Monday, August 20, 2007

Speaking of movies

We rented an interesting one last week: 'The Cooler'(2003). It's by Wayne Kramer, the director of 'Running Scared', which I admired very much. This site has some trailers and clips.

Kramer is an interesting director, and worth keeping an eye on. He has a genuine respect for film, and his commentaries are very informative and engaging. He reminds me of Lang a bit (not temperamentally, thank goodness) because he has such a clear mind when it comes to making movies. He knows what he's doing, and the effect he wants to create, and he goes straight to the object without any fiddling around. He never wastes a shot, his movies are always intelligently put together. Such a contrast with some self-indulgent directors who just point the camera and shoot 30 takes of everything every which way, in the expectation that SOMETHING will be bound to work, and it can all be put together with editing. That's not directing - I mean literally, it's not. It's just tagging along for the ride while the actors try out every possible combination, and then culling the result for a final product.

Anyway, 'The Cooler' is set in Las Vegas, where Bernie (William H. Macy) works as the "cooler" for the Golden Shangri-La casino. His luck is so terrible, it almost magically rubs off on other people, so when people are starting to win big, Bernie turns up to cool things down, and put an end to winning streaks. He's such an adorable sad sack, with his badly-fitting suit and his limp (souvenir of a kneecapping) - even his cat has run away from him. His luck changes when he falls in love with Natalie (Maria Bello), and this immediately creates problems when he can no longer keep the casino reliably in the black.

The parallel story concerns the casino manager, Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin), who is determined to hold on to the old-fashioned Vegas atmosphere and ethos, in the teeth of a modernizing Young Turk (Ron Livingston), who is backed by the mobster owner of the casino. There are a lot of themes throughout the movie - good luck, bad luck, honour, honesty, and what is for sale and what isn't.

There's some pretty graphic sex and some serious violence in this movie, so be warned. Frankly, the effect far outweighs the number of minutes actually shown; even the violence is more implied than explicit, and it tends to end quickly, but it's so effective, you are left with the impression that you've seen more than you actually have. Actually, there's more bad language than either sex or violence - the swearing is pretty much non-stop, but that doesn't bother me much.

When watching this, I realized that I'd never actually seen Alec Baldwin in a serious movie role - just 'Thomas the Tank Engine', really. He's a darn good actor. I've heard so much about his politics that I assumed I knew all about him, but then realized that I'd never really seen him just doing his job.

I think I'll eventually get a copy of 'The Cooler' to go along with 'Running Scared' - the commentaries alone are worth owning, they give so much information about the job of movie-making. Kramer is working on a new movie called 'Crossing Over', about immigrants in L.A., trying to get legal status - very topical. If it's shown up here in Ottawa, I'll have to see it, just to see what he does with the idea.


Blogger Min O'Pause said...

The Cooler is great. William H Macy is an incredible actor. If you like The Cooler, try renting a film with James Caan, from the late 70's entitled, "Thief."

I'd be interested to hear what you think.


3:45 pm  

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