Weekly meditations from your humble messenger
Joy Forever (Bright Star, 10/13/09)In such
films as The Piano and Portrait of a Lady, New Zealander
Jane Campion has managed to strike an interesting balance. Although
she has worked the well-trod paths of the lush, Masterpiece Theatre-style
costumier, she has consistently managed to defy our programmed expectations
of such dramas...
and Selves (Cold Souls, 9/09/09) Sophie
Barthes' Cold Souls sounds reminiscent of Dead SoulsNikolai
Gogol's classic novel about a con-man who goes around provincial Russia,
buying title to deceased serfs for tax purposes. We don't have overt
serfdom anymore but we do have our own kinds of misery, such as that
of rich, mopey, self-absorbed Hollywood actors (Paul Giamatti) who are
forced to live in their own skins. Barthes' movie imagines what would
happen if there were somebody, not unlike Gogol's shyster Chichikov,
who was willing to relieve us of our precious burdens...
Getaway, 8/17/09) The biggest industry in the world isn't computers,
weapons, or narcoticsit's tourism. Yet strangely enough, Americans
workers holiday less than those of any other industrialized nation:
at an average of 13 days a year, that's half the time taken by South
Koreans and Japanese, and about a third the average Italian or German.
What does this have to do with David Twohy's popcorn thriller A Perfect
Getaway? Nothing specificallybut the movie does exhibit nicely
our national inability to slow down, tune out, and chill...
Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Smugness (Away We Go, 7/6/09)
In theory, there's not much to dislike about Sam Mendes' alternative
comedy Away We Go. In Dave Eggers and wife Vendela Vida, it's
got a screenwriting team that The San Francisco Chronicle has called
"the literary equivalent of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston"
(which, incidentally, leaves us all wondering who the literary equivalent
of Angelina is...). The director is Sam Mendes, who brought us marital
apocalypse not once but twice with Revolutionary Road and American
Beauty. It's got protagonists who look and talk like lifelong Ithacans,
right down to the House of Shalimar couture and the olde-time, boxy
Volvo. So what's to object to...?
That Loan Officer to Hell! (Drag Me to Hell, 6/8/09) With
everyone else heading to Pixar's Up this week, there's a certain
perverse pleasure in aiming lowermuch lower. For Sam Raimi's Drag
Me to Hell has the kind of premise that is so in tune with hard
times it almost qualifies as wish-fulfillment. About to lose your house?
Want to scare away the guys aiming to repossess your car? Easyjust
get your local gypsy crone to send that loan officer to hell...!
Warp (Star Trek, 5/18/09) Shortly before the premiere of
Gives a Frak? (Caprica, 5/11/09) The end of Ronald D. Moore
and David Eick's revamped Battlestar Galactica series this year
was the occasion of much sadness in the fandom. Folks debated the choice
of having the old battlestar and its ragtag fleet land on Earth 150,000
years ago, and aptness (or lameness thereof) of attributing some of
the series' unresolved mysteries to the hand of God. What we didn't
hear much, though, was the question 'Gee, I wonder what happened in
the BSG universe 58 years before the series...?'
the Watchmen (Watchmen, 3/16/09) Love it or loathe it, you
have to grant that a lot of thought has gone into Alan Moore and Dave
Gibbon's post-modern superhero epic, Watchmen.
Take the title, which self-consciously evokes everything from Juvenal's
Satires (Quis custodiet ipsos custodies"who watches
the watchmen?") to the Book of Isaiah ('I have set watchmen upon
your walls, O Jerusalem') to the speech John F. Kennedy was supposed
to deliver in Dallas in November, 1963 ('We...are the watchmen on the
walls of world freedom')...
Lovers, Half a Man (Two Lovers, 3/9/09) When it comes to
collecting nubile lovers, chances are Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix)
has exactly two more than you. But that doesn't make him worthy of your
Life (Coraline, 2/16/09) Once upon a time, movie animators
didn't even need computers to do their work. Sound fantastic? Have a
look at Coraline, the baroque, sometimes creepy, frequently spectacular
fable made mostly with old-fashioned stop-motion animation...
Willing Executioners (Valkyrie, 1/12/09) The last battle
of WWII is the struggle over the war's historical legacy, and it ain't
over yet. For example, Edward Zwick's upcoming Defiance is ostensibly
about three Russian-Jewish partisans who save their neighbors from deportation.
What it's really about, though, is countering the popular impression
that the victims of the Nazi Holocaust went down without a fight. Bryan
Singer's Valkyrie tells the true story of a plot by a handful
of conscientious German insiders to kill Hitler in 1944. Its real target
is a possibly even more tenacious myth: that every last citizen and
soldier in 1940's Germany was a boot-clicking, stiff-armed, genocidal
Nazior as one popular book called them, "Hitler's willing
Salad (Quantum of Solace, 11/24/08) The statement "Quantum
of Kym (Rachel Getting Married, 11/17/08) Anne Hathaway is
not conventionally beautiful. Like the prototypical sad clown, all of
her features, from those big liquid eyes to her ample lips, seem
oversized for her face. What Michael Phelps is to swimming, Hathaway
is to facial expression: she has an unfair advantage, because her
endowments are so much richer than those of ordinary mortals. Add
that to her obvious intelligence and a talent that becomes more
manifest every year, and she may well become one of her generation's
most formidable actressesthe 21st century's Bette Davis...
Work or Slow Work (Appaloosa, 11/10/08) Once upon a time
Westerns were Hollywood's "tent-poles"one of a handful
of story types that
Too Tight to Mention (Days and Clouds and W., 11/3/08)
Americans are justifiably proud of how we do things. But not everybody is so enamored of the American model of doing business.
Europeans, in particular, see the ease in which U.S. employees can be
fired from their jobs as frightfulto them, as Willy Loman said
Death of a Salesman, a man should not be disposed of like a piece
for Scandal (The Duchess, 10/20/08) Is it possible for an
actress to be upstaged by her eyebrows? Set in the sunny interiors of
Austen-land, populated by a cast fully upholstered in 18th century
chic, the new Keira Knightley melodrama The Duchess offers plenty
pretty things to look at. Arching above them all, however, are Knightley's eye-pelts, set up there on her forehead like two dozing
woodchucks on a snowy hillside...
Ye of Little Faith (Religulous, 10/13/08) The title of Bill
new documentary is supposed to be a neologism formed by the
combination of "religion" and "ridiculous." It might
as well be a
combination of "religion" and "credulous," though,
targets are not just the ideas underlying many religions, but (to put
it more tactfully than he would) the cognitive maturity of those
insist on accepting them. That includes the 92% of Americans who
believe in the existence of God, according to a recent Harris
pollnot to mention the 80% who insist that Jesus' face can
spontaneously appear on a piece of toast, and the more than 50% who
of a Desperate Mind (Choke, 10/6/08) Here's one piece of
evidence that sex addiction is not yet taken seriously as a destroyer
of lives: you can still make comedies like Choke about it. Imagine
a movie about, say, a guy who abandons his family to go gamble away
his kids' college funds, or about somebody who drinks himself to a
dismal death, face down in a pool of Woolite-colored vomit. Not so
on a Train (Transsiberian, 9/29/08) With Russian tanks on
the move again into places that aren't Russia, it looks like the Big
Bad Bear is back. Brad (The Machinist) Anderson's drug-and-thug
thriller Transsiberian has rolled into in town right on time,
because dread of the new bear is different: instead of the dead hand
of Soviet authoritarianism, Putin's Russia seems to embody
lawlessness. It's a gangster state with nuclear weapons...
a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Burn After Reading, 9/22/08)
In the last few weeks, the nation's attention has slalomed between the
following: a series of devastating hurricaneslipstick on pit-bullsthe
Bush Doctrine lipstick on pigsan epochal fiscal meltdown
on Wall Street. If the 24-minute news cycle has accomplished anything,
it has put us in a place where the momentous and the trivial, the urgent
and the meaningless follow each other with the speed of protons spinning
through that new particle accelerator in Switzerland. No wonder many
of us can't tell the difference between them anymore...