Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Crazy Heart" / Mini-Reviews: "Flammen & Citronen" ("Flame and Citron") / "Daybreakers" / "Cold Souls"

Crazy Heart - Adapted and directed by Scott Cooper, starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Colin Farrell - Rated R

The Evil Kurgan likes hard livin' characters.

Okay, so it's Oscar time, which means the limited releases are starting to expand into the smaller Midwest markets. This means I had three options over the weekend: Crazy Heart, A Single Man, and An Education. Nothing against the latter two options, but I didn't think twice about which nominated performance I wanted to see. I'll take Jeff Bridges as a hard drinking washed up country music star any day of the week over a coming of age British girl (Carey Mulligan) or a British professor (Colin Firth) contemplating suicide after the death of his lover. I still want to see both of those films, but I wanted to see a good American performance and that's exactly what I got.

Bridges plays Bad Blake, a country singer who is way past his prime. Bad makes his way around the southwest playing anywhere he can. The movie starts with him arriving at his latest gig. We're introduced to Bad Blake as he gets out of his vehicle, belt unbuckled (which it is through most of the film), and empties out a jug of his own urine. He's been driving for hours to reach his venue: a bowling alley. The venue is funny for two reasons. 1. It's a bowling alley, not exactly a prime spot to play live music. 2. It's great to see Bridges back in the bowling alley. I couldn't help but think of The Dude from The Big Lebowski during an early scene at the bowling alley's bar. Bad heads to the bar because not only is his career at rock bottom, but he also has a bit of a drinking problem. I know this sounds like the setup of a depressing, miserable movie and it might even sound like the country music version of The Wrestler, but it really is its own movie and it's a bit more light hearted than The Wrestler. Maybe alcoholic has-been doesn't sound like a light hearted character, but Crazy Heart does have a decent amount of comedy. It goes to show that you can show alcoholism without it being complete melodramatic misery (even though the film does venture into that territory near the end, it quickly rights itself).

This movie is being compared to The Wrestler for one more reason: it features a powerhouse performance. Bridges is favored to win the Academy Award for this film and I hope he does win it because he carries this movie. First off, he looks the part. Bridges embodies unhealthiness; he's overweight, constantly needs a shave and a haircut, and seems to struggle for breath (due to his constant smoking). Second, he finds a way to be charismatic despite his disgusting appearance. It's even believable that a younger woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal, also nominated, but has no chance of winning) would find him attractive and even start a relationship with him. Finally, the man can play the guitar and sing...and he's good.

Which brings me the music of the film. For the most part I am not a fan of country music...well, popular country, that is. I do enjoy the older stuff and that's the sound T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham went for in Crazy Heart. So I loved the music of the film even though I am not a huge country fan, but I don't think you'll like this movie as much if you truly hate all things country. There are quite a few music scenes and if you don't like the music, it's going to be hard to like the movie. If you like country music at all, though, you'll probably be like me and you'll get home and buy a few songs from the soundtrack (I suggest "Fallin' & Flyin'").

The music scenes are where director Scott Cooper gets to insert a little style. He's fond of showing the music from the musician's perspective by zooming in and moving the camera to the side. He uses the same angle multiple times but I thought it was a great way to film each song.

Aside from that, Crazy Heart isn't really a visually appealing movie and it doesn't need to be anyway. It's all about performance. This is Bridges' show, but he does get a bit of help from some talented supporting players. Colin Farrell is surprisingly good as Bad Blake's protege turned superstar (he even does his own singing on a couple of songs...and he can actually sing). Robert Duvall does well in a small role as Blake's hometown friend. And Maggie Gyllenhaal does a decent job sharing the screen with Bridges. But I think she only got her nomination because there are so few good roles for women these days and it was all they could think of.

Did I skip the plot summary on this one? I guess I did, but I'm not fond of giving too much away when I write these reviews and honestly, if you want to see this movie it's because of Bridges' performance, the Bad Blake character, and the great music. So check this one out if you get the chance and be sure to root for Bridges for Best Actor and "Crazy Heart" for Best Song.


Flammen & Citronen (Flame and Citron) - Co-written and directed by Ole Christian Madsen, starring Thure Lindhardt, Mads Mikkelsen, and Stine Stengade - Not Rated
Flame and Citron is the true story of WWII Danish resistance fighters Flame (Lindhardt) and Citron (Mikkelsen). It's a well done period piece (apparently it's the most expensive Danish film ever made) and it's quite powerful. I cared about each character and was cheering them on as they killed Nazis. But don't start thinking this is the buddy movie version of Inglourious Basterds or anything, this film is deadly serious and brings up a few tough questions when it comes to loyalty, the definition of a traitor, and trust. Great drama mixed in with some decent hit man/espionage type action. It's available on Watch Instantly right now on Netflix and will be on DVD/Blu-ray in a couple of weeks.

Daybreakers - Written and directed by the Spierig Brothers, starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Defoe, and Sam Niell - Rated R
I checked out Daybreakers a couple weeks ago and I decided that it was not worthy of a full review since it's already disappeared from theaters. Let me just say that this isn't a bad film. It's a fun B-movie that's certainly worth a rental. Hawke kind of sleepwalks through it all, but Defoe gets to ham it up and have fun with all his ridiculous similes ("Living in a world where vampires are the dominant species is about as safe as bare backing a $5 whore.") and Sam Niell gets to evil it up in his few scenes. Aside from that, the all vampire world created for the film is pretty convincing, even if it turns out that vampires are terrible at planning ahead. How did they not have better plan for keeping a blood supply? They just drain humans dry. If they take their time they can breed humans and also, they could take just a little bit of blood at a time and let the humans replenish it, then repeat the process. Whatever, right? As long as a vampire or two blows up into a fountain of blood, who cares?

Cold Souls - Written and directed by Sophie Barthes, starring Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, and Dina Korzun - Rated PG-13
This movie was forgotten upon its initial release and has finally been released on DVD. I can understand why it was forgotten. It plays a bit like a Charlie Kaufman movie, except it's easier to follow, but it doesn't pull you in like Kaufman films do. Giamatti is great and all, but he has little to work with. That's not to say the film doesn't have its moments. The premise, that you can remove your soul, is amusing, especially when you see that everyone's soul is different and disappointing: a chickpea, a jelly bean, a prune, etc. The scenes in the soul extraction clinic are the best and the movie might have been much better if it had all taken place at the clinic, because that's where Strathairn's character is, and he should have been in the movie more.

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