Saturday, January 29, 2011

Another unwatchable quasi-poker movie

A couple of weeks ago, somebody that I follow on Twitter (sorry, but now I don't remember who it was) posted a link to an old web page that said something about Natalie Portman being signed up to be in a movie that was at least partially about poker. The ever-reliable and apparently omniscient Kevin Mathers replied that the movie came out back in 2007 under the title "My Blueberry Nights." IMDB gives a theatrical release date for France, but none for the U.S., so I'm guessing that it went direct to video here, which explains why I had never heard of it. I found it listed on Netflix, so ordered it, and watched it last night.

Good Lord is this thing a dog! It shouldn't be; it stars Norah Jones, the always-terrific Jude Law, Portman, plus a couple of usually solid supporters, Rachel Weisz and David Strathairn. But they can't rescue the horrible writing, and I doubt that anybody could. I would have shut it off after 20 minutes, if not for the promise of eventually getting to the poker part that would allow me to write a blog post about it. (See what I endure for you people?!)

Jones plays Elizabeth, a young woman who discovers that her boyfriend is stepping out on her. She cries on the shoulder of Jeremy (Law), who runs a New York City cafe. The stupid title comes from the fact that he feeds her blueberry pie during their nightly after-hours chats at the restaurant.

But she sets out (for reasons never made clear) on a voyage of self-discovery. First she lands in Memphis and takes jobs waitressing at a restaurant and at a bar, where she befriends an alcoholic cop (Strathairn). She learns an Important Life Lesson about the durability of relationships, and moves on.

We next find her at an unnamed small Nevada town, where she befriends Leslie, a professional poker player, played by Portman, who is more badly miscast than anything in her career to date. She is utterly unconvincing as a supposedly tough-as-nails gambler. What's more, the one hand of poker we see played out is completely ridiculous, with quads being beaten by a one-outer straight flush. (Technically I suppose that's a spoiler, but they flagrantly trumpet the thing coming up Sixth Avenue, so nobody could possibly be surprised when it happens. Besides, it's not any sort of climax, just the setup for what follows.)

After losing her entire bankroll on that hand (there is no commentary about how foolish she was to be playing with money she couldn't afford to lose), she proposes to Elizabeth the most idiotic staking deal in the history of poker. If Elizabeth will give her the $2200 she has saved towards buying a car, Leslie will get back in the juicy game and return to Elizabeth the stake plus 1/3 of the profit. And if she loses the stake, Elizabeth can have Leslie's brand new Jaguar.

There are all sorts of unanswered questions here, such as why Leslie is driving such an expensive car when she can't rebuy into the game from her own pocket, or how Elizabeth is to be guaranteed that Leslie won't renege on the offer, or why Leslie is so crazy as to pledge a car worth maybe 20 times the amount of money she is borrowing, etc. But never mind all that, because by this point in the movie, you don't really care about any of these people.

In the end, Elizabeth learns yet another Important Life Lesson, this time about trusting others. The only mildly interesting thing in this entire one-third of the film was that one long scene was filmed on a street corner just outside the El Cortez, just a couple of blocks from my apartment. (They're in Vegas to visit Leslie's father.) Big whoop.

Having learned her Important Life Lessons, Elizabeth returns to New York, where, of course, Jeremy awaits her with open arms. Wow--a "journey" movie that ends up with the protagonist back at home. How original. Nobody's ever done that before.

The whole thing is just unwatchably dull and boring. The dialog is stilted and dumb. Law and Strathairn both turn in their usual pitch-perfect performances, but everybody else is either phoning it in or over-the-top campy. Oh, and the director so badly overuses random moments of slow motion, for no apparent reason, that I literally thought the DVD playback software in my computer was malfunctioning. I switched to another program, which had it exactly the same, and since the soundtrack never slowed down, I finally concluded that, yes, that's what was on the disc. But that's how stupid and random it is--it looks like a glitch.

Here are some critical quotations pulled from http://www.metacritic.com/, which I think are all spot-on: "Often ponderous, sometimes pretentious and mostly clichéd, this contrived meditation on longing and loss feels like a missed opportunity." "Even with dyed hair, heavy makeup and a cigarette dangling from her bottom lip, Portman still looks like a schoolgirl pretending to be somebody's mom." "Wong's technique is layered and detailed like a couture gown, but the story it hangs on is as generic as a seamstress's dress form." "Alternately precious and vapid, the movie attempts to wrest metaphors from a jar of house keys, and eternal verities from pastry. Slice the pie how you will, it's still half-baked." "Fractured, tentative, oh-so-artsy and very much in the style of Wong's previous Hong Kong-set boy-meets-girl movies. But this time, the effect is contrived: a star-driven pseudo-indie affair that will please neither celebrity worshipers nor cineastes."

Will we ever get another good poker movie, or were they all played out after "Rounders"?

3 comments:

Josie said...

Sorry you had to sit through such a bad movie, but it made for a very entertaining post. I suppose you mmust suffer for your art.

Conan776 said...

What, you didn't like "The Grand"?

CrabblerK3 said...

Just start praying now that Miramax does Rounder II right.