Sunday, November 27, 2011

Arthur Christmas

This movie was not on my Must List. There was SO MUCH coming out this week in particular that I wasn't going to be bothered with a holiday kids movie. It looked cute, but the teaser didn't grab me, and I could probably catch it on television eventually. But when people started seeing it, they were saying how clever and funny it was, and then I remembered that Aardman was involved, so I gave it a go, and I'm SO glad I did. If you're looking for a family film and you've already seen The Muppets, and maybe you'd like to see something with a similar kind of dry humor that you might associate with Harry Potter or Doctor Who, I humbly submit Arthur Christmas for your consideration.

I had intended to use a picture of Arthur, GrandSanta, and Bryony in the oldschool sleigh, but this picture pushed my "awwwww" button so hard, I was compelled to use it instead.

We start with the little girl in the picture above. She's writing a letter to Santa, and she has all kinds of questions about how Santa-ing works. At least one of her questions is answered in a shot of a series of framed photographs in a corridor at Christmas headquarters. No, the Santa she's writing to is not the same person as Saint Nicholas. He was the original, but the title has passed down, father to son, to the current Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent). We also learn that Santa doesn't actually read the letters that are sent to him. That job is delegated to the Mail Room, which is where we find Arthur (James McAvoy), Santa's younger son, who is the biggest fan of Christmas EVER. He writes a very sweet reply to the little girl, assuring her that Santa is very much real, and keeping the drawing she sent pinned to the wall behind his desk.

Arthur's older brother is Steve (Hugh Laurie), who is pretty much the brains of the operation. He's taken Christmas Eve into the 21st Century, making present drops a well oiled machine, run by thousands of elves, with Santa only placing one ceremonial present in each town where their huge spaceship of a sleigh stops. I love the little ninja action of the elves and that everyone in the operation has a smartphone with GPS and naughty/nice gauge. :P So everything's going swimmingly, and they return to the North Pole to have Christmas dinner, celebrate another "Mission Accomplished" (yes, there's a Bush-era-esque banner), and get some well-earned rest.

Except there's a problem. There's a present still undelivered. Which means a child got missed. And what a coincidence - it's the little girl we met in the beginning. Arthur is very upset - she's going to wake up and think Santa doesn't care about her! Or doesn't exist! Steve assures him that they'll messenger the package and she'll get it in five days, but that's not good enough for Arthur - it will ruin the magic! Steve says there's not another way - they can't take the super-sleigh back out, because it just traveled 7 million miles or summat in one night. And his feeling is that it's not a big deal if only one child out of all those millions is missed - it's only a tiny margin of error, after all. The rest of the film is Arthur's quest to deliver this present and preserve the magic of Christmas for this one child, with the help of GrandSanta (Bill Nighy) and a gift wrap elf named Bryony.

There are a lot of great little details. One of my favorite things is Bryony and her bow porn - she's loaded her smartphone with pictures of bows like you or I would load an iPhone with pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch. Not that I have done any such thing, and how DARE you insinuate such a thing! And I looooooooved GrandSanta and his efforts to prove that Christmas can be done without all this newfangled-ry. And the newfangled-ry itself is quite a clever commentary on how crazy the commercial aspect of Christmas has become.

This movie - the basic story, anyway - reminded me a lot of the Book of Mormon musical, and I'm not sure I can explain why without going into spoilers. For those of you who've seen the musical, though, Arthur is totally the Elder Cunningham and Steve the Elder Price; the journeys of their characters are very similar. "I'll be the candle" may be my favorite line from any film this year. My favorite image, though, is of the four generations of Santa, peeking through the closet door at a sight none of them has ever seen - the look on a child's face on Christmas morning.

LOVED this movie, and it was the perfect thing to see to put me in the holiday spirit. I hope many of you get a chance to see it and that it does the same for you. If you do Christmas, of course. :-)


*sigh* I seem to be in the minority on this movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I think an awful lot of people are letting their quite understandable love for the second half of this movie make them see it as better than it actually is. That's not to say it's not a good movie, but the thing as a whole is not as great as a few of its parts. I'm sorry. It's just not. In my opinion, of course.

The movie is based on a novel by Brian Selznick, whose first cousin, twice removed, is the great golden age movie producer David O. Selznick, and the book is clearly a love letter to movies. But the book has the same problem the film has. It spends a lot of time - too much time, in my opinion - in the train station where the title character lives, just following his routine and his continual attempts to evade the attention of the station inspector. I will give the movie this - it actually does show us that Hugo is quite right to worry about what will happen if he is found and why it is so important that he keep the clocks running, which the book only tells the reader as almost an afterthought.

The first hour of the film is rather frustrating to get through, because it feels like it's marking time until it gets to the part that Scorsese was clearly much more interested in. For the first hour, it's like Scorsese is trying to make the kind of film his friend Steven Spielberg is best known for. But he's not as good at it as Spielberg is, and the stakes just seem too low. The main reason this first half is tolerable is that it is so wonderfully shot and the 3D is so captivating. This is definitely a "must see in 3D" movie. It's not just a visual gimmick; the technology is actually integral to the themes of the movie. And Scorsese, who is a true artist of cinema, is using the technology in ways you've never seen before, which is very exciting to watch, even during the sections where the movie isn't as much so.

Hour One introduces us to Hugo Cabret, the orphaned son of a clockmaker who has started to learn his father's trade when the father tragically dies in a fire. He lives for a time with his inebriate uncle, Claude, with whom he lives in the walls of the train station and who teaches him how to wind the station clocks. The most important of Hugo's possessions are a wind-up automaton that his father found abandoned in a museum where he worked and a notebook with pictures and notes on how the automaton was built and which Hugo has been using to try and repair it. He's been stealing parts from toys at a small toy booth in the station, but the owner of the store catches him one day and punishes him by taking his notebook. Hugo eventually learns, with the help of the toymaker's goddaughter, Isabelle, that the toymaker is actually Georges Méliès, who was a pioneer filmmaker at the turn of the century (and, incidentally, the designer and maker of the automaton). He made something like 500 films, but his most famous is A Trip to the Moon. You may recognize this still from it.

And here's where the movie FINALLY finds its purpose. There's a bit of talk about halfway through the film about machines having a purpose, and that when they're broken they can't fulfill that, and how people are much the same way. This movie is (I suspect unintentionally) the perfect metaphor for that, because it doesn't find its purpose until this point. Méliès is a very sad man. He doesn't like to talk about his time as a filmmaker, and possibly has forgotten or blocked out a great deal of those memories, because he believes no one cares about or remembers his work. It is unfathomably tragic that nearly all his films were melted to make shoe heels or else recycled to make new film and that (we believe at the time) there is only one of his films that remains intact. And the rest of the film is as much a meditation on the magic of filmmaking and the importance of film preservation - a longtime passion of Scorsese's - as it is a conclusion to the story.

This second half is simply magical, and I think the movie might have worked better if it had pruned or truncated the story of Hugo and centered the film much more on Méliès and his legacy. Ben Kingsley gives easily the most compelling performance as Méliès, and Helen McCrory is almost as delightful as his wife, Jeanne. I can't quite put into words how amazing the behind-the-scenes filmmaking scenes are, as well as the stunning recreations of some of early cinema's most iconic shots. If I were only to go by this section of the film, this would be my favorite of the year, hands-down. But I can't quite ignore the first half.

I really would like to see this again and give it another shot (though I can't imagine I'll have the time). The reason for this is because I suffered what is easily the WORST audience I have ever had the misfortune to sit with. There was a loud-talking woman who had to be emphatically told (twice!) to be quiet just as the movie was starting. There were so many latecomers - some of them as much as an hour into the film's running time - that I lost count. And the man a few seats down from me was (perhaps unconsciously) tapping his feet continuously throughout the film as if he was practicing choreography. It's possible I might have been more receptive to the film if I hadn't spent most of it in a rage at my fellow moviegoers. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I know there were people there who don't get to the movies frequently, but that's no excuse. Audiences like this are a huge reason why people don't go out to the movies anymore.

The Muppets

Alrighty, here we go. The Muppets. Bottom line. Absolutely back to the spirit of the classic Muppet movies and the television show. If you have any lingering affection for these creatures at all, you will enjoy it. I have a couple of quibbles, but the joy here is far too large to be undone.

There. If you plan to see it, that's all you need. Read nothing. Watch no clips. Just let the joy wash over you, then come back. You know, if you want. No one's making you, jeez!

And now, if you've seen it already, here's a closer look.

You know the story. Even if you'd never seen a trailer or read anything else about it, you could have guessed without much difficulty. The Muppet Studios in LA are about to be torn down by an evil oil magnate unless the Muppets can raise the $10 million needed to keep it. So they decide to put on a show - a telethon to raise the money. It all starts, however, with a man named Gary and his muppet brother Walter.

Walter is the Muppets' biggest fan. He grew up watching the show and the movies, and Kermit and the gang were his refuge when the world wasn't so kind to him. It's not easy bein' felt, yo. So when Walter gets a chance to go on a trip to Hollywood and visit the old Muppet Studio, it's the greatest day of his life. What he doesn't know until he gets there is that the studio has fallen on hard times. No one is there now except an old guide giving $5 tours, almost all the attractions are closed, and everything is in a serious state of disrepair and disuse. He sneaks into Kermit's old office and overhears a plan to turn the studios into a Muppet Museum, but that's just a cover. The greasy Tex Richman plans to tear everything down and dig for oil.

Walter is deeply upset - he screams for like five minutes - and he's determined to Do Something. He and Gary, along with Gary's lady friend Mary, find Kermit's house (or mansion, rather) and give him the bad news. Kermit is saddened but doesn't really know what can be done. He sings The Most Heartbreaking Song in the History of Time ("Pictures in My Head"), whose title I can't even type without tearing up. If you have ever had people who were once incredibly important to you and who you couldn't imagine drifting away from, only to find that eventually that's exactly what happens, this song was designed to make you cry like a crying crier who cries. I thought the transition into this song was a little weird and abrupt, but forgot all about it when the song started. Definitely the best of the new songs.

Kermit thinks it'll be impossible to get the gang back together, but Walter tells him he should at least try. So they hit the road (and eventually travel by map LOL) and track everyone down. Along the way, the usual Muppet story absurdities crop up - e.g., Gonzo and Scooter are doing pretty dang well, so couldn't they afford to pony up some money and at least put a dent in that $10 million? Who cares - we're going to put on a show, dangit! When they've gotten everyone back but Miss Piggy, Kermit shows a strange reluctance to go and find her.

And here's where the movie hit the biggest snag for me. I have always been a huge Kermit/Piggy fan. You might say they were the first couple I ever "shipped," and their romance has always been one of my favorite parts of the show and the movies. A love so powerful it transcended not only species but animal grouping, it was always fraught with conflict (mainly, I think, because she expended so much more energy on their relationship than he did). But it was just ... meant to be, you know? I'm fine with them having drifted apart, and I appreciate that they were genuinely trying to explore their relationship and make it feel real and textured. But the way the two characters are written here is just weird and doesn't feel like them at all. It's like it was written by someone who doesn't quite get what made them tick - like a Harmonian trying to write Ron/Hermione. Well, not quite that bad, but it just felt off, and that was kind of disappointing. I did mostly love the scene where they're walking the streets of Paris - she in a beret and he in a turtleneck, like they tripped and fell into a Jean-Luc Godard film. But again, the writing is not quite there. Perhaps it would have been a bit better if we'd seen flashbacks to what drove them apart instead of all the telling. I don't know. Minor quibble, I guess, but it felt major because it had to do with my favorite aspect of the movies/show.

BUUUUT, back to the good stuff. Kermit and the gang manage to get two hours of broadcast time for their telethon, even though everyone has told them they're not relevant and no one cares about them anymore. But they need a celebrity host, and no matter how many eighties stars Kermit calls (the only people in his Rolodex) no one is interested. They get desperate and decide to try and plead with Tex Richman, but he does an awesomely bad rap number about how that's not going to happen, and to top it off, he's not only going to take the theater, he's going to take the brand name and all the character names and start his own muppet show, with edgier muppets - to cater to the more cynical world they all now live in.

But hope is not lost, and in typical Muppet fashion, everything comes together at the last minute. I loved that the theater was empty at first, but that it filled up over the course of the two hours as people realized how much the Muppets had meant to them over the years. What I loved more was that people in my audience started singing along with the songs. Notably, the theme song ("It's time to play the music! It's time to light the lights!") and the One, the Only, don't pretend you don't know it's the Ultimate Heart-Tugger "The Rainbow Connection." If I thought I'd cried all my tears at "Pictures in My Head," I was so wrong. There are some wildly funny musical moments, too, such as the barber shop quartet singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl also has a cameo early in the film) and and Camilla and the chicken chorus doing CeeLo's ... I guess it would be "Cluck You." ;-)

I loved the message in the end, which, like all messages in Muppet movies, is pretty standard stuff but good to hear anyway. And the moment at the end, when Kermit opens the theater door, genuinely took me by surprise. And of course brought back ALL THE CREYS.

There are some excellent cameos, most of which I won't spoil, but - hey, you're not supposed to be reading this until you've seen it anyway! My favorite is Emily Blunt, giving a nod to her Devil Wears Prada character as Miss Piggy's assistant. Oh, and HELLO THERE, MICKEY ROONEY! He was a muppet before there were Muppets, don't you think? Loved all the throwbacks to old Muppet numbers (great use of "Mahna Mahna") and covers of famous songs, and I liked most of the new songs, too. I already mentioned "Pictures in My Head" and the lolarious Tex Richman Rap, but there's also "Me Party," which in addition to being a great disco sendup, is like the story of my life - pretty much every day is a Me Party. :P And there's a great Serious Character-Building Song called "Man or Muppet" (Jim Parsons, FTW!).

It's not perfect, even for a Muppet movie, but it's close enough. It's good to know that the world hasn't gone so far into the cynical that the Muppets can't bring us back to a place where genuine sweetness trumps trash and hipster ironic commentary.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Descendants

Alexander Payne hasn't made a feature film since 2004's Sideways, which many consider his best (though About Schmidt gets the crown, as far as moi is concerned). And while his latest film, The Descendants, doesn't quite rise (though it comes close) to the excellence of either of those films - again, as far as moi is concerned - it is probably the likeliest of his films to date to get some serious Oscar ground, especially as regards its star, George Clooney.

The Descendants

You know the basic story if you've seen the trailer. George Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer in Hawaii, and Matt's wife Elizabeth is in a coma after a boating accident. Oh yeah, and she was also cheating on him - a fact he doesn't learn until after it's too late to confront her about it. I don't think it's much of a spoiler to tell you this, because we learn it very early on - Elizabeth is not going to come out of her coma, and according to the instructions set down in her will, the doctors can only care for her in that state for a short while. So it's time for Matt to get in touch with family and friends and begin a long and painful goodbye. And the knowledge that she'd been having an affair makes it all the more excruciating. Add into this mix Matt and Elizabeth's two daughters, 17 year old Alex and 10 year old Scottie. Alex, played by the remarkable Shailene Woodley, is a wild child, frequently indulging in booze and older men, but she's actually surprisingly pulled together considering all this. Scottie is out of control in her own way, often getting into trouble for her smart (and occasionally foul) mouth.

Matt is, at first glance, the stereotypical "too busy to emotionally connect" male, but Clooney's portrayal and the writing of the character win you over very quickly. I particularly love his line about thinking a parent with means should give their children enough money to do something, but not enough for them to do nothing. This is significant to the B story, because Matt is the trustee for his family's ancestral land (his family's line traces back to Kamehameha I, hence the movie's title) - one of the increasingly few untouched bits of paradise in the state. He's under pressure from not only his family but the entire state of Hawaii to do the right thing with the land. The family wants to sell, because the sale will make them a lot of money and it's an incredibly complicated process to keep the land. Most of the rest of the state think it would unconscionable to sell. The family wants to somewhat compromise by taking the option that, while paying less than other bids, will at least keep the money in Hawaii. But Matt's more immediate family matters understandably overshadow this decision for most of the film.

The movie itself is nothing incredibly new. It reminded me a bit of Terms of Endearment in the way it handled family comedy/drama and hospital bedside tragedy. It doesn't weave the comedy and drama together as successfully as it might have. In fact, it feels like the second act is almost a different movie entirely, bringing the levity that the first and third acts make necessary. The movie has some really extraordinary moments of emotional frankness. That's partly the writing - I especially love the moment where Matt has an extended scene of yelling and cursing at his comatose wife for her infidelity before chastising his daughter for doing the same thing later. But where the movie really shines is in the superb performances, pretty much across the board.

Shailene Woodley is fantastic as the older daughter, Alex. Her reaction to hearing the news about her mother is absolutely heart-shattering and her chemistry with her screen dad, Clooney, makes some of the movie's greatest moments. Amara Miller, as Scottie, is your typical movie kid for a lot of the film, but she gets some great moments, especially toward the end. I don't think I need to tell those of you who know me well how much the whole situation of most of this movie affected me, and I don't think any moment in this movie broke me more than when they break the news to Scottie, much later in the film. Judy Greer, I'm glad to see, has finally broken out of the "quirky/evil best friend in a rom-com" hell and gotten to do some great things lately, and her role as the wife of the Other Man is really wonderful, especially her final scene. Beau Bridges plays a character that MUST have been a straight-up homage to his brother's most memorable character, The Dude. And Robert Forster is rather amazing in the couple of scenes he's in, playing Matt's father-in-law. And I kind of loved Nick Krause as Alex's hilarious stoner boyfriend. He brought humor where it was desperately needed, but even he has a serious side.

But the star of the show, and not just in billing terms, is George Clooney. I was intrigued before seeing this by the idea of him playing a husband and father, as Clooney has eschewed anything resembling that lifestyle in his own personal life. This is the kind of character you've seen dozens of actors play in other movies. Another director, fifteen years ago, would have cast Tom Hanks. Sixty or seventy years ago, it would have been Jimmy Stewart. It certainly wouldn't have been Clark Cable or Cary Grant, the easiest parallels for Clooney that come to my mind. We've just never seen him play this kind of character. He's not the warmest or most successful of fathers in the beginning, but there's a real connection with his kids and a desire to do what his wife would have wanted, even though she doesn't particularly deserve it except in a "she's dying, cut her some slack" kind of way, that makes him a sort of hero over the course of the movie. And when he makes his big decision at the end of the film, and there are people who object strongly (and with a lot of passive aggression, I might add), I wanted to badly to jump into the screen and tell them to [BADWORD] off, because in that two hours of storytelling, this character gained my trust and I felt that whatever decision he made, after the journey he'd been on, was going to be the right one.

It's not perfect, but I loved loved loved this movie. I'm not sure I could see it again soon, because hoo boy is it emotional, but I highly recommend it. It's rated R, but it's barely an R (for language and, I'm almost positive, nothing else). It's getting serious buzz as an Oscar frontrunner, but I have a feeling that may disappear next week when The Artist steals everyone's hearts.

Friday, November 18, 2011


I was 'meh' on this beforehand. It was on my schedule, but I was ready to cross it off if there was going to be an issue of making time for it. I was also further annoyed that NONE of the AMC theaters in Manhattan (which is the only chain in NYC that does any kind of matinee pricing) were screening the film in 2D. But then I saw some wonderfully ecstatic responses from a couple of AICN screenings. So I ponied up the extra money for 3D but brought my own glasses - the nice ones we were given at BNAT1138 that you can use as sunglasses and that don't give you the 3D headache.


Let me start by giving you the bottom line. If you loved 300, this movie is right up your alley. In fact, you might think it's the same movie. Scantily clad warriors doing battle against impossible odds, with gods in the mix and plenty of highly stylized violence ... sound familiar? It did to me, but I didn't really care because it was all so AWESOME!

Henry Cavill - who you may or may not remember as the jerkwad Humphrey from Stardust - takes the lead as Theseus and shows us why he's going to rock like a hurricane as Superman in the forthcoming Man of Steel. Mickey Rourke is the baddie, and Slumdog Millionaire's Frieda Pinto is the beautiful virgin oracle. John "Ollivander" Hurt plays a wise old man who is much more than he seems. And an actor named Luke Evans who I've never seen in a movie in my life, but he looks FOR ALL THE WORLD like Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse star Tahmoh Penikett, plays Zeus (also, he'll soon be appearing as Bard the Bowman in The Hobbit). Oh, and one of the lesser known Cullens from the Twilight movies plays Poseidon. Stephen Dorff is in it, too.

The basic story is that the ruthless king Hyperion (Rourke) wants to declare war on the gods. To do this, he's going to release the Titans (who are not what you might think they are from seeing Clash of the Titans), and to do THAT he needs this special bow that was forged by Ares. Theseus, with the help of his fellow slaves and the lovely oracle, must lead the fight to stop him. Now, I'm a huge fan of Greek mythology, and while I was fine with the different way the gods were portrayed here, my one beef with the movie was that there wasn't more of them. Because when they finally join the fight, it is a beautiful, slow-motion-y, head-exploding thing to behold.

This movie was made by Tarsem Singh, whose first film was The Cell, which had a fairly forgettable story but a truly unforgettable visual aesthetic. I didn't see his later film, The Fall, but Immortals is cut very much from the same cloth as The Cell. The visuals are like nothing you've ever seen before, and even though it's not quite as coherent a movie as 300, I liked the look of it a bit more (notably, the color palette, which I found more pleasing to the eye than 300's nearly monochromatic look).

Like I said, if you dug 300, you will probably like this a lot. Yeah, it's essentially trash, but it's GLORIOUS trash. If you can find a theater that's showing this in 2D, I don't think it will lessen the experience at all. In fact, I think huge chunks of the movie aren't even in 3D anyway. (Though Frieda Pinto's naked bootay gets the up close, 3D treatment, if you're into that sort of thing.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

J. Edgar

First, let's get this out of the way. I am a mere (ha!) 36 years old and was not even born yet when J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972. The only reference I really had for him was Bob Hoskins's brief appearance in Oliver Stone's Nixon. I knew nothing about the man going into this movie, except that he essentially created the FBI as we now know it and that he was rumored to be a homosexual and occasional cross-dresser. Those latter details have so permeated our culture's portrait of him that I didn't know until a couple of months ago that these were unconfirmed rumors. Well, I guess they'd have to have been, given the time period.

Not that that matters, as both his (repressed) homosexuality and the cross-dressing are accepted as fact in this film, though perhaps not in the way you might expect. The film goes back and forth between the young Hoover, in the very first days of his leadership in the Bureau of Investigation, and the older Hoover, in the Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon years. Both versions are played rather spectacularly by Leonardo DiCaprio. Yes, the "old age" makeup is pretty bad and at times distracting, but the performance is so good - a true "movie star" performance - that most of the time you can forget about it. The older Hoover is dictating a memoir and telling stories (in more senses than one) about his early days in the FBI, notably his part in the investigation of the Lindbergh kidnapping. These stories of his professional life show him as a man desperate to be respected and admired, and desperate for his Bureau to be respected. I don't know how accurate this is, but the film indirectly credits Hoover with the implementation of a lot of the basic tools of investigation that we take for granted today (i.e., fingerprinting and keeping a crime scene free from contamination). There's a great scene, when he arrives at the Lindbergh estate, where he chastises the local police for carelessly traipsing over potential evidence and handling the ransom letter with bare hands. It's bizarre to think, in our current culture that is so saturated in police dramas and investigative storytelling, that it wasn't long ago when most people had no idea how important that kind of thing could be.

The movie doesn't raise Hoover up too high, though. It's unclear how much of the older Hoover's flashbacks are actually being dictated to the memoir writer, and that could very well be by design. Hoover often acted officially out of personal motives (jealousy and paranoia), and the film definitely doesn't let him off the hook for that, but you can tell that Hoover's version of events has been in his head so long and so firmly that whatever he's exaggerated or rationalized to himself has become the truth in his mind.

Hoover's political life story in the film is wrapped around his personal story, a story that I suspect no one alive can do more than guess at and extrapolate from facts and testimony. We see his social awkwardness, which the script attributes both to his devotion to his career and to a bitter struggle between societal expectations and his own desires. He attempts to woo and even propose marriage to typist Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) after knowing her only a few days, but seems dreadfully uncomfortable around other women. His mother (played by Judi Dench) loves him very much, and quite possibly knows the truth about his ambivalence to women, but makes it unmistakably clear that she does not approve of homosexuals (her conversation with Edgar about "Daffy" is devastating).

Which brings me to Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer, perhaps better known as The Social Network's Winklevii), who Hoover made his Deputy at the Bureau (though he was nowhere near qualified) and who was possibly the love of his life. There were some giggles in the audience during their scenes together and the obvious tension between them, but this story is really the heart of the movie. What's heartbreaking is that these two men clearly love one another, but while Tolson doesn't have a problem subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) expressing his feelings for Edgar, Edgar never reciprocates any of those sentiments and it may be that he can't even admit his feelings to his own self. Their feelings for each other are never played for a laugh, and it's just so unbelievably sad to see how much they mean to each other and know that they can't even properly express it, even in private. The image of Hammer's Tolson reading a love letter, written by someone else but that Edgar had once partially read aloud, is one of the most moving things I've seen in a film this year - seeing him agonizing over things he heard in Edgar's voice and wishes had been addressed to him.

I have to address the cross-dressing thing, because the film does, and I was very impressed with how they did it. Again, it wasn't done for a laugh or even a hint of a joke. Of course, it wouldn't have been in the movie at all if there hadn't been the rumors, but it's not an "oh yeah, and he wore dresses" kind of thing. It's a legitimate expression of grief, and I totally bought it.

This film does have some issues. I thought the flashbacks were occasionally a little awkward, and as I said before the aging makeup was mostly awful. It wasn't so bad on Naomi Watts, but DiCaprio and Hammer looked like something from Madame Tussaud's. Again, though, the performances more than make up for it. I did feel like some of the historical cameos were more impressions than characters (e.g., Burn Notice's Jeffrey Donovan as Bobby Kennedy), but they weren't too distracting.

In the director's chair is the Man, the Myth, the Legend - Clint Eastwood. If you've seen any of his other films, you probably know what to expect here. It's not bombastic but quiet, steady, and sure. Eastwood also composed the score for the film, which is a very subtle, mostly (perhaps purely) piano score. A critic made the observation that Eastwood spent his career as an actor playing men who were above the law, like The Man With No Name and Dirty Harry, and that he's spent his career as a director telling stories about how these kinds of men are obsolete, which is part of what this movie is about. I can't help observing, though, that - for better or worse - the FBI is what it is today because of Hoover, and whatever else he might feel about his legacy, he'd probably be proud of that.