the forecast for day five is fair. nothing really knocked me out or raised my hackles all that much today. first out of the chute was sean penn's the pledge (2001).
it begins with a disheveled and disturbed jack nicholson drunkenly mumbling, completely incoherent. fade from that to an earlier, more composed nicholson as a police detective who is attending his retirement party when a call comes in about a young girl who has been the victim of a horrific murder. he has six more hours left to his career and, being decidedly of the old school, he goes out on the call. thanks to the bungling incompetence of other officers on the scene it falls to him to inform the girl's parents. her mother forces him to swear upon a cross that her murdered daughter made that he will find the person who did this, the titular pledge, and that hooks the thread that eventually unravels the man. he continues to work the case on his own when his instincts tell him that the suspect they picked up on the day of the crime, who subsequently committed suicide, was not the killer. it's this middle third of the film that i enjoyed the most. what started as a competent, average police procedural begins to grow into something else. this man, now retired, buys a gas station in the middle of nowhere, as it lies in an area between where two other crimes occurred that he attributes to the same killer. he is setting a completely improbable trap. the film forgoes the usual tropes of the obsessed detective coming apart at the seams and downshifts for the entire second act as he gambles on this longshot and bides his time. in the meantime, he takes up with a local barmaid and, along with her daughter, they begin to forge an unlikely family. the film is at its most effective in this section because where we would typically see the cop who just can't let it go poring over reports with crime scene photos tacked to the walls we instead get nicholson reading bedtime stories and shopping for flea market furniture. the case is always in the back of his mind but only when we get to the finale do we truly wonder about how much of his retired life was devoted to angling for this killer rather than a stringer full of fish and domestic contentment. thanks to a fiery crash, he never gets his man and his idyllic new home is torn asunder. that tends to happen when you use someone's daughter for serial killer bait. all in all, good not great. it doesn't hurt that a number of my favorite actors turn up in smaller roles - mickey rourke, helen mirren, benicio del toro, the particularly effective vanessa redgrave - but it's not enough to make this more than mostly average with a good second act. a demerit for making me look at aaron eckhart's weasel face.
i think this picture is from when he was in bon jovi.
here we make a 180° turn and delve into frank oz and jim henson's bizarre puppet epic fantasy, the dark crystal (1982).
the story itself is completely unremarkable. it is a standard quest by "the one" who has been prophesied to restore good in a land blighted by evil. he faces various perils, narrowly escapes and saves the day in the eleventh hour amidst some mystical mumbo jumbo. what is completely remarkable is the previously unheard of puppet and animatronic work on display here. i remember when this came out and what a great hue and cry there was about the direction oz and henson had taken. where were the muppets? why the hell is everything, including the hero, creepy and weird? what have you done with the cute?!? well, i am glad they stuck to their guns because it resulted in a daring and complex world inhabited by puppets the likes of which filmgoers had never seen. the production design is overflowing with detail while remaining completely true to the dark, sometimes ugly aesthetic. their biggest crime was simply so thoroughly confounding people's expectations. if you had no foreknowledge of the muppets or sesame street, i suspect this would have proved intriguing rather than upsetting. it's a shame the story is so rote and pedestrian. at times it is so boring it makes it hard to stay interested in the revolutionary puppetry. you don't achieve the mona lisa through painting by the numbers. this one fights itself to a draw.
finally, we have penny marshall's big (1988).
i'll say this right up front - i have never liked this movie. i know, i am a monster. it just does nothing for me. there are a couple of laughs but, to me, it just plays like an episode of amazing stories that has been padded out to feature length. almost without exception, body switching stories are the bunk. i suppose that stems from my finding zero sympathy for people who wish they were someone/something else. do the work, clowns! to be fair, there are one or two elements that i think are effective and accurate when it comes to putting the inner life of a kid onscreen. the fact that the kids find it much easier to accept the transformation than adults seems like it would be true. it requires imagination and adulthood tends to quash that (again, i refer you to day one, film one). the best joke in the film is the subtle exchange immediately after josh convinces billy of the truth of his predicament. "you look terrible", billy says. "i know", replies josh. it's probably the best line reading tom hanks has ever given. but for every time they get it right they go and do something distracting like the "got it, need it" baseball card bit in the beginning or the "shimmy shimmy coco bop" routine. i thought this was set in 1988, not 1958. maybe after school they can race home in time to see kukla, fran and ollie. the iconic piano scene gets away with it because piano lessons have been the same for the last four hundred years. i give it kudos, as well, for being the first film directed by a woman that grossed over $100 million. i am sure that opened a lot of doors and created a lot of opportunities that might not have been there for women otherwise, so i appreciate that. without it, debra granik might not have had the opportunity to make winter's bone (2010). who knows? viewing it in a vacuum, though, just tells me that women, too, are capable of making sentimental claptrap aimed at those for whom cinema is easy escapism and not much else. congratulations?
ho hum. don't worry. tomorrow might get my hate tank rolling again.