Some Laughs, Some Tears, and L’il Viggo

After the craziness of last week, it’s been nice to take a few days to decompress and catch up on some sleep. However, we still ended up with a busy old weekend. 

Saturday afternoon saw us as Leicester Square. We’d booked up for a couple of screenings through the London Film Festival. Unfortunately, the one we wanted to see, Todd Hayne’s I’m Not There, sold out scary quickly. The films we chose to see instead were by no means poor replacements.
First up, Grace Is Gone, with John Cusack playing a house -husband who finds it impossible to cope when his wife, an Army sergeant, is killed while serving in Iraq. It’s been widely, and favourably reviewed, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The film’s rep as a tear-jerker is also well-founded. I certainly had something in my eye at the end. 
It’s very much an exploitation movie, though. By which I mean, you’re there for one purpose. Grace Is Gone wears it’s politics lightly, and the linear plot is engineered to take you to the place at the end of the film where you can have a bit of a cry about how awful it all is. Let’s put it like this. It’s a road movie. Once the characters reach their destination, there’s nowhere for them to go but back home to mourn what they’ve lost. The single bit of narrative tension comes from not knowing when Stanley, the John Cusack character, is going to tell his kids they’ve lost their mother. And it’s pretty obvious. 
A film like Grace Is Gone is all about characterisation, and this has it to spare. John Cusack is on top form as Stanley, a failed soldier and the bad cop of the mother/father team, who suddenly has to take on a lot more than he’s ready for. Spontaneity is almost impossibly hard for him, and this really shines through. It’s a long way removed from Lance in Say Anything, that’s fur shure. 

Shélan O’Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk, both first timers, get props for the incredible job they do at portraying Stanley’s daughters. Utterly believable. In short, I’d recommend it, if you don’t mind being gently but insistently herded towards an involuntary sniffling fit at the end.

Between times, Clare decided we should stand by the barriers at the premiere of I’m Not There, on the offchance that a certain Mr. Ledger should show up. No dice. she had to make do with Christian Bale and Ben Whishaw, which doesn’t seem like much for 90 minutes in the cold and damp. Still, I’m not a fan, so what do I know. 
Back in the warm, and we settled in to watch Talk To Me, Kasi Lemmons’ affectionate retelling of the life of Petey Greene, Washington DJ, comedian, and peoples activist in the 60’s. This is a straight up, unapologetic biopic, and a fine example of the form. It’s a bit disjointed, a bit obvious, but the tale is still told with a lot of verve. It’s also very funny, thanks to Don Cheadle’s pimp-roll of a performance as Petey Green. The show’s stolen by Taraji Henson, though, who is hilariously OTT as Green’s long-time girlfriend Vernell, big hair, big … lungs on display throughout. Chiwetel Ejiofor also deserves a shout as the solid foundation of the film, playing Petey’s manager Dewey Hughes, a man who stifles his own showbusiness dreams in the face of a greater talent. He, and director Kasi Lemmons were at the screening, where she described him as a national treasure. A sentiment the whole of the Odeon West End wholeheartedly agreed with.
We would have stayed for Q&A’s, but trains and the need to hit the sack before 1am took precedence. That’s the one pain about living in Reading. You can’t leave it too late to get home, and the trains that run any time after half 11 stop at every third lamp post. Slow trip back, but at least you can doze safe in the knowledge that the last stop is home.
Sunday. Miserable, cold and rainy. The perfect day to cocoon with the papers and Goldfinger as a matinee, but I had other plans. Back to The Square, to meet up with Clive and check out the new David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises.
Apart from the rotten title, this is a cracker. It’s written by Steve Knight, who also wrote Dirty Pretty Things, and it shares it’s focus on the grimy side of London life with this earlier film. The cast and direction are uniformly excellent, but most of the attention is going to be on Viggo Mortensen, who plays the Russian anti-hero Nicolai with a cold precision that’s beautifully chilling. Right up to the fight scene in an Islington steam room, where he’s set on by two Chechen assassins. He’s naked. Boy, is he ever naked. This scene will show up in best fight scene polls for years to come, I betcha.
After the movie. Clive and I retired to a nearby pub to plot the next month’s activities. He’s being foolish enough to join me in this year’s NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words in 30 days. Regular readers may recall I made the total last year, and loved the experience enough that it was a must for 2007 as well. This time, I’m going in with a reasonable idea of plot and character, which is a big step up from 06. Expect posts on the blog to be brief at best, although I may throw the odd scene in to break the tedium.
Now, if only I hadn’t knackered the letter N on my laptop…

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Rob

Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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