"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
-Oscar Wilde
Brilliant at Breakfast title banner "The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
"...you have a choice: be a fighting liberal or sit quietly. I know what I am, what are you?" -- Steve Gilliard, 1964 - 2007

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"I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum." -- "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (1954-2015), They Live
Monday, March 05, 2007

Movie Catch-up
Posted by Jill | 7:07 AM
One of the nice things about being away from home during time off work is that ths siren song of housework doesn't call, so you get to do things you might actually want to do without feeling that you're neglecting something more important. So while I was away last week I caught up with two of the 2006 movies I'd been wanting to see: Little Children and The Departed.

When I'd heard that Martin Scorsese was remaking the Hong Kong cop flick Infernal Affairs, I wondered if Marty was running out of gas. I'm not usually one for Hong Kong cinema unless it involves finely-crafted Shaolin kung fu (an enthusiasm to which I was introduced, like reggae and the Illuminatus Trilogy, by Mr. Brilliant), and I'm certainly not one for cop movies. But ModFab said I shouldn't miss it, and when ModFab speak, I listen.

But if Scorsese's fingerprints are all over Infernal Affairs, they're even more so over The Departed, which is better than it has any right to be, given Scorsese's tendency in recent years towards the ponderous, rather than the deft heft of his earlier "guy films". Once again, Scorsese's focus is on the guys, and the result is a film that feels like a suit that finally fits again after years of being just a shade too tight.

It would take a truly monstrous director to botch a movie that boasts this cast, and the only misstep here is the casting of Jack Nicholson as crime boss Frank Costello. Nicholson, who seems to have forgotten how to act, having fallen madly and irrevocably in love with his own persona, stomps through the film as if he's gone senile and thinks he's playing Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick, to the point that you almost expect Scorsese to cut to a scene of Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer sticking pins into a wax Frank Costello doll.

It's not that Scorsese can't handle over-the-top characters. Joe Pesci's Tommy deVito in Goodfellas is one of the great bad guys in cinematic history, and no one would accuse Daniel Day-Lewis of subtlety as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. But it's one thing to be over-the-top in finding the character, and another to force the character into your own suit of clothes because you are Jack Fucking Nicholson.

That Nicholson is so awful serves the rest of the cast well, particularly the young'uns. That Warner Bros. didn't push Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio for awards is a mystery, because the two do some masterful work here. Matt Damon has been a nearly complete surprise in recent years, showing some real chameleonic ability in widely divergent roles. Here he floats effortlessly between being the straight-arrow cop and the Good Mob Soldier, finding the creepiness that Andy Lau did in the original film. If DiCaprio's performance is less nuanced, it's because the character is less so, and if he doesn't quite find Tony Leung's careworn, mournful tone, he makes the role of Billy Costigan his own, finally once again finding the Angry Young Man that made his pre-Titanic work so powerful. He may still be the actor that straight guys love to hate, but all bulked up and with his formerly feline face being replaced by something more like James Cagney than the pretty boy he used to be, he's finally crawling out from under That Boat Movie.

If The Departed lives up to its reputation, Little Children does not. I should have remembered that I didn't much care for In the Bedroom either. I wanted to see Little Children because I would pay to watch Kate Winslet read a book for two hours, but not even an effortless performance by The Great Kate can save this film from its own ponderous self-importance. There isn't another actress around who can tell an entire story with her face, which is why director Todd Field's insistence on using narration to tell much of the story is even more annoying that it would be otherwise. I would love to see Winslet do a film with Jet Li sometime; it could be done as a silent film without subtitles and you would know exactly what's going on every minute.

The problem with Little Children is that a fine brush is never used where a sledgehammer will do. I haven't read the source material, so I don't know if the faults are with the original novel, but there are moments in this film that you can see coming a mile away, and that feel almost Spielbergian in their need to make sure that You Are Getting The Symbolism.

For all that the Glory of Kate seems to suck up all the oxygen in this film, and Jackie Earle Haley's oddball Cinderella story has received so much press (though his Ed Grimley-as-sex-criminal is so creepy that it's probably the last such role he'll ever see), for my money it's Phyllis Somerville as Haley's mother whose work is the most memorable, and who is allowed the most dimensionality. Somerville perfectly captures the smothering blind devotion of a mother who refuses to see her son's monstrousness, but lets us know that it isn't because she doesn't know it's there. When the orphaned Ronnie McGormley opens the note his dying mother has left him, and it simply says "Be a good boy", it's a reproach that reaches from the grave like a slap in the face.
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