Doesn’t Anybody Know How to Make Short Movies Anymore??

Diss Ed Wood all you like, but the man consistently brought in his flix at under 90 minutes long. It’s not that I have anything against long movies, hell I argued that at approx. 4 hours ROTK still was missing all the good parts. I do have something against movies that are long when they don’t need to be, (“Pirates of the Carribean”, anyone?) or movies that are long but manage to fill up all that time with the lame bits whilst cutting out the good bits (ahem. ROTK.)

Which brings me to the two new movies I’ve seen this week. On Saturday, BW and I caught a matinee of Kingdom of Heaven. Then we scored free passes to a special sneak preview of Cinderella Man, the Russell Crowe boxing flick, for Monday night. Both of these movies clocked in at a painful 2.5 hours, and my opinion of both of them is a solid “Ehh.”

We’ll start with Kingdom. Even though it was an objectively worse movie than Cinderella Man, I enjoyed it more because I like medieval things, but I hate boxing. KOH wasn’t really bad, it just wasn’t very engaging or exciting. The fault for that I think lies with three things: 1. the script tried SOOOOO hard to be PC and not offend any religious groups, that it effectively gutted all the drama. 2. I think all the character development scenes were cut out. 3. For number three I’ll give you this classic line I read in another review:

“Bloom represents an all-time testosterone low in the history of the Hollywood love god.” -Seattle Weekly

KOH is about a scruffy medieval boyman (Orlando B) who is bitter and empty because his wife and sprog died. Then Liam Neeson, a wealthy crusading nobleman, arrives and announces that he is Orli’s father, and invites him to come on Crusade. Orli then experiences a sequence of unlikely events. His group is attacked, and all the coolest characters are killed within the first 15 minutes of the movie. He is the lone survivor of a shipwreck. In the desert, he nearly gets mugged for his horse. Etc. Finally, he gets to Jerusalem, where…most unlikely of all…every one of his father’s men-at-arms unblinking accept that Orli is Liam’s son, and take him for their new leader. Then he befriends the leper King of Jerusalem, the king’s gothy sister, his chief advisor Jeremy Irons. Before you know it, this ex- peasant blacksmith is leading bands of knights and being put in charge of the defense of the city of Jerusalem.

Orlando isn’t bad, just boring. He has no right playing a leader of men, yet he didn’t annoy me as much as Brad Pitt did in “Troy.” Orli is actually good at the beginning of KOH where he is called upon to be bitter, wounded, and surly. After that it goes downhill. What bothered me the most that his character, who was a dirt-poor peasant, showed NO reaction whatever to all the new wealth, titles, and responsibilities that are thrust upon him. Nothing. Just blandly accepted it. I’m gonna give Orlando the benefit of the doubt and blame the screenwriter for that, though. Or Ridley Scott for cutting those parts out, if they existed.

The makers of KOH knew enough to prop up Orli with quality actors, and I must say the supporting cast was consistently excellent. Liam Neeson was the strongest presence in the movie, Jeremy Irons brought his usual intelligence and gravitas, and Edward Norton gave the movie’s most effecting performance -from behind a mask-! Now THAT’s acting!

From a medieval geek perspective, KOH was great to look at. The armor, clothing, weaponry, were all exacting in their authenticity. Everything was accurate but the storyline. The filmmakers didn’t dare upset anyone by making either the Muslims or the Christians the obvious ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys.’ With the result being a war film without any particular enemy. That worked in ‘Apocalypse Now’, but Ridley Scott ain’t Coppola. In KOH, the main baddies are the religious extremists on both sides who want to provoke a war at all costs, while Orlando and company try to maintain a peace between the Muslim natives and Christian occupiers of Jerusalem. I suppose that’s a noble attempt at a “message”, but it’s completely the opposite of what medieval thinking would be, and it really neuters the film.
Bottom line: rent it if you want to see some excellent medieval scenery, but don’t pay the plot any mind.

Cinderella Man is about Depression-era boxer James Braddock. He was almost a champ, but then suffered a string of losses, lost all his money in the Crash of ’29, and ended up living in a tenement and standing in breadlines. Then in 1933, he began an amazing comeback, culminating in his winning the World Heavyweight title in 1934. I dont’ feel like I’m giving anything away, because CM was 100% predictable from beginning to end. There literally isn’t a moment’s suspense in the whole movie. Every single cliche in the Book of Boxing Movie Cliches is brought out and polished up by Ron Howard and crew. Make no doubt about it: Cinderella Man is the ‘feel-good movie of the year’, and audiences are gonna eat it up. It’s like Rocky, but with good actors!

Buried under all the boxing is a really wonderful movie about the Depression. All the best scenes in CM deal with Braddock’s struggle to keep his family alive, not boxing. In one scene after hitting rock-bottom financially, a desperate Braddock goes (literally) hat-in-hand to his old friends at the Boxing Commission to beg for money. Watching it felt much more like a punch to the gut than any of the boxing scenes. Russell brought home the pride and shame and anguish of the character so well in the scene, that I actually had to look away because it was too painful to watch. I was blown away by the Depression scenes, and by Russell’s ability to effortlessly inhabit the character of Jim Braddock. He really can be a damned fine actor when he sets his mind to it; shame he’s such an ass in real life. The supporting cast in CM were all awesome as well, apart from Rene Zellweger. Paul Giamatti as Jim’s manager almost stole the movie out from under Russell, and that takes some serious talent!

I would have likied CM much more if it had been more about the Depression and less about boxing. The boxing scenes were excitingly filmed, and I appreciate how hard it must have been for the actors to shoot them day in and day out. But I personally find boxing more boring than golf, so I just couldn’t get into it. I also despise really obvious, transparently emotionally manipulative movies, and CM totally qualifies as such. In fact, while watching it I came to this conclusion: Ron Howard is the new Spielberg. Yup, it’s true, spread the word. Ronnie builds up the ‘touching’ moments and beats you with them like Joe Louis. Steven would be so proud.
Bottom line: if you like feel-good, underdog-triumphs, movies about sports, you will LOVE Cinderella Man. If you like boxing, run right out and see it. If neither, rent it just to see the good Depression scenes and Crowe’s performance, and fastforward through all the fights.

2 Responses to “Doesn’t Anybody Know How to Make Short Movies Anymore??”

  1. LOUP Says:

    I think I will just netflix those two and wait. = )

    I am going to try to catch Unleashed and Mindhunters.

  2. dalyzard Says:

    I THOROUGHLY enjoyed this review, as I have quite of bit of yer web publishing…

    This will be the perfect movie, methinks, for establishing a “bar” of tastes between the two of us… IE, how we feel about this flick, with these perfect “hotpoints” in mind will clearly mark the mapping of cinematic tastes in this genre… once I’ve seen the flick. A statement only to be made in response to a well delivered review. Too cool.

    In the future, at some point, we’ll sip cocktails in LOUP and LK’s backyard and discuss the “Ridley Scott ain’t Coppala” line.

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