Monday, March 06, 2006

Two movies and star ratings

In my normal times reviewing movies, as you may know, I don't include a star rating. Honestly, I don't think they're especially useful, tend to be misleading and, to be even slightly useful require an explanation of the reviewers star-rating philosophy.

I do rate movies by star ratings on Netflix, so that it can recommend me movies and the like. I also find it very interesting to see what my predicted rating is compared to my actual rating. The challenge sometimes is the elusive line between liked and didn't like. My viewing last night is remarkably illustrative.

I'm not sure I liked Walk the Line. No, I'm not upset at all that Reese Witherspoon got the Oscar. She's great... easily the best thing in the movie. Joaquin Phoenix does a strong job at playing a character who is remarkably similar to Johnny Cash. He has a strong charisma of his own. He really captured the stage mannerisms. There was always, for me, something missing, though.

The movie itself is not that good. It suffers, like most biopics, from a near complete lack of story. To the extent it has one, his struggle with his relationship with his father, his drug abuse and his love for June, are all given short shrift by the others, leaving enormous gaps in them.

It was one of those movies where I wished most of the deleted scenes had been left in, not in that hindsight kind of way, but because they were things I'd wondered about while watching the movie. It felt incomplete as a film and ultimately felt like the filmmakers had a much better feel for June Carter than it did for Johnny Cash, making me wish they'd simply told her story.

And yet, all that disappointment aside, I couldn't help rating it three stars.

Domino was a movie that I might have liked... I often enjoy Tony Scott and screenwriter Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko was one of the most promising debuts in recent years. It also was a story with a lot of potential...

Unfortunately, it takes a very long time to catch fire and then not nearly enough to be really worthwhile. I enjoyed it approximately from the Jerry Springer segment until the point it comes back to the beginning. The middle third.

The casting was largely to type. Only Keira Knightly gets to stretch and she actually does a remarkable job. There's a scene in Woody Allen's Match Point where Scarlett Johansson explains that she's "sexy" but not "pretty" or "beautiful". For me, Keira Knightly is always the exact opposite of this. Domino was the first role I'd describe her as sexy in. I can't help thinking as far as working her acting chops, this role wasn't more award worthy than the one she got nominated for, but I'm speculating there.

Christopher Walken and Mickey Rourke are moderately entertaining in phoned-in roles. You know something is off when those guys are outshone by Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green, though - Ok, Ian Ziering was good enough that I started wondering if I had anything to dream cast him as, but still... Dabney Coleman reminds us why he's always been the man and made me wonder why he's not in more movies these days.

Lucy Liu was painfully miscast. No, not because she's Chinese and the character seems to have been written to be Japanese. If Rob Marshall has taught us anything, it's that even when the roles are central and their race is significant to the story, there's no discernible reason not to cast Chinese actresses to play Japanese women. No, she just doesn't come off as potentially prudish and dissatisfied with her life based on her age and demeanor.

I suspect, all told, I enjoyed both of these films about the same, which is almost. And yet, Domino falls on the opposite side of the razor's edge of liked it and didn't like it. All the words I could write her could probably never explain where that difference lies exactly.

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