I don't get out much, and there are a number of reasons for that. First of all, the serendipitous circumstances of life have me spending so much time making a living that I have little time for living. (Of course thanks to the global recession, I now have plenty of time for living but no money.) Second, I am by most measures a fairly conservative individual living in a very liberal society, so a lot the "popular" things to do don't fit into my personal lifestyle. (Of course, I don't know of anybody that laments my absence at the nude beaches.) And finally, there's no denying, I am cheap -- penny pinching, miserly, parsimonious, scrimping, illiberal, avaricious, ungenerous, penurious, tightfisted, mingy Brit., cheeseparing, snoep S. African. (This self description courtesy of this site.) So I don't always get out to see movies first run. I most often wait until they are available on DVD, and then I wait a little longer and hope that someone I know lends me their copy.
Such is the case recently with three films: Notes on a Scandal, Mystic River, and Wanted. Being parsimonious, I figure that since I already have already seen these movies and have an opinion about them, there's no sense in you having to go out and get an opinion of your own.
Il Buono: Notes on a Scandal (2006) stars Judi Dench and Cate Blanchette. It is an extremely well-crafted story of the unusual relationship between a spinster veteran high school teacher and younger colleague. The younger woman, adrift and unsatisfied with her life, is drawn into a taboo relationship with one of her students. The older woman, discovering the affair, sets out to correct the problem. It becomes apparent however, that she is motivated not by propriety but by self interest.
There is much to enjoy about this film. Four Oscar nominations (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Writing and Best Original Score) attest to the caliber of this movie. I didn't see any of the competition in the nominated categories, so I really can't say if the winners were indeed better, but I can assure you that both Dench and Blanchette turn in great performances, the writing is magnificent, and yes, the music adds tremendous depth to the experience. I particularly liked the writing. The movie is littered with lines that you hear and say 'I wish I had written that.' And while the language is beautiful, what is said is marvelously observant of life and very thought provoking. On top of all that, the story is clever and twists in unexpected ways. This film is especially good.
Il brutto: You may have noticed how I cleverly used the title of an unrelated movie to rank these movies, and by using the Italian title, I have added not only to the cleverness, but I have also infused a layer of cheeseparing sophistication. Mystic River (2004) was directed by Clint Eastwood (the "Buono" in that unrelated movie) and was nominated for five Oscars and won two. Go figure.
This is a slow moving, uninteresting movie. It is the story of three guys who grew up in a working class neighborhood in Boston. The abduction and molestation of one of the boys (Tim Robbins' character) shatters their innocence and shapes all three of their lives, or so the story wants us to believe. Having drifted apart over the years, the three lives collide once again when the daughter of one of the men (Sean Penn's character) is murdered, the investigation is handled by the second of the trio (played boringly by Kevin Bacon) who has grown up to be a cop, and suspicion falls on Robbins' character. There is a story here, but it is never convincingly told. It's like the difference between Snidley Whiplash and Hannibal Lector. We know that Whiplash is a villain because has a handlebar moustache and wears dark villain clothes and does evil deeds. We know that Lector is a villain because he scares us, he gets past our defenses, roots around in our soul, and makes us feel vulnerable. Mystic River has all the props and costumes, but it never feels like a real story.
I'm a big fan of Clint the actor, but I've liked very little of Clint the director. In this film in particular, Clint tried overly hard to be artsy and sentimental. The pointless shots of sky and clouds with swelling musical strains left me feeling like I was seeing the puppeteer yanking on the strings. Sean Penn won for Best Actor -- yawn. Tim Robbins won for Best Supporting Actor -- ahhh, okay.
For all the talent brought to play here, this film turned out to be bad.
Il cattivo: There's bad, then there's ugly. Wanted (2008) is an ugly film. A young man who considers himself a loser trapped in a dead end job is recruited to be an assassin by a mysterious group called the Fraternity. His only qualification for the job is that he is the son of a very skilled, and now dead, assassin. This said, he is then trained by being beaten and tortured. It is supposed to bring out the best in him.
Once trained, he then goes about his job assassinating people, and in the process leaves a wide swath of destruction and the bodies of innocent bystanders strewn about. It is a pointless story where violence and murder are glorified mindlessly and irresponsibly. And the dialogue sucks big time.
This film ought to be an embarrassment to Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie, two performers whose work generally speaking I very much enjoy. I understand that Jolie's shallow and irrelevant character was written into the story especially for her -- a real left handed compliment to her acting ability.
The good, the bad, and the ugly. That's my opinion. Feel free to use it.