Tuesday, November 08, 2011

J. Edgar

Film: J. Edgar [2011, usa]
Where I saw it: Los Angeles @ LACMA
Who I saw it with: SJ
Rating: **
Rating for being in the presence of Mr. Clint Eastwood: *****!

If I were to list my three least favorite film genres, it would go something like this: action films, drug-related  films and the bio picture. I've kind of sworn off the drug movie as I have just had enough of seeing junkies and other addicts destroy their lives while they battle their weakness for whatever chemical they desire to have running through their veins. While I'll watch an action film every so often, I tend to avoid the vast majority of them, whether they are the endless releases connected to comic book heroes or straight up explosion fests. Michael Bay? I think you've heard me refer to him as the anti-christ of cinema at least once or twice. He's the devil!

J. Edgar is the sort of biographical history of a famous person that makes me loathe the genre so intensely. Directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and attempting to tell five decades in the life of J. Edgar Hoover, the film is a bloated, lifeless, dull and unfocused story of Hoover's life. How can any two hour movie tell the story of a man such as Hoover without feeling like a cribbed-note exercise? As I often do in these films, I just kind of sit and wait for all the key moments that I know about to make it to the screen. When that happens, I check that off and wait for the next big moment that is surely coming. J. Edgar, like others in the biopic genre, is so weighed down by the formulaic parameters of having to tell the "greatest hits" of a person's life that its lost in a predictable quagmire that never surprises, moves or pulls the viewer in.

Another problem with a biopic such as J. Edgar is the fact that actors have to play a character with a wide-range of ages. DiCaprio plays Hoover in the 1920s AND 1970s and had to endure 5-7 hours in a make-up chair for the varying ages he was playing. Co-stars Arnie Hammer and Naomi Watts also underwent extensive make-up work to give them appropriate ages. The older the characters get, the more make-up seems to be applied to give them jowls, wrinkles, sun spots or other characteristics of old age. Unfortunately, with each layer to the actors' faces, it seems to limit their ability to talk and move their faces naturally. By the time Hoover is near death, DiCaprio's face is a mess of prosthetics that allows pretty much just his lips to move as he says his dialogue. The same can be said for Hammer's scenes as an old man. It's distracting to say the least.

The only thing that made up for the fact I didn't like this movie very much was the post-screening Q & A with Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Arnie Hammer and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. I could leave three of those folks, I was there to bask in the close proximity of Eastwood as he took the stage munching on a cookie picked up backstage. Eastwood is one of my all-time cinematic heroes, so even though I didn't like the film he just directed, I was happy to see the man from a fairly close distance. 81 years old and he's still a bad-ass.


Eva said...

I bet that was a tough cookie Eastwood was munching ;)

Ah, you are quite right about the bio picture. I don't think I'd thought about this before. I will very often go and watch one - I mean there is a few big ones every year - and come away from them with a blah feeling, and I never really thought about why.

Yeah, it's that watered down to nothing-ness that they become in the end. The scope of a human life is too wide to be taken into one film, and they lose the art of storytelling because there isn't really a story to be told anymore - just many unrelated or more or less related stories, and you lose a point and a meaning.

Mini-series, when they are well done, can probably do bios a lot better.

Strange this coming from someone who almost exclusively reads biographies and is addicted to them. But a big book is a very different thing from a movie.

I think what does often work is when they pick PART of a person's life - even a really short time span - a day or a couple of years - and tell a STORY with that, not their life - or where the famous person features only partly - remember that one with Keats - was it Bright Star? That can really work.

I remember that awful awful Chaplin by Richard Attenborough (not Downey Jr's fault!). I can't say i liked the Aviator much either. Someone better not pick Gable or Astaire as the subject for a bio movie, I might slaughter them!
i read months (or perhaps years ago?) that Anne Hathaway was going play Judy Garland? I don't know if that is still going to happen or if that's dismissed.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Thanks for chipping in w/ your views on the biopic Eva. You read enough bios that you'd be the target audience for this sort of thing. I think the fact that most of these pictures are about famous people is what really weigh them down.

But, say a film like the recent THE KING'S SPEECH--that's sort of a biopic, but does like you say, one element or aspect of their life. That film worked. Maybe you are onto something here with the idea that the epic ones that try to tell the story from birth to death are the ones that get buried in their own scope. I would agree with that.

Eva said...

Yeah, because then we could just make a movie out of them going to the loo, drinking coffee, doing the dishes, going to the loo again, going to bed after putting some night eye cream on. Wait, that has probably been done, in some experimental way... Who says what's the really important things in life, right?

Good example, by the way with the King's Speech - and there, like you said, it's an "element" that is important, i.e. the stuttering, tied in with generally getting more self-confidence to making an important moment in history with the entire country tied in. Nice little layers all linked to the speech like balloons held by a hand). So the limit, I think, can be time or a certain element/aspect and/or both, but not to take in the entire life span(it IS really nice it's called The King's Speech and not The King's Life, isn't it?!), and certainly not every thing done in life, either.

hidden staircase said...

Mayor Clint! super cool! just to hear his voice must have been cool.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

A bad version of THE KING'S SPEECH would have included a lot of flashbacks to the king growing up and the various ways his stutter affected him. It would have included scenes about how he met his wife or how his family shunned him or all of that silly stuff that gets shoved into these biopics.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Staircase--I was pumped to witness that Clint sneer and stare. If only it would have been me he was doing that to!