Thursday, October 06, 2005

Arsenio Hall and the Depths of Depravity.

Two For The Money
2005, USA
D.J. Caruso

I’ve never really understood why I like sports movies. It’s certainly not because I like sports. Many of you don’t know me, but I like to think that my writing paints a picture of me as a person, perhaps to the extent that you may even begin to visualize my appearance. If so, then you’ll quickly realize that I’m built like a stick figure with the complexion of a cave fish, and if I were to ever attempt playing an actual sport, I would probably crack open like a desiccated beetle carapace, revealing clockwork machinery stamped with an Order of the Dragon insignia and layered with cemetery dust. I’ve long been of the opinion that watching sports is for people who love to have opinions, but whose reading level hasn’t quite reached the level necessary to do anything with the World section of the newspaper other than make a hat. It’s not that watching sports doesn’t serve a purpose. On the contrary, it serves several. The NFL season keeps the Sunday roads clear of Italians and gap-toothed rednecks, decreasing your chances of getting run over by a Pontiac IROC or a pickup truck with a “Support Our Troops” sticker on the bumper. Every four years, the World Cup of soccer keeps the downtown core mercifully free of first-generation immigrants, making it a lot easier to rent a movie when there’s no Libyan ahead of you in line trying to buy an international calling card from a bewildered clerk using hand gestures. And, of course, ever since last year’s World Series, the entire Major League Baseball season keeps the infestation of Boston Males in my city to a minimum. Drawn by the lure of plentiful strip clubs and rivers that overflow with Red Bull and vodka, the Boston Male has a particularly loud mating call that suggests that they’ve not forgotten Arsenio Hall, despite the fact that the rest of the world has moved on, and they do like to let it fly at around four A.M. under my bedroom window.

Dead, but not forgotten. Also, possibly not dead.

And yet, I compulsively watch sports films. Usually, I don’t like them, but I watch them anyway. Which is why I was so disappointed with Two For The Money, a sports film that doesn’t contain any actual sports. In essence, this makes watching the film an experience akin to the pre-game show to a CFL game; long, boring, and building up to something that’s a pale, sagging imitation of a real sport. It should be noted that Two For The Money is not, strictly speaking, a sports film. It’s actually about sports gambling, a fact I should have noticed from the trailer, had I not zoned out completely the four times I saw it. The film tells the story of a star college quarterback, played by Matthew McConaughey, who suffers a career ending injury and discovers that he’s really good at sports betting. Rather conveniently, he doesn’t actually bet himself, but rather makes money predicting winners for others, which leads him to a job in New York City working for a ‘sports advisor’, which is to gambling what buying online essays is to graduate level ethics courses. He works for Al Pacino, which I feared would result in a degeneration into a Devil’s Advocate orgy of yelling and wild gesticulation. Instead, it turns out to be a rather interesting character study, which was not what I expected but better than I had hoped. Pacino is rather subdued, Rene Russo as his wife is effective and believable, and Matthew McConaughey takes his shirt off a lot for no apparent narrative or commercial purpose. Two For the Money is also a rarity in Hollywood, in that it’s a serious drama that’s not based on a novel. Basing films on novels is a fairly common practice in LA, unless you’re trying to write something involving a bomb planted on a bus or an extreme athlete turned super spy, in which case you have to hire the nearest screenplay writer with a cocaine addiction who used to work as a story editor on Counterstrike or something equally stupid. The film’s main flaw, aside from the trite ending, is that the story upon which the interesting characterization is based is simplistic and clichéd. It’s essentially about a guy who’s really good at gambling, then he isn’t for a little bit, then he gets good right at the end in time for some minor redemption, like a Pro-Line version of Rocky III.

Sooner or later, it all boils down to Mr. T.

Actually, when viewed in the right context, this film could be a metaphor for Al Pacino’s career. In his glory days, he picked projects that had meaning and purpose, and gave performances that still resonate to this day, even if the films themselves have lost their impact. Then, he did Scarface and discovered yelling, and everything went straight into a bottomless pit of wide-eyed frothing and strange phrasing that’s toeing the line of a bad Christopher Walken impression. He never quite reached the depths of depravity DeNiro has plumbed in recent years, preferring instead to play the roll of the drunken uncle yelling at the caterer in the wee hours of an Irish wedding, instead of the current DeNiro standby of a friend’s dad trying to be funny, but there’s little doubt that his recent filmography leaves much to be desired. And Two For The Money, though not a return to his prime, provides a glimpse of how good Pacino can be if he just takes it down a notch. Hopefully, this will be the start of a new era for Pacino. If not, I’m sure there’s a Billy Crystal script floating around there somewhere with his name on it.


Anonymous Je Suis said...

What did you think of Alpo in Simone?

3:02 a.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

Both Pacino and DeNiro in recent years have sunk to just doing what equates to self-parody, probably for the money. I don't know, but maybe at this point they're like Chris Walken, who I know for a fact has said "if you pay me, I will do any movie you want." Sad indeed.

Hopefully, like you say, this will be a new beginning for Pacino. Here's hoping.

3:26 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Well, as a general rule I try and avoid films that replace letters or words with numbers, but as that rule went into place after 2 Fast 2 Furious, S1m0ne predates it so I'll make an exception. I didn't like the movie very much, but Pacino was relatively subdued, so I appreciated that. I'm not sure if I like him because he was good, or just because he was not yelling, though.

You'd think that DeNiro or Pacino wouldn't need to pull a Brando and do it for the money. That's the thing. Character actors like Walken, sure, they don't carry a movie, so they can do whatever crap they want an people will forget about, but DeNiro's just ruining his legacy.

9:13 a.m.  
Anonymous Rin said...

Hi Ash can you tell me what films you're going to see in advance so that I can watch them before you blog and be ready to disagree with every comment?

Also sorry we've been away. I had a week long Nintendo and beerfest and Robert went to Portugal.

I saw History of Violence though. It was rubbish. So anyway, Flightplan isn't 'The Lady Vanishes' on a plane then? I knew I was hoping too hard. Still, Saraband looks quite good. That's next to see. I'll hate it. See you!

9:54 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

I find it much more fun to disgree with people when I don't know what I'm talking about. Plus, I generally have no idea what I'm going to see ahead of time, as I make decisions based on a random number generator hooked up to a perpetual motion machine.

The problem with Flightplan is that it IS The Lady Vanished on a plane, only much, much stupider.

A Bergman fan, huh? Interesting. I would have though you entirely too hostile for a filmmaker solely responsible for creating the horrific impression Americans have of foreign films.

10:44 a.m.  
Anonymous broadzilla said...

Sam, I reckon it's only a matter of time - mere moments, probably - before someone contemplates roping in the 3 of them for a wry, yet heart-warming turn as ageing ex-cons who are reluctantly, and with occasional bouts of menopausal humour, forced out of retirement to commit One Last Big Caper. Wait. I think I might have seen that one already. The most I hope for from a DeNiro film these days is - please, dear god - no sex scenes. Bob's a dead-ringer for my grandfather c. 1995, and the thought of having to watch him make whoopee with say, Olympia Dukakis, is too much to bear.

On a similar, and just-as-pointless note: I almost ran down a pedestrian bearing an uncanny resemblance to Rutger Hauer recently. I've heard rumours that he's retired to a lux apartment in the next suburb. Given that my neighbourhood is a little low on caped avengers, mercenary peasants and supernatural beings, it's unlikely. But does make the weekend grocery run rather more interesting.

11:01 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

The thought of anyone making whoopee with Olympia Dukakis is too much to bear.

I agree, though. Now that Brando's dead, we need another fallen Method acting genius, and I nominate DeNiro. A few buckets of fried chicken from now, and he'll be swollen and insane enough to make a Meet the Parents sequel actually worth watching.

And you saw Rutger Hauer? You need to shake that man's hand for Blade Runner, and then punch him in the back for everything he's made since.

Once, I saw Stuart Townsend. My initial exclamation of "Hey, you're The Queen of the Damned!" was met with a remarkably icy "No, I was IN Queen of the Damned". Either I'm not funny, or he has no sense of humor. Bet on the former.

11:15 a.m.  
Anonymous broadzilla said...

well, I can't guarantee that it is indeed Roy Batty that stalks the sidewalk. I'll have to follow him home and dig around in his dustbins for a while to make sure.

Ha, ha, ha... wait, who the fuck is Stuart Townsend?

11:40 a.m.  
Blogger Jerk Of All Trades 2.0 said...

Dude......I almost bought an IROC.

11:44 a.m.  
Anonymous CLK said...

I think my favorite thing about your blog is that I always imagine you trying to find the pictures to match up with your reviews. I can just see you trying to Google Mr T vs Rocky, wondering where you can find the perfect image of a midget porn star.

Although, it is possible you have a vast library of these sorts of images stored on your computer as your own private collection. I wouldn't put it past you.

"Now where did I put that picture of Celine Dion in a bathing suit..."

11:47 a.m.  
Anonymous broadzilla said...

Yes, but do you have a picture of Olympia Dukakis in a bathing suit?

11:51 a.m.  
Anonymous Rin said...

When I said 'Saraband looks quite good', I meant 'The Guardian gave it a decent review so I might see it'. I'm hardly a fan. I pretty much hate every director ever.

12:42 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

I do have a picture of Olympia Dukakis in a bathing suit, but it's for my eyes only. You can't have it, and I don't even want you thinking about it.

Rin - aren't you contractually obliged to like Guy Ritchie if you're British? You should get on that, because nobody else is going to do it for you.

CLK - usually, finding the pictures is the most time consuming part of the hour I set aside to write these things. Sadly, however, the midget porn came from my private collection.

Jerk - I'd make fun of you for the IROC thing, but the closest I've ever come to owning a car is totalling a rental and being told I might as well buy it.

Broadzilla - this is not a laughing matter. You must discover the truth behind your mysterious neighbor. Then get him to tell you if Deckard is a replicant.

12:54 p.m.  
Anonymous Rin said...

After Revolver, if anyone still stands up for Guy Ritchie they are 100% hated. By me.

8:31 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

What do you mean, after Revolver? How about after Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels?

8:59 p.m.  
Blogger Fatman said...

I've always found the most interesting thing about talking about Rutger Hauer is the movies other people associate with him. I remember telling one guy that Rutger Hauer was in Sin City and he replied 'Rutger Hauer? As in Blind Fury ?'. I thought: Odd reference, but yeah. I asked another guy what movie they associated with Rutger Hauer. They said The Hitcher. Which reveals a lot more about the person than any Rorscach blot test.

I think everyone secretly wants actors to waddle down The Path Of The Donut as Brando has and Orson Welles before him. I like DeNiro and Pacino. I just don't think they're that great. I go to see them in a film for the same reason people go to see Bruce Willis I think. They're not expecting a perfect performance of Lear. They want ass whuppin'. I can't see a DeNiro or a Pacino film without being constantly reminded that I'm watching DeNiro/ Pacino especially in that godawful Heat that everyone seemed to rave about.

Back to the numbers in title rule: Se7en was a funky film.

Now can we please get back to dead baby jokes like decent, civillized people?

9:32 p.m.  
Anonymous Rin said...

I didn't think Lock Stock was that bad. Just very average.

10:14 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Then you were wrong. And things got worse from there. I actually prefered Swept Away, because it didn't have sassy drug references and quirk oozing out of every pore.

10:55 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Yeah, I liked Se7en, but I don't know how to pronounce the '7', so I can never talk about how I liked it.

11:03 p.m.  

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