This is kind of a programming note. Remember how I used to update my blog regularly? I bet you’re wondering what happened to that.
Well, I was unemployed and kind of depressed (colloquially speaking, not clinically), I went to Texas, and then I got a full time job. The job thing is pretty exciting and it is a good job, but I’m maintaining my don’t write about work on your blog policy, brought to you by my modicum of good sense.
But the thing I will write is, I have basically a totally different schedule than I did before, and I haven’t yet figured out how the whole thing is going to work, in terms of blogging and working and sleeping. It’s not that I don’t have the time, it’s just that the routine’s still getting fine-tuned a bit. Streamlined, let’s say. In other words, things might be a bit weird, like, a long stretch of no posts followed by a bunch of posts all one after the other.
I’ve got a couple of things coming — check back for more Gossip Girl stuff (I missed the Yale episode, and the Dangerous Liasons episode, and Jenny’s downward spiral), a more current weekly movies soon, my conflicted feelings about Privileged, and maybe even my new love of Designing Women. I am also thinking about stealing Ashley’s format for a fall TV roundup type post.
So anyway, I saw a bunch of movies that I never wrote up. Well, I wrote them up, but I never polished the post or added pictures or anything. Some of these are pretty dated, since it’s like a month’s worth or something. This is for…since my last weekly movies til this week. There were some no movie weeks in there, what with pilot season and all.
- Elegy (Isabel Coixet, 2008): This was kind of a disappointment. The trailer was hella deceptive, and made it look like the filmmakers changed the story from the novel a lot more than they actually did. What happened instead was that the original novel kind of got all the dirty stuff drained out of it. This is based on a Phillip Roth novel called The Dying Animal – and I think the shift from the reference to man’s true animalistic nature to a reference to a literary response to death is a good indicator of the film’s relationship to the novel. The whole thing is about an aging professor (Ben Kingsley) and his affair with a young student of his (Penélope Cruz, who did a good job but at 34 is too old for – and too much of an international icon and force of nature for – lines like “she still didn’t know what to do with her beauty”), and how it makes him confront his own mortality. The novel turns a pretty cynical eye on the bourgeois intellectual pretensions of the protagonist, but in the film, well-made but ironically too caught up in those same art-film pretensions, kind of just makes them look kind of glamourous. I did like the moody music and a lot of Coixet’s choices, especially the casting of Dennis Hopper and an almost unrecognizable Debbie Harry as aging yuppies (which went well with the whole treatment of the 1960s as this time of rebellion and how those counterculture people still kind of aged and turned respectable). And the performances were great all-round, especially Kingsley. I always forget how good he is. But ultimately, it’s missing a lot of the corporeality that makes the novel so great. In the novel, Consuela, the girl, tells the professor about how when she was a girl she let this boy watch her have her period — like, she took out the tampon and stood over him. So of course, the professor wants her to do this for him. Then the professor’s other lover finds the bloody tampon. In the movie, Consuela still tells the story, but instead of being all like, morbidly fascinated, the professor just laughs it off. The lover still finds a tampon, but it is bloodless. I think that’s a pretty telling alteration. If you take away the adaptation, it’s a pretty average, well-made art film, but it’s not going to set the world on fire. Especially with Vancouver standing in for New York. (The big tip-off for me was when they went to see a play and Gaeta from Battlestar Galactica was one of the actors.)
- Last Year At Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961): There’s not really much to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said, since it’s one of those New Wave classics people always come back to. I watched this right after I saw all those Robbe-Grillet movies, since he wrote the script for this one too. Resnais is a better filmmaker than Robbe-Grillet. His narratives maintain the same sort of disturbing game-like quality, but it’s combined with a much richer, much more artificial mise-en-scene, which really suits the story’s intricate, game-like nature.
- Yentl (Barbra Streisand, 1983): You guys? This movie, you guys. It’s amazing. For those not familiar, it’s the tale of Yentl, a young girl who’s dissatisfied with the options available to her as a young Jewish woman, so after her father dies, she dresses up as a man so she can study the torah. She sings songs to herself about how great it’s going to be, until she succumbs to the Semitic charms of one Mandy Patinkin. Who is surprisingly attractive in this film. It’s a sort of weird version of a musical, since Babs is the only one who sings, and half the songs are weird voiceover monologues that she starts lipsynching partway through, and the songs play much more like traditional soliloquies than the way musical numbers usually work in these films. Uh, oh yeah, the best part is the sort of manic screwball plot that’s still full of sadness – Yentl’s in love with Mandy Patinkin, but he only has eyes for Amy Irving. Meanwhile, Amy Irving’s dad won’t let Mandy marry her (because his brother committed suicide), so Mandy’s brilliant plan is to have Yentl, who he still believes to be a man, marry her, so no one else will have her. It’s not the best plan because of course Amy Irving totally falls in love with Yentl, not realizing that the reason Yentl is so cool and respectful is because she is a lady. Anyway, it’s fabulously overwrought with emotional conflict and hilarity and the weirdest love triangle ever, because everyone loves everyone else, but in slightly different ways.
- Jeanne Eagels (George Sidney, 1957): This is a sort of okay actress melodrama – where you learn that women having ambition is bad, because then they will kill people – with a scenery chewing alcoholic awards-bait performance from Kim Novak. Oh, but it gets better! Jeanne Eagels was apparently a real actress in the teens and twenties, and the film is based on a muckraking biography of her, which explains why she spends so much of the movie having fights with Actors Equity. Anyway, it’s not a great movie, but George Sidney makes the whole thing visually interesting, and Agnes Moorehead is involved, so you know it’s not all bad.
- Once Upon a Honeymoon (Leo McCarey, 1942): This is kind of a bizarre WWII dramedy obviously designed to stir up patriotism about fighting the Nazis. Ginger Rogers plays this lady who denies her American-ness by pretending to be a British aristocrat, then she marries a Nazi, who she follows around Europe as countries keep falling. She eventually realizes that he is, in fact, a Nazi (a “fifth columnist” who pretends to be for the resistance, but screws them over by selling them bad weapons); so she runs off with Cary Grant. Once the war breaks out in earnest the tone suddenly shifts from charming screwball comedy to somber drama, as Ginger and Cary get mistaken for Jews (because Ginger selflessly traded her passport with a hotel maid to help said maid avoid getting shipped off), and get put in some kind of camp for like, five minutes. Anyway, it’s sort of weird to see now, because Nazis are always taken so much more seriously these days.
- Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Peter Sollett, 2008): Was utterly delightful. A lot of people started complaining about the basic sameness of Michael Cera’s characters in the last few movies he’s done, and they certainly have a point, but that is okay because of the total revelation that is Kat Dennings’ performance. The movie’s kind of set up as an ensemble piece, switching between the various threads of the story – which follows the novel, which apparently actually switched narrative POVs – but I pretty much came out of it thinking of it as a movie about Norah. Not amazing – there were some definite gross-out comedy moments that played weirdly manic and probably turned a lot of people off – but really, so very sweet. And, as Nathaniel at the Film Experience pointed out a while ago, the way the movie treats gay characters – ie, that their gayness is not a big deal and that Nick can be best friends with two gay dudes without it being a big deal or being threatened by it – is refreshing.
But seriously. Dennings.
- Blindness (Fernando Mereilles, 2008): There was kind of a conflict between substance and style here. Stylistically, it was exquisite, from the acting to the art direction. The cinematography was especially amazing. The screen would frequently “fade” to a bright white or become obstructed or he’d open a scene blurry, essentially blinding the viewer and making them really aware of vision in a really powerful way. But the actual story was really frustrating. I’m not sure if it was just that the pacing of an allegorical novel didn’t work in the medium of film. The rape scene was so hard to watch, and while I personally have an incredible amount of patience for film violence, you are going to lose a lot of other viewers with something like that, especially when I mean, that was obviously the point, to make you wonder how it took so long for Julianne Moore to do something given the insane position of power she was in as the only lady who’s not blind in, possibly, the world. Anyway, the people I saw it with liked it even less than I did, and one couple in the theatre (in Texas, BTW) walked out. I personally thought all the stuff in the quarantine was great, but the long section after they get out – walking through the devastated city and then going “home” – dragged and felt anticlimactic. I do think that that’s what they were going for, but it’s not something that I really enjoyed, and the whole thing never really resolves into a clear, like, point. Like, if it’s exhausting and meaningless and that’s the point…then I am not quite sure why I should be excited about the movie. Like, it certainly has a right to exist and be this movie, and I could possibly see how others would like it, but I was kind of meh. In short, it had potential, and Julianne Moore is hardcore in this, but on the whole something doesn’t work.
- The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (Nicolas Gessner, 1976): This is a “thriller” that was shot in Canada around the same time as Jodie Foster made Taxi Driver. In this movie, she’s a 13 year-old girl who lives all alone in this huge house, and freaks out every adult there is by being preternaturally serious and also by lying about the presence of her dad (actually dead, apparently of natural causes). The whole thing just goes on, with Martin Sheen and Alexis Smith are mean WASPs who are against Jodie’s immigrant cop friend and her boyfriend, his nephew, who is a crippled magician; they are also anti-Jodie because she is Jewish in the movie, except Martin Sheen wants to bone her because he is a scary villain who actually has a crazy cape at the end of the movie, which makes sense in context. Anyway, it would probably not be that interesting if not for Jodie’s eerie performance, which makes it seem unclear whether the girl is just lying all the time. The movie ends with this really long close-up of her face, which is sort of just impassive, with a fire burning behind her.
- Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, 2008): I think a lot of the comedy in this was in the ideas, less in the execution, if that makes sense. Like, the idea of Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, offending the hell out of the actual black actor on the set? Funny. But a lot of the time, the joke was more in the concept than in the actual performance adding anything to the thing. My favourite part was the trailers at the beginning. Oh, and remember all the controversy with regard to various oppressed groups? I think that was probably good for the movie. It’s clear in context that the intent is satire of Hollywood, and the ignorance of society generally, even if in execution it wasn’t always the most effectiveness. I think it’s tough to satirize Hollywood…in a big budget Hollywood production that’s packed to the gills with stars. When Nick Nolte is billed, like, fifth, and Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey are tertiary characters, I think you lose any sense of the movie being an outsider, poking fun at those in power. Not that I’m complaining, I actually thought that all three of them were really funny and that Cruise dancing to Flo Rida was one of the most layered bits in the film. But seriously. Access Hollywood is product-placed! It just loses some bite.
- Take the Lead (Liz Friedlander, 2006): This is like Dangerous Minds, with dancing. With Antonio Banderas. It’s about as good (and bad) as you would think, but add like 5 points for how Antonio is totally charming in his goofy role as the completely selfless dance teacher. It turns out he’s just a really nice guy. This is mostly notable (to me) as the movie that put a fake staircase in front of UTS and that my friend saw Antonio Banderas during the filming of. Seriously, Banderas’s character doesn’t really grow or change or have flaws; most of the growth and conflict is between the Troubled Teens. I think the various little romances between the Troubled Teens are handled really lightly and managed to be a bit surprising, given the relative by-numbers-ness of the movie. I thought for sure the troubled rich girl who was slumming it would end up hooking up with the, like, fiery hispanic dude, but instead she just made friends with this really fat kid no one else would dance with and he took her to her cotillion and it was really sweet how she gained confidence by giving him confidence. The cast is really weird. There’s a Top Model runner-up from before I started watching, Elijah Kelly who was Seaweed in the Hairspray remake, the kid from Finding Forrester, and that girl from Degrassi who always has bitchface on that show, but doesn’t seem to in this movie.