Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lots of Robbers, A Couple Cops, and Two Towns

This week I saw two films about robbers who are totally impervious to the ruin and devastation they leave in their wake. One was about unshaven guys in Boston, and the other was about well-coiffed and tailored thieves on Wall Street.

What can I say about Oliver Stone’s return to finance in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps?” It shows its age. Gordon Gekko’s actions were amateur hour compared to those of the financial wizards of the 21st century empire that led us to 2007/2008, so you’d think the film would hit harder now than it did then. The days of M&A were ugly (not that they’re gone – M&A is just not as popular a media spectacle today as it once was) and that was reflected in 1987’s “Wall Street.” The world of high finance is even worse now, and I was tired almost as soon as the movie started, with its typically shouting traders and its tickers crossing the screen up, down, and diagonally. We’ve all seen those graphics before. Bored now. Really, hiring top rate actors can only disguise a mediocre script by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff so much. There were no surprises -- except for the hokey ending in which the film tied up loose ends and made the world pretty, I mean how ridiculous and anticlimactic is that?

Michael Douglas is as sleazy as ever, Eli Wallach is incomprehensible, Shia LaBeouf has worn out his charm…. most of these people are playing thoroughly unsympathetic characters. Carey Mulligan gives more to the role of Gordon Gekko’s daughter than was written. There’s some good acting going on here -- except for that of the director himself – but the movie does not deserve it. Yes, Josh Brolin’s depiction of Bretton James (great name) brings to mind the term “Come the Revolution!” but every male in the movie does the same crap he does, just not as expertly. There’s one exception to that – Austin Pendleton as the earnest but needy scientist who’s actually trying to produce something and use the Market for its real purpose (which, by the way, is to provide capital to the nation’s producers of goods and services. Apparently a great many people actually working in the Market aren’t aware of that.).

Mr. Stone showed us pretty pictures of downtown Manhattan architecture, glamorous and shiny and conspicuous. Then he brought us uptown for the best scene in the film, which was not really about the main characters of the story. Rather, it was about conspicuous consumption at a $10,000 a plate benefit. This scene showed what I believe is all Mr. Stone really had to say: If every woman attending that dinner had donated her earrings, and every man his watch, no more such benefit evenings would be required. For any cause. It made for a powerful scene that Mr. Stone couldn’t replicate for two hours traffic.

In a word: “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is disappointing.

On the other hand, I enjoy the trailer for “Red.” Not only does that film’s cast boast Helen Mirren, but Ernest Borgnine! Can’t wait!

In “The Town,” Ben Affleck tells us a sad but good story, peopled by sympathetic humans – even those who do decidedly bad things. It’s brisk, it’s well acted, well shot, well edited. This film is riveting and engrossing enough to get me to that special place from which I wish a certain character would violently kill another particular character, or two. Even the unlikely romance almost worked for me. I cared about all the characters, because they were well written and each actor created a real person, with sides, and depth, and hidden bits, plenty of warts, but not only those.

  • Kudos to Ben Affleck as co-writer with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard.
  • Kudos to Ben Affleck as director of a fast-paced, clear, bright and darkly shiny story (based on a novel by Chuck Hogan).
  • Kudos to Ben Affleck as leading man.
Affleck holds his own even with the fabulous and fascinating Jeremy Renner. I was almost as afraid of Jeremy Renner’s Jim Coughlin in this film as I was of Javier Bardem in “No Country For Old Men.” It’s not so much that Jim’s career criminal is as scary a human as Bardem’s assassin, it’s the fact that Jim lives everywhere: in Charlestown, in South Queens, in South Philly. Renner is one of those actors we’ve seen for years but only learned his name in “The Hurt Locker.” Now we’ll never forget it. He’s pitch perfect here, every look, every shrug, every underplayed line. Gorgeous.

Chris Cooper, Pete Postlethwaite, really everybody in this film -- they’re just living these gray, dingy, harsh lives, and we happen to be watching. Amazing work, film acting the way it should be done.

Blake Lively has no resemblance to the princess she plays on “Gossip Girl” – she’s very good here, pathetic, sadly real. Rebecca Hall is much better on film than on stage and was quietly vulnerable and needy as the victim and love interest.

I’ve only mentioned “Robbers” here, but the “Cops” are damned good too – Jon Hamm as the FBI guy who doesn’t shave any more than the bank robbers do, and Titus Welliver as the Boston cop who actually knows the guys from “The Town,” which makes the "Robbers" hate him far more than they do the Fed. Both of these “good guys” are pretty sleazy.

There’s a quiet intensity to the characters in “The Town” – they are revealed in their looks, their postures, their silences. No one wants to speak from the heart at all let alone out loud. It’s dangerous to be where everybody knows your name.

The film held my attention but for one moment when odd scoring made me analyze the scene – quiet but decidedly heroic orchestration played under Dougie (Affleck) crossing the prison yard to visit his father. This was incongruous and confusing.

About those masks in the trailers – truly creepy. All of them. They’re effective and I for one would certainly never look one of them in the face. Smart criminals.

In general, I don’t care about car chases or explosions, but DAMN, the chase scenes in “The Town” are terrific, filled with tension, excitement, and crazy Boston drivers!

Good stuff Mr. Affleck. You done the hometown proud. Again.

~ Molly Matera, signing off, locking the doors, and changing the passwords.


  1. Good reading--thanks to good writing. Really flows and is vivid. Yeah, Reds looks great, dun it?

  2. Okay, so I liked Reds when no one else did. Easily slides off the tongue. I meant to say Red. Did you see Mirren's Phedre?

  3. Alas, I did not see Mirren's Phedre. The Beatty "Reds?"

  4. Yes, the Beatty "Reds." What can I say. I'm a sucker for epics!

    Not as knowledgeable about films as you (for different reasons including life difficulties), so am enjoying your critiques. Yet, from what I glean from the info you share, there seem to be many parallels--especially the swimming! Good luck with living out your passions. The "re's" are hard: returning, re-forming (reforming!), restarting, revisioning, rewriting, revising, refining--just to "live," and to live a good, decent, and passionate life. Funny how sometimes we have to dig deep, go back years, and re-find the nascent self that existed before some of us got sidelined just so we can continue to "live" (in the best sense of the word) before life's candle extinguishes. (Sorry about that last run-on and awkward syntax.)

    Peace; good fortune; all best in your journeys, literal and literary; and may you always have 500 pounds a year!