Friday, October 15, 2010

A Solitary Man

Ben Kalmen is a hard-driven, successful middle-aged (okay, that's a bit of a stretch given Michael Douglas is 65) family man/car dealership owner having his yearly physical when the doctor gives him some news. What news? Well, maybe nothing, but the doctor wants to run some more tests.

Flash forward a few years. Kalmen's life is in ruins. He's lost all his car dealerships due to ethics issues. He's split from his wife. He's using his considerable charms to bed every hot chick he runs into. He's trying to stage a comeback, but—well, see the thing about bedding hot chicks, even when it compromises his ability to function otherwise.

This is the kind of movie that rests heavily on the performance of its lead, and Michael Douglas pulls it off amazingly. In real life, guys like this are pretty creepy. Kalmen is pretty creepy but Douglas' charisma and acting chops make him a palatable character somehow, even as he's trying to seduce women who are involved with his fractured family, women who are involved with guys he's supposed to be friends with, women who are the daughters of women he's bedded before...

He descends further and further, burning bridges, until he's down to working in a diner with stable, nice-guy college buddy Danny De Vito. Even there he can't escape his inclinations or the ramifications of his past acts.

The movie avoids pat answers and neat conclusions, threatening to tie the ending into the beginning, and leaving us to wonder whether Ben will get his act together or whether he'll just keep spiraling downward. The effectiveness of the movie is in that it feels very satisfying without doing these things.

Susan Sarandon provides solid backup as Kalmen's baffled wife, Mary-Louise Parker, Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Jenna Fischer and Richard Schiff round out the cast. Brian Kopelman directs his (with David Levien) script but this 2009 film never gained any traction last year.

Which is interesting. It has a truer ring and is a lot more intelligently written than most of what gets made, and Douglas' acting is stronger than ever. The Boy and The Old Man both approved, as did I—but its current IMDB rating is just 6.6.

The A-Team

In 1983, a motley assortment of actors were assembled by a team of crack TV writers and sent to a TV series that was a successful as it was goofy. Today, these men are mostly forgotten but the characters they created live on. If you need a mindless way to blow a couple of hours, and if it's playing at your cineplex—maybe you can go see The A-Team.

I never saw the original TV series, though something of a fan of Stephen Cannell's work on "Maverick""Rockford Files" and an admitted fan of the short-lived, never quite realized "Greatest American Hero". (Actually, by 1983, I had already given up on the prime-time TV thing.)

I don't have a whole lot to go on, therefore, as concerns the original compared to the movie version. There's some corny patriotism, some absurd action, some silly character development—I think that all fits in with the original series.

As a summer movie, it's not—well, it's not boring. You can follow the plot and the action, and most of the action is pretty well laid out. It never really engages beyond an almost aggressively superficial level which makes one aspect of the movie very jarring to me.

In what is basically a comic book world of ridiculous stunts, tone is usually kept by minimizing any real sense of consequences for violence. (This is parodied in this "Family Guy" clip at about 2:25.) While that's mostly done here, there is a plot point involving a character killing, and the killing is shown.

It's rather seriously done and struck me as gratuitously brutal.

Anyway, the Boy was not displeased (which counts as fair prize from him for this type of movie), though the Old Man seemed a little grumpy. He thought it was corny, but in the same breath said it was like the old show in that regard—and he was a huge fan of the old show. So I think he liked it but something rubbed him the wrong way. (Maybe the passage of the past 30 years.)

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