Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Maiden Heist

The Maiden Heist is not your typical museum heist movie. There's no stud-leading man, no starlet barely managing to cover her attributes, and no villainous security guy trying to shut the whole thing down. The attraction in this film isn't clever computer hacking or out-of-control action scenes, but rather superb acting and a charming, quirky script.

The heroes are the security guards, who are also the thieves. Played by Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, and William H. Macy, these museum guards are normal workaday guys. But each one is passionately, wildly in love - with a work of art. For Walken, it's the Lonely Maiden, a haunting portrait from 19th century France, and for Freeman, it's a Vermeer-like painting entitled Girl with Cats. For Macy, it's an early Greek bronze of a naked warrior, an ideal representation of the male form. When they discover that their artworks have been sold to a Danish museum, they plan to steal the three masterpieces.

While there could be a sense of the ridiculous in the men of a certain age seen here, their loyal dedication to their art doesn't lend itself to ridicule. Walken gives a subtle portrayal of Roger, a very serious museum guard, who fantasizes about how he would sacrifice himself for the girl he loves, the Maiden. His acting here is so unaffected, so normal, it makes me wonder if he's done any other movies like this. Can I get them on Netflix? His wife, played by Marcia Gay Harden, doesn't know his devotion to his job is wrapped up in the Maiden. Harden is wonderfully true to life, and put together to seem much older than she must be. Morgan Freeman plays a rather fussy artist, who ceaselessly copies his Girl with Cats. With his frank admission of fear and his "oh, dears," Freeman comes across as the middle aged bachelor who lives down the hall (with his 15 cats). It's funny and sweet. Macy plays an ex-marine, enthralled by military valor and adventure. His man-crush on the Warrior is more about the masculine virtues than homoeroticism. Macy has some of the best lines, and he plays them well.

The world tends to dismiss men like this, real guys working regular jobs. But what all of us identify with is how passionate love can fill you with purpose, with life. Don't miss the Lonely Maiden and Christopher Walken, whose love of art leads to real love.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Best of 2009

With the Oscars on tonight, everyone's excited about last year's movies. Let's look back at three of the year's films. Two were hits, and one was entirely under the radar: Duplicity, Monsters Vs. Aliens, and Easy Virtue.

Duplicity was one of my favorites this year. Sexy Clive Owen and Julia Roberts have great chemistry, but Paul Giamatti nearly steals the show. Read it here:

Monsters Vs. Aliens, Dreamworks entry for children's animation last summer, is fun. With Dreamworks, you always have a certain amount of Shrek-style humor. Monsters, however, has the charm of real, old fashioned movie monsters. No cute Disney creatures or princesses allowed (what a relief!) in this kid's movie. Rather we have the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the 50 Foot Woman, a Godzilla-radiated caterpillar, and a mad scientist morphed into a cockroach (rather than a fly). As in all kid's movies, these unlikely pals form a team. With a little wacky Area 51 conspiracy thrown in, this film is entertaining for parents as well as their kids. You'll get a kick out of the outer space villain and his alien clones, brought to wicked life by the voice of Dwight Schrute (Rainn Philips) from The Office.

Easy Virtue, based on a Noel Coward play, got very little notice. That's such a shame, because this film has such glitzy, 1920's style. Starring Jessica Biel, Colin Firth, and Kristen Scott Thomas, this comedy is in turns smooth and sparkly. Biel plays a modern American woman, a race car driver, who marries into typically stuffy English gentry. The music, the cinematography, the dialogue are so well done. The casting was off in one respect: Biel's cool, blonde glamour is attractive to Ben Barnes, who plays her husband in the film. These two have no chemistry on screen. Barnes appears to be about 17. Thank heaven for Colin Firth! While this film drags a bit, it makes it's way to a great conclusion.

While there are no Oscar winners on my list, you won't be disappointed. Whether you're looking for a period charmer, a fun date movie, or a film to enjoy with the kids, one of these will be great.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sherlock Holmes in 2010

The new Sherlock Holmes is a multi-faceted film: a traditional Holmesian mystery with blockbuster action and buddy-movie characters. Well cast with Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson, director Guy Ritchie created a very ambitious movie. Did he succeed?

In one of his few mainstream films, Ritchie developed a mystery true to Arthur Conan Doyle's style. The story is dark and tricky with a very Victorian London in the background. Holmes is, of course, fiendishly clever, but the villian is rather typically evil. Mark Strong's Lord Blackdeath (or some name similar) with his unrelieved scowling seems predictable. The almost sepia tone of the photography is also tiresome, but it's effect is gorgeous in some scenes. Thankfully, the mystery draws you in. Is Lord Blackdeath supernaturally powerful? Downey's Holmes knows the answer the whole time, and the revelation is suspenseful.

Having only a passing knowledge of Holmes' mysteries, I suspect they rarely had numerous explosions and fistfights. I may be wrong. However, for a movie to succeed now, that kind of excitement is necessary. If Ritchie had made a smart mystery without all the macho action, it would have opened to far less acclaim. And isn't edgy action Ritchie's specialty? Without the chases and well-choreographed fights, this movie would have ended up a Gosford Park-style film. While Gosford Park is excellent, it wasn't a high-octane thriller. The gritty action sequences take Holmes to a new level, and will bring the famous detective to a different generation of movie fans.

The relationship between Holmes and Watson is intriguing. They bicker, Holmes borrows Watson's clothes, and then tries to break up his romance. Are they brothers, sisters, or an old married couple? Holmes' love interest in the film, played by Rachel McAdams, is obviously besotted with him. Why does he evade her embrace? Is he afraid of being hurt by her again? Or is he secretly gay? I don't think so. But the ambiguous relationship adds depth to the film. It's not your typical buddy movie, but fits into that category, too.

So in this version of Sherlock Holmes, there's blockbuster action for brainless fun, a mystery to unravel, and two cute actors to watch. What else does a girl want?