“You remind me that money won is twice as sweet as money earned.”
The Color of Money (Disney) is not and will never be considered Martin Scorsese’s greatest film. It hasn’t the ragged beauty and personal charge of “Mean Streets,” the ambition or the intensity of “Taxi Driver,” or the cinematic density of “GoodFellas.” Yet it is possibly his most accessible film and his answer to the old Hollywood studio movie. Like the studio contract directors of past decades, he neither developed nor pursued this project, and he still turns into a distinctly Scorsese vision.
It is not simply that Scorsese acquitted himself on the assignment, it is that he used the tools and talent of the production — a richly textured script by Richard Price, a mid-level studio budget bigger than anything he’d had for some time, the gravitas of Paul Newman, and the charge of young Tom Cruise in all his youthful arrogance and big-kid innocence — to make a film about regret and redemption. And he delivers the cinematic charge of the pool room culture of hustle and gamesmanship along with the education of a young protégé lacking self and a mentor who has yet to face his own conflicted feelings about the game.
Twenty-five years after walking away from the game in “The Hustler,” Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson has settled into success as a liquor salesman, a cross between a modern whisky drummer and a suave, slick bootlegger who sells his customers inexpensive alternatives to top-shelf brands. Until he sees Vincent (Cruise), a grinning hotshot who wields a cue like a quarterstaff in a “Robin Hood” movie and outplays the neighborhood poolroom hustler (John Turturro) without breaking a sweat.
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Long ago in a fantasy far, far away...
Tarsem Singh’s The Fall may not be the best film of 2008, but it is was one of my greatest joys of the year, a lovely reminder that stories don’t belong to the teller. They have a life of their own. They live in the hearts and minds of those who hear them, read them, see them, whose experiences ricochet and reverberate off the characters and narrative turns and story details, expanding and enriching them with their own personal meanings. Tarsem Singh’s second feature is a glorious embrace of narrative innocence directed as a deliciously, vividly visual phantasmagoria of an adventure fantasy. As an injured silent movie Hollywood stuntman (Lee Pace) with a broken heart spins his make-believe epic to little immigrant girl Alexandria, a child migrant worker in the orange orchards who broke her arm in a fall, their respective personal experiences and cultural references mix for a story that shifts with each new addition and adjustment. It’s like a Terry Gilliam film directed by Zhang Yimou, with a script concocted by a child. Shot all over the world, it’s stunning to look at and a charge to see the travelers make their through a world where you can leap a continent just by crossing over the next rise. The story imagery and character identities are equal parts imagination and appropriation from the real world, and those connections, far from being deeply symbolic, are almost naively direct reflections of their respective emotional lives. It’s a sophisticated film about the naive pleasures of stories and storytelling.
Director Tarsem solos on one of the two commentary tracks in a near monotone of a voice, but packs his talk with illuminating observations and interesting production details. Actor Lee Pace and co-writers Dan Gilroy and Nico Soultanakis are only slightly more animated and far less informative in their track. Also features two deleted scenes (running barely 90 seconds) and two behind-the-scenes featurettes (that together run almost an hour).
It’s also available in beautiful Blu-ray edition. I review the film in my MSN DVD column here.
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