Sunday, November 13, 2011

Movie Weekend: "Being Elmo" and "J.Edgar"

I had the opportunity to see two great movies this weekend, and they couldn't have been more different. Being Elmo chronicled the journey of Kevin Clash, the puppeteer most famous for Sesame Street's Elmo, and how a boy growing up in a lower middle class suburb of Baltimore became passionate about puppeteering and was able to turn that love into his life's work. Clash clearly wears his heart on his sleeve (or at the end of his hand) when he takes on Elmo's childlike persona, but those who know him say that Elmo's loving nature is a pure manifestation of Kevin's heart.

Being Elmo was a beautiful documentary about finding and following your dreams, and never letting anything stand in the way of what you're passionate about. And it's also the story of how you can never expect the impact a person may have on your life, just as you cannot anticipate the impact you may have on another's. Spectacular.

From Elmo to the FBI. Interesting transition, no?

This morning we saw J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood's new biography of famed FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a fantastically nuanced performance of the power-hungry, paranoid, approval-craving Hoover, as the movie follows him from the early 1920s through his death in the 1970s. Some believe Hoover to be the embodiment of all that is wrong with law enforcement, that his unwavering focus on whom he considered America's enemies was often motivated by grudges. Others believe that his focus on forensics, evidence collection (early police cases saw detectives simply throwing evidence away), and centralizing fingerprint records revolutionized the fight against crime.

While Eastwood certainly allows viewers a glimpse into the psyche behind the dogged crime fighter, he doesn't beat you over the head with his opinions about the man. And Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's (Milk) script shows you both the henpecked man dominated by his mother (Judi Dench) as well as the man wishing he could follow his heart but knowing that to do so would be disastrous. Armie Hammer, who with some digital enhancement played both Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, needed no visual gimmickry to play Clyde Tolson, Hoover's second-in-command and, if the rumors are true, his longtime companion. Hammer and DiCaprio have immense chemistry, and their scenes have both a power and a poignancy.

The movie jumps back and forth through the decades, under the guise of Hoover's dictating the story of the FBI to various agents. The time shifting is a little confusing, because while all of the characters are saddled with age-appropriate makeup, until the plot advances you aren't quite sure where you are in the plot. And the film, like many of Eastwood's recent movies, moves a little slowly at times, but the performances will keep you riveted.

I think Leonardo DiCaprio has always been one of those actors who gives strong performances but is never quite taken seriously despite his talent. I hope this performance nets him another Oscar nomination, and I would also love to see Armie Hammer be recognized in the Best Supporting Actor category as well. J. Edgar is definitely a movie worth seeing, for even if Hoover wasn't the most popular of men, he certainly was one of the more intriguing ones of the 20th century.

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