Sunday, October 15, 2006


It is about two guys who are each undercover agents. Leonardo Dicaprio plays the cop working deep undercover for a gangster while feeding information back to the cops. Matt Damon plays the other cop who is supposed to be investigating that same gangster, while feeding information back to that same gangster.

They're doubles. Get it? That's about as subtle as the movie gets.

This film is being hailed by a lot of people as a dazzling return to form for Scorsese. What it really feels like to me is a return to straightforward storytelling. The film is leaner than Scorsese's last few films; there are fewer stylistic flourishes, that feeling that he is straining really really really hard to be as 'cinematic' as he can be. There's nothing in THE DEPARTED to match the big tracking shot through the bowels of the Copa in GOODFELLAS or the dazzling fight scenes in RAGING BULL or the games with color in THE AGE OF INNOCENCE and THE AVIATOR, etc. The characters and story are the stars this time out.

And this time I was actually moved to give a damn about them. Mr. Damon and Mr. Dicaprio do very good work, each coming apart at the seams most convincingly under the pressures of their respective situations. Dicaprio's work in THE DEPARTED shows all the tension and danger that his performance in GANGS so desperately lacked, and the darkness behind Damon's trillion-dollar smile has never been used to better effect.

So what's not to like? The fact that the film starts to feel rather by the numbers. There is a MILLER'S CROSSING factor, by which I mean that eventually it just becomes clear that everybody is double-crossing everybody else, and triple-crossing everybody else, and nobody can be trusted, and nobody is quite what they seem, and that rabbits will be pulled from hats (a series of incriminating recordings appears just a little too conveniently) in order to ensure big climactic scenes.

In a nutshell, the feeling that my time could have been better spent watching a few good episodes of THE SOPRANOS just wouldn't go away, especially when Jack Nicholson was onscreen. His showboat performance occasionally pays off, but all too often it just brings the film to a halt. Look boys and girls, there's Jack with a severed hand in a baggie! Look boys and girls, see how he's waving it around to get some Tarantino-style laughs!! And don't forget the big rat impression at Oscar time, y'all.

So the big question now: is THE DEPARTED sufficiently devoid of interest and content to snag Scorsese that long-deferred Oscar? I don't see how they can deny it to him this time. I'm glad that THE DEPARTED doesn't sink under the weight of Scorsese's 'cinematic genius' the way that GANGS OF NEW YORK and THE AVIATOR did, and that it is leaner and meaner and ultimately just plain better than either of his most recent pieces of Oscar bait. But all the lean mean just plain betterness of this film can't disguise the fact that it has absolutely nothing interesting to say.

And that final shot. I mean really. Just how stupid does Scorsese think I am?

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Terry Gilliam's latest and possibly most audacious film opens with an intro from the director, telling us that some of us will love the film, some will hate the film, and that some of us won't know what to think of it, but that hopefully we'll have something to think about. I manage to fall somewhere in between all three categories: I love parts of it, have doubts about parts of it, and don't quite know what to think of other parts of it, but have found it hard to stop thinking about it.

TIDELAND centers on Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), a young girl in rather horrifying circumstances who, not surprisingly for a Gilliam hero, takes refuge in fantasy. She's clearly been left to her own devices a good deal; when not cooking up her father's latest heroin fix and preparing his needles she has rather elaborate conversations with a series of tiny doll heads. Upon her mother's death (some reviews have said from an overdose but it looks like accidental asphyxiation to me) Jeliza-Rose and her father journey to his mother's home in the country, which turns out to be a deserted husk of a house in the middle of a field of weeds. Eventually Jeliza gets involved with a neighboring woman named Dell (an alarming Janet McTeer) and Dell's rather extravagantly mentally damaged brother Dickens (Brendan Fletcher).

I can't really give away much more without giving away too much. A good part of the effect of the film is the flat-out surprise it generates. Certain scenes are literally jaw-dropping. Make no mistake: this is no genteel Focus On The Family-friendly fantasy. TIDELAND owes as much to Tobe Hooper as it does to Lewis Carroll. Gilliam makes it clear in his introduction that the film is about innocence and the resilience of children, and he may be understating. For Jeliza-Rose to make it to the end of the events of this film with anything like a semblance of a shred of sanity left calls for more than resilience and a refuge in fantasy: it requires flat-out Miraculous Intervention.

TIDELAND, like Gilliam's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS and Linklater's A SCANNER DARKLY, will take more than one viewing to fully appreciate. I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

Friday, October 06, 2006


I started a new job recently, and haven't been able to post as much as I would like. Lots of new stuff to learn. I'll be back shortly. Here are a couple of bitesized recent things:

I went to a screening at the local IFC Center, a surprise screening of one of Terry Gilliam's favorite films with Gilliam himself appearing for a Q&A after the film. The film turned out to be TOTO LE HEROS, a not terribly interesting and surprisingly derivative film. Gilliam handled the Q&A very well, making one memorable comment about how he was considering suing Bush and Cheney for plagiarizing so much of BRAZIL, that we are basically living in his film now.

I saw BRAZIL last weekend at Film Forum. He's right. We are.

Bob and I saw THE ILLUSIONIST. An okay little movie worth seeing mainly to watch Paul Giamatti act pretty much everybody off the screen.

We rented THE LIBERTINE. Even my adoration of Johnny Depp couldn't make me sit all the way through it. When it pops up on cable, watch the first few minutes to see Depp's opening monologue, a monstrous and fascinating display of egotism and nastiness. It banished most of my concerns about whether he'd be able to make a convincing Sweeney Todd, all except worries about how he'll handle the singing. The rest of THE LIBERTINE is pretty dull, hitting bold new lows whenever a dreadfully miscast John Malkovich appears onscreen wearing the single worst piece of prosthetic makeup I've ever seen, a fake nose that sticks out like, well, a sore nose.

I've been on a bit of a Joseph Heller kick lately. CATCH-22, CLOSING TIME, PICTURE THIS, and GOOD AS GOLD one right after the other. I like CATCH-22 a lot. I can say with absolute confidence that at least one of my ex-jobs used it as their management guide, not realizing it is a satire. I had been planning on a re-read of SOMETHING HAPPENED, but it just didn't seem like the kind of thing to be reading when embarking on a new job. I switched to Michael Chabon's WONDER BOYS, a much lighter and friendlier read.

Bob and I also saw Twyla Tharp's new dance musical theatre piece, THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING. An early preview, they're still making changes. The show is based on the songs of Bob Dylan, as MOVIN' OUT was based on Billy Joel's. This one isn't a straightforward ballet piece, danced to a live band and a singer. THE TIMES features characters who actually sing their own songs, a violently unpleasant man named Ahrab (get it?) who runs a circus, Ahrab's son Coyote, and a woman who seems to have something to do with the circus, and you can probably figure out where the show is going long before it gets moving. There's a lot of heavy-handed symbolism, in particular a reference to MOBY DICK that is just plain flat out inappropriate, but there's also a lot of equally amazing dancing. Songs like Mr. Tambourine Man come off particularly well. I hope they manage to iron out the kinks, and reconsider the name of a certain boat on which two characters sail off into the sunset.