WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 31

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 31st WWW:

1) Murder By Numbers:
“By numbers” indeed. Sandra Bullock gives a good performance as a homicide detective with a secret past trying to solve a murder committed by two high school students, but I never really got the sense that she facing as big of a challenge with the case as she was with her own inner demons. This makes for a compelling character study, but a plot that doesn't deliver what the trailer promised. The kids don't outsmart her for long, and their youth and emotions make them sloppy. It becomes less about her figuring out that they did it and more about her trying to prove that they did it, so half the movie turns into a series of flashback explanations like the wrapup sequence in any given Psych episode. The two friends, who have an implied “more than friends” relationship that's never really explored, manage to fool everyone but Bullock's character. Even when the film throws in an “aha!” moment in which she realizes something about one of her suspects, it's no surprise to the audience. There was a lot of potential in the idea, but I thought the detective connected the brooding, brainy kid and the good-looking popular kid far too soon in the story. By keeping a few details hidden from the audience a little bit longer, I think it could have been a twistier, more suspenseful story on par with Wild Things, instead of an average police drama.

2) Hurlyburly:
When a film is based on a play, there's always the possibility that there won't be much action and that many of the scenes will take place in the same location with a small group of characters. Hurlyburly is one of those movies, and the biggest development happens off screen. That being said, while it's not exactly Glengarry Glen Ross, there are still some powerful performances here, particularly from Sean Penn. He's an absolute mess in this movie, as is everyone, and only part of it is his out of control drug use. That's just his coping mechanism. Others, like Kevin Spacey or Garry Shandling might rely on sarcasm and/or sex to cope with life. Chazz Palminteri struggles with his marriage and his violent tendencies, and is the one person Penn's character keeps in his life to feel better about himself. Palminteri manages to play a dumb lug and a tragic character to perfection. Life, the world, and relationships are all a mystery to these people; they're all broken and out of control, and it's a bit depressing. Even the women in the film are a mess, from Anna Paquin as an underage drifter okay with being used for sex if it puts a roof over her head, to Robin Wright Penn, who keeps her options open and can never really decide on any one thing, be it food or a man. Palminteri's wife berates him until they have a baby, and then divorces him. He foolishly thought the baby would save their marriage, and finds himself instead in a deeper, more depressing hole than before. Meg Ryan plays against type as a call girl and single mother, and in one of the few sober moments in which Penn isn't strung out on cocaine, he recollects an occasion in which they had her perform a sex act on one of their friends while her daughter was in the car. Things like that brief moment of horrifying clarity, his inability to fully connect with Wright-Penn, and the state of the world on the evening news keep driving him back to the drugs as a coping mechanism. Everybody seeks some kind of release, some worse than others. Again, these are broken, broken people. I'm not sure what the film actually says when it's all over, if it's just a study in a percieved meaninglessness of life or a rambling “blah blah blah” as Penn frequently utters through the course of the piece, but it might make your own life seem better, and it's probably not something I could watch twice. These actors do a fantastic job immersing themselves in these self-destructive roles, effectively generating feelings of revulsion and pity for them.

3) The Yards:
Mark Wahlberg plays a guy who gets out of prison and, feeling tremendous remorse at disappointing his ailing mother, tries to make an honest life for himself. His uncle tries to get him a job at the train yards, but his cousin's boyfriend, played by Joaquin Phoenix, soon leads him down a dark path that puts him in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wahlberg does an excellent job with what he referred to in one of the featurette's as a “dumb face”; he has this blanked, dazed expression throughout most of the movie, and really comes across as someone painted into a corner, beaten down by a lack of options. Phoenix seems slick and together, but he's not as in control as he seems, and tragedy strikes whenever he loses control of his emotions. Dividing the two is Charlize Theron as the aforementioned cousin/girlfriend, while James Caan plays her stepfather and Wahlberg's would-be employer. But his employees, including Phoenix, do his dirty work, including sabotaging rival trains in order to procure contracts. Wahlberg never has a real chance at the honest living he craves, and soon finds himself without any real choices. It tends to be a quiet film, and the scuffles throughout are very realistic, not big choreographed Hollywood-style fights. Queens, where the the film was shot and takes place, becomes yet another character, aerial shots and steamy side streets all too familiar to this Long Island native. It's a film early in the career of Wahlberg and the other young actors, but definitely showcases both their ability and potential, and it's worth checking out.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



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