Archive | August 2009

first impressions: PETER SARSGAARD

Josh Strand in Law and Order, Ep. 6.6 – “Paranoia” (1995)

Before Chuck Lane in Shattered Glass and Alan Troy in Jarhead a then-24-year-old Peter Sarsgaard had his very first on-screen role:  as the boyfriend of the deceased in a 1995 episode of Law and Order.  Sarsgaard’s single scene in the episode was a mere two minutes, but he had the distinct honor that Law and Order tends to bestow on a character in every episode — the first real suspect.  But Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) set their sights elsewhere rather quickly and Sarsgaard’s character wasn’t in the picture anymore.  I mean, an online pervert and a crazed roommate with a juvie history seem like more likely perpetrators, no?  But the younger Sarsgaard had, as always, a meek, soft-spoken nature about him, and I half-wanted him to be the killer so he’d get more screen-time.  Luckily for him, he got to go toe-to-toe with the best ensemble any Law and Order series had offered (Orbach, Bratt, Steven Hill, Sam Waterston, S. Epatha Merkerson, etc.) — of course until SVU came along.
Second Impression:  Sarsgaard’s next gig was the big-screen critical darling Dead Man Walking, in which the tables were turned, and he played the deceased this time around, Walter Delacroix.

best films: #93: HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2007)

As a part of the arguably best year for film in the past decade (and followed by quite possibly the worst), this Harry Potter outing is easily one of the best (where it ranks among its fellow HP flicks on my list is yet to be seen).  Mostly banking on the fact that its predecessor was merely acceptable, this time around the gang is joined by some intriguing new characters.  The bulk of the exceptionality of this movie is from Dolores Umbridge (played with typical vigor by the under-appreciated Imelda Staunton) and Luna Lovegood (played with spacey brilliance by newcomer Evanna Lynch).  But then again, the highlight of each successive Harry Potter movie seems to be the newest Brits that have come to play newly introduced characters.  The truly unfortunate part about its being released in the brilliant 2007, though, was that Staunton’s take on Umbridge was almost completely overlooked by critics.

Standout Performance:  Could I make it more obvious?  Had this film been released in 2008, I would’ve thought Staunton had a shot at an Oscar nod.  Or at least, she certainly should have.

jack nicholson tribute: CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971)

Jonathan Fuerst in Carnal Knowledge (1971)

Continuing the current spree of Nicholson flicks in which he plays a womanizing low-life, I give you Carnal Knowledge. Fuerst is after nothing more than, as he so eloquently puts it, tits. And in an effort to combat the character’s giant fear of commitment, the screenwriter saw fit to parallel Fuerst’s character with love-seeking college roommate Sandy (played with a surprising nuance by a young — and Golden Globe-nominated — Art Garfunkel). And while it’s difficult to watch the characters’ downward spirals (Ann-Margret‘s saddening performance as Nicholson’s over-looked lover Bobbie garnered one of her two Oscar nominations), Nicholson gives us another intriguing character to watch.
Sure, Jonathan’s a hateful excuse for a human being, but what results from his maintaining of his “sex now, questions later” philosophy on life is a sometimes repulsive life lesson. Though Ann-Margret’s chest may keep you interested for a few months, true satisfaction will be ever out of reach. Now, this one wasn’t one of Jack’s many Academy Award-nominated efforts, but he managed a nod at the Globes, and I think I understand why.

As seen by his performances in Chinatown and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nicholson’s role in the ’70s was to take less-than-perfect characters and portray them in a way that makes him difficult to despise, no matter how hard he tries. In Carnal Knowledge, though he’s clearly usurping on his friend’s territory, a part of you thinks he has a right to see his roommate’s girlfriend (Candice Bergen) on the sly. And judging by their more electric connection, she didn’t seem to mind at all. But like other Mike Nichols efforts (see Closer), no one ends up truly happy, and Jack seems the most unfulfilled of them all. Life lesson — don’t make Ann-Margret unhappy.

Jack’s Performance: B
The Film: B-

best films: #94: THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957)

Let’s make one thing infinitely clear:  I’m a sucker for WWII movies.  This one in particular stems entirely from my grandpa’s undying adoration for this movie (and, his personal favorite, Patton).  But the reason The Bridge on the River Kwai is on my 100 favorite films list is for a typically unlikely reason when it comes to war movies — the performances.  It features my personal favorite Alec Guinness performance, as well as a cast of more minor roles that are unexpectedly poignant (“Madness!  Madness!”).  “Colonel Bogey’s March” aside, this movie has immense rewatchability (Believe me, I know.  I’ve seen it upwards of fifty times).  Though it may lack the intensity of more modern efforts such as No. 95 on the list, it’s a wonderful showcase for Guinness, and it set the tone for all future depictions of “the great war.”

Standout Performance:  It’s quite clearly Guiness, but I’m a fan of Sessue Hayakawa‘s performance as Colonel Saito as well.

jack nicholson tribute: TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983)

Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment (1983)

It’s quite clear that Jack has perfected the role of the sleazy womanizer. This film, in which he plays a boozehound former astronaut on the prowl for younger women, is no different. Or so it seems on the surface. In his second Oscar-winning performance, Jack meets his match in the form of Aurora Greenway (played with chutzpah by Shirley MacLaine). And the point where Terms of Endearment sets itself apart from other flicks in which Jack plays the grinning advantage-seeker is when he admits his undying fascination with a woman his own age, no matter whether she’s a “grandmother.” (Love little Tommy dutifully saying, “Goodbye Mrs. Greenway.”)
So here was my fear going into this viewing of Terms of Endearment, which I hadn’t seen in many years: though the film obviously received accolades at the time of its release, a little thing called Lifetime has emerged since then, and they’ve made an empire out of churning out sob stories modeled after this ground-breaker. Fortunately, the film has legs, and, to me, has stood the test of aging as a still-potent character-driven piece. Let’s be honest here, I spent the last half hour of the movie bawling like a baby. That Debra Winger still can break hearts.

One thing is fairly evident when re-viewing this movie, though. This flick’s owned by the ladies. The leads MacLaine and Winger steal the show with their often damaged but enduring relationship. Though Nicholson provides some much-needed loosening up for the otherwise shrewish Aurora, Garrett Breedlove is nothing more than a lovable schmuck. Something tells me the real feat at play here with his performance is the sudden change of heart and sentimentality that almost never truly occurs for the bulk of his sleazified characters.

Jack’s Performance: B
The Film: B+

best films: #95: SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)

What would a top 100 list be without Schindler’s List?  With some seriously underrated performances from Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes (their personal best, in my opinion) and exquisite direction from the typically skillful Steven Spielberg, the only thing that could top its otherwise near-perfect production might be the tear-inducing score from John Williams.  (You will soon find out that I can’t help but adore John Williams, no matter how much quoting he does in his scores.)  And even though I’m a believer in Tommy Lee Jones, and I obviously appreciate the work of Mr. Hanks, I believe it’s safe to say Neeson and Fiennes should’ve nabbed the Oscars in 1993.  I don’t really see how the film would’ve worked nearly as well without them.  So though I favor other Spielberg efforts more than this (you’ll just have to wait and see…), there’s no denying it’s one of the highest quality movies of the ’90s.

Standout Performance:  Though Neeson is mesmerizing as Oskar Schindler, Fiennes’ take on Amon Goeth is haunting and still packs the same punch it did fifteen years ago.  The performance of his career.

jack nicholson tribute: THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987)

Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
What better way to showcase Jack‘s signature devilish eyebrow arch than by making him the debonair sex-machine personification of evil itself. In The Witches of Eastwick, Jack is joined by three iconic ladies (two of which are fellow Oscar winners — Susan Sarandon and Cher — and the other, who has shamefully been snubbed). So, with a trio of beautiful vixens, how does Jack even stand a chance? Well, though he is hammy as all get out, Jack is believable as the tempter to the town’s three dowdy loners.

Though he probably gets what he deserves, poor Jack is subjected to the coven of ladies as they use their combined powers to bring him down (and all the while remaining helplessly in love with them). And then all notion of seeing Jack as a sex symbol of any kind is done away with as he takes on some… er… less-than-attractive visages (see right). While Jack’s performance is perfectly acceptable as silly summer fare, the film itself is, at times, an over-the-top mess.

Though there are admirable performances all around (character actress Veronica Cartwright is a hoot!), the movie, based on the novel by John Updike, rests on its stars and its fun score (at the 5:00 mark) from John Williams. Despite its flaws, the movie has fairly good rewatchability, and the effects and makeup are still dazzling twenty years later.

Jack’s Performance: B+
The Film: B