Stick 'em up! -- It's time for the Good Noir, Bad Noir installment of TicketStub:

* The Black Dahlia -- This is the bad one. Brian DePalma's grand disappointment managed to simultaneously bore and repel me, especially in the maudlin final moments. Each element of the sprawling, seedy plot gets short shrift -- instead of layering together into a dark symphony of brutality and perversion, the pieces fracture and fade, to the point where you just don't care to sort them out anymore. The basic notion of a good cop/bad cop duo sharing the love of a good woman and a compulsion to fight (and sometimes do) evil in amoral 50's L.A. would be interesting enough without the gothic baggage of, let's see, ghoulish murder, shady mob connections, disappointed starlets, underground stag films, mental illness, real estate code violations, boxing, and of course, lesbian speakeasy nightlife. Oy. Josh Hartnett is appealingly blank but gets lost in the fray, which even Aaron Eckhart and Scarlett Johanson can't commandeer for long. Hilary Swank starts out a convincing femme fatale, but, like the rest of the flick, combusts into parody before the end. There is exactly one interesting camera shot in the whole movie -- everything else is torn from DePalma's own playbook or cribbed directly from L.A. Confidential, like he ran out of money and/or interest to do anything new. If I hear a mournful trumpet solo in another movie this year, I'm gonna scream! Additional points off for lazy incidental music and costume choices (Scarlett wears beige in every scene, Hilary black, oooh, deep), as well as some truly bush league continuity flubs (key props change appearance, wine is poured and re-poured, etc.). Gratuitous blood, gratuitous sex, gratuitous bad lighting. From the man who directed my all-time favorite gangster movie, this was monumentally lame. (D+)

* The Departed -- Bravo, Marty! A return to form for Scorcese and a chance to show off fine actorly chops across the board, all set against a panoramic Boston backdrop! Well, actually, the fakey backdrop of the Massachusetts Statehouse was a little silly, but the grey skies and neon streets of the real locations looked great. A tightly paced, grimy, backstabbing opus, the film follows the parallel paths of two cops, one crooked and one just pretending to be, on the trail of Whitey Bulger stand-in Jack Nicholson. Jack's at his most florid in a few scenes, a sociopathic ham with a taste for leopard print and sprinkling hookers with blow, but it's all in good fun. His two "proteges," DiCaprio and Damon, are wonderfully twinned but doomed to collide -- both from Southie, both ambitious, both corrupted, but only one salvageable. Of course, that doesn't actually happen, it's a Scorcese picture! Blood gouts all over, but it's balanced here with gallows humor, from the cops (especially Alec Baldwin in a winning bloviator mode) all the way down to the very convincing Irish mob thugs. Vera Farmiga holds her own as a part that could easily have withered away, the shrink caught between good cop and bad. Damon applies an arrogant sheen to his boyishly competent persona and by the end you'll be hoping he gets what he deserves; not to give it away, but Mark Wahlberg gleams as an authentic Masshole who takes shit from nobody. But in the end, Leo the antihero keeps it clicking -- by turns enraged, cagey, and distraught, he tries to keep one step ahead of the doublecross and nearly succeeds. He outsparks Nicholson and out-gravitas-es Martin Sheen, for pete's sake. By far the best movie of 2006 so far...which it would be even with stiffer competition. A heap of extra points for brilliant, lucid, fat-free editing -- every director in the land should have to take a master class with Thelma Schoonmaker, we'd all be a lot better off. (A+)


Nathaniel said...

I have been checking out the Coming Soon lists, and here's my choices for our next dozen theatrical trips:

The Illusionist
Flags Of Our Fathers
Running With Scissors
The Prestige
Marie Antoinette
Stranger Than Fiction
Casino Royale
The Pick Of Destiny*
The Fountain
The Good Shepherd
The Good German
For Your Consideration

emily said...

Why does Tenacious D get an asterisk? Because they ROCK?? :)

FYI we are going to 'Marie Antoinette' for LMN on the 23rd...and maybe 'Casino Royale' could be for GMN?