Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Jack Reacher and Not Fade Away

Caught two films over the weekend, Jack Reacher on my own Friday afternoon, and Not Fade Away with CByrd on Saturday evening.

Jack Reacher

I have a fondness for the 70's, both in music and in film. Many of my favorite action films are from that decade, and exist in a time before "blowing shit up" became the primary goal of an "action" picture. I love the methodical style of, for example, Clint Eastwood's 70's "action" pictures. Dirty Harry and The Outlaw Josey Wales weren't afraid to slow down and build a plot that had to be unpacked, rather than inane banter to tie wankfest CGI sequences together.

Jack Reacher is very old-school. Little to no CGI, and what there is of it is used unobtrusively. A storyline that is compelling, and rather shocking (after recent headlines, having the film open with a sniper brutally taking out five seemingly random people is unsettling). It's also, while admittedly far-fetched, logical and watching Reacher investigate his way to the core of the case is compelling.

The film also greatly benefits from two really strong performances. No, Tom Cruise does not look, at all, like the Jack Reacher of Lee Child's novels, but he does make the character a formidable screen presence. I don't really care what Cruise's beliefs are, or the tabloid stories, only that he is a truly fine movie star. He knows exactly how to play this stuff, and be credible. It's a dynamite star turn. Cruise is one of our best, and I think people need to keep reminding his detractors of it.

On the opposite side, I want Werner Herzog to play the villain of every movie from now on. His "The Zec," with very little screen time, is unsettling and powerful. You are fearful of the character, just because Herzog seems to completely understand human depravity and evil. It's just a stunning performance. Kudos to writer/director Christopher McQuarrie for using him to the fullest extent.

Jack Reacher is hardly ground-breaking, nor is it likely to make anyone's top ten list, but it is an highly entertaining old-school action thriller. Yes, Jack Reacher is a rather generic title, I would've much preferred if they'd used One Shot, the title of the novel.

Well worth your time, if you like that sort of thing.

Not Fade Away

You ever have one of those experiences where you're watching a movie, and it's perfectly fine. It's entertaining enough, not setting the house on fire, or anything, but a perfectly pleasant evening at the movies. Then, out of absolutely nowhere a choice is made in the final moments that makes you almost absolutely loathe it?

I'm not even talking about a "twist" that feels unearned, or an unhappy ending, but a choice that displays a sense of preciousness and pretension that feels absolutely unearned. That feels so very unconnected, in any real, or logical, thematic way, to that film you've just watched, that you feel like somebody just scammed you.

So it is with David Chase's (The Sopranos) motion picture writing and directing debut, Not Fade Away. I'm absolutely serious that, if you lopped off the final minute or two of this film, I'd probably be giving it a positive review. The story of Douglas (John Magaro), a New Jersey teenager in love with the Rolling Stones and blues. He forms a band with several other guys (notably Jack Huston, Will Brill and Gregory Perri), starting as the drummer and them moving to vocals, with dreams of reaching the top. There's great fun had in the deluded visions of impending stardom in all of these kids.

It's basically a realistic take on That Thing You Do!, they play some local gigs, write and record some songs, and unlike the wish-fulfillment Wonders of Tom Hanks' film...nothing happens. They plug away, getting high and talking about "their image" and "doing interviews." Douglas falls in love, terrible accidents occur, and the band's dreams get fairly well squashed by a New York agent (Brad Garrett). Douglas' father (James Gandolfini) gets cancer. Then Douglas moves to LA with his girl, almost meets a couple members of the Stones, and, it's inferred, becomes David Chase (I had no idea this was an autobiographical film until after I saw it).

This is all pretty well acted, even some outstanding performances, and the murky cinematography by Eigil Bryld has some nice "earthy" moments. The soundtrack, put together by Little Steven Van Zant is really, really fun and exciting. Like I said, it's a perfectly pleasant coming-of-age drama, with rock and roll as a backbone.

Then you get to the final moments, and you just want to find David Chase and punch him in the nose. It's that awful. That unearned. That tin-eared. That pretentious. That unconnected to the perfectly pleasant movie you were watching up to that point.

There's lots of good parts to recommend about the film, but I just can't recommend it as a whole.

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