Friday, January 25, 2008

You're a mean one, Mr. Brooks

I watched two movies last night, both were enjoyable and somewhat overlooked. The first is A Good Year by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, which is a cute little comedy. Second up was Mr. Brooks, by starring Kevin Costner. I'm not a big Costner fan, so this sat at home clogging my NetFlix queue for nearly a month before I watched it, but I was surprised, it's worth a viewing if you like a good thriller.

A Good Year (Ridley Scott)

We've seen this before, but it's amusing to see Ridley Scott, who usually makes action films, return to simpler stuff. Russell Crowe plays a high octane stock trader in London who inherits a vineyard in rural France. The uber yuppie forced to embrace simpler things, come to terms with his past, and realize what a jerk he is? If you haven't seen such a story before, good for you. The film will be startlingly original. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in performance and joy. Early on, Crowe runs a woman on a bicycle off the road while fumbling for his phone, and it's predictable that he'll fall for her later. Especially when she's played as a fiery restaurateur by Marion Cottilard. Who can blame him? The vineyard is a shambles, and as he wanders it, we see flashbacks to a childhood with his curmudgeonly uncle, played wonderfully by Albert Finney.
Of course we see the difference between the joyful, clever child and the selfish, workaholic adult and hope he can somehow recapture his happiness and maybe find "Rosebud" the sled too. But put all that aside, and enjoy the performances and gorgeous landscape, and you have a pleasant film with some biting humor as the snippy London power brokers collide with the people of the French countryside. There's a bit of romantic comedy here, but it manages to be its own film and not follow any formula. Sometimes it's a bit pedestrian, as when the terrior expert comes to inspect the land, or when Crowe and his vintner have out their differences over a game of badminton, but overall it's a nice change of pace from what Scott and Crowe usually do, together or not.

Mr. Brooks (Bruce A. Evans)
I can take or leave Kevin Costner; when he's good, he's very good, but often he coasts and plays himself, because it's served him so well. Here he chooses a role unlike any he's done since the excellent No Way Out, early in his career. Normally this would be a spoiler, but it happens so early in the film that you can't discuss it otherwise; Mr. Brooks is a man of the year in Portland, but he has a dark secret; he is also the Thumbprint Killer, a cunning serial murderer. His dark side is hidden to the outside world, but for us he's played wonderfully by William Hurt, so well that you actually imagine that he is a living internal monologue. There are many clever shots with them mirroring their motions all the while the main conflict is between them. He doesn't want to kill anymore, but his addiction is too great. Obviously, it wouldn't manifest itself as William Hurt, as good here as he was in Body Heat.
Written and directed by Bruce A. Evans, who wrote Starman and Stand By Me before bombing with Cutthroat Island and slumming with Jungle 2 Jungle, the film sometimes tries to juggle too many plotlines. See, not only is Brooks in conflict with himself, but a voyeur (Dane Cook in one of his least annoying roles) catches him in a photo. And a famous cop, played with acerbic glee by Demi Moore, is on his tail, in between getting a divorce. And his daughter comes home from college with some personal issues that balloon into a bigger problem. It's to Evans' credit that he manages to keep us interested and not confused with all this, though when one of the bad guys Moore put away comes after her for revenge, it gets to be a bit much. There's a gunfight that goes on too long, though the sound mix makes the shots as realistic as I've heard in a film. Some complain about the tidy ending, but can it be any other way? He's the spiritual successor to Hannibal Lecter, with a totally different modus operandi, but the same smarts. We like seeing him play people like a cheap harmonica, and slither out of all these situations he winds up him. It's quite compelling, and Evans is wise to keep the killings from being too grisly, because we might find it hard to root for Mr. Brooks if he was a compatriot of Ed Gein. As it stands, it works and is one of the better thrillers of its kind to come out in recent years. It will stand with minor classics like The Last Seduction with Linda Fiorentino, instead of The Silence of the Lambs; Mr. Brooks is charming but his dark side is almost too cool, and his good side is of course a little bland. Supposedly there's a trilogy planned, and I'd like to see where it goes next, but I doubt it will ever have the appeal of Anthony Hopkins' Lecter.

Last night I forwent the Apricot Ale for my old favorite, Ramstein Blonde Hefeweizen. It's a smooth and tasty Bavarian style wheat, silken in texture and somewhat complex in flavor. Greg Zaccardi, the founder of the brewery, trained in Germany before coming to brew home in America, and they have an exclusive contract to import a Bavarian yeast they use in their beers. It certainly shows, and this beer challenged and exceeded many that I tasted in southern Germany when I visited. I urge you to stop by their brewery for a six pack or growler. They have open house starting in March, but I believe you can drop by if you call first.

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