King of California

Posted on Jan 8, 2010

It’s been quite some time since I’ve been moved to write an actual post here, but last night I watched a film that I have to rave about. Not a movie, mind you, a film. The difference being, when the credits roll, you think to yourself (as it were I watched solo), “Man, that was a superb film,” as opposed to watching, say, Iron Man and saying, “Man, that was a great movie.” Movies entertain, films move you to levels of emotion that take you deep within yourself and both ask and answer deep, deep questions. That was my ultimate takeaway last night–as I basked in the emotional goodness of this picture, a layperson’s explanation of this crucial distinction gelled somewhere in the nexus of my mind and just floated out of my mouth. So I thought I’d share, and yes, you are welcome.

King of California, starring Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood is a triumph from start to finish. The performances are amazing–a 16 year old girl (Wood) is reunited with her mentally unstable father (Douglas), who convinces her that Spanish gold is buried in suburban California–and beyond believable. You live and breathe these characters, and it’s amazingly easy to go along for the ride. The story is simple, but laced with nuance and intricacies only a seasoned actor can execute. Obviously Michael Douglas is going to deliver–a no brainer there–but this is refreshingly new ground for him, and he carries terrific whimsy into the character Charlie. But Charlie is less than half of the equation here, and the math starts and finishes with Wood’s Miranda. Compare her performance to any of her contemporaries–say the remarkable Natalie Portman–and ask yourself who else can make you want to go for this ride? My list would surely be short, if not exclusive.

Moreover, the editing was perfect. Whimsical, logical, thought provoking, imaginative, and very fluid. I generally like to edit my own stuff, mostly because I don’t know any editors like Glenn Garland, whom I would gladly trust with my work if ever given the opportunity. Mike Cahill’s direction is excellent, but Glenn brings so, so, so much to the table, I can’t imagine it in the hands of anybody else. Creativity and superb understanding of the material translate to some of the finest editorial work I have viewed in …well, ever. A+.

Speaking of Mike Cahill, the thing that strikes me most about this film is that he not only directed it, but wrote it as well. The script, from start to finish, is the perfect embodiment of all the things you learn at a prestigious film school writing program, combined with a rich knowledge of film theory. It had just about everything I know a perfect script to be, and as they say, you can’t have a great film without a great script. Well, not everyone says that, which is unfortunate. But these guys obviously do! It’s no coincidence that Alexander Payne produced this film, because he is one of the great filmmakers who understands the human experience on such an intuitive level, that his films can always succeed on character alone.

This being my first movie, ehem, FILM review in quite some time, I feel compelled to give it a ranking. Five point scales are too easy to fudge into ambiguity (what is a 3 star film, anyway?), so I’m going to employ a 100 point scale. This picture was a 93 out of 100, and you should make a point to pick up King of California at your earliest opportunity. You’ll be glad you did.