"Find hungry samurai" -Gisaku


Movie-Hype00601 – CINDERELLA MAN

Last night was Bear’s last visiting me in the Witness Protection Program. (We got special permission from the government.) We had a good week, and since I had to take him to the airport by 5:30 this morning, we figured we’d stay up all night (like I need an excuse). We met Marcellus at Colorado’s for some good food (and some yummy scenery, if you follow me), and then planned to see a movie and then hit Denny’s to argue about everything under the sun.

Colorado’s was good. The questions of the night ended up being: 1) If you could instantly have the knowledge and degree of a four year program, what subject would you pick? 2) If you had a pet elephant, what would you name it? 3) What’s your favorite fairy tale? This last one was especially good because it gave me a chance to expound on the Freudian nature of fairy tales. (More on that another time. Also, when I get my act together, I will post some of the answers I’ve been getting to the various questions of the night on the “Hyperion Thinks too Much” website.)

We had hoped to see MR. AND MRS. SMITH, but found out it didn’t open until today. That left seeing STAR WARS again, or CRASH. Our server Angelica promised to mock us mercilessly if we saw STAR WARS yet again, and she advocated CRASH. However, Bear had only seen STAR WARS once (to his eternal shame), but then Marcellus didn’t want to see it again.

[Aside: does this happen to you with friends? One person wants to see one movie, and another doesn’t want to see that movie but wants to see this movie, which a third person doesn’t want to see…even worse: sometimes no one will actually give their opinion, and you end up seeing movies with Jennifer Love Hewitt in them. Not that I’ve ever done that, but I’ve heard about it.]

Anyway, by the time we got to the theatre CRASH was already playing, so we decided to see CINDERELLA MAN. I really wasn’t looking forward to seeing it, as I have “issues” with both stars and the director (more on that later), but Marcellus gave me those Basset-hound eyes, and how do you say no to that?

Before the movie were previews. I have noticed that while most previews are still terrible, some of them are getting pretty decent, like THE LION WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, which absolutely blew Grendel and me away the other day. I suppose that’s a pretty strange preface to tell you about THE PERFECT MAN, starring—wait for it—Hillary Duff and Heather Locklear.

Now, as some of you know, I have a firm belief that one should take sides in all celebrity feuds, and the stupider the feud, the more adamant you should be. When I first found out Hillary Duff and Lindsey Lohan were fighting over some Back Street Boy, I picked Lindsey just on sheer instinct, having no idea that she would soon head into Britney Spears territory. However, I do have a Hillary Duff poster I got at Denny’s one time, so I’m conflicted.

Anyway, the preview looks like…a movie with Hillary Duff and Heather Locklear in it. However, just for kicks, I leaned over to Bear and said, “You’re flying back up here for this.” He laughed and added “We should camp out for tickets.” I found this so funny that I did it for each remaining preview, including the “SONY Sound” clip, thus ruining the joke. Once funny always funny, says I.

I suppose I should actually talk about the movie now.

I had several problems with CINDERELLA MAN going into the film. One, the title. I mean, they explain it and all, but you have to admit, it sounds kind of fairyish. Secondly, I think a movie about Joe Louis would be better. Jim Braddock (the character Russell Crowe plays) was a real boxer who inspired millions during the Great Depression, but no matter how bad white people had it back then, Black America had it worse, and Louis truly fought for them. I still remember being stirred by Maya Angelou’s account of a Joe Louis fight, with everyone in the black part of town gathering at the store to listen to the only radio as he fought courageously.

I also get a bit annoyed at the self-centeredness of America, in the assumption that the US was the only country that went through the Depression. Canada did too, and Europe’s Depression positively dwarfs anything that happened on this side of the pond, but how many Americans even know that?

Then there’s Ron Howard and Russell Crowe. I enjoyed A BEAUTIFUL MIND, but I was annoyed by how many liberties they took with the “true” story, and was also somewhat pissed that MIND took best Picture for 2001 over a much more deserving FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (MOULIN ROUGE would have been a better choice as well). I guess I’ve kind of held a grudge against Howard since then.

As for Crowe, I dislike the man intensely, but one has to admit he’s a fabulous actor, one of the best alive today. He simply disappears into his characters, and never makes you think it’s Russell Crowe doing it. Renée Zellweger, on the other hand, seems to be going the other way. When JERRY McGUIRE came out, I think I would have married her. But lately—and maybe it’s just me—it seems like every role she takes is designed to win Oscars. It’s like she’s trying too hard.

So, that’s some of the baggage I had going in. I hope then, it strengthens the case when I tell you that CINDERELLA MAN is a very good movie. At Denny’s afterward we talked about this, and Marcellus argued persuasively that CINDERELLA wasn’t quite Oscar nomination-worthy. But it was still very interesting, at times deeply moving, and hit all the right notes.

I noticed that Howard managed to end virtually every scene at the highest energy point possible. As someone writing a screenplay, I was impressed by this. The sets were well done too, with a couple of minor exceptions, and really makes you feel like you’re in 1930. The acting is uniformly good, especially Crowe and Paul Giamatti.

Long-time Hyperion readers know I have been on Giamatti’s bandwagon for some time now. He should have been nominated two years ago for AMERICAN SPLENDOR and everyone agrees he was robbed of a nomination last year for SIDEWAYS. Giamatti, of anyone here, seems to be the mortal lock for an Oscar nomination this time. Unlike Crowe, who disappears, Giamatti works from the inside out, taking himself and working it into the character, until the two are one and you believe Giamatti must have been this guy in another life. Truly: if Paul Giamatti were good-looking he’d have 3 Oscars by now.

Having seen the film, I still do have some problems with it. We go from Riches to Rags abruptly in the beginning, and while Marcellus and Bear liked the juxtaposition, I would have preferred a one minute montage of Braddock losing fights, coinciding with the Market Crash and the hastening of the Great Depression, illustrated by his fall from money, perhaps going from a nice house to a lesser one to a lesser one and on down. That’s tiny, though.

Bigger is the fight scenes. Any boxing fan will most likely be disappointed. I read that Crowe trained relentlessly for the part, but you’d never know it, as we rarely get wide angles, and instead are bombarded by so much quick editing that at times it’s impossible to tell who hit who. There is a still a nice emotional resonance to the fighting, but not as much adrenaline as you’d like.

The biggest qualm, though, is Braddock. Crowe is sensational, the accent pure, the mannerisms never forced. But the character is written literally without flaws. Personally obsessed with early 20th Century boxing, I know Braddock was not actually this way. Beyond the historical white-wash, though, it’s just not as interesting. How many boxers have no ego, and zero violent tendencies outside the ring? Braddock never really loses his temper, yells at his kids, slaps his wife, or anything wrong. A side character has a drinking problem because of shame over his inability to feed his family. Howard would have been better off giving that to Braddock. He has pride, but he’ll swallow it to feed his family (although that’s actually a “chill” scene). Oh well.

Bear points out that perhaps the point was not to write pure biography, but rather paint the picture of inspiration the public came to cherish. There might be merit to this. We all know history is written by the winners, but maybe then, the present was too. The newspapers made hey over Braddock’s comeback, and certainly could have glossed over details. People needed heroes in that dark time (see “Seabiscuit,” “the Lone Ranger,” and hell, even Al Capone), and would have mythologized the man to sainthood. Maybe that’s what Howard is doing. Or maybe he just fell in love with the guy.

There is a lot to like about him. And this movie. I could mention a few things, but you’ll like them even more if you stumble into them not knowing to look. You could wait for video and it wouldn’t kill you, but you certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if you see it in the theatre.

The last thing I want to talk about is who would like this film. It’s a boxing movie, which many girls won’t go for, but it’s written more like a chick-flick. Guys: take a girl to see this. You’ll score points. There is the backdrop (and in some ways, the character) of the Great Depression, but I would not call this a depressing movie at all. This is mostly because as a boxing movie, you KNOW how it will end, so you don’t worry too much. No harm there.

The more I think about it, just about everyone is going to like this film. They may not “love” it, but how often can you find something to impress both men and women?


Joe Random said...

I prefer Hilary Duff...

Also, I agree, Joe Louis would have been a better topic choice.

T.H.Esaurus said...

Gus & Jaq, should have been there.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo

Anonymous said...

Could Hilary be more manipulative? OMG 3X!!! She was upset Aaron chose Lindsay, true, but they were 13! None of us get the liberty of still hating people we hated at 13, at least not publically. Hiding behind that phony, goody-goody stuff? please! Lindsay at least makes watchable bad movies, wheras Hilary's have become naseating ever since she left the Disney channel.

Jeff Travis Henderson said...

Hilary Duff is Dead.