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Steve Martin, The Spanish Prisoner
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid – Carl Reiner, director, 1981
JOHN: I saw this when if first came out and thought it deserved a second viewing. It is a clever idea – using bits of old movies integrated into a Steve Martin/Carl Reiner new plot. But…. It doesn’t work (if it ever did). Why? The actors are good; the conceit, praiseworthy, the interjection of old footage, flawless; but it reminds me of someone trying to write a poem in the form of a sonnet. It is way too self-conscious. Just write the goddamn poem.
GO (1 GO out of 4)
SPANKY: If anything it makes me wish I were seeing the original films. Sure there are some clever one-liners, like audience banter in the old “Mystery Theater” TV program. But, this is wasted talent and the fact that so much effort has gone into it makes the waste seem even greater. To give it some credit, when it first came out people weren’t into old noir movies. Maybe this helped bring that about, I don’t know. However, we might say about some films, “They don’t make them like they use to.” Let’s hope they never make them like this again.
BARK (1 BARK out of 4)
It’s Complicated, Nancy Meyers director, 2010
"Where is Lemon when you need her?"
The GOOD: Alec Baldwin. He steals the show. This isn’t the quick-cut 30 Rock exec, but a real screen presence who is funny, tragic and real.
The BAD: The film is a mixed bag of thoughtful and stupid scenes. When a great plot idea does a pratfall, it’s worse than a less ambitious film that doesn’t trip.
What BUGS ME: And the blame can be put on Meryl Streep and Steve Martin. I’m sure the casting director saw Balldwin as a secondary character and the Sophie’s Choice Meryl and peoples’ choice, Steve Martin, the two who would hold the stage. It just doesn’t play out that way.
JOHN: Had Streep (unfortunately more Mama Mia than Sophie’s Choice) really been the central character the story might have successfully focused on her decision to move on (and the dutiful—if not subdued—Steve Martin, the sensible choice to do this with). Instead, everyone in the home audience was yelling, “Are you nuts?” Or was the purpose of the movie to appease a heavily divorced or children of divorced parents audiences? Too bad if that was the case. Some genuine issues are raised in the film: the person we want our spouse to be, what we learn, how there is often something left unresolved, what our children experience through this that will affect their own choices. For this I give the film a higher rating than I ordinarily would. I hope we have more films that make us think. Less that fall back on Hollywood-star schlock instead of providing answers.
GO, GO, GO (3 GOs out of four)
SPANKY: One reviewer commented, “If a Pottery Barn catalog had a midlife crisis, it would look and feel something like It’s Complicated.” Nancy Meyer’s direction is at best lumbering, but the characters have some complexity and the conversations between them (and challenges of divorce) are sometimes nuanced. I liked the moment when family members around the dinner table (including both the mom and dad) realize they are all together again, and there is a tender moment when Baldwin lovingly puts his hand over the heart of the sleeping child of his second wife’s illegitimate son. And the kid from the office, John Krasinski, is good as an outsider, like us, who perhaps is privy more than he wants to be. But, the phrase “it’s complicated” tends to become more of an excuse rather than a revelation. Like lavishly set tables and meticulously chosen throw pillows, the story looks nice but doesn’t feel lived in. Now if Alec Baldwin could only play the banjo.
BARK, BARK (2 BARKS out of four)
Posted in film, John Lehman, Jokes & Fun, movie review, movies, Spanky and John Go to the Movies
Tagged 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin, Blanchard Ryan, It's Complicated, John Krasinski, Meryl Streep, Nancy Meyers, Robert Adamson, Steve Martin