Movie Reviews: Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Iron Cross, The Young Victoria 

Also, The Lightkeepers, My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done and more

Wednesday, Dec 16 2009

GO  CRAZY HEART Yesterday’s honky-tonk hero, Bad Blake, arrives at a Clovis, New Mexico, bowling alley. It’s another in a string of low-paying, low-turnout gigs with pickup bands half his age, grinding the Greatest Hits out of an old Fender Tremolux, including his breakout — with the chorus, “Funny how falling feels like flying ... for a little while.” Bad’s not flying these days; he’s dying slowly on a bourbon diet, holed up in motels, watching Spanish-language smut. Actor-turned-writer-director Scott Cooper adapted Crazy Heart from Thomas Cobb’s 1987 novel (the title is a Hank Williams B-Side). Cobb wanted Waylon Jennings for Bad Blake; Jeff Bridges got the part, though the now-deceased Jennings and Bad’s other inspirations hang over it. It’s easy to forget, as Billboard’s Country charts fill with faintly twangy pop and lazy paeans to dogs and trucks, that this music has an atavistic darkness. Bad has just about bottomed out when a small-time journalist, Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), meets him for a rare interview — and sticks around. Crazy Heart follows the slow recovery of atrophied emotional responses, which starts when Bad gets involved with Jean and her young son. The subject, rehabilitation, is old and resonant. (Says Waylon: “We’ve been the same way for years/We need to change.”) No scene feels obligatory, and Crazy Heart shows a pragmatic but tender understanding of the relationship between physical breakdown and the discovery of morality. It’s merely a well-done, adult American movie — that is to say, a rarity. (ArcLight Hollywood; AMC Century City)

GO  DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? Let’s be honest here: Did You Hear About the Morgans? is multiplex meringue compared to the meat-and-potatoes cinema at this most award-whoring time of year. Which is fine. Better than fine, frankly, as Hugh Grant yet again proves he’s the most reliable deadpan smart-ass this or that side of the Atlantic — and the actor Paul Rudd should aspire to be once he grows out of his bromantic period. Grant’s Paul Morgan is a Manhattan attorney who, along with his estranged wife (Sarah Jessica Parker as New York’s real estate goddess), witnesses a murder, is forced by U.S. Marshals into a relocation program, and learns how to love again. Their destination: Ray, Wyoming, where they share a log cabin with the sheriff (Sam Elliott and his mustache) and his deputy missus (Mary Steenburgen). At which point the comedy turns blue — as in, blue state versus red state, “real America” versus the one populated by liberal vegetarian New Yorkers and Brits who are probably real Jewish, too. While the story never strays from its formula (how will these battling Bickersons find love again after all that betrayal and ... oh, look, a bear’s chasing Grant!), it’s a thoroughly delightful throwaway — the kind of movie for which cable TV was made. Marc Lawrence writes and directs — as he did for Grant’s Music and Lyrics — and he sure knows his way ’round a snappy tune. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

DON’T FADE AWAY was not screened in advance of our publication deadline, but a review will appear here next week and can be found online at laweekly.com/movies. (Music Hall)

click to flip through (2) Jeff Bridges and his Crazy Heart
  • Jeff Bridges and his Crazy Heart

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FALL DOWN DEAD A straightforward, old-fashioned exploitation movie, replete with the usual gratuitous sex scene featuring no-name actors, gory set pieces and some clever stunt casting, Fall Down Dead is reasonably entertaining if unexceptional. Dominique Swain is the damsel in distress, Udo Kier the art-crazy serial killer, and the late David Carradine a comic-relief security guard; if this movie receives any notoriety at all, it will likely be for the fact that Carradine’s character meets his demise in a manner that’s uncomfortably similar to real life. Shooting in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (which apparently has a Figueroa Street — who knew?), director John Keeyes (an Oscar nominee for the short Angela’s Body, and a maker of direct-to-DVD thrillers ever since) swiftly traps us in a downtown building during rolling blackouts, as a madman with a straight razor and love of Picasso corners a group of unlikely stragglers, none of whom — not even the plainclothes cops — seems to know how to use a gun properly. An unsatisfactory ending setting up for a sequel that will never happen is the most significant sour note; otherwise, there’s little here worth paying full price for or getting too upset about — unless you’ve read the press kit that tries to compare this schlock to Hitchcock. (Music Hall) (Luke Y. Thompson)

GO  HOME The opening scenes of Home — a nighttime game of street hockey, a bathing session that turns into a five-way splash fight — establish the anarchic sense of play that defines the interactions of the film’s central family, while the casual nudity on display hints at the vaguely incestuous tensions in this uniquely insular clan. The rest of Ursula Meier’s confident, appealingly bizarre debut feature subjects these tensions to the hothouse environment of a self-willed isolation. When the five members of the family find their remote domestic paradise invaded by the reopening of the abandoned highway adjacent to their house, they resort to increasingly lunatic measures to block out the noise — it’s but a small step from earplugs to bricking up their house entirely. Eventually, paranoia and open hostility set in as a family defined from the start by too great a sense of closeness is forced into even closer proximity. Working with all-star DP Agnès Godard, Meier effectively communicates the sense of upended privacy, moving easily from the nighttime intrusion of brightly clad construction workers (the eye-straining oranges and yellows of their uniforms registering as a truly alien presence) to the incongruous sight of Isabelle Huppert tending her garden as blurry streaks of traffic zip by. (Monica 4-Plex) (Andrew Schenker)

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